Pura Vida

Creative Nonfiction
Matt Mannino


You know how when you’ve eaten too many bananas you start noticing things that nobody should ever notice, for instance, if you push a piece of banana against the back of your teeth it will gently divide into three perfectly equal and intact sections? No? Well, having been in Costa Rica for only ten minutes I hadn’t yet reached this level of understanding either. Things were fresh and new, and I was buzzing: a natural reaction to walking on new land.

The airport wasn’t crowded and after fetching my pack I found an information booth where the man, without listening to my question, demanded that I stay at the San Martin hotel. I found this amusing and in English responded, “Hey, aren’t you guys suppose to be neutral and provide objective information about every—”

“I can’t understand what you’re saying.” He shrugged and picked up the phone to call the hotel. “You’ll stay here and like it. Pura vida.”

Simple enough, I thought. I was too hungry to argue, and besides, this guy’s plan seemed solid.

Five minutes later a van met me out front, and the driver threw my pack into the back seat. I began speaking, just to improve my Spanish. “Is that your friend back there at the airport?”

“Who?” he asked. Then, after thinking, he said, “Oh, yes. That’s Luis. He helps people find my hotel.”

Just as I suspected.

Jorge, the driver, also owned the hotel, and though his breath stunk of whisky he drove faultlessly and even provided a decent tour of the area. At one point he informed me that “this is the center of the city.”

“This is San Jose?” I asked, surprised at how low, dark, and empty everything looked. “The big capital?”

“We’re in Alahuela.” He glanced at me, amused. “San Jose’s about a half-hour north.”

“Oh.” I looked out the window. The fact almost completely slipped over my head but I bobbled it back and held it in view. “Wait a minute, stop,” I demanded, sitting up slightly panicked. “I’m supposed to be in San Jose!”

He shook his head and asked calmly, “Why, where are you going tomorrow?”

“Puerto Jimenez,” I answered. “I need to be at the Stanset terminal by two-thirty.”

“Well, then.” His leathery face, like Deniro’s, but shorter and thicker, smiled warmly. “My hotel is much closer to the terminal than any place in San Jose. No worries, my man. Pura vida.”

Pura vida, I thought. What does that mean? But fair enough, let’s go, vamos.

We turned into a dark urban neighborhood that, for some reason, reminded me of a concrete swamp and soon arrived at the spectacular San Martin hotel. The hotel boasted one story, and besides a splay of amber light that spilled onto the sidewalk, it sat indistinguishable amongst its dark, cramped, and low neighbors.

A smiling young man, skinny and quietly proud, greeted us, took my bag, and asked me where I was from.

“New York,” I said, and he reacted with a gasp and large grin.

He then told me how big NY is and that his cousin’s friend lives there.

Of course he does, I thought.

He showed me to my room. “Now leave everything here if you go out, understand?” he said politely and professionally. “You must leave your money, your camera—” He eyed my camera on the bed. “—your passport, and whatever else is of value inside the room. It’s safe here.” He smiled, shook my hand, then exited.

No offence, buddy, but that’s not gonna happen. I piled my money, credit cards, passport, and camera into my pockets. I took off my shirt and slammed on a new one. I hurriedly brushed my teeth while frenzied thoughts of what to do next crashed into my skull, floating down dumbly afterward; in fact, my thoughts were too light and scattered to form any solid plan, so I listened to my stomach and parched veins that cried loudly for food. I headed towards the lobby to ask directions to the nearest restaurant.

Que tal,” I said when I saw Jorge at the desk.

Hola Muchacho.” He smiled.

The boy came in from outside and explained that Costa Ricans don’t say que tal, they say pura vida, which means pure life. “It’s because the pace of life here is slow and tranquil, and we live life somewhat purely.” He added, with a smile, “And the people are also kind. Like us.”

“Well, pura vida, friend. I’m hungry, where’s the nearest place to eat?” I asked.

He pulled me through the gate and pointed down a stretch of ugly street where yellow light weakly gathered on each block corner. “Do not go there,” he warned, then looked at his watch. “Yup, lots of prostitutes are there now… and drug users.” He turned me around and pointed down the other half of the dark street. “Go up here and take a left. Don’t go further cause that’s also bad. Go up here, take a left, and then at the top of the hill are lights and many restaurants. Jani’s Soda, a great cheap restaurant, is at the top of the hill and down a street to the…”

My mind didn’t quite capture everything, but, in any case, I was already heading towards that first left, propelled forward by my hunger and the thrill of being in a new city.

