Tuesday 31 July 2018

Mellowing Out

by James Bates

camomile tea 

Alicia Jorgenson set the cup down and said, "Here you go, Blake. Here's some nice chamomile tea for you."
            Blake held up a hand in acknowledgment, smiled his thanks, and said in a low voice, "Come and join me. This will be done in just a minute." Then he closed his eyes and went back to his relaxation tape, ear buds firmly in place, listening to the melodic strains of "Trickling Forest Stream."
            Alicia went to the kitchen, made herself a cup, came back to the den and sat down. She wasn't sure what to think about her husband, recovering now from the mild heart attack he'd suffered six weeks earlier in the summer; a heart attack brought on by his obsession with his garden and with ridding it of the female rabbit and her babies that had taken over eating, it seemed, everything in sight. He'd wanted to win first place in the garden contest after settling for second place last year. Well, this year he'd placed third.
            Alicia remembered the outcome of the judging very well. At the time, Blake had been into his second week of recovery. When the announcement was made, Alicia had expected him to explode and rant and rave and go on a rampage. It would have been par for the course given his highly strung and competitive nature. But he hadn't even gritted his teeth or swore an oath of revenge. Instead, completely out of character, he'd shrugged his shoulders and grinned, "We'll, at least it's something," meaning the third place award, a simple plaque, not the shining gold trophy he'd envisioned. It was so out of character for him that she'd had to look twice to see if the tall, slightly overweight person she'd been married to for over forty years really was, in fact, the same man. He was. Maybe, Alicia thought to herself, as she went back to sipping her tea in companionable silence while Blake finished listening to the trickling stream, maybe he really was starting to change.
At just that moment, Becky Johnson and Maggie Jones, two old friends who had outlived each of their respective husbands by over twenty years, were walking past the Jorgenson's house.
            "Look at how lovely the pink geraniums and vinca vine are doing in those hanging baskets," Becky remarked.
            "Humph. That Blake, he's such a jerk," Maggie rejoined, "Thinks he knows everything about gardening."
            "Well, his flower beds do look awfully nice."
            "He's just so full of himself. He doesn't even bother to help out at the community garden. He's a jerk in my book."
            Becky grinned. Deep down she agreed with Maggie's assessment of their arrogant neighbor, but she occasionally enjoyed winding her friend up. It was easy to do, too, since Maggie had opinions on nearly everything and everybody under the sun, Blake Jorgenson being near the top of the list. Not that either of them were happy he'd suffered his heart attack, not at all. Neither of them had  mean spirited bone in their body. But they both secretly agreed that Blake really was, in their opinion, a little too big for his britches. Plus, the fact that the heart attack, which had been brought on when he'd freaked out over what he referred to as "That Damn Rabbit," well, you had to admit, in the right context, it was kind of funny.
            That being said, Becky pointed and grinned. There was the aforementioned rabbit, calmly nibbling contentedly on one of Blake's orange nasturtiums. She was about to shoo it away when Maggie put her hand on her friend's arm to stop her. Becky just grinned, "Okay. He does sort of deserve it, doesn't he?"
            The two smiled at each other and continued walking on, arm in arm, happily enjoying the tranquility of a quiet August morning, ambling down the street and away from both Blake's garden and the healthy looking rabbit, who, having finished with the nasturtiums was now moving on to some delectable looking bachlor buttons.
Inside the Jorgenson home, Blake's tape had ended. He happened to glance outside and spied the two elderly ladies. "Look at those two old bitties," he said to Alicia. "God, they're so high and mighty." He took a gulp of his supposed relaxing tea, choked on it a little and coughed.
            Alicia leaned over and patted him on the back. "Blake, calm down. You know what your doctor said."
            "I know, 'You've got to try and learn how to relax and mellow out,'" he said, in a sing-song voice, mimicking the words of Dr. Rose, a doctor chosen by Blake as much for his last name as for his medical acumen, "I'm trying."
            Alicia took a sip of her tea, "I know you are dear, but you really do need to try harder. Especially when it comes to your gardening. It's supposed to be fun, you know. Relaxing. A hobby."
            Blake gazed at his wife with affection. Of course she was right. He wasn't a dummy. He knew he that for the sake of his health he needed to learn how to relax, but it was hard. If it wasn't for That Damn Rabbit, he'd have won first place in the garden show this year: A big, shining, golden trophy instead of that stupid wooden plaque. Everyone said he deserved it. But, no, Mrs. Bunny Rabbit had chosen this summer to not only return to the neighborhood, but to have about a million babies, all of which she brought over to feed on his prized flowers. Damn it, life just wasn't fair. He felt himself getting worked up all over again. Alicia was right. He really did need to learn to calm down; to mellow out, as the doctor had said.
            He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, "I know, dear," he said, sighing. "I hear what you're saying." He took another sip of his chamomile and grimaced, coughing slightly.
            Alicia stood up. "Well, that's good. Now, I've got some errands to run. I'll be stopping at the grocery store. Need anything?"
            How about a shotgun for That Damn Rabbit, Blake thought to himself, but, instead, said, "No. I'm good." He paused and added, smiling, half-way joking, half-way not, "How about maybe something stronger than this tea?" He grinned and mimicked a drinking motion.
            "Blake," Alicia admonished him, "You know what the doctor said."
            "I know. No booze. No red meat. No nothing fun. I get it. Tea and saltines." He sighed again, starting to feel just ever so slightly sorry for himself.
            "It's not that bad. All of us just want you to get better, you know." She bent to give him a kiss on the forehead, "I'll see you in a little while." She patted him on the arm, "Good bye, dear."
            Blake waved goodbye and returned to his iPod and his relaxation music. He scrolled down the playlist until he found, "Soft Springtime Rain," and set it playing. He sat back and closed his eyes, dreaming of better days; better days when that rabbit was finally gone. They couldn't come soon enough as far as he was concerned. It was frustrating. All the time he put into his garden, gone to waste. Third place. What a disappointment. Alicia didn't care about the award, she just liked to garden. Maybe he should be more like her. Food for thought. On the other hand, maybe he really should get a gun and blow the rabbit to Kingdom Come. He thought about it for minute, picturing a gut dripping, intestine spilling, disgusting bloody scene. No. He could never harm any animal, even the rabbit, much as he despised the infernal beast. Maybe he really should learn how to relax. Yes, that would be the best thing to do. He sighed once again, leaned back in his chair and drifted off to sleep, the sound of soft summer rain pitter-pattering in his ears.
            Blake didn't see, and it was probably a good thing, too, but out in the garden the female rabbit that Maggie and Becky had seen was still there, only now her four babies had joined her. They moved as a group, happily feeding on newly sprouted bachelor buttons and whatever other delectable treat they could find. The choices were endless. After a few minutes, before they became too full, the big female gathered her young ones to her and led them away. She had learned over time to never completely eat all the food in a given location. She always left some for another day, and that's what she did now.
            She began making her way to a field across the street and the next block over, down by the railroad tracks. The red clover there was sweet and tasty, a nice change from the flowers in the man's garden. In fact, maybe she'd just leave the flower garden alone for the rest of the season. There was whole summer's supply of clover fresh for the taking in the field. She could always come back. Anytime. If not this summer, for sure next year. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea.
            As she hopped along she kept her eyes peeled, senses alert: there were cats in the neighborhood, and a family of fox in the area; there were cars to watch out for, and even young boys with bows and arrows on the loose. She was an ever vigilant mother, and she did all she could to feed and protect her little family.
            As she cautiously crossed the final street and made her way into the clover, she finalized her decision. She wouldn't return to the man's garden. Instead, she'd graze in the clover field for the rest of the season. But next year? Next year she'd be back, and maybe with a new batch of babies. Why not? It made perfect sense. She liked almost all the flowers in the man's garden. The food was both good for her when she was nursing and nutritious for the young ones as they got older, a welcome change from red clover. Besides, in a way she felt she owed it to the man to leave his garden alone, especially since he had so thoughtfully planted all those delectable flowers this year. It was almost like he had done it especially for her.
            So she wouldn't return to the man's garden. This year. For she was patient rabbit. She could wait. But next year? Yes, mostly definitely, next year she'd be back. There was no doubt in her mind about that. None at all.

