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“Living on Dreams” by Victoria Steik

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

Living on Dreams

By Victoria Steik

“Don’t eat that!” she screamed.

He jerked with surprise and dropped the plump, beautiful glazed donut midway between plate and mouth. Luckily it landed on the kitchen counter undamaged.

“Geez, Ruthie,” he said. “It’s just a freakin’ donut. There’s a whole platter full of them.”

“Yeah, I know, I spent all morning making them for us to take to the potluck at Sockeye Sam’s. Tonight’s the Harvest Moon Dance, and you’re taking the prettiest girl in town.” She said, grinning at him with a sexy sidelong glance.

“Oh? What time am I supposed to pick up Angelina Stritchkoff?” he said.

“Jake Cooper, you are a silly old Alaskan fisherman and the meanest man in town,” she said as she ran at him in mock anger. “Just for that, no more donuts for you.”

“Aw, baby,” he said, throwing his strong, hardworking arms around her and squeezing both cheeks of her ample behind, “You know I just love your donuts.”

She squealed with laughter, “Get away from me you animal.”

“Yeah, your mama told you thirty years ago on our wedding day that she’d taught you all the things you needed to know about being a wife, but if she’d known who you were going to marry, she’d have taught you more about how to be an animal trainer,” Jake said.

“She did not! It was Brother Harry who asked me why I decided to marry a big ape like Jake Cooper.”

With that, he growled like a grizzly bear and pulled her close. He danced her around the kitchen, nibbling on her soft white neck, just below her little gold hoop earrings. She giggled like a teenager as he twirled her around the kitchen floor until they both were breathless.

As they neared the kitchen table, he pulled out his captain’s chair at the head of the table, flopped down into it and snuggled Ruthie up on his lap.

When the laughter stopped and they had caught their breath, Ruthie said, “Did you get everything on the boat finished up so we can cover it up for the winter?”

He sighed, “Well I got the nets all stretched out to dry good. The boat is in its spot and all braced up. There was still some slime and scales on the deck and a little on the hull that I need to get scrubbed off. That’s about it.”

“Did you give Derek and Jimmy Moses their crew share checks?” she asked.

“Yep. They did alright, considering the season we had. The fish were there, plenty of fish, but resource management held us back until most of the run had already passed through. Jimmy Moses has been a deck hand since he was twelve. He knows that fishing is a gamble and every year is different. Derek’s just a college kid from Seattle who watches too much reality TV. He came up here thinking he’d work a couple of months this summer and go home with fifty grand in his pocket, even though he’s a total greenhorn. He was not very happy with his share, acting like I cheated him or something. Fact is he wasn’t worth the money he did get.”

“Are we going to have anything left after the bills are paid?” she asked, her voice taking a serious tone.

“I hope so. Don’t worry baby, Daddy’s never let you down yet. If I have to, I can spend another winter on the ice roads to get us through.”

“I hate to have you gone so much in the winter. Now that the boys are married and have their own families to take care of, I won’t have any help to bring in wood or plow the road,” she said.

“We’ll figure something out. No need to worry yet. Now I have got to go get a shower and put on my fancy clothes. I’m taking the prettiest girl in town to the dance,” he said with a flirty twinkle in his eye.

“Sounds like a great idea. You smell like you just walked off the slime line. And those extra tuffs, boy put those boots out on the porch until you can give them a good going over with the hose,” she said.

“Darlin’, I know I’ve told you a million times, that is the smell of money in this household,” he said with a grin.

“Plenty of smell, but not much money,” was her reply. “Be sure to put on your Tony Lamas. You can cut a pretty fine rug in those boots. And I’m in the mood for dancing.”

“In the mood for dancing? I was hoping you’d be in the mood for something a little more serious,” he teased.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure that mood will come along . . . after the dancing.”

As they walked down the steps and across the yard, Ruthie said, “I am not riding in that dirty old pickup in my nice clothes. We’ll go in the Subaru.”

“Honey, nothing against the Subaru, I know it’s your baby, but I feel like a sardine riding in that little thing,” Jake said.

She gave him a glare that clearly said he was not going to win this debate.

“Okay, okay, Madame, your chariot awaits,” he replied complete with a courtly bow.

She handed him the platter of doughnuts, settled herself in the passenger seat, and took the platter to carry gently on her lap for the bumpy ride down the gravel road to Sockeye Sam’s Bar and Restaurant.

Sockeye Sam’s was the only building in the tiny fishing village large enough for a community party. The Harvest Moon Dance was a seasonal tradition in St. Peter’s Mission, almost on par with Thanksgiving or Christmas. Around the first weekend in September, after the last of the silver salmon had been delivered to the cannery and the checks were delivered to the fishermen for their season’s catch, the community gathered to celebrate the finish of another season of hard work.

“It seems kind of stupid to me that they call this the Harvest Moon Dance,” Jake said. “What harvest? There isn’t a cornfield in a thousand miles of this place.”

“You harvest the fish from the sea, don’t you?” Ruthie explained.

“Yeah, but that’s different.”

“Well, anyway, it’s the Harvest Moon Dance. The Harvest Moon is always in September,” she said.

“It is fun to catch up with everyone you haven’t seen all summer because you’ve been on the water. Some of those old guys, they can really come up with some whopper fish stories. Those stories and a couple of Alaska Ambers and there’s nothing but smiles all around,” he said.

“And don’t forget the dancing, and all the great free food that the ladies bring for the potluck,” Ruthie said.

“Oh, yeah, salmon forty nine different ways.”

“Yep, but every way tastes great. It’s amazing how the same group of ladies is always trying to find some new recipe to impress everyone else,” Ruthie said. “But I think that’s great because it gives me new ideas for what’s for dinner.”

St Peter’s Mission started out as a protected inlet from the wicked storms of Bristol Bay during the fur trader days. Sockeye Sam’s was a historic building in this little village of 450 people spread out over a wide area. The low-slung log structure was built as a trading post where local trappers could bring their furs to trade for goods or, when the trading ships came in they could sell the hides to the big trading companies. After the fur trading played out, the trading post remained to supply local Natives, Russian settlers and other adventurers who fell in love with the beauty of the Alaskan coast.

