Monday, June 25, 2018

On Mental Health by Robert Levin

Marcus, living in the shadow of guilt and self-loathing, sees a series of unconventional psychotherapists; by Robert Levin.

If I ever see a shrink again it'll have to be under a court order.

No, this has nothing to do with what happened with Frieda. Not, of course, that what happened with her wasn't at the time disappointing. Fiftyish, on the boards of major psychiatric associations and married to a man who was also a prominent doctor, Frieda had been working with me for three years on my guilt and shame problem. Although I wasn't making much progress in that area - I remained as afflicted by self-deprecation and most of the maladjustments that attached to it as ever - I had, with her assistance, finally stopped trying to go down on myself. And for helping to rid me of this hazardous compulsion - it had already resulted in a couple of blown-out discs in my lower back and several hospitalizations - I'd come to have a large admiration for her skills, large enough to send a live-in girlfriend to her for counseling.

While I was partial to poor hygiene and self-destructiveness in a woman, I did have my limits. This girlfriend's habit of picking her nose and then eating it, for example, had long caused my proudest erections to scramble into my bladder somewhere. What's more, the drug overdoses had evolved into too regular a thing. Routinely called at work by neighbors who'd discovered her face down on the apartment house stairs, and rushing home to flashing lights and frenzied paramedics cutting through clusters of onlookers with a gurney, was increasingly vexing.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Miles Between by Bruce Costello

A failed student is ready to give up hope - will a down-to-earth Maori trucker be able to talk sense into him? By Bruce Costello.

"Where're you heading, mate?" The driver of the Kenworth yelled down to the hitchhiker.

"Dumtin Bay."

"Hop in!"

The young man climbed aboard. The driver, a broad-shouldered woman with a tattooed face, shook his hand.

"Kia ora. I'm Oriwa Waihape."

"Mathew O'Malley. Awesome of you to stop."

"Someone to talk to. Fall asleep, otherwise. Just joking!"

The curved dashboard displayed a multitude of dials, screens and knobs. Furry mascots clung to the steering column and from the rear vision mirror dangled two teddy bears.

The truck rode smooth as a cloud. Oriwa's fingers danced over the 18 speed gear shifter, and the Kenworth surged ahead to soar effortlessly past a campervan.

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Poor Irish Bloke by Phil Temples

A Bostonian barkeep welcomes illegal aliens, and his policy of tolerance encourages a very unusual visitor; by Phil Temples.

"Want another?"

Jimmy, a heavy-set Irishman, belches loudly, then smiles at me and nods in the affirmative. This is his fourth Black and Tan this afternoon. I make a mental note to keep an eye on Jimmy after this one to make sure he isn't going to get too wasted in my bar. The ABC was sniffin' here in Mahoney's last week, a respectable Irish bar in the Fields Corner section of Dorchester. All of my permits are in order and I keep things clean and safe. I don't want no trouble from them over an intoxicated patron. ICE? Well, that's different kettle of fish. Immigrations and Customs can go fook themselves for all I care.

A few minutes later another one of my regulars, Pedro, saunters into the bar. The good-natured journeyman from Guatemala is a skilled roofer and carpenter.

"¿Qué pasó?" I greet him.

"No mucho," Pedro replies. "Can you cash this for me?"

Pedro hands me a third-party check he's been given for payment for a recent roofing job. Pedro - along with other patrons of the bar - are in the US illegally. Consequently, they don't have bank accounts.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Sometimes If You're Lucky by Sharon Frame Gay

Susan tells her story of surviving polio in Sharon Frame Gay's flash fiction.

Sometimes if you're lucky and everything falls into place, magic happens. For me, it is the nights when the stars are so bright they shimmer through the windows. If I am placed just so, I see them echoed in the mirror above my eyes. How hopeful they look, like flinty chips piercing the night sky, dancing so far away, such endless possibilities.

