Light-Up Shoes

Beaver’s Pick
CJ Maughan


Photo Credit: malouette/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Krista finally found them. Kneeling on the orange department store carpet, she pulled the black shoe box from the shelf and brushed the dust off the top. The lid flapped open and revealed the size eight shoes that she was searching for.

There were ruby gems embedded in the heels and there were pink stripes lapping at the tongue. Stars, rainbows, and sunlight danced along the sides. These images were the solemn promise of Velcroed possibilities. Yes, you can jump higher, run faster, longer, better than all the things. These shoes are made of magic. These shoes will make you magic.

Krista unzipped her windbreaker, tossing it aside, and slipped her feet into the shoes. The lights in the heels flickered as she stood. She wiggled her toes. There was room to grow and room to run. It would require a test, of course, and there was only one way to know their true power.

The fresh rubber squeaked, leaving a black mark where she ground her toe into the white tile of the store aisle for good luck. Heels to the block, knees to the ground, elastic in her veins—she took off.

Pumping her arms as the shoe lights flashed along the whites of the floor. Reflecting through eternity in the long store wall mirror. She saw a glimpse of herself, a blur of lights and a white shirt. Her hair billowing behind her. Her legs strong and quick.

She ran down the walkways and the aisles. She skirted around registers. She darted around strollers and jumped through clothing displays. She spun through jewelry racks and sashayed across the escalator track.

She didn’t see the ruby-lipped, ice-haired girls stepping off the elevator. The shoes were fast; they only knew two speeds: fast and faster. They did not know how to stop once started, but still, she tried.

Krista locked her knees; the ice queens watched, wide-eyed and jagged, but it was too late. Together they entered the realm of confusion, slamming into each other with a force greater than each of their lives. Blackness reigned. Terror threatened. Voices cried out. The ceiling was the floor. The floor was the ceiling.

Krista bravely jumped first to her feet. Her lungs sore, her knees scraped, but her pride intact. “Sorry,” she said, wanting to run away, but schoolyard lessons kept her locked in place.

The less-blonde girl helped the other blonde girl up from the floor. “Jesus Christ, watch where you’re going, kid.” They bent and gathered the impossibly tiny hangers that held the impossibly tiny clothes.

“Are those for your dolls?” Krista asked.

The girls held up the hangers and looked at each other. “They’re bras, kid. Haven’t you ever seen one before?”

“God, the dumb kid has never seen a bra before. How old is she you think?

“Eleven?”

“Barely.”

Krista didn’t understand.

The girls looked down at Krista, closely inspecting her white shirt. “Hey kid,” the more-blonde girl said. “You’re giving the boys a free show, you know.”

Krista shifted her feet nervously and the lights danced across the floor once more. And then there was the worst sound of all: laughter.

“Oh my god, I just saw. She’s wearing light-up shoes!”

“They still have the price tag on them!”

“Are you shopping with Mommy today? Maybe if you’re good, she’ll buy you a pretzel.”

“I think I was five the last time I wore those.”

“I know, right? What a baby.”

Krista looked down, surprised by her own feet. The lights flickered as she moved.

“See ya later, little kid,” the girls said. As they swung their hips away, Krista watched the big, bold words they left behind in their wake. She reached and touched each of these words. They were words that she never before thought about. Boys. Too old. Free show. Bra.

But there were also other words. Krista looked around, surprised to realize that she didn’t see them the first time. Embarrassed. Naked. Under-dressed. Unable and undeserving.

Ugly.

Krista crossed her arms across her chest. She didn’t understand why, but she wanted her jacket. She wanted her mother and she wanted to go home. The lights on the shoes were now a dim glow of their shadowy past.

She passed the tall mirror again and watched herself walk past. Slowly now, a distinct shape took form. Yellow hair that frizzed into a triangle. A stomach that rounded the edges of her jeans and something, two somethings, up top that she hadn’t noticed before.

“There you are,” Mother said. “I turn for one minute and you run off. I’ve been looking everywhere.”

Krista stared at the shoe box on the ground, its lid turned open like the soft pages of a book.

“Take those off,” Mother said, pulling out her cellphone as it rang. “Hello? Yes, I’m still here. Just shopping with Krista. She’s being impossible.” Mother pointed at Krista’s feet. “I’m serious. Take those off. You’re way too old for those. Yes, yes we’ll be home soon. I just need to get her a bra and then we’ll be done. No, her teacher said something. She said the boys in the class…”

Krista didn’t hear the rest. She didn’t need to know. She pulled the shoes off one by one and slowly closed the box on her childhood. The lights from the shoes flickered as she stuffed the box on the shelf. She didn’t bother looking back to watch them stop.