Bright neon beer signs glowed in every window as Jake and Ruthie pulled into the gravel parking lot, cars crowded in this way and that. The sun was headed to the west, but it was only seven in the evening and there was still a good two hours before dusk. As they stepped into the long dimly lit room, the juke box was playing everyone’s favorite, Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska”. Rows of chairs and tables with checked table cloths stretch all the way to the dance floor at the far end of the room. Placed end to end against the wall the potluck tables were quickly filling up as the ladies arranged the food, finger food and appetizers first, then salads and main dishes and finally desserts. Ruthie ceremoniously carried the platter of golden donuts through the mayhem of running squealing children, chattering gossipy women and the jukebox booming out “way up north, way up north.” She placed her tray of jewels, like a tower of riches, right in the center of the dessert table. She stepped back and was nearly run over by a gaggle of grade schoolers shouting to their mothers, “Mama, Ruthie brought donuts! Can we have one? Please, please, please?”

Ruthie turned away from the tables and looked around the room, trying to spot Jake. The chairs were filling up as people took seats near their friends and neighbors, all readying for a feast and happy celebration. Ruthie seated herself next to Jake just as the juke box went dark and Father Simeon from St. Peter’s Russian Orthodox Church stood to bless the food. He prayed for God to bless the food, he thanked God for the safe return from the fishing grounds of all the fishermen there with them. He asked God to receive and remember the souls of the father and two sons whose lives were lost when their boat capsized in heavy seas in a late spring storm in April. His last request was to ask God to bless and protect all of the residents of this village named for the Holy Fisherman, St. Peter. He had barely said the “Amen”, when the children were bolting to the food tables to load their plates.

The adults formed a long orderly line, knowing that there was an abundance of food and that no one would leave the place hungry. As they waited, friends shared the news of their families, when the new grandchild should arrive, what college their oldest was headed to, which daughter was planning a spring wedding. Wind tanned old fishermen and their plump wives chatted with their neighbors about their experiences in this year’s fishing season and when they think the first snow will come. Skinny, young girls in tight jeans and lipstick made eyes at their favorite fellas. The guys pretended to talk about when they were heading out to moose camp to help their dads bring in meat for the winter, but their real attention was focused on the aforementioned tight jeans.

Eventually, all were settled at tables enjoying good food and great camaraderie. Old men and bachelors, old maids and widows, children and grandparents smiled and laughed together. Within an hour or so dinner was over, the tables were cleared and all the donuts were gone. The parents with little ones began collecting their respective broods, loading them into vehicles and heading off for home and bed.

As the crowd diminished to about half of what it had been, the live band began tuning up for the “dance” segment of the party. The band consisted of two or three fiddles, two guitars, an accordion and a drummer. Their repertoire was an eclectic mix of what can only be called “Alaska Bush music”. It sounds much like Cajun music or even bluegrass with its own tundra twang. The bar was open now and the crowd became more enthusiastic as each song played by.

Jake stepped up to the bar. “Hey Nate,” he called, “I need another Alaskan Amber.”

Nate set the beer in front of Jake. “Are you driving tonight Jake?” He asked, having served Jake several brews.

“Oh, hell no,” he replied, “Ruthie’s my designated driver. She’ll get me home safe, we brought the Subaru. Thanks for asking, Buddy.”

Jake turned to walk back to the table. A jostle in the crowd around the bar pushed Jake off balance in his unfamiliar cowboy boots and sent him crashing into a couple of unlucky bystanders, throwing them off their feet and all three ended up knocking over a table sending glasses, beer and patrons every which way. Humiliated, Jake quickly got to his feet and reached out to help those who were down, all the while apologizing for the accident. As he raised one fellow up, the guy was cussing him out, “Geesus, I just spent four dollars for that beer.”

Jake looked up at the sound of a familiar voice. It was Derek, the disgruntled deckhand.

“I should have known it would be you,” Derek went on when he saw that Jake was the offender. “You work me like a dog all summer, pay me shit wages and now you purposely attack me in the bar. What is it with you?”

“Derek, calm down buddy, I’m really sorry. It was an accident. Here let me get you another beer.” Jake apologized.

“An accident, my ass! You’re just trying to make me look like a fool. I’m gonna punch your lights out!” And with that, Derek was swinging roundhouse punches every direction, fortunately not connecting with any of them. It was clear Derek had a few too many drinks as well. A couple of burly fishermen standing nearby grabbed the deckhand, pinned his flailing arms to his sides and escorted him out the door.

Jake stepped up to the bar and said, “Nate, I am so sorry. It was these fancy damn boots. These number twelves don’t know what to do without their extra tuffs. Set up these folks that lost their drinks and put it on my tab. Now I’m going to sit by Ruthie and keep myself out of trouble for the rest of the night. I promise.”

Jake made his way back to Ruthie. She looked up and said, “What was all that ruckus about?”

Jake lowered his eyes, put his hands behind his back and looked just like a little boy who has been sent to the principal’s office. Painfully he explained what had happened. “I swear it was all the fault of these fancy boots you made me wear. I should have kept my fishing boots on. I know you wanted to dance, but I don’t dare do that in these things.”

Ruthie reached up and patted his arm. “Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” she said gently. “I guess you’re just going to have to dance in your stocking feet, because you are going to dance with me tonight!”

Both of them burst out laughing. Jake slid off the offending boots, reached out for Ruthie’s hand and escorted her onto the dance floor. They did the waltz and the polka and the Cotton Eyed Joe until midnight.

Ruthie looked out the window, leaned over to Jake and said,”Wow, it’s dark outside. We haven’t been out this late in a long time. I guess I better get this wild animal home. Lord knows we are not the night owl type. We better get home before I can’t find the way there.”

Jake smiled and said,”Darlin’ I’d go anywhere with you.”

Boots in one hand, doughnut platter in the other, Jake followed Ruthie to the Subaru. They settled in and Ruthie began the drive back to their happy little home.