It’s funny. After taking that left, passing some blocks and seeing some lights, I stopped on a corner, looked in each direction, and realized I had no idea from which way I had come. I focused, but my gaze slipped off every building and street corner, catching nothing familiar. I walked towards more lights and soon became strongly conscious of people’s eyes. They stared. It was my skin. It seemed bright, more brightly white than those fluorescent bulbs, and I tried unsuccessfully to cover its glare by stretching the sleeves of my T-shirt. I walked on like this, passing streets two, three times, but could find no point of reference. Soon my hunger was no longer an issue and I was driven by a new goal: to remove myself from these strange eyes and streets; they held nothing familiar or friendly. It was already 11. But where was the hotel? I walked on.

A young man in dirty clothes, with an open scar under his nose—a sure sign of his habit—confronted me as I walked passed a depressing discotheque that blurted out some dreary Latin beats.

“I don’t speak Spanish,” I said, not meeting his eyes when he asked for money.

He followed by my side, and asked me again.

“I don’t speak Spanish.” I walked quicker, leaving him behind.

He yelled something derogatory and I turned to face him, non-confrontationally. Using my finest Spanish accent I asked him how to find McDonald’s. I figured McDonald’s must be lit, and the people there could surely tell me how to get home. He seemed taken aback by my question, and as I had hoped, it seemed to place us on more of a similar level; I was less of a gringo to him. With a cautious face he pointed and explained the way. He almost seemed pleased to help.

The road he pointed to was dimly lit and flanked by sordid gutters that rolled garbage out onto the street. My mind was louder than the skidding trash and it demanded first and foremost an assessment of my safety. But before I could assess anything my hunger resurfaced and chimed in: should I eat at McDonald’s? Yeah! Good idea. Nah, that’ll kill me at this time of night. I’ll just head back to the hotel and eat a big breakfast tomorrow. But where’s the hotel? I could ask the people at Mc Donald’s. But, oh yeah, I’m not go—

Scuffled steps, and then a bony arm seized my throat and dragged me to the cement, hard. Two more men swung in from the sidewalks and converged on my face, pounding with bare knuckles. I went limp—my surrender. They ripped at my pockets, almost tearing them off, and ground my neck into the hard pavement. I felt their eyes, but not on me; avoiding me, rather. I was a car, or a coat, and soon I was empty and they were up and running, swiftly merging again with the darkness that lined the streets.

The reality touched down in layers. What did they get? I felt something in my right cargo pocket. It’s my wallet! No, just a phone card. They got my wallet: $120 and all my cards. What else? What was in my bag? My camera, my notebook, ahhh. What else? My passport! I checked my left cargo and felt my passport’s laminated cover. Thank God. I checked and rechecked each pocket but found nothing else.

I stumbled into the light and watched my blood hit the street. God. I grabbed towards them in my mind as if I could catch their image and drag it back into reality. I’d beat them back this time and reclaim my money and pride while dancing over their broken bodies. They were weak and bony. I could have fought back. Why didn’t I fight back?

Where am I? I was scared and wanted lights. I ran towards lights and soon found myself in a busy section, the object of many eyes. With people came embarrassment. My white skin screamed like a strobe light now, but not as loudly as the blood that dripped down my face, splattering the street below. They watched. I half spun, hopelessly. Each direction was the wrong direction so I walked straight, past a group of kids who laughed. It was them. I stopped. I spit blood on the ground before them, then walked on, past more people who did it, more ragged youths who held my wallet in their hands, greedily counting their plunder with resin-stained fingers. Everyone did it, and before everyone I stood up, semi-straight, and spit to prove that I wasn’t defeated. But I was. I clotted the blood with my shirt and dropped my damaged body onto a bench, covering my face with shaking hands.

I arrived at the hotel, brought to its gate by a sympathetic cabbie, and walked in ashamed, attempting to remain in the shadows. Jorge, almost asleep at the desk, jumped up in disbelief when the light finally touched my face. He took me under his arm, cleaned me up like I was his son, and comforted me as I contacted my unsuspecting parents.

The room was free, he said, and I could stay here until I sorted out my situation.

How would I get to Puerto Jimenez? I need to leave tomorrow! I have no money. What will I do?

He told me not to worry about such things. “You’re alive and talking and that’s what’s important.” He smiled and fetched some whisky for the both of us.

I explained away my anger and he listened. His eyes, still and old and resting in pillows of wrinkled skin, absorbed me. We talked all night, discussing everything from his kid’s birthday to leaf cutter ants and how they terrorize people’s gardens in the south. He spoke slowly, pausing between sentences, and soon my breath and heart slowed to match his pace, a pace that pervades Costa Rica, a pace that remained with me for the rest of my stay there. Our conversation lifted my spirits and soon those three shadows and my lost possessions felt distant and no longer so important.