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CJ Maughan is a former chemist who realized she was much better at writing fiction than lab reports. She is oddly fascinated with melancholy and tends to prefer stories that are depressingly beautiful. Her debut novel, Eighteen, won the 2018 League of Utah Writers Golden Quill award for adult fiction. Twitter: @CJ_Maughan Email: hello[at]CJMaughan.com

Corrections

Baker’s Pick
Buffy Shutt


Photo Credit: Jason Matthews/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

From an article in last Friday’s newspaper:

The article misstated that Laundry Camp was free. The fee is $25 for one class, two loads. She admits to being high when she signed up. Her building’s washer is still broken.

The article misspelled her fiancée’s new start-up. It is A Hack Job, not A Wank Job. She says he doesn’t own a tablet. She doesn’t believe he can do this on an iPhone. He popped her.

The article omitted the facts that with her new promotion, she had to kiss her boss on the cheek and agree to keep picking up his dry cleaning. She says the dry cleaner guy gave her a winter jacket that no one had claimed for three years.

Because of developments after the paper went to press, the article failed to note the landlord gave her an eviction notice as her check was returned twice due to insufficient funds. She has a car and she and her son are living there for now. They park in the back of the dry cleaner’s.

The article had incorrect information provided by her mother.

Errors are corrected during the press run whenever possible.

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Buffy lives in Los Angeles where she writes poetry and short stories. She spent most of her working life marketing Hollywood movies and documentaries. A two-time Pushcart nominee, her recent work has appeared in Bird’s Thumb, Magnolia Review (awarded the Ink Award), Califragile, Split Lip Magazine, Rise Up Review, The Hedge Apple, Dodging the Rain, Cobalt Review (awarded the Earl Weaver Prize for the baseball issue). Email: buffyshutt[at]gmail.com

Love Means Nothing

Beaver’s Pick
DS Levy


Photo Credit: Dustin Gray/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

The Tennis Champ of the Whole Wide World drills forehands at the backboard with the accuracy of a cold-hearted laser beam. The green wall with its imaginary net issues a dull echo: Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump. The Tennis Champ of the Whole Wide World could drill like this all day. She’s a machine that never misses. Before the yellow ball ricochets off the backboard she’s already got her Ultra-Lightweight Composite Professional Tennis Racquet Endorsed by The Tennis Champ of the Whole Wide World’s extra-wide head poised to pounce. Overhead, the sun crosses. Her shadow dances west to east, the pleats on her white tennis skirt flounce up and down. Geese fly high overhead in pattern. The moon rises. Lightning bugs dodge her blistering forehands. Orion cinches his belt a little tighter. The Big Dipper looks like a ball-hopper she doesn’t need. Her boyfriend walks down the asphalt path. She hears his sneakers before catching a glimpse of his shaggy brown hair. He laces his fingers between the chain-link fence, pokes his nose through and whispers: “Are you ever, ever coming in?” The Tennis Champ of the Whole Wide World says yes, no, maybe. When you’re a winner, you have to stay on top of your game. Everyone wants to knock you off the trophy perch. “In tennis,” she reminds him, “‘love’ means nothing.” And when he trudges off into the dark, she blasts the nap of the fluorescent ball and the hollow ping it makes echoes in the darkness. The Tennis Champ of the Whole Wide World isn’t willing to lose—not even her own cold, uncompromising heart: Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump.

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DS Levy’s work has been published in New Flash Fiction Review, Little Fiction, MoonPark Review, Cotton Xenomorph, The Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia, Brevity, and others. Her collection of flash fiction, A Binary Heart, was published in 2017 by Finishing Line Press. Email: deblevy[at]frontier.com

Couch

Baker’s Pick
Jared Levy


Photo Credit: emdot/Flickr (CC-by)

My dad came home from work and sat on the the black leather couch in the living room. He always sat on the same spot. He always looked tired. Every night it went work, couch, until the couch developed a large impression where his butt landed.

Until my mom kicked him out. Then I sat in the spot. I was younger then, about eight or nine, so I fell into the spot. It was like falling into a pit. It was like wearing hand-me-downs.

