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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Island

Beaver’s Pick
Jerri Jerreat


Photo Credit: robmadeo/Flickr (CC-by)

When you live on an island, you need to practice Buddha-like views on life.

The ferry will be on time, but you will arrive seconds too late. The ferry will be an hour late, and you will be racing to the market with fresh eggs and your sauces tucked all around you.

Om.

The garden will thrive and you will bake gorgeous quiches and exquisite salads to sell at the university. Or there will be heat wave after heat wave and the well will dry up. Or rabbits will eat all the leaves of organic beets and heritage carrots. A thunderstorm will beat your tomatoes into bursting; rows of squash leaves might turn white with mold.

Om.

Your partner will be a great support to you, both reading aloud from farming books at Toronto cafés for a year beforehand, excited for this challenge you truly believe in. He will learn about sheep, and care for thirty—plus twenty chickens—and you will laugh together over silly sheep stories. You will take classes in spinning, weaving and dyeing wool, then hang it up like art around your open kitchen/living area in the fixer-upper cabin that you purchased from the last farmer who failed.

Or your partner will begin to curse the sheep and kick them, tell you the chickens are your job now, and complain the wifi is never working and how the hell did you talk him into living god-knows-where with no f—ing Internet?

Om.

When you live on an island you must learn to breathe. Slowly, deeply. Five slow breaths in, five to exhale, pause. Repeat.

You will learn to drive a standard on a twenty-year-old truck, and to rebuild a chicken pen after foxes made away with all the chickens except the only one who won’t lay. You will learn to hand dig a post hole, put in a post, shovel cement around it, and breathe. You will stretch chicken wire around your large garden, then around your chicken pen. (Also along the broken fence where the sheep keep disappearing and which your partner will not repair.) He will no longer cook joyfully with you, experimenting; will come to think in terms of gendered work, which was not The Deal. You will work at learning to enjoy running a farm alone as part of your own personal journey to completeness.

Om.

 

When you live on an island you will read library books on truck engines in the second year and tinker with the ornery steering problem, though it’s likely a power fluid leak. If your partner has difficulty turning when he makes his fast Friday night trip to the city, claiming he has business in the city and will just crash on his old friend’s couch, again—and the truck can’t make that ninety-degree turn to the ferry at high speed, well he—

—should have practiced his Buddha-like views of life.

Om.

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Jerri Jerreat‘s fiction has appeared in Feminine Collective, The New Quarterly, The Yale Review Online, The Penmen Review, and The Dalhousie Review among others, and was featured in anthologies published by World Weaver Press and Edge Publishers. Her play was a finalist at the Newmarket National Play Festival in 2019. Email: jjerreat[at]gmail.com

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