Tango Tuesdays

Flash
Tara Roeder


Photo Credit: Karl Lindsay/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Photo Credit: Karl Lindsay/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

The couples dancing class was, in retrospect, the worst idea I’ve ever had. Worse than the rooster sanctuary. Tango Tuesdays—my alliterative downfall.

I didn’t even know that astronauts were still a thing. Who could compete with her? Lunar boots and a rose in her mouth? That tiny, diaphanous dress? It just wasn’t fair.

I knew where you were the night you never came home. I didn’t believe the story about the hospital, or the fake scar. I could picture the two of you floating together, bodies entwined, triumphantly defying gravity.

When I emerged from the flooded basement that morning, I saw it in your eyes. A calculated, assessing look. The stars, or this waterlogged woman triumphantly gripping a monkey wrench?

No one could blame you. But if you answered my calls, you wouldn’t regret it. When I said I was going to poison you, I didn’t actually mean it and you know it. It was the gin talking.

pencilTara Roeder teaches writing in New York City. Her work has recently appeared in venues including Hobart, The Bombay Gin, Two Serious Ladies, Cheap Pop, and DOGZPLOT. Her chapbook, (all the things you’re not), is available from dancing girl press. Email: roedert[at]stjohns.edu

Years ago, in Firenze

Flash
Andrew Bertaina


Photo Credit: Amélien Bayle/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Photo Credit: Amélien Bayle/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Years later, long after we’ve left one another, I visit again, the serpentine streets of Florence. I search down those cobblestone streets, past Saint Mark’s and the street vendors, for the sandwich shop where we had prosciutto Parmesan sandwiches and two glasses of red wine a decade before. Back then, the shop was run by two brothers, jovial men, who wore all white, including large chef hats, as they sliced the cheese and meat in precise portions. Then they pulled the wine glasses, catching light and turning iridescent, from the small rack above the counter. For hours, I walk the streets in vain, peering in variety shops and shoe stores. After an hour or two, it becomes clear that the shop and the brothers and the wine glasses are gone, and I’m here in Florence, searching for all the things that I’ve lost.

pencilAndrew Bertaina currently lives and works in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in more than twenty publications including: The Three Penny Review, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, Literary Orphans,Sierra Nevada Review, Eclectica, Prick of the Spindle, Bayou Magazine, and Catamaran Literary Reader. He is currently a reader and book reviewer for Fiction Southeast. Email: abertain[at]hotmail.com

Aspire Dinnerware, New from Villeroy & Boch

Flash
Sherry Welch


Photo Credit: ume-y/Flickr (CC-by)

Photo Credit: ume-y/Flickr (CC-by)

I thought this is the kind of cup someone should want. Not white, but ivory instead, speckled and delicate like an egg, lavender stamped elegantly around the handle. Unwrapped, bubble-wrap tossed next to, not in, the trash, I set it alone on the counter. I lifted it, pleased at the delicate C my fingers shaped, and used my other hand to wipe away forgotten cereal Os.

I tried to be the person who loved this mug: I drank European coffee, and tried Earl Grey tea, too. I told myself to drink from this mug instead of a bottle of dark amber beer or two-buck chuck. When I filled it with powdered cocoa, it almost felt like home. I thought of pine trees and snow storms, missed my mother. In the bright sun of the west coast, I guiltily scrubbed it elegant again.

Sometimes, for weeks, it sat in my cabinet, upside down, and out of mind. Still, it reminded me to read the paper each morning, stay late at work, visit my friends’ terrace parties full of ties and heels. It would be proud of me, sometimes, and sometimes not. My promises were intermittently kept. The cup would probably have forgiven me if I could have just avoided drive-through windows, read that bestseller, turned off prime-time. When I was sick of doing three people’s jobs for the pay of half of one, and I thought I was finally done with it—I remembered the person who owns that mug is not a quitter.

