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Beautiful Stranger
John Biesecker

     Come, beautiful stranger.
     Sit beside me. Break bits from my blueberry scone as you reveal yourself in pieces. Tell me about your family. Your over bearing father. Your escape.
     Lean in, touch my knee with a squeeze, brief but meaningful, when I talk of my father's death. My guilt at leaving my mother alone.
     Share with me. Sun drenched hikes, sweat and blue skies. Crisp beers in the exhausted afterglow. Smiles at our unspoken, growing secret.
     Tiny moments layered into the foundation until my hand will linger on yours; we'll hold our breath as lines are crossed with nervous intent.
     Smile the complacent smile of comfortable familiarity. We'll read the paper, happy in the embrace of another's presence. We'll talk about the weekend. Our plans to go skiing.
     Frown, push, hands hard upon my chest. A fight, born from irritation at my obsessive cleaning. My constant reorganizing of your things. Our things. Threats, tears, words flung in anger that were meant but not meant to be spoken.
     Reconciliation, the realization that we cannot, should not, will not, ever be apart. Warm and tender tears on my neck, our heads on the pillow, your heat against my chest.
     All these things, a life lived in the time it takes you to pick up your latte', tuck the newspaper under your arm as you hug the late arrival. Who? Your boyfriend? Husband?
     Walk by without a glance, your tender touch on his arm as you walk out the door.

John calls beautiful Boulder, Colorado home and spends his days chasing after his two small children. His work has appeared in Ruthless Peoples Magazine and The Lantern, and in his tiny spare moments works on two novels in progress. Visit him at Johnbiesecker.com.





     Things were already bad. Really bad, I mean even before the “Big-Mig” as the last migration was called. People just splintered down into tinier and tinier little units. Most folks just living alone with only their phones. They might have a like minded little electronic friend or two, but that was it. No more face to face. Physical contact was done. Nobody went above ground anymore what with three plagues and the air all gone. When the water went bad it was all over for Old Earth. The United Nations, Red Cross, Red Crescent and all the rest… they did their best, that’s for sure. But this business of moving better than four billion of us off planet,… who could plan for that? Like they used to say, “Humanity was scattered through the stars”.
     Folks ended up some of the damnedest places. Places nobody ever heard of. Look at me and my cat Miss Priss. They put us down on a planet named “Betty”. It was a stupid joke at first, but nobody could think of anything better. On the questionnaire you checked off your favorite “Betty” and that’s the settlement you were assigned to. A lot of people were in such bad shape they chose the Betty Ford Clinic Islands to dry-out or get clean. And of course most folks were just shocked and numb; they mostly went for the comfort of the big continent divided between “Betty Boop” and “Betty White”. Kids seemed to split between Betty from the Flintstones, and Betty from Archie comics. Some liked both and couldn’t decide. They just got lumped together over at “Cartoon Betty”. There were fiery intellectual types living up in the hills at “Betty Friedan”, and a bunch of dreamy romantics along the shore at “Betty Grable”. Little places too. Places named for every “Betty” you could Google. Google was still around. They’d moved over to the Microsoft “Death Star” years ago.
     Me and Priss, we went for comfort over to “Betty Crocker”. We took the VR tour of a little place downtown Betty Davis. Small. Retro. Campy. Looked okay to me. Priss said it looked like it probably smelled of boy cats. Just that kind of place I guess. It’s nice here. We like it. Our Betty does get a little too comfortable sometimes. Now and then on a Friday night I slip across the border and visit “Betty Paige”.

Doug Mathewson continues his love/hate relationship with reality from his home in eastern Connecticut. He favors hats, and rarely turns down desert. His work most recently has appeared in The Boston Literary Magazine, Cezzane's Carrot, Gloom Cupboard, and Poor Mojo's Almanac(k). Sporadically he is grasped by fits and starts of inspiration, equally he can be swept away into infinite worlds of busy-signals, radio static, and elevator-music. To read more, comment, or just poke-around please visit his current project, True Stories From Imaginary Lives, at www.little2say.org.





