Friday, December 30, 2016

Professor Middleton's Sunday Morning by Fred Skolnik

Fred Skolnik's portrait of coldly self absorbed professor of American history Julia Middleton, too sure of her place in the world.

Professor Middleton stretched and yawned. It was a delicious feeling, tensing every muscle in her body. She liked the way her body felt. She was forty-one, a mature and desirable woman. Her husband adored her, her children idolized her. She stretched again, tightening her buttocks, and imagined being taken from behind. Then she imagined three or four men servicing her at once, their hands all over her. She was becoming aroused. She had only been with three men since her marriage, years apart, in different motel rooms, youngish, wholesome types. Afterwards, sex with her husband had been more exciting, as though he were a stranger too. If he came in now, she'd call him to the bed. She was tingling all over.

Instead, she masturbated, coming with a gasp; then she got up and went to the window, naked. She knew the children wouldn't come in without knocking. Their docility was a boon; not for all the world would she want typical teenagers in her home. They'd waited till she'd gotten her doctorate before starting a family. Then she had them fast, wanting to get the breeding done with. Charlotte was twelve, self-absorbed. Samantha was livelier. And the boy, Wally, was under his sisters' sway. Mrs. Sweeney, the housekeeper, looked after them and her husband was away at the brokerage house till evening, so she was entirely free, without a worry in the world. It was a good period for them, they were just coasting along now without an ounce of energy expended on staying alive. She was an associate professor of American history with two books that had been well received. Her husband was an amiable dolt, interested in nothing beyond closing prices and the baseball scores. That was what she had wanted in a man, a provider and lover, not a conversation partner.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Encounter by Kendra Beauchesne

Kendra Beauchesne tells of a brief romantic encounter.

When I think of you my fingers make their way to my lips as though I can still feel your kiss. Biting my lip I close my eyes and remember every perfect detail of that night. I was so nervous to see you even though we agreed it wasn't a date. We set up the time for you to pick me up and you asked if I had ever been on the back of a bike before. I laughed and told you that I had grown up on them. My heart raced with the anticipation as I heard your bike roll up in front of the hotel room. My hair was swept to one side, natural curls wild and a bit untamable, but I guess it reflected the way I felt inside. I had on a white scoop neck blouse with gray flowers on it, my favorite dark faded jeans, and gray boots.

I remember peering over the rail to see you sitting there on that black bike. I was terrified of the way I felt inside. I held onto the railing as I came down the stairs in fear that I would fall on my face. You had already taken off your helmet and sat straddled on that beautiful bike. Your sandy hair cut short and thin mustache gently lay across your lip. I said hello and you greeted me with, "You look beautiful." Hearing those words come from your lips made me feel on top of the world.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Giraffe Story by Julie Carpenter

In a little town so isolated that its inhabitants often go mad, a wealthy attorney gives up profiting from his neighbours' litigious propensities to preach the danger of giraffes, in Julie Carpenter's whacky morality tale.

Once upon a time, there was a mountain village far, far away. It was a lovely little village; the town square boasted a large white Victorian bandstand where crowds often gathered late into warm evenings to hear barbershop quartets or the high school band. There was a beautiful park with picnic tables centered on an ancient, spreading oak and twisting, maple-lined roads that slid smoothly past rows of beautiful homes, from neat brick cottages to frilly Victorians. When the snows came and the rosy cheeked children flocked to the hillsides with their sleds and brightly-colored hats and mittens, the village looked like it had been plucked from a Christmas card and brought to life.

There was a downside to life in the village, though. In the winter, the snow and ice on the mountains surrounding the tiny town blocked the roads, so inhabitants who chose not to leave before the snows began were stuck there for most of the winter. In the summer, mudslides on the mountain had a similar effect. The villagers had to carefully consider their needs for the year and order far more food and other goods than they really needed just to be on the safe side. This made them a very practical people. The very rare newcomer to the village noticed a certain lack of imagination and a great deal of concern with working to buy goods, having them delivered, and storing them. Anyone might be forgiven for thinking the whole town was a sort of open-air asylum for hoarders. For instance, old Dr. Benjamin H. Johnston had suffered brain damage when he was hit by a pallet of canned beans that he had unwisely stacked atop several pallets of paper towels and toilet paper. The whole mountain of canned goods and paper goods had finally become weak, and one winter morning when he went into his basement to look for a can of tuna for his cats, the paper towels gave way and the tower of canned beans toppled over on his head. After that, he became very confused and tried numerous times to feed the beans to the cats. Eventually, they ate him. However, that's neither here nor there for our story.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Transplantation by Mark Keane

When Quinn's ruinous alcoholism threatens his life, an organ transplant triggers such a fundamental change of lifestyle that his long-suffering wife feels left behind; by Mark Keane.

Quinn's liver was damaged beyond repair. He was taken into hospital. A liver transplant was his only hope. He could not drink again. It was not a question of cutting back, not a matter of switching from whiskey to wine or from wine to beer. Alcohol was off the menu.

Quinn had been unwell for some time. He lacked energy and was out of breath after the slightest exertion. His skin developed a yellow pallor; his eyes were discoloured and dull. When his wife found him slumped over the bathroom sink coughing up a bloody discharge she urged him to visit the doctor. He resisted but she was persistent. She accompanied him to the clinic.

The prognosis of later stage cirrhosis came as a shock to Quinn. There were no throw-away remarks or offhand bravado. His wife could sense his fear and shame. Quinn's stony-faced reaction to the doctor's dry summation did not disguise his panic.

Friday, December 16, 2016

To Do List by Mary Steer

Mary Steer's snapshot of middle class domestic life will ring hauntingly true with busy couples everywhere.

