I Am April

by on Jul 13, 2016

I am April, tail end of the rains. Flowers scattered askance and winking through the glassy drops. Mud tracks drying up, but still gifting a mess on the door mat. Don’t count me out for a storm or two and if Easter is in my grasp the high and holy days will dazzle, glory abounding hallelujah. That fresh breeze, floral and dank; we’re on the way into fullness and fruit, Winter’s grasp receding, but I haven’t forgotten him yet. Dim wretch, all this green and life is proof that hope is made new, anew.

I might be leaning into the sunshine, underdressed, straining toward the summer warm, but this is my favorite part. The cusp, the place in between.

 


Tiffany Grantom is a mother of five, doula, paralegal, wearer-of-many-hats-busy-monger who hopes for a season with time to write a book. Today, just scribbles and lists, and fly-by wording glories.

Sister Speed Racer and the Silent Brides of Christ

by on Feb 16, 2016

It’s midday, and there aren’t many other cars on the road. It’s also cloudless and sunny—if you can call Indiana’s low-altitude, watery haze sunny—and so sticky hot that I’m cursing my battered Ford’s broken air conditioning. The edge of the earth is visible in all directions, a shimmering indistinct line that barely separates land from sky. Everything looks pale and flat, even the occasional cow or tree. It’s all weathered cardboard and faded paint. A poorly done stage backdrop.

A small black dot appears on the horizon in my rearview mirror.

I glance at the dashboard. The speed limit is 75 mph, but I’ve set the cruise control to 79 because I’ve heard state troopers will overlook an extra 4 mph. Cruise control was invented in Indiana by a blind man. I think I know what inspired him. He sensed the unwavering monotony of this place in his inner ear and it frightened him. He needed to flee to a place with texture. I don’t want to be here, either. Nobody wants to be here. They want to be anywhere else, and quickly. No wonder more interstate highways connect in Indianapolis than in any other U.S. city.

The dot gets bigger, and I can see it’s a car, pale blue like the sky above me but with an unmistakable man-made metallic sheen. A Chrysler sedan. It’s gaining on me. Whoever’s behind the wheel is driving like he’s late for an appointment in hell with the rebel actor James Dean, who was born in Indiana but got out before the boredom killed him, only to die in a fiery car wreck a few years later.

I shut off the cruise control and let my speed drop to 75 without braking. Cops don’t usually drive Chryslers, but I don’t know what they do here. If it’s a trooper, I don’t want him to see my taillights blink. I don’t want a speeding ticket. Another ticket. Now I’m sweating and paying more attention to the car in the rear view mirror than the road ahead of me. That’s stupid, but I’m mesmerized by this approaching missile.

In an instant, it’s behind me, veering into the passing lane like it’s surging toward the checkered flag at the Indianapolis 500. I figure it’s going 120, more if that’s possible. As it pulls beside me, a turbulent gust of air shakes my Ford. I turn my head to see the wild man who’s not afraid to drive a boxy sedan at suicidal speeds.

But it’s not a man.

It’s a nun.

Sister Speed Racer is blowing by me with split-second ferocity, but time drips like cold honey and I see everything with stop-frame accuracy. Her tunic is blue, a shade darker than the car. She’s wearing a white scapular over her shoulders and a white coif with stiff white wings similar to the ones worn by certain orders of French nuns, except shorter, and less aerodynamic looking. She’s sitting ramrod straight, eyes fixed on the road, both hands clenched on the wheel, one at 10 o’clock, the other at 2 o’clock, like they teach you in driving school. There’s another nun next to her, and two more in the back seat. They’re young. Staring straight ahead. Not talking. Looking grim.

As they pass, the nun in the passenger seat swivels her head like a mechanical doll to glare at me. Her eyes shine black, and she scowls. Scowls. I look away self-consciously. Seconds later, the car is a dot again, this time ahead of me.

I slump into my seat, confused. Why are four nuns tearing through the countryside like they’re being chased by demons? Where are they going? Why?

The highway stretches in a straight line toward an unseen abyss.

My stomach pitches and my mouth goes dry.

I don’t want to be here. I desperately want to stop the car and turn around. Yet I’m following Sister Speed Racer and the Silent Brides of Christ directly into the white-hot heart of this place.

The thought is chilling. I shiver, and suddenly notice that the stripes dotting the pavement are whipping by like bullets. I’ve absentmindedly pressed the accelerator to the floor, and I’m going 95, 96, 97. I blink and swallow hard, setting my cruise control back to 79.

