We find others as we stumble across them
and they glow inside for the rest of our lives
—Franz Douskey, GATE’S PASS
Quiet Morning On the Square
by Michael J. Solender
Ellen reflexively pulled her skirt down, even though she was alone, peering out her second story picture window. She gazed out at the square below her and its lone inhabitant.
Her witness to the early morning sunrise was being interrupted by a vision she was not unaccustomed to viewing, yet had hoped to avoid today.
Jimmy Flanagan, the town miscreant and drunkard, had caught her eyeing him from above and raised his clenched fist to shake it at her. He was hobbling home from yet another evening of Mumbly Peg and too much Guinness at the local pub which was only now, at 5:00 a.m., closing.
As he gesticulated wildly at Ellen’s silhouette, he lost his balance and fell face first into the mounded trash that had been set upon the curb.
Ellen, up early per usual, had today off from her dispatch job for the local constabulary. No matter how hard she tried, she just could not sleep past 5:00 in the morning and, truth be told, she did so like the quite time, even if it was punctuated by Jimmy or one of his rat-arsed or equally cabbaged mates.
Initially she laughed at this morning’s spectacle, but soon became concerned when Jimmy failed to rise from his current predicament. She started to call to the station, but given she was right there and a squad car was at best ten minutes away, she decided to hurry down to tend to J.R. Flanagan herself. Perhaps she’d even have a tale to tell back at work if rousting Jimmy called for heroics. She did like to weave a good yarn now and again, even if at times they became unraveled.
Turned out it was Jimmy who’d be telling the tale that evening at the Pub, because as Ellen approached him and began to turn him over, he rose from his stupor, gave her a big sloppy kiss on the lips, patted her rump and wished her a most fine top ‘o’ the morning!
Flabbergasted and her lips tasting of stale cigarettes and beer, Ellen marched straight back up stairs, got into a hot tub and never from that day forward got up before 7:30 A.M. again.
Tangled Up, Needed a Hand
He hung stuck to the brick wall
at the mouth of the invisible alley,
long strands of daily discord
splaying his limbs to the four poles of misery.
He’d loved unwisely,
collected dimes from sidewalk cracks
when he should’ve been out kicking rainbows aside
to make room for his greater light.
He reached his skeleton fingers –
chewed down to their chalky centers by nervousness –
in my wayward direction,
wanting only the passing caress
of human validation.
I took him full by the arm
and pried him down from his sticky prison,
shoving him forward again
to greet the human-faced menagerie,
to see what new trouble
he could find.
—Mark Joseph Kiewlak
by Townsend Walker
You know what it’s like. You get on the bus; you get off the bus; twice a day, every day, don’t think about it: automatic, reflex. Buses haven’t changed in years, same steps, two up, two down. What’s to think about? You think about it? Nope, you just do it. Me, I’ve been doing it for ten years now. You, how long you been riding this route? Three months huh? Thought I’d have seen you by now. You the same time every day? Yeah, me too. Well, you’ll get used to it, getting on, two steps up, getting off, two steps down. But there’ll come the day, you wait and see; you’re dreaming; you’re in a hurry; you miss the last step; fall on your face. Of course it’s the busiest time of the day; of course there’s a crowd around; of course your face turns beet red; of course there’ll be a good looking dame peering down at you. What do you do? What I’ve done every month for the last ten years. Smile, dust yourself off, say,
“I’m not usually this clumsy; are you free this evening?”
Doesn’t always work, but sometimes. Tough on the pants though.
by Nora Ibsen
It had been a year since my husband died of a massive heart attack. Not unexpectedly. He liked good food and didn’t listen to his doctor’s advise to lose weight and stick to a sensible diet. Whatever good meals I cooked for him, he supplemented with meals eaten in restaurants with his clients and they were vast and composed of all the ingredients he wasn’t supposed to eat. He had meals out for breakfast, lunch and dinner and always had a snack before bedtime. Mostly some French cheese with crackers and salami cut in thick slices. He was a walking time bomb.
