Tag Archives: flash

Sarah Salway

On Hold

She was just passing the phone box the first time it rang.

Or that’s what she said afterwards. She checked her mobile of course, but her boyfriend had recently changed her ring tone to ‘Hello Barbie’ so he could find her easily. This was an old fashioned dring-dring. It brought back so many memories that when she picked up the receiver she almost imagined it to be her mother telling her to be careful.

‘Hello,’ she breathed, ‘hello, hello, hello.’

She gently touched the four corners of one of the postcards plastered on the wall as she waited for the torrent of words in a language she couldn’t understand to finish. And then she replaced the receiver.

***

The second time she took the call, she’d been waiting for half an hour.
The phone box wasn’t even near her house, but she changed the route of her run so she could pass it. Every third run, she’d wait. Just to see. Her boyfriend complained that she wasn’t losing that much weight for someone who ran so much, but she told him muscle took time to build up.

When the phone rang she didn’t say anything at first, just let the voice on the other end run on, smiling at the way it rose and fell, how the consonants tripped over each other. As she listened, she let her fingers trace the women on the postcards. They were all so happy looking.

‘Sweet dreams, be safe,’ she whispered as she replaced the receiver. It was what her mother always used to say to her before she went to sleep.

She threw the cards into the bin by the park. ‘Sweet dreams,’ she whispered as she imagined them nestling together in the dark.

***

It was some time before she could go near the phone box again. Her boyfriend insisted on running with her and he liked easier routes, ones he could measure after on his computer. He liked to run for twenty-five minutes exactly and then have sex for another twenty-five minutes. Ten minutes for a shower. He called it their productive hour. ‘I don’t understand why you used to take so long,’ he kept saying.

It was a relief to get out without him. The roads seemed familiar, as if they were welcoming her home, and the phone box gleamed like a red present waiting for her to open it.

There were new girls pasted up, all still smiling though. She was counting them, cataloguing them in her head – brown haired, Asian, blondes – when the phone rang. Dring dring. It came as such a shock that she almost dropped her stack of girls.

It was a different man on the other end this time, but the words were the same. Unintelligible, and such a hard rhythm to the language that she shut her eyes as if that might stop her hearing.

‘Mum,’ she whispered, ‘Mum, hello, it’s me, Josie.’

She was still talking when the phone box door swung open, an arm grabbed at her, swiping the cards so they fell, forming a circle around her.

‘Sweet dreams,’ she told them. ‘Be safe, be safe, be safe.’

###
Sarah Salway is the author of six books: three novels (Something Beginning With, Tell Me Everything, Getting the Picture), two collections of poetry (You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book, Digging Up Paradise), and one short story collection (Leading the Dance). She is a former Canterbury Laureate and RLF Fellow at both the London School of Economics and the University of Kent. She writes about gardens at www.writerinthegarden.com, and tweets @sarahsalway. Her website is www.sarahsalway.co.uk.

 

Justin Herrmann

Beakless

It’s my week with Madison. My first week, in fact, since things have been settled. She’s been gaining weight at her mother’s, and, I believe, has stopped speaking proper sentences.

“McDonald’s, Dada?”  She’s all smiles and singsong in the rearview.

We’ve had a late cold snap, which has kept tourists off the water, so I keep Madison home from daycare. When I don’t work, I’m a couple drinks in by this hour. This week, I need to be better. “No,” I say. “I know a place with burgers worth eating.”

“McDonald’s,” Madison whines, which settles it for me: no McDonald’s.

Jenny takes our order. I get Madison milk, burgers for us, coffee for me, watch Jenny pull tap handles, fill glasses heavy with amber. The lighthouse across the bay remains as dark in bad weather as it does in good, but it’s the most photographed thing here by my estimation, except fish, living and dead.

Madison eats her entire burger. Even the tomatoes, onions.

“Thank you for that yummy burger, Dada” she says. She chews the last of my pickle, loud like her mother.

“Let’s have dessert, Sugar,” I say. I don’t normally let her have sweet things.

When Jenny comes, I order Madison soda water and cocktail cherries. For myself, something that looks similar.

Outside, an eagle lands on the dumpster. Then another. The first eagle is aggressive, tries to force the other away. Unusual behavior, until I realize the top half of its beak is broken clean off.

Jenny returns, drinks full, cherries shining, Madison’s face glowing.

Madison notices me watching the birds. She says “Mean birdie, dada.” She watches my face for reinforcement.

My hands, steady, the glass slick with condensation. “A slow, undignified death for that creature,” I say, and immediately regret it.

I tear the paper wrapping from a straw, hand the straw to Madison.  She’s not used to the bubbles in her drink. She makes pained faces, sips cautiously, savors the cherries.

My house is her house now, but it doesn’t feel like it.

“Let’s have one more,” I say, “then let’s go pick out new bedding for you,” I say.

“Can I have more cherries?” she says.

“Cheers,” I say, raising my glass, the beakless bird frantically tearing trash bags, pecking rotting carcasses, unable to grasp.