When my mom asked to sit in the spot, I said, “No, it’s mine.” But my mom said I couldn’t claim the spot. She said it was a little weird for me to be fixated on the spot when there were so many places to sit. What about the place on the other end of the couch where you could put your legs up? Isn’t that more comfortable?

I ignored my mom and stayed in the spot. I came home from school and watched the same TV my dad watched: sports, ER, and any movie on TNT. When my mom got home, she said she was too tired to argue with me. Do what you want.

About a month later, my dad visited and my mom left the house. My dad walked to the living room and looked at the couch, but he didn’t sit in the spot. Instead, he sat in the place my mom talked about, the place where you could put your legs up, and I didn’t know what to do. It didn’t feel right to sit in the spot, so I sat on the floor near the couch as my dad asked me, how were classes, how was basketball, how were my friends?

I tried to answer, but I kept looking at the spot, getting more and more angry. My answers got shorter and shorter, from a sentence to word, and my dad looked more and more uncomfortable, getting quieter too, until I told him I needed to go to the bathroom. I went to my room instead, shut the door, and tried to punch a hole in the wall. The plaster cracked. My knuckles got raw and bloody.

My dad yelled, “What are you doing up there?”

I yelled, “Nothing!”

I went back downstairs to the couch and sat on my hands. Blood stained my favorite corduroys. Crimson speckled all over the bottom. I threw my pants out before laundry day.

When my mom kicked my dad out, I was sitting on the couch. He looked at me and asked, “Is it always going to be this hard?”

I said, “I don’t know.”

And when my mom came home on the day my dad visited, he stood up to say hello, but she walked past him and over to me. She put her hand on the back of my neck and asked, “How was it?”

I looked down. I said it was fine. I softened under her touch.

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Jared Levy has stories published in regional and international journals including The Quotable, Apiary Magazine, The Machinery, and The Matador Review. His most recent published story, in Cleaver Magazine, “Waiting for you in Paris”, was nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Award. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Bates College and is the recipient of support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Lacawac Artists’ Residency, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He was born in Philadelphia, PA, and currently lives there, too. He is a proud member of the Backyard Writers Workshop. Email: jaredmlevy[at]gmail.com

The Pen

Broker’s Pick
Carl Leggo


Photo Credit: Paul Sullivan/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

(for Rick)

years ago when my first book of poems
Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill
was published, my brother sent me
a silver Cross pen with my name engraved

my brother sometimes complained
I made money by writing poetry about
his mishaps and calamities (I always
explained, poets don’t make any money)

a year ago I lost the pen, and while I lose
a lot of pens, I was especially sad to lose
the pen my brother had given me, a gesture
he was glad I wrote stories, even his

on the eve of my birthday I was culling
clothes in my closet (a seasonal purging
to sustain balance amidst busy clutter)
with hope that the thrift store had room

I found the pen in the pocket of a winter jacket,
and remembered how my brother always
phoned me on my birthday with the boast,
I’m now two years younger than you, at least

for a week, since he was born one year
and one week after me, always my best friend
growing up on Lynch’s Lane, and for all our
differences, he was the brother I always needed

since he died last August, he will always be much
younger now, and finding the lost pen I knew
how a lovely mystery holds us fast, even in loss,
when my brother whispered, write more poems

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Carl Leggo is a poet and professor at the University of British Columbia. His books include: Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill; View from My Mother’s House; Come-By-Chance; Lifewriting as Literary Métissage and an Ethos for Our Times (co-authored with Erika Hasebe-Ludt and Cynthia Chambers); Creative Expression, Creative Education (co-edited with Robert Kelly); Sailing in a Concrete Boat; Arresting Hope: Prisons That Heal (co-edited with Ruth Martin, Mo Korchinski, and Lynn Fels); Arts-based and Contemplative Practices in Research and Teaching: Honoring Presence (co-edited with Susan Walsh and Barbara Bickel); Hearing Echoes (co-authored with Renee Norman); and Poetic inquiry: Enchantment of Place (co-edited with Pauline Sameshima, Alexandra Fidyk, and Kedrick James). Email: carl.leggo[at]ubc.ca

Bird Watching

Baker’s Pick
Thaddeus Rutkowski


Photo Credit: J. Robinson/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

My family acquired a duckling at a local carnival. The bird was a prize in a game of chance. The way the game worked was, contestants threw ping-pong balls at small glass vases. Most times, the tossed ball would bounce off a lip and dribble into a trough, where it would be redirected to the next player. On one throw, however, someone in my family hit a cup and won a duckling that was dyed blue.

