On Fantasy Flights

Flash
Mandira Pattnaik


Photo Credit: The Children of War/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

We sew-girls can read minds. People don’t believe us. We don’t care about the negation.

So, when Dallapuri crumples the paper into a ball and throws it at Azma, and Azma reads the note in the shadow of her palm, nods twice, then hides it within the folds of the brocade skirt she had been embroidering, we know one of us has read a mind.

Eighth ball that has got thrown today in the six hours we have been pigeonholed in our Ma’am quarters, ensconced in frigid soundlessness. Only the fourth correct reading.

We girls aren’t happy compatible spouses. Or claim to be Gods.

I wrote one to Gudi,

Sewaiyyan, tonight?’

I was sorry I was wrong, more because her eyes remained downcast for long. We can hardly afford it, unless it’s payday.

We sew-girls play this game away from Ma’am’s eagle-gaze every day. Observe eyes, shoulders drooping or upright, hands nimble or sloth, and then throw a guess, stopping our busy fingers sewing in a fold or the hemline of a petticoat. If the girl nods twice, we giggle and sway like trees in monsoon until Ma’am cranes her neck from her place shoo-shooing us.

We girls pat ourselves—we can read minds.

We tuck our lips in. Go back to attending to the uniformity of the stitches.

Presently, our curiosities rise when Dallapuri winks. And we catch the slipping sun etch a blush on Azma’s face.

Azma pulls the paper out and fashions it into an origami bird which she holds by its belly to imitate a flight on giant wings.

How we girls want to fly! How we stow away dreams in our heads, readily embark on flights of fantasy.

Rashid asked me to elope seven times. Said he’d abduct me the next time he was here if I didn’t agree. We could set up home with dusk-colored curtains, and windowsill plants in Mumbai, where he worked a mason’s help. What’d be the color of my wedding sharara?

No more paper balls acquire plumes.

When the hour gets over, we ignore Dallapuri and crowd around Azma, letting our eyes do the talking.

‘Muku’s left her cage again and I’m afraid, she’ll marry Kalua’s ugly partridge.’

There is a collective gasp before she continues,

‘All that’s left are her parrot-green feathers from her struggle with the cage. What color will their nestlings be?’

She blushes again—faint rust.

We don’t wait to answer her, for we’d miss the boat taking us back to our homes in the riverine delta.

Picking up our rickety bicycles fallen in a heap by the roadside, and fussing over the knots of our dupattas, we pedal hard so we can make a dash to the jetty.

pencil

Mandira Pattnaik’s work has appeared or is shortly due in Watershed Review, Splonk, Citron Review, Gasher, Heavy Feather, Lunate, Spelk, FlashFlood, Night&Sparrow and Star 82, among others. She was recently shortlisted at NFFD NZ 2020 and RetreatWest Microfiction Contest. Her tweets are @MandiraPattnaik Email: mandira.pattnaik[at]hotmail.com

Prayers

Flash
Nora Nadjarian


Photo Credit: Long Thiên/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

For this food, we thank you. My mother leans forward praying with all her heart for the food we were about to receive, her hands in prayer, my father watching us, or praying too, watching over us, that’s what my father does. He watches over us.

For what we are about to receive. My husband is in the picture and I can’t remember who took this photo. Maybe God, maybe God takes pictures of everyone who is in prayer, the rapture—is that what they call it? I remember I’d been crying in church. In church, I cried for Mary Magdalene.

This family, this family. For what we are about to receive, for these full plates and empty minds and heavy hearts, dear Lord, for what we have done and not done, for what my husband knows and doesn’t know. I can’t remember what I’m grateful for. I’m clenching my face to make myself be grateful for something, for anything.

pencil

Nora Nadjarian is an award-winning poet and writer from Cyprus. She has had poetry and short fiction published internationally. Her work was included in various anthologies, among others, in Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive Press), Being Human (Bloodaxe Books) and Europa 28 (Comma Press). Her latest book is the collection of short stories Selfie (Roman Books, 2017). Email: noranadj[at]gmail.com

Down the Hallway

Flash
Mike Dillon


Photo Credit: Miss Lazy/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

In America, it’s a dolorous sax down a dingy hotel corridor blown by an indigo soul.

Here, in northern Italy, it’s a soprano’s sweet voice trying to follow the slow, minor-key notes of a piano.

You lie on your sleeping bag on top of a dirty bed in an old hotel. You’re in the middle of your backpacking year through Europe after working a night janitor’s job at a posh athletic club in Seattle.