In just minutes, she could hear his deep breathing and she knew he was sleeping. She drove cautiously through the dark being mindful that moose, bears, rabbits and squirrels could dart out in front of her at any moment. Her eyes were fixed on the end of her headlights beam. As she turned onto the road that lead to their driveway, she relaxed and looked up toward the treetops. She was startled to see an orange glow reflected off the low ceiling of clouds.

“Jake,” she said, “Jake, Jake, wake up!”

She grabbed his arm. His eyes snapped open. “What is it? A Moose?”

“No,” she cried, “Look at the clouds.”

He looked up and then back at her. “Fire,” he said, just as she passed the row of tall spruce and turned into the driveway.

Their eyes were assaulted by an inferno. Their boat was engulfed in flames. Jake’s workshop off to the left was burning and the wall of their house nearest to the boat was blazing as well.

“I’m getting out. You stay in the car. Back it out into the yard as far away from the fire as you can and then call 911. I know there are volunteers on call tonight,” he said.

“No, don’t go near the house,” she said.

“I’ll try to get to the hose. Maybe I can spray that wall. Now, move this car,” he said as he jumped out and slammed the door.

She put the car in gear, drove over the lawn to the furthest point from the fire and then dialed 911 on her cell phone.

She explained the situation to the dispatcher and gave her their address. She stayed on the line, heard the call out alarms and the dispatcher say, “Boat and structure fire at Mile 1.3 Caribou Rd. All available personnel and engines please respond.”

Ruthie looked up toward the house. She could see Jake running away from the front of the house, extra tuffs in hand. Suddenly, fire exploded from inside the house, blowing out the front widows and separating the front door from its hinges. The blast knocked Jake to the ground, but in an instant he was back on his feet, still carrying the boots, and heading directly for the car.

“There’s nothing we can do.,” he said as he jumped into the car. “We need to get farther away. Pull out onto the road and put on the emergency flashers to direct the firefighters this way.”

He knew that the firefighters would find the place; he just wanted to get Ruthie away from the fire. He didn’t want her to watch everything they had worked for over the past thirty years go up in smoke.

The fire crews arrived within minutes, but the boat and the shed were completely consumed. Only one back corner of the house remained standing. As soon as the flames were extinguished, the Fire Chief and the State Troopers began investigating the scene.

The Fire Chief walked over to the car to check on Jake and Ruthie as the sky began to get lighter just above the horizon.

“Jake, are you and Ruthie sure you’re not hurt?” he asked. They shook their heads in reply.

“There is really nothing more you can do here. Do you have a place to go?”

“Oh, yeah,” Jake said, “our boy, Mark and his wife want us to stay at their house until we get things figured out with the insurance.”

“Our investigation is still ongoing,” said the Chief. “We’re certain that the cause was arson. There was clear evidence that accelerants were used. We have a pretty good idea who the arsonist was. We found a wallet on the lawn behind the house. The driver’s license inside belongs to Derek Kincaid. We’ll contact you in the next few days and let you know what the preliminary reports say.”

”Thanks, Chief,” Jake said.

“Well, Darlin’,” he said, “Shall we drive over to Mark’s and try to get some sleep?”

“Oh, Jake,” she replied, “I don’t think I can sleep. What are we going to do? Everything is gone. We can’t just live on dreams.”

“Ruthie, thirty years ago when I took you for my wife all we had was dreams and we went a long way on them. We can do it again.’

He gave her his grizzly bear growl, a kiss on the cheek and put the Subaru in gear on their way to forever.

© 2013 Victoria Steik

“Mercury” by Team Tennant

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

Mercury

 

By Team Tennant

“Aw, we should’ve gone to Safeway – this place really screws you over.”

“Keep it down,” Jonathan looked at his tall, smudgy image on a hanging TV as he walked onto the linoleum. “You can’t talk like that here – these people are politically correct as shit.”

Jonathan looked at a pyramid display of gluten-free cookies where a mom was working out a deal with her hungry-looking little boy.

“Poor kid,” said David. “I bet he could use some doughnuts about now.”

The brothers passed a large, rustic mural as they walked through the produce section – paced between the eggplants and cabbages with heads bent as if saving one last remembrance at an open-casket funeral. A vast, rustic mural scratched at the walls behind the “Fresh Earth,” section – long stretches of cornfields make mazes for little Midwestern children who, like most Midwestern children, have trouble finding their way out anyhow.

“How much corn are we going to need?”

“I don’t know. I figured just one each, right?” Jonathan said, “You’re the one who wanted corn in the first place.”

“Mom and Dad didn’t exactly leave us that much steak.”

“Whatever David. Just buy two and let’s get out of here.”

“Hold on, now,” said David with new life. “They have two for four dollars on corn – we’re making off like bandits!”

“I feel like that’s really not that great of a deal.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I mean the corn here is probably really organic and tastes better, but I know other places sell it for like fifty cents. I can’t picture spending $4.00 on corn.”

“What other places?”

“I don’t know off the top of my head,” replied Jonathan.

A new mother and son pair surveyed the vegetable section. She explained how beets are good for your blood in a loud whisper.

“Yeah, let’s just get two for four,” said Jonathan. “At least these ones aren’t supporting the whole food corruption thing.”

“What food corruption thing?”

“You know, like the monopolies and stuff. I don’t know, haven’t you seen those documentaries?”

“Why would I want to ruin all food?”

“It’s not ruining food if you’re just a little more informed.”

“Whatever Jon, I don’t want to see cows getting their throats slit and shit,” David grimaced.

The second mother and son vacated the vegetable section with brisk, liberal strides until they couldn’t hear obscenities. The Sojourn from the produce section to the registers seemed like a grueling proposition. David shuffled past a to-go lunch section. He got big eyes over the sushi.

“We should get lunch here sometime.”

“Are you eying the sushi?”

“Of course, man,” David felt a little cultured. “Sushi’s so good.”

“Don’t eat that, man.”

“Why?” asked David, a little angry.