The duckling appeared to be female—she had a wide chest and a relatively short neck. She grew fast, and soon all of her blue down fell out. The bird, who wasn’t named, became her natural color—white—as feathers grew in. She also outgrew our living room, where she had been living on newspaper sheets spread on the floor. I didn’t miss the newspaper duck nest; we already had two dogs that made the kitchen their home.

To accommodate the growing bird, my father built a coop in the yard. He made a duck house out of plywood, with two-by-four legs to keep it off the ground. The coop had a wire-mesh front so the bird could see out—and we could see in. My father scattered straw on the wire-mesh floor.

She seemed to thrive there. Sometimes we let her out so she could roam the yard, though someone had to watch her all the time. She clicked her beak as she walked. She was snapping at insects and so was reducing the number of pests. But her snapping action might have been a threat; she looked like she could deliver a strong pinch. When she came toward me with her beak clacking, I got out of her way. I didn’t want to be “goosed.”

I remembered seeing an artist’s illustration of a child herding ducks with a stick. The image was in a book of Mother Goose rhymes, though not all of the animals in the book were birds. The inclusion of ducks among the verses seemed coincidental; the only bird with a purpose was Mother Goose herself. She had to tell the stories through rhymes.

In any case, the birds in the Mother Goose book were running away from the stick as the child held the weapon over their heads.

I tried the stick method with our duck. I picked up a branch and held it behind her head. She was afraid and didn’t want to be touched. With the stick in my hand, I was in no danger of being pinched. But I didn’t know where we should go, she and I, so I “herded” her in random patterns in the yard.

Over the weeks, the duck laid eggs, and my father collected them. The eggs were larger than a hen’s eggs, and the shells concealed a tough inner skin. Nevertheless, my father cracked the shells, pierced the skin, and cooked the eggs. He served me one, sunny side up. The yolk was darker than that of a hen’s egg, and it was larger than the egg white. “Eat,” he said.

I complied gingerly. I picked at the egg with the tip of a fork.

Whenever I was outside, I didn’t look in the straw of the coop. I didn’t want to find an egg and have to turn it over to my father.

Presently, the duck began to fade. She spent her time sitting in the straw that lined the bottom of her coop. Maybe she was brooding over her eggs; more likely, she was unhappy with her captivity.

My father transferred her to the house cellar, where she did even worse. The darkness and dampness got to her. Now and then, my father went down to feed her, but otherwise she received no attention.

I wanted to free the duck from the basement. I found a large cardboard box and gathered my brother and sister to help me. We went down to the damp, stonewalled room and pulled a string to switch on a bare lightbulb. The duck was sitting on the dirt floor. She didn’t get up when she saw us.

My brother and I carried the duck to the nearby creek; our sister followed. I had the idea that our duck would find a new life in the stream. She was a descendant of wild mallard ducks, bred by the Chinese to be white and relatively tame.

She still didn’t stand up when we placed her on the ground, so we put her in the water. She floated slowly away, with her neck extended and her head up. When she reached a distance from us, she looked like a white flower bobbing on the surface.

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Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of six books, most recently Border Crossings, a poetry collection. His novel Haywire won the Asian American Writers Workshop’s members’ choice award, and his book Guess and Check won the Electronic Literature bronze award for multicultural fiction. His received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Email: Thadrutkowski[at]aol.com

The Dunes

Broker’s Pick
D.W. Moody


Photo Credit: Bernd Thaller/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

the dust swirled around us
the house
lost in view
behind hills of sand
we ducked and hid
winding our way
through the maze of hills
unseen from the world
the others somewhere behind
lost around
one or another turn
there in the sand
that caked my skin
I touched your hair
looked into your eyes
desired what my mouth could not say
as you turned
to the sounds of the others coming
I let you slip from my hand
like the grains of sand blowing through our hair

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D.W. Moody grew up between California and the Midwest, lived on the streets, hitchhiked around the country, and held a variety of jobs in Kansas and Southern California until settling into life as a librarian. His poems have appeared in Shemom, The Avalon Literary Review, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. As a new father, life is busy juggling the demands of work and being a committed parent: he writes when he can. Email: d.w.moodysmailbox[at]gmail.com

The List

Broker’s Pick
Joseph McGrail


Photo Credit: Ginny/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Will Tallent smoked his fourth, and last, cigarette of the day, reached over to the bedside table, took a sip of cold coffee, and got out of bed. The shower was hot, his jeans were roomy, his sweater was warm, and his slippers were soft. It would be hard to get motivated to leave the apartment, but “Doing something is better than doing nothing,” he repeated to himself. It was his mantra, a mantra more of hope than accomplishment.

