Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Nancy Tingley

Fire Wall 1

Choking smoke, gagging fear. The fire wall sailed down the hill as the kids, wedges among hurried belongings, cried, Arthur, Arthur. And the dog, crazy with ears skull-pressed plummeted away. Get him. But, I turned the key. No, they wailed and I took in the house in the rearview, pressed my toe, then opened the door for the dog.

Fire Wall 2

That house burned and this didn’t and only because fireman Joe liked this paint job, but didn’t like that rusted swing set, that yard of rocks. Over there flames like high jumpers and here smoke like hair. He dug the shovel, felt the heat, smelled his fear, watched the swing set buckle and bend.

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Nancy Tingley is a specialist in Southeast Asian art, who has written fiction in the closet for years. She’s recently come out -The Jenna Murphy Mystery series (Swallow Press) and flash fiction forthcoming in various literary magazines. Her mornings are dedicated to writing, her afternoons to the pleasure of the potter’s wheel. She lives in northern California on a hill.

Hardy Griffin

Dadjinsky

 

I awoke in écarté. My left arm curved around the pillow and up to the headboard and my right foot arched toward tightly pointed toes. I looked longingly askance at the wall. Yes, I lay horizontal on the bed, but otherwise it was perfect. I held in position until I drifted back asleep.

My daughter came bounding in at seven and poked me.

“Dad, you awake?” Allie asked, running her nine-year-old fingers up and down my side. I clenched so fast it took the breath out of me.

She kissed my cheek and said she wanted pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice. ‘Ballet fuel,’ she called it.

 

From the folding chairs for parents, I watched the advanced group striking the poses that Elena, the instructor, called out. Allie looked so serious it almost hurt. My muscles twitched with each pose.

 

In the car on the way home, Allie asked me, “Dad, am I body shaming you when I call you my fat dad?”

“Where did you hear that phrase, love?”

“There’s a poster about it in the changing room.”

In the rear-view mirror, I saw her tiny brow as furrowed as it could be.

“No, that’s different. I know it’s a term of affection when you say it.”

“What if I call you my stout dad? Isn’t that better?”

“Sure, that’s fine.”

“You’re my stout dad because ‘stout’ means brave and fat.”

 

That night, I kept waking up in new positions. Croisé devant, croisé derrière, épaulé. I awoke surprised at finding my body in each attitude, and the fact that I knew what they were called. Poised but relaxed, I would breathe into the position until the curtain of sleep closed. Then it opened again some hours later on yet another pose.

I showed Allie when she came in the next morning, even finishing with á la quatrième devant, right foot arched magnificently into pointed toes.

“Dayaad!” She was in a phase where she threw in ‘y’s for emphasis. “You can’t do ballet! You’re my stout dad, and stout dads don’t do ballet.” She patted my belly.

 

But after her class, as she was changing out of her leotard, I approached the instructor, Elena, to ask if they had classes for adults. Her eyes widened and she coughed.

“For you?”

“Yes.”

“I…” Again the cough. “Why?”

I leaned down to put the jackets in an empty seat, and, as I stood back up, I moved into effacé devant. The awkward point of my tennis shoe was offset by the perfect curve of my left arm, the diagonal line down to my right finger tips, and my wistful contemplation of my bent left hand.

I saw Elena’s mouth open. Someone said “Wow” behind me.

“You…” Elena whispered. “You could rent the studio,” she managed to get out.

“Yes,” I said. “Perfect.”

 

That night, I came halfway awake as my body moved from the crossed legs and curved arm of croisé to a flat-on-my-back á la seconde, the right toes pointed, arms spread. And just as I was on the verge of slipping once more into sleep, my body twisted right into épaulé, as, of course, it should.

 

Ten to eleven p.m. on Thursdays. I got a neighbor to stay at our place in case Allie woke up. Elena gave me the keys. “Drop them through the mail slot when you’re finished,” she said.

The wood boards flexed under my feet, my stout body reflected in the mirror. I warmed up the way I’d seen the girls do it.

Then they came flooding to me, the positions, and it was all I could do to keep up as they propelled me through the space. I had worried I wouldn’t be able to do them, standing up, but it was the bed that had impeded me all along. I popped into the air with pointed toes, arms straight out, and as I came down from chassé broke into en couru flying across the floor, only to stop short in arabesque, one leg straight back, torso and arms extended in the opposite direction. Even when I was out of breath and had to pause, the positions continued in my mind – back straight, knees bent exactly over feet, muscles ready, then up, tendu with both legs, tight, extended, and down for a soft landing, toes, heels, knees bending into demi plié once more.

