Monday, December 10, 2018

El Paso by Sharon Frame Gay

A waitress in a dive bar outside Las Vegas wonders what became of her dreams; by Sharon Frame Gay.

Phoebe stood at the edge of the highway, looking left, then right. It was just past dawn. Nothing up yet but a pack of coyotes, trotting loose limbed on the other side of a barbed wire fence, nose to ground on a hunt. One glanced at Phoebe, turned away and followed the others along a dusty ravine.

A few strips of paper captured in the fence fluttered in the breeze. Phoebe sighed and straightened the backpack on her shoulders, turning west towards El Paso. In the distance, an eighteen wheeler rumbled over the ridge, heading east. She thought of crossing the road, sticking out her thumb. Instead, she walked on as the truck passed, cyclones of dust in its wake. Broken glass and slivers of tumbleweed peppered the bottom of her shoes, crunching under each step.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Classic Axe Murder by Ian Rubin

Buddy uses Lyft for the first time and gets the ride of his life; by Ian Rubin.

"Thanks for the ride!" Buddy said, "I'm glad to be off the highway, finally." He threw his backpack onto the back seat, then closed the door.

"Not... a... problem..." Phineas replied. He cracked his knuckles, popping one at a time.

"Um... Okay, that was weird."

Phineas put the pick-up truck into gear and took off down the road. The truck's air was thick, and it smelled of old leather and cigarettes. The setting sun glared into the truck, making its driver and passenger glow orange.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Betrayal by Beryl Ensor-Smith

The rumour mill fires up in the sleepy South African town of Prentburg when a stranger with a secret arrives on the scene; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

The Sisters of the Church, both older and newer members, were all interested in knowing the reason why Diwald Oosthuizen, their new organist/church factotum had left Johannesburg to come to Prentburg.

"There must be something unusual as it doesn't make sense that a young man in his early twenties would choose to leave a city with lots of interests to come to a sleepy country dorp," Darleen Jansen declared.

"Not that sleepy," Marion Klopper objected. "There's lots going on here!"

"You could have fooled me," Pat Duvenhage retorted. "The only reason I'm here is because my husband's a farmer. Give me the bright lights any day, I'm a city girl through and through and living here's been a tough transition, that I can tell you."

Friday, November 30, 2018

One Time in Brooklyn by James Kowalczyk

James Kowalczyk tells a short tale of three junkies in an apartment room in Brooklyn.

Susie Spotless, the old hag from 5B, used to throw buckets of water on the sidewalk in front of the apartment building twice a day, 365 days a year. Hence the name.

"Why don't you watch where you're going!" she'd yell at anyone who happen to get splashed as they passed by. There was no stopping Susie.

As far as anyone in the neighborhood remembered, she'd always lived alone. Her fibrous outgrowth hair was perennially in rollers and she wore the same stained house dress with frayed slippers that showed her crusty overlapping toes. She was never seen outside except for when she did the water. It was rumored she ate cat food that she'd bought at the 24 hour bodega across the street in the wee hours of the morning.

Susie Spotless ultimately brought down the Blue Room.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Two Hearts by Robert Boucheron

John and Rebecca are teenagers in love, but it it too soon to make a lifelong commitment? By Robert Boucheron.

John Shakewell was a slender young man of seventeen with flat brown hair and a will of iron. As a boy, he once built a treehouse using a carpenter's level, a plumb line, and pulleys to raise the scrap wood. The completed structure had a shingle roof, a carpet remnant on the plywood floor, a window you could open, and a door you could lock. The tree fell in a storm, and the treehouse was long gone, but he still had the key to the door on his keyring.

Rebecca Flibbert was the same age as John. She too had brown hair without a hint of wave. She wore it long, with bangs. Good manners masked a quiet determination. To do what?

John and Becky looked enough alike to be mistaken for brother and sister. They both sang in the Hapsburg High School chorus. They performed a duet in the Fall Follies, a Broadway show tune they memorized and rehearsed with Ms. Metzger on piano. The music teacher drilled them in simple dance moves. Becky performed with energy and style, but John was stiff.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The "D" Word by Jennifer Otte

Ayla and John watch their parents argue through soundproof glass doors; by Jennifer Otte.

Ayla paced the length of the bed closest to the door. Her tiny fingers pulled at a strand of hair that had come loose from her pony tail. She came to an abrupt stop and turned toward the other bed where her brother was stretched out. "Do you think it's the 'D' word?" Ayla asked.

John sat up and turned his attention from his sister to the patio outside of the hotel room. Their parents were sitting across from each other at a small table covered by an umbrella. He shook his head before addressing his sister. "And just what would you know about that?" John asked.

Ayla quickly moved to the bed her brother was on and flopped down beside him. Her attention drifted to her parents but quickly returned to John. "I know a lot. Cindy's parents got one and it's made everything worse for Cindy. She barely sees her father, and her mother spends all her time going out on dates so she never has time for Cindy anymore," Ayla said.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Beauty of Horses by Rick Joy

The horses outside Zack's home start to behave oddly, as if coordinated by a sinister intelligence; by Rick Joy.

Just hours before Zack's mind was stolen, horses standing on the nearby ridge were backlit by the setting sun, surrounding each with a warm, slightly fuzzy glow. Zack paused from his daily walk with Roxie, his chocolate lab, to soak up the vision.

The leaves on the trees were astounding, with sun-bright yellows giving way to heart-warming oranges and lush, dark reds, all contrasted with a polka dot spray of still-green leaves. And the fall smells, crisp and earthy, made the walk that much better. It was Friday, the work week done, temperature cool but not cold. This was a good walk.