Then Luis, the information booth man, arrived, still dressed in his work clothes. What? This struck me as bizarre, but I guess Jorge had called Luis and told him the bad news. Luis showed the same disbelief, shaking his head as if he were personally responsible for the actions of his countrymen. He offered compassion and even handed me my first Costa Rican banana, which I peeled past the toes and shoved in whole.

Gracias amigo,” I said with a full mouth. “Pura vida.”

pencil

“I’m 23 years old. After graduating from university last May I traveled around Europe and Central America. I love to travel and write and plan to continue these passions until I die. I currently live and write in upstate New York.” E-mail: Angelo83mm[at]yahoo.com.

Big Boys Can’t Eat Quiche

Fiction
Kathy Maeglin


The three men scoured the menu like nearsighted vultures.

“Cindy always ordered that chicken Oriental salad, but I’d be starving in an hour if that’s all I had,” Randy said.

“What about the grilled salmon?” Brian suggested.

“No way,” Randy said. “We’ve gotta stay away from red meat.”

Steve pointed out that the grilled salmon had a little heart next to it, but Randy was adamant.

“Just because it’s ‘heart healthy’ doesn’t mean it’s not fattening,” he insisted.

“How about the broccoli quiche?” Brian said.

“What are you, nuts?” Randy scoffed. “That’s got eggs and cheese! We can’t eat either one of those. Man, you single guys don’t know squat about dieting.”

“Hey, you’re single now, too, buddy,” Brian reminded him.

“Yeah, well, 16 years of marriage to a diet freak kinda made me an expert,” Randy said. Steve was tempted to point out that Cindy weighed about 30 pounds more now than when she and Randy were married, but he chose to hold his peace.

Brian looked morosely at the tempting photos of bountiful meals displayed on the big plastic menu. “Remember those huge cheeseburgers we used to eat at Louie’s?”

“Oh, yeah,” Randy recalled happily. “And the cheese fries were killer, too.”

“We ate like pigs in those days,” Brian said. “How come we never gained weight then?”

The other two shrugged and sadly shook their heads. The injustice of it all suddenly seemed unbearable.

Then Steve suggested that perhaps their once-a-week lunch get-together was not the best time to start a diet. “Why don’t we just try to cut back during the rest of the week, and then we can splurge a little on Fridays? I mean, we’ve gotta treat ourselves once in a while.”

The other two agreed this was sound logic. After all, they only needed to lose about 20 pounds each, and surely that didn’t require constant dieting.

“I’ve got an idea,” Steve said. “Let’s get together tomorrow morning and go shopping for diet stuff that we could have for lunches. You know, those frozen-entree things. Lisa says they’re pretty good these days.”

“Yeah,” Randy said, “I see people in my office eating those all the time.”

So they all agreed that was an excellent strategy. The waitress arrived and took their orders: a 1/3-pound cheeseburger with fries, a patty melt with fries, and a fried-fish sandwich with onion rings. Oh, and three diet Cokes.

*

They met at Steve’s house and rode together to the Wal-Mart Supercenter. On the way, Brian told the other two about how his fiancée, Dawn, had lost 15 pounds on the Weight Watchers program.

“But that’s just for women,” Randy stated. “I don’t think guys can do it.”

“Well, Dawn said we could.”

“Yeah, well, do you know any guys in Weight Watchers?”

The motion failed for lack of a known participant.

“I don’t really see why we need to lose weight anyway,” Randy complained. “I’ve read that most women don’t care if their men are a few pounds overweight.”

“Lisa’s worried about my ticker,” Steve said. “Her dad died of a heart attack when he was 57, so she’s convinced I’m gonna croak if I don’t get in shape.”

“And Dawn’s all freaked out that I’m gonna look like a walrus in a penguin suit at the wedding,” Brian said.

Randy laughed. “I’m glad I don’t have to listen that crap anymore.”

“That’s true,” Steve said. “But those chicks on the meat market are looking for filet mignon, not a rump roast!”

They all laughed but then fell silent for a few moments. The mention of beef was a seductive distraction.

Steve broke the reverie. “You know, I was thinking we might wanna give ourselves a little more incentive by putting a little money on this. We could, like, each put in 10 bucks, and then we could weigh ourselves—say, once a month—and whoever lost the most weight that month would get the money.”

“Hmm. OK, I’m in,” Brian said.

“Me too,” Randy agreed. “But let’s say whoever wins has to buy the losers a round of beer.”

“That’s cool,” Steve said. “Of course, it would have to be light beer.”

“Oh, of course,” Randy concurred.

“What about exercise?” Brian asked.

“What about it?” Randy said.

“Well, if we wanna lose weight, we gotta exercise.”

“Oh, I get plenty of exercise on the job,” Randy said.