I peer up into the silvery length of mirror and smile. Stars are meant to be looked up to, our faces pointing towards the vast universe. So many times, I see the world upside down, but the stars remain where they are supposed to be. People come to talk, and I stare into their nostrils, the bags below their eyes, the jiggle of fat beneath their chins as they waggle with words. Some days I make a game of it. I'll look straight up into their faces, trying to visualize how they really look. Then, I'll turn my head sideways and see them when they take a step or two away, and gauge how close my guess was. Were they handsome? Fetching? Better upside down?

I'm content, warm and dry for the most part. Once in a while, my diaper seeps through before the caregiver Molly helps me when morning comes. She is filled with apology then, her large brown eyes distressed as she looks down on me. I smile back up at her. What does it matter, in this vast universe, if I get wet? How does this small thing factor into a lifetime of sorrow, pain, and yet such grace.

I have a television in my room, though I seldom watch it. I listen to the music of Mozart and Bach rather than hear canned laughter all hours of the day. I prefer nothing canned. Because this is what I live in. A can. A big silver bullet of a machine that has kept me alive now for over 60 years.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Depth of Field by Martyn Clayton

As a favour Maggie takes a picture of her friend's father at the moment of his death, and soon discovers a wider demand for this morbid service; by Martyn Clayton.

It had begun innocently enough. A rarely seen friend mentioned something as a possibility over coffee. Jo said she didn't think her dad had long left to live. He'd been a life-model in his youth. He'd been so good looking back then, super-confident, never talented enough to make it as an artist but he liked to hang around with the art school crowd. That was where he met Jo's mum. Her parents had been interesting once, she'd laughed.

Maggie's heart ached for a friend coming to terms with imminent bereavement. You get older and one by one friends and family members begin to fall away. A circle that had once felt tight and invincible is shown as frail and vulnerable. Maggie had reached the point where she said a silent prayer of thanks to God knows what for each new day.

Then had come the phone call.

'It's dad. He'll be going soon. How soon can you get here?'

Friday, June 8, 2018

Blink! by Matthew Harrison

Joshua starts work at a law firm without realising what he's getting himself in for; by Matthew Harrison.

Joshua was anxious. It was his third day in Melton's litigation department, but he had nothing to do. And he had worried about having too much! Maybe the lawyerly life was easier than he had thought - although his father, a partner in another firm, was always in the office. Joshua's mother had suggested smiling at his supervisor, but the mahogany door seemed always closed.

"It's rather relaxed here," he remarked to his buddy Sam.

"What did you expect?" Sam said, leaning over his desk. Sam was always impeccably dressed, his shirts crisply ironed, his blond hair slicked back, although his eyes were a little glassy.

"I thought I'd be given work right away. What should I do?"

"Don't worry about it!" Sam laughed. "You'll be remembering this moment," he said, chortling as he returned to his cubicle.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan

Sherry Shahan tells an unsettling tale of two dangerously anorexic lovers.

When she was wheeled into the day room, attended by her IV drip, Jack thought she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She seemed absolutely pure, evacuated of all evil, honed to perfection. Her head was an imported melon covered by the finest filo pastry, stretched and rolled thin. Her cheeks were eggshells. Concave. The hair on her head was shredded coconut. The hair on her body was dark and fuzzy, like the mold on Gorgonzola. Her skin was the color of Dijon mustard - that wonderful brownish tinge that comes from lost vitamins and minerals. She was everything gourmet Jack had denied himself.

According to the nurse, her name was Iris and this was her eighth admission in three years - her parents checked her in, she put on some weight, she went home, she lost it. This time, she'd done a two-month fast and then eaten a carton of laxatives. Jack was impressed, he felt encouraged; apparently, it was possible to go through the program without being totally brainwashed.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Make-Over by Beryl Ensor-Smith

The conservative South African villagers of Prentburg are troubled by the showy behaviour of Bennie Ferreira's mother-in-law.

The usual group of men met at the Sports Club at the weekend to watch their local rugby Sevens team get clobbered by the team from Boompies, a real disgrace considering Boompies was even smaller than their own village, hardly more than a hamlet.