You lived like a monk and saved $6,000—a lot of money in 1975. Europe was cheap then.

And so you lie there watching the white scarves of your breath in a room without heat while the distant snow mountains out the window vanish in the deepening dusk.

She sounds young—talented but unfledged. Sometimes she falters as she negotiates the haunting pathways of a Schubert lieder:

Still ist die Nacht, es ruhen die Gassen,
In diesem Hause wohnte mein Schatz.

“The night is quiet, the streets are at rest,
In this house lived my darling.”

The words belong to Heine. Your high school and college German has served you well on your journey.

Her voice shines with promise. Maybe she’s around your age, twenty-four. Sometimes, just like you in your own life, her timing can be awkward. Sometimes, when she falters, the piano breaks off like the snap of a stick in a frozen forest.

Then the chase resumes, her sweet voice clear as creek water.

You close your eyes and listen. You can almost see yourself as clearly as if your body has risen and you look down from the ceiling. That tall young man stretched out on the bed, unshaven, a little pale, listening with eyes shut, is you. These slow, cold moments feel like a remembrance out of some old novel.

She retraces familiar ground: Still ist die Nacht…

Far from home, you wonder what story you’re in.

pencil

Mike Dillon, a retired community newspaper publisher, lives on Puget Sound northwest of Seattle. A previous contributor to Toasted Cheese, he is the author of four books of poetry and three books of haiku. His most recent book, Departures, a book of poetry and prose about the forced removal of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor was published by Unsolicited Press in April 2019. Email: miked7003[at]gmail.com

Carla as a Redwood

Flash
Susan DeFelice


Photo Credit: Tyler Hewitt/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

By the time Carla hits twenty-one, she has become a redwood in varying shades of burnt orange from her hair to her amber-tinted toenails. The wavy hair is her best feature, like twirling leaves in autumn springing out from branches. Either that or her pale hazel eyes, murky behind the thick glasses she wears. Carla’s vision is shot because even with those thick glasses she has to squint.

Carla lacks womanlike curves. Her legs thump down as she walks. There is very little light showing between them, even when she is pacing. They seem to be matted together. Her skin is covered in freckles, some distinct dots and some bled together in a patch. A tall redwood of a young woman.

It wasn’t the case when she was a dainty girl, had possibility, when her skin was creamy olive with tiny freckles fanned over it, her eyes bright and erring on the green side of hazel. She’ll show you a picture of herself dressed up at about age ten for a birthday party, glassesless and with vibrant skin. That is the only proof she was ever a different form of herself.

Carla paces the hospital hallway, driven towards reaching the other end, and when she gets to the barricaded door at one end of the vast hallway she abruptly turns around and is driven to reach the other end, with its barricaded door, searching for it through her opaque glasses. Each time she completes a hallway length could be like the first in the startled way Carla spins around when she reaches the end. When she’s finished ten laps she stops, snaps those trunk-like legs together in an armless salute and stands like a statue. Occasionally there is white foam coming out the corners of her mouth from exhaustion and dehydration.

By the time Carla hits forty-five, the walking is long over, and so is the shelter of hospitals and other types of suitable environments. In fact there are no suitable environments except the outdoors at this point. Why, Carla has depleted those types of institutions and whatnot, people explain dismissively, as though Carla pointedly exorcised all available choices and the outdoors was her natural destiny. She sits outside balled up but still has those trunk-like legs that reach her chin when she bends them, although she is smaller and her arms, wrapped around her legs, are thinner and wispy, like branches used for roasting marshmallows.

She applies fuchsia blush in small circles on her cheeks she says to protect herself, like war paint, and the skin on her face has turned into one immense reddish age spot by this time. The wild cloak of hair is more wiry and, of course, more gray than red. Carla still has the picture, faded now, of herself as the sharp-seeing olive-skinned girl in a dress at a party, although she’s forgotten how it came into her possession and who the little girl is.

pencil

Susan DeFelice lives in Washington state and has a BA degree from Sonoma State University. Her stories have been published in Flash Fiction Magazine and Literally Stories. Email: susan.defelice[at]hotmail.com

Change Of Scene

Flash
Tim Conley


Photo Credit: Janne Räkköläinen/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

The day after the news of the architect’s death, his buildings began to mourn. Naturally their shapes and dimensions did not change (though perhaps the tallest among them seemed to bow just a little) but the behaviour of those within his buildings was not just affected but gradually transformed. In his city halls, mayors and councils began to pass a series of resolutions exhorting citizens to be kind to and patient with each other. From his museums came many reports of visitors weeping and embracing each other in front of the exhibits, apparently no matter the subject. The terms of loans and agreements became more compassionate in the banks he had designed. In due course all mortgages were written off, debtors were forgiven, nobody went to jail.