Will had a blog, which some day would lead to success, and a high paying job offer, which in turn would lead some woman to fall deeply in love with him. But a blog only worked if you had fodder for it, so now he had to get fodder.

“Human interest writing,” he had told his coworker at the bagel shop, “that’s what the blog is about. Like a Charles Kuralt or a Bob Greene. I go around, talk to people, make them sound interesting, and write about them for other people to read.” His coworker looked at him with the blank, patronizing stare of the young to the old.

That day’s fodder involved a curious incident with a library book, The Twelve Greatest Ideas, which had been written in the fifties by a “Great Books” associate of Mortimer Adler. Tallent had picked it up from the sale table at the front of the library. Christianity was a great idea, as was the Enlightenment, as was Confucianism, and then Tallent lost interest. Then he saw that someone had playfully written their own list on one of the blank end pages: “The Twelve Greatest Love Stories of All Time.”

“Adler would be proud,” Tallent thought. “He was always a big advocate of writing in books.”

Some of the entries were obvious: “Romeo and Juliet,” “Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor,” “Dante and Beatrice.” Most of them displayed a literary sense, and even some Biblical knowledge: “Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale,” “Jane Eyre and Rochester,” “Tristan and Isolda,” “Lancelot and Guinevere,” “Tobias and Sara,” and “Rachel and Jacob.” And there, right after “Antony and Cleopatra,” and “Heloise and Abelard,” in the same penciled script, was the final entry: “Ilsa and Patrick Demarest.”

And who were Ilsa and Patrick? Tallent imagined them, a young married couple, the wife pretty, blonde maybe, wearing a sweater, royal blue with a simple pattern of white snowflakes, glasses certainly, she read a lot. The husband, studious as well, heavy black glasses, hair unkempt, moustache, beard or both, and since Tallent was indulging in stereotypes, a tweed jacket. The husband reads Nabokov, and not just the one with the nymphet, the really obscure ones. They are sitting at a library table, each with their stack of books. The wife is getting impatient to go, she grabs this book from his pile, starts glancing at the ideas, gets a smile on her face, and starts writing something. From time to time she asks the husband, “Who would you say were the greatest lovers in history?” He, engrossed in his reading, absentmindedly throws out an idea or two, and she writes it down.

Curious, the husband looks over at her. He’s appalled, she’s writing in a book! “It’s only pencil,” she says, “lighten up.” He looks at her list, smiles and then smiles again. Maybe he affectionately rubs her back. “We should go,” she says.

Tallent couldn’t let the list go, who was this Ilsa Demarest? What happened to her and Patrick? Where were they now? One question that might be easily answered. There was a deputy D.A. who came to the bagel shop and Tallent had heard him complain about how easy it was to look someone up in Colorado as all the voter rolls were published on the web.

“I could have sent a guy to prison,” the man had said. “He gets out, spends two minutes on Google and comes gunning for me.”

Tallent agreed. No one was ever going to come gunning for Tallent, but the thought was worrisome.

Nonetheless, Ilsa Demarest was easily found. Not so with Patrick. Maybe Patrick didn’t live in Colorado anymore, or maybe he had died. The book had been published in 1956, and there was nothing to show when the list had been written. Or maybe Patrick didn’t vote, and he and Ilsa were still together, he with his tweed jacket, she in the tasteful blue sweater.

Ilsa lived in Oak Creek, way out near Craig, as much as it was near anywhere. Too bad it was so far from Denver. But Tallent would follow through, call her and set something up.

He put in the number.

“Hello?” a woman’s voice answered, wary and cautious. It was hard to tell her age, certainly not young nor crackly-voiced old.

“Is this Ilsa Demarest?”

A pause and then, “Who is this?”

“Well, you don’t know me Ms. Demarest, but I’m a journalist of sorts and I’d like to sit down and have a chat with you.”

“A journalist of sorts?” She gave a cynical laugh. “What kind of scam is this? I’m going to hang up now, please don’t bother me again.”

“Wait, wait! I found a book.”

“What?” she said, confused.

“A book, a library book. You had written a list in it, I don’t know how long ago—‘The Twelve Greatest Love Stories.’”

She didn’t say anything.

