Sunday, January 31, 2016

Leaves of Grass: An Apothecary by DC Diamondopolous

Assembly member Brenda Bustamante tells a story about what you have to hide, right or wrong, to be a successful politician; by DC Diamondopolous.

Assembly woman Brenda Bustamante stepped from the taxi onto Market Street in the Castro District. The rainbow flag rippled and waved like a proud declaration atop a pole above the gay metropolis. San Francisco was a long way from Brenda's hometown of Bakersfield, and the Castro further still, when it came to politics and lifestyles.

The cool spring breeze lifted the lapels of her blazer and swept her auburn hair off her face. She gazed across the street to her destination, a place she didn't want even the cab driver to know.

That night, at her best friend's son's graduation party, she ate from the wrong - or in her case, the right - batch of brownies and wrapped several in a napkin for later; she drove home, staggered into bed and for the first time in years fell into a fathomless sleep for almost eight hours. Best of all, she woke up without a hangover, unlike the pills her doctor had prescribed. With her intense workload and ambitions for higher office, sleep was crucial. After talking with Tony, she decided that edible marijuana was the answer, and with a medical license, it was legal. She drove all the way from Bakersfield to the central coast to get her permit. If her constituents back home knew, even the more liberal ones, they might vote her out of office.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A Bit Rough At the Edges by Tom Sheehan

Tom Sheehan's hopeful story of Sarah Beaufort, who doesn't know whether to resent or admire her world-worn mother and absent father.

Sarah Beaufort was a city girl. She knew the tremors of gutter trash, the promise of dust and debris rising in the slightest wind, what was surely heading down the road to her... and the whole lot coming for her single-parent mother, Abbie. And Abbie, bereft at times, with two and three jobs always beckoning, Sundays no longer a day of rest in an odd work week, fought the harsh conditions, knowing some people lose it all under such pressures.

Not to be outdone in hard lots for Sarah, there was also her father. He was a strange one in himself, religiously writing every three months a letter to her from a distance, with an aside to her kid sister, about how much he loved them, adored them really. Each letter always came with an alarming sideline generally saying, "Mom and I could never make it even in a rocket ship out of space, never mind in a cluttered apartment. She was never really a good housekeeper, you must have known, but don't tell her I said so. It would only infuriate her... ask me, I have seen it times untold." Sarah often wondered how he could say Mom and slap Abbie in the face again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Ball of Chalk By Steve Lucas

Steve Lucas's character, a screenwriter with daddy issues, is about to discover that he has a terrible taste in friends.

Definition:

1) Cockney rhyming slang: "Gone for a ball of chalk" means gone for a walk.

2) Military slang: "All went for a ball of chalk" means a situation deteriorated beyond repair, about as much use as a ball of chalk.



'Mercenaries!' I shouted. The people around me turned their heads and frowned. 'Cannon fodder!' The soldiers continued their march.

'What are you doing?' Jimmy nudged me and smirked.

'Murderers!' I yelled. A passing soldier reached his right arm across the barrier and tried to grab me. Jimmy pulled me backwards and we bumped into a fat lady who dropped her shopping bags.

'Come on then,' I said. The soldier beckoned me closer. I noticed that he only had one arm. Jimmy grabbed me by the collar and yanked me away.

'Some pacifist you are,' Jimmy laughed. 'That guy's a soldier, he'll have you.'

'Rubbish,' I said. 'He's only got one arm.'

'I think that's all he'll need to knock you out.'

'Bollocks.'

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Malachy Mission by Karl MacDermott

Malachy Mulroney, a man with questionable hygiene habits, has a unique strategy for holding on to his girlfriend; by Karl MacDermott.

Every time I met Malachy Mulrooney he had a cold. On the street always sneezing. Endless coughing and spluttering while waiting for the elevator. In a coffee shop I sometimes saw him use empty sugar sachets to clean his nose because he'd run out of tissue. On the disgusting human behaviour Richter scale - that's a seven. I was tired of all this, I mean we worked in the same building, shared the same canteen, stood (and exhaled) over the same food. So one afternoon I bumped into him in the john. He was coming out of a cubicle blowing his nose. I said Malachy, you've got a constant cold, what's wrong with you? He sighed wearily.

Love.

He started washing his hands. Didn't use the dispenser. Ignored the hand-dryer.

Friday, January 22, 2016

You Never Know What You'll Find in a Hotel Room by Benjamin Klein

A cleaner finds a dying man in a hotel room and tries to do the right thing; by Benjamin Klein.

