Category Archives: 2015

Evelyn N. Alfred

Not all Wolves

What they never tell you about Lil Red Riding Hood is that the wolves were everywhere.

They were at school. They were at work. They were at church. They were at the grocery store, the post office, the library, the mall, and her favorite bakery. They were on the bus, on the train, and they were in the car driving next to her. They were teachers, cashiers, dentists, mechanics, journalists, waiters, police officers, and unemployed. Some of them lived in her neighborhood. Some of them jogged down her block. Some of them walked their dog and let it’s piss burn her grass.

She didn’t have to see them inside her home, unless she turned on the TV, or her X-Box, or her laptop, or her iPhone.

So after that incident with the wolf at Grandma’s house, Lil Red was anxious around all of them. And the wolves at her school said, “Oh, he made a mistake.” And the wolves where she worked said, “He didn’t intend to hurt anyone.” And the wolves at her church said, “But remember that time your Grandma stole my apple pie recipe?” And the wolves all said, “The wolf was afraid of your Grandma, the wolf was standing his ground, the wolf was mentally ill, the wolf was young, the wolf was doing his job, the wolf…”

And when she threw that basket out of fear and frustration – it broke a window. All the wolves saw was the hood. A big bad wolf would get her too. And that wolf would be forgiven.

~~

Evelyn N. Alfred is a public librarian who is a reader first and a writer third.

Robert Shapard

Sundress

She hadn’t seen her children or grandchildren for so long she sometimes forgot she had them. Then Child Protective Services found her. They brought one she didn’t know about, a four-year-old grandchild (or was she a great-grandchild?), Lucy. The mother had died of a drug overdose, they said. There was some monetary support involved, there was no one else, so she said all right.

Her house was near the town of Mount Hood, Oregon, not far from the Interstate and the railroad and the river, with a view of the mountains beyond. She didn’t have Internet but got it at the coffee shop in town.

In no time they were close, Lucy and Gramma, a great pair, and she began to worry that she might die before the girl was along in her schooling and the other arrangements for her life. Of course Gram quit smoking, but that wouldn’t be enough. It always came down to this moment.

Lucy was by her side on the back porch glider, a lovely late afternoon. She said, Sweetie go play in the yard, Gramma has something to do. The back yard was large but gated, she didn’t keep livestock anymore, just chickens, fruit trees, vegetable and flower gardens.

She went into the house and in the bedroom took off her clothes. In a large closet was the cedar chest she hadn’t opened in years. Inside it she found a sundress from long ago. It was so pretty. She laid it out on the bed. In the bathroom she went into a brief trance. Then with a deep breath she pulled off her old skin and dropped it on the hamper. She took a shower and by the time she got out she had changed into a young woman. Her new skin was lustrous and soft and her hair was dark. In the bedroom again she put on the sundress, which she filled beautifully, and went outside to call Lucy.

The girl was near the porch. When she turned her eyes went wide and she asked, Who are you? The young woman said, I’m Gram, can’t you see? She said softly, Look close. But the girl’s face was set. No you’re not. Who are you, where’s Gram?

It was all coming back, how terrified a child could be, how bewildered. This time she hoped it would be different. She had to admit she was surprised at her own voice, how young and pleasant it was. Sweetie, she said, It is me, I wanted to show you, you can do this too when you get old. No one has to die if they don’t want to, isn’t that wonderful? She reached to scoop the girl up but she darted away in the gathering evening. I want Gram, she screamed, again and again. It wouldn’t be easy to catch her. And what was the point? If a child didn’t accept, it was over.

So Gram went back in the house and in the bathroom pulled on her old skin again. In the closet she laid the sundress away and put on her old clothes. Of course the girl didn’t want to be alone. How cold to be among strangers. It was the way of the world, not to want to live alone even forever if you could have love instead. She went out the screen door and saw the girl sitting in the dark of the yard. Lucy, she called, clearing her throat.

