Monday 30 November 2020

Sick Headache

 

by Thomas Elson

cold tea 

 

Look closely.

You are where it began - at a time before polio shots, seat belts, and television. A time when visitors entered houses through unlocked kitchen doors.

And, after all these years, is it as you remember?

It’s late November, just past dusk. You stop at the corner two blocks east of a grand neighborhood concealed by trees. Look. On your left is the old basement house with dirt walls and next to it the two-story house of your grade school friend. But it’s the house two doors down at 507 West Blaine you came to see – beige and weathered, one of the many shotgun houses thrown up at the end of World War II.

            You park, and, in an instant you are inside – small and almost silent. A harsh light from the pole lamp casts a shadow across the living room with a divan, a chair, a clock, and you - a four-year-old child, still eager and open to the world - sitting on the floor next to record player your mother bought, and encourages you to use.

The two of you have just finished playing outside, and now she kneels on the living room floor and inserts a new sapphire needle into the tip of the cumbersome, curved metal arm to replace the needle that skipped and scratched. She smiles, and her face opens as she refocuses your question; then she answers and strokes your upper back. This evening she also brought home a few spoken-word records -  the big 78 rpm kind. You choose the one about Columbus that tells of his ships and his voyage.

Then, as if on cue, your mother’s eyes shoot toward the clock. She checks her watch, twists her wrist, then shakes it as if hoping for some misreading. Her eyes grow flat. You watch. She presses her right hand against her stomach. Her shoulders curl, once again her eyes lock onto the clock. She sways slightly and shrinks. She rises from the floor, says nothing, trudges toward the bedroom, and closes the door.

Evenings weren’t like this when you were a family of two. 

Alone in the living room, you hear the kitchen door slam. Your father, recently discharged from the Army, traipses past without looking down, glares at the closed bedroom door, walks forward, and opens it. You feel the shudder of door against frame.

Voices.

Silence.

Louder voices.

You flinch.

Silence.

One or two loud shouts, then nothing.

You listen, but hear only the wind, some creaks, and the record player. After a moment, the bedroom door opens. You tilt your head toward the hallway. Your left hand hovers over the arm of the record player as the narrative of Columbus’ travels continues.

You look to your right. You see your father, partially hidden behind the bedroom doorway, with only his right hand and half his face visible.

            “Turn it off. It bothers your mother. She has a sick headache.”

About the author

Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, The Cabinet of Heed, Pinyon, Lunaris, New Ulster, Lampeter, Selkie, and Adelaide. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.

Sunday 29 November 2020

Menu

 

by Amy B Moreno

 coffee and honey



“To start, the chef’s vegetable soup, and the mini quiche, please.”

  “Yes, madam.”

“Then salmon en cro
ûte, plus the leg of lamb, with buttered new potatoes on the side.”

  “Very good.”

“To finish – the flan, and churros con chocolate.”

 The waited folder the leather-bound menu; heavy and important-looking.

  “And when will your guest be joining you?”

“No, no. Just a table for one,” she said, rubbing her belly. “But thoroughly enjoying eating for two.”

About the author 

Amy B. Moreno writes poetry and prose for adults and children. She writes in English, Scots, and Spanish, including multilingual pieces. She has recently been published by MsLexia (Little Ms), Secret Attic, The Common Breath, The London Reader, The Scottish Book Trust, and The Ogilvie Literary Review.
Twitter: @Amy_B_Moreno




Saturday 28 November 2020

1-2-3-4

 by Keith Hoerner

 vanilla milk shake

“Chocolate or vanilla?” her mother asked, as she stacked the cupcakes, fresh out of the oven… smears across her apron as so many badges of bakery honors. She had followed the simple 1-2-3-4 recipe she had learned as a child: one cup butter, two cups sugar, three cups flour, and four eggs. So simple. So delicious. That’s when the girl’s voice sang, “1-2-3-4, I don’t want these any more!” “Well, then, please allow me to put them away,” her mother retorted—taking the cake stand to the dining room.  “1-2-3-4, now the cakes are out the door,” she sang, laughing.