She yanks back the shower curtain and sees a man, naked, laying motionless in a pool of deep red. She drops the anti-bacterial spray and stumbles back against the sink, knocking a vase of roses and a tiny fragrance bottle to the floor with a crash. She screams.

The man opens his eyes and stares.

Running out of the bathroom and into the hallway, she braces herself on her cleaning cart. Her impact spills some Comet disinfectant on the hotel carpet, most likely staining it forever.

"Jasmine!" she says.

Four doors down on her left, another woman with a cleaning cart and bed sheets in her arms jumps.

"Naomi, be quiet, the other guests," Jasmine says in her loudest whisper.

"A man's dying in room 319, go get help!" Naomi says.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

War Baby by Sinead McCabe

Sinead McCabe's creepy story about a woman driven to madness during the London Blitz will get under your skin, and then you'll want to read it again.

It was twilight when the siren began to wail, and the little street was bathed in lurid tones from the smoky sunset, as though already aflame. Mrs Emilia Blythe sat shuddering upon the ottoman, staring into the mirror at the shape of her own skull, unable to move; unable even to cry out. Five minutes before, upon the blue candlewick spread of the empty double bed behind her, she had seen the apparition of a child; a little baby no more than two years old. Wearing nothing but a ragged smock, with hair so tangled over its hollow eyes that they could barely be glimpsed, it reached out a tiny starfish hand to her, and wailed. Then, even while her upraised hair-brushing hand had frozen in the air and her heart had begun to beat hard and wild, that wail had deepened and become inhuman, blaring through the street and the neighbourhood and the whole great battered city. Had become, in fact, the air raid siren itself, and she blinked and somehow she was on the floor and the child had disappeared.

Emilia sat on the bed, clutching the photograph of her husband in uniform. The telegram announcing that he was missing in action had arrived the day before she was bombed out of Cripplegate, almost two months before. She put the photograph to her forehead with hot and shaking hands, trying to absorb strength from it, companionship, sanity - if Fred was here, there'd be no hauntings; this wouldn't be happening again!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Company by Philip DiGiacomo

Richard, a blind old homosexual living in Manhattan, fears for his future, but his exuberant friend London is there to reassure him; by Philip DiGiacomo.

I was alone, or so I thought. I pulled my apartment door shut and hung my folding cane on the hook next to the unused light switch. Did I hear breathing? There was another pair of lungs working close by, I was sure of it. I held my own breath and stood still, letting my ears and nose detect any changes in my apartment. Being blind makes me vulnerable, to say the least.

The light, measured breathing seemed to come from across the living room, carried on the faintest of breezes. Had I left the window open this morning? I know I had opened it to fill the bird feeder, but I was sure I closed it. I lived on the tenth floor. What could have entered from outside and now waited across the room watching me? Was the handyman here fixing something? I called out.

"Phil, is that you?"

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Myra Bocca by James Mulhern

Gabe and Molly, new to Wilton Manors in Florida, meet the characterful  proprietor of a New Age book store; by James Mulhern.

Just before the Shoppes of Wilton Manors, where Espresso Boys was located, Gabe and I passed a New Age bookstore called Sacred Ashes. We paused and looked in the window at a display of crystals and gemstones, silver and pewter jewelry, chalices, glass skulls, and crystal balls.

"Let's go in. Maybe they'll have some books on grieving," Gabe said. My aunt had just passed away. A male couple holding hands smiled at us as they passed. The warm breeze of the Florida evening felt good.

"I'm not grieving. I didn't like her much," I said quietly.

"Yes you are." He took my hand and pushed open the door. Enya was playing softly and there was an overpowering smell of sage. A woman wearing a bright pink muumuu embroidered with a design of blue, white, and orange tulips that rose from the hem like a garden, waved to us from the register at the back of the store. "Come in. Come in. It's so good to get a little business."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Getting Fired by Frank Beyer

Ed is sent by his boss to represent the company at a cutthroat presentation competition; by Frank Beyer.

Alert! The boss on the phone. Her friendly tone put me on guard: Hi Ed, glad to catch you... congratulations are in order, you'll be representing the branch this year, I reckon you're in with a fair shot at it...

Well an honour, but like all things a double-edged teapot.

It's being going good with yourself lately - outperforming people with a lot more experience. Keep it up.