About the author  

I am retired after working many years as a course developer and sales and technical trainer for a large manufacturing company. Since 2010 I have seriously been writing haiku, poetry, short and long fiction. In addition to CafeLit, my stories can be found posted on my website: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com

Monday 30 July 2018

The Baptism of a Sinner

by Charlotte McElroy

strong cuppa French Roast

This story did take place in 1950 on a warm summer’s Sunday night in July.  The stage was the First Baptist Church in Dimmitt, Texas, a small farming community located on the Panhandle Plains of West Texas. I was eight years old.

Some very old folks who witnessed this event still tell what they think they saw that night. I, being the center of the whole nightmare, have kept my mouth shut for sixty years.

Growing up in the great state of Texas is anything but a privilege if your daddy is a tenant-farmer and also the manager of the town pool hall. We actually did live on the wrong side of the railroad tracks and worst of all we did not belong to the First Baptist church or any other church for that matter.

Now it just so happened that the folks who lived about a mile down the road from us were good church-going Baptists. The Baptists never missed grabbing a sinner. I was a perfect candidate. I got picked up every Sunday morning for Sunday School and church by the Hance family. Mr. and Mrs. Hance were a “perfect” Texas family. They had a girl named Linda and a boy named Kent. Mrs. Hance, Beryl, stayed home and baked a lot of stuff for church social things and kept Linda and Kent real clean and nice.

Sometimes Mrs. Hance would come to our house to talk to my mother about being able to get into heaven. Kent, Linda and I would go out and play. I loved to play Tarzan. I had a rope tied to a branch of my favorite tree so I could swing down to the ground. Linda would sit in a chair because she didn’t want to get dirty. Kent was afraid to climb the tree so he could swing down and be Tarzan.

I decided he would be Jane. He didn’t seem to mind. So I did all the Tarzan sounds and swung on the rope. Kent just sorta stood around and grinned.

Kent grew up to be a Texas Senator. He actually ran against George W. Bush the first time he ran for office and Kent won. I never reminded Kent he once played Jane with the town hick.

Mr. Hance, Raymond, was the postmaster. He was considered “somebody”. Now, it was no secret he drank whiskey. Sometimes I would hear momma and daddy talk about how he had to be taken home by my daddy because he couldn’t drive home in his car.

Now I guess this was okay because on Sunday mornings he would go to the front of the church and bow his head and tell God he was sorry. Sometimes he would even cry. The preacher would pat him on the back and tell him God would always forgive sinners. Mr. Hance got forgiven a lot.

My daddy didn’t drink and he worked real hard to take care of us but he was a “nobody”. That just didn’t seem right to me. I told him he could be a “somebody” if he would come to the Baptist church with me. What he said to me that day would shape my thinking forever.

“You don’t need to go to any church to get into heaven. You just need to be kind to everybody.”
My daddy lived what he said. I saw him give money to homeless people to feed their kids and find them places to stay. A lot of these folks came from Mexico to work for rich Baptist farmers.

The rich farmers made them live in barn-like places that didn’t have bathrooms or clean water. My daddy made them real mad when he told lots of people and the farmers had to fix up the barn-shacks. The poor people liked him and their kids would hold his hand and smile at him.

My daddy also drove a school bus. He always made sure the Mexican kids got to school and nobody bullied them on his bus. I was proud of my daddy even though he got called a “wet-back lover”.

I didn’t understand why the rich kids called the workers and their families that name. I was glad we weren’t rich and mean.

There was also” town talk” about me being a wild out-of-control little hick with no manners because I got kicked out of Brownies for saying “shit” when my weenie fell of my roasting stick and I burned my hand trying to pick it up. We were in the park for one of our Brownie meetings.  My favorite uncle said that word a lot. So I thought it was okay to say it. 

I remember that was one of the worst nights of my life. The other kids were taken to another part of the park and told to play and I was put in a car and taken straight home. The Brownie leader ladies talked really loud at my mother and she cried. I felt really bad for hurting her so I didn’t mind when she washed my mouth out with soap because I deserved it. They told my mother God might forgive me on Sunday morning if I would go up and ask like Mr. Hance did.

I played like I was sick when Sunday came. I never did ask God to forgive me. I figured he wouldn’t listen anyway because I was a “nobody.”

I learned a lot about hell-fire and damnation and how I was born a sinner and I would go to hell unless I was saved by something called the HOLY TRINITY. There were three people in this Trinity group; God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost. I learned I had to be put under water to clean up my sins. They called it “being baptized”. So I began to scrub really hard when I took a bath to help Jesus keep me clean. I prayed he would see I was really trying to be good.