“It’s probably irradiated, dude.”

“It’s what?”

“Irradiated,” said Jonathan, “from the nuclear waste in Japan.”

“Oh, please. That shit hasn’t harmed anything since that dock washed up.”

Jonathan spared David his potential mercury-tuna rant.

David picked up a variety pack of sushi in defiance.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Tuna has a ton of mercury in it.”

“Oh, please. Piss off.”

“I’m serious – it can poison you if you eat too much. It’s like eating an old thermometer.”

“Tuna is delicious.”

“Excuse me, are you two talking about mercury in tuna?”

A balding man approached the pair with gentle steps and leaned on a nearby cheese display. The man’s worn, turquoise fleece gave the man an air of credibility regarding marine life. The brothers couldn’t tell his age exactly, but if he had offspring, they likely would have been birthed after The Dukes of Hazard went into syndication, and before Michael Jordan tried baseball.

“Who are you?” inquired David.

“My name’s Sam. I used to be an animal trainer.”

“So you know about animals.”

“Well, tuna in particular,” he raised his salt and peppered eyebrows, “I used to train dolphins.”

The brothers smirked and passed off their collective, devilish countenance as sincere interest.

“So is it okay to eat tuna?”

“Well, I can’t imagine it would be that bad for you, but you could be harming dolphins.”

“How?”

“Did you know that oftentimes dolphins get stuck in tuna nets?”

“Seriously?” said David with as much sincerity as he could muster. “So do they put dolphins in tuna cans?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” said a downtrodden Sam.

David put back the sushi lunch pack – said goodbye to the packet of wasabi and made his sad way toward the counter. The logo on Mr. Hoot’s Fruit Twisters only reminded him of the diminishing population of cloud-forest screech owls.

Jonathan approached the counter and grinned at the lady behind it. Her name tag said, “Susan.” Susan looked as though she was bred to work the register at a place like this. Somewhere in the leathery musk that was the 1970s lived a timid buck and a flowery mare by which the cosmos forged Susan.

“Go get the car and pull it up to the front, David.”

Jonathan tossed the keys underhand to David, and David slunk outside.

“That’ll be four dollars today. Did you find everything alright?”

Jonathan looked at the door and then at Susan.

“Oh, dang! I forgot one thing.”

Jonathan returned with rosy cheeks.

“Alright, so with the sushi, that will be twelve dollars.”

© 2013 Andrew Tennant, Colette Tennant

“Wherman’s K9 Academy” by Meredith Levinson

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

Wherman’s K9 Academy

By Meredith Levinson

The demise of Mr. Andy Wherman’s K9 Academy began during Intermediate Puppy Class one Tuesday evening in July. The evening was cool and Mr. Wherman decided to hold class outside. They were focusing on resisting distractions, and what better place to practice that than the great outdoors?

The class participants starting arriving a little after 7, even though the class wasn’t until 7:30. Always punctual, the human counterparts took their studies at Mr. Wherman’s Academy very seriously. The application alone took months to process and those that made it onto the waitlist had been known to wait there sometimes upwards of a year. By the time the animals met their trainer for the first time, you could often tell by the fear in their quivering jelly-eyes that their owners had had a talking-to with them, and that they had better do well and graduate on time.

On this evening though the dogs and their owners were all smiles. After learning class was being held outside—what a nice change!– everybody made their way down to a well-groomed lawn inside a fenced pen. The dogs were free to run around and socialize, with the expectation of course that the owner pick up any “messes” their dog made. Many of the owners brought little baggies from home—the orange ones that the newspaper comes in. But if you wanted to splurge a little, you could spend $4 and buy a roll of custom-made doggie mess bags with Mr. Wherman’s face printed on them. These also sold on the internet and those who didn’t make it into the Academy could at least clean up their dog’s messes with the help of Mr. Wherman.

By the time it was 7:15, all seven human students and their dogs had arrived. Mr. Wherman’s assistant brought out the treats for the humans –doughnuts this evening–and arranged them stylishly on a glass table in the back. Small class sizes and human comforts were part of what made the business model for Mr. Wherman’s Academy great. The humans gravitated towards the doughnut table—they had earned their treat by means of the hundreds of dollars of tuition they paid to have the best-trained dogs in Iowa—and chatted about weekend plans, so-and-so’s son on the high school football team, and of course the travelling topiary exhibit that was coming to town. The temperature had cooled down to a comfortable 75 degrees—perfect t-shirt weather—and a few of the resident lightening bugs had come out, making Mr. Wherman’s last night as a successful animal trainer especially beautiful.

At 7:25, the man himself strode onto the thick grassy area. Mr. Wherman surveyed the activity of the dogs the people socializing. Yes, things were going according to plan. By week 4 it was important that at least some progress had been made, otherwise clients might lose faith in the program and then tell their friends and family. By week 4 it was important that puppies at the intermediate level be able to socialize independently without any major dog fights, and be able to respond to simple commands from a familiar human. In fact just before he came onto the lawn he’d been standing behind a pillar in a shadow listening for a dog-fight or one of the humans to exclaim “Don’t eat that!” when the doughnuts would surely tempt the dogs. But none of that had happened! Maybe he was a better dog trainer than even he expected. Either that, or this was an exceptional group of puppies. Regardless, Mr. Wherman was quite pleased with what he saw and believed that they were ready for the next unit: resisting distractions. He stepped out into the middle of the lawn on the dot of 7:30.

For the distraction lesson Mr. Wherman had each human command their puppy to sit and stay inside their assigned plastic hoop and then walk half way across the lawn. The key was to keep your dog completely still and have their eyes on the treat at all times. Once everyone had done this- and this took a bit of time—Mr. Wherman brought out his own neighborhood mailman, Chuck Wood, who had graciously volunteered to be this week’s distraction. It isn’t always true that dogs have an aversion to mailmen, that’s the stuff of movies, but Mr. Wherman found that this usually entertains his human students to no end, and so he struck a deal with Chuck to keep coming on week 4 of Intermediate Puppy class.