Zack and Roxie lived alone now that Sheila was gone, so Zack tried to take Roxie out every day after he got home. Partly from a sense of guilt for leaving her home and partly because the walks were calming after a stressful workday. For a while after Sheila left, Roxie wouldn't even greet Zack when he came home. She would just lounge on Zack's bed waiting to hear food being poured into her bowl. Zack assumed that Roxie blamed him for Sheila's absence. He still didn't completely admit what happened between them, although it was obvious. Long hours and then coming home with a headful of work left little time or energy for their relationship. Sheila wanted and deserved more.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Keeping Company by Rudy Eiland

Rudy Eiland tells the story of three lonely characters: Ainsley and Amica, who rely on each other for company, and Amica's slow-witted brother Felix, who relies on his own inner world.

The conversation had been hesitant and labored at first. It took the quiet passing of several houses before Felix started speaking more easily, talking now to Ainsley and not simply to himself. Each domestic facade peered coldly down on them both, Ainsley felt. He asked Felix a few questions until he hit upon something Felix was interested in, the fence in the backyard, and then the man talked more easily. As usual, Felix had kept to himself at first, even with his brother-in-law, until the other had waded a little ways into his world.

Despite the prediction of snow in a few hours, they had set off at a steady gait through the badly lit streets and the sidewalks covered with yellowed grass. It was only October, but something in the air foretold Christmas, a distant elation hanging there, the happiness of someone somewhere. Someone else's happiness. It was a long walk to his mother's, and so far Felix had remained sufficiently well behaved. The drizzle of sleet that came up every now and then was like somebody waking from a doze and drifting back off.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Gunslinger by DL Shirey

DL Shirey's character wakes up in a storeroom, confused and almost certainly in some kind of trouble.

I flinch awake. My shoulder blade sears, the afterburn from a dream. Everything but the pain evaporates, leaving half-remembered threads: a horse thief, face pressed in dirt, a boot on the back of his neck. My neck. Arm wrenched up an instant before feeling the red heat of metal; a branding iron hissing skin.

The dream is displaced by another unreality: I don't know where I am. There's a trail of ants on a bedside table converging on an ashtray and a half-sucked peppermint. Alongside it an empty Jäger bottle, a lighter and pack of smokes. The first inhale tells me this isn't my brand. When I kick away the ratty blanket and curl my legs off the bed, the floor comes too quickly. The mattress and box spring have no frame beneath them. Between knees I see my nakedness, cement floor and a spent condom.

I stretch and my shoulder blazes again. In reflex I grab the spot and pain compounds when I touch the braille of welts. The jolt clears fog from my eyes but where I am has no associated recall: cardboard boxes stacked five-feet high, makeshift privacy for the bed. No windows, a double row of fluorescent lights hangs from the ceiling, half on. A sick bleach of color coats the flickering walls of a storeroom. It looks like my mouth tastes.

Friday, November 9, 2018

On the Water's Edge by Kat Devitt

Frederick spends his life running, callous to who leaves behind, until he finds himself confronted by a divine mystery in Kat Devitt's mythic tale.

Frederick Wilde started running the moment his feet sprouted from his mother's womb. He kicked and flailed coming from her watery depths, because he already knew he had a father to escape. An angel engraved it onto his soul before sending him into her belly, because three days after his birth, his mother would die.

Never mind he was made from the same flesh as his mother. Never mind his father's blood ran through his veins. Frederick gave her difficulty coming into this world, ripping her open. When she heaved her final breath, he had become a murderer to his father; a crying infant, swaddled in snowy white blankets.

But he'd done his mother a kindness by helping her bleed out.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Brawl at Mac and Stan's by Howard Vogl

Howard Vogl's character reflects on his childhood in 1950s Buffalo, hanging out with his dad in Mac and Stan's Bar.

I decided to stop in Buffalo on the way home from a business trip. It's hard to explain the attraction of the old city to someone who wasn't born there, but for me it's real. The house on the street where I used to live was still there, although now it's only a cheap rental. On the corner was an empty lot where Mac and Stan's Bar used to be. That was the real reason I stopped.

Mac and Stan's was a typical corner bar from the Fifties. Neon signs hung in smoke stained windows leading to a long straight bar and the backroom. The mirror behind the bar doubled the number of whiskey bottles on the ledges in front, and tacked to the wall was a display of Blind Robin smoked herring that I never saw anyone eat.

Mac and Stan's was my dad's hangout. An easy one at that, since it was only three doors down from our house. Dad would spend a few hours there on a Saturday afternoon and on most Saturdays he'd drag me along. He'd have a few short beers with a shot of Corby's, and I'd have a root beer or two while playing around with the pinball machine in back. During the week, when Dad was working, the bar still figured into my life. After running around the block a few times, I could stop in for a glass of water. Pretty good for a five year old.

Friday, November 2, 2018

When We Go by Damien Krsteski

Serco and his girlfriend Dora plan to emigrate, but Serco feels a duty to stay for the sake of his mother and brother; by Damien Krsteski.

When I go, I want to go like a rocket.

Leaving the world at breakneck speed, upright, arms like fins, legs trailing a column of smoke; and the dusk sky, a postcard ripped in two by my passing.

And then, no explosion. But a winking out as space swallows me whole and the earliest star outshines me.

And then -

Wind blowing the smoke away; people scattering, going home to cry at photos that end up packed away into shoe boxes, shoved under beds to gather dust. People moving on.