Our marriage had been a good one, as marriages go. We had had our ups and downs, our fights and our struggles, but for the least years we were like comrades in the face of life and all it had to show us. We had paid off our mortgage and paid off our credit cards and owed nobody anything and we had enough money saved up so that we could plan a long cruise once he retired, which was just a few years away. We were each other’s best buddies, lets put it that way, and I loved him with a great deal of patience and he loved me with a great deal of gratitude.
My daughter thought that after one year of widowhood, I should start dating other men. She didn’t think I should spend the rest of my life on my own, although I was perfectly content and more than willing to do so. After all, I was set in my ways and it had taken me a lifetime to get used to the habits and peculiarities of one man. Why should I want to give up my freedom and want to start that all over again? She didn’t seem to understand this, newly wed as she still was and very much in love and in awe of her fabulous husband, who was a first class son in law, I must admit, and who treated her as if she was a princess, which she didn’t always deserve.
After much discussion and hemming and hawing on my part, she convinced me to sign up with an online dating service, but only after I got her absolute assurance that it was a reputable one and that not every nut in the country was going to contact me and leave me messages with sexual innuendos and outright overnight proposals and I only agreed to place my photograph, because she said it would add to my appeal, as I looked so good for my age and so attractive and surely a lot of men would show interest and I could always pick and choose. I grudgingly went along with this, seeing no good come of it at all, but wanting to humor her and at the same time keep her happy and give her some sense that I was at least somewhat co-operating.
She came by every day after we had entered my credentials and the proposals from men started pouring in. It was like every lonely man above the age of 55 was on the look out for a new face and every man imaginable announced himself. It was sheer madness and I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. My daughter thought it was wonderful and had a ball commenting on their photos and reading all the messages they left me. Sometimes she squealed with laughter, but sometimes she was really impressed and would try to get me interested also. I barely gave the photos a glance. Most of them were of balding, spectacled men with a little jowl. Some had mustaches and some had beards, which I assumed hid all sorts of less than attractive features, but none of them were calling out to me in that Harrison Ford way, which is what I had in mind.
Until one day the perfect candidate showed up. He had a crew cut and a very neatly trimmed short beard and ice blue eyes, a perfectly straight nose and very nice cheekbones. His message was short, but kind and spoke of a more than average intelligence. I said to my daughter that he might be the one I could be interested in and I sent him a return message indicating so, on which I received a message from him suggesting a meeting on neutral ground somewhere.
Oh goodness, I was awfully nervous and hardly knew how to contain myself and my daughter was giggling and pinching me in my side. “See,” she said to me,”I told you it would work!” I told her not to be silly and that I was only going to meet him somewhere and that it didn´t mean anything and for all I knew he was going to turn out to be a dwarf with a limp. Really, all that noise ahead of time!
We agreed to meet at a café downtown and since it was springtime, we would be able to sit outside on the terrace. That was some matter of relief to me, as I thought I would feel more comfortable meeting out in the open like that, surrounded by people and with an easy way to make a getaway should it be necessary.
On the day itself, I dressed myself carefully and made sure my hair was fixed perfectly, but not too obviously overdone in a chignon that I fixed in place with two ivory combs. I got to the café a little early, so I would be able to observe this stranger approach the place and have a good look at him before he spotted me. I thought with his distinguished head, he would be easy to pick out in a crowd, except that I didn´t know how tall he was. I need not have worried, though, because I spotted him instantly. He was tall, about 6 foot 2 and he strode in big steps toward my table and very cordially shook my hand before he sat down and made himself comfortable.
Before we could really start talking the waiter was there to take our order and we both ordered a cup of coffee with a piece of apple pie and then slowly got a conversation started which revolved around us telling a little bit about our backgrounds. I told him about my late husband and our ambition to go on that long cruise. He asked me if I had been happily married and I answered, `Why yes, I think so, yes, why do you ask?`
He waited with answering while our waiter placed our coffees and pie on our table and then he told me that his wife had left him and had run off with the milkman.
I found this pretty incredulous, because it sounded like part of an old joke that had been around forever and where do you find a milkman delivering milk door to door anymore?
He said it had happened in the early seventies and that as a result of it, he had stopped using all dairy products and only took artificial creamer in his coffee and never had whipped cream or ice cream with his piece of pie anymore.