It was in the middle of Chuck’s great mailman distraction that disaster struck. He was pretending to go about his mail route, meandering across the yard, handing out “mail” to the human students (it was actually the Academy weekly newsletter) when suddenly, in one swift motion, something massive and feathered swooped in and snatched up little Tino, the Pomeranian. Was this part of the act? It took a moment for everyone to realize what had just happened. Suddenly there were seven plastic hoops and only six puppies. Everyone looked to the sky just in time to see the vague outline of a large bird flapping away over the cornfields into the darkness, Tino, barely visible within its grasp.

The rest of class was cancelled of course. Mrs. Steinhouser, Tino’s owner, was in hysterics, her pride and joy had disappeared-forever- during distractions class! Mr. Wherman began to sweat profusely, this was not what was supposed to happen at week 4. There was nothing at animal training school that could have prepared him for this. He said how deeply sorry he was to Mrs. Steinhouser, that something so awful should occur under his watch—but to Tino’s credit, in his last moments he was sitting completely still and had kept his eyes on the treat. Mr. Wherman even let Mrs. Steinhouser take all the doughnuts home with her. Even so, when he went home that night he had a sinking feeling that the legacy he had built for himself was now over.

Indeed it was. No one showed up for the next day’s classes, nor the following day’s classes either. They all later learned the culprit of Tino’s death: Two great horned owls had escaped from the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines earlier that week, and were ravenous. That brought closure to Mrs. Steinhouser, but only a focus point for anger for Mr. Wherman. By the end of July, word had spread about Tino’s disappearance from Mr. Wherman’s Academy and enrollment was at an all-time low.

Frantic, Mr. Wherman called up his most faithful clients. No one wanted to take their dog to a school that was unsafe, where their beloved puppies could be snatched up from birds in the sky. Even his clients with great Danes, dogs far too heavy to be lifted by great horned owls, didn’t want to return (“who knows what’ll escape from the zoo next!” they told him). It was mid-August when Mr. Wherman knew he had to throw in the towel and call it quits. Because of an owl his whole booming business had died. Because of an Owl he had to change vocations at the age of 47. He decided to take his left over doggie mess bags with his face printed on them and join his friend Chuck wood in delivering mail.

© 2013 Meredith Levinson

“A Chance Encounter” by Kellie Doherty

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

A Chance Encounter

By Kellie Doherty

Isis fiddled with her bracelet, swirling it around and around. The metal bit into her wrist. A nervous habit. She hoped to overcome it as an adult and yet, she still swirled. Her apartment loomed around her. The white walls and a hardwood floor seemed to judge her. Everything seemed to judge her. Everything would for running away. Brown boxes full of her old life sat piled in the corner by the door. It hurt too much to look at them. A green wallet and pair of sneakers sat beside them. The rest of the apartment lay bare, lifeless. An ache thudded deep in her chest. She rubbed her arms, wishing she had more than a t-shirt to wear. She had already walked through the place – a single bedroom and bath down the short hallway, a small kitchen to her right – she stood in the living area, facing the only window in the entire place.

The San Francisco skyline seemed imposing, the building spires jutting into the sky and the harsh white lights blotting out the stars. Headlights flashed by from a passing car. She shielded her eyes from the glare, but the taillights, crimson in the darkness, held her gaze. Its fading light splashed on the pavement, drawing up instant memories. Blood on the road, spilling from a cracked skull, eyes slowly shutting. Pain lanced through her heart. She pressed her hands on the sill, steadying herself. Even in this chilly apartment her palms sweated. Did her father have time to break? Isis rubbed the back of her neck and forced the memories down. Shifting her weight, she sighed and closed the blinds.

“Ms. Ivori? Are you ready to sign?”

Isis Ivori jumped. She had almost forgotten the landlord. A red faced man in a bright yellow shirt and pants that barely covered his girth, he snacked too often on jerky. In her apartment, too. She smiled. She had thought of this as her apartment. Funny. How fast things could change. Too fast, almost. The smile slid off her lips. She turned to Tomas Henderson.

“Yes, I’m ready.”

Tom handed her a clipboard of paper and a blue pen. She signed quickly, not wanting him to see her half-bitten nails. Too quickly, perhaps, for the ink smeared on her hand. It was always an issue when a southpaw like herself. She wiped the leftover ink on her jeans and gave him a smile. He didn’t know her well enough to know it wasn’t sincere. No one would know here.

“I guess that’s it then.” Tom mumbled through a mouthful of beef. He took the clipboard from her and strutted out the door. A bird, exactly like an ostrich actually, strutting like that. The door slammed heavily behind him.

“Yes,” Isis replied, “that’s it.”

**

Karla sat beside an empty container of ground-up earthworms, hands covered in the brown substance. Patrick, the bearded dragon, sat on her leg and munched on the last morsel of worm, he seemed content. She stroked his back, finger running over the dimpled skin, tracing the tan patterns. Patrick lifted his front leg and circled it, the common greeting for his species. He did it when he was happy, too.

“Good boy, Patrick.” Karla lifted the reptile from her leg and placed it in the tank. She flipped on the heat light. Patrick wandered over to the stone underneath it and flopped down. “That’s it, rest up for tomorrow. We have a show to put on.”

Karla feathered out the ferns in the corner of his tank over, providing some more hiding spots if necessary, then pinned the screen top in place. She lifted a tiny bottle of sanitizer from her vest pocket and squirted some into her palm, spreading it around with the other hand. Couldn’t be too careful. Another trainer had refilled Patrick’s water bowl and scooped the soiled areas clean. Truthfully Karla didn’t even need to be here, not this late at night. But she hadn’t been able to sleep and this placed always made her happy.

At night it was the best place to be, the San Francisco Zoo. Dragging her fingers across the chairs in the center, she looked at the all too familiar surroundings She loved it here, the darkened pathways winding around the mammal habitats, the quiet hooting from the bird cages. The usual noise of the city seemed muted in this place. Karla grabbed a plate of lettuce and, humming softly, moved deeper into the reptile habitat. Cages lined the walls here. The sweet scent, the soft glow from their heating lamps, even the heavy moist air seemed comforting.

