Monday 31 October 2022

Young Love by Phyllis Souza, ice-cream soda



It's 1952. I'm fifteen years old, and I'm in love with Johnny.


Johnny is sixteen. Every day around four o'clock in the afternoon, he drives his dad's old green pickup down Pioneer Boulevard past my house.


Sitting on the front porch, I have on jeans, not any ol' pair of jeans, boys' Levi's, legs rolled to just below my knees. My feet are bare, nice, except for my toes. They're long, 'piano toes.'


It's 3:45. My heart's beating fast. I have a red scarf tied around my ponytail—a signal for Johnny to stop.


"I love you," I murmur.


Here he comes. I can see the pickup. I feel a leap in my chest.


Johnny honks.


I'm oh, so thrilled.


He keeps going. "Come back. Come back."


I walk into the house. "Next time, he'll stop. I know he will."


A couple of weeks later.


I pick up the telephone on the table next to our rose-colored sofa. We have a two-party line. I listen. It's some stupid woman talking to another stupid person. It makes me mad. I slam down the receiver. Doesn't she know that somebody else might want to use the phone?


Five minutes later, again, I pick up the phone, and the ladies are still yacking. Then, I hear, "Goodbye."


The phone line is clear. So, I lay on the couch and pray. "Please, God, let Johnny call."


The phone rings. It's Johnny!


He asks me, the girl with the long toes and hair pulled into a ponytail with a red scarf, for a date to go to the show. Not to a theater, but a drive-in movie. That's where couples make out.


"Hold on. I'll have to ask," I say.


I put down the receiver. I can't stand it. I'm so happy.


I run to the kitchen.


My mother is crying. Not really. She's peeling an onion.


"Johnny's on the phone. He asked me to go to a movie. Can I? Please. Can I go?" I clasp my hands. "I'll wash the dishes. Fold the clothes. Please. Anything."


"Yes, but only if you take your cousin, Sally, along."


Sally's my buddy, and I think it's okay.


A few seconds later, I'm back on the phone.


"Great. It's a date," Johnny says.


Saturday evening rolls around. 7:00.


Johnny drives his black and white Ford into the driveway. He gets out of his car—knocks on the front door. Takes one look at Sally.


"Wow!" Johnny's in love.


I hate Johnny. And I'm not too fond of my cousin, Sally, either.

About the author

 Phyllis Souza lives in Northern California. After she retired from a long real estate career, she took online writing classes. Her stories have been published in: The Drabble, The Raven Perch, Spillwords, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Friday Flash Fiction

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Sunday 30 October 2022

Debris by Martyn McCarthy, americano


I fell asleep in a country that has, I learn from the radio in the cold light of morning, changed.

Not by choice for sure, not for the better I am certain.  As I slept the sleep of the innocent, I am coming to appreciate that my life has been altered for ever,

I lived in a peaceful society that was, I understand now with unquestionable clarity, vulnerable to one man’s febrile machinations and a self-serving view of history.

I am standing, peering down cautiously through my bedroom window on to the tree lined road with its houses, flats and shops that I have called home for each of my 70 years.  My breath forms beads of condensation on the chilled glass that shields me from the world on the other side.

Where yesterday there was the whine of a young child who, whilst playing under a blue sky with a yellow sun, had fallen on crisp white snow.  Today I hear the whine of a drab jet fighter stalking for prey across a brooding sky that shrouds the sun.

I find myself distracted, I watch as the condensation of my breath beads, as the beads then coalesce and form into distinct rivulets that streak the glass like tears on a young child’s cheek.

Unbidden my hand reaches out to wipe the condensation from my line of sight, as I do, a sonorific thump pounds my home, it enters my bones and distorts my view of the world beyond the glass.

My involuntary action of wiping the first rivulet of condensation appears to have had an unintended and dire consequence.  The tree lined street of homes has vanished from sight under a pall of deleterious debris.

Instinctively, fearing the carnage my action has wrought, I turn away from the sight assailing my eyes and retreat a step from the window.