Steve guffawed. “How does a Realtor get exercise on the job?”

“I’m out showing houses all the time!” Randy said. “Some of those babies are huge, and I have to walk ’em through every square inch. You desk jockeys don’t have a clue.”

“I suppose I should start using that stupid treadmill,” Steve said. “Lisa was so sure I’d lose weight if we got it, but the only place that damn thing’s ever caused me to lose weight was in my wallet.”

Brian said he was going to use the poor-man’s treadmill.

“What’s that?” Steve asked.

“The sidewalk.”

*

When they arrived at the store, they each grabbed a cart and started in the produce section.

“We want lots of high-fiber stuff for snacks—apples, bananas, that kind of thing,” Randy instructed.

“Nah, too much sugar,” Steve said. “I think we wanna stick to stuff like carrots and celery.”

“Yuck,” Brian said.

Then Steve pointed out that baby carrots were pretty good with French onion dip.

Brian and Randy agreed, so they each grabbed two bags of baby carrots and headed for the dairy department.

“Oooo, these little French yogurts are good,” Brian said, grabbing one.

“No, no, you want the no-fat brand,” Randy said.

“That stuff tastes like sour milk,” Brian whined.

“Not if you add some sugar.”

“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?”

“No, because you control how much sugar you add,” Randy explained. “One tablespoon of sugar has only 15 calories.”

“Isn’t it one teaspoon?” Steve said.

“Oh, teaspoon, tablespoon, they’re about the same,” Randy said.

“Why not get the one with artificial sweetener?” Steve suggested.

“Sure, if you want an extra arm, go right ahead,” Randy quipped.

Steve thought about all of the diet soda he had seen Randy consume recently and decided to quietly await the arrival of the new appendage.

They were forced to go down the snack aisle on their way to the frozen foods, so they stopped to ponder some of the low-fat offerings.

“Wow!” Brian said. “This package of four brownies has only 150 calories!”

“Uh, I think that’s probably per serving,” Steve pointed out.

Brian read the label more closely. “Crap,” he muttered, tossing the package back on the shelf.

“Hey, these potato chips only have one gram of fat per serving,” Randy said.

Steve picked up a bag and looked at the label. “You’re right.”

“I’m gonna stock up on these,” Randy said, putting four bags into his cart.

Then Steve noticed the fine print: Excessive consumption may have a laxative effect. He debated whether to point this out to Randy, but then decided this was probably some kind of Darwinian thing he should not interfere with.

When they reached the frozen foods department, there was a little crowd of women busily mining the low-fat entrée section. The guys patiently waited their turn, feeling a little out of place while also trying to discreetly take note of what the popular choices were.

As the crowd began to thin out, Randy explained that the brand in the blue boxes was higher in sodium, but they also tasted better, according to his sources.

Brian pulled one out and looked at it skeptically. “God, these sure are small.”

“Oh, you have to eat at least two at a time,” Randy said. “They make ’em this size for women.”

Steve began to wish they’d wagered more than $10.

Brian read the front of one container. “So what’s really more important, fat or calories?”

“Nobody counts calories anymore,” Randy declared. “It’s a lot better to keep track of your fat grams, and it’s easier, too, ’cause the numbers are smaller.”

“So how many fat grams can you have in a day?”

“Um,” Randy thought a second. “About 200, I think.”

Steve heard a couple of young women giggling behind them. Cruel witches, he thought. They could set us straight, but nooooo. Then he began to think about life-expectancy rates, and all of those rich widows who had cooked all of those high-fat meals… coincidence, or brilliant conspiracy?

He was losing it, he realized. Probably that damn fat-free bagel Lisa had fed him for breakfast.

*

Steve’s big master bathroom became pretty tight quarters as they all removed their jackets and shoes for the first official weigh-in since they’d begun dieting a month before.

Brian got out the little notepad he’d used to record their beginning weights. “OK Randy, you were 194. Let’s see where you’re at now.”

Randy stepped on the scale, looked at the weight and immediately got off. “That can’t be right.”

“I just adjusted the scale,” Steve said. “See, it’s at exactly zero. Get back on.”

As Randy did, Steve read the scale and started laughing. “How the hell did you gain weight?”

“I don’t know,” the red-faced Randy said as he quickly stepped off. “I’ve been starvin’ myself.”

“What was it?” Brian asked.

“196,” Steve said, thinking they could use a little of that kind of starvation over in Africa.

Brian recorded the figure. “You’re next,” he told Steve.

Steve stepped on and looked down at the dial. “Crap. I only lost one pound. And I even walked on the treadmill twice this week!”

“At least you’re goin’ in the right direction,” Randy said. “OK,” he looked to Brian, “your turn.”

