House Parties

Flash
Zoe Konstantinou


Photo Credit: Jin’s Diary 87/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

I

— His friend once gave me whiskey ginger. That was the first time I tried it. He was glad I drank and poured me more. When he rolled me cigarettes, he would give me their very end to lick.

[leaving the party going to the concert hall]

We were sitting on a sofa. Waiting for my friend. Once the tubes there broke and the toilets flooded. That’s what his friend told me. He fought with his girlfriend cause he danced with my friend. I was dancing seated on the sofa. Felt slightly awkward but couldn’t stand still. He said he loved it that I danced so much.

— “It’s quality music.”

I was slightly drunk. We never paid to get in there. We sneaked through the backdoor.

 

II

His ex was there—silver glitter on her cheeks. Stunning. His friend must have seen her too. She was wearing a reddish jacket. Long like an Andean mantle. It could have been my imagination.

[leaving the concert hall]

The only time we were the three of us, was when we slept at his friend’s place. I saw him in the kitchen. I had no idea he lived there. They got their grades from the finals. His friend was complaining, he was mostly listening, and I was trying to smoke as much as I could while I struggled to finish my coffee.

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Zoe holds a masters in International Relations from the University of Edinburgh and currently lives in Athens. She is passionate about Latin America and her favourite author is Roberto Bolaño. Her work has appeared in The Selkie and Litro Magazine. Email: zina_kon[at]hotmail.com

The Cream at the Top of the Milk

Flash
Anita Goveas


Photo Credit: Nav in ATL/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

Susan’s mum excelled at inventing treats, marrow sucked from chicken bones, the skin off the kheer, the cream off the top of the gold-topped milk bottles. Her dad had the biggest piece of chicken or fish-fry, and Susan and her older brother Xavier competed for the treat, reciting times tables, making up spelling tests, declaiming Bible verses. Joking, laughing, shouting. They were one school year apart, so Susan helped with maths and Xavier helped with spelling. Their mother inconspicuously ensured no one got too many treats in a week or a month, endless calculations in her head. But the competition made the prize sweeter, made everyone content.

When Xavier went away and Susan was sent to stay with Aunty Seraphina, he came back thinner and shaven-headed and otherwise the same but their mother was different. She made his favourite cardamom-scented milky kheer pudding every day, and cream from the gold-topped bottles went straight in his new Spiderman glass. It was if he always won. Susan wanted to yell she was disappearing, but no one raised their voice for any reason now, everything happened in whispers. Their father never let go of his rosary.

Xavier spent more time in their bedroom, stopped going to school. Susan heard him sloshing at night, full of stolen cream. On her walk home from school, she dragged her bag through clingy mud, stepped in all the murky puddles. No one noticed. She worked at her spellings, stayed up at night to memorise them while Xavier’s dairy-soaked breath rattled in his throat. The day she won the Year 4 prize, her mother waited for her in the kitchen. Take this glass of milk to your brother, please. Susan threw the blue-and-red glass in the sink. It didn’t smash the way she’d hoped but the cream splashed her mother’s face and her own wrist. It tasted warm and slightly rancid.

Baccha, Mother said, her face streaked, tracks running down to her dripping chin. It’s come to the surface now but it’s so little and precious and we can’t save it. Let’s enjoy it while we can.

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Anita Goveas is British-Asian, London-based, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in X-Ray lit, Flash Frontier and Bending Genres. She’s on the editorial team at Flashback Fiction, an editor at Mythic Picnic’s Twitter zine, and tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer Her debut flash collection is forthcoming from Reflex Press, and links to her stories at Coffee and Paneer. Email: anitagoveas[at]hotmail.com

A Trojan Gift

Flash
Dini Armstrong


Photo Credit: Marco Catini/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

The entire shelf is full of them. Has been for months. Pristine, untouched, snow-white ice skates, laced up all the way; immaculate bows like piped icing on a Christmas cake. The sharp metal blades hidden under plastic protectors.