I also got in trouble for asking Miss Forsen, the Sunday School teacher, if the Ghost I saw at Halloween was the Holy Ghost. Her face turned red and she yelled at me and that made the
other kids laugh at me and call me dumb. I had to sit in the corner and face the wall.

My momma and daddy didn’t talk to me very much so there were a lot of things I didn’t know and they got mad at me when I bothered them.

It was along about this time I began not sleep so good at night because of nightmares. The
Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Forsen who was also our school principal, said God watched us all the time and knew every little thing we thought and did. I felt by now that all my thoughts and everything I did was bad. Miss Forsen, would be in my dreams as big black crow chasing me with a stick.

My poor mother did her best to try to make me into a proper little Texas lady. I was forever in trouble. I played in the dirt, climbed the two trees in our yard and slid off the barn roof on to the backs of the poor unsuspecting pigs in their pens. If my little “sissy” sister was heard crying, I was to blame. She never seemed to understand she just needed to stop following me around.

I hated the pink frilly dresses my momma made for me. Not because they were home made but because I had to sit down all the time to keep them clean and unwrinkled. Kids did however, make fun of my homemade feed sack clothes. I also hated wearing my hair in long blonde curls. The minute I got out of the chair after a long elaborate combing session it was a mess.

I hated being a girl. I asked my mother once why couldn’t she have made me a boy while I was in her stomach. Wrong thing to ask. I got the soap mouth wash and a long lecture on how that was God’s business to do the making and He would be real mad knowing I didn’t like what he did.

My favorite uncle that said bad words, told me I could kiss my elbow and turn into a boy. I tried and tried until my whole body felt sore and I felt guilty because now God knew I was mad at Him. I didn’t like my uncle so good anymore because he lied to me and laughed at me.

He also told my mother I would be normal when I got older and found a boyfriend. Well little did I know that “boyfriend” thing would never work out for me especially when I learned women in Texas had to be beautiful and dutiful and have a lot of boy babies to carry on the family name to work on the farm.

But for now, I kept telling God I was trying.  I really was trying. It just wasn’t working. I felt guilty. I begin to have lots of stomach aches and head aches. I was losing weight too. The doctor said it was just growing pains. To make it worse, the Hances who took me to Sunday school, said it was time to be saved!

Forget waiting for the boyfriends and listening to the doctor about growing pains. Mother went straight for the “lets-get-saved” idea. So the big date was set. At least God would be okay now and He would be happy and I would be normal and cleansed and born-again.

There was just one HUGE problem for me. I was terrified of water. I prayed to God every night to help me be brave. If He had known what was going to happen, I think He might have tried harder to help me.

Mother decided I would wear last year’s Easter dress. It was pink chiffon with a sash that tied in a bow in the back. I would wear my black patent leather shoes with pink ankle socks.

Now, the biggest discussion centered around underwear. We did have mom’s egg money to spend on the best underwear we could find. The panties had to have lace and they had to be white.

My hair had to be perfect. I got dizzy during the ride to the church because I forgot to breathe in fear of messing up Mother’s perfect Texas Hair Do.

I was delivered to the ally door of the church and left in the care of Miss Forsen.  I wanted to cry because I knew she didn’t like me. She led me up the dirty concrete steps to the church. We went up another narrow set of steps to a dark hallway covered in an old, dirty carpet with ugly, red flowers that looked like they wanted to swallow me.

We entered a room that smelled like wet, sour clothes. It was the perfect dark closet for naughty kids like me.  She put me in big wooden chair, took off my shoes, stood me up, raised my hands over my head, took off my dress and messed up my hair.

My heart began to pound. Was I really standing there in my new underwear?  Were the people going to see me this way?  Was this the reason Mother demanded I wear new panties?  What about my perfect hair?

I don’t think she understood this being baptized “thing” any better than I did.

When I opened my mouth to speak a sheet was pulled over my head doing further damage to my hair. Was this part of the Holy Ghost thing? If so, God and Jesus must be there too because they were always together. Would they see my underwear?

I heard the church organ start to play “Bringing in the Sheep”.  I ask Miss Forsen if that meant I was going to be in God’s flock. Seems I got that wrong too. It’s sheaves. 

There was a knock on the door. It opened and a large man was standing there. I couldn’t see his face because the light behind him was so bright.

 “Take me hand child. It is time to go”, said Reverend Stalkup.
He led me up more narrow stairs and down another dark smelly hallway.
My thoughts were racing. “Does heaven stink and do you climb a whole bunch of stairs to get there”?

Finally, Reverend Stalkup opened a tiny door. He bent way over and pushed me toward a big glass tub into the clutches of Miss Forsen. Did God like her so much He would let her help baptize me? I was really scared now. What if she thought it would be her chance to drown me to please God?

The tub was really glass so when my sheet floated up the people would see my underwear. You were never supposed to show your underwear in public. This was really turning out to be a BIG mess.

The water looked dirty. The whole thing looked like the big tank at the County Fair where they kept the catfish for the big catfish fry. This was not right. I couldn’t get cleansed in dirty water. I opened my mouth to scream.

It was too late. Reverend Stalkup lifted his robe and stepped into the tub. He had on rubber boots like my daddy’s muddy irrigation field boots. I saw his hairy legs. I wasn’t supposed to look at hairy man legs. Would I be forgiven? It wasn’t my fault!

Miss Forsen picked me up and handed me to Reverend Stalkup. He lowered me into the water.
I couldn’t keep my sheet from floating up around my neck. I was going to drown with a sheet over my head and my underwear showing.

Reverend Stalkup must’ve seem the terror on my face because he pushed my sheet down and spoke in a quiet voice. 

 “It’s okay my child. I won’t hurt you. I want you to cross your hands over your chest and pinch your nose shut with your thumb and finger on your right hand. You must hold your nose really tight so water won’t get in you mouth. I will be holding you all the time.”

I suddenly saw a huge gold curtain start to open and the organ got louder and I began to see the people in the church pews.

Reverend Stalkup began to say some words about God receiving me. Was The Trinity in the water with me?  I began to feel the water in my ears and on my face and hair. So much for my fancy hair do. My face was under water. I panicked!

I let go of my nose and opened my mouth to scream. In rushed the water. I started clawing at Reverend Stalkup’s robe and kicking as hard as I could. I grabbed something that felt like a hard but still flexible piece of rope. I heard Reverend Stalkup scream and I felt him start to fall backwards toward the audience. My piece of rope was moving with him. I squeezed harder and harder. Reverend Stalkup screamed louder and louder. He grabbed the gold curtain. It came loose and fell on us.