People forgetting.



5.

"Pepperoni?" she asked Serco, holding up the box.

"Grab two."

Dora rummaged through the refrigerator. "There's just the one." Shrugging, "They got broccoli."

"Broccoli's fine."

She dumped the pizzas into the cart, and Serco steered it sluggishly toward the register, the cart's wheels squealing on the supermarket's freshly-mopped tiles. Closing time.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Last Interview by Virginia Revel

Tom is perhaps too keen to get the job in his latest interview; by Virginia Revel.

Tom arrived on the spot too early, so to kill time he circled the block, checking out the terrain near the business where he hoped to be working by the end of the day. His first lap brought him back too soon, so he made the round again, trotting this time because he felt so good. Energy surged through him, and a soaring self-belief. The hard times were over. He was sure of it.

When at last he was admitted to the office he walked straight up to the interviewer, grabbed his hand, and looked deep into his eyes. Invited to sit down, he said, "Well, I won't if you don't mind. I like to keep going. I'm ready to give every minute and every step and every thought to the company. I can tell you how to increase sales volume, how to streamline operations, how to make you number one in the city, or - hey, why not? - number one in the state! Number one west of the Mississippi!"

The interviewer gave him a thin smile and said, "About the blanks in your resumé -"

Friday, October 26, 2018

That Sort by Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy tells the story of self-possessed Chloe Bennett who has returned to her home town in the Cotswolds to see her dying father.

"I found this on top of the chest of drawers, Mrs Bennett." The stout little woman held out four twenty-pound notes. "Your father is always leaving piles of cash everywhere, though I keep telling him it's not safe. I'm glad you're home now to take care of him."

Chloe Bennett nodded and took the proffered money, wondering how much there had been originally. Her father-in-law told had her about that sort, the servant class who usually stole about ten percent of anything, or as much as they thought they could get away with. He was 'old money' and had childhood memories of those bygone days.

Of course, Mrs Jones wasn't a servant. They had gone the way of the dodo. She was a self-employed carer who had been looking after Chloe's father for the past few years, loosely supervised by Aunt Matilda, his younger sister.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Bottom of the Sky by Mitchell Toews

In 1950s Acapulco, a fateful accident alters the course of three fishermen's lives in Mitchell Toews' graceful epic.

Part 1 - The Mismaloya

Acapulco, 1955

Jose had worked on the Mismaloya from the age of 14. He served her first as a cabin boy, then as a mate and now as the boat's captain.

She was a beamy 38-foot rig propelled by twin-screws. Her Chevrolet engine was manufactured in Detroit in 1929, the year he was born. Crowned with a small flying bridge, she was the kind of vessel used to troll for sailfish on this coast, in these years.

Jose's cousin, Avelino, owned the boat. He had salvaged her, abandoned, from the rocks near Puerto Vallarta, and named her after the village where he and Jose were born. Together, the cousins had reconditioned the Mismaloya for fishing.

Today, like most days when a charter was booked, Jose arrived at the Acapulco harbour early, scattering disinterested gulls in the predawn as he hurried along the wooden dock. He hopped over the transom and secured the craft, preparing for a day on the water. Jose worked quickly, each step precise and efficient. He checked the batteries for the tightness of their leaden connectors and looked for any tell-tale corrosion. Lightly, he tapped on the face of the fuel gauge and ensured it was resting just past the Full marker. Next, a fast peek into the bilge, running the pump for a few seconds to clean out any seepage taken on overnight. He worked through his entire twenty-minute checklist whistling quietly, his face calm, eyes clear. Almost done with his chores, Jose stole a glance at the sun. It would rise soon behind the city, flamingo pinks and rich magentas flowering above the silhouette of the squarish buildings.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Dead Drift by James Hacker

Dave and Steve head into the remote river canyon to go fly fishing, but there's more than just fish in the river; by James Hacker.

Dave woke once, early, hangover pounding in his ears and the taste of cheap beer still on his tongue, to the soft sound of rain on the roof. He rolled back to sleep, a slight smile playing across his half-drunk face. If the weather held, a morning rain would keep the river canyon cooler and keep the air damp through to the evening. When he woke again, hours later, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and a dry wind blew down out of the north. He smiled again, knowing a big spinner fall was coming. Spinner falls meant dry fly fishing, meant trophy fish, meant magic sessions where big fish rose to every cast. He hoped it was tonight.

Dave finally rose around noon. Steve was already up and cooking breakfast. Once they were both fed and coffeed up, hangovers still sitting with awful weight behind their eyes, they loaded themselves and their gear into Steve's truck and headed into town.

They made straight for the local fly shop. High end gear was artfully arranged in the windows, $500 waders next to $2,000 fly rods set between high-def shots of anglers at work and trophy fish in nets. Inside, a handful of tourists ogled the equipment while one of the local guides tried to sell them on the benefits of the most expensive pair of boots in the store. Dave and Steve slid through the sales meeting to the back, where Ted, the wrinkled and wizened proprietor, sat next to the rows of flies and lures for sale.

Monday, October 15, 2018

In the Shadow of the Hive By Kevin Edwin Stadt

In a future where everyone is telepathically linked, a homeless man and his dog struggle to survive outside the Hive; by Kevin Edwin Stadt.