Brian handed the notebook to Steve and stepped on the scale.

“OK,” Steve said, “you were 182, and now you’re…”

“176?!” Randy wailed. “How could that be?”

“Wow,” Brian said quietly.

“That’s six pounds!” Randy said. “How could you lose six pounds in one month?”

Brian shrugged. “I just didn’t eat as much.”

“Are you on one of those low-carb things?” Randy asked accusingly.

“No, I just ate smaller meals and cut out candy bars and stuff.”

Randy was skeptical. “You’ve probably been workin’ out a bunch, huh?”

“Well, Dawn and I have been going out for walks more often, but that’s all.”

Randy folded his arms and shook his head, still unconvinced. Then he squinted. “You joined that Weight Watchers, didn’t you?”

Brian chuckled and shook his head. “No, I didn’t join Weight Watchers.”

“So what you’re saying,” Steve said, “is that you lost six pounds just by eating a little less and exercising a little more?”

“Well, yeah. Basically, that was it.”

“Son of a bitch,” Randy shook his head. “Who’da thunk it?”

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In the real world, Kathy Maeglin is special projects editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal. In the fiction world, she’s a struggling neophyte who dreams of getting carpal tunnel syndrome from too many book signings for her smashingly successful first novel. E-mail: kmaeglin[at]aol.com.

Playing Kazoo: Rituals

Fiction
Jason Arbogast


Demons, in Roger’s experience, weren’t any worse than gods. Sure, they tended to be a lot uglier, but they were also a lot more honest, in their own way. They were evil and out to steal your soul, but at least you knew where you stood with a demon. Gods had more of a penchant for mystery than most demons, and you never really knew if they were trying to help or hinder you. You could always count on a demon to be trying to hinder you. And that kind of duplicitous honesty was something Roger could respect.

That being said, they also squealed like a snitch with Tourette’s on helium when they didn’t get their way. The eight-foot-tall, unicorn-headed monstrosity Roger had trapped in a summoning circle was currently doing this. Given the fact that this demon had interrupted a quiet night Roger had been intending to spend with his girlfriend, he was less than moved by the wailing.

“Now then,” Roger said calmly from his seat atop a laundry machine, “tell me exactly why I shouldn’t bind you into a urinal cake at the free clinic for the next decade.”

The night had started off quietly enough. Roger had just finished helping a little old dead lady move on to the afterlife, and was on his way up to Erin’s second floor apartment at West Campus Apartments, silently thanking whatever higher powers that listened to him that the old woman had been the only ghost to bother him that day, when he’d heard the scream from the laundry room.

“I’ve gotta stop thinking happy thoughts,” Roger said aloud.

He looked in the direction of the laundry room, looked up towards Erin’s apartment, then back. “I could just ignore this. It might just be a mugging. Nothing ghostly or at all supernatural. Could just be a rat.”

The laundry room’s window exploded outwards, a cloud of yellowish smoke right on the heels of the flying glass.

“Big rats.” Roger took a deep breath, smelling the vaguely rank stench of rotten eggs. “From Hell.”

Roger sighed and dropped his chin to his chest. “Is it too much to ask for a night off?” he asked the city of Kalamazoo as he started walking towards his ’86 Sunbird. “It’s not that I mind being the resident supernatural detective. It’s got bad hours, low pay, and no retirement plan other than a horrible death, probably at the hands of something big and toothy that’ll eat my soul, but other than that it’s great.”

He went around to the car’s trunk and opened it. “I mean, look at all the hot women I get to hang around with.” He opened a little red tacklebox and took out a piece of chalk and a small vial from it. He swished the thick, auburn liquid inside it around a bit to loosen it up. “Granted, they’re all dead, and I’m the only one that can see them, but hey, that’s just a technicality, right?” He patted one of his trench coat’s pockets to make sure it still contained a urinal cake. Feeling that it did, he closed the trunk.

A roar that Roger heard more in his soul than his ears came out of the laundry room.

“And look at the people I get to meet.” Roger began walking towards the laundry room. “Not to mention the gods, demons, elves, lawn gnomes, and the occasional flying toilet seat. Who wouldn’t want a job as exciting as this?”

A guy, Roger guessed he was twenty at the oldest, wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans ran across the parking lot to the other apartment building across from Erin’s. “Even his hair’s black. Cute.”

The sound of shattering timbers and falling furniture came from the apartment above the laundry room. An entertainment center, complete with TV, VCR, and DVD player, shot through the apartment’s sliding glass window and landed on someone’s blue Cavalier. A car alarm tried to go off, but quickly gave up, going from a shrill screech to a dull moan, and then to nothing.