     It was a good time to call; not too late, same time zone, hadn't happened often. Telephone booths on army bases were scattered about like so many sentinals, each guarding the light pole they stood next to, with a dome light to expose scribbled numbers. There was one by the PX. I probably needed smokes anyway.
     Can't remember where I was, gunnery school I think, Florida. Coulda even been in Georgia maybe. I needed to call, say some things, one thing anyway. I wrote the number on the wall, she answered, sounded glad. We talk for a long time, my hefty collection of dimes and quarters tinkling away in the slot, until I'm out of words, out of courage. I say What else can I tell you, I've said all that I do? Then Can I tell you something she asked me and I said Sure and she says Can I tell you I love you and I say I love you too; it happened just natural quick, no time to bother about it. It was so unfettered, pristine, in that tiny, glassy place. And I felt lifted, treading on air in Camelot. I walked outta that booth into the light from above and it lavished on me a bright sensation I'd never known before.
     The base is long closed now; phone booths gone, the pleas and promises of a thousand voices absorbed in walls and glass. And the girl? Gone too, but "for one bright and shining moment...."

Kurt Klein lives in Chadron, Nebraska. He's old, 87, upright but leaning.




Missed Alignment
Sue Ann Connaughton

Anticipation

     Every day, Edward watched her board the 8:15 am train.
     “Sylvia,” he heard someone call her, once. The musical sound of it enchanted him; he sang it repeatedly in his head. Sylvia, Sylvia, from the forest.

Touch

     A split second, that’s all it took, for Edward to jump from his seat and break Sylvia’s fall when she tripped walking by. She grabbed his hand, her palm, cool and grasping over his knuckles. Her curly-haired head leaned close to his.
     “Clumsy me,” she said in a throaty voice. “May I sit here?
     Edward practically swooned at her words.

Savoring

     Wine and cheese tastings, Edward’s favorite dates with Sylvia. He taught her which wines to drink with specific cheeses. How cute she looked, when she wrinkled her nose at the stinky cheeses; how delightfully haughty, when she pretended to understand the finer wines.
     “My life was so ordinary before I met you,” said Sylvia, as she nibbled on French bread.

Cracks

     Her voice, it grated.
     And the way she sometimes mispronounced words embarrassed Edward.
     “I’ll pay for a diction tutor,” he offered.
     “No thanks,” said Sylvia. “Why don’t you spend the money to fix your snoring problem?”

Severance

     “I get the dishes and pans,” Sylvia said, without looking at him. “You can have the bed.”
     Best to settle up quickly, Edward figured, and get on with life.
     “You keep the bed,” he said, “and the food in the refrigerator.”
     Edward collected the canned goods and left.

Sue Ann Connaughton writes from a drafty old house in Salem, Massachusetts. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts; Twenty20 Journal; Bete Noire; Candidum; Liquid Imagination; Six Sentences; On the Premises; Orion Headless; The Adroit Journal; Fix It Broken; With Painted Words; and The Binnacle Seventh and Eighth International Ultra-Short Competition anthologies.




The Hoarder's Wife
Madeline Mora-Summonte

     Walt wades through the sea of stained and cracked Tupperware. He reaches for Lena’s hand, the one clutching another tear-stained tissue, but she hurries around the tower of appliance instruction manuals. It sways in her wake.
     She fumbles with her purse. A small suitcase sits by the door. He is struck by how someone can survive with so little. What if she needs an umbrella? A baggie? Batteries? He has multiples of them all. How can he have everything she’ll ever need and it still not be enough to make her stay?
     He says he loves her.
     “There’s no room for love. It’s the one thing you can’t hold onto.” Lena walks to the waiting taxi. Her sobs are soft, quiet. She tosses them over her shoulder, lobbing them to him like the old tennis balls he’s accumulated.
     Inside, Walt stops and stares at the spot where Lena’s suitcase sat moments ago. He crumples to his knees, lips moving, as if in prayer.
     But it’s no use; he can’t fill the empty space with words. He fills the void with old canvas shopping bags instead.

Madeline Mora-Summonte reads, writes and breathes fiction in all its forms. Her work appears in numerous publications, including Every Day Fiction, The First Line, and Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer (W.W. Norton, 2010.) You can visit her at MadelineMora-Summonte.blogspot.com.