Somehow he knew that he had made a mistake, that he was bringing up something that embarrassed her, something that should have been left in the past. He had hoped that Ilsa and Patrick were still together, an older couple whom he would meet and they would be holding hands and joking about the time she made that silly list.

She still didn’t say anything, and then, “Did Patrick have you do this? You’re friends with Patrick aren’t you? Why would he—?”

“No, Ms. Demarest. I’ve never met you or Patrick. As I said, it was what you had written in that book. That was it. I’m sorry.”

“I’m hanging up now. Please don’t call me again.”

“Wow,” he thought, rubbing his hand through his hair. “That didn’t turn out too well. I guess I’m back to searching for some other human interest deal, hopefully not one as far away as Oak Creek.”

He pulled on his jacket and headed to the coffeehouse. Maybe someone at Dietrich’s had a lead on human interest. But the normally voluble crowd was oddly quiet. The fishmonger from down the street, the fellow who actually looked like a fish, was finishing a Danish. Tallent could interview him, something like, “Selling Seafood Thousands of Miles from any Ocean.” It would only work if Tallent could include pictures, the owner posing with a redfish or something. But Tallent’s mind was far from human interest and his blog. At least in making bagels you never got the impression you had brought pain into someone’s life, poppy and sesame seeds, and onion only, never pain.

After the coffeehouse, Tallent advanced upon Mead Street Station, the Dew Drop Inn, and Twins Tavern, so the next day his hangover persisted through his shift at the bagel shop, and his afternoon nap, but was ebbing when his phone rang.

“Hello?”

“If I speak with you, you’ll write an article about what I wrote in the book?”

“Ms. Demarest?”

“Yes. It’s me. Will people read this article? Does anyone actually read your blog?”

“Yes. I have a number of readers.” The number was seven, but he didn’t need to provide details.

“You don’t know Patrick?”

“No, no, I don’t know Patrick.”

Oak Creek had already gotten some snow. Luckily the steep streets, including the one Ilsa Demarest lived on, were clear.

“Quaint town,” he said after she had let him into her frame cottage. “I like all the Victorian gingerbread.”

“Yes,” she answered. “Hard to maintain though.”

She was blonde, starting to show bits of white, and indeed wore thickish glasses. She was taller than he had imagined, and pretty. She was pretty and about fifty.

“So,” he asked. “What do you do here in Oak Creek?”

“I’m the high school librarian.”

They both laughed, and he said, “I see you’re now using your powers for good, not evil.”

She offered him tea and he accepted, and they sat at opposite ends of a green plaid sofa, a plate of cheddar scones on the coffee table. She sat quietly while he tried to think of something to ask. If he had been a real journalist, he told himself, he would have all of his questions written out on a legal pad in a clipboard or better yet, written out on Demarest.doc on the laptop he would have brought.

Instead he opened up the tiny notepad with the faux leather cover he kept in his vest pocket.

“Do you mind if I knit?” she asked, picking up two needles with a project started in grey wool.

“Not at all,” he said, happy the ice had been broken. “What are you working on?”

“Socks for my son, and no, he’s not Patrick’s child. I’ve been married twice since Patrick. Ronnie’s my son from the first marriage. The second marriage altogether, the one after Patrick.” She looked embarrassed, and Tallent thought again of how he should just have left her alone, though questions were now coming quickly to mind.

She had uncovered a book when she picked up her knitting.

Crampton Hodnet,” he said, “You read Barbara Pym? She’s my favorite.”

She looked at him as if he was a little odd, being a man who liked Pym, but it made him likeable.

“Have you ever read this one?” she asked. “It was written when she was first getting started and not quite as good as her later ones.”

“Oh. I haven’t seen it. I liked Some Tame Gazelle, the one the library had.”

She was about to say, “I could lend you some others…” but that would presume a friendship that was not there.

“Tell me about writing the list, where you were, what spurred it, did you come up with it all on your own?”

“The kitchen table with a bottle of wine in front of me, we had broken up and gotten back together, and yes.”

“Yes?”

“’Yes’ to your question, ‘Did I come up with the idea on my own?’”

“Did you realize when you were writing the list how tragic so many of your couples were?”

“Like Patrick and me, huh? Or as we turned out? No. When you are twenty-seven and in love or struggling with a love, those names look like great romantic lovers, tragedy and romance all mixed together, and tragedy…”

“Doesn’t seem so bad?” Tallent offered, “Not a lonely, depressing thing that simply leaves one miserable and ultimately may not have a point?”

