Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Women Are So Much More Interesting To Men (Than Men Are To Women) by Charlotte Hayden

Charlotte Hayden's stream of consciousness about being a woman and wanting - or perhaps wanting to be - a man.

When my Modernism and Modernity lecturer first stroked my leg I thought, I'll go with it. When my best friend Eloise told me he did the same with her I thought, are you kidding me? I had predicted a lengthy, passionate affair with a 40 year old married professor and instead, after he'd finished with Eloise, he left the university and moved to France. I heard his wife ran off with another woman. Good, I thought. Generally I try not to be bitter. But sometimes it's hard not to indulge myself in some healthy Schadenfreude. Only this morning I couldn't help but take de-light in discovering that a girl I went to school with was left at the altar and the man in question has run off with more than a handful of her money. I remember (at the tender age of 15) when this same girl told me (among other things) that I can't look good in a bikini because my boobs are so small. Now that I am older and less afraid I may well find this girl's ex fiancé and ask him politely to play with my nipples and have sex with me on the beach.

Sometimes when my period is due or when I'm watching a comedy gala and struggle to find any women or when I have a smear test and the nurse tells me that I remind her of a 'little doll' while I lie there with my legs spread in front of her face, I think about what it would be like to be a man.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Girls - Beautiful - Girls by Arthur Davis

A New York City journalist reluctantly takes up a story about a seedy old dance hall and its nubile dancing girls; by Arthur Davis.

The Broadway bus pulled up at 48th Street across from the blinking yellow sign announcing, "Girls - Beautiful - Girls." I got off.

The Tango Palace, in the heart of a Times Square, swarming with platform-heeled hookers, Three-card Monty sharks, drug dealers hawking salvation on every corner and police who were often too willing to look the other way, was the oldest dance hall in New York City.

It was 1988. A leap year. Urban blight was still a national issue.

A tired black and white photo of a girl in her early twenties wearing black panties and bra filled the weathered display case. I pulled open the door and was greeted with an endless slide of stairs. I made my way down with characteristic hesitation.

"Twenty dollars," the cashier announced. An empty coffee cup overflowing with crushed cigarette butts sat precariously at her elbow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Over But Not Out by Bruce Costello

A girl starts work in a care home and finds herself dreaming about the past life of one of the men in her care; by Bruce Costello.

Mr Smythe was a skeleton with staring eyes. Mumbled sounds came from his mouth, but no words. His right arm shook as he reached out to the caregiver. She took his hand and pressed his fingers, which were twisted into claws.

Mary was a petite woman, just out of her teens, with smiling lips and the frown of a thinker.

"Just need to turn you over and clean you up," she said. Then she faced away and dry retched.

After throwing the sheet into the laundry trolley in the hall and helping him lean back against the pillows, Mary sat with Mr Smythe and held his hand.

The sun was low in the autumn sky. It entered the room through a gap in the curtains and lit up a portrait on the wall across from the bed. It showed an officer in a blue uniform, with a flowing moustache, a square chin and piercing eyes. Wow, she thought. What a hunk.

"Is that you in the photo?"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Rebellion by Beryl Ensor-Smith

When an overbearing city minister takes over the local church for three months in the quiet drop of Prentburg, Sarie rebels and decides to take a break from Christianity; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

When the residents of Prentburg first heard of the Interfaith Initiative, some were supportive of the idea while others were dubious. Among those less enchanted was the Dominee's wife, Anna. The wording of the Directive from the mother church in Pretoria offended her.

"Listen to this, Hendrik," she said to her husband, reading from the Directive, "'The Council of the Mother Church feels that it would benefit both the communities of small country towns and those in the cities to have an exchange of Dominees for a three month period. This would enable city congregations to experience the more relaxed attitude of a country Dominee, while the village congregations would gain greatly through exposure to the disciplined, academic approach of city Dominees.' Doesn't that strike you as being patronising in the extreme? It makes congregations in dorps such as ours sound like a bunch of ill-bred yokels! And how about the 'academic approach'? Where do they think you got your degree from; a lucky packet?"

Her husband laughed good-naturedly. "Ah, don't take it personally, Anna. It will probably be good for all of us to have a change. Don't you fancy a few months of more sophisticated living?"

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Strike Not by Scott Archer Jones

A crew of car crushers out by the Rio Grande witness a scene of domestic abuse; by Scott Archer Jones.