I watched him raise his coffee cup to his mouth with both hands and noticed that he still wore a wedding band around his left ring finger and I asked him about it.
“Oh yes,” he said, “My wife and I never got divorced, because the milkman was catholic and refused to divorce the mother of his six children and visited her every weekend with two bags of groceries and six bottles of milk.”
He drank the last bit of his coffee with clearly visible enjoyment and then he added, with an apologetic smile on his face, “My wife died of a stroke last week and I have been taking real cream in my coffee ever since her funeral and I had forgotten how good it tasted.”
I mumbled an apology and grabbed my purse off the chair next to me and as fast as my high heels permitted, I clattered over the cobblestoned terrace to the square where I had parked my car. I still live alone now and am quite happy. My daughter has stopped pestering me and I´m going on that cruise soon with one of my best friends. We will not be looking for future husbands.
Bear hugs and falling stop punches.
Billy and Phil spend their time tweaking every night. Afterward they unwind by drinking beer.
One evening you open the front door and see a trail of underclothing leading to Phil’s room. The next morning a disheveled female drinks the coffee you brew. “You were in my English class in high school, weren’t you?”
Her eyes are bleary. “Who the fuck remembers high school?”
Afterward the two of you don’t speak.
Billy comes by the duplex and steals her affections. Phil doesn’t care. “I walked up to her in the Quick Stop and asked if she wanted to do some lines.”
Two days later Billy comes back. He is paranoid. “The Red and Whites have been rumbling by my house on their scooters. That chick is theirs and they know I’ve been screwing her.”
“So?” Phil says.
Billy punches him. “You picked up a strange chick, man. She rides with the Angels.”
Billy punches Phil a second time, and you grab him in a bear hug. He kicks your leg and you land on top of him.
Afterward Billy doesn’t fight.
Phil says, “I told you my kid brother was strong.”
fuck to prove how fucked you are
well, i had every intention
of not drinking tonight
but beers found themselves
inside my clenched fists
and now i am livid
because all i am able
to think about
is the driving necessity
compelling me to
gather my keys,
my phone, and my cigarettes
to begin my paranoid
journey toward something
in pill-form that will
make the noise cease
and the quietness
drop-kick me to sleep
The Queen in the Prison of Skin
by Robert Crisman
Roanne stumbled out to the Ave. She was strung like a dog. She copped from this guy that she knew, and practically ran to the nearest café. She sped to the can, fixed, and went out. A chipmunk couldn’t get high on the dope, not if its monkey weighed in like hers did, but at least for now her willies were sort of on mute.
She trudged up the Ave, past the bookstore, the pizza shop, Cellophane Square—all of them old, faded wallpaper now, much like the rest of the world. She passed 45th, sidestepped the loud claques of kids at the bus stop and… hold it…
The store there, the window…the mannequin in it, a woman, tall, muscled, proud, in a black sheath of an outfit, svelte as a sword…
Her hair, short, black, spiked… Roanne imagined a crown on her head with a veil that sheathed the left eye.
Roanne stood and stared, blinking, transfixed. Her posture slumped, she was slack-jawed, dull-eyed, yet somehow she held there. She kept trying to straighten, the better to see. She appeared to be trying to rise from a coma.
She squinted, still blinking, as if faced with a text in a language she’d known, and maybe discarded in some Herfy’s bathroom. It called to her though, up through the sludge. She could not move.
She remembered the woman she’d seen in a movie. Roanne was 12. The woman was tall, muscled, proud, like that mannequin there in the window… She toted an Uzi and ruled. Fatigues flowed down her body, snakeskin, inseparable from her, weaving together the beauty and strength and allure that made her the Queen.
The Queen wore a crown, a little black hat, a shell made of feathers, tipped forward to the side with a veil that covered one eye.