I thought that mug was stronger than it was, as I slid it into the gentle cycle in my dishwasher. I was almost relieved: through Cascade-steam, that mug was ended in powder and pieces.

pencilSherry Welch has an MA in Writing and Publishing from Depaul University and currently resides in her home-town of Chicago. Email: sherrene.welch[at]gmail.com

New Crucible

Flash
Melissa Ostrom


Photo Credit: Amie Fedora/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

Photo Credit: Amie Fedora/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

When the yet-to-be daughter ignored the humbug about forty weeks then disregarded the day after the due date then snubbed another day and another and another, the almost-mother, a potter by profession, couldn’t sustain her suspense. She didn’t exactly lose interest in this prologue but turned prosaic, figured the child would come when she came and, if the lateness lingered too long, knew the doctor would induce labor.

Her thoughts instead swung to the studio where, in anticipation of a newborn, she’d already wrapped up her summertime throwing and gotten as far as bisque-firing the greenware. The shelves and work counter were lined with the fleshy pink of half-baked pots. These porous bowls, cups, colanders, and pitchers still needed glazes and a hotter firing to finish them.

With the baby a week overdue and apparently in no hurry, the potter eyed the waiting pots with renewed interest. She’d made her peace with leaving them undone. She never anticipated this bonus of unfettered time.

So though the supper hour had long since passed and though usually, by this time in the evening, she was in bed beside Michael, her head propped with pillows, her swollen feet also propped with pillows, and her book propped on a stomach that undulated with her child’s slow turns; the potter decided to stay in the studio. She tied back her hair and began the homestretch of the pot-making process, brushing wax on the pots’ feet, stirring vats of glazes, dipping, pouring, and overlapping her favorite combinations then swiping clean the residue that beaded on the waxed bottoms. She dragged fifty-pound glaze buckets across the studio’s cement floor, hauled heavy shelves into her kiln, bent, heaved, and hefted with indefatigable determination, for the first time in months, not feeling her aching back, not noticing her sore feet, not even paying attention to the hour.

Her husband checked on her at two in the morning, but she couldn’t talk. She was busy. She had to finish. She would finish.

Finally, filthy and panting from exertion, she situated the last pot on the shelf, closed the cover, and started the fan and kiln. She hauled the glaze buckets to their corner, washed the floor and counters, and turned off the studio lights. At last, she returned to the dawn-grayed house for her shower.

As the water coursed her clean, her stomach started with a seizing grip. Now, now that she was weak and drunkenly clumsy with sleeplessness, the child had decided to be ready.

Ready?

Here was her new crucible:

Let the mother from the onset learn what it means to wait. To wait then to rush. Let her understand the quagmire of exhaustion. Let her, from this moment on, know profound anxiety. Yes, let her discover suspense is, indeed, sustainable. And watch how—compared to the child, pinkly naked and diminutively perfect—everything else becomes secondary: an unattended, half-done, shelved world.

pencilMelissa Ostrom lives in rural western New York, where she serves as a public school curriculum consultant, teaches English at Genesee Community College, and writes whenever and however much her five-year-old and seven-year-old let her. Her fiction has appeared in decomP, Juked, Lunch Ticket, Monkeybicycle, Soundings Review, and elsewhere. Email: mostrom[at]rochester.rr.com

Milk

Flash
Christina Sanders


Photo Credit: scjn/Flickr (CC-by)

Photo Credit: scjn/Flickr (CC-by)

Her hands could hew stone, knead dough to crusty loaves and straddle the moon. At night she lowered her hips to the pelt of her husband’s belly, pulling him deep inside. He carved a crib from an old byre, sanding wood silvery smooth. She knitted blankets soft as catkins while rain beat down the barley and puddled in the yard. When New Year passed and still her belly refused to swell they drove to Bury to see a doctor. There were tests; to Colchester; more tests.

“Defective sperm ducts, nothing to be done,” she wept down the phone to her mother. Through the window she watched her husband lead the bull from the field, its muscles straining against the leather halter. The stone barn turned black in the rain.

Adoption was discussed. In a Home in Bury he held a baby, kissed her coffee-coloured face, her body soft as a fish against his chest and smiled at his wife.

“Cuckoo babies,” she said, “cuckoo babies without a nest.” She’d wait in the car.

That night he killed a hen, trailing back feathers and blood across the flagstones. She followed him to the sink with a rag.