The obese, sweating manager at the grocery store in whatever stupid little town it was didn't say that Billy's disease made him unemployable. He didn't tell Billy that the Ryker's Syndrome created acute discomfort for everyone in the building. Not a word about the mismatched shoes, worn khakis, grungy shirt or desperate eyes. The manager didn't say anything at all. When Billy asked about a job, the man just shook his head quickly and disappeared through a thick metal door into the back.

Billy had to traverse the meat section, produce and baked goods to reach the exit, through a gauntlet of silent employees and shoppers all stopped frozen in their tracks, staring at him in otherworldly silence.

Outside, Oliver danced when Billy came out the front door, straining against the cord tying his collar to a tree. Billy picked up the tiny brown puppy and the dog licked his face. "Let's get the hell out of here, huh Olly?"

As he trudged westward, Billy's mood got a little bump and the tension in his shoulders slackened when he came upon a sprawling, gorgeous public park.

He could use a bit of refuge. He'd slept badly under a bridge the night before, the October nights having recently turned cold, his stomach three days empty, trucks thundering past just feet above him, coyotes howling in the blackness.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Backlash by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In a previous Prentburg misadventure, Christina du Plessis mistakenly kidnapped geriatric mischief-maker Malan Bester - now he sees his opportunity to get revenge; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

When the oldest resident of Prentburg, Ma Bets, met her maker at the age of one-hundred-and-six, most of the dorp's residents wished to attend her funeral. Even some who had never clapped eyes on her, like Malan Bester.

"He shouldn't be allowed to go," Sister Marchant protested to the matron of the old age home, "he has no right to!"

"We can hardly prevent him from doing so," Matron pointed out, "especially as half of the squatters in the informal settlement will be there. They asked Reverend Motsepe to go, being full of admiration for someone reaching such a ripe old age, and the family has said they're welcome."

"Their motives are admirable," Sister Marchant argued, "while Malan's are highly suspect!"

Monday, October 8, 2018

A Rude Awakening by Jim Bartlett

Major Henning and his spaceship crew have been woken from cryogenic sleep and find the ship may not be working well enough to get them home; by Jim Bartlett.

Henning reaches for his cup, only to pull back at the last moment, remembering it was just as empty as the last time he grabbed for it.

Get it together, Major.

He takes in a deep breath and lets his gaze wander down to the chronometer. At first, none of it makes sense, a little too much fog in his brain for the numbers to work.

Okay, 32 hours. He's been up 32 hours. Cut yourself some slack.

Shifting his focus back to the thick swath of asteroids that stretches across the frontal screen, he places his palm on the roller, and once again begins to wrestle with the retro control. It only takes a few moments for his frustrations to get the best of him, and he flings his arms upward, nearly striking the overhead panel. No matter how hard or which way he spins the damn thing, the ship seems to be drawn in their direction.

He leans back, taking in a deep, long breath. Relax. Relax.

Relax...

Friday, October 5, 2018

That Second Death by Daniel L. Link

When Nellie's twin sister disappears, she suspects murder, but how far will she go for the truth? By Daniel L. Link.

THE END

I couldn't see the dawn as day broke over my final resting place. I heard birds, though, as they rose from their nests and went about their daily scavenging. The finches and jays were the loudest. I knew they were getting close to the hole in which I lay.

Every time I moved, the burlap tarp over me rubbed at my nose, creating a nagging itch I couldn't scratch. That was worse than the handcuffs, worse than having my arms pinned behind my back. That rough fabric scraping across my skin was a constant reminder of what was to come.

It was getting warm when the workers arrived. Sunlight peeked through tiny holes in the tarp, thousands of golden pinpricks in my otherwise black grave. The beep-beep of a truck's backup alarm rang out, feet from where I lay, silencing the birds' cries and signaling that the end was near.

The night had been cold, but the heat of the morning had me sweating. That sweat all froze to my body when I heard the truck.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Frances by Pam Munter

Frances Marion, screenwriting powerhouse of Hollywood's golden age, longs for intimacy with her self-destructive superstar friend Mary Pickford; by Pam Munter.

The irony didn't escape Frances that though she was the premier screenwriter of her time she couldn't find the right words to describe how she felt about Mary. Or why.

It didn't seem like that many years ago. World War I was raging but Hollywood was thriving, existing in a cocoon. Frances had come to the editing room at Biograph and found Mary alone. She was startled when Mary turned around, her petite frame dominated by her big blue eyes and long, curly blonde hair. "I know we're going to be best friends," Mary had said within minutes of their meeting. "I don't have many friends," she had confided. "No time."

Frances knew it had to be more than that. Mary was an international icon, untouchable, unreachable some would say. And the most powerful woman in the industry. That was more likely the issue. "I would like to be your friend," Frances echoed, carefully. She felt an unfamiliar jolt come and go from within, like a blast of hot air. It wasn't at all unpleasant but surprised her with its intensity.



Now, some 15 years later, Frances looked forward to seeing Mary again, even though she was unsure what she would find in that house tonight. She remembered a time when there was no ambivalence or anxiety about her dinners there. They were fun, lively events full of lawn games, alcohol and opium. She was amused that Hollywood's highest paid stars would find it hilarious to shoot home movies of each other, each trying to outdo the other with outrageousness. It was about making each other laugh and it wasn't hard to do. Someone would always be thrown into the huge pool in their evening clothes or go down the slide backwards.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Cold as ICE by Lee Conrad

Divorcee detective Derek Steele navigates dystopian near-future USA, trying to solve the mystery of the missing immigrants without upsetting Immigration and Customs Enforcement; by Lee Conrad.