###

Justin Herrmann is the author of the short fiction collection Highway One, Antarctica (MadHat Press 2014). His stories have appeared in journals including River Styx, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Bull: Men’s Fiction. He lives with his family in Alaska.

Colleen Maynard

Hands

Confronted with the responsibility of viewing the body, it’s good to have as many small tasks to do. Kneeling on the padded bench becomes a slow dance. Contents are now at eye level. Look downcast for reverence (you’re too empathetic to be bored). Or bite the bullet and look at the body. Maintain gentle eyes, this isn’t an exam. Brooding is my style, yet for appearances I force myself to glance once. Mom says it’s just a body now; the soul is up in heaven with our other relatives. I’m led to believe deceased great-grandparents look down from above, paralleling the cheerful song about Jesus being everywhere. Is this supposed to be comforting? Is Jesus in our beds when we climb inside them at night? While I’m in the bathroom do my relatives gaze lovingly on, or do they wheel around out of respect? There have to be limits.

I start treating visitation as though watching a horror movie with people: when you know it’s about to get bad, fix your eyes on the lower-right corner of the television set and focus. Blood and bone are blurred. The twinkle in its eye may be imagined.

Hover on a starched collar, or the fluff of hair at her temple. The hands are friendlier, clasped in eternal prayer. Surely they retain something of the person I knew. Their soul’s begun to re-assemble one slotted piece at a time in heaven. Her hands will be the last up.

###

Colleen Maynard has appeared in such publications as matchbook, Monkeybicycle, NANO Fiction, and SHARKPACK Poetry Review. Maynard graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute and received training in Botanical Illustration at Illinois Natural History Survey. She writes and draws at www.colleenmaynard.com.

 

Denise Duhamel

Cultural Regression (A Pantoum Prose Poem)

 

Once upon a time there was elaborate plumbing, then people started shitting in
the woods again. Once we worshipped goddesses who bore children—now we
want mothers back to work in twelve weeks.

People stopped shitting in the woods and instead fouled the rivers and ponds,
where mothers of twelve worked, scrubbing laundry. Time after time, utopia
makes a u-turn.

Along the fouled overfished oceans, hermit crabs scramble in tin cans. No shells
left for them. Time after time, progress makes a u-turn, from World War II “bomb
girls” to Bangladesh sweatshops.

Gloria Steinem wore bunny ears instead of a turtleneck to infiltrate the Playboy
Club—no glamour behind the false eyelashes of that harassment sweatshop.
But forty years later The Girls Next Door is a hit on E!

Everyone knows Hefner tested his bunnies for VD and Martin Luther King had his
dream. So why is The Girls Next Door a hit? Why is Porsha Williams on The Real
Housewives of Atlanta?

Martin Luther King has his dream, then is shot, Hosea Williams by his side.
Now Hosea’s granddaughter is a “real housewife” after working as a video vixen.

Hosea Williams was tear-gassed on his march to Selma and, fifty years later,
Michael Brown is shot in Ferguson. Because so many women aspire to be video
vixens, Pink records her hit “Stupid Girls.”

Before Michael Brown is shot in Ferguson, Trayvon Martin and Emmet Till made
the same sad history. Pink sings her hit “Stupid Girls.” 50 Cent sings, “Have a
baby by me, baby! Be a millionaire.”

Trayvon Martin and Emmet Till made the same sad history, their mothers’ grief
redirecting the rest of their lives, far from “Have a baby by me, baby! Be a
millionaire.” Or Paul Anka’s “What a lovely way of saying how much you love
me.”

Before babies directed the rest of their mothers’ lives, we worshipped goddesses
who bore children. Each pregnancy was magic, a lovely way, until we understood
the role of sperm, a man’s elaborate plumbing.

Political Satire

 

My husband thinks I’m a dirty old woman!

Sure, I’m sympathetic. I’ve sat through Masculinism 101. Intellectually I
get why he feels threatened. How could I not? Masculinism is all he and
the other husbands talk about.
And, OK, fair enough. Maybe it’s not enlightened to see men primarily as
“providers.”

But you can’t stop a woman’s biology. She wants what she
wants, and there’s nothing you (or she!) can do to change that.
Sure, I feel bad—while looking for Junior’s pacifier in my purse, my
husband found the matchbook for Provide: The Gentelwomen’s Fantasy
Club. The hunky guy on the cover makes him flinch. I tried to snatch it out
of his hand before he read message inside: If you desire strapping world-
class men and lots of them, then Provide is for you We feature hundreds
of the nation’s most stable entertainers! They are ready to fulfill your
every fantasy!

My husband wants to have “the talk.” (Yawn!) I admit to him—I’m a
regular. The men on stage swing briefcases full of money—McMansions
with his-and- her Jaguars parked in the driveway projected on the screen
behind them.

My husband starts to tear up. I hate when he does this. He wants to know
why his love isn’t enough.

The entertainers are paid to say they are hot only for me, the “wife,” i.e.
the one out with her friends for the night. In the VIP lounge, I buy a
“romance dance.” My stud brings me flowers, rubs my back, tells me I’m
as beautiful as the day I first caught his glance.