The wind outside my open window growls like a hungry wolf.

 


Michael Whiteman-Jones is a longtime journalist and editor who has won a few press awards that he keeps hidden in a box in the basement. He believes there is more truth in fiction than in facts, and in recent years, has written several hundred thousand words of short stories and essays on an iPad with his thumbs—a feat that probably truly deserves an award, or at least a visit to the chiropractor. He lives with his wife and family in Denver, Colo.

Closed Sign at Bill’s Bait & Beer

by on Feb 5, 2016

Bill’s family came to Hawai’i from China in 1921. They settled on the worst farmland on O’ahu. Bill remembers running through parched sugar cane fields as a boy.

Saturday mornings, Bill drove the family’s Model-T to Honolulu. The back seat was loaded with papayas, coconuts, and sugar beets to sell at Waikiki hotels. Kitchen managers weighed and thumped the fruit, then counted four or five dollars into Bill’s hand. Sometimes 25 cents was added to pay for gas for the trip home.

Bill remembers Mother, Father, and Uncle drinking tea by candlelight late into the evening; talking quietly or, more often, sitting in silence.

“Go to bed, son,” Mother chided gently when Bill padded into the kitchen.

Ten years passed. Bill’s family sold the farm and opened Lock’s Bait & Beer on the North Shore. Hawaii was a territory then. Nobody cared about fishing licenses.

At sunrise, locals lined up to buy bait and beer on credit. Bill recalls seeing men and women standing by the shoreline, straw-hatted, throwing nets in the ocean.

If opah refused to bite, fishermen couldn’t pay. Nobody minded. Locals settled up when fish cooperated.

“We did things differently then,” he says.

 


Trish Saunders writes poems from Honolulu, Hawaii.

Three Crows and a Storm

by on Jan 21, 2016

Looking out and up from my front window I saw a yellow sky, darkened by the ominous promise of an afternoon storm. As I watched, three crows flew onto the strip of sidewalk near my yard. The large one, Leader, preened his feathers, cawed orders at the others and punctuated his pontifications with sharp pokes of his beak on the backs of his fellows.  A crow’s visit. What was it I had heard? As I watched I recalled—a group of crows is called a murder of crows.

The trio began pecking at the stubble of grass around them. A bolt of lightning cut through the yellow mists followed quickly by the rumble of thunder. Leader and then his followers raised their heads to the sky, opened their beaks to challenge the thunder with their own raucous cries. In reply, with sniper precision, sharp, large drops of water began to pelt the crows.

Lightning flashed and a curtain of water dropped from the sky. The lightening continued drawing bright victory swaths through dark sky. Thunder cheered storm’s ferocity.

The crows persisted, strutting, screeching, cawing at the sky. One tremendous flash of light sliced into the ground across the street. The house shook. Crow leader opened his wings and flapped upward. His companions followed, raucously cawing a threat to return before disappearing into the dark-again sky, flying toward the woods at the end of our street.

The summer downpour halted soon after. A bit of blue edged out from behind the clouds–yellow air gone. The crows were gone. Yet I remained uneasy. For a time.

Eventually summer’s brightness pushed away the malaise. Heat gave way to clear cool of autumn, the bright cold skies of winter, and the hazy blue skies and rainbows of spring, I completely forgot about the dark harbingers’ visit.

However, when summer’s heat again pressed hard upon me and blue skies yellowed with storms, the memory of the last crow’s shrill shriek sounded in my soul. In the space of a month that summer, one neighbor’s child died of a heart condition.

Our dear friend’s son, crumpled over in the shower and died before his father could get him to the hospital. “Undiagnosed  ‘issues’ related to a birth defect.” They said.

I waited, holding my inner breath for a third sad shadow to step across my spirit. Months passed. Just when I was sure that bad would not come in threes this time, that the number of crows had been a coincidence, a phone call shrilled near midnight on March 26, breaking the quiet of an early spring evening.

Like the crow’s caw, the call screeched out the news that our son had stepped in front of a car on a darkened campus street near his dorm, crossing subsequently into paradise. Harbingers of the angel of death had visited–a murder of crows, indeed.

 


Joan Leotta has been playing with words since childhood. Joan recently completed a month as one of Tupelo Press’ 30/30 poets. She has published or has work forthcoming in Red WolfThynksKnox Literary MagazineA Quiet CourageEastern Iowa Review, Silver Birch and Postcard Poems and Prose. In addition to her work as an award-winning journalist, short story writer, author, poet and essayist, Joan performs folklore and one-woman shows on historic figures. Joan lives in Calabash, NC where she walks the beach with husband Joe. She collects shells, pressed pennies and memories. Find her online at joanleotta.wordpress.com and on Facebook.