Without thought, still in my night clothes, I find myself running from the room, down the stairs and throwing open the front door of my home bringing myself full square with the debris that had been a street of homes, of neighbours, of the bustle of daily life.

As it moves on to stalk more prey, the mechanical whine of a jet fighter abates to be replaced by a feral human whine, of a mother whose child’s body lays directly in my line of sight naked, dismembered and tingeing the debris strewn melting snow red.

Without heed, I step bare foot across the threshold of the door into the carnage that I called home. 

I cover my ears, I scream!

About the author 

 Martyn is a proud exiled Welshman who whiles away his days on a long sandy beach and, when the wind isn't to strong and the water is sufficiently calm, can be found paddling boarding or kayaking. 


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Saturday 29 October 2022

Saturday Sample: Last Chance Salon by Fiona McNeil, breakfast tea


My trouble is that I’m way too trusting. Always ready to see the good in people. It’s got me into hot water more than once, I can tell you.

So when I got talking to a bloke in a pub and he gave me a hard-luck story, I fell for it, hook, line and solid gold sinker. He had a business he needed shot of, he said. His wife was none too well, they were moving abroad, he said.

–“I don’t suppose you….no, silly question. Forget I mentioned it,” he shrugged.

He sighed and looked into the middle distance with eyes that spoke of wisdom and pain endured. The sort of facial expression that looms large in cowboy films. Think Clint Eastwood in a poncho, chewing on a cheroot, or John Wayne on a dusty ranch putting a recalcitrant young’un in his place.

Of course, with all my years of hamming it up, I should have spotted his technique a mile off. No such luck.

“No, no,” I urged. “Please go on.”

And so I woke up the morning after with a pounding head and the keys to ‘Hairs & Graces’ in Penge. Penge! I ask you! Even the name sounds like a cross between ‘penny-pinching’ and ‘gunge’. I couldn’t have chosen a less glamorous location if I’d tried. I’d been through it once or twice on the way to somewhere else but never had reason to stop. And when I went down there to take a look first-hand at the turkey I’d bought, I very nearly kept on walking.

Hairs & Graces was the three Ds – dismal, dreary and run-down – and sandwiched between a newsagent and a tyre-fitting workshop. The outside was painted a light green, cheap soap colour and it was peeling off in places, lending a scabby look. There were yellowing nets like old ladies’ drawers in the window and posters of beehives and sideburns that were so old they’d faded to green in the sunlight.

Inside was no better. I’d been hoping for rough plasterwork, maybe a little chrome here and there, but the place looked as though it hadn't changed since the Fab Four made bowl cuts popular.

The walls were the colour of pink instant pudding and the floor covered in grey lino. The glass tables, the coat rack, even the pot plant holders were embellished with white, curly, wrought iron, all collecting dust. There were even some of those old-fashioned, space helmet-style dryers. It would have taken several thousand pounds to modernise the place and I just didn’t have that kind of money. I could have cried.

So I did what I usually do in times of crisis. I put my feet up, lit a fag and considered my options.

What I really wanted was my money back. But even if I went back to the Hope & Anchor, (known locally as the ‘Dope & Wanker’, which seemed an accurate enough description of me, given the circumstances) to track down Mr Grant P. Worrall, I was unlikely to be successful. I’d signed the papers and he’d disappeared into the sunset.

On the other hand, I could have a bash at running the place, I speculated. I’d spent a few months in the wig department of a regional theatre and could probably manage a trim or a blow-dry. Perms were out of fashion and colouring was just like playing with a chemistry set. The punters round here were unlikely to have high expectations. How hard could it be?

But then again, sound financial acumen had never been my strong point, not that it had ever stopped me from trying. I was a landscape gardener for a while but I wrenched my back pushing a wheelbarrow full of turf. I sold trinkets from the Far East on a market stall until the whole of my stock was pinched from the back of the van.

I even managed a rock band for a year or two. Great fun but the lead guitarist was hard work. Always bloody complaining. One day he took exception to my socks. As I recall they had a rather nice, pink and grey Argyle pattern and my mother had given them to me for Christmas.