The late morning heat and humidity was already oppressive. It was early May but the climate in the Northeast was so screwed up it felt like July in the old days. I hated this weather. I kept telling myself that as a private investigator I could set up shop anywhere. A cooler climate would be nice. But that was another day. Had to meet my client.

I drove down Floral Ave past trees butchered by the electric company in order to free the wires of damage by tangled limbs. They didn't even look like trees anymore, more like skeletons sliced through the ribs. I dodged deep potholes as I headed to Danny's Diner. Since the economy collapsed road paving had been slipping. Christ, weren't we supposed to have hover cars by now? After all, it was 2022.

I texted the client to say that I'd arrived, he texted back that he was in the last booth on the left.

Danny's wasn't crowded. It was 2pm, the lunch crowd had already left. Luckily the soup specials kept the business going.

I nodded to the cook. "Hey Jaymo, how's things?"

Monday, September 24, 2018

Wild Child by Eamonn Murphy

When she suffers from heart failure at 56, Jessica is forced to rethink her life and her relationship with her parents; by Eamonn Murphy.

Jessica could scarcely believe her ears when the consultant told her.

"Heart failure!" she said. "I'm only fifty-six. I'm too young for heart failure!"

She was in a single room at the new Super Hospital. It was a nice room with an en-suite bathroom that had a mirror, in which she still looked slim and attractive. Her dark, curly hair needed washing and her thin, elfin face looked a little more drawn than usual but the reflection was still a Jessica she recognized. The room had a large window that looked out over the central concourse of the hospital with its various entrances to outpatient departments and shops and cafes. The bed was a hospital bed and the leads that ran from the patches on her chest went to a monitor over the bed that showed her pulse and blood pressure. Other than that it might have been a decent room in a three-star hotel, the kind her smug, suburban parents stayed in when they went to Torquay every year. The food was good. Her treatment had been wonderful. Jessica had no complaints at all except about the diagnosis.

Friday, September 21, 2018

"My Love, Ana" -Tommy by Jhon Sánchez

Tommy and Ana fall deeply in love with each other's internal organs in Jhon Sánchez's quirky vision of the future.

For Melissa Ortiz, Ninotska Love and Yani Perez, three ladies who can easily steal your heart.

My wife divorced me because doctors removed my tonsils. She said that I wouldn't be the same. "A different being," was the precise wording she used. I was appalled. My mind flooded with images of the first time I saw her.

Initially, I hadn't been particularly drawn to her insides, her heart, her guts. I had asked the matchmaker for someone different, unique, like Grandma was for Grandpa. Their pictures together, their love notes and photographs, were like an oasis of warmth and care scattered throughout the apartment that they left for me.

Of course, I marked on my application all of the regular boxes of women I didn't want at all. No people with kidney stones, no people with risk of coronary disease, no HIV/AIDS, no risk of cancer, just the regular stuff that everybody asked for. I wanted someone who would die of old age with me like Grandma and Grandpa - sixty years of marriage - but also someone unique, who kept me mesmerized all the time.

Monday, September 17, 2018

SHORT by Doug Hawley

Doug Hawley returns with a not-very-PC screwball comedy in which Duke Hanley is fed up of being discriminated against for being short.

Duke and Gary, actuaries for a large Portland insurance company, were having lunch together. As usual they were complaining about their treatment as short guys. Duke started off with, "You know, we're usually ignored, and stats prove we get paid less and don't get the promotions we deserve. Studies which have been corrected to take account of all other variables show that."

"I know that, Duke. We've been whining about that for years. At least you've got a great wife. I have a hard time getting a date, much less laid or married. How did you attract a great gal like Sally?"

"You aren't the first or the tenth to ask me that. Sally has a strange history which made her avoid tall or even average guys. Everybody else in her family is over 6 feet tall, even the women, and she is only 5'3". I think that her 6'3" father wondered if he was really her father and always called her runt. Then there was the time at the circus where the so-called tallest man in the world had a heart attack and almost fell on her. In high school, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came to give a talk on education. Sally was to present him to the student body, but he suffered from food poisoning and vomited on her. After that, she would only date short guys like me."

Friday, September 14, 2018

Delivery by Stephan Malone

When Stephan Malone's character orders a pizza, the self-driving delivery car gives him a lot more than he wanted.

The whooshing din of distant latter-evening traffic hushed through my partially opened patio slider door. My phone vibrated harshly against the coffee table stone, breaking the ambient calm. "Your pizza has arrived Jayden," the phone announced, casting a cold, bluish-white light against my living room ceiling. For a moment I mindlessly stared at the faint luminous glow above me.

"Be right out," I said.

The phone acknowledged my response with a short blip. "Delivery vehicle notified." I rolled off my couch and shuffled toward the front door. Not a single light illuminated my house's interior save for two small under-the-microwave pilot lamps, for it was in the darkness that I took in a strange yet fortifying comfort during these newly borne days. After my four year relationship with Aeliana reached its inevitable conclusion several weeks ago, my spirit lingered in an unfamiliar, heady space located somewhere between the celebratory freedom invoked from a fresh start and the palpable melancholy that emerged from recalling familiar comforts, now lost to memory alone. I imagined that I would find my way just as everyone does when such things happen.

But for now, I have to eat.

I walked outside, elaborately donned in sock-feet and pajama bottoms, the empirical attire of suburban bachelors everywhere. After all, would anybody care what I'm wearing? The automated car certainly wouldn't. I rounded the delivery car's front bumper, lights on, idling in absolute silence. It looked to be one of those old Chevy Volts from the middle twenty-tens, blacked out and de-badged, retrofitted with a high capacity battery and re-purposed for driver-less metro deliveries.