This wasn't completely unexpected, I'd won some good contracts in a year since starting at the company. God, he looks like he could do with a good wash, I'd heard my boss say about me when I was first put on her team, but my results had gone some way to changing that first impression.

My tactics were simple: I set myself to send twenty marketing emails a day and make five phone calls. That wasn't many, but consistency was the key. Some of the other cubicled rabbits were always on the phone - obviously to the wrong bloody people. Not that I didn't know what that was like: after most of my calls ended I screamed silently at the unjustness of the universe.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Michael Rourke, the Ladies' Man by Nancy Lane

Nancy Lane tells the life story of a hard working Irish immigrant in America at the turn of the last century.

New York City, 1897

Michael dropped his duffel bag to the dusty floor. "No, no, you scrawny kid, you're not bunking in this room. Adult men, Americans, stay in this room. You belong in the basement with the Italian boys," Mrs. Arnold snarled. "They all look alike. But you'll stand out with them blue eyes. You best be stronger than you look so you can do the work I tell you. You can't live here free. You'll pay me with work and sweat 'til you have coin in your pocket from the bakery. Miller's gonna work you harder than me. You best be happy now 'cause you won't be too happy next week."

Michael Rourke was small but smart, having earned a university degree in accounting in Dublin at age seventeen. Post-Potato Famine Ireland was still in deep economic depression. Michael's father wanted his only son to find the prosperity and happiness found by others who had emigrated.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

For The Record by Bruce Costello

After being kicked out by her husband, Colleen moves in with her newlywed best friend Rhonda and has a ringside view of her relationship with Brent; by Bruce Costello.

Rhonda and I used to kick around together at Girls High, and though we went our different ways after that, with me studying pharmacy and Rhonda going to Teacher's College, we'd always kept in touch, meeting for coffee once a week and checking out the women's clothing sales on Saturday mornings.

After my husband kicked me out, Rhonda offered me a room till I found my feet. I was pretty low at the time. Rhonda had married Brent only a few months before and they'd moved into a two-bedroom house in a friendly, crime-free neighbourhood.

I was reluctant to take up the offer, thinking that newlyweds needed time to themselves, so I stayed in a hotel for a few weeks while I looked for an apartment. But there were so many available, I couldn't make up my mind. To be honest, I'm not very good with decisions, as my husband often used to remind me, in his usual sarcastic way. In the end, Rhonda positively insisted I stay with them.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What Happened to Poor Mildred's New Car by Michael C. Keith

Hank goes for a ride in his neighbour Mildred's new car, determined to stay a good friend and nothing more; by Michael C. Keith.

Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

My neighbor, Mildred, saved up forever to buy one of them little Fiats. You know, the ones that look like pregnant roller skates and come in those puny colors that look faded already. I have to admit they are kind of cute, but I'd hate to take one on the highway. Damn, I think a passing 18-wheeler would blow you the hell off the road. They don't look like they'd take a hard gust of wind and stay put.

Mildred was so excited with her new set of wheels though. She kept talking about it as if it was the greatest thing ever happened to her. Probably was, because she doesn't have much else in her life, poor gal. Just her job as a dental assistant. No boyfriend or nothing. She ain't what you'd call a looker... sort of mousy. But she's real nice. I'd ask her on a date, but she doesn't do much for me in the you-know-what department. Still, I don't mind talking with her when we bump into each other.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Now I Accuse by Gary Beck

Gary Beck's epistolary account of a secret letter that casts new light on the controversial Dreyfus affair in fin de si├Ęcle France.

Paris, Oct 1, 2003

Dear Professor Eggert,

I hope your summer on Nantucket was enjoyable and you're back in your history mode at the university. My summer was very productive and I made real progress in the research on my thesis subject: French Republicanism Between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I. Do I dare confess to my doctoral advisor that I sampled the night life of Paris? Well, as much as a poor student could afford.

However, that's not why I'm writing to you. I've discovered a highly unusual document that might have remarkable consequences, if not handled properly. It purports to be a memoir by Alfred Dreyfus, written just prior to his death. I know, I know that you told me Dreyfus was worn out as a thesis subject, but I can't help considering the fact that the Dreyfus Affair became one of the gravest crises of the Third Republic and split the nation into pro and anti-Dreyfus factions. Yes, I haven't forgotten that you're an authority on the period. I can see the look on your face as you read this and assume that I've strayed from your suggested guidelines. But I've made a unique find! The fantasy come true of every historian.