“Can I touch one?” My voice is so quiet I have to repeat the impossible wish three times before the shop assistant notices me.

“Are you here with your mummy and daddy?” She eyes me up and down, takes in my dirty coat, the woolen tights, holes at the knees.

I know she can smell me. The kids at school tell me I smell. A lot.

Out there, on the ice, I can fly. I am fast, I can jump over branches sticking out, nothing trips me up. Not like all the others, better than them. I can stay there until the floodlights come on. Later even. Every day, until the ice melts.

I take off one of my grubby mittens and reveal the roll of cash I’ve been clutching under the wool.

“My uncle gave me the money so I can buy a pair. Is it enough?” That much is true. I make my eyes big and innocent.

The shop assistant smells of perfume. Her hair is twisted up at the back like the ladies in Hitchcock movies, the ones I am not supposed to see yet.

“What size are you, sweetheart?”

I am not sure, so I check the number under my wellies. It’s a one.

She hands me a pair.

The white leather smells brand-new, the skin of a dead animal, maybe a unicorn. I don’t ask for change, just leave her standing there, shouting something after me, I don’t know what. I am out of the door before she can get to me; I am fast.

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Dini Armstrong, now Scottish, has worked in journalism and psychology. She is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing and has published short stories and flash fiction. Her pithy style got her into trouble from age six, when, after writing a particularly seditious piece about a vengeful cat with explosives, she had to promise never to write again. She lied. Twitter: @ArmstrongDini | Facebook: @GermanScotsAuthor | Email: dianaarmstrong[at]yahoo.com

You’ll Understand One Day

Flash
Jo Goren


Photo Credit: new35168/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Pay attention, you said.

This is how you scald the milk for morning cocoa.

You placed a chair by the sink for us to stand on and wash up after meals.

Nothing lives forever you said when we found the birdcage empty.

This is how to fix an omelet.

You couldn’t ride a bike or swim but made certain we learned.

Behave, be kind, it beats being nasty, you said.

You made our clothes.

Baked pies.

Scolded me for kissing boys.

One afternoon you brought home a pup.

We named him Rusty, but he became your best friend.

Rusty ran in circles around your legs all the way to the beach.

We watched you walk away, dog by your side, dressed as if you had an appointment, stockings, skirt, hair perfect, to go lie on a blanket to read and write beneath the dunes.

You needed time alone, you said, every mother does, you’ll understand one day.

Rusty kept us in check, and away from you with his shrill barks.

If we didn’t mind, he’d nip at our heels.

Bored making our own fun, we’d made sandwiches to distract the dog.

We zigzagged on hot sand that burnt our feet before he ripped into our shorts.

We counted the hours until you came home smelling like sunshine until one day, the day you trained us for, when you didn’t.

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Jo Goren is a writer, artist, community volunteer for the YWCA of Cleveland and member of Lit CLE. Her writing has been published in Ekphrastic Review, Literary Mama and Libros Loqui. She was a nominee for Best Small Fictions 2019. Twitter: @drawing4dollars Email: jmgoren[at]gmail.com

Memory Wave

Flash
Margaret Crompton


Photo Credit: Steve Crane/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

He takes her hand and waits for her wave of memory. Today?

*

What? What this?

Smell. Scent. Fresh. Air. Tree. Tree? Is this tree?

Tree is rough. Bark. This is smooth, soft. Touches me. It feels like my hand. Not mine. Not-me.

I see. I look at it, this not-tree. Not me. But like me. Hand—touch. Face. Eye—see. Nose—scent. Mouth—speak.

I speak: ‘What?’

Other mouth speaks: ‘Miranda?’

I hear: ‘Hello Miranda.’ Ear—hear. I say: ‘Hello. Mi—Rand—A.’

‘No,’ says the other mouth. ‘You are Miranda. I am Ferdy. Say: “Hello Ferdy.”’ Ferdy is not tree. Not it. Ferdy is he.

He touches me. His hand holds my hand. His mouth touches my mouth. My mouth feels. I feel. I feel happy. My heart feels happy.