 

About the auhtor 

Keith Hoerner (BS, MFA) lives, teaches, and pushes words around in Southern Illinois, USA. He has enjoyed publication in over 40 literary journals, anthologies and other publication. His memoir, The Day The Sky Broke Open, publishes with Adelaide Books, NY/ Lisbon in 2021.

 

Friday 27 November 2020

Hope

 

by Elaine Barnard

still water 

 She was sprawled on the gym floor next to my favorite stretch machine, a towel beneath her buttocks. Couldn’t she pick a less obtrusive spot to exercise? I used the stretcher at the culmination of my workout. I was usually exhausted and needed that rejuvenating stretch to recover. I was never in a mood to tolerate interruptions in my schedule, in my cool down phase before I drove home to a hot and cold shower, some chilled chardonnay and a dinner of sorts.

          She did not move as I approached. She lay there like she couldn’t her hair a shaggy blonde mess, her skimpy gym shorts revealing several pounds of extra flesh. What was she doing hiding in the stretch room anyway?  This was a gym for God’s sake. Lying on the floor was only acceptable if you could spring back up which she obviously could not.

“Am I in your way?” I asked in my sweetest manner rather than telling her she was in mine, that she was blocking my stretcher. If I used it, I might conk her head, knock her out or something equally alarming.

She stirred. “You’re okay,” she murmured. “I checked. It’s close but we’re safe.”

I’d like to be a little safer, I thought, but said nothing just proceeded to wipe down the bed of the stretcher as a sanitary precaution.  Can’t be too careful in a Pandemic.

 In the process of protecting myself, I couldn’t help but notice the mesh brace on her knee.  “What happened to your knee?” I asked out of habit not really that interested in her knee. I could be here all day listening to knee, hip, and back complaints. I usually tuned them out.

She patted the brace. “It’s holding my knee together, until…” she winced. “Until I-I” … She took a deep breath. “Have surgery. Tomorrow’s the day.”

I climbed on the machine, locked my ankle in place and started to invert the stretcher only half listening to her as my tense muscles relaxed into the reclined position.

“My problem is I-I can’t afford the therapy, home care and everything else that my health plan won’t pay for.” She sat up slowly. “We spent all our money on my son’s knee therapy. He was eighteen. He healed. He didn’t need surgery. But me, just look at me. I’m too fat and I know it. Doctor says that contributed to my knee problem.” She winced again. Sweat stained her shirt. “I’d have to take off work. I can’t afford to take off work.”

I adjusted the lever on the machine. I was up to one hundred now.  It felt good to stretch tight muscles, to relieve the tension that I could never resolve.

“My kids have tried to help me around the house. Maybe they’ll even cook dinner tonight. I mean a real dinner, not a frozen Marie Callender’s or a Papa John pizza.”

Suddenly she doubled over with pain. Tears streamed down her pale cheeks. Against my better judgement, I lowered the machine, slid off and held her. “It’s all right,” I said, knowing it wasn’t.

She calmed a little as she struggled to stand. “I asked my doctor to give me a local. I don’t want to be knocked out. I don’t want to lose control, I told him. He-he refused. ‘That’s not the way I operate,’ he said.”

“Being knocked out isn’t all that bad,” I told her, helping her to stand straight. “You wake up and it’s all over. You’re ready to start a new life.”

She looked at me, her faded blue eyes glimmering. “You think?”

She leaned on my arm. I smiled with reassurance even though I had no knowledge that anything I said was true, but I hoped it was.  

About the author 

Elaine Barnard's collection of stories, The Emperor of Nuts was published by New Meridian Arts and noted as a unique book on the Snowflakes in a Blizzard website, She won first place in Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. Elaine has been nominated for the Pushcart prize and Best Small Fiction.