This was IT! I was going to die in dirty catfish water hanging on to Reverend Stalkup’s rope thing.

The audience was screaming and the organ was playing loud horrible notes I had never heard before. I was suddenly yanked out of the water coughing and choking. I tried to talk but more water just came out my nose, ears, mouth and eyes. Was this what they meant by dying to be born again? I was supposed to feel God’s blessings. It was supposed to be wonderful.

Either someone lied to me or I blew it and failed the whole Baptizing Thing. One of me friends was a Methodist. She had told me she only had to be sprinkled with water. If I lived after tonight, I was going to ask her if I could go to her church.

I was dragged back to the dark smelly room, shoved in a chair and thrown a towel and told to get dressed. The door slammed shut and I sat in silence. I was going to be left there to die. Nobody cared about me, least of all God and his Trio. I wanted to cry and scream at Them!

Finally, my mother came with dry clothes. I dressed and she took me home. She was quiet all the way home. Her face was red and it was one big frown. Didn’t she know it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t fail Baptism on purpose. She didn’t talk to me except to say I really embarrassed her. I asked the Trio to help me die so she wouldn’t be so hurt.

I was pretty sure they didn’t want me either so as I grew older I  gave up the church thing, especially when I understood I was gay. Then the church really let me know I was something bad. It has taken most of my life to know they were wrong.

Reverend Stalkup said there had been a demon in the tub that grabbed him and pushed him that night. He said it was a sign he had to leave Dimmitt before he got hurt.

We left the next year also because Mother was so sad all the time. She cried a lot because the town ladies said I was cursed and it was her fault.

As for me? Well, I figured out it was no lifeline I grabbed that awful night.  It is still my secret.

About the author

Charlotte is a retired educator who has for several years  been writing stories of her life-- growing up in a little town in West Texas.

Sunday 29 July 2018

The Laridae Brothers

by Jeanne Davies

  iced tea    

Peering down over sun scorched rooftops, the downy pair huddled together, waiting patiently and in complete silence. The warm scented Algarvian breeze would pleasantly ruffle their feathers from time to time, allowing their sun-baked bodies to cool. The young gulls would sporadically shuffle aimlessly along the abyss that Mae had swooped down into before soaring upwards and disappearing into the distance. Bellies empty, they held on solemnly for her huge wings to return, feathers splayed and gleaming white.
     From the very beginning Vicente felt his brother’s presence beside him as they lay as eggs, snuggled in Mae’s nest. He remembered the muffled sounds from their fragile opaque wombs of shell; his pounding pulse always one beat behind that of Erasmus. They’d hatched together, sharing their first glimpse of a dazzling cerulean sky which stung their fledgling eyes; they were hypnotised by the soporific eiderdown of cloud draped all about them.
     Erasmus was always first at doing everything. From the first days of their life, his pleading cry demanded and received immediate attention; whereas Vicente’s pitiful cheeps were barely audible above the Portuguese wind drafts. Vicente suspiciously scrutinised his brother as he periodically unfolded and flapped his dowdy grey wings.
     A raw sound scratched the air as Mae arrived on enormous silvery arched wings, head down, with her red rimmed eyes glowing and her ochre feet extended before her. Her hooked saffron beak, outlined in blood red, carried a morsel she’d hunted – a mollusc that she’d thrown against a rock. Her fluffy tail feathers splayed and wagged as she elegantly lent forward to place a piece of food into each of her sons’ mouths; it tasted of the ocean that the pair constantly watched, spellbound, in the distance. That sparkling mirror of ever changing shapes entranced the young gulls by day, and its moonlit shadows enchanted their nights. The brothers’ eyes were filled with a thousand stars whilst Pai watched over them close by, huge and austere as a sculpture. Erasmus and Vicente were both feeling a strange yearning for flight, but Vicente was cautious and reluctant for change.
     As summer progressed, Vicente noticed Erasmus frequently mantling his wings to test out his strength. Then suddenly embracing primal instincts one day, his brother let out a plaintive cry and dived unexpectedly down into a precipice. Between certain death and paradise, he managed to fasten onto a wind current and soared high above Vicente. Envy was quickly replaced by admiration as Vicente watched his brother’s beautiful aerodynamic shape, until he returned on an awkward landing beside him.
     Days followed with Erasmus recurrently taking to the air to practise and perfect his flying skills. After many shaky falls on the wind, he called out to Vicente, telling his brother of the many joys of flight and urging him to join him. Unconvinced, Vicente turned his back on his brother and remained hawkish and solitary on the rooftop; depressed and toxic with his own inadequacy. Many days passed where Vicente remained alone, marooned high on his island above a sea of white-washed villas sizzling in the heat amongst screeching sirens of crickets.
     One night as the sun set, Pai alighted beside Vicente.
     “My son, what you hold on to will always tie you down to the earth and you will be grounded here forever. You must be more like your brother and a take a chance … believe in yourself!”
     Pai rose with a startling cry, his silhouette swiftly rising high above before disappearing into the clouds. When his brother returned, Vicente hid miserably, unwilling to share in his brother’s mystical experiences. Pai’s words haunted Vicente throughout the long hours of darkness.
     Day after day Erasmus soared and glided eloquently with other fledglings and Vicente watched helplessly as they disappeared far out to sea to the nurseries of the gull world. He knew that Erasmus and his parents had lost all respect for him. Mae loyally continued to bring him food, but Vicente’s pain exceeded all hunger as he was engulfed over and again in solitude.
     On one particular day, as Erasmus was perched high and ready to alight from the rooftop, Vicente’s intuition told him something was wrong. He pleaded with his brother to stay but Erasmus paused, gazing back at him sadly and then leapt into the skies. Vicente spent an anxious day patrolling the roof top and peering far out to the distant horizon. Angry storm clouds were moving in from North Africa and the hot and humid Sirocco wind began to howl around the rooftops. Dusky clouds began gathering together thickly overhead and all at once the twilight blackened into night.
     Avo suddenly descended in a huge mantle beside Vicente.
     “Your brother is lost!” screeched his grandfather. He raised his brightly coloured beak and honked loudly and plaintively up towards the black blanket of sky.
     Mae and Pai searched with all the other elder gulls for days to try to find Erasmus, but he could not be found. A mighty stone fixed in Vicente’s heart, becoming heavier as each day passed that his brother failed to return.  He missed his brother greatly; he missed his valour and might but most of all he missed the beat of his pulse beside him in the nest each night.
     One evening as Vicente sadly watched the darkening velvet sky unfold with bright heavenly bodies, he thought he could hear his brother’s pulse far away in the distant ocean. He knew, even if he was able to fly, night flying was dangerous; but he allowed his feet to tip-toe right up close to the edge of the precipice. Then his beady eyes were suddenly opened to the wind streams previously invisible to him. His heart compelled him to drop, so … he let go; his body rapidly plummeted down and down. But then to his surprise, he was suddenly lifted like a leaf on a breeze as he accidentally harnessed onto a wind current. Ignoring cries from his elders on nearby rooftops, he felt the strength in his wings and began to soar.
     Vicente flew further and further away from his nest; so far that he doubted he’d ever be able to return. He didn’t look back, but continued heading towards that familiar pulse. Eventually the rhythm of his brother’s heart seemed near. He carefully lowered to the call of the fragile beat and began descending rapidly towards the ocean, amazed that his wings held him so steady.
     He was overcome with joy as he spotted Erasmus. His body was lying very still, and Vicente could see he was trapped in discarded fishing nets. Vicente managed to alight clumsily beside his brother. Ignoring the pain, he began swiping his young beak repeatedly across the nearby red rock. His sharp bill eventually obliterated the flayed covering of nets and he nestled down exhausted beside the limp feathered body of his brother … two souls again entwined with their pulses beating together in unison.
     Dawn opened the Algarvian sky as the young Laridae brothers flew alongside each other towards the distant horizon, their spirits gliding and soaring together as silver angels of the skies, forever; citizens of heaven.