My husband blows his nose. He wants to know how on earth he can
compete with that.

I don’t tell him that JoAnn is the real perv—she orders one-on- one
cuddling, foot massages, and “active listening.”

The man Sarah hires reads her a poem he wrote himself and assures her
everything’s all right—with their relationship, with the natural
environment, with the funds for the kids’ college tuition. Where do she
want to go on vacation this summer? Hawaii? Block Island? Sarah
giggles. He notices she’s changed her hair—he says he loves it.

My husband is in a snit. He turns on the game, the thunderous volume
pulsating through the house. I’m a good wife so I reassure him—though,
between you and me, he’s becoming a bit of a drag. Calm down, I say,
Look, you provide too. This need I have has nothing to do with you. Think
of it this way—you’re lucky. Your wife is a bona fide hot-blooded
American woman.

 

Comedy of Manners

 

In The Importance of Being Weiner, a white middle-aged Oscar texts pictures of
hotdogs to young women he meets online. Most of the women ignore him, but
some find it funny and text back pictures of melons or figs. At that point, Oscar
texts a picture of a bun.

In person, he is a bit shy, so when he sets up a meeting with a woman, he
usually suggests a picnic to which he brings jerk pork, Fluffernutters, and a
couple of Ding Dongs for dessert. This menu ensures double entendres.

If all goes well, and there is a second date, Oscar usually tells his anecdote
about Alexander Graham Bell who likened his own penis to “a pink toadstool.” If
If the woman laughs and shares a quote of her own—let’s say, Dolly Parton’s “I
have small feet because nothing grows in the shade”—Oscar then tells of his out-
of-control brother Weiner.

The woman is usually horrified, of course. A married man sexting naked pictures
of himself wrapped in a towel? Or his actual member? Plus he’s a politician?

“Gross,” one woman says after the other.

“I know,” Oscar says, “but he is my brother.”

Once Oscar and a woman get intimate—which, for him, means having actual
sex—he grows bored, ready to move onto the next.

“I’ll be gone a few days,” Oscar says, which signals the end of the relationship.
“Weiner’s gotten himself into trouble again. And it’s always up to me to bail him
out.”

 

Smudge

 

Once I ran into a glass door, a slider as my aunt called it, which led to a cement
deck and a built-in pool. She was such a meticulous housekeeper—more than
once I had taken a tumble on her waxed hardwood hallway floor. She must have
washed the windows that morning. My nose bled, thicker than the blood from
other cuts, and the drops were warm as they hit my bare foot. The thud of my
body alerted my mother and my aunt, who were outside, a pink umbrella in my
mother’s drink, an aqua bathing cap with a strap under my aunt’s chin. Somehow
the door was locked from the inside. My aunt gave me directions as I fumbled.
The men were already in the pool. I saw my sister rise atop my father’s
shoulders.

My mother apologized as my aunt filled a plaid ice bag. The metal trays creaked
and crackled. My mother sopped up the floor with a wet paper towel. She
Windexed away the smudge I had made on the glass. I lay on a lounge chair, my
shame behind plastic sunglasses, the ice bag cold on my nose while the rest of
me burned.

 

The Argument

 

Your friend once told you that women are more jealous than men because it is in
your DNA. That a cavewoman was in danger of being eaten by an animal if her
caveman didn’t watch over her.

His roving eye could cost her life.

Tonight he made an ass of himself, delighted by the hostess and her cleavage.
When you get home, you loosen your husband’s long blue tie and he unclasps
your Wilma Flintstone necklace.

~~

Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry Scald is forthcoming from
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017Blowout (Pittsburgh, 2013) was a
finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other titles include
Ka-Ching! (Pittsburgh, 2009); Two and Two (Pittsburgh, 2005); Queen for
a Day: Selected and New Poems (Pittsburgh, 2001); The Star-Spangled
Banner (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999); and Kinky (Orhisis,
1997) She and Maureen Seaton co-authored CAPRICE: Collaborations:
Collected, Uncollected, and New (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). Duhamel
is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenhiem Foundation and the
National Endowment for the Arts.  She is a professor at Florida
International University in Miami.

Claire Bateman

Combustible

 

In the realm where infants, like comets, show up in flames, igniting
as soon as they make contact with the air, all of the delivery room
cribs are packed with sand to quench the new arrivals.
Immediately upon extinguishment, the babies begin to wail—not
in pain, for they are unmarred, but as if in lamentation over their
lost luminescence.

Once in a while, before plunging a newborn into its grainy bath,
the midwife lingers for a moment to gaze at the golden tongues
that spin across the child’s skin as though a hundred lionesses were
licking a cub to its first breath.

It is rumored that these delayed-bath babies grow up to be
uncommonly fearless and inquisitive, but because no midwife will
admit to having committed an act of willful malpractice, the
correlation remains forever unproven in this land of pyrophoric
entrances.

~~

Claire Bateman’s most recent poetry collection, Scape, is forthcoming from
New Issues Poetry & Prose in Fall 2016.