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Hardy Griffin has published in Alimentum, Assisi, The Washington Post, American Letters & Commentary, and contributed the chapter “Voice: The Sound of a Story” for Writing Fiction (Bloomsbury, 2003). He is the co-editor of The Wall, an online journal of international writing at wittypartition.org.

Joy Kennedy-O’Neill

Animals at the Ball

 

A sequined ball gown glides past me. Eyes in an ostrich mask narrow. “Are you a donkey?”

I waggle my mask’s brown ears. “Aardvark. They eat–”

She’s spun away by a guy in a lion costume, his wire tail bouncing and flirting along dancers’ legs.

Fine. I don’t know what an aardvark eats anyway. Ants? The only reason I picked this is because I heard the new hire will be a zebra. I’ve been practicing my pick-up line for her. “Hey we’re A to Z. Get it?”

Shit, do I really look like a donkey? When security helped ease me through the protestors and picket lines outside, no one said anything.

I adjust my tux. The company ball is in full swing and people take its theme “Go Wild” to heart. They’re screaming laughter. Shouting songs. Tufts of artificial grass wave on the dance floor, and recordings of exotic birds shriek over music. Of course, the company’s made so much this year, hell, there might be real birds in here. With the roll-backs on environmental protections, we’re fracking and drilling like it’s a party. It is a party.

I look for zebra-girl.

The buffet has fancy faux cheese and chefs searing real lab-grown steak. A jokey sign says, “Do not feed the animals.”

“Really,” a flock of women in flamingo masks mutter. They pull down plastic stripes that look like iron bars and shove them in a corner. “Zoo decor? So inappropriate.”

“Unethical. At least the caterer is woke.”

I grab a drink and hors d’oeuvres wrapped in fakin’ bacon. Then I see her. God almighty. She’s wearing a black leotard and striped stockings that come up to her thighs. I can’t see her face; it’s under a zebra head. But she’s a knock-out. A is for aardvark. Z is for zowie!

“Ooh, are you an elephant?” Someone looks at my long nose.

I angle my way over to zebra-girl. She’s sitting beside a masked pregnant woman who’s a kangaroo, with a little sign over her pouch: “Coming soon!”

“Do you want to dance?” I ask zebra-girl.

She nods and paws her slender foot on the floor. My heart soars.

We do a little shuffle. Her waist is warm in my hands.

“Want a drink?”

She nods and stamps the floor again.

I’m well on my way to getting shit-faced. The zebra head is getting unnerving though. What if I wake up next to it, like a scene from The Godfather? But she finally takes it off.

It’s Susan. My ex-wife.

“What tha–”

“Hiya.” She smirks, tweaking my aardvark nose.

“I’m not a donkey.”

“You’re still an ass.”

Okay, I had a wandering eye when we were married. I admit it.

“Why would you keep dancing with me like that, and not say anything?” I ask her. “I thought you were–”

“It was fun! Call it payback.”

I take another drink and frown. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“I came with Kali.” She points to the pregnant kangaroo. “Bob left her,” she whispers.

“Kali’s pregnant?”

“Jesus, you work with her every day.”

“I–”

Two guys inside a camel costume trot past. “Hump daaay!” The IT guys are hyenas and they cackle. I know they’ve jammed everyone’s cell signals tonight, at HR’s request, so no one can live-stream any party antics.

In a corner, I see the new hire in a zebra-striped dress. Ah! Z is for zipper down the back!

The drinks are hitting me hard, and I try to make my way over to her.

But drums pound and our CEO waltzes in as a big game hunter. Pith helmet, boots, the works. He pulls back a curtain to reveal a backdrop for pictures. We can pose triumphant with hologrammed dead lions, giraffes, elephants . . . big as boulders.

3D lamps project our profit margins. Stock going straight up the walls, straight for the moon! And the room is glittery and champagne-heady. The IT hyenas laugh. Hump-day the camel is literally trying to hump everyone.

I’m drunk and it’s a party.

I lurch around to the real zebra-girl and grab her shoulder.

“Congratulations to us!” I point to the holo-charts.

“Let me go!” She jerks away.