Wake up. Get up. Turn on fish tank light. Take dog into backyard. Wait while dog does business. Pick up after dog. Ponder how life is less like a box of chocolates and more like a used grocery bag full of dog shit. Drag dog back in. Feed fish, but not with diced-up pieces of husband - yet. Feed dog, ditto. Make coffee. Wake kids. Shower. Brush hair. Wake kids again.

Get dressed in eye-catching outfit. Fail to catch husband's eye. Nag kids. Get kids up. Get newspaper. Momentarily get lost in headlines. Rule out Europe and Middle East as potential places to escape to. Nag kids. Get kids dressed. Get breakfast. Fight with husband. Referee kids fighting. Pack lunches, leaving out the strychnine again.

Get kids to school. Pick up mail. Shred postcard from husband's sister ("Having a blast in Bali!").

Monday, December 12, 2016

Drunlowry by Margaret Karmazin

When young Emma's father is diagnosed with a degenerative and terminal disease, the family move in with her Aunt Kathryn and Emma falls in love with a tree; by Margaret Karmazin.

My thirteenth birthday had just passed and no one would tell me what was wrong with my father. "It's several long words and you wouldn't understand it," said my mother. Her thick, auburn hair hung seductively over one eye and she gently flipped it aside.

Probably the real story was that she didn't understand it herself. It was dawning on me and would later become clear that my beautiful mother was a bit like a child. It was my father's sister, Aunt Kathryn, who explained his illness to me.

"It's a very serious disease of the nervous system that slowly takes away pretty much everything a person can do except think. I just can't believe this is happening to my baby brother."

Friday, December 9, 2016

Up On Mineral Creek by Bill Pieper

Bill Pieper's all-American story of a rugged widower faced with a moral dilemma when his good friend commits an unforgivable act.

His leg hurt, right around the knee, where he'd taken shrapnel in Vietnam. It'd never been good since then, fifty years now, walking with a pigeon-toe hitch in his gait. And always achy when he sat, but this hurt worse, because he was tied to a chair and couldn't move or stretch, and with a rolled-up sock in his mouth under a layer of duct tape, couldn't yell for help. Besides, there was no one to yell to.

It was a kitchen chair in his own house, and all Wes could do was wait for goddamn Mike to call the sheriff, like he'd promised. Eventually he would, too. In one package, the guy could be the best you'd ever meet or the biggest hardhead you'd wish you hadn't.

But, God, how Char had loved him, as if he was the son she and Wes lost years ago in that still-birth. And this kitchen was really hers. Wes had just been the helper in here, and out the big window, her bird-feeder, busy in the golden October light. She was gone fourteen months now from a sudden stroke and still owned his thoughts, night or day.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stupidicide by Scott Cannon

Homicide detective Rogers and his newbie partner are called to investigate two deaths that may or may not be entirely accidental; by Scott Cannon.

"No man can bring about the perfect murder; chance, however, can do it." Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

It sounded weird from the start. There were not so many homicides in the winter, especially after a massive ice storm with sub-zero temperatures. Criminals slowed down like lizards in the cold. And from what they said when they dispatched Rogers and his partner to the scene, this didn't sound like a homicide at all. Woman dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in the car in the garage; man dead in the house from the same thing. It happened every time the power went down in the winter, that and fires. This didn't sound like a cabin-fever killing. Probably it wouldn't take long, Rogers hoped as he parked behind one of the squad cars at the curb.

Huffington already had out his shiny silver shield and the blue rubber gloves. He handed a pair to Rogers and opened the door.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Tax of Blood by Paul Stansbury

Leysa prepares yet again to make a great sacrifice for her family, but Yuri longs to resist their oppressor; by Paul Stansbury.

Leysa and Yuri watched Osip hunch over the table, his quill scuffing over the paper whispering a harsh tattoo as he methodically listed the taxes due. He had arrived in the morning, scratching at the door like a hungry animal. He had spent the day with Yuri walking about the farm, assessing the livestock, the crops, and anything else upon which a levy could be placed. He smelled of dung and sweat. Spittle flew from his mouth when he spoke. She hated the twisted gnome of a man.

"Go on, you bastard," Yuri growled, "why not include the stones in fields if you intend to take everything? You and your master are nothing more than beasts preying on the weak."

"Watch your words," Osip warned, looking up from the paper. He stared into Yuri's eyes, "He does not take well to vassals chiding his attendants. Know this, fool. The tribulations, real or imagined, of you and your wretched family are of no concern to me. My job is to list everything according to his instructions and place a fair value for which the assessment is made. Nothing more and certainly nothing less. He is rather emphatic on this matter. I dare say your tongue will not be so quick to wag when he comes to your door to collect what is due." He returned to his writing.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Rockingford Raphael by Fred McGavran

In an English mansion, 1937, Miss Sylph de Quimby innocently paints a copy of a long-lost Raphael, in which her cousin shows a great interest; by Fred McGavin.

How difficult it is to recreate a masterpiece, I reflected as I placed the grid over The Rockingford Raphael. The panel of two inch string squares fit just inside the frame, perfectly matching the squares I had ruled on my canvas. Streaming through the east window of the Great Hall, the morning sun illuminated The Martyrdom of St. Claridon Frigidus as brilliantly as the day it was painted. If my palette were true and my hand steady, I would copy the painting square by square for the Masterpieces of Great English Houses exhibition at Miss Trillingham's Country School for Young Ladies.

I had returned to Rockingford-on-Quimby after Michaelmas term determined to practice the moral and practical virtues she had so elegantly enunciated at matriculation. On that brilliant September afternoon before tea, the whole school had assembled on the lawn to hear her recite "The Seven Virtues of Polite English Maidenhood," her immortal contribution to English pedagogy. Those virtues - piety, purity, patriotism, pedigree, poesy, painting, and penmanship - defined young English women of quality in 1937.