Suzi’s tank was in the back, the only alligator lizard in the habitat, a species native to California. Karla walked over to her tank, tucked in the corner of the habitat, right next to the exit door. Suzi’s tank was darkened. Some assistant had probably forgotten to turn on the light. Laughing, she placed the lettuce on the fake green grass table islanding in the center of this room. Squeezing herself between the wall and the cage, Karla fumbled with the wires. Sure enough one of the plugs lay on the dirt floor. She plugged it back in. Light bloomed overhead. Karla tapped on the glass, peering inside. She spotted her friend instantly. Suzi hid under her branch, her bright yellow and green scales standing out against the brown flooring. Movement caught Karla’s eye, she stared past the double glass panes and gasped. A women clad in jeans and black coat reached for the lettuce. The woman’s shoulder length blond hair hid part of her face, but sky blue eyes stared intently at the food. The woman snatched a leaf and brought her hand to her mouth.

“Don’t eat that!” Karla yelped.

**

Isis jerked her hand back, the lettuce she grabbed falling to the floor. The reptile spoke to her? No. She narrowed her eyes. A black haired stranger stared at her from behind the tank, dark eyes widening. What the hell was the woman doing behind the glass? Isis glanced at the fallen lettuce. What the hell was she doing? Her stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten anything since she heard of her father’s death. Hadn’t wanted to. She synched her coat tighter, hoping to quell the noise. The woman came around the cage. A black zoo jacket with McField, Animal Trainer stitched in white covered her basic white shirt. The stranger wiped her hands on her dark pants.

“It’s just lettuce.” Isis picked up the greenery and held it out.

The woman plucked the lettuce from Isis’s fingers and placed it on the plate. “It’s laced with sedative. And vitamins to make Suzi’s scales shiny. It’s not meant for human consumption.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean–”

The worker grabbed the entire pile of leaves and fiddled with the tank, dropping the lettuce into the space. Isis couldn’t help herself. Isis stared, she couldn’t help herself. The worker was very pretty, and her jeans practically warranted it. Scrubbing a hand over her face, Isis cursed herself. What was she doing? Her cheeks burned, and she folded her arms across her chest. She had no right to stare.

The worker closed the cage up, then faced Isis again. Lines creased the sides of her mouth as her frown deepened. “You’re not supposed to be here. The Zoo is closed. How’d you even get in?”

Isis scowled. Not her proudest moment, but she didn’t like the tone of the woman’s voice. Her own tone hardened. “I snuck in.”

The woman snatched the now empty plate. “Why?”

“Fifteen dollars is too much for entry. But I wanted to see the birds.”

The woman sighed, tucking the plate under her arm. “What’s your name?”

“Isis Ivori. What’s yours?”

“Karla McField, nice to meet you. Ivori, huh? The woman pulled out her phone and flipped it open. “Good, I can alert the authorities now.”

Isis stepped back, mouth falling open. Her stomach growled again, louder this time. The woman glanced down, eyeing the tightened belt.

**

Karla grimaced at the thinness of this woman’s waist. This Isis Ivori was obviously a recluse, judging from the way she shied away. Karla’s compassion built up over years of dealing with injured animals as a vet before her zoo years pried against her anger at finding this woman after hours. She did seem awfully hungry. Karla reached into her vest’s pocket and got out a crisp ten-dollar bill.

She pushed it to the woman. “Here.”

Isis stared at the money. She tentatively held out her hand.

Karla dropped the bills into it. “Buy some real food. I won’t call the cops this time. But if I ever catch you here again, Isis Ivori, you will be taken to jail.”

Isis jerked her head down and dashed away, her footsteps gradually getting softer as she ran.

Karla shook her head. “Am I crazy?”

No, she answered her own question. Just shocked to see another person here at night. Heat crept over her cheeks. And such a pretty one at that. Karla smiled. Down, girl, no need getting excited over some homeless woman. Besides her kindness had another side. She pushed against the exit door, bursting out into the fresh air. If she had called the cops, they’d wonder why she was here as well.

**

Isis awoke, her dream still wanting to pull her down. The giant hole inside the earth, the stone tablet, the tiny bouquet of lilies haunted her even here. She shook her head, stretching her arms to ease the building tension. The mattress seemed lumpier than at her home. Was that even possible? No, probably not, it was probably her who was out of sorts in this city.

Her actions of the previous night came back to her in a rush. The pretty zoo worker. The sad look creasing the worker’s face. The charity money she used to get a pathetic dinner that she hadn’t even touched. Of course she’d make that kind of impression.

But when the zoo worker, no when Karla stared at her with those bright gray eyes, Isis’s heart pounded much too erratically. She tried to shove her feelings down. No one really knew about her love for women. But that was because she hadn’t told them. She meant to, though. The ache started again, deep in her chest, shoving the air out of her lungs. She had always meant to tell her parents, always meant to discuss this aspect of her. But she never had the courage.

And now she never could.

The tightness in her chest squeezed. Her throat constricted. She swallowed the guilt down and got ready for the day.

Dressing in her best outfit – a simple pair of black slacks, an unadorned gray shirt she particularly liked today, and a pair of black heels – she locked her apartment and walked down a hallway, trailing her fingers on the smooth yellowed wallpaper. Tom had stopped by three times that night as she unpacked, once to check her water still worked, again to see if she had enough bedding for the night and a third to ask her out for dinner.

She refused, mainly because she needed to unpack, but also because he wasn’t her type. A small part of her she kept hidden from the world revolted against the man. No, he was far away from her type. She had gone out soon after. And met the zoo worker. The intensity of the woman’s gray eyes stayed with Isis. Her chest tightened. Tears prickled the backs of her eyes. She reached the end of the hallway and pushed the main door open, the chill autumn air chasing the pain away. For now, at least.