Las esperanzas engordan pero no maintienen. Hope fattens, but it doesn't keep you alive.

It turned noon as David Alvarez raised the roof of the crusher. With short little explosive sounds, the Rambler lying in the crusher's bed released tension from its new shape, as if it tried to pop its bones back into its joints. The compressor topped up its pressure, and when the gauge showed right for a fast restart, David turned off the diesel.

He removed his earmuffs and hardhat, and the sound in the air flipped from deadness to singing quiet. At that moment, in the time between the crush and the removal of the metal block that had been a car, things felt preternaturally frozen. Then a woman cried out.

They had parked the crusher in a byway beside the river road, on a tributary that fed down east into the Rio Grande. The little river carried only snowmelt just now, fast but thin, quick and not yet quiet as it would be in summer. Cottonwoods stood up shaggy and gray on all sides, the emigrants who had survived in a dry canyon by burrowing their feet into the river.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Secrets of the Night by Arthur Davis

A cleaner plagued by secrets from his past listens to the confessional radio show broadcast each night from the eighteenth floor of the building he cleans; by Arthur Davis.

Meyer Holbein pushed his broom down the partially lit corridor as he had done for the last dozen years. It was a simple task, something he was uniquely qualified to tend. He was a tall, stooped man in his early seventies whom the building maintenance department preferred to believe was ten years younger. Meyer was gifted with large hands, powerful shoulders and a dogged diligence that was best applied to repetition.

Meyer was not a bright man, not by conventional standards. He was smart in the sense that he understood the difference between right and wrong and practiced the ancient art of integrity with an uncommon zeal. He worked his own responsibilities and paid little attention to the complaints and cunning of those around him.

As he made his way down the hall, voices danced and flowed in his head. Echoes and images from his childhood in Odessa, Russia, and how he and his brother had fled the pogroms with their uncle who was lost in a ferocious blizzard, seeped up from his subconscious. How both young boys fought hunger and privation to get to the western borders of Germany on the eve of the Second World War was a miracle worth recounting.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Levitation of Mrs. Caruso by Lyon Kennedy

After her husband's death, a lonely and crotchety old lady struggles to face her prejudices and rediscover her will to live; by Lyon Kennedy.

The shadow of approaching sunset lingered by the bay. It then slipped through the sliding door of 99 Battersea Avenue, crept over a stolid walnut buffet, muted a persnickety red Persian carpet and slid atop all four feet eleven inches and ninety-nine pounds of Sylvia Caruso.

Every evening at the same time, though of course not the same time as she was reminded by the ship's clock on the mantel, dusk arrived. On occasion, it fell herky-jerky, like the curtain of a children's stage production, as she nodded off to sleep.

In the room, above the buffet, hung a multi-colored map of Italy; opposite, a shelf supporting the Virgin Mary, flanked by two smaller statues of Saint Joseph and Saint Robert.

Mrs. Caruso said her prayers in the morning, took the Eucharist weekdays when Sister Margaret came to visit, and said her prayers in the evening before she had a little something to help her sleep. She preferred Frangelico or B&B, but settled for sherry on the weekends because she suspected her helpers helped themselves once she nodded off.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Idle Feet Do the Devil's Work by Ray Charbonneau

A group of runners are in for a strange season when one of them makes a deal with a shoe company and starts winning every single race; by Ray Charbonneau.

I was hanging on the rear of the lead pack in fifth place and thinking about when to make my move as we passed the 9-mile mark of the Jones 10-Miler. It was the first race in this year's Grand Prix, and I wanted to get off to a good start, but I knew that if I waited, I'd be out-kicked at the line. My only hope of picking off a runner or two before the finish was to start to push first, and count on my strength to grind down their speed.

Just then, a runner in an unfamiliar red singlet zoomed by. My head snapped up in surprise, throwing me off stride for a step. The singlet belonged to Mark Refner, who I knew from Division 3 cross-country. What was he doing putting on a charge? I never had to worry about Mark when we raced in college.

At the head of the pack, Al Frentist and Burt Bunker felt Mark coming and picked up their pace. Soon the three of them broke away, leaving the rest of us to fight over fourth place. I managed to catch one person before we reached the school parking lot, finishing in fifth place.

After I crossed the line, I jogged over to where Al and Burt were standing. They were looking at Mark, who was talking with some fat guy wearing a red nylon tracksuit and smoking a cigar.