She was the Queen. She stood in a warehouse, gun at the ready. Around her, a covey of young, supple gangsters. She was their rock, the dream they all dreamed of. She stood there inviolate, serene. She took Roanne over…
Roanne, 12 years old, dreamed she’d be the Queen. Her skin had a Mediterranean glow; you wanted to nuzzle it, taste it. Her eyes were black pools that drank you. Boys circled…
But her legs were too short…
Wisdom has it, however, that clothes make the woman; they mold, sharpen flesh. Roanne had an eye for design. She could turn shadow to sinew. Her legs would grow. She would be Queen.
And women would give themselves over to her to be honed for the wars. The world would fall at her feet! She’d reshape men’s eyes—and thereby escape the prison of skin.
Roanne, 29, blinked and blinked, breathing slowly, in soft little gasps. Time held its breath—and then something left her. It left through her eyes.
Her eyes had widened, reaching for something and then within them, a quick flash of fear, dulled as it was by the chiva. Life left her eyes and winged toward some hell.
Or perhaps to that place where she’d traded her dream for a geez…
Roanne, slumped, turned, walked away, her legs growing shorter each step. Her face set like stone. She’d have called it blasé unconcern. The thing that she’d seen in that window? No biggie, a blip…
Time to get back on the dope train and ride it on out…
by Michael D. Brown
Twenty-five minutes after taking the cutoff onto the new mountain road, Alvaro noted his brother’s Stratus parked beyond the culvert. “Mi hermano,” he said.
Omar was looking under the hood and their cousin Juan was apparently trying to help with some problem.
We got out of the Chevy and walked over. A hose had broken. I haven’t known the brothers long, but have observed Omar always drives fast. Alvaro remarked that although Omar has only been driving for five years, he’s already killed three cars.
“Y mi mama?” Alvaro asked.
“Alla, platicando,” Omar said, pointing with the two fingers holding the stub of a cigarette.
Señora Z was chatting with two women who were selling roadside tamales. A much, much older woman was hanging up wet clothing to dry on a jerry-rigged line. The women with the tamales were serious looking, but grandma smiled widely, toothlessly in our direction.
Soon the señora walked back to her sons. She smiled at Alvaro in a supplicating way, as if to say she should have ridden with him, and though she would continue to suffer through the trip as Omar’s passenger, his brother should assume the guilt for her discomfort.
Alvaro offered a spare hose to his brother, but it didn’t fit over the broken ends. Then Cesarin pulled up in his Suru with his cousin. He had some rubber tubing and we were soon on the road again. However, while the Chevy and the Suru were sticking close together, Omar’s car was nowhere in sight. Then, as we rounded an outcrop, there they were, stopped again.
This reoccurred twice before we were able to get to a gas station in San Cristobal which could replace the broken hose.
At the mechanic’s, the señora said something that I translated in my mind as “Time is money,” but noted that though we would be very late in arriving for the unveiling of the bust in Teopisca, it didn’t seem to concern anyone greatly.
As we came into the square, the townspeople were already gathered for the ceremony, but evidently the dedication had not yet begun. The señora’s husband was dressed in his finest. His brothers and sister were in attendance. His mother was seated directly in front of the tarp-covered bust. She did not appear to be as old as the woman who had been hanging clothes, though she probably was older. She was not so wrinkled, and still had teeth, but she was not smiling. She seemed to be awaiting the first view of the renegade patriarch, the philandering musician who had brought some glory to Teopisca, though he had bequeathed little to her or their descendants.
Alvaro’s mother did not get on well with her mother-in-law, and apparently was at odds with her husband at the moment. She merely waved to her in-laws and said nothing to him. Obligation had brought her to this place. And now it became obvious, only obligation had brought her sons, as Omar suggested getting something to eat, and Alvaro quickly agreed. Neither one greeted their father, although when I glanced back, he looked disappointed surely having expected an abrazo.
Señora Z went to the family house to change while we went for a beer. Then she joined us rather than the celebrants and we went to have something to eat. It was only after the tarp had been removed and her husband was commemorating his father that she joined the group. She sat in a chair at some distance from her mother-in-law, and fidgeted with her tight little wristwatch throughout the proceedings. As a backdrop, musicians played several of the famous composer’s marimba songs to show us that he was represented by more than just a bronze head.