Snow hardened to ice. He dreamed of children threshing channels through the corn, clutching blackberries in their sticky palms.

When it was time he brought the cows stamping and lowing to the barn, waking her one night to help with a breech calf. She gripped the halter fast while the cow, white-eyed, bucked between her hands as he reached deep inside to free the calf with his saw, the ancient reek of blood and birth filled the dark and the calf’s head, white lashes, pink wet snout fell to the straw, and the cow reared, thrashing its pink tongue to reach it.

That night she took him to her breast, rocked his body to her own. Sleet thudded heavy on the metal roof. All day and night she nursed him, through snow and thaw, the bluster of spring and spiky shoots of new grass until inch by inch his body shrank, limbs softened, his hair thinned to thistledown and blew into corners. One by one his teeth loosened, tiny chips of porcelain fell between the boards.

When he could no longer speak or stand she slipped him from her breast and laid him in the cradle. Up on the top pasture cows roamed wild, udders dry.

pencilChristina Sanders has been writing short stories for over ten years. She has had short stories and flash fiction published in literary magazines including: Litro, TFM magazine, Writing Women, QWF, Peninsular. She has also worked with The Nightingale Theatre in Brighton on ‘live literature’ performances. She has recently completed a collection of short stories on the theme of ‘compromise.’ “Milk” is from this collection. She is currently working on her first novel, for which she recently received an Arts Council bursary, for a literary appraisal and recommendations to take it to a second draft. Email: chris.sand12[at]gmail.com

End of the Slide

Flash
Ajay Patri


Photo Credit: Javcon117*/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Photo Credit: Javcon117*/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

I help her up the steps. She gurgles, her mind probably fascinated by how, even though she repeats her action of climbing the rickety yellow steps one at a time, she keeps going higher and higher. Standing on the ground beside her, my arm steadily stretching upwards, I wonder about the design of a playground slide, making children spend their energy climbing all the way to the top only to find themselves crumpled in a heap on the ground at the end of the journey. Did the person who invented it derive some sadistic pleasure out of it, only to be stumped by how much happiness the simple contraption actually generated? Did that person spend the rest of his or her miserable life trying to create a more ingeniously hurtful toy while the simple slide made its way around the world, including this nondescript corner of a prison yard?

She reaches the top and freezes, still bending down to clutch my hand. As gently as I can, I withdraw my hand from her grasp. I see horror spreading on her face at this action of mine. For a moment, I fear that she will start crying but she turns out to be much too brave for that. Her two tiny hands hold onto the bars that form a protective cordon on either side. Still crouching, she looks at me with those questioning brown eyes. What am I supposed to do? A wild image pops into my head, to climb up myself and give her a gentle shove from behind to help her on her way. But that would surely be an unwise move. The guards would jump at an opportunity to flex their muscles and I would probably join her with my face in the dirt.

Her mother, sitting on the bench nearby, draws my attention with that little tilt of the head that she always reserved for me.

“You need to be there at the end.”

What does that mean? I want to ask but I don’t. As if understanding my predicament, she points to the little ditch that lies at the end of the slide, dry now but usually stagnant with water after the rains.

“You need to be there for her at the end of it.”

This time I nod to show that I understand her. I walk over to the edge and look up. Her face breaks into the smallest of smiles, but it is enough to make me realise how much I have already missed, of how distracted I have been. Her smile widens when I kneel down in the dirt. She knows that I will be there for her at the end of this journey.

pencilAjay Patri is a twenty-three-year-old lawyer from Bangalore, India. He has been published previously in Spark, The Literary Yard, Hackwriters, Every Day Fiction, Mobius Magazine, The Word Couch, Muse India and was a finalist in the DNA—Out of Print Short Fiction Feature 2014. He is also an active member of Bangalore Writers Workshop. Email: ajaypatri[at]gmail.com

Roadways

Flash
Paul Hetherington


Photo Credit: Scott Davies/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Photo Credit: Scott Davies/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

1.
In a room that overlooked a busy road they ate pasta with egg. Night was thick with traffic, strands of connection joined their bodies. Possibilities reached the quotidian; the real was said and held. Pasta on a fork. Time slipping through the tines. Words sticky in their believing mouths.