Monday, September 10, 2018

What Tomorrow Brings by Charles Tabb

Jenny waits for her boyfriend at her favourite restaurant, and she does not expect what tomorrow will bring; by Charles Tabb.

Jenny Fremont sat alone at the small table in Mama Guali's, her favorite restaurant. She and Bob had discovered the small Italian diner one night when a sudden rain storm had forced them to find refuge. Now here she sat once again, waiting for Bob.

While she waited she thought of how she had fallen in love with the simple ambiance of Mama Guali's the moment they had dashed in from the cloudburst. Tables with just enough space between them to prevent crowding while promoting coziness dotted the dining area like small islands. Each was draped with red and white tablecloths in a cliché checkerboard pattern, while wooden chairs gathered around the tables, keeping them company until someone sat down to join the party. Colorful, net-wrapped globes of glass on each table held a lit candle and squatted beside a drinking glass offering stale bread sticks. Aromas of tomato, basil, oregano, and garlic melted from the kitchen into the dining area, making mouths water. Yes, simply being here made her smile.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Soulmates by Roger Ley

Martin, who never quite fitted into the gender binary, finally finds a woman who understands him; by Roger Ley.

Martin had never been comfortable in his masculinity. As a child he hadn't enjoyed rough and tumble, camping, climbing trees, making campfires. His mother described him as 'gentle,' his father rustled his newspaper and tried to ignore him. The other boys derided him and occasionally beat him up. He was an easy target, being of medium height and light build. As he grew into his teens, he suffered the taunts of the football oafs, the noisy muscle heads. He found it easier to spend most of his time alone in his bedroom. Thank God for the internet. He was still interested in girls but for different reasons. It was their makeup, their hairstyles, their nail polish, their clothes, their perfumes, it was all so self-indulgent, so narcissistic. It fascinated him.

Things were easier at university. Staff and fellow students were more polite. Everybody tried hard to be PC, more tolerant of sexual preferences.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Metaphysics 101 by Mark Joseph Kevlock

Dottie falls in love with a man more concerned with philosophy than reality; by Mark Joseph Kevlock.

"I wish you'd stop asking questions that take up the whole class," Dottie said.

She and Humbert were walking together.

"I know. But I can't help it. This is stuff I just need to understand."

Dottie thought about taking his hand. But that could lead to a lot of things.

"I'll try not to do it today," Humbert promised.

Moments later, Professor Carlsbad called on him in class. "Yes, Humbert?"

"What is the true first step, then, to begin us all upon this worldwide shift in consciousness?"

Dottie sighed and sat back in her seat.

Professor Carlsbad took his usual grip upon the edges of the lectern. That meant he was in it for the long haul.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Kensington Street by Robert Boucheron

Robert Boucheron's character starts work at an architecture firm in 1970s Connecticut, and learns on the job.

Ray Constantine is a burly, middle-aged man who used to be a remodeling contractor. After a heart attack, his doctor told him to ease up, eat less, and stop smoking. Now he runs Fair Haven Housing, a nonprofit agency, and chews on an unlit cigar all day.

On a Monday morning in June, Ray teaches Zach and me how to measure existing space using the office, an old house. We are graduate students at the Yale School of Architecture, and this is a summer job, our first day. Ray looks at our sketches.

"Use the one with fewer smudges," he says.

That is mine. I hold one end of a steel tape measure and write dimensions on a rough plan, while Zach holds the other end and calls them out. Zach is at the smart end, Ray says. We discover that I misjudged the thickness of walls, made the stair too small, and missed some closets. I erase and redraw. When we complete the first floor, I hand the sketch to Zach.

"Did we leave anything out?"

Zach stares at the paper, crowded with numbers, notes, and arrows. "Beats me."

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ten Seconds by Megan Prevost

Lyle undergoes a dangerous initiation to become friends with Noah and Ethan; by Megan Prevost.

"I knew you were a wimp, but damn, it's just water," Ethan said. He stood with his arms crossed, a few feet from the hole in the ice. Ethan had driven the three of them out onto the frozen lake. Noah and Lyle had watched while he cut through the ice. He created a hole big enough for a person to fit through.

The wind bit at their faces, it was almost midnight and the temperature crept below zero. The three stood to the side of the lake where the ice was the thickest. The only light came from Ethan's headlights.

Lyle cowered away from the freshly carved hole. "How cold do you think it'll be?" Lyle said. He inched closer and peered into the water below.

"Pretty cold," Noah put his hand on Lyle's shoulder. "But it's safe, we've all done it. Just ten seconds and then you can get out. It's not that bad."

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Dead and the Restless by Paul Lubaczewski

Peggy befriends a local voodoo practitioner while volunteering on a renewable energy project in disaster-scarred Haiti, but there are people who do not want her there; by Paul Lubaczewski.

Dear god, it was hot. This was nothing in the way of a surprise, though, Haiti was always hot, just like the Arctic was always cold. It was always hot, and steamy, and often miserable without air conditioning or a ton of fans. So why was she here? It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but then again MANY things seemed like a good idea at the time, hell was probably full of people who said that. "It'll count towards your degree!" "You'll be doing good for a community!" OK, and maybe the treacherous honest thought, "Free all expenses paid trip to the Caribbean!" might have been in there somewhere. Peggy had thought she knew hot, she went to Cal San Diego for Pete's sake. She had now discovered, though, the phrase, "But it's a dry heat," was not just a phrase but a steaming hot reality.