Ghosts of Home

by on Jan 14, 2016

We were warned at seventeen that home will always haunt us. We tucked the notion in our pockets with our parents’ worry and headed East to begin. The ghosts we kept stretched long inside us, threatening to break wide the circuitry of concrete cities. Eager at twenty-five to forget how long a voice roars through miles of open space. But we couldn’t be held back from the whitest of winters, when even midnight gleams. All the shrouded land shrieking light into the night. We were stirred not by the stars, but the hollows between them. We fell flat-backed in cold fields, noses to the sky, baying at every phase of the moon. Will they say we’ve settled when our bones turn to dust?

 


Kim Mannix is a poet, journalist, and short fiction writer living in Sherwood Park, Alberta. More of her writing, and many of her rambles, can be read at makesmesodigress.com.

China Seagull

by on Nov 17, 2015

The least of three seagulls, you, the flightless one, yearning after your fellows, are the unlikeliest muse. But you have survived.

I remember my delight at this gift – three in a box, delicate in tissue – from my father. He understood me. We shared this soaring love, floating on the stiff sea breeze.

Wings were broken in my clumsy adolescence. Three became two, became one.

You were hidden away in dusty corners, in boxes or bags, out of sight. So when did you emerge? How did I find you, where have you been?

You perch on my windowsill, companion of stones, shells and crystals, gazing at the sunrise, the full moon, the garden birds, starling flocks. Survival brings its own contentment, you tell me. You are always looking up.

 


Jo Waterworth lives and writes in Glastonbury, UK, where she is a mature student studying creative Writing and Ceramics at Bath Spa University. She has been published online and in print, most recently in the anthology 21 Reasons for Choosing Jeremy Corbin, and has a pamphlet with Poetry Space of Bristol. She blogs about her writing journey at Jo’swriting.

Thunder

by on Nov 4, 2015

It’s been so long since it rained that she can’t register the sound. Her first thought is that a plane is flying low over the house, then that it’s traffic from the freeway. The world is ending, she’s dreaming, it’s thunder. The sky dims. Low gray clouds roll in. There’s a flicker of rain, silver veins slicing through the air, and then the whole thing is over. She’s been sitting at the table over the newspaper the entire time. The clouds recede and the sun comes back out again. She continues looking out the window. She still hasn’t told him. The letter is still tucked into the bookshelf, waiting.

 


Leah Browning is the author of three nonfiction books for teens and pre-teens.  Her third chapbook, In the Chair Museum, was published by Dancing Girl Press, and her fourth is forthcoming. Browning’s fiction and poetry have recently appeared in Chagrin River ReviewFiction SoutheastToadMud Season Review, Glassworks Magazine, and with audio and video recordings in The Poetry Storehouse.  In addition to writing, Browning serves as editor of the Apple Valley Review. Her personal website is located at www.leahbrowning.com.

The Halloween Quintet

by on Oct 30, 2015

Do you remember the sound of the violins during the shower scene in Psycho? Two discordant notes, shrill and staccato, repeatedly assaulted our ears, heightening the fear.

My nightgown and sheets are soaked with my acrid sweat as the violins shriek in my mind. What is that shadow outside my bedroom window? I squeeze my eyes shut, willing the specter to be gone. When I peek, it has grown and changed shape, waving grotesquely twisted arms, beckoning me closer. This must be my punishment for too many cocktails at the Halloween party last night.

A throaty moaning, deep and singsong and utterly alien shatters the silence. I respond with a high pitched scream and the thing modulates to match mine in a macabre synchrony. The moaning takes on a pitch and rhythm unlike anything earthly. Mournful. Plaintive. Lovesick? I suppress a giggle at the thought, dissipating some of the terror.

My window is open a crack and a fresh wave of terror washes over me. What if it comes in? Idiot, I tell myself. It’s an alien. It goes through walls. I tentatively sing a short phrase from a long forgotten song, mentally kicking myself for goading it on. Its raspy voice repeats the snippet in a different key.

Curiosity begins to overcome my terror. I crawl toward the window, low to the ground so it can’t see me, forgetting that it can probably also see through walls. Still, it remains motionless, non-threatening, apparently waiting for me. The violins in my head and my rapid heartbeat continue to beat together as a rapid trio, almost synchronously, but just off enough to create a pattern. As I near the window, it picks up the cadence and adds a rumble in counterpoint. Can it feel my fear and fascination?  We are now a quartet.