"We need new blood," David Klopper said grimly, cradling his beer. "We should be choosing school-leavers, full of energy, instead of the breathless thiry-year-olds in our team."

"Useless," Hans du Plessis agreed, "they can't keep up the pace."

Other comments were offered by Frikkie van Wyk and Koos Venter, but the normally talkative Bennie Ferreira said nothing, staring abstractedly into his glass and looking pretty miserable.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Flowers and Diamonds by Lori Cramer

Lily takes scant comfort in meeting with her flirtatious best friend; by Lori Cramer.

Lily hadn't heard from Cecelia in more than a week, so when the e-mail from cbauer@starrybrightindustries.com appeared in Lily's inbox between meetings, she clicked on it right away, even before the more-important work-related messages.

"Sorry I've been so out of touch," the e-mail began, then went on to say that Cecelia had been "crazy busy" at work and felt "just awful" about "dropping the ball." The message concluded with a promise that if Lily arranged a time and place for the two of them to get together, Cecelia would make every effort to be there.

Eager to connect with her best friend again, Lily picked up her phone and punched in the familiar number, but the call went straight to voice mail. At the prompt, she said, "Hey, Ceece. Got your note. Let's meet at Betty's Beanery tomorrow at noon. See you then."

Friday, May 25, 2018

Turing Test by Roger Ley

Widower Mr Riley dislikes his former wife's parrot, who might be smarter than he thinks; by Roger Ley.

Mr Riley liked to start his day in the library. It was a short walk from his house, and conveniently situated at the top of the main street in the Suffolk market town that he and his wife had retired to. When they'd first arrived, he'd joined the local writing group which met at the library and he'd spent many happy, creative hours in its welcoming embrace. He told his wife that it was as much group therapy as creative writing, but sadly it was all gone now. People had moved away, lost interest, died, he was the only one left of the old crowd. He and the chief librarian Mrs Peterson, who was nearing retirement. Mrs Peterson had a soft spot for Mr Riley, she had known his wife Estella before she died and liked to exchange a few words with the widower, not every day, but most days. He was a fixture, in his corner, reading the newspaper.

Mr Riley finished reading the paper and rummaged around, preparing to leave. He checked that he hadn't left anything - gloves, hat, scarf, phone - then walked across the street to the "Hideout Café" for his morning coffee. It was a little life but a life all the same.

He arrived home at about noon, unlocked the door and stepped into the hall.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Hit and Run by Paul Michael Dubal

A renowned lawyer specialising in wrongful death must face up to his own past transgression; by Paul Michael Dubal.

Over twenty-eight torturous years had passed, but for Rick Sanders the memory of that terrible rainy night was as vivid as if it were yesterday. Time seemed to have frozen, so that there was only that terrible moment in the past and the melancholy reality of the present. Everything in between was just detail. Yet in the past quarter-century he had built an extraordinary career as a litigator, savagely shredding companies and individuals in the civil courts.

The irony was that his specialty was wrongful death. Cases where manufacturing companies had caused death through a failure of their systems, resulting in ugly industrial accidents. Some of them were like scenes from gory horror movies, including chemical burns, being caught in machinery or crushed by a forklift truck. He had savaged the culprits as much as the company's work environment had savaged the injured plaintiff.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Slapstick Blues by DC Diamondopolous

In the golden age of Hollywood, with all its tarnish, a bookish black man in Louisiana sees his missing sister on the silver screen; by DC Diamondopolous.

Booker La Croix liked nothing better than to put on his best hat, hitch a ride from Huddle Creek up to Baton Rouge, and spend his day off in a dark theatre watching the moving pictures. He paid his seven cents for the ticket, went around the side entrance, and climbed the steps to the balcony. The matinee featured his favorite, Buster Keaton, in The Balloonatic and Our Hospitality, and there would be short movies in-between. It'd be a whole afternoon of laughter, except when he looked over, wishing his sister to be sitting there next to him. With Lila Mae gone, his closest friends were books and the flickers.