 

         

 

Thursday 26 November 2020

Stripey

by Harlan Yarbrough

lemonade

My friends Brian and Heloise were visiting from Cambridge (Massachusetts, not UK—Brian works in the admissions office of one of the big universities there, which is how I met him, but that’s another story for another time), so Andrea and I had invited a couple of neighbors over for dinner and a social evening.  Over dinner, Brian and his wife told us with obvious enthusiasm about going out from Paihia the previous day to swim with dolphins.

            Our neighbor Jack said, “They’re amazing aren’t they.”

            We all agreed, and a few minutes later we all moved to the living room and Jack told us what he called “my most dramatic dolphin story”.  Here’s the story he told—I went back and checked with him a couple of times to make sure I got it right.

 

When I lived in the Bay of Islands, I used to go out quite often with my friend Dan.  He’d had a couple of good years and got Q-West down in Wanganui to build him a thirty-six foot cat with twin Cat C9 Diesels.  It’ll carry a dozen plus two crew, and he uses it to take tourists out on “Swim with the Dolphins” cruises.  A few years back, when I was out of work for most of a year—mostly voluntarily—I used to go out with him quite often, when there was a space aboard.  At first, I went out mostly for his company—we’ve been good friends for a long time—and to help him out.  For several months, I went out whenever I didn’t have any other obligations.

            After the first two or three months, I went out as much for the dolphins as for Dan, maybe more.  I’d come to recognize several of them and knew their individual personalities—and, boy, do they have individual personalities.  There was Old George, whom I called by that name because he reminded me so much of a neighbor I used to have, and Miriam.  I don’t know why I called her Miriam; she just seemed like a Miriam to me.  I’d never seen her with a calf and wondered about that, but maybe she wasn’t old enough yet.  And Lily, younger, I think, and smaller than Miriam and somehow sort of pretty.  And Billy, he’s a joker but really sweet, and … well, anyway, they sure do have personalities.

            I think I actually spent more time in the water with ’em that summer than Dan did.  I’m pretty sure I got to know them at least as well as he did, and they got to know me, too.

            Well, one day we were out there with a pod of dolphins, probably the one I knew best, on a typical beautiful Far North summer day.  We had six people with us, a couple and four individuals, and the couple and two individuals had become tired or cold and climbed back aboard, leaving a man and a woman still swimming.

            All of a sudden, one of the dolphins began repeatedly ramming the woman in the water with his nose.  I yelled, “Help me!” and leaned way over the gunwale and grabbed the woman’s ankle.  With Dan and the husband pulling me from behind, I yarded the woman out of the water and into the boat.  She’d taken on a lot of water and was barely conscious but was coughing.  The coughing, of course, reassured me and Dan, and the woman, whose name I knew then but don’t remember, began talking rather hysterically—which is hardly surprising in the circumstances.

            Once I saw she was going to be alright, I grabbed my mask and flippers.  I said to Dan, “Get me out, if he attacks me,” and went over the side.  I’d recognized the dolphin by the little white stripe on his dorsal fin and swam straight to him.  Stripey—which is what I’d called him for months—was usually one of the sweetest, friendliest, gentlest dolphins in that pod.  I grabbed a big lungful of air and started berating him—talking to him underwater.  Crazy, huh?  He could’ve knocked me out right there, and, besides, I had to keep going back to the surface to fill my lungs.  I don’t know what made me do it.

            He just floated there in front of me, hardly moved, while I ranted and raved and then surfaced, gulped air, ducked back underwater, and ranted and raved some more.  He sort of lowered his nose, and I wondered if he was going to start butting me, too.  Then I realized his whole attitude looked like a dog that’s just been scolded.  Don’t ask me now how a dolphin looks contrite, but he did.

            Another lungful gave me time to change what I was saying, not that I thought he could understand me—although sometimes I wonder.  Anyway, instead of criticizing Stripey as I had at first, I started saying, “You’re such a nice dolphin.  Why would you do a thing like that,” and surfacing to breathe and then continuing with more of the same.