I stand by the window silently, seeing only a shadow, not daring to seek its cause. The rumble continues. Is it waiting for me to sing again? The theme from Alfred Hitchcock’s old TV series leaps into my mind and I start humming it. Dum de deedle de dum de dum, dum de deedle de dum de dum.

The creature steps forward, appearing in profile like the line drawing of the old master of terror himself. It finishes the theme with me, completing the quintet. The profile smiles, then disintegrates before me, leaving only my empty backyard and an echo fading away.

 


Judy Salz, a semi-retired physician, is a native New Yorker currently living in Las Vegas and enjoying the sunshine and lack of slush. She has published a number of short stories in the past year. “Mikey,” published in The Literary Nest in April 2015, won the fiction contest. She invites all interested to visit her webpage, judysalz.com.

Big Shot Family

by on Oct 20, 2015

I’m a Big Shot. Not really now. Not any more. But once and for a considerable amount of time I was. I liked being a Big Shot and I especially enjoyed knowing that people thought that I was a big shot but I never acted the part. The truth is that I’ve always been rather shy and the second truth is that I forget people’s names and faces. So, while they thought of me as a big shot they also thought of me as being snobby which I was anything but. I took to smiling and nodding at people and as it turned out most were people I’d never met so the women thought I was coming on to them and a lot of the men thought the same. So I got another label.

What I didn’t need was another label ’cause I couldn’t live up to the first one. I gave to a lot of charities and causes and allowed myself to be photographed holding a five foot long check along with someone from the organization smiling for the camera knowing that it would be in the local paper. I could just hear the readers saying “Look. Here’s Mr. Big Shot again.”

I didn’t lose everything in the bankruptcy, but I lost a lot and it was public and there were people that came up to me and said, “So, Mr. Big Shot how does it feel to be one of us?” I passed small groups or saw people glancing at me in local restaurants and I knew what they were thinking and gossiping about.

I worked hard and made a business comeback but I couldn’t give to every charity anymore so people who solicited me and were turned down spread the word that I was too much of a big shot to help their small causes. I finally came up with a plan. Since I was a big shot in a town of fifteen thousand I decided to move to a smaller town one of three thousand or less and I have enough left over to be thought of as a big shot again.

My wife didn’t think that this was a good plan. She didn’t want to leave her friends and comfortable surroundings. She said I was making too much of nothing but then again she was never thought of as a Big Shot so she couldn’t know and she slowly began to sabotage me and my plans.

She joined the garden club and had her picture in the Local planting flowers in the town park. There was another picture when she became president of the Garden Club. She took on a leading role in Meals on Wheels and then she became the first woman volunteer fire fighter and the publicity was enormous. Pictures and more pictures. She told me that people said that I was too snobby to have my picture in the Local anymore.

She led a group knitting hats for soldiers and spent half a day a week at Hospice. She volunteered at the school library and marched with other volunteers in the Fourth of July Parade. The Local had her on the cover page as one of the towns Citizens of the Year and did a full page story with nary a mention of me.

Now we can’t move because my wife’s a Big Shot and she says the town needs her. But let me tell you this; when I was a Big Shot I was a Bigger Shot than she’ll ever be but I’m not jealous, not at all-just invisible.


Paul Beckman collects memories and punchboards. His new flash story collection, Peek from Big Table Publishing came out in Feb. 2015 weighing in at 65 stories and 117 pages.

Dog Whistle Effect

by on Jul 30, 2015

Over dinner, she asks if I have ever been to Uncle Tom’s Taco Shop. “You mean Honest Tom’s?” It becomes painfully obvious that we are two women—one black, one white—on a date in a “Mexican” restaurant. I look at her pork belly banh mi tacos, my own shrimp tempura tacos with tom yum aioli. This neighborhood used to be affordable.  Now the coffee shops sell vinyl and breakfast sandwiches with names like “The Notorious E.G.G.” Uncle Tom aside, she has asked me if I have been to a restaurant three blocks from my own house, as if I won’t pass it on the bus ride home. She eats her “Vietnamese-Mexican” tacos, calls herself an “activist.” A war cry only I can hear.

 


Lauren Yates is a Pushcart-nominated poet who is currently based in Philadelphia. Her writing has appeared in Nerve, XOJane, FRiGG, Umbrella Factory, Softblow, and Melusine. Lauren is also a poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly and is currently a Poet in Residence with the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University. For more information, visit laurentyates.com.