“You’re wearing middle class socks,” he announced, as if that were the ultimate betrayal, though of what I couldn’t tell.

I can’t speak for my socks but I’d never made any claims that I was anything other than middle class. I was privately educated. My father played golf. I didn’t see what the problem was. But I’d had enough of him and his griping and it was time for something new. So I walked out. Never saw any of them again which was a bit of a shame. Sound lads, the rest of them. Last I heard, they were gigging in a pub off the A2.

However, I’m nothing if not optimistic. Every time I begin some new enterprise I think, “This time, it’s going to work. I’ll show ’em all that Rafe Bunce can be a success.”

But, sitting there in that has-been hair salon, I suddenly felt myself completely spent, like someone had pulled my plug out. I had one of those moments of clarity people often talk about. An epiphany, you might say. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t a successful businessman running an empire from a luxury penthouse. I was a chain-smoking, fifty-something, sometime actor in a cardigan, washed-up in a stagnant corner of south London.

Who to turn to but The Bard for a fitting phrase to sum up my anguish? “O, I am fortune’s fool!” I wailed, putting my head in my hands.

I heard a noise like someone clearing their throat. I slowly lifted my head and saw a figure silhouetted against the light. My first thought was that the place was haunted. It would have come as no surprise.

I screamed and leapt to my feet.

“Sorry,” someone said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

A young woman stepped forward, not yet eighteen years old by my reckoning, and wearing a dark blue raincoat in the style once favoured by district nurses. Her hair was cropped short, her face was freckly and her small, slightly slanting eyes looked much too knowing for her years.

“The door was open,” she explained in a voice that sounded different to the usual Penge-ish twang.

Seeing that she was, in fact, a living being who had entered the premises in the standard way rather than wafting through a wall, I composed myself.

“Yes. Well,” I said, trying to make my voice a bit deeper. “What can I do for you?”

“I work ’ere,” she said.

That took me by surprise. Judging by the amount of mail silted up on the doormat when I’d come in, I’d assumed the salon was no longer functioning.

“Are you sure?” I said.

“Mr Worrall said he was closing for a while. Said I was to keep stopping by to see when it was open again,” she went on.

I was certain I wouldn’t be able to pay myself, let alone any staff. “I’m the new owner and no-one said anything to me about any employees,” I pointed out. “I’m sorry, but…” I let the unspoken assumption that she would have to clear off hang in the air.

“But I’m the junior hairdresser,” she answered, pronouncing it ‘ur-dresser’. She had a soft voice but there was no mistaking her determination.

It was then than I pinpointed her accent. Lancashire, if I wasn’t mistaken. Bolton to be precise. I’d done panto up there one year.

“Well, I’m very sorry but—”

The door opened and someone else came in.

“Hello Suky, love!” said an old lady in a knitted hat that looked like porridge, coming towards the girl. “I’m not late, am I?”

“No, you’re fine,” she answered. “Take a seat and I’ll be with you in a minute.”

I had the sense, then, of being elbowed out of the way. Upstaged, as it were, and I didn’t like it. I was pretty sure Richard Branson didn’t have to put up with this kind of thing.

“Now hang on just one minute,” I warned, holding my hand up like a traffic cop and addressing my remarks to the room at large, lest anyone else was lurking in there. “We’re not actually open at present.”

The old lady stared at me, her lips twitching, as if she didn’t understand what I was saying. Suky, as the girl was apparently called, picked up a book from the cash desk and brought it over to me.

“Mrs Abercrombie has a booking,” she whispered, pointing at that day’s entry.

“Oh. I see. Well, just this once,” I huffed. “After that, we’re definitely closed. Definitely.”

Suky changed into an overall, took the woman’s coat and set about washing and styling her hair.

I lit another cigarette, reverted to my former boots-up position and observed. The girl appeared to know what she was doing. She was quick and quiet in her movements, her comb darting like a viper’s tongue as she spooled the woman’s hair onto rollers.