Saturday 28 July 2018


By Matthew Roy Davey

a glass of Chardonnay

 We sat outside the restaurant with two beers between us.  The moon glowed orange and over the sound of midnight traffic was the incessant pulse of chirping insects.  Every so often the crossing gates by the JR station clanged and a train would rattle and hum across the broad expanse of roadway.  The air was still hot from the roasting of the day, heavy with the odour of baked concrete, sweet with the grilled fish and flesh drifting from bars and restaurants
We were in clean clothes having showered and changed before coming out, washing off the day and the exertions of love.  I was in shirt and shorts, she was wearing a white cotton dress with tiny blue flowers that were just a shade deeper than her eyes.  There was a damp patch between her breasts below where the sun had blossomed freckles on her cleavage.
We’d been out for hours, talked literature, theatre, film, and music.  Now we were onto politics, or rather political theory.  I was trying to convince her I was a man worth having.
“Of course,” I said, “the trouble with socialism is that it requires a fundamentally ergonomic assumption of humanity’s benevolence.” 
As soon as it was out of my mouth I cursed myself and hurried on hoping she hadn’t noticed, at the same time congratulating myself for not using the term ‘mankind’.  It occurred to me that it was a wonder my brain could keep up with so many thoughts as my mouth raced ahead while the brain struggled to feed it vaguely cohesive words and sentences.  The beer wasn’t helping.
I thought I’d got away with it but then noticed her frown.  I blazed on, hoping to distract her with some other brilliant bon mot that would expunge my earlier sciolism.
I’d been rambling for a good thirty seconds when she met my eye and held up a hand. 
“Hold on,” she said, looking at the table.  There was a pause.  “What does ‘ergonomic’ mean?”
I coughed, scrutinised her.  It seemed she actually wanted to know, she wasn’t trying to catch me out.  Should I bullshit her?
She looked up and our eyes met across the table.  I laughed.  I only had one option.
“I don’t know.”  I hung my head, trying to look abashed.  “I was trying to sound clever, trying to impress you.  Instead I’ve made myself look a nob…”
She stared and I tried to smile, wondering if I’d blown it.
She leaned forward, moving the ashtray out of the way, and put her hand on mine.  She smiled and then laughed. 
“I thought it wasn’t right!”
It was now.

 About the author

Matthew was The Observer short story competition 2003 and winner of the Dark Tales competition (August 2013) and has been long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction award (Spring and Autumn 2017) and Reflex Flash Fiction competition (Spring 2017).  His story ‘Waving at Trains’ has been translated into Mandarin and Slovenian and been published in anthologies by Vintage and Cambridge University Press.  Recently he has been published by Everyday Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Odd Magazine and Flash: The International Short-Story Magazine.  He was recently been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Friday 27 July 2018

No Saints at All Saints'

No Saints at All Saints’

By Dawn Knox


Hettie Forbes -Snell decided against catching the evening bus from outside the Willows Retirement Home where she was senior nurse. After such a difficult day, she wanted time to unwind before she reached the vicarage. She was smarting at the way Matron had treated her. While the Inspectors had been probing the kitchen, the bedrooms, the accounts and the medical cupboard, Matron had accompanied them, leaving Hettie in charge. It hadn’t been Hettie’s fault that a group of the more trying guests had ended up in Basilwade A&E after a boating accident earlier that day but Matron, who’d been as jumpy as drops of water in a sizzling frying pan, had been unnecessarily critical. And Hettie had been very hurt.  

After all, today had been painful enough without a tongue-lashing from Matron. 

Today was her birthday.

No one had remembered, not even her brother, Wilbur, but that wasn’t surprising because he was always so preoccupied, and if she was honest, totally self-centred. He might be the parish vicar but he was certainly no saint. Mrs McSquirtle didn’t help either. She was the housekeeper although her title was a misnomer because she did very little in the way of keeping house. She couldn’t keep much of anything – the vicarage accounts, secrets, her temper and often her balance. This was mainly due to her partiality to a nip of medicinal brandy every now and again, and often in between as well. She spoiled Wilbur by baking numerous batches of shortbread but often forgetting to do the laundry, clean the house, do the shopping, tidy the garden or prepare meals. 

“Please have more charity, Hettie, dear,” Wilbur would say when she complained, “Mrs McSquirtle has a heart of gold.

“And a liver full of your brandy,” Hettie would mutter.

“What’s that, dear? Speak up!”

But Hettie would simply get on with whatever needed to be done, thinking dark thoughts about the small, barrel-shaped woman she privately thought of as Big Mac.

When Hettie finally opened the front door, the smell of burned food assaulted her nostrils, darkening her mood. In an ideal world, it was at this point that family and friends would suddenly leap out of cupboards shouting “Surprise!” and there would be an enormous cake and balloons saying Happy 50th.  However, she didn’t have any family other than Wilbur, and not many friends. And, this was not an ideal world, this was All Saints’ Vicarage, Basilwade.  