I touch his face with my hand. I touch his mouth with my mouth. My lips kiss his lips. I kiss his hand.

His eyes look at me and overflow. Tears run over his face and touch my hand. You touch my hand.

I embrace you and weep. I feel full of joy. I am in love. I am love.

‘I love you, my Miranda,’ you say.

‘I love you, my Ferdinand,’ I say. ‘Who are you?’

‘I am your loving husband,’ he says. ‘You are my beloved wife.’

‘Husband?’ I say. ‘Wife? Do I know you?’

‘We’re married,’ says other mouth. ‘We live together, when you’re well.’

‘Well?’ asks my mouth. ‘What is “well”?’

‘“Well” is when you can remember,’ other says.

‘Remember?’ asks my mouth.

Other hand touches mine. Not-me. Soft. Smooth. What is this? Is this tree? Scent? Smell. What this? What?

*

Her wave of memory climbs, curves, climaxes, collapses. He holds her hand until she sleeps. Tomorrow? Perhaps.

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Since becoming 70, Margaret Crompton has turned from textbook writing (communicating with children in social and health care) to exploring poetry, short stories, drama, literature for children. She reviews children’s books for Friends’ Journal (PA). Two of her plays have been performed by Script in Hand—so-called because they all enjoy acting but can no longer remember the lines. Some poems have been set to music for the choir in which she and her husband sing. And some have been published. Two short stories have been published. “Memory Wave” is her first encounter with flash fiction. Email: margaret[at]lapwings.eclipse.co.uk

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

Crouching Tigress

Flash
Savera Zachariah


Photo Credit: Jeffrey Hite/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

She follows his every move, watching intently. The man doesn’t know that he is in the presence of the one-eyed, man-eating tigress of Champawat. The tigress crouches, poised to pounce.

The vultures wait in the sidelines. They hope there would be some carcass left. The lions are not bothered. They are too stuffed anyway. The chimp, hiding from view, watches with glee. One less human. These mutated apes mock him all the time.

The man walks towards the tigress. The animals draw a collective gasp. He is fearless.

The taxidermist places the glass eye into the empty eye socket. He steps back to view his work, checking for imperfections. Satisfied, he walks away.

The tigress fixes the man’s retreating back with a glassy stare. Tomorrow, she will be taken to the Natural History Museum.

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Savera Zachariah is a freelance writer with bylines in a few International publications. She enjoys writing flash and creative nonfiction pieces, and loves experimenting with different forms. Email: savzac[at]hotmail.com

Caring

Flash
Tim Love


Photo Credit: James Jordan/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

At dawn she’s still asleep beside me. She’ll be asleep for hours. Not wanting to leave her, I start YouTube on my iPhone, decide to search for “Wish You Were Here.” I didn’t realise there were so many versions—by tribute bands, street musicians, even Guns N’ Roses. I choose the original.

In my teens I taped a friend’s Pink Floyd LP. I used to listen to the recording lying on my bed, my head sandwiched between loudspeakers. I played it loud. I didn’t care about anyone else. I miss those crackles and scratches now.

I get up to stop waking her with my sobs, watch the landscape learn the language of light—first scattered specks of frost, a background murmur rising from the horizon, plains surfacing from silence as syntax chains glint to glint, a surging chorus of fields and roads leading into the past, the land brighter than the sky.

Minutes must have passed. I look back. I want to touch her to see if she’s still breathing, like I did with our firstborn. The sun cures nothing, shining like the moon. She’ll take vitamin D pills instead, stay inside, use me like the weather—something to talk about when there’s nothing left to say. I’m the rain from Blade Runner, the Teletubbies sun, the note she’ll find on the breakfast table saying “Sorry, I’ll be back.”

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Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts (HappenStance) and a story collection By All Means (Nine Arches Press). He lives in Cambridge, UK. His prose has appeared in Cortland Review, Connotation Press, Dogzplot, Forge, Stand, Unthology, etc. He blogs at Litrefs. Email: tl136[at]cam.ac.uk

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