Roger continued on his way to the laundry room. He walked down the steps to its door and went in. An ugly recliner the color of dish mold lay shattered into several pieces on the floor next to a dented dryer. Plaster and wood littered the rest of the room. Carpeting dangled from a large hole in the ceiling.

Roger nudged the chair with his foot. “At least that thing’s dead. Can’t be too bad of demon if it destroys ugly furniture.”

He wandered over to the remains of a summoning circle done in red chalk on the floor. Knocked-over black candles surrounded it, and melted wax was flung all about the area. Roger examined the circle.

“He tried to summon a duke of Hell. Well, the kid’s ambitious, I’ll give him that. Doesn’t make up for being an idiot Goth boy, though.”

Roger filled in the parts the kid had missed and dribbled the blood in the vial around the circle. “Get down here, dammit,” he said up to the hole in the ceiling. “I haven’t got all night.”

The demon appeared in the circle in a flash of light. It promptly started roaring at Roger and clawing at the air in front of it.

“My circle can hold you, so don’t even try it.”

Roger hopped up onto a washing machine to sit down. “Now then, tell me exactly why I shouldn’t bind you into a urinal cake at the free clinic for the next decade. And put on a human form. I’m not some little Goth punk you can scare by looking hideous.”

The demon stopped making noises. A human form replaced the demon form with no transition, making Roger’s eyes water a little. He pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head to clear it.

“I’ve never understood why you guys feel the need to show up as the most hideous thing you can imagine.”

“It is part of what is expected.” The demon smiled, its yellow teeth out of place on the overly handsome face. “We do have an image to maintain, after all.”

“And stop with the cheap theatrics. Just tell me who you are so I can get rid of you.”

“Do you not recognize me, Detective?”

Roger looked at it more closely. “Aguares? Don’t tell me you’re answering summons now.”

Aguares shrugged. “You seem to think I had a choice.”

“Last I saw of you, you’d disappeared after eating the jackass who’d bound you in a beer stein. Which I freed you from, by the way.”

“I have not forgotten the favor I owe you,” Aguares said icily, literally causing the temperature to drop in the room.

“Yeah, well, subtlety was never one of my strong points. Go home without remodeling any more of this place and we’ll call it even.”

“You would deny me the soul of the child that summoned me so rudely?”

Roger scratched his head. “Well, here’s the thing, I can’t let you kill people just because their etiquette is lacking. Even if I agree that it’d teach him a valuable lesson.”

“I must have vengeance.”

“Give him gas, or hemorrhoids, or something. What’d he want from you? Use that.”

“He wanted to be a singer.”

“There you go. Take his voice away, or give him Tourette’s. Something. I don’t know, you’re the demon, you think of something appropriate.”

“And then we shall be even?”

Roger nodded. “Curse the kid, get out of town, and we’re square.”

“Agreed.”

Roger jumped down from the washer. “Great. No offense, but I hope I never see you again.”

Roger started to leave and the demon cleared its throat. He turned.

“The circle?” Aguares asked impatiently.

“Oh, yeah. You’re free to leave.”

The demon flashed out of existence.

Roger looked at his watch. He should have been at Erin’s ten minutes ago. “Great. Like our relationship isn’t strained enough as it is.”

Once in the parking lot, Roger heard the scream he’d heard earlier, this time coming from one of the second story apartments across the parking lot. The roar sounded again, and there was silence.

Roger shook his head and hoped the demon hadn’t found some way to trick him and kill the kid. He wasn’t overly concerned if it had, though.

“Can’t win ’em all. Maybe some time in Hell will do him good.”

Roger saw Erin standing on her balcony, glaring down at him as he approached the stairs. “I wonder if it’s too late to get Aguares to take me with him.”

pencil

“I graduated from Western Michigan University with degrees in creative writing and elementary education. I currently live in Toledo, but mostly against my will. Personally, I like Goths, but they do take themselves too seriously, so they are very fun to poke fun at.” E-mail: jakobar330[at]cs.com.

Cerulean

Flash
Timons Esaias


Blue.

The color symbolizing the Ideal.

It is both the ideal and the color of her eyes. The color of her eyes, but only when she is very happy, excited, ecstatic. The rest of the time they are a cold and distant gray, as they are today. Not meeting mine across the table. Engaged by the other customers, the tablecloth, the silverware.

Blue signifies the ideal, but scientific studies indicate it is the least appetizing color, the color restaurants should most avoid. I wonder if this is because we must kill to eat, vegetable or animal, and know in our hearts that killing is not ideal. Blue in the presence of food is like a sermon at a smorgasbord. Perhaps this is why we have cultivated so few foods that are blue.