But as I watched, I was struck by the quality of Suky’s own hair. It had a texture unlike anything I had ever seen growing out of someone’s cranium. It was like shredded wheat, coconut matting or the fuzzy texture inside a suede boot. The poor girl, it had to be said, looked like a boiled sweet that had been hanging around in someone’s pocket and had bits of tobacco stuck all over it. Still, she obviously wasn’t letting it hold her back.

When Mrs Abercrombie’s session was finished, she paid and left the salon smiling. But before Suky could put the cash in the till, I snatched it from her hand.

“There you go,” I said, thrusting a tenner at her. “Thank you for your efforts. Now, if you don’t mind—”

“We’ve got three bookings first thing,” she said, ignoring the money.

“Three?” I hesitated.

“A restyle, highlights and a set,” she nodded.

I wouldn’t be able to cope with that lot by myself and she knew it.

“Well, maybe come back just for tomorrow, then,” I relented. “But after that we’re closed. Definitely.”

Suky came back the following morning and the next day and the next day after that. Soon she’d been there three weeks. I was forced to admit to myself that the salon was indeed open for business and what’s more, I had an employee.

So, reluctantly, I moved into the flat above with a load of brown, second-hand furniture and tapped my old man for yet another loan in order to meet running costs. Between us Suky and I managed to meet the modest needs of our clientele, she tackling the more elaborate hairstyles, leaving basic washing, setting and trimming to me.

I quite enjoyed myself, truth be known. I was master of my own domain and the old ladies were an appreciative audience for my rather tired repertoire of jokes. I found their meaningless chit-chat comforting. “Do you think it’s going to rain, love? Only I’ve left my washing out,” or, “There was a dreadful queue at the post office.” It was, as they say, very ‘real’.

Find out more here.  

Friday 28 October 2022

Marriage and Other Fairy Tales (Volume One) by Betti Patterson, Earl Grey


Once upon a time, they said, 'I do'.  The lie went on forever.


About the author

 Betti (BJ) Patterson is a fiction writer, reporter, produced playwright, and unwilling morning person. Her work has appeared in the Sunday School Publishing Board Baptist Curriculum Series, the Chicago Defender, and the Oak Park Journal. BJ lives in a suburb Southwest of Chicago.

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Thursday 27 October 2022

WHEN DO I GET TO LAUGH by Michael Gigandet, cheap beer

 We must look like penguins waddling to the edge of the continental ice. Bundled up in our dark coats and scarves against the wind, our arms out for balance, we shuffle quarter steps over our own ice. At another time I would have said something clever and tried to get her to laugh, but instead I’m wondering if I locked the car although we have nothing worth stealing.

I reach for her arm but stop before she sees me do that. ‘I got it,’ she said when I tried before. I listen to her breathing and glance at the puffs of fog in the cold.


Inside the courthouse, the authorities conclude that it’s over. Thirty minutes is all it takes. She said “Thank you” to everybody we met.


Now singular in a plural setting, we offer something droll for everyone here:

-Us driving away in the same vehicle because the other car blew its engine and isn’t worth fixing. Me driving like I always do, thinking there’s something to say if I could only think of it.

-Us going back to our apartment with its suffocating lease while we save money for two apartments, reluctant roommates now, splitting the bills and rent.

-Me wondering if we will share the bed tonight or if I will just go to the couch. Maybe we will alternate.

-Me clinching the steering wheel, breathing deeper and asking her if she wants to stop by McDonald’s for a late breakfast although she hasn’t been able to eat in the mornings.

‘Sure,’ she says.

This morning she got sick again. She says it’s just nerves. Maybe it is.

I feel ridiculous. When does the time come when I get to laugh about it all?

About the author 

Michael Gigandet is a lawyer living on a farm in Tennessee. He has been published by the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Reedsy, Spelk Fiction, OrangeBlushZine, Transfigured and Potato Soup Journal. He has published stories in collections by Palm Sized Press, Pure Slush and Down In The Dirt.

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)