Forgiveness
Ruth Schiffmann

     The cool thing about Celeste is that she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. She drizzles the salad with extra virgin olive oil and plunges in with both hands mixing the fresh greens with tomatoes, feta, and chives. “Sit, Brian, I’ve made something special.” I suspect by her smile that she enjoys preparing these meals as much as I enjoy consuming them.
     Hearty cubes of chicken crackle in a pan glazed with oil and wine. The smell of rosemary rises up and fills the room. Any worries that she was harboring ill will from this morning’s quarrel are put to rest. I’m lucky she’s so forgiving. This is evidently her way of making up. I prefer make-up sex but Celeste’s cooking is the next best thing.
     She dusts the rim of the plate with oregano, places it in front of me and sits on the corner of the table, long legs, short skirt. Maybe her way of making up is the best of both worlds. With the hint of a smile on her lips, she forks a chunk of meat and brings it to my mouth. I don’t want to find fault or ruin the mood, so I don’t mention the odd after taste. I accept bite after bite and she seems to get pleasure the more I eat. When her voice dims and the room grows hazy, my head swoons. Just as I fade, her smile widens, and I realize that perhaps she’s not so forgiving after all.


Run!
Ruth Schiffmann

     The night you decide to run it changes everything. You can never go back.
     A mile into the woods there’s a tree big enough to hide behind. You remember it now, the same way you remember every horror movie your mom ever warned you not to see. The wind becomes the voice of a radio newsman broadcasting the report of your disappearance or demise.
     Wet leaves soundlessly absorb any hint of you. If it ends here tonight, will anyone care?
     The sky darkens, bringing the assurance that, by now, he is following. Finally, you run. Survival. Steps pound hard against the earth. Air burns your chest worse than a night of sobs. Breath sputters like a leaky exhaust until finally: the huge weeping ash. You hate the sight of it the same way you hate your mother when you expect her to be the strong one. To save you. She never does. Still you huddle under her empty branches, holding on, trembling; the sound of your father’s breath hot in your ear.

Ruth Schiffmann puts pen to paper always hoping for that magical moment when the words take on a life of their own. More than a hundred of her stories, articles, and poems have appeared in publications both in print and online. To read more of her work, visit www.RuthSchiffmann.com.




Exposed
William Stuart

     Her goodness was legend—through infancy, childhood, puberty; and in marriage everyone envied her character and was quick to praise it. In walk, dress, sitting and standing she was what every mother hoped their daughter would resemble. Her voice was always controlled and measured. When old enough makeup was always subtle. Her exceptional intelligence was never flaunted. Her patience was boundless as was her energy; which she expended mostly for others. She was what mythical fictional women are. Truly, she was a myth.
     Still, there is more to be told now. It was at her funeral, she had died unexpectedly. Four older women showed up at the funeral without their husbands. They moved as a group. They approached her husband stressing their condolences at his loss...with complete lack of sincerity.
     At the cemetery, the four, holding hands, approached the casket, each leaving a black rose. They walked away holding hands.

William Stuart was born in Malden Massachusetts in 1932. He attended Boston University on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1961 with a BSBA. He worked for over thirty years in retail management. He has been married 52 years, has three children and eight grandchildren. He is an active elected member of the Clinton Art Society and a past award winning member of the Connecticut Pastel Society. As a member of the Academy of American Poets; he was elected member of the month in April 2008 on Poets.org. William has been retired for sixteen years. Much of his spare time is spent, biking, hiking and playing chess online. In addition to art, poetry and writing he is an avid photographer. He has lived in Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and upstate New York. He currently lives in Clinton Connecticut.