Her eyes are still not blue, and though I ordered a full meal she has chosen only coffee. Coffee without caffeine, the substance that coffee exists only to provide. A Puritan ideal of coffee. Food separates us.

Semites and Persians, the peoples of the difficult dietary laws, favor blue for their kitchens. They too, when tested, find it the least appetizing color. In their native, arid lands they have concentrated on the ideal, the blue, in carpets, in tiles, in porcelain and generally it is blue on a white background with no other colors adulterating the essential one.

She has not taken sugar. Nor cream. As though doing so would compromise the distance between us. It would be too great a concession.

The problem with the ideal—as this one-sided meal, this non-communal meal, is teaching me—is that it cannot be achieved, or if briefly achieved, cannot be sustained. The ideal is always having a change of mind, an important career choice, an essential and unfulfilled need.

Ideals are difficult and carelessly destructive of their colytes. They are always finding somebody better.

In music, blue is the name for a note that rends the heart with exquisite pain. The pain of someone hurt only because they first cared deeply. The music of Baptists whose God has not come through with the goods. Of suburban-tending liberals who found more affinity with the music of the poor than with the poor themselves. The music of disappointed idealists who have learned to settle for pain. And to cultivate it.

Her eyes are still not blue. They are evasive, and her explanations rehearsed but unconvincing. It is best for me. It is just too bad. It is really the best thing for both of us, all things considered. It is for the best.

Blue skies are ideal, I understand, but the knot in the pit of my stomach is reminding me of the rest of the metaphor. Blue skies are painfully, exquisitely empty.

As am I.
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Timons Esaias is a freelance writer and poet living in Pittsburgh. A five-time nominee for the Rhysling Award, he was also a finalist for the British Science Fiction Award (Best Short Fiction, 1998). His satires have convinced thousands of readers that the Vatican is moving to Missouri, and that Pittsburgh puts Prozac in the water.

Tim studied biochemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, before shifting to philosophy at UMSL. He then moved on to the normal writerly employments of renovation contracting and building maintenance. Tim reads far more than is really healthy, though he is occasionally distracted by chess, baseball, historical war games, aikido, learning Hittite or square-foot gardening. For more about him see www.timonsesaias.com. E-mail: Esaias[at]compuserve.com.

Annabelle

Flash
Ian Kita


You have the dream again. It is of Annabelle, naked in the sunlight and lying on the bed. She smiles at you, her large brown eyes begging you to adore her. You draw nearer to her and run a finger between her breasts and down her abdomen. In the wake of your touch a wide, blood-filled gash appears, running the length of the invisible line you drew. Your hands are stained with blood. You try to wipe them on the bed sheets, but they are saturated with it.

On Annabelle’s face there is a sad sort of smile.

“Do it more,” she urges.

You wake with a start, as you always do. You haven’t been sleeping well. You have been prone to nodding off at odd times. Your hands are clammy and a hole is forming in your stomach and you try not to hyperventilate, try to tell yourself that it is only a dream, only a dream. You find yourself hard to believe.

There is a box of tissues on the window ledge. You reach for several and dry the perspiration from your skin.

You think of Annabelle when you were both twenty-year-olds: vastly and inconsolably in love, sitting on the grass in the springtime on the library green. You remember her sweet words: “I would have to kill myself if you ever left me.” In your sleep you have killed her countless times.

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Ian Kita lives in Minneapolis and works at an Italian restaurant. He trades a few hours sleep each night to write fiction and poetry. E-mail: iankita[at]mac.com.

The Patsy

Flash
Miriam N. Kotzin


She cups her hands over the candle. “You’re such a cynic.” The better part of her filet sits cold.

I could counter by asking her why she is such a patsy. But if I keep quiet, she will glide through her litany of complaints, and we’ll have a pleasant evening.

Her otherwise bare arms are braceleted with gold and amethyst, four bangles, one for each year. She rarely wears them, complaining that they snag her sweaters. I’ve tucked a fifth, wrapped, into my jacket pocket.

“Mr. Stone Face.” She cuts a dainty piece of meat, but does not fork it into her perfect mouth. On her plate, ovals of fat congeal on the surface of a red pool.

Her lips open and close. From time to time through her white teeth I glimpse her tongue. Her words float above her head like a Lichtenstein print. Her eyelashes curl long and thick. Her blonde hair shines in the candlelight. A fat tear on her cheek would complete the illusion.

I place my hands palms down on the wooden table and watch the bubble of words float, harmless, to the ceiling.

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Miriam N. Kotzin teaches creative writing and literature at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Her short fiction has been published or is forthcoming in ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum, Littoral and Xaxx. Online her poetry can be found online at the Drexel Online Journal, Three Candles, The Poetry Super Highway, and Word Riot. She used to like gardening, fighting black spot on rose bushes. E-mail: kotzinmn[at]drexel.edu.