I stumble, falling into the plastic zoo bars in the corner. Conversations spin around me.

“Big game hunting? It’s not ethical.”

“But I hear the money saves the animals.”

I laugh. “Kill ‘em to save ‘em!”

I watch Susan dance and she’s beautiful.

A is for aardvark. B is for bitter

Someone whispers, “Our profits are unsustainable. And the environment . . . “

C is for complicit.

D is for drill.

Picking myself up, I lurch around the room, tripping over the fake savanna grass. The dancers spin faster. Pregnant kangaroo girl sits in the corner, chewing on her lip. The CEO takes center stage and whoops, throwing his pith helmet. It skitters across the dance floor like a khaki beetle.

The flamingo ladies nibble the cultured filet mignon. “Clean meat makes me feel slimmer.”

One watches a couple necking. “Some things never change at these things.”

Another says “And really, the zoo thing is just not ethical . . .”

The holo-flow charts swoop and color everyone in disco-ball yearly profit bling-bling, and I laugh and laugh again, but also feel a little sick.

When the lights flit to a golden yellow, it’s as if we’re all caught in amber.

I fall toward the exit. But I miss the door and hit the glass hard. A smear of blood. Protesters outside watch me, surprised.

My tie’s askew. I’ve lost my mask. I don’t know what I am anymore. I didn’t even know the A to Z’s in my own marriage.

E is for end.

I wipe my nose and wave to the “no Arctic drilling” signs. Behind me, birds shriek and insects hum and music throbs.

A protestor feels sorry for me, the bloody-nosed drunk inside. He lifts his hand.

Waving at all the beautiful animals.

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Joy Kennedy-O’Neill teaches English at a small college on the Texas Gulf Coast. Her works have appeared in Nature, Strange Horizons, Flash Fiction Online, New Orleans Review, among other places. More of her work can be found at JoyKennedyOneill.com.

James Hartman

Good Day for the Clouds

The sky was so clear the blue looked prickly, like if you raised your palm it might cut your skin, but the sun was mild and there was no breeze as Jonathan sat in his old beach chair in his open garage and closed his eyes.  He tried to breathe.

“Good day for the clouds.”

He had learned to ignore this voice, the old man sitting in his open garage across the street, the old man next to his easel, his jar of brushes, his silver platter of paints.  The landlord said he was a reputable artist with galleries in Scotland, Norway, one up north.  He had awkward hips and always struggled onto his stool, but once he managed he didn’t leave.  If Jonathan came out to watch the sun set the old man would still be there, pressing a brush to his canvas.  He greeted Jonathan every day with a random comment, and that was it, never another word.  Yesterday it was, “Getting warmer, goldfinches should arrive soon.”  The day before: “I saw a coyote up north near Traverse City once, fat as a bear.”

Jonathan, as usual, ignored him.

“Don’t you think, Jonathan?”

The unexpected sound of his name unnerved him.  It confounded him.  Squinting, he saw the old man hunched over, his large hands covering his knees, grinning.  Jonathan closed his eyes and tried to breathe.  What right did he have calling him by his name?  How did he even know it?  He moved here, what, three weeks ago?  Right after he had ordered everyone to leave.  His brother didn’t like that but he left too after Jonathan threw the vase at him.

“The thing about clouds is, they’re comfortable.”

Jonathan’s eyes opened.

“Although technically they are just vapor.  You can’t actually touch them.”

Jonathan squinted and saw the old man smiling straight at him, one hand on his thigh, the other now moving a brush across his canvas.

“Sure feels like you can, though, doesn’t it?”  He nodded at Jonathan without slowing his brush across the canvas.  “If you do it right.”

Jonathan fired a glare that expressed the old man better shut up.

The old man nodded, like he expected this.

The landlord said he was esteemed for his depictions of some particular type of architecture.  Jonathan constantly toiled with remembering anything occurring more than three weeks ago.  The old man could have specialized in hairy animal genitals.  Who fucking cared?

“I’ve always wanted to paint meaningful clouds,” the old man said.  “But I never had a good reason.”

He was smiling really big and it really pissed Jonathan off.  “You don’t know how to fucking shut up, do you?”  Not shocked that he had spoken, he was angry, so angry he could throw another vase, thirty vases.  One hundred vases.

“I’m not familiar with cloud terminology,” the old man said.  “I just paint what I see.”  He studied the sky, and then he studied Jonathan, and as he smiled he slowly blinked, his brush never slowing.