            After a few minutes, Stripey moved forward, so his nose was almost touching my belly.  I’d just grabbed another lungful but didn’t say anything.  I reached out and stroked him, and he seemed to relax.  Don’t ask me how I know, ’cause I couldn’t tell you, he just seemed to relax.  I took another lungful of air and said, “You ought to come up and apologize.”  I didn’t expect him to understand me and can’t imagine that he did, but he followed me to the side of the boat and waited there, the picture of cetacean contrition.

            I called up to Dan and said, “Put a rope around her waist and let her come back in, if she’s willing.”

            To give credit where it’s due, I have to say she was one plucky lady.  As soon as she understood what I was on about, she got the rope under her arms and splashed into the water beside me and Stripey.  He didn’t move, even as the woman swam up quite close to him.  After a moment, she began petting him and he again seemed to relax.  The two of them stayed like that for quite a while, and it was quite a scene.  Dan told me later everyone on board was watching the three of us like a scary scene from a good movie.

            When the woman moved even closer, I felt a little nervous.  I had my hand on Stripey and could feel him sort of vibrating or shivering.  When she kissed his nose, his shaking stopped and I felt his muscles relax under my hand.  The woman stroked him a few more times and said “Good-bye”, then swam to the ladder and climbed out.  I was so impressed, I kissed him myself—not a particularly nice taste—before stroking him a few more times and saying good-bye.

            After I’d followed the woman up the ladder, I looked over the side and saw that Stripey had moved even closer to the boat, right alongside, maybe touching.  The woman and I both leaned over the side and stroked him again and told him what a nice dolphin he was.  We straightened up, and he swam a little ways away and dove.

            He came out of the water on the other side of the boat in a beautiful spy-hop, and then dove again.  All eight of us were still looking at where he’d been, when he came entirely out of the water in the most beautiful breach I’ve ever seen a dolphin do.  His tail must’ve been eight feet out of the water.  He and the rest of the pod then dove and disappeared, and we motored back to the wharf.

            Dan told me, after the tourists had left, that he’d heard about a woman being killed in an attack like that.  “That was a long time ago, though,” he said, “thirty, forty years, and I’ve never heard of another case like it.”  I hadn’t either and still haven’t.  Good thing he was just bunting her with his nose.  “Maybe you didn’t know, but dolphins kill sharks by ramming ‘em  with their dorsal fins.”

            Dan and I never did figure out what set Stripey off that day.  We speculated that because both of the subjects of attacks were women, the cause might have been something to do with hormones or maybe scent—natural or perfume or who-knows-what—but that’s just speculation.  Dan suggested brightly-colored bathing suits as a trigger, but I’ve read that dolphins are almost color-blind.  The bottom line is that we really didn’t know and still don’t.

            I saw Stripey a dozen more times that year and never failed to pet him and make a little fuss over him.  He seemed to like that.  I haven’t been out with Dan for four or five years, though, so don’t know if Stripey’s still there.

            Anyway, that’s the most dramatic dolphin story I know.

 

 

None of us said anything for twenty or thirty seconds, and then Andrea said, “Wow!”  The rest of us nodded our heads and she added, “I hope he’s alright.”

            “Yeah,” Jack said, “it’s like that.  Y’get to think of ‘em almost like human friends.”

            Soon, Samantha and Jason had to leave, because they both had to go to work in the morning—they’re both teachers.  Jack and his ex-wife, Shirley, left not long after.  It’s funny how they don’t live together but seem to do all their socializing together.  There’s probably a story in there somewhere, too, but, again, that’s for another time.

Wednesday 25 November 2020

The Wrong Road

 

by Tony Domaille

 

black coffee

 

It’s happened again. I never learn. I keep trusting her and, though she lets me down time and again, I still listen to her. 

Now I will be late. There is not a sign of civilisation, yet the confident voice of my sat nav says, ‘You have reached your destination.’

 

About the author  


Tony has written a number of award winning plays, published by Lazy Bee Scripts and Pint Sized Plays, that have been performed across the world. He has also had a number of stories published in anthologies and magazines. You can follow him here - https://www.facebook.com/tonydomaillewriting/