The after-dinner, the cena, was held in a big salon just off the zocalo. There were three groups of mariachis strolling around the tables at various times, and Alvaro’s uncle played some of his grandfather’s songs on the marimba. As I watched his mother and father dancing, he told me his uncle had a reputation as one of the best musicians in the area and had appeared on cable television. I went back to my hotel room when I started to feel nauseous from the smell of the barbacoa, but the party went on until five in the morning.
Next morning, Señora Z rode back to the city with her husband in their van, so even though there were several cars going back, there were only two passengers to each. Over the sounds of Moenia, Alvaro asked me, “So, did you have a good time?”
“Yeah,” I said, “Thanks for inviting me. Hey, I was glad to see your mom and dad made up.”
“My father’s kind of a big shot in Teopisca,” he said, “She sees him in a different light.”
“Isn’t he sort of a big shot in Tuxtla?” I asked.
“Tuxtla’s a bigger town,” he said, “It’s all relative.”
The drive back through the mountains seemed slower this time. I kept hoping we would pass the women we had seen the day before, however, as it was a Sunday, the roadsides were deserted. It took us hours to get back to the city, but I learned later Omar made it in about half the time, and although his car did not break down again, he did get a speeding ticket. His cousin Juan, who was telling the story, said, “Pinche güey, I thought I was gonna die coming back here.”
by AJ Dresser
Somewhere in the Bayou is a house of the devil I’ll call home for the next few days. Looks just like Vegas or Laughlin but with more grime. I came here to see my sister, Tina, the woman who abandoned me a decade ago, leaving me alone with the psychotic wino who insisted we call her “mother” because it showed respect. Tina called me to meet her for some long overdue sibling bonding but really, I came to tell her that our mother is dead.
I spy Tina at ten paces and settle onto a stool at the weathered oak slab bar, ordering up a whiskey. I watch her through the haze of smoke for the next hour as she plays Five Card Stud. She’s chain smoking cheap cigarettes in long drags as they burn down to her yellowed fingers. She relights a new one off the stub of the last and sits it in a tin ashtray next to her. Her tits have become a sideshow, garnering bets from two guys next to me as to how long the beer-stained shirt will contain them. Her profile resembles our mom.
There’s no sign of her husband or kid and I can’t help but wonder where she got the cash stacked in front of her. My sister was always responsible. When our mother was drunk or off her meds or locked up in County Psych – which was most of the time – Tina played mom. She cooked macaroni and cheese and let me watch R movies late into the night. Then I’d curl up beside her so she could keep the monsters away. I could really use some of her old-fashioned mothering again. It’s been a rough ten years without her.
I watch her pile of dough as it turns anorexic, shrinking to half its size then half again. As she finishes off the last of the baker’s dozen of gin and tonic, eyeballing her orphaned chips as they’re dragged away by the shill across from her, she pushes up from the table and lands next to me.
“Hey cutie, buy a girl a drink?” I’m not ten anymore and, clouded by her drunken haze, my sister doesn’t recognize the man I’ve become in the decade since she last saw me.
“You play?” She licks stray liquor of the edge of the glass like a lot lizard advertising blowjobs.
“You looking for company then?” I swallow back the bile and shake my head at her, closing the subject.
“I could teach you to play. Front me twenty bucks.” I flip her a Jackson and ask for a story instead. I grew up too fast after she left and I just want to be mothered, tucked in, and made to feel safe again. I can taste the mac and cheese sprinkled with paprika. It’s just out of reach, masked by bathtub gin and nicotine.
Instead of the fairy tales of old, she talks about a wicked witch, a princess, and a lost little boy; the castle she mortgaged to the hilt then lost at the tables — again; a prince who will surely leave her when she crosses the moat back home, penniless; the elixir that poisons and holds her captive; the little brother she called to come meet her and how she hopes he won’t show up because she’s such a disappointment.
The confident savior I remember is unmasked and before me sits a woman who didn’t escape after all. I’m unsure if she will drown in her drink, her sorrows, or the lake filled with her own regrets.