Isis passed by unfamiliar faces in this unfamiliar city, the spires dwarfing her small statue. She pulled her old black peacoat tighter across her stomach and kept her gaze to the sidewalk. It was easier that way. Reaching the building she needed, Isis went into a lawyer’s office, the only one in town that had given her a job. She slid behind the receptionist’s desk and counted the hours down until the end of day.

**

Karla clapped her hands. Patrick sauntered over to her, waving his foot around. The audience surrounding her red Showcase table cheered. A glass pane separated them and her. The protective column kept the audience members from touching her pets. One little boy smiled and tapped his finger hard on the glass, his eyes trained the lizard. Karla stared at the little boy and wagged her finger, putting on her sternest of faces. The boy backed away. Karla winked and the boy smiled again. It took very little to cheer the younger ones up. The adults though, she scanned the crowd, the adults watched passively thus far, hands on their children’s shoulders, waiting for the chance to pull them away. She tried hard to impress the older generation just as much as the younger. Her act hadn’t failed her yet.

“Patrick may be a lizard, but he’s a gentleman as well,” Karla said in a clear voice.

Karla reached under her table and brought out a tiny black top hat. She perched it atop Patrick’s head. Patrick slowly bobbed his head up and down, a sign of submission, causing the children to clap. One father raised his eyebrow, a smirk climbing up his face.

Karla continued her routine with practiced ease. “He does look very good, but he might just need a cane and briefcase too.”

She brought out a tiny cane and a matching black case, both handles coated with a sticky substance to allow Patrick for easier grabbing. She put the items next to her lizard and stroked his back. Pulling out her spray bottle, she misted the area around her pet, then misted him as well. It was their sign, that she would scare him in a few moments and to not worry. She didn’t like pushing him, but he always seemed to enjoy it. He inched closer to the toys, wrapping his claws around each item.

More adults zoned in. One mother even leaned closer.

Karla smiled. They would love this. She plucked her last item from under the table – a single bird feather. Dragging the feather across the table, she flicked it against Patrick’s tail. He spooked. Lifting onto his two hind legs, he ran a few steps, unintentionally clanking the cane on the table and swinging the briefcase in the process. For a second, he actually did look like a lizard businessman, late for a bus. The audience burst into cheers. He lowered onto all fours and his skin brightened to yellow. His happy color. Karla smile widened as the children gasped at the sudden change. She placed her hand gently by his side, stroking her thumb across the spins of his neck. He always was happiest after she spooked him. Somehow, he knew it was a game. She slid her hand under the belly, careful to curl her fingers underneath and support his bulk. His tail rested gently on her arm.

Once reassured he was comfortable, she raised her gaze. Bright blue eyes stared back. The woman from before. Isis Ivori. Still wearing her black jacket, still peering intently at her. Karla had been on the receiving end of a staring contest many times before, but, for the first time, it felt as if the other woman stared not just at her, but through her, too. Exposed, Karla dropped her gaze. The audience members clapped their hands and wandered away, the high-pitched bell ringing through the air, cutting conversations and viewings short. Karla started, like she always had this week. The new addition to her zoo would take some getting used to.

A tapping distracted her. She looked up. Isis moved closer to the pane, a ten dollar bill faceup on the glass. Isis face crinkled adorably as she smiled. Adorably? Karla shook her head, shaking that thought out of her mind. It had been a full two weeks since she’d seen the strange woman, and long since forgotten her money offering. Karla put Patrick back in his little carrying case – a gray box with holes punctured through it and bedding inside – and washed her hands in the tiny sink next to her table. She latched opened the column. Isis met her on this side, holding out the cash.

Shifting Patrick from one hand to the other, Karla took the money, trying to ignore the sudden heat in her fingers as they grazed Isis’s.

“Thanks,” Karla muttered.

“No.” Isis shook her head. “I wanted to thank you for giving it to me in the first place. It was my first night here and I didn’t really plan on getting dinner. You solved that for me.”

“You’re new?” Karla motioned for Isis to follow, leading the way down the path towards the reptile habitat. She felt surprisingly at east with this new girl. The woman looked no older than herself, twenty-five at most. Her black jacket fell open, revealing a purple shirt and what looked to be the same tattered jeans as before.

“Yes.” Isis blurted the word out quite loud. Karla raised an eyebrow.

Isis continued, her words mashing together. “I have an apartment by the Seward Street Slides. I work as a receptionist. I have money, really. You just caught me on a bad day. I had to move and didn’t plan it very well, that’s all.”

They reached the reptile habitat. Karla held the door. A blast of warm moist air washed over them. Karla breathed deep, but caught the grimace crossing Isis’s face. Did she not like it inside the reptile room? A crazy sense of chivalry pounded through Karla’s mind and, for more than a second, she wondered if they should sit outside instead. Then Isis walked into the habitat, pushing back her long hair. Karla caught a flash of something silver on Isis’s wrist. As if responding to her curiosity, Isis brought her hand up and twisted the bracelet around and around.

Karla slid past her. “What? Did some guy break your heart or something in your old town?”

“Yes, actually.” Isis stopped twirling the bracelet.

Shit. Karla pushed too far again. She cursed her stupidity. Why was she so damn curious about this woman? She tried backtracking. “Oh, I’m sorry–”

Isis interrupted her. “My dad died.”

**

Isis bit her tongue, the pain spiking through her mouth. But she had to or all the other crappy things in her life would come blubbering after. Why was she spilling her guts? In the middle of some hazy room surrounded by reptiles to some woman she only met once before. What the hell was she doing?

Isis tried to cover her slip. “I’m sorry, Karla, I didn’t mean to say that. I hardly know you.”

Karla let the lizard go back into its tank. “It’s okay.”

“No, I shouldn’t–”

Karla sat down on the padded chairs that ran through the middle of the reptile habitat. She patted the seat beside her. “It’s okay. You can talk to me if you’d like.”

Isis slumped into the chair. She leaned back, running a hand over her face. It all came back to her too fast. The rain, the slick roads, the terrible car accident and the terrible night her father died. Her chin trembled. Her dad died. She’d never see him again. She looked, unseeing, at the tanks glowing around her. She rubbed her arms, trying to warm them. It didn’t work. Shock ran through her once more and, even in the midst of all this, she put her head in her hands and cried. Much to her surprise, Karla rubbed her back.