I might carry on with this story if I had a mind to, but just now I am being called to join the dancing in the streets outside.

pencil

Tim Conley’s most recent collection of short fiction is Collapsible (New Star Books, 2019). He teaches at Brock University in Canada. Email: awethorrorty[at]hotmail.com

Five Poems

Poetry
DS Maolalai


Photo Credit: Paul Downey/Flickr (CC-by)

My Grandfather

heavy the tread
like a box
with flowerpots.

his fingers
dust brown
and warm soda
bread. a man
is a knuckle. made hard
with antique.

with simple food,
with hot tea,
with sunlight,
with cigarettes.

watering a plant.
watering a plant.
watering a plant.

 

On the Apartment Balcony

faces; flashing flowerpots
from someone else’s garden. light
beaming, the river
for once blue
and not grey. people on the quays,
smoking cigarettes
or walking. enjoying the heat
in general
like cats amongst activity
which prowl about a garden
playful in their chasing
of butter-
and mayflies.

I stretch my arms southward
and slouch on the apartment
balcony. in the kitchen
chrys makes cocktails
out of gin and crushed mint
leaves.

 

Alberta

I liked it a lot.
this was Calgary,
and our rented house
took the top of a hill, lurching
on a view
which went rolling down
past mountains and downward
into the river.

all around the edges
wood hung
like the dribbles
of enormous candles. swamps
with pine needles;
rain
settling on rain.

once
I woke up at 5 a.m.,
filled a glass of water
and went to the garden
and smoke
was stalking the street
in wisps.

we were fine,
the neighbours told me,
out early
gathering apples.
the wildfires
were 200
miles off;
we were only seeing it now
because they were bad
in particular this year.

 

Smoking

3 a.m. bar
closing. mr
and dame cigarette

outside. her back
on the wall,
his hand
braced against it. cold

damp stone
such as might be found
in caves
or the quiet moisture
of subway platforms.

his head
is half dangled. hers
tilted back. elbow
cupped, very
stylish. she blows

her smoke. it mingles,
goes up.
becomes stars.

 

The Fish Tank

after two years
he pulled out the suitcase
that had been sitting at the bottom
of his wardrobe
and discovered it had only ever
been half-unpacked
when he moved in.
those old shirts went in the trash
along with most of the things
he had saved that time—

bunches of letters
and movie-ticket stubs
kept in a drawer to decay after first dates,
a secondhand radio
and some pictures bought from street vendors
and all the empty bottles
bunched beneath the sink.

the rest he threw in,
not bothering to fold things,
and found there wasn’t enough there
to completely fill it up.
he fished out some of the old letters
and threw them in on top.

then he put on his coat
and placed a note in front of the fish tank
asking his landlady
to give the fish to her daughters
or at least
to not flush them away,
left the keys on top of the fridge
and opened the door.

the room looked much as it had when he arrived,
no plaque up with his name on it,
no new paint on the walls.
the goldfish were his only addition
and a bedside locker
he had found on the street
with the door hanging loose
and repaired.

everything else
was white walls,
cheap pine,
and a stain on the toilet.

he picked up his suitcase
and the plane ticket from the stripped mattress
and was very careful to shut the door
properly behind him.

pencil

DS Maolalai has been nominated four times for Best of the Net and three times for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden (Encircle Press, 2016) and Sad Havoc Among the Birds (Turas Press, 2019) Email: diarmo90[at]live.ie

Four Poems

Poetry
Mark Hammerschick


Photo Credit: Srikanth Jandhyala/Flickr (CC-by)

In Arizona Distance Long by Wide

Moon rocks beckon
in an Arizona distance
deep with desert
long by width wide with height.

Heat
Sand
Snakes
Saguaro

Lizards leap in tangled underbrush
bright greens, yellow, crimson
flowers thorny
spikes, thistle, cutting.

Silence, complete, suffocating
dances alone as
ghosts of Navajo
hunt death’s valley.

Women weep
in caverns dark
while waters flow upward
into time’s steep ascent.