“Is that you, Hettie?” Wilbur called from the study. Without waiting for an answer, he added, “Bring me a slice of toast with my cuppa, will you? I’m meeting the ladies of the Mothers’ Union in a few minutes. I’ll eat dinner when I get back.”

A dinner, she knew, he expected her to prepare, to replace whatever Big Mac had incinerated. 

By the time Wilbur returned, Hettie had made Shepherd’s Pie, scraped most of the charred remains of whatever it was that Big Mac had put in the oven hours before, and was about to run a bath for herself. 

“Hettie, would you be a dear and help with the travel arrangements for the Mothers’ Union annual outing to Bognor? You know how good you are at that sort of thing… Hettie? Hettie?”

She crept upstairs pretending not to have heard and locked herself in the bathroom. She wanted to cry. The only celebration of her fiftieth birthday would be a lonely bubble bath.

“Hettie are you still in there?” Wilbur called ten minutes later as he rapped on the bathroom door, “I desperately need your help to look up some coach prices on the Internet. You know how useless I am on that computer.”

Hettie took a deep breath and sank beneath the mound of bubbles. 

The water had gone cold and her skin was wrinkly before she got out of the bath but by now Wilbur would be asleep. She dried herself and crept along the corridor towards her bedroom accompanied by Mrs McSquirtle’s snores and Wilbur’s squeaks and grunts. She would be up and out of the vicarage before either of them woke in the morning but they would both be home all day, so perhaps between them they would organise the MU trip. However, she knew they wouldn’t. Wilbur would spend all day organising his stamp collection and thinking about Sunday’s sermon while Big Mac would bake shortbread. The arrangements would still be there to do when she got home. 

Hetty climbed into bed. She was too tired and too dispirited to read her book that evening. Usually, it was her only escape from normal life. Tonight, she didn’t want to be reminded that there was such a thing as escape because it was a luxury she knew wasn’t available to her. It was so unfair. She was locked into her life with no prospect of getting away. Hettie looked at the clock. It was two minutes past midnight. Her birthday was over. She lay awake until the early hours, thinking. Something had to change and the time was now or her life would be over before it had begun.

The following evening, Hettie left work promptly. Most of the guests had been rather subdued after their brief stay in hospital, and that morning, Matron had made her a cup of tea which was probably the closest she’d come to giving Hettie an apology, so it hadn’t been a bad day. 

“Is that you, Hettie? Wilbur called from his study.

Hettie sniffed the air. No smell of burning. In fact, no smell at all which meant that either Big Mac had made salad for dinner or more likely, she hadn’t got around to preparing anything. 

“Hettie! Is that you?”

“Yes, Wilbur.”

“Thank goodness! I’ve got a meeting with the choirmaster and I need to know you’ve progressed with the MU outing. Oh, and I wonder if you could bring me a cup of tea before you start dinner…”

By the time Wilbur returned from his meeting, Hettie had made toad-in-the-hole and worked out prices for the trip to Bognor. The sooner it was done, the sooner she could run a bath, climb into bed and escape into her book. 

“So, the coach will arrive at the carpark nearest the seafront at about eleven o’clock and then you can go to a café for tea or walk along the promenade. I’ve booked you in for lunch at—”

“Hettie! You keep saying you. I shan’t be going. I’ll be much too busy.”

“Well, I’ve booked them in for lunch then,” said Hettie.

“No, no! I can’t send the ladies on their own! I was hoping you’d volunteer to accompany them. You know what a mess we got in last time when we lost three ladies.” 

“Since we’re being particular about pronouns, we didn’t lose three ladies, you lost three ladies. I was working that day. You were in charge.”

“Oh, don’t be so petty, Hettie! Anyway, I’ve arranged the trip for a Saturday so you won’t be working.”

“No, you didn’t arrange the trip. I did.”

“Sometimes you’re impossible! I expect you’ll be reminding me of how I borrowed your fluffy penguin when I was seven, next…”

Took,” muttered Hettie, “You took my fluffy penguin.”

“What you need is a lot more charity and forgiveness, Hettie!”

She sighed. She might as well give in because she knew he wouldn’t let up until she’d agreed to go on the trip. 

“All right,” she said, “I’ll go with them.”

“That’s the ticket! I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time. The ladies of the MU are wonderful. Well, all except for Mrs Fanshawe. She’s a bit of a madam. But the others are fine. Oh, and Mrs Myers. She can be a tartar too…”

Hettie didn’t reply. She’d gone into the kitchen to start dinner. 

“Well, if they don’t call you Saint Hettie,” said the driver, as he pulled into the seafront car park in Bognor, “they definitely should. I’ve never met anyone with such patience.”

“There’s no point getting cross with the ladies,” said Hettie, “but I’m definitely no saint.” 

“So, what’s your secret?”

“Secret?” Hettie asked, her cheeks aflame, “I don’t have a secret,” she said quickly, hugging her bulging rucksack to her chest. 

“I just meant you kept your cool despite that woman with the hair that looks like shredded wheat telling everyone what to do in the case of earthquake or tsunami.”

“Ah, that’s Mrs Myers, the church warden. She’s always prepared for every eventuality. And that means everyone else has to be prepared too, whether they like it or not.”

“She weren’t prepared when that woman threw up over her though were she?”

“True. Although she did manage to catch most of it in her hat.”

“Yeah, I’ll give her full marks for that,” said the driver, nodding his approval.

The day had been exhausting. Hettie had to remove three ladies from the amusement arcade where they’d got into an argument with the manager. 

“This place is a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah!” said Mrs Myers as Hettie apologised to the man and led the ladies away. 

“Yeah, sod ‘em,” said Mrs Fanshawe.

“And Gomorrah,” said Mrs Yates.

Hettie took them to the Cheeky Cockle Café where the others were waiting to start lunch. A headcount revealed that someone was missing and Hettie’s sharp ears heard a loud sobbing emanating from the Ladies, which proved to be the missing person. Nervous Miss Stibbins was inconsolable after a freak gust of wind had blown a dish of jellied eels down her front and candyfloss into her hair earlier that morning. She wept as Hettie tried to pick the sticky, pink bits from her hair and mop her front with a serviette but finally, she allowed herself to be led, red-eyed to the place Mrs Myers had saved for her. On reflection, it would have been better if Hettie had swapped places with Miss Stibbins and saved her the lecture from Mrs Myers about hurricanes and evacuation procedures. It was fortunate that one of the ladies carried smelling salts in her handbag and was able to revive Miss Stibbins. 