Why SHE was here, though, was that Haiti was viewed by many in the Green Revolution as the ultimate opportunity, born of the most terrible of tragedies. Due to natural disaster after natural disaster, the energy infrastructure had been reduced to almost nil, this provided a chance to start from scratch. Enter David, and his company, Green Sun Rising, a solar energy firm. David was a Cal grad and a former Prof who had left to form the company. Now, he used the connections he had with the college to get undergrads to use for labor. What a beautiful sales pitch, doing good, free travel, learning by doing, the exact sort of thing that might appeal to you if you were naive as all hell, and sitting around an off-campus apartment a few credits short for the year. Especially if there had been a lot of those "Feed The World For Pennies A Day" commercials running that week.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Brigid's Fire by David W. Landrum

Musician Mathias Berends meets an Irish goddess, but her sister is determined to keep them apart; by David W. Landrum.

Brigid told Mathias she had come from Ireland as an exchange student. She said she liked the sequence of songs about fire he often did when he performed.

"How did you decide to do something like that?" she asked.

He smiled. "I got the idea from something I saw on TV once. I laughed and laughed. It gave me the idea for a new routine."

"People seem to like it."

He loved her Irish brogue, pretty face, and marvelous legs.

"They seem to," he answered, I've gotten a lot of good gigs since I started doing it. But enough about my musical career. What are you studying over here?"

"Mythology. I'm doing a degree in comparative literature with emphasis on Celtic story and how it relates to myth."

"What's your favorite Celtic story?"

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Threat by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In the sleepy South African dorp of Prentburg, the Church Sisters face a mutiny by a group of younger local women; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

The Sisters of the Church were surprised to receive an urgent call to an Extraordinary General Meeting. While some grumbled at the disruption of other plans, curiosity ensured a full turnout and they fixed their eyes on the chairwoman, Helga Swanepoel, as she walked to the podium. She shuffled papers, put on her spectacles and stared back solemnly before declaring: "Sisters, we are in danger of being ousted!"

Once the hubbub had died down, she explained further.

"There is a group of younger women in our church who have been voicing the opinion that the sisterhood is, to quote the ringleader, 'An ageing bunch of dithering has-beens who should retire and let a younger generation with fresh ideas introduce the changes needed to meet the challenges of a new age!'"

This time there was no quelling the storm of outraged protest that resulted.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Judgments by Gary Beck

Two corrupt cops interrogate an old man in the wild desert of the Great Divide Basin, about the legends of a local troublemaker; by Gary Beck.

The minute they walked into the store I knew they were cops, but not locals. Some kind of state boys come up from Cheyenne by the look of them. I started for the bathroom to avoid them, but the meaner looking one, in a blue suit that looked like he found it in a thrift shop, called me.

"Just a minute, sir. We'd like to talk to you."

I turned to my assistant, Bobby Runs-with-Elks.

"Why don't you help these gentlemen, Bobby."

"We need to speak to you, sir," the oilier looking man said, taking off his sunglasses, revealing black eyes as soulless as lumps of coal.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Divine Guidance by Gary Ives

When Mexican teenager Tomás is struck blind, he must find a new way to help support his family; by Gary Ives.

My blindness came rapidly. Our house, like all the houses in our village, lays under a high conical roof of reed thatch and tessellated palm fronds. Tree rats nest between the thatch and the palm. Other than occasional nighttime squeals the rats are not a bother. The year I turned fifteen, a strange kind of insect moved into the thatch. Tiny black specks fell from these little bugs in the night. Only later did we learn that the little black specks from these thatch bugs could cause blindness should they fall into the eyes.

Each spring my family travelled north in big stake trucks with several other families to work the fields of the gringos, picking lettuce in Arizona, then to California for tomatoes, moving north to the peach, apricot, and prune orchards. Since I can remember, with my family I had worked these fields and orchards, proud to contribute to my family's security. Sometimes families continued further north to harvest apples in September and October, returning late in the year to our little village tired but rich. I loved those summers working in the north. Sure, the work was very hard, but evenings and Sundays in our encampments were so enjoyable. The children played games while the adults smoked and told stories. Too there was gringo television in some of the camps. By the time I was twelve years old I could speak English which I had learned largely from the gringo television and road signs. I am very strong, and my father was proud of my work. Somedays I earned more than three, even four days' wages for a man in Mexico. This all for my family. Our jefe was Don Francisco. It was in his trucks we traveled, and it was he who negotiated the contracts with the gringo rancheros. Don Francisco, a very large jolly man, was much respected for his fairness. Other jefes cheated their workers. When my father reported to him that I had suffered this blindness Don Francisco said I would not be permitted to accompany the rest of my family. My father argued that even though blind I could pick tomatoes by feel and use of a tether. But Don Francisco was firm in his denial. My father told me to trust in God and stay strong. "You will be in our prayers every day, my son. You must realize that even though this blindness has come, God will show you a way if you trust in Him."

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Killer by Ronald Schulte

Ethan's career is paralysed because of his fear of public speaking, until he finds an app that claims to change your personality; by Ronald Schulte.

My mind was completely blank.

I glanced around the conference room, frantically trying to remember the words I had prepared. The silence stretched into awkwardness. I was acutely aware of the changing facial expressions of my audience. Many looked away as I struggled. Some nodded encouragingly, trying to will me back on course.

Finally, the hiring manager tried to jump to my rescue.

"Ethan? Why don't tell everyone a little about yourself?"