They chase shadows
of forgotten ancestors
who once roamed
these lands wide below trenches

of misery and pain,
not knowing the knowledge
of death’s refrain.
And so they weep…

 

Out of the Boardroom (Boredroom)

Looking upward through a skylight
at clouds slowly moving north
destination unknown on a summer day
late in a July afternoon.
Shadows from a whiteboard in a conference room
fingers of shadow for each phase
of past jobs lived lifelessly
among targets and profits meetings and marketing
how those charts no longer matter
and probably never did.
Goals and objectives, appraisals and reviews forgotten
when a life is lived with trousers rolled
and shirts untucked, ties a distant demise.

 

Corner Office

It is dark.
A boy shovels snow.
With each neat pile
he shovels his future
in the moonlight of this present past.

Saturday is weeding day.
First Mrs. Wilson’s garden
dodging the pesky schnauzers
then Cora Anderson’s place
under the cool Catalpa canopies.

On some nights he helps his mom
at the Lions Bar and Grill
as the general kitchen helper,
scraping, cleaning, boiling and frying
chickens for the Friday night regulars.

After fifth grade classes at St. Andrews
he scurries home to outrun
the Gaylords gang hanging out
under the El on Roscoe Street.
They don’t like the Catholic boys.

It is night.
In a small room
enclosed with books
he counts his money.
Careful, methodical piles
take shape, penny mountains,
quarter valleys and nickel canyons.

Seasons pass, winds move.
The boy scrapes pots and pans,
scrubs floors, shines silverware
at Martha Washington Hospital
as the dietary aide after high school classes.
On Sundays he’s the cook’s assistant
learning the mystery of hospital cuisine.

He is not one to complain.
He has a plan, he has a vision.
Work is work, an end to a means of approach.
Forever winning, near the goal…

Years pass, seasons come and go
like the women in that room
speaking of Michelangelo.
The boy now a man sits
enclosed in an Italian leather chair
high in the corner office
of a glass and steel tower.

So many Saturdays
and so many Sundays
early and late
in the small hours
and in the large hours
in the wide valley of youth
and now in the narrow crevice of age.

The sign on the door says
Executive Vice President.

No one knows how
the shovels of youth
can form the mountains of age,
how pulling weeds
and frying chickens
and scrubbing floors
can lead to the corner office.

The boy-man knows this
and is proud.
A life lived long,
lean, focused and charted
like some square rigger on the high seas.

So, they give him the gold watch
inscriptions and pats on the back.
What a run they say, you deserve it
they chatter, drinks raised, toasts made.

The man now sits in this yard
sipping a dry Martini
yearning to start shoveling again,
pulling weeds and frying chickens…

 

Mai Tais on the Bay

It started in the dirt
weeding the rose bush beds
for five dollars per hour
big cash for those days
lived on the Bernard
in a fractured yard
of splintered dreams
not yet imagined

it grows
it moves
it learns
it grooves

then onward and upwards
to the grill
at the minimum wage
but heated to the maximum
macs large in an oiled purgatory
of fries laced with Lazarus stench
oozed into blue aprons
impaled on tender breasts
not yet pierced
by the pernicious propensity
of ambition

it roils and rolls
into bewildered adolescence
based on black beauties
Hawaiian expansion
dazed and confused
broken on the bottle
shaved inner thighs beckon
and then
the descent
into Shantih
beyond the brutality of breath
the longing of Tantalus
so near so close
yet so far from
the warm cloak of Pompeii
where the womb one
floated into free fall
waiting

paths
move
mountains shift
rivers do what they do
it gathers itself
as it descends into steel towers
doing what needs to be done
moving up
into quantum cubes
infected with fantasy
dreams not only deferred
but only dried raisins
on that road to
Selma, Bataan, Auschwitz

In the inner
you fight to live
you pray to flee
but memory
can make you free

it grows old
moldy, moody, mottled
and then the day
when it leaves the corner office
out of the blue and into the black
certainty of Groundhog Day
another severed brain
lost in the labyrinth
of what could have been
of what was wasted
which is now
the here and now
of trousers rolled
belts slung high
and flesh fleeing itself
as it ascends
into Mai Tais on the Bay

pencil

Mark’s poetry will be appearing in The Metaworker and Breadcrumbs Magazine. He writes fiction and poetry and has been published sporadically. He holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a BS and MBA. He is a lifelong resident of the Chicago area and currently lives on the north shore, most of his professional career has been focused on digital strategy and online consulting as a digital architect and transformation strategist. Email: hawthorn2414[at]att.net