Battery Life
Greg Metcalf

     Starting my car lately has been an adventure. I bought her eight years after some stranger drove her new off a lot and she’s given me eight years more. I have to be happy with that but in this economy it’s tough not to get frustrated. I begged her to survive last winter and she did, but when I had her oil changed, they found gaskets and tubes that needed replaced; things needed resealed. It must have taken everything she had to keep going through the cold months, and on a whim of nostalgia, I told them to do it. Fix everything. The cost was nearly a grand. Now I need six more months to spare me the regret of having made a poor decision, and I’m not too sure she’ll get there. She sputters when she first comes on and the left front wheel squeaks through turns. The real problem, I think, is that I desperately don’t want to die, ever.
     How does a same human heart beat for over one hundred years? How does my car start in the morning? I turn the key. The starter tells the battery to jolt the engine. A spark plug is involved. I sometimes wish my heart stopped when I fell asleep and started again when I woke up, so it could have a break. Seems I’d live longer that way. I don’t like to think about it. I’ve been saving a little every month and by now I could buy a reliable used car outright. I should do it.



     “I really like that sentence. Can I read more?”
     “What did you like about it?”
     “I like what it said.”
     “Besides what it said, what did you like about it?”
     “I don’t know. The rhythm, I guess. I liked the flow of it and then, here and there, a word or two surprised me. You varied your words really well, exceptionally, and your choice of words I liked. That’s what I liked best, I think. I could tell each word was carefully selected.”
     “You could tell?”
     “I don’t mean in a bad way. I liked imagining you considering different words and coming up with the one that felt best.”
     “What would you have thought if you didn’t know me?”
     “That would be really hard to say, but I would have liked it, definitely. It flowed really well, and I like what it said and everything. I would have wanted to read another one, I know that. Can I read another one?”
     “No. That’s all I have so far.”

Greg Metcalf has completed three literary novels, all unpublished to date. His erotic romance novel was published last year but he can't divulge his pen name; his mother might be reading. He lives in Ohio with Ebullience, his cat.




The Big Report
Lynn Kennison

     Arthur walked in and kissed his wife Linda on the cheek as she was pulling a roast from the oven. “Boy I sure am famished after the day I had.”
     “Did you have a bad day, honey?”
     “Oh, Ed is riding me about this big report still.”
     “Sounds serious…Is that what kept you?”
     “Yeah, but coming home to all of this is worth it.”
     Linda gave her husband an endearing smile, “Listen, I hate to nag again, but the dishwasher is still making that funny noise. After dinner, could you take a look at it?”
     “You know, I would, but I’m in for a real early morning if I’m to get this report done for Ed.”
     “I didn’t realize Ed could be such a tyrant.”
     “Well, be glad you’ve never seen him at the office. He turns two shades of red when things are late.”
     “What kind of report has him so worked up?”
     “I don’t want to bore you with work.”
     “Oh go on….I would love to hear all about it,” Linda insisted, then listened as Arthur explained his reporting duties with generous detail, step by step. “Wow, just one person is responsible for all of that?” She asked after enduring his twelve minute presentation.
     Arthur smiled proudly.
     “Oh, before I forget, Ed called. The painters still haven’t finished, so you’re on for golf again, and he found your five-iron in with his clubs.”
     Arthur’s smile weakened at the corners. “So the dishwasher you say?”

Lynn Kennison makes her home in the sunshine state with too many pets and one husband. Besides writing, she also enjoys: playing the guitar, UF football, and Boston Literary Magazine. She currently has short fiction appearing, or forthcoming, in Eclectic Flash, Ink Monkey and The Fringe.




After Miles
AJ Smith

     No man could ever love me like Miles. It wasn’t just that voice: smooth as powder-dusted sand. It was what he said. His words flowed from magical lips, “You are the morning tangerine sun.”
     He said my voice gave him goose bumps, my eyes were bright stars on the darkest night, my hands were made for his, he’d walk across flaming coals barefoot to kiss me. I don’t think I need to tell you how Miles kissed or that I’d easily meet him halfway.
     This man painted my toenails!
     Maybe these enchanted affairs can't last. Maybe the intensity cannot be sustained without your heart combusting. I don’t know. All I know is that five years ago Miles called me and said, “I need some space, just to think.” And I’ve been watching myself live ever since.
     On my drive to work I rehearse what I’ll say if he calls. I always begin with, “Don’t call me again!” and end with, “Please come back.”

AJ Smith writes poetry, short stories, and is working on something longer. She likes to hold hands.