2.
A window looked onto a bent roadway, next to which a child stood staring at a black sky. Cars streamed towards suburbs distant as midday; a lightning strike burnt an outhouse. The child looked into her book, seeing the Milky Way, beginning to recite parables.

pencilPaul Hetherington is a professor of writing at the University of Canberra, Australia, head of the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) there and a founding editor of the international online journal Axon: Creative Explorations. He has published nine poetry collections, most recently Six Different Windows. Email: Paul.Hetherington[at]canberra.edu.au

An Interesting Case

Flash
Claire Polders


Photo Credit: William Patrick Butler/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Photo Credit: William Patrick Butler/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

In the matter of doctors, I prefer the ones who are young. They’re still interested in your body. When you put your ailments on display, they act as though you’re handing them a scientific article stuffed with fascinating, mind-blowing facts.

Some people wouldn’t dream of surrendering themselves into the care of great inexperience. A doctor’s face without wrinkles gives them the creeps. Not me.

Once I suffered a skin condition that wouldn’t let up after fighting it with the usual armory of moisturizers, cortisone creams, salt water baths, dry-brushing, soda-soaking, oils, ointments, cold compresses, disinfecting sprays, and long hours staring in awe. I went to see a dermatologist in Paris. He was an older man. As he listened to my complaints concerning my mysterious affliction, he worked hard at giving me the impression he had seen every possible human skin disease imaginable at least a thousand times. From across his desk, he glanced at the red patches on my lower arms and suggested he should test me for perfume and metal allergies. As if I hadn’t heard that one before. I was as bored listening to him as the man was of looking at me. So I got up and left.

I don’t like doctors all that much, generally speaking. And particularly speaking, I dislike the ones who are patronizing or uncurious. For years, I avoided doctors completely for that reason until I developed a peeling condition and went to see a podiatrist in Florence. She was a young woman. She had just graduated from whatever program you go through before they let you touch anyone real and alive. When I showed her my heels, she pushed her glasses all the way up her nose, which heartened me. She also turned on the spotlight above the white-papered gurney on which she had asked me to lay down. Afterwards, she bombarded me with personal questions that I couldn’t answer truthfully without telling her the truth.

But that old dermatologist in Paris? Not a single question. That is why, in the matter of doctors, I prefer the ones who are young.

If the older man in Paris had only asked about my habits, my likes and dislikes, my own suspicions, if he had been as curious as his younger colleague in Florence, he might have learned that I used crushed chili peppers to create these beautiful patches on my skin, not perfume or metals. The thing is: older doctors are not shocked easily, so you can be more truthful with them. The problem is, however, that in their eyes, I am lost, whereas in the eyes of a young doctor, I am an interesting case to be solved.

pencilClaire Polders is a published Dutch author of novels, short stories, and nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in anthologies and magazines in The Netherlands and in France. One of her pieces was included in 25 under 35, the Dutch equivalent of Granta’s 20 under 40. She’s currently writing her first novel in English and sending out her first short prose in English. Email: cp[at]clairepolders.com

Line of Sight

Flash
F. C. Brown Cloud


Photo Credit: van Ort (CC-by-sa)

Photo Credit: van Ort/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

When I fell in love with the actor, it wasn’t because he was beautiful. He was, of course. Hollywood puts only beautiful men in the movies. But I’d convinced myself that he had real warmth. Those expressive eyes! His smiling mouth! And I never could believe that all the things he said were screenwriter-penned lines. I believed in him, as a person, a unique individual with whom I’d developed a genuine connection by watching him onscreen.

His part is prominent for the first third of the film but then he’s inexplicably absent for the remainder. With each viewing I have forty minutes, more or less, before he disappears and the movie drags on for another hour and a half. I’ve seen it so many times. With later viewings I hoped to spot some detail that would explain why he was gone. Although it’s true that, in the beginning, for my first three or four times, let’s say, I hardly noticed how strange it was for his absence to go unremarked. In one scene he walks out of the camera’s line of sight and that is all for him.