She laughed nervously. “Boy, you are a cynic. But that’s how fifty-year-olds think, not twenty-seven-year-olds.”

“I’m not even sure why we had broken up,” she continued. “Maybe it was his idea, maybe mine. He moved to a small apartment in Arvada and I was still living in Denver. I started calling him, asking him to come over and have dinner.”

Tallent asked, “This was after you were married, but had broken up?”

“Yes. So we had dinner and he was in the living room of my place doing one of these complicated crosswords he liked.”

Tallent saw how her eyes were bright, and she was smiling at the memory.

“And he’d brought over a pile of library books, I’m not sure why, maybe I’d already asked him to start living with me again. I picked up one of them to look at and I’m thinking, ‘The Greatest Ideas of All Time? How about the greatest love stories?’ I have a pencil because I’m trying to teach myself to sketch while he’s there with his crossword, and I just start writing the list, planning to tease him about it afterwards.”

“Did you?”

“Oh yes, he was very teasable. He had good sense of humor. He scolded me for writing in his library book, and then laughed and gave me a big kiss…” She stopped.

After her reverie, Tallent asked, “So what happened to this greatest love story of all time?”

“Whatever happens to them. You’re my age, you know.” She gave Tallent a glance and went on. “He was very smart, but immature, and I was impatient, I wanted to get on with things, a house, children, and he wasn’t willing to work hard enough at it. I’ll often think how Patrick was when I read about men living in their parents’ basements or having PhDs and working at Burger King. Of course, he ultimately grew up, after we’d gotten divorced and I’d moved on. I’ve heard he has kids. He’d sometimes talk about wanting a small ranch in Nebraska. I wonder if he’s there now.”

“And you?” Tallent asked, glancing out to see snow falling thickly from the sky. “You ever think about getting in touch with him?”

“Why, isn’t that why you’re here?” she mocked. “Aren’t you going to put this on your blog and Patrick sees it and comes back to me? And finally we’ll have the chance to live happily ever after, fulfill the greatest love story destiny? The real answer? No. I’ve seen too much of life. I’ve been married twice more. I have a son at college. I have my job and my knitting. I even do some sketching still, animals mainly, pictures from magazines. You need more tea?”

He really should have gone, but he said, “That would be nice,” and they moved into her kitchen.

She lit the burner on a gas stove with a match.

“It’s hard to keep this place warm, drafty old windows,” she said. “When my son Ronnie was here, he’d bring in firewood all the time.”

“May I,” Tallent asked, “go get you some firewood?”

She laughed. “That wasn’t a hint; I was just feeling the cold.”

Tallent brought in some split wood from a shed in the yard. The snowflakes were larger and more numerous, and he realized again that he should leave. But Ilsa’s yellow house was warmer than she gave it credit for.

Though it had been years since he had built a fire, he placed the wood on the embers and managed to stir up the flames.

“That deserves another scone,” she said, and had him sit back on the couch. A hot mug of tea awaited him as well.

“It’s very comfortable here, but I’ve got to get going.”

He was disappointed when she agreed. “You should. This valley is hard to get out of in a snowstorm.”

“Is there a hotel in town?”

“Not really, nearest would be Yampa or Steamboat, if you get through on the highway.”

He got his coat and she helped him put his scarf on in an almost affectionate manner, or perhaps that was wishful thinking.

“I almost forgot,” she said. “When you were outside, I picked up the Barbara Pym novel and read something. Here…” She walked to the coffee table and got the novel.

He read:

A great unrequited passion was hardly in Mr. Latimer’s line, she realized, the sort of love that lingers on through many years, dying sometimes and then coming back like a twinge of rheumatism in the winter, so that you feel it in your knee when you are nearing the top of a long flight of stairs.

She said, “That’s my feeling towards Patrick, a great unrequited passion that dies sometimes and then comes back.”

“So, ‘thanks a lot,’ you’re saying? Thanks a lot for bringing it all back like rheumatic twinges?”

She laughed. “Maybe. Oh, look at it now, you had better get going.”

And then Tallent was on the road and headed out of town. Why couldn’t she have said, “Oh, look at it now, you had better stay here, I can make up a bed on that couch”? But it hadn’t happened and he was too worried about bald tires, landing in ditches, and paying for a motel to give it much thought. He would contact her again, let her review the article before he posted it, but she was too smart a woman, she could see through Tallent, realize he was a bit of a poseur of a journalist, realize the chances of Patrick seeing the blog were very slim and then she would feel foolish for having revealed herself. Unless Patrick was having his own rheumatic twinges, and happened to see the blog in a search for the long lost Ilsa. And where would that leave Tallent? Why, with another human interest article of course.