"What happened there?" I asked. "I figured one of you guys was going to win."

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Toontown Riots of 1949: A Critical and Historical Analysis by David Perlmutter

David Perlmutter's essay on how racial tension between humans and the "toon" community flared into violence in 1940s Hollywood.


Though much has been written about inter-racial conflict in the United States, particularly that between Caucasians and African-Americans in urban areas, other areas, for a variety of complex and uncertain reasons, have never been nearly as well documented. One prominent example of this is the continuing strife-filled relationship between "normal" human beings and a class of beings that is loosely termed "cartoon characters", due to an inaccurate assumption on the part of historians related to the belief that these beings existed only within the frames of the animated films which were their primary means of exposure to the wider world. Such an assumption entirely and patently ignores the fact that these beings existed for thousands of years before the invention of the animated film, as well as denying those placed under the label the intelligence and resourcefulness they have and the respect they deserve. As a consequence, while it is largely under-documented within the folds of academic research, this still ongoing conflict remains a potent and divisive force in American life which has shaped it drastically in ways few "normal" people have even attempted to try to understand. One prominent example of this is the Toontown Riots of 1949. Begun as an act of vengeance against the Los Angeles Police Department for their continued and hostile persecution of the "toon" race, this destructive dispute caused considerable damage, not only to the city of Los Angeles itself, but also to the incredibly fragile psyche of the "toon" race as a whole, which, coupled with the recent introduction of television, shattered fragile coalitions within the group and created tensions that continue to exist within the community to this day.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Bad Positive by Feyisayo Anjorin

Banjo Johnson decides to end his promiscuity in favour of his dream woman Bukky Modele, but a former fling throws a spanner in the works; by Feyisayo Anjorin.

You loved your reputation as a ladies' man. Your lovers loved it too. They loved it for as long as your lies lasted. About a dozen girls had thought you were the only one for them, and they for you; until they came face to face with the shocking truth. Many hearts have been broken. But these things happen. These issues of the heart separate the women from the girls. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger; so they say.

They also say that change is the only permanent thing. So, you got tired of your reputation and decided to change. You had it in mind before you met Bukky Modele. She helped with the determination, no doubt about that. You have been seeing yourself in a different light after meeting her. Getting the pretty girls had been easy for you; loving only one and ignoring the countless others could be difficult.

The difficult became the appealing; you were sure it was time for change, and the girl you thought was the one in a million, worth growing old with, was Bukky Modele.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Love of the North Country by Ceinwen Haydon

Ceinwen Haydon's character gets a letter from an old boyfriend who broke her heart.

This beautiful summer's evening should wrap me in its arms and make me feel complete: starry sky, warm wind and gentle dunes. I should be happy to be here, away for several days with no obligations. Away in Northumberland, staying by the coast I love the best; lingering by the wild, unpeopled ocean's edge.

I should be happy, but I am not. All I can think about is the letter, the one that came last week. He, Tom that is, wants to come back. Tom wants our life together to be reprised. The words scramble my brain, making it impossible to concentrate, or to submit to gentle mindfulness in this lovely place.

I'd thought that Tom was my alter ego, my soul mate. After years of rollercoaster relationships, the ups and downs of frenetic pairings, lust making, disillusionment and separating, I'd been ready at the age of 35 to be steadier, to explore more deeply. To maybe have a child. Enter Tom: the man who sat next to me on the train from London to Newcastle, a random meeting as I headed north to Hadrian's Wall. I'd planned a week's walking. We talked; he made me laugh and I spent the week in bed; lying prone in in his small flat in Jesmond. No, not having wanton, orgasmic sex, but being nursed to health by this apparently kind and gentle man. Somewhere around Doncaster, a fever had broken, and influenza surfaced. I'd left London strong and purposeful, and arrived in November's North Country as a trembling, perspiring child with fetid breath.

Friday, September 26, 2014

No Good Deed by James Shaffer

Hank waits out a storm in his caravan and thinks back over his romantic life with Alice; by James Shaffer.