The girl sat up staring, then she ran to her, gulping for a breath, A woman came … she said she was you! Oh she did, did she? Gram said. Well we won’t worry about that, I’m here now. Lucy held her leg fiercely, Gram, she said, Youre my Gram.

It was time to feed the child and put her to bed. In the kitchen afterwards she did the dishes, found the cigarettes where she’d hidden them, and poured some whiskey in a jelly glass. Tomorrow she would call Child Protective Services to make other arrangements for the girl. It was best for her. As for herself she could get along without the money, she had before. She had no business raising a child at her age, what if she died? Sooner or later she would.

~~

Robert Shapard has coedited seven books of very short fiction, including Flash Fiction Forward, Flash Fiction International, and Sudden Fiction Latino. He cofounded Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing. His longer stories have won awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses; his flash chapbook is Motel and Other Stories.

 

Jennifer Dunn Stewart

Home from Nantucket

What she will remember about that morning won’t be the sky, though this will be what so many will remember. How it was so blue and cloudless. She won’t remember the ocean either, though the Atlantic was emerald colored and dolphins braided the ferry wake, which was rare. She won’t remember the static on the radio in the Celica, buried six rows deep on the vehicle deck, before it stuttered into clarity as the ferry shouldered the shoreline at Hyannis, coming into range of Route 6 toward home.

Two decades later, a whole new generation will be drinking in the same bar off Boston Common she and Emmet will frequent on Sundays, the one near the duplex they’ll buy during the market crash. A whole new generation will be doing things like falling in love and voting and preparing for medical school, and they won’t think of that morning as any more historically significant than Pearl Harbor or the Bay of Pigs. Even as far into the future as that, all she will remember is that it was the morning she realized she should never have married Emmet at all.

Emmet said, are we at war? His cheeks were ruddy with wind. They had only come below deck to sit in the Celica and wait to disembark moments before. He fiddled with the radio dial. The coupe was hot and their luggage piled in the backseat made the space feel collapsed and near. She rolled down her window, smelling nothing but exhaust and oil, the sea as separate from them on the vehicle deck as if they were in a parking garage in Waltham. Other passengers were in their cars too, adjusting their radios and peering around as if the state of the ferry itself might illuminate something. But nothing was yet new. The deckhands waited on the loading ramp, a giant chain between them and the bank of cars. The ferry slowed, fumes and water churning as if through a gut.

What the fuck, Emmet repeated, are we at war? He reached for her hand and they interlaced their fingers. They squeezed so tightly their knuckles went white. She loved him. This is what she thought, even as the first tower fell and she lost herself in the fantasy of being in New York City instead of on the ferry with Emmet. Somewhere very near, like Tribeca or Battery Park. Near enough that everyone would assume she was dead, but instead she would escape on foot across the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to Montauk, then travel south along the shoreline and settle someplace hectic— Atlantic City maybe, or Miami.

Over the decades, books will be written and movies made with characters in them who do this. She will read and watch them all. Of course, they will only be fictions. All the real people who actually had the opportunity will have long been assumed dead. Eventually, this will obsess her— at the organ level, like a bacteria or cancer— all those anonymous people out there who might be so free.

The ferry bumped the dock. Emmet didn’t let go of her hand, but instead started the engine by reaching his left arm across his lap. He said Jesus, we’ve got to get to a TV. The deckhands lifted the chain, and row by row the cars rolled out into the world.

~~

Jennifer Dunn Stewart’s work appears or is forthcoming in Monkeybicycle, decomP magazinE, Eclectica, The Los Angeles Review, Night Train, and elsewhere. Jennifer Is the fiction editor at River Styx.

