When Life Hands You Lemons

Boots’s Pick
Stephanie Moulton

Life hands people lemons all the time. This guy was given a whole grove—and no sugar.

He stood at a busy intersection with a sign, which read, “Will Work for Food.” Cars passed, and the occasional driver gave him the finger. Most shook their heads and frowned. He could see contempt in their eyes, could almost read their minds. “Get a job,” they’d spout. “The rest of us have to work, why shouldn’t you?”

They didn’t know that he’d had a job once. It paid enough for his wife to stay home with their children. When the economy went bad, he got laid off. He had too much education and experience for other jobs in his market. Fast food places wouldn’t hire him either. The savings account went dry, but the mortgage lender still wanted money. Soon, they were living on the streets.

Days blended one into another. Every morning, he and his wife would look for jobs, and every afternoon they would stand at the busy intersection with their sign. Once in a while someone would stop, but would tell them where to get help instead of just helping.

He thought this day would be no different. The sign was smudged; he stood motionless in the spring heat. He saw the stranger approach and dipped his head in shame, wanting the man to pass by as quickly as possible. Instead, the stranger stood before him with a paper bag that smelled of warmth and full stomachs. He smiled and took a large thermos out of the bag.


“I am a senior English major and Student-Creative-Writer-in-Residence at the University of Illinois at Springfield, married, and have a one-year-old son. Another piece of flash fiction, “Beautiful Medusa,” was Billiard’s Pick in the June 2005 edition of Toasted Cheese.” E-mail: stephaniemoulton[at]gmail.com.

Beautiful Medusa

Billiard’s Pick
Stephanie Moulton

Ian was a strong man once. He had a will and a mind of his own. Now… well, he thought as little as possible. It was easier. Lisa didn’t get mad then.

Lisa was his wife of almost three years. When they were dating, she seemed so normal. A healthy, virile man of thirty, Ian wanted Lisa to move in with him after they got engaged, but Lisa refused. She claimed it would erode her cloak of “feminine mystery.” Ian thought maybe she was just a closet conservative.

After the wedding, she started to change. It was slow at first, small things that Ian found strange but endearing. Black candles that smelled of anise, blood red satin sheets on their bed.

She started wearing leather undergarments to bed after they’d been married six months. The first time it happened, Ian thought it was brilliant, but a fluke. But she wore a different leather ensemble the next night, then a different one the night after that.

Little by little, Ian watched as microevolution took place before his eyes, eliminating the sweet girl he’d married (she’d said on their first anniversary that sweetness was a “weakness”) and bringing forth a woman that turned his insides to cold, hard granite.

At eighteen months, Lisa ordered Ian to call her “Mistress Arian.” He laughed and waited for the punchline. It came in the form of leg shackles and a whip. “Mistress Arian” was dressed head to toe in black leather, and she ran one deep purple lacquered nail along his jawbone as she called him slave. Unworthy.

The night before their second anniversary, Lisa brought home a small plaque and hung it on the wall by the front door. Ian looked at it, failed to pronounce the long-dead Latin words. Veritas Nos Liberabit. He asked her what it meant and she told him to shut up and not ask questions. She wore a vicious smile the rest of the evening, and that night she wound her auburn hair in a leather thong just so she could unwind it and use the thong to bind Ian’s wrists.

The morning of their third anniversary, Ian looked at their wedding picture in the hallway, at the exquisite girl in white and wondered where she’d gone. That night, as he watched her, auburn locks snaking around her face in the wind, it came to him. She never existed. There was only Mistress Arian and an amazing façade. A tingle spread through his body. Slave, he thought, but pushed it away. He let her play her games that night; he begged for mercy while a stiletto heel rested on his stomach.

When morning arrived, he set his plain gold wedding band on her nightstand, along with a curt note saying he’d be back for his things. On his way out the door, he took the small plaque off the wall. The truth will set you free. Pretty monsters be damned.

“I am happily married, have a six-month-old son, and I am working on a BA in English at the University of Illinois at Springfield.” E-mail: stephm625[at]ameritech.net.