I put on my flashers and pulled the caravan over to the side of the road hoping to wait out the worst of the storm. I kept the engine running but silenced the wipers. Heavy raindrops pounded the cab's roof like a tenor drum chorus and rainwater zigzagged in rivulets down the windscreen. Intermittent flashes of lightning cast shadows that glistened and slithered over the cab's interior. Even in the darkness between, I knew the silent serpents were still moving. It put me in a tribal mood. I caught my face in the rear view mirror. At that moment, I could have put on war paint, run naked in the road and sounded a Commanche war cry. It felt like that kind of night, filled with a mysterious mist and windswept streaks of rain. I switched on the headlamps and through the slant of sparkling raindrops, watched the barren road disappear in darkness beyond the reach of any light. The driving rain and darkness gave me pause. I was safe and dry inside the cab. I smiled at what I'd contemplated as I fired up the wipers and pulled back out onto the road.

Civilization was once again spared, I mused. The sight of me running naked in the rain would no doubt have been perceived as a setback, an irreparable fault in the space-time continuum. It would have set everything just a bit askew. Better to spare the future, unwitting generations.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Rooming House by Fred Skolnik

Fred Skolnik's character can't remember where he lives in this unsettling tale, with echoes of Kafka and Karinthy's Metropole (originally appeared in 34th Parallel, no. 4, Sept. 2008).

I got back late in the afternoon. Cars were double-parked in a roped-off area in front of the building but there were no cars parked at the curb, which I found odd. A teenage girl came by on a skateboard and at the end of the street veered to the left and continued down a side street rather than continuing straight ahead as I had expected her to do. I went inside and climbed the stairs. My room was on the second floor but when I got there I didn't recognize the door so I went up another flight of stairs thinking that the second floor might be the one above it, the ground floor not being counted, but I didn't find my room there either and as the doors had no numbers on them I was at a loss and couldn't understand what had happened. Some of the doors were open and the rooms seemed larger than mine and men were coming out of a bathroom that was also extraordinarily large, as big as the rest rooms at a public beach. I went back down and saw one of the spinsters who ran the rooming house in the sitting room with a mother and child who must have been boarders. I went to the front desk and told the woman there that I had forgotten where my room was and she directed me to a tall girl behind the desk who looked for my name in a big ledger.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fifth Period Stats by Kaila Allison

Kaila Allison's frightening insight into the mind of a psychopathic schoolboy.

So, it's Eric here, duh, coming at you from fifth period Stats class where I am - you guessed it - bored as all Holy Hell. I don't get why people do this shit. Looking at the fat, broad back of Mr. L as he scribbles formulas on the chalkboard makes me sick. That globby fold of skin at his neck is not a pretty picture. Bet you he hasn't been laid, well, ever. Poor bastard. Gave me an A last quarter, can you believe it? And I didn't even show up to all the tests and everything. Just told him my sweet old doggy-woggy died and I'm suffering from post-traumatic depression so couldn't come to class. Bastard will believe whatever shit comes out of my mouth cuz he's secretly in love with me, that fairy. I'm really a good student when I want to be.

Perked my head up when one of the questions that the old L gave us had been about suicide rates and amount of homework given at school. Wow, these profs really trying to tell us something, are they? Raising a generation of zombie-children, are they? Suckling on books like they're food or something. Lotta stuff you can learn from books, like how to build pipe bombs and how to get guns when you're underage. But we don't read those kinds of books in school. We read shit like Shakespeare. That guy's pretty smart, with all his puns and stuff. Quite like his bloody scenes too, like all those deaths at the end of Hamlet. I like when Ophelia drowns herself. But the profs don't linger on that because they have deadlines to meet with the state.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Traditions by Kendra Beauchesne

Kendra Beauchesne's touching flash about a ten year old bonding with her mother while fixing a car.

I remember sitting and listening to my mom talk about that car. Her eyes would light up as she spoke. Her father was a television repairman, but he had an addiction to fixing cars. He bought it used. More like very damaged. She would talk about how she would spend hours in the yard with him. He taught her everything he knew about cars, and the proper tools to use. She also learned about life. They would talk for hours as he worked.

After she found my grandfather dead in his home, the car and house was given to her. She doted on that car. I think perhaps because it was her fondest memory of him. We didn't have much money, but when something would need fixing on that car she did everything she could to fix it. One summer afternoon we were headed home from the grocery store, and smoke began to come from under the dark blue hood. Trying to shift gears, it sputtered. A loud grinding sound emanated from under the car. She turned to me and said, "Want a pound while I'm grinding?" She laughed so hard. I was only ten at the time so I didn't get the joke.