Café Sunshine
David Poplar

     “Because the sun never really sets when you think about it. It’s all about what you see from where you are—all about your point of view. If you keep moving, it never sets. Or maybe it’s always rising.”
     What a pretentious fop, Geoffrey thought. Sometimes this coffee shop really annoys me. He turned to eavesdrop on another conversation.
     “Seriously, I knew Pixie was fake as fuck. She and Choochie can go suck a choad.”
     At least Geoffrey found the gossip of the naïve young art students amusing. Pixie, Choochie, choad… Geoffrey wrote the words down in his Moleskine, the same type of journal used by Hemingway. Maybe I can use these later, he thought.
     He sipped his triple macchiato. Too much foam. The artwork hanging on the walls was raw, and most of it was sophomoric and pedestrian, but some of it showed promise.
     Glancing down from the wall, Geoffrey’s eyes rested upon a moderately attractive woman sitting in the corner. He caught her staring at him, but she didn’t look away sheepishly, as he expected. Geoffrey granted her a wry smile. She subtly pursed her lips, acknowledging the smile but not returning it.
     What an asshole, s/he thought.

David Poplar is from Philadelphia, where he spends his time squatting in old libraries, practicing law, and drinking coffee. Often beer too, and sometimes liquor, but rarely wine. He has been published in such avant-garde journals as the Dickinson Law Review and the New Jersey Law Journal.




Compatible
Tommy Dean

     The worst part? By getting married he had made some kind of half-hearted and silent promise to give her a child. It was a coercion made by the small intimate acts of falling in love over the rising steam of fast food dinners and the low, shadowy lights given off by actors on the big screen. Twelve years later and they had run out of excuses. He couldn’t placate her anymore by talking, talking about enjoying their marriage, waiting until one of them got a significant enough raise in salary, or until they had found the perfect house, the one with the fenced in backyard and the bay window in what they hoped would be their little girl’s room. It wasn’t as if he didn’t try. They both had. Meredith had long gone off birth control and they had lived in a kind of limbo for years, telling themselves that it would happen. She’d even gone as far as to read to him from the Bible, a story about a woman named Sarah that had waited for more than forty years. He could understand how the stacking of years, how the wave of disappointment could drag a person below the surf until only a miracle seemed reasonable. When he allowed it, he, too, thought they were just another month away from conceiving. Their bodies, though, were finally just not compatible. If they ever had enough love, it didn’t matter. The entire body of Science was now, finally, against them.

Tommy Dean is a supplanted Mid-Westerner living in the heart of North Carolina. During the day he works as a Case Manager for individuals with Developmental Disabilities. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published or has work forthcoming in Apollo’s Lyre, Pindeldyboz, Boston Literary Review, LITSNACK, and First Stop Fiction.





      Marshall was half-asleep on a summer evening when the wall in his living room cracked. He watched it split, a crawling line zigzagging through the stacked cinderblock. His fatigue, thick from alcohol and poorly organized sports for aging men, forced a quick explanation into the forefront of his brain.
      The wall is not cracking, you’ve passed out.
      Your hand is likely down your pants. This is okay because Sheila doesn’t live here anymore. Embarrassment, in this regard, is minimized.
      As a single man, a man wearing the dirt of a baseball field, with beer on his lips, you should feel free to wake up shirtless with your hand cradling your testicles.
      It is, after all, your house now.

      Or it will be soon, Marshall shifted on the couch. Sheila wanted to move, he’d always liked the house. He’d started catching himself when he said “we” or “our.” His pronouns hadn’t caught up. Neither had Sheila’s catalogs nor bank statements.
      At a length of four feet, the crack in the wall began to pull horizontally. Marshall watched as the glow of the orange streetlight became visible in his living room. The ceiling of the carport, its chipped brown rafters, slivered into view next—Marshall’s truck beyond it, parked beneath the orange tree they’d planted.
      You can park in the carport now.
      You don’t have to drink skim milk anymore.
      When you wake up, the house won’t look like it is falling apart.


Mat Snapp lives and works in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to his fiction pursuits, he composes lyrics for The Brian True Project and is a freelance copywriter with Yahimake Wordswork, LLC. His work has appeared in 14 Hills, Archipelago, Paumanok Review, Cadillac Cicatrix, Denver Syntax and the Washington Square Review.







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