Pia Z. Ehrhardt

Range

Alerts flash through my phone. High winds. Flash flooding. Seek shelter. Our pup’s at the kitchen door, and I let her in. She shoots into her kennel, a cage within the safety of the house. I track the yellow and red bands on TV, like I know my mother is doing in her small apartment inside the nursing home. The weather is headed up to Hopedale, where I know she is frightened. I want the worst of it over me, the dump of water on my garden, the heavy drops against my windows, the grand performance of thunder and lightning. Outside my window, chips of hail bounce in the street. My mother used to enjoy the sound and cleanse of rain, but since her divorce she’s let weather immobilize her, keep her away from windows. She’s certain that lightning will pierce her roof. She used to phone after storms, take a headcount of daughters, but she’s not speaking to three out of four of us, scorched by the conservatorship we’ve put in place to protect her from herself. Two years ago a tornado tore through Hopedale. It leveled houses three blocks from hers and sheared the music building where my father and his second wife taught college classes. I check my ceilings for leaks because the rain’s blowing sideways. Next door, my neighbor’s striped awning is billowed by a gust and I hear the groan of aluminum. Radar shows a 3D view of storms as imposing as mountain ranges. There’s no reason to be alone. Can’t my mother sit in the lobby with the other anxious residents, use fear as a hello? I coax the pup out with a Dorito.

~~

Pia Z. Ehrhardt is the author of Famous Fathers & Other Stories. Her fiction and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly ConcernOxford AmericanMississippi Review, and Narrative Magazine. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts and at WordTheater in Los Angeles. She is the recipient of a Bread Loaf Fellowship and the Narrative Prize. She lives in New Orleans, where she’s a visiting artist at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).

 

 

 

Steven Paul Lansky

The Foil Pamphlet

When you get as hungry as a bear do you hear the bear? If you do hear the bear, do you hear it from the inside, or from the outside? Does the bear speak French? Do you think French cuisine is the answer? The chemistry of cuisine may be your friend when it comes to suppression of appetite. An appetite for cuisine is not the same as an appetite for junk food. Suppression of the hamburger drives in men and women are not equal. If the bear is speaking French, is it Canadian French or Continental? When you hear the bear, do other people hear the bear also? Have you figured out that you can make friends with the bear? Does the bear shit in the woods? Is the bear Catholic? Is the bear brown?

When you see the bear in the rearview mirror, are you convinced that the bear is behind you? Do you fear the bear more than the bull? Is that a drunken excuse for stock market anxieties? Do you believe that a need for appetite suppression is a high-class problem? If you couldn’t afford to eat, what would you eat? Have you ever survived on cornmeal mush and powdered eggs? Do you think you could if you had to? When you were living on cornmeal mush and powdered eggs, how much money did you spend on beer, wine, cigarettes, and marijuana? Does this seem to really be about appetite suppression?

When you get the munchies can you still unfold the foil pamphlet and wake up in time to read the fine print?

Does pollution have a qualitative relationship with appetite suppression? Have you ever eaten White Castle hamburgers after a night of drinking? Was this before or after you considered appetite suppression? Did tobacco keep you from eating? Could you legitimately smoke away your hunger?

If you had to stop unfolding this pamphlet you are reading now, and learn nothing more from it than you have already learned, how would you summarize your lesson so far?

Are gurus that guide every move you make the only solution to waking you up to the struggles of your addictions? Please refold the foil so that it is restored to the state you found it in. Do not hesitate to share it with someone else. It is no longer useful to you.

Fold out brochure on phenomenology. What sort of things happen to you that seem to be out of your control? Did you have a car accident? Have you lost things that are important to you?

~~

Steven Paul Lansky wrote Main St. (2002) and Eleven Word Title for Confessional Political Poetry Originally Composed for Radio (2009), two chapbooks published by Seaweed Sideshow Circus.  His audionovel Jack Acid (2004) is available (2012) as a digital download: Jack Acid.  His novel: the citizen, has excerpts published in The Brooklyn Rail (2005), ArtSpike, CityBeat (online), Streetvibes and Article 25.  For his animated videos: Bratwurst (with Leigh Waltz), Exit Strategy, Harvest, and The Broken Finger Episode A-8 or the Cigarette Break see: youtube videos.  For more see: Cosmonauts Avenue, Whole Terrain, Black Clock 20, and St. Petersburg Review Issue 8.