The fucking guy had outright dismissed him and Jonathan’s anger twisted into rage, his face broiling red.  He wanted to scream.  He wanted to punch.

His cell chimed, dull and distant.  His brother, or mother, or father, or doctor, or boss, or his wife.  He did not care who it was.  The ringing from inside descended like tranquil background music, and his eyelids closed, and, gradually, Jonathan breathed.

***

The next morning he did not return the 39 missed calls, but his routine was still disturbed.  He did not want to go outside and see the old man.  He did not trust what his hands and feet might do so he stayed inside, until the apartment brightened.  He did not like being here when it was this bright and peered out the side window.  The garage belonging to the old man’s apartment appeared to be closed, so Jonathan opened his door and sat in his old beach chair.

Except he couldn’t.

Something was in it.

Jonathan blinked.

A painting.

He bent down.

A painting framed by thin gold.

He peered across the street, at the old man’s three dark windows.  Jonathan squinted at each window but did not detect any movement behind them.  Then his eyes dragged around, lowered to the thin gold frame.  The painting showed a man in a faded red Tommy Bahama chair, his nose and cheeks, redder than the chair, all that protruded from thick dirty strings of hair.  He held a book called Cat in the Hat, the book in his left hand, over his heart.  In his right hand, a purple nightlight glowed.  It was the brightest color in the painting.

Until Jonathan realized it was not the brightest.

The two brightest colors, emitting equal amounts of white shine, rose above the young man, one behind his right shoulder, the other behind his left.  They were clouds, and they were so authentically defined the one behind the young man’s left shoulder resembled a three-year-old boy eyeing the book curiously, as if he expected the man to open it and begin reading, while the one behind his right shoulder resembled a slightly older girl, but she eyed the man with concern, the way her hand curled urgently down his arm, as if she knew he needed comfort.

Jonathan stepped back.  He turned and squinted at the old man’s closed garage, his three dark windows.

A golf cart stopped between Jonathan and the old man’s apartment and Elizabeth the landlord stepped out.  Shielding her eyes from the sun with a palm, she said, “Hey Jonny.”  Walking towards him, she noticed how Jonathan stared at the old man’s apartment.

“Where did he go?” he asked.  Shocked, for this was his voice, and he was not angry.

“He moves around a lot, they say,” Elizabeth said, and chuckled, stepping very close, so close their shoulders almost caressed.  “You know, I guess their kind goes where the calling takes them.”
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James Hartman’s fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions, and appears or is forthcoming in Blue Fifth Review, December, Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, The Airgonaut, and New World Writing, among others.  His scholarly work is featured in The Hemingway Review.  He has several degrees, including a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and lives in Michigan with his wife.

Gary Young

3 Poems

The porch light throws shadows on the far side of the canyon. The pickets and posts of the railing cast the bars of an enormous cage, and I can see a giant—dark, featureless—pace between the redwoods and the granite cliffs. At last, he stops, soothed by the stream flowing over boulders and stones that snag the black water and give it voice.

*

We walked past the jail where a woman shouted to someone waving from the window of his cell. At the corner of 4th Street and Broadway, a sign on a shuttered bar said, Goodbye—and thanks to our loyal customers. Delivery trucks had snapped the lower limbs off the sycamores that lined the street, but the leaves high above rustled in a breeze coming in from the bay. Gene and I stepped into his lobby. An orchid sat on a brushed steel shelf. The elevator opened, closed, and when it opened again, we were at Gene’s door. Elizabeth’s hat and scarf were still hanging in the hall. That’s where she died, where Gene had asked, are you leaving me, and she’d said, yes.

*

In the facility, those who could, spoke, and those who could not, listened. A woman stood to the side. Her face was placid, but it was clear that she wanted to join in. At last there was a pause, and she asked no one in particular, am I dead?

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Gary Young has been awarded grants from the NEA and the NEH. He’s received a Pushcart Prize, and his book of poems, The Dream of a Moral Life, won the James D. Phelan Award. He is the author of several other collections of poetry including Hands; Days; Braver Deeds, winner the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize; No Other Life, winner of the William Carlos Williams Award; Pleasure; and Even So: New and Selected Poems. His most recent book is Adversary. In 2009 He received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. He teaches creative writing and directs the Cowell Press at UC Santa Cruz.