After lunch, Hettie let the ladies loose on Bognor once more for an afternoon stroll but despite dire warnings of being left behind if they weren’t back at the coach at five o’clock, three women were late. Hettie finally found Mrs Myers, Mrs Fanshawe and Mrs Yates, in the amusement arcade haranguing the manager again. 

“Out!” Hettie shouted, her arm extended and her finger pointing at the door, “Or we’ll leave you behind!” 

The open-mouthed ladies followed her.

“I shall tell her brother how she’s treated us,” whispered Mrs Myers. “It’s outrageous!”

The other two nodded. 

But Hettie didn’t care. She’d brought thirty-four women to Bognor and she would send thirty-four back to Wilbur – come what may. No one would be lost on her watch. And if they weren’t happy with the way she’d treated them, they could take it up with her brother when they arrived in Basilwade.
She wouldn’t, however, be accompanying them home. After shepherding them on to the coach, she thanked the driver.

“I’m so sorry to do this to you, but I won’t be travelling home with you. I hope the ladies behave.” 

As the driver spluttered with indignation, Hettie climbed out of the coach and walked briskly away, clutching her rucksack tightly. Inside, she had her toiletry bag, a few clothes, her passport, a fluffy penguin and a train ticket from Bognor to London St. Pancras. From there, she would travel by Eurostar to Paris. 

And then? Well, she’d make up her mind when she got there.

About the author 

Dawn’s third book ‘Extraordinary’ was published by Chapeltown in October 2017. She has had three other books published as well as stories in various anthologies, including horror and speculative fiction, and romances in women's magazines. Dawn has written a play to commemorate World War One, which has been performed in England, Germany and France. www.dawnknox.com

Thursday 26 July 2018


by Thomas Elson

weak tea

What can loosen a bond of thirty years?
What can strengthen what can no longer be made strong?

David felt as if he were living inside his recurring fear begun decades earlier inside a chanked and abandoned farm building off a path hidden by overhanging branches surrounded by unproductive land more than fifty yards from a gravel county road when he sat on the wooded floor with the tip of a rifle barrel stuffed in his mouth.
Why not just do it? Get rid of the pain? The fear? One pull. One moment. Then it’s over. Why not? No excuse – no options – no hope of rescue – nothing. Just one damn pull, a momentary shock, a fleeting pain, and the back of his head splattered against the shed wall. David died that night before the trigger was pulled - his business unfinished. He stayed that way until he met Nicole.

David and Nicole met in a bleak town in a state known only for wheat, airplanes, and borderline politicians. During one of their evening walks around Ivey Park, he told her they would live in California. “Pretend the pond is the Bay, and the jungle gym over there is the Pyramid.” As she looked at him indulgently, he added, “Over by the swings is Telegraph Hill with Coit Tower. I visited there with my grandad.” Motioned to an imaginary apartment facing the Bay, “And, we will live,” he pointed precisely, “right there.”
“Why there?” She asked humoring him.
“Because once you live there, you’ll be disappointed by heaven.” Once, again, she smiled indulgently.
They never did live there, but for more than thirty years, they did live near Palo Alto. Then, only he lived there.
A few weeks after their thirty-first anniversary, and, continuing for more than three years, David and Nicole listened to the same diagnosis in the same exam room from the same oncologist. Both were cut into, both recovered. However, David’s cancer returned and required two regimens of chemo.
Nicole’s recurrence had not been detected, and her descent from an active grade school teacher into frailty left her speaking in two to three-word bursts, “I’m ready,” pause to catch her breath, “to go.” After sitting for a while, “I’m done.” Then repeating, “I’m ready.”
Nicole wanted relief. Only relief. He agreed that hers was the best path. Whoever audits us at the end will understand. Just give up the damn ghost. It’s not all about balancing debits and credits, is it?
She wanted David to drive her to Half Moon Bay along the Pacific shore - for years their weekend retreat with its mesmerizing waves and unlimited beach. She stood looking west, and, if seeing, not caring. Without a word, she turned to the car, and home forgoing their rituals of cinnamon scones at Moonside Bakery or grilled cheese sandwiches with french fries followed by sharing a massive slice of chocolate cake at Joe’s Restaurant as the ocean fog smoothed its way over what had been their world.
The next morning, his wife’s soft, warm hand caressed David’s face, “I’ve loved you all my life.” He caught her soft, powdery scent, and, through his haze reached for her, wanted to kiss her, but found it difficult to lift his hand. Tried again. He thought his hand was asleep but felt no tingle. Tried once more. It would not budge. His hand lay dead across his forehead. “I’ll just wait here for a moment.” The emptiness in that room lay like a corpse.
David pulled their car into the crowded church parking lot. Windows rolled tight, air conditioner blasting, David’s memory overrun. When he opened the car door, he felt as if he were breathing underwater. Not now. Not now. Just stay in the car with Nicole.
People noticed his car, hurried toward him, and walked with him across the parking lot into the small church that he and Nicole had seen seven years earlier when it looked like an abandoned building. They both loved what the church had become. Its simple grace, the closeness within its walls amidst crucifixes and icons.
The air inside the church was permeated with the smell of incense and cooked food. Had David been listening, he could have heard sniffles, sobs, and the creak of his own body as he attempted to weave through the crush of dark-clothed, drawn-faced people, until, in a burst, they encircled him. First, women with tightly wound hair, caked make-up, unyielding scents of Christmas gift perfume overlaid with garlic, and heavily-accented voices, “I’m so sorry. You two were wonderful together. I can’t imagine how you must feel.”
His first thought, Well, hell, neither can I, but said only, “Thank you. She always spoke very highly of you.” Or, “She admired you so much.”
A man grasped David’s shoulders, “It’ll be hell. Then it’ll be over. It takes years.” His grip tightened, his eyes held a sadness that stunned David. “After that,” the man said looking down at the floor, “you’ll understand. I did.”
A woman approached as if needing to be invited. She stiffened, tilted forward, her right shoulder landed in David’s chest. She reached around him, delivered a quick one-handed hug, muttered sorrow through wet face, and hurried into the kitchen.
David heard the click of canes as men of a certain age wobbled toward him. The man in front clasped David, and said, “It’s tough. I know. You’ll be all right.” Followed by a shoulder tap, fleeting eye contact, and, before executing a hesitant about-face, “Take care.” The other men nodded in unison.
Next came Nicole’s friends who worked with her on annual dinners, bake sales, bishop’s visits, Sunday School, and monthly lunches for the homeless. Each one an expert at condolences for widows. But what to do with a man whose wife died?
David heard the bustle from folks arriving late – families, couples, others alone, some with food – each with their own burdens – he recognized each person. He remembered families that had moved, recognized others who had not been inside the church in years, even those whose caskets he had helped place over their graves.
Men without wives arrived alone, sat isolated during services. Their unpracticed voices weaker and fainter as seasons changed, spines more twisted each year. After services they would sit huddled in the fellowship hall at a table near an unused door while people swept by giving them a wide berth in case one of those old men dropped a cane, spilled coffee or asked a passerby to sit with them.
Candles aflame, incense suffused, the priest in his decorated white and gold chasuble made his entrance into the sanctuary closely followed by an ever-erect acolyte with incense at the ready to ensure steady smoke. Sunlight filtered through stained glass and rested on the candles held by more than fifty people.
The choir, dominant with contraltos, baritones, and bass, chanted over the din of activity from the kitchen, “May her memory be eternal,” again and again as if repetition could make it true. Then more incense as Kleenex boxes were passed around, candles extinguished, chants muted.
The cemetery offered no comforting breeze, but a hiss that rolled the sky and collapsed on David. Barely unable to stand, he braced himself, listened, slipped back as if today were yesterday, and saw his wife. Don’t go alone. David shuddered as Nicole was lowered, saw himself walk by both their graves, shake his own hand and say, “I’m sorry.”
Before the priest turned toward the casket, he said, “May her soul, and the souls of all the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
David forced himself back to the car surrounded by the mourners, paused, reached inside for a single red rose, “I’ll be right back.”
He approached the gravesite, caught the eye of the man scooping dirt into his wife’s grave. “Wait just a second,” he said. “Please, just a second.” He almost bowed. “I’m her husband.” Without a word the man released his shovel and walked toward an oak tree.
At the edge of his wife’s grave David knelt, leaned forward. Do not look down. The sides of the grave smelled of seeping moisture. Roots spiraled from the sides. His eyes followed their lines, then moved closer. Smiled weakly, leaned in. It’s consecrated ground, why not just join her?
He released the rose, watched it fall, then closed his eyes. Two feet, three feet, David floated until he touched the ridge of Nicole’s casket, saw her smile, reached for her hand. David, go back. A gust of wind curled, dipped, swirled, circled again and braided him up and onto the grass. Then nothing.
“I’m ready,” he said to Nicole, but felt a hand on his shoulder and did not know how or when he returned to the car.
“Are you alright?”
“I guess. Okay. Thanks.” Closed his eyes while the driver made the ritual cemetery exit.
He knew the next part by heart. By now Nicole would be basking in her celestial reward, so the next phase of the tradition was for everyone else. Back at the church dining tables strained, plates heaped like small hills. People clustered, their faces taut, spoke softly, grew quieter when David came near. Nodded and responded with more condolences, double handshakes, averted eyes, and, as if imitating the person before, stuttered, ”If- If you need anything.” Then that look, the silence, the averted eyes - as if he were an unwanted wisdom tooth or an inflamed appendix. Better for him not to linger growing unsteady on canes with thicker and thicker circumferences, or hobbling on the inevitable walker, and then slumping in a wheel chair.
After the priest finished eating, he stood holding a piece of paper with the words David had written. “Nicole was a grade school teacher. The kind of teacher boys fell in love with, and girls excelled for. When they would see her, twenty, even thirty years later, they’d jump as if third graders, then run toward her while their own children stood baffled with their mouths agape.” 
The priest smoothed into an Irish toast David delivered to Nicole each year on their anniversary, “Without you, heaven would be too dull to bear, and hell would not be hell if you were there,” then looked toward the congregation, saw tears, turned and felt his own wet face.