It took me a second to focus on the manager, whose name I couldn't even remember. My mind was a black sludge. This whole thing was a mistake; I didn't belong here.

"I'm sorry," was all I managed to croak out.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Turtle Bay by Henry Hitz

When his marriage fails, a man returns to his parents' house and retreats into his shell - literally. This story by Henry Hitz first appeared in Magnolia Review.

The collapse of your second marriage has left you feeling numb, wandering around in a fog, unable to think, or feel, or do much of anything. You left her, so you don't really have a place to stay. You impose upon your friend Matt for a while, but it's clear you are in the way of his complicated marriage. You decide to leave the Bay Area and head back east.

You collect some supplies and hole up inside your Toyota camper, hauling your camper shell on your back, complete with bed, refrigerator, stove, stereo, library. You wear nothing but turtleneck sweaters even though it's summer, you drive, slowly - very slowly, out of California, across the country, stopping only every other day or so when the white line begins to blur, camping by the side of the road, all the way to Pike Lake, your ancestral home in exurban Wisconsin.

You allow yourself two months to recuperate before you will have to return to your job as a writer for an environmental magazine. After a brief tour of the place to find your old haunts: the boathouse, your shack of a hideout, your dank mad-scientist laboratory in the basement, you hibernate in your old room, your childhood room, with walls and ceiling of manly knotty pine.

Monday, July 30, 2018

All I Love Dies Alone by Leila Allison

After a young priest pulls Sara back from the brink of suicide, she dredges through memories of her tough childhood searching for absolution; by Leila Allison.

Squirrel Pen Diary: First Entry

Last Wednesday morning I entered Our Lady Star of the Sea church during mid-week mass. While two dozen or so senior citizens went through the ancient, dusty rites (monotonously administered by an equally ancient and dusty priest), I rose unseen and snuck upstairs to a small balcony that communicates with the church's attic. I climbed atop the guano-splattered stone rail that hugs the balcony, balanced myself on one foot and held the other out as though I intended to take a seventy-foot step onto the marble walkway below. After I had done all that, there wasn't much else to do except wait for someone to notice me.

"Probably not," the young priest said when I asked him "Will God catch me?" The young priest had been in the rectory across the street. He was the first person to see me on the rail, and he ran upstairs so we could "talk things over." If the old priest had somehow managed to huff his way upstairs without suffering a heart attack, and recited the tiresome company policy against suicide, there's no doubt I would have taken that last big step - if only on general principle. But proof that there still was at least one honest human being left in the world gave me enough pause as to allow the young priest to snatch me off my perch.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Glorious Affair by David Henson

A series of technical failures on a spaceship loaded with tourists forces Captain Neenah to make a difficult decision; by David Henson.

Captain Neenah peered out the portal of his conference room as what looked like a debris cloud, illuminated by the light of Arcturus, streamed away from the ship. A streak of orange caused him to catch his breath, but he quickly gathered himself.

"Computer, update log," he said, looking around the dead quiet conference room. "After a series of unavoidable events, we have experienced a horrible accident..."



The cruise was fully booked with 202 passengers. As he always did, Captain Neenah stood at the main gangway nearest the bridge, smiling and welcoming the tourists aboard the Glorious Deep. "Enjoy your voyage, folks," he said to a man and woman with a small boy and girl in tow. The four were dressed alike in bright yellow flight suits, a throwback to the 22nd Century. "Over the next month, you'll see wonders you couldn't imagine."

Monday, July 23, 2018

Simulation by Roger Ley

A retired doctor indulges his new hobby by going on an alarmingly realistic flight simulator; by Roger Ley.

Retirement hung heavily on Martin Riley. He’d had his time as an important government scientist, with meetings to attend, reports to write and a team of scientists to oversee. Now it was all over, and he had little to fill his time. His wife Estella had her bridge games, tennis, coffee mornings and the grandchildren. Riley was thrown onto his own resources and found that he didn’t have many ideas once he’d redecorated their retirement bungalow and dug a fishpond.

‘It doesn’t matter what you used to do, it’s what you do now, Martin. Retirement’s a great leveller,’ said Estella, when he came in sweating from mowing the lawn and sat drinking tea in the kitchen.

‘You can’t just sit there looking hangdog. Decide what you want to do and then get on with it.’ So, no sympathy there.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Meeting By Rachel Doherty

A talented salesman wants his buddies to succeed, but at what cost? By Rachel Doherty.

"I wanted you to be the first to know," Jason confided in me. When he called me over, I had prepared myself for the inevitable long-winded build up that Jason was so prone to when divulging some juicy bit of office gossip. However, upon seeing his sober expression, I realized that this was no office romance he was reporting on. "Mack has been fired and it is now up to you and me to keep his whole sales team from the same fate," he whispered, glancing back at the door to be sure no one could hear. Jason was jumping to conclusions, as usual.

"You're crazy... he's on vacation you jackass," I laughed.

"That's what I thought," Jason hissed, "but I overheard his assistant on the phone. She was in tears telling her boyfriend whole story of how it happened." "What the hell could he have been fired for?" I wondered. "He's the only one who even cared about giving this company results."

Jason countered, "Well, he did give them good results. Too good to be true. He's been fudging the numbers for months." I knew my sales had been pretty dismal for some time but never worried about it since Mack assured us the team as a whole was doing great. I figured it was safe to ride the others' coattails. Over the next few hours, as I perused Mack's papers, I realized everyone's sales had tanked recently. We were all just coasting on Mack's lies.

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.