1000 Years Ago

Flash
J. Rubino


The cashier’s voice rose with an excitement only possible from delivering bad news about someone known but distant.

Meg’s hands started trembling as she asked “What?” softly, not wanting to be answered, knowing she had heard every word. A drop of rainwater rolled down a long twisted strand of her hair and plopped on the countertop. Her finger traced it into a small swirl. She was afraid to ask for more information, afraid to admit that the news overwhelmed all thought. It seemed impossible. Maybe it couldn’t have… In a sudden flood, discarded memories about the two of them unleashed.

“Is something wrong?” the cashier asked.

But the question was to Meg’s back as she rushed past probing glances and out the glass doors. The sun moved in angled shafts across the parking lot sending tendrils of steam rising up from the scattered puddles. Her key jammed into the car lock and would not turn.

“Open up. Goddamn it, open up.”

And then she was crying. The keys slipped loose, jingling across her leg and bare feet to the pavement. Tears dripped onto her blouse, adding to the dampness caused by the rain… by the sudden, torrential rain from what seemed a thousand years ago.

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“Recently, my short fiction has been published in Plum Ruby Review, The Spillway Review, and Apollo’s Lyre. Other credits are include articles in The Travel Rag and Vegetarian Times. As for me, I’m a English teacher at Arab-American University in Jenin, Palestine. (Not nearly as dangerous as you think.)” E-mail: john_rubino[at]yahoo.com.

Three Poems

Poetry
Lindsay Vaughan


Trilobyte

Bare blue luminescence in the mornings,
a yellow room with yellow curtains
and no pictures on the walls.
She stands before the mirror

and
unpeels

the husk of twilight, the sticky residue
of dreamstuff—she retains
imprints overnight, becomes the fossil
of the girl she used to be.

Volem tebe, volem tebe,
ti si drvo pod kojim ležim
ti si nebo iznad mene
ti si mesec i zvezde
ti si moje sve

She was a fleshy radiator,
a steam generator—gliding
through the halls like
an unseen ghost,

she
unpeeled

the husk of morning, stayed awake
all night, the rain pounding the
pavement, her feet growing wings
in a wet tennis court.

volem tebe, volem tebe,
ti si drvo pod kojim ležim
ti si nebo iznad mene
ti si mesec i zvezde
ti si moje sve

When did we become
autumn leaves, brown and shriveled,
crunchy underfoot,
sadly nihilistic,

desirous of nothing?

 

Ephemeritis

Alan tells me I’m like an artist
forever on the brink of suicide
and I know he’s right, as I sit here
surrounded by plates and mugs,
grapes still on the vine, an empty
plastic cup and an accidental
cutlery statue.

There is a box of typewriter ribbons to my left,
a copy of Women by Bukowski,
a small bag of beads
and a letter from a friend,
written on neon pink paper—
“I was raped at the age of six.”

The bookshelf is heaving, and so am I;
all this debris of modern life
is drowning me in my own bedroom.
The phone rings and it’s an old woman
speaking Pig Latin; I ignore the doorbell
and the postman shoves a note through
the letterbox— “I left your parcel
in the trashcan”.

I haven’t spoken to my father in two years,
and my mother has been ignoring me
since Christmas.
A three-headed frog was on the news
the other day, and a little girl
stared blankly into the camera—
“We thought it was cool.”

The world turns so very slowly
and here I sit,
like the wick without the wax,
burning for the sake of being burnt.

 

Life With Narcissus

You gave:

a book. a doll. a box full of string
for making jewelry.
I searched behind the pillows.
the curtains. beneath cushions and chairs
until I found them.

You said:

“I know what you’re looking at.”

We gave:

angel food cake. wine.
peanut butter cookies with too much salt.
we threw handfuls of confetti
that landed in your hair and on the doorstep.

We said:

“I’m sorry.”

She gave:

small toys, lined up on the piano
as I played. a flower. a thimble. a green
plastic dinosaur. pictures of places
I’d always wanted to visit.

She said:

“I don’t know where to go anymore.”

We asked for:

a smile. a tear. an evening spent
listening to old music. a moment of
stunning realism during
a conversation at the dinner table.

You gave:

silence. a stoic expression.
tabletops covered in origami cranes.
A mouthful of teeth for gnashing;
images of God from a distance.

 

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Lindsay Vaughan is a 21-year-old Sociology major in Leeds, England. In her spare time she takes care of her cat and two bunnies, procrastinates in her coursework, and writes a paltry amount of poems every year. E-mail: lindsay[at]dreamvirus.com.