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Joseph McGrail has written stories since eighth grade, and a few years ago had another story published in a journal called Inklings. He is currently at work on an episodic novel set in Nebraska and Kansas, as well as other stories. Along with writing, he enjoys drawing and being in the outdoors. He was a probation officer for several years, though little of his writing involves crime, and is now looking for other work. He resides with his family in Denver. Email: joseph.mcgrail.28[at]gmail.com

Beautiful, Ordinary

Baker’s Pick
Kimberly Lee


Photo Credit: Angelune des Lauriers/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Maddie wandered through the house, pausing intermittently to give high scrutiny to some benign object, as she would in a museum. Well, it was a museum… now. The Madeleine and Albus Museum of a Beautiful Ordinary Life. MAMBOL. She smirked briefly at her own inventiveness, then felt the muscles of her upturned lips slacken, gradually pulling her mouth back down to its normal, flatline position. No one would implore her not to touch anything here, like the cabinets he’d just done up with shellac, darkly stained, as she wished. Or caution her not to walk anywhere over there, like on the hardwood floors he’d just refinished. He’d picked her up by the waist that day, locking her in an awkward, elevated hug, her head above his, maneuvering them both over a patch of the wet, gleaming floors as she shook with silent laughter.

She’d always been waiting, anticipating the big, exciting thing. She had no real sense of what that thing would be or what it would entail, couldn’t visualize or imagine it. It was abstract, amorphous, but would bring with it a feeling of weightlessness, a sustained buoyancy that would place them on a higher frequency, a more colorful, flavored existence. The tasks, the routine, the day-to-day, she did these cheerfully. They were a prelude. Scraping the soft, grey lint off the dryer’s lift-out screen after washing sweatshirts, left damp with perspiration from their Sunday morning hikes. Running warm soapy water over the teapot that sat on the stovetop, left coated with grease splatter from the afternoons he played hooky and surprised her with pan-fried pork chops and sautéed greens. Settling in on a rainy Friday night with two movie selections—agreed upon only after a stimulating debate that could’ve won the approval of Roger & Ebert—and a deep dish pepperoni pizza.

She grabbed at the mismatched stack of blankets, kept in the den, on hand for warmth, cuddling. She took one by its corner, felt the weight of it as its bulk opened and cascaded to the floor. She put it up to her nose and inhaled once, then again, trying to pull his scent out of the fabric. She wrapped the blanket around her as he had on many nights. Those times, that feeling, that was the big, exciting thing. She hadn’t realized it as it had happened, as the minutes and moments of beautiful had ticked by. And then they had stopped. All she could do now was wait, pray, hope, somewhere down the line, for another chance at ordinary.

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Kimberly Lee is a former criminal defense attorney who happily left the practice of law to focus on motherhood, community work, and creative pursuits. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Thread, Calliope, and The Prompt. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three children, and is currently at work on her first novel. Email: kimberlyylee[at]icloud.com

Oenaville, Texas

Baker’s Pick
Erica Hoffmeister


Photo Credit: Woman of Scorn/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

She was eleven, but the way he was staring at her mouth he could’ve guessed her at least sixteen. I was sixteen, but the way my narrow shoulders met her chest made her look even taller, broader. Her body a map laid across a table and pressed from corner to corner, asking your fingertips to run across water ridge lines with a smooth spinning compass pointing south.

I took the cherry sucker from her mouth and popped it into my own. Hey! She screeched with the tone of a girl who just got her period for the first time. Her knees were still unaccustomed to the weight of dying blood.

He carried his gaze through gas-stained coveralls, looked back to the pump, sweat on his wrists. The sucker protruded my cheek like an abscess, rotting my back teeth until I threw it at our feet.

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Born and raised in Southern California, Erica Hoffmeister earned her MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University’s dual degree program in 2015. She has had work published or forthcoming in So To Speak, Split Lip Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, Shark Reef, and Literary Mama, among others. Her poems have: been nominated for Best of the Net in 2107, received runner-up for the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize in 2016, and she’s also received an honorable mention for the Lorian Hemingway Award for Short Fiction in 2014. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and daughter, Scout Séverine, where she writes, teaches college English, and perpetually misses home—wherever that feels like at the time. Email: zhoffmeister[at]gmail.com