His brother Jeremiah thought him crazy to spend his day off watching white folks. The youngest of five boys, Booker was always picked on. His brothers nicknamed him Booker for preferring to read over playing ball and sneaking shots of moonshine. They teased him for working in the parish library and laughed at him when he tried to slick back his hair with brilliantine like Rudolph Valentino, but nothing straightened his thick coiled hair.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Sick and the Damned by Jennifer Benningfield

Upon hearing his mother is ill, Kyle reluctantly goes to visit his painfully staid parents; by Jennifer Benningfield.

Kyle's father had not asked, but direct entreaty was never the man's style.

Over the shoulders went the fleece coat. Into the air went the veiny hand. The woman behind the desk, copper-haired and honey-lipped, returned the gesture, envy evident in the set of her face.

"Still looks nice out," she noted.

"Not for much longer, though."

"Big plans for the weekend?"

"I'm going to see my parents. My mother isn't feeling well, apparently. The other day she told my father that another day in bed and he'd need to call an ambulance."

"Oh no."

Kyle sniffed. "My mother tends to exaggerate."

Friday, May 11, 2018

Drive by Ateret Haselkorn

Ateret Haselkorn's character makes a life for herself driving for a ride sharing service, but is haunted by her past.

I remember the first natural lie I ever told. Not your standard, "I didn't steal the cookies from the jar" fib, but the kind that emerges on its own to serve a purpose for however long you need, like a disposable life raft made from your own breath. I can even recall the way the lie felt as it rose to the back of my throat, before I knew what I would say, before I let the words form on my tongue and then catapult through the air. The best I can describe it is as a feeling of organic creation. I had the same sensation in the moments before my daughter was born, of a force, a likelihood, an about to. Then her head came out, and then she was there. It happened from inside of me as it should, as was intended, and all I had to do at that point was allow it to take place.

A natural lie isn't exactly like the creation of birth but tinier, like resting back on your heels and looking at the sky in surprise, as if it didn't exist at all until you glanced up and made it form. When I told my lie, I wasn't more than sixteen and at the bar of a local restaurant thanks to a fake ID and a drunk bartender. I thought I'd pick up a freebie, like a drink or a burger, because that's what my friend Vanka was training me to do, at least whenever she gave me her attention. She was a senior and said she hadn't paid for a thing since junior high when her breasts grew in. I was sitting at the bar and watching her "role model the behavior," as was often described in Living Skills or detention. I guess her trick was her smile and maybe the way she looked twenty-two or three. She laughed loudly and often and, well, her bosoms were pushed up like they were going to reach her chin one inch at a time on a slow conquest. Since Vanka said I didn't have those curves to "work with," we did what we could and used a five-finger discount at WalMart on a small push-up bra and the padding of a much larger one that Vanka called, "The Rusky." The padding went into my underwear, slid right over my derriere, turning me not into an hourglass exactly but maybe a minute glass.

Monday, May 7, 2018

City Lights by Mitchell Toews

Erich is invited by his boss to a cocktail party, and fears he's being made a fool; by Mitchell Toews.

Working out of Winnipeg, I was an aufsteiger - an up and coming employee for a big U.S. company. I reported to a woman named Teresa Jarvis and the proof for my conceit came when she brought me to the Canadian headquarters in Toronto for a special training course.

"Back in a week." I kissed my wife goodbye at the airport. Seven months pregnant and she still turns heads, I thought, appropriating her good looks for my own vanity.

I was a valuable corporate resource, in my mind, anyway. A greater certainty was Teresa, who was without debate a rising leader in the company. She had been summoned several times to San Francisco and New York City to meet with the CEO and it was widely believed that she would soon become the Western Canadian Director.

"I don't control that," she'd say. Always deflecting, but like a veteran goalie, directing her rebounds strategically into the rounded corners.