Monday, July 16, 2018

Getting Better by Clifford Hui

Primatologist Daniel Wright is shocked by his old friend Gordon's xenophobic confession, but determines to help him; by Clifford Hui.

"Because I don't want my daughter to marry anyone who's Japanese, that's why." Gordon Johnson looked up at the island one kilometer away, then bent down and pulled the starter rope of the outboard motor.

Daniel, still holding the bow line looped over a dock cleat, stared at Gordon. Where did this come from? he thought. "What? You're joking, right?" Without waiting for a response he continued, "This... this revelation just blows me away. You're such a good scientist because you're so unbiased. What's going on with this?" He stepped into the boat.

"Actually, it's been lurking in the background. And with marriage in the picture my feelings got really intense. It surprised even me." After the motor sputtered to life, Gordon let it idle for a moment before adjusting the choke. Daniel freed the bow line from the cleat and Gordon pointed the boat toward the thirty-eight acres of Cayo Santiago. Off to their left an osprey searched for breakfast. The tropical air, soft as a caress, slipped over Gordon's face as the boat slid across the glassy surface. The mumble of the motor and the muffled slapping of the water against the boat provided a gentle sound track to their morning.

"For the record, I don't dislike Wayne because he's Japanese. I actually like Wayne."

Daniel nodded, then said, "I sense a 'However' coming on."

"However, marriage is different."

Friday, July 13, 2018

Dancing for Buddha by Bethany Jackson

Ballet dancer Faith endures the crushes and disappointments of adolescence as she grasps for her true self; by Bethany Jackson.

Before Val came, Faith was certain of one thing concerning her time at the dance studio: Where you sat determined your social status.

She'd stepped through the front door for her first day of ballet at age eleven, starting behind in skill from the other girls, who'd been dancing since they could walk. Faith knew that choosing to sit near the back corner booths, where her peers gossiped and flailed about, would garner unwanted side-eyes and giggles into palms. They would sense she didn't belong immediately. On the other hand, the booths closest to the entrance contained haggard mothers with sensible haircuts wrangling three-year-olds into tights. Not ideal either.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Pyromaniacs Guide to the Homes of Suffolk Writers by Roger Ley

A failed Suffolk writer plots revenge against his more successful contemporaries in Roger Ley's black comedy.

The one hundred and thirty-eighth rejection of Riley's zombie novel was the straw that broke the camel's back. Other writers offering far inferior work could get published, why couldn't he?

Those bastards, those smug, self-satisfied bastards. They'd taken their books to the fabled 'Palace of Publishing,' snared an agent, captured themselves a publisher, got an advance and stepped into the express elevator to literary success. They thought they were so clever, with their story editors to smarten up their plots and copy editors to smarten up their punctuation. And here he was, still grubbing around outside, hawking his first three chapters to literary agents, who brushed him aside or condescended to take his lovingly prepared proposal and dump it in the waste bin as they entered their offices. It would probably end up shredded, pulped, and used to make the paper for the books of the authors he hated so much.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Woilin Player's Confession by Greg Szulgit

A Pilgrim wanders through a rustic land and shelters with a local outcast in Greg Szulgit's characterful fantasy.

Pilgrim had spent the previous three nights sleeping outdoors in the chill autumn air, since the people thereabouts seemed unfamiliar with, or suspicious of, his robes and his role. And so, when a young girl skipped up alongside him at sunset and said that he was invited to spend the evening at her family's house, he smiled broadly and bowed his head low to her; lower than was fitting to a child who looked to be no older than seven or eight.

She led him along the main road in the direction from which he had come, turning down a footpath after several hundred yards to arrive at a small cottage nestled among a stand of spruce pines.

"My mother is making squirrel and potato keffles," the child said as she approached the porch. "We saw you go by and thought that you might like to join us for dinner. Mati said that you could probably use some meat on your bones."

Monday, July 2, 2018

Crossing Over by Brooke Fieldhouse

A childless couple travel to Geneva and visit an old widower friend, who lets them in on a spooky local mystery; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

I always suspected that I would lose him.



'Any drinks?' The words are in harmony with the smile, orchestrated with sparkling eyes, and in perfect pitch with the livery of Swissair. The stewardess's lips look engagingly red, and for the first time I feel envy, of her and of all her kind.

'G and T for me!'

Simon's voice has never sounded so loud. Heads in front swivel to investigate. '...Aren't you having one Shivvy love?' He spits the first syllable of the verb, like a child in a fit of petulance.

'I'm not thirsty.'

'What's thirst got to do with it?'

He's right, what has thirst got to do with it?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Stones from the Sky by Steve Gergley

Ally and Molly are "beefwatching" in a Thunderbird convertible when the sky starts raining extraterrestrial stones; by Steve Gergley.

It was the day before my high school graduation when the nuggets started raining down from the sky. It was a nice day. Not too hot or gross. Sunny. Clear blue sky, a few wispy strings of clouds like ripped cotton balls hovering somewhere really high above our heads. Me and Molly were cruising around in her mom's Thunderbird convertible, enjoying the nice day, the heat, the sun, the freedom. That tingling giddy feeling of being surrounded by infinity on every side, whether it was the curves and twists of the never-ending road, or the inexhaustible reservoir of time we had at our disposal to live our lives exactly the way we wanted. And all that time and space was exciting, totally, but it was kind of scary too. At least for me. I still had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life after graduation. But I tried not to think about that too much because on this day, we were doing one of my favorite things in the world. We were beefwatching.

Beefwatching is kind of like birdwatching only way more fun. Because instead of staring up at the sky like a dummy and straining your neck to stare at birds for some reason, a beefwatcher cruises around in a comfy car and looks for hot guys. And just like with birdwatching, there are all different species of beef to be spotted. You've got your Sweat-Glazed Runner clomping along the side of the road, you've got your Tanned Groundskeeper grunting in the dirt, and, if you're real lucky, you might even spot a flock of Bored Jocks playing shirts versus skins football on a front lawn.

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."