Despair etches decades onto her face, but then her eyes light up when a one-armed bandit begins screeching and whistling as it vomits its stolen payload to one lucky sucker. To an addict, this means hope. Her gaze drops to the bills on the bar in front of me. I can’t save her from the monsters. Like a good brother, I empty my wallet into her twitching hands and watch her back disappear in the crowd. Maybe I don’t need her to save me anymore, either. I’m not doing so bad, all things considered.
Outside the neon polluted playground, I’m hoping the trucker I caught a ride with is still here.
Midnight in Seville
Chilled red wine.
I watch alone,
Longing for this
Desultory in Blue
by Richard Godwin
The smoke hung in the air like a cloud and he watched as she moved with the slow grace of a dancer, pouring herself a glass of wine and standing, raising the unbelievably thin stem to her carmine lips. Her poise and pace as she moved towards him were balletic and he felt as though some grim revelation were about to take place as he toked so deeply the walls vanished briefly and he saw the face of the dead politician rise on some timeless tide into the apartment.
“I can still see him honey,” he said as she sat next to him, tucking her legs beneath her.
“Yeah. His face, it looked like it was telling us something.”
“And it was.”
He tried to sit up but a hundred tonnes were weighing him down and he turned to bring her sculpted alabaster face into focus.
“What was he saying?”
“Baby I can’t get the image out of my mind.”
She looked at him and he felt she was burning something into him, some molten brand she had snatched from an unseen fire whose flames failed to reach him.
“You want me don’t you?”
“Stop jumping around.”
“I’m sitting very still.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“No. You want me and you need me to be a certain kind of woman because like all men you’re scared of women and without the image you can’t cope with who I am.”
“Sweetheart, you’re redundant, because when we give birth your part is over, you need to believe us to be something we’re not.”
“And what’s that?”
“Whatever you need.”
He tried to focus on her but someone else had entered the room and his knowledge of the intruder tapped at the threshold of his mind like a killer’s knuckles on a windowpane. She stood up and poured another glass, the wine like some blood smear in a chalice. And as she did a mirrored stasis reigned and hushed his soul as if a quiet finger were being laid to rest on the frozen lips of a ghost.
“You’re fucking with my head.”
She came close to him, so close he could touch her face and she said “He deserved it, he was a rapist.”
“Someone cut the mayor up and you say that. What is it, you don’t like politicians?”
“I know what I’m saying, you see, men, you won’t listen to us when we tell you who we really are.”
He struggled to his feet.
“Ah, you’re not making sense, you keep chopping and changing. You don’t even know what you’re saying.”
“I do because I killed him.”
“And how did you do that?”
“I cut his throat. He used to expose himself to his secretary, she said it looked like a swollen animal organ. Do you have any idea what women have to put up with? Do you care?”
“Yeah of course I care.”
He was searching for a CD and looked up at her as she said it and for a moment her face was someone else’s and she looked like she was made of ice and he looked down and grabbed the first one he came to and stuck it on.
She was perfectly composed and so beautiful she frightened him. And through the window pane the light seemed to be bleeding at the earth’s rim. And he felt as though some wraith had poured ice into the air, that he himself was some visitant whose way had been scorched by fire and who lived among the ashes.
He waited for the music to begin and as the notes jumped about in some random dance Captain Beefheart’s voice intoned “Hit that long lunar note and let it float” and he knew she was telling him the truth and he felt closer to her than ever before and more alone.
The apartment felt cold and he walked to where she stood and said “Baby will you be here in the morning?” and she smiled and said “No, but someone else who looks just like me will be.”
Photography by Kristin Fouquet. Visit her website Le Salon HERE.
Produced by Walter Conley.
All material copyright©2009 by respective creators.
I am pleased to announce the addition of Quin Browne (Issues #1 and #2) and Peggy McFarland to the staff.
* * *
Following is updated contact information for Richard Godwin. You will also find a link to his twitter account in Contributors Online.
Richard can be reached at:
ISSUE #5 is scheduled for February 15, 2010.
I am now taking submissions for a straight Noir special, to appear this spring. Details are on the SUBMISSIONS page. I will be reading from today, January 15, 2010 until Feb 15, 2010. Questions or comments to Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turn the light off on your way out.