It’s time. The voice may well have come from inside the wall for all David knew. Do not go alone. He knew it was time to leave. He wanted to stay, maybe needed to stay, but could see no option. He had rehearsed his exit. Better just to do it by himself. Better to go while he could still walk away.

Three days after Nicole’s funeral, all the papers were signed –  only his and a couple of witnesses’ signatures required. His trunk was loaded with only the essentials - no books or iPad. They’d be of no use to him. His car was serviced, tires perfect - he wanted no delays or diversions. Just drive due east for five days, turn north, and get it done.
East on I-80, he blew past states he had only flown over - Nevada, Utah, Colorado. Three hundred miles a day, eat at a chain restaurant, check into a motel, dash off the next morning. Near Denver, he turned south to catch I-70. Fifty miles later, at a filling station, an attendant asked, “Where ya headed?”
David was mute unable to mold an answer.  He wanted to say, I don’t know. Just drivin’ around. You know my wife died. Instead, he stood mute, paid, then a forced, “Thanks.” Nothing else came out.
Back on the highway, wind-assisted rain spread across the windshield. An eighteen-wheeler passed, swerved abruptly, and David shot to the right, then corrected himself with the motion of someone practiced at Interstate driving. Should’a taken advantage of that.
The next day he raced past the town of their courtship and into the Flint Hills. He skirted the Tall Grass Prairie Parkway - the pre-Columbian grassland never cut, never trimmed, never pastured. A mirror image of the people. Nothing had changed. Not the roads. Not the land. Not a damn thing. A few miles past Topeka he turned north.
His mind clouded. His thoughts overrun. His neck hurt. He knew it all by heart. Had replayed it a million times – revisited so often that yesterday merged with today.
He turned due north on the state highway. Almost ninety minutes later, I’ll keep driving north. Just check it out. A quick look. Consecrated ground be damned. He timed his arrival for just after dusk.
At another filling station and the same ritual as decades earlier – pump in three gallons of gas. That’s enough to get there. Smiled at the attendant, said thank you. Asked a question - just to hear another human voice - then stand close to a family looking into the cooler, and, for a moment, pretend to belong.
Back on the road, windows down. Dusk came sooner than he remembered. The wind curled inside the car, then dipped and swirled.
     “I’m ready,” he said, and he turned off the State Road onto a gravel road for eight miles then the farm road with overhanging branches, abandoned shed, and his unfinished business.  

About the author

Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, Pinyon, MUSED-BellaOnline, New Reader, The New Ulster, The Lampeter, Blood & Bourbon, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Adelaide Literary Magazine. He divides his time between Northern California and Kansas.