As I watch again today I have to pause during that scene, the final scene for him. I freeze the action onscreen and say, “Please, I know you’re going to leave, to disappear until I have time to watch the entire film again. Could we share at least one parting kiss before you go? Something to mark this moment and make it special, instead of letting it slip like sand away?”

He turns to look at me. He nods without speaking. I step toward him and reach out my arms and he falls into them and we kiss, tentatively at first but within moments open-mouthed. I see a tear glide down his cheek. He knows as well as I that soon I will press “play” and he will step off screen and that, for whatever reason, will be the end. As long as the movie lasts we will not see each other again. Maybe I’m squeezing a little bit too tightly because I know that this is fleeting.

pencilF.C. Brown Cloud received a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Stanford University but, grasping at happiness, abandoned research and now writes full time. He has published articles in The Journal of Cell Biology and Molecular Membrane Biology. Brown Cloud lives in Bloomington, Indiana with his wife, an award-winning science teacher, and young daughter. He can often be found running with a pack of adolescents in his capacity as volunteer coach at the local high school. Email: fcbrowncloud[at]gmail.com

Basic Skills

Flash
Roger McKnight


Photo Credit: Caren Litherland (CC-by-nc-nd)

Photo Credit: Caren Litherland (CC-by-nc-nd)

Jake Bauer’s Jiffy Buy got stranded on a bad block. No essential services or decent parking. So the company had hired Jake to bring in customers. Like always, he’d started his day shift in the early morning darkness. Now he was standing idly at the till looking out on the fading December day. The glow from speeding cars reflected off the storefront windows, while the few stragglers outside hurried on, bent over against the wind.

Across the street Jake spotted a one-legged guy in an Army fatigue. He scooted along in a rickety wheelchair, guiding it with a long, skinny leg and spinning the wheels by hand. At the corner the fellow eased over the low curb and out into traffic, navigating between honking cars and freezing slush till he struggled across to Jake’s side. He used his leg to maneuver up over the curb.

On the sidewalk, the guy looked up at Jiffy Buy’s neon, as the first snowflakes started falling. They fluttered down, turning red and blue in the flashing light. Then he turned and studied a help-wanted sign Jake had just put up. Cashier Needed. Good Customer Service. Basic Math Skills. Ability to Stand for Long Periods. He pushed the automatic door opener and wheeled in from the cold.

Jake studied the guy’s stump, with the pants leg folded under it, and his hands, calloused from spinning the wheelchair. “Whadda ya need, pal?”

“A job. I’m Al.”

“Tough times? Pawned your prosthesis?” Jake asked.

Al nodded.

“Gulf War? Iraq?”

Al stroked his graying stubble. “No, ’Nam.”

“Afghanistan here.”

Al nodded again. “Figures.”

“I was tempted, but hung onto mine,” Jake said. He lifted his right arm and showed an artificial hand.

“I can work.”

“We need somebody can walk.”

Al glanced at the cash register. “You run that thing with one hand?”

“It’s hard,” Jake agreed, “but I can walk to it. You can’t.”

“Your sign says stand. All I need’s a chance.”

“Hours of standing. Can you?”

Al clucked his tongue.

“Meaning no,” Jake guessed. He went on studying his shabby visitor and thought about their downtrodden block. “Go redeem your limb,” Jake said and gave him a wad of cash. “Come back tomorrow.”

“See you then.”

The flakes started pecking more angrily at the windowpanes. Rush-hour traffic was still flying by, workers heading off for better places, Jake thought. At eight he turned out the Jiffy Buy lights. The snow was sticking now, so he followed Al’s wheel tracks. As Jake crossed the street, motorists slowed for him and nobody honked. Their car tires obliterated the trail Al had left in the deepening snow. Jake walked on, never looking back at his own tracks.

pencilRoger McKnight is a native of downstate Illinois; he now lives in Minnesota. He teaches Swedish, but he writes mostly in English. He has degrees from Southern Illinois University and the University of Minnesota. He has worked and studied in Sweden and Puerto Rico. He has published some in smaller journals along with one novel, Out of the Ashes (2014) and a book of creative non-fiction, Severed Ties and Silenced Voices (2009). Email: rmcknigh[at]gac.edu