“I ran away.” Sniffing, Isis tried to compose herself. She couldn’t breath very well. It came out in a rush, her story. “I ran away from home like a pathetic little girl. I left my mom. I just couldn’t stand it there anymore. There was this car accident, a horrible car accident, the car was completely wrecked and my dad…” Isis couldn’t finish. Her sobbing cut off her speech. She took a few steadying breaths. Her eyes trained on the dirt floor and the varying footprints embedded in it. “My father died. It was just a month ago. When I heard the news, I just couldn’t process it. So I ran away. It was stupid, I know, but I couldn’t take it. I never did it. I never could tell him that–”

Tears coursed hot rivers down her cheeks. She ran a hand over her face, tying to scrub the pain away. Her chest tightened. She hated that Karla’s hand still resting on her back felt so good. It made her cry all the harder. What the hell was she doing? Sobbing her life story to a woman she barely knew? Pathetic.

“Tell him what?” Karla asked.

Isis shook her head. She couldn’t tell some random woman. Not if she couldn’t even tell her own parents. It would be too pathetic. So she lied. “Tell him that I loved him.”

“He knew that,” Karla whispered. “Of course he knew that.”

Isis drew herself up, tightening her muscles to keep them from shaking, and swiped a hand over her eyes. She took a few more deep breaths. They didn’t help very much. “Yes, yes he did. I’m just being silly, crying all over the place.”

Karla reached over and touched Isis’s hand. Normally she would flinch away but, this time, Isis didn’t mind.

“It’s not silly. It’s not silly at all.” Karla squeezed her hand. “Hold on, wait here for a second, okay?”

Isis nodded and Karla darted out the door.

**

Karla couldn’t stop thinking of Isis as she ran through the now empty zoo. Poor girl. She skidded to a stop at the eatery – a quaint little wood cabin. She snuck inside, hinging the heavy door open so it wouldn’t squeak. It was a simple eatery, round tables on one end and an open kitchen on the other. She went around the counter and snuck her hand underneath, procuring a bottle and two shot glasses. Mike wouldn’t mind. But just in case she slapped four dollars onto the table then headed out. The stuff wasn’t even worth spending that much but at a time of need even this crap could taste okay. A father’s death warranted it anyway.

She arrived back at the reptile habitat and slipped inside. Isis looked no happier, fingers of one hand twisting through the bracelet of another. The chain snapped and the bracelet fell to the floor. Karla swooped down to pick it up before Isis could and handed it back to Isis. The simple chain with three silver charms – owls, all of them, all lined up in a row – rested lightly on her palm before Isis snatched it back.

She nodded to the bracelet. “What’s with the owls?”

At the question Isis seemed to perk up. She straightened in her chair and drew her finger across the charms. She even smiled a little. “They were my dad’s favorite creature, he always thought that liking owls automatically made him wise.”

Karla laughed. When she realized she shouldn’t, though, she stopped. “Sorry. That’s a nice way of thinking.”

“What’s that?” Isis pointed to the bottle Karla still grasped in her other hand.

Karla brought it around, the frosted glass displaying a single sweet treat. “This is doughnut vodka. Mike has some better stuff in the back, but he wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

Isis merely stared. “Vodka made from doughnuts?”

Karla laughed. The woman seemed so shocked. What town was she from anyway? She opened the bottle and poured two glasses. “They can put almost anything into vodka nowadays. What little hick town did you grow up in?”

Isis took a sip and shuddered. “Cornfields. It’s in Arizona.”

Karla eyed Isis. If only the woman wasn’t so beautiful. Even in this harsh environment, her skin seemed to glow. “And you picked California because…”

“It was close enough to home but far enough away, too.” Isis took another sip. “This stuff tastes disgusting.”

Karla downed her shot and grimaced as the liquid burned down to her stomach. “Yeah, well it’s not really supposed to taste good.”

“Then why drink it at all?”

“Because it’s better than nothing.” Karla smirked and poured herself another shot. “So, what else didn’t you tell your dad?”

**

Isis downed her shot. It seemed to be a bright idea to make more time for herself, but the stuff burned so bad she ended up hacking into her hand instead. How did this stranger ask such good questions? Her entire body seemed to ache from holding in this truth. She kept it hidden for so long, her little secret. She couldn’t tell anyone now. But she had always meant to tell her parents someday, when the time was right. What the hell? This woman doesn’t know her from Jane anyway.

Isis blurted out the truth. “I never told him I’m a lesbian.”

Karla leaned back in her chair and downed her second shot. She nodded. “It can be hard to do.”

“How would you know?”

Karla smiled. “I’m one as well.”

Isis couldn’t believe it. The second person she really talks to in this big city is a like her? “What?”

Laughing, Karla put her glass down and rested her elbows on her knees, glancing over her shoulder. “You didn’t think there were many of us around? Or that you somehow where the only one did you?”

“No, it’s just… I didn’t think I’d…” Nothing smart came to mind so Isis halted her mumbling.

“You’re not alone, you know.” Karla leaned back once more and hooked her arm around the chair, fully turning to face Isis. “If you feel so strongly about it, you should do it. Tell your father’s grave if that’ll make you feel better. He probably already knew anyway. My whole family knew before I realized it myself.” She patted Isis’s leg. “You should go home and grieve with your mother. She probably needs you more than ever right now. After that, tell her what you wanted to tell your dad, let her know how you feel. It’ll be hard, terrifying actually, but you’ll get through it and come out stronger on the other side.”

Isis marveled at this woman sitting beside her, this stranger who seemed to know her so well and say the exact things she needed to hear. “You’re very wise.”

“And I don’t even have an owl bracelet.” Kayla smiled and nudged her on the shoulder, as if to say, go, go now! A small smile pulled at Isis’s lips. She nodded. Yes, she should go home. She placed her glass on the chair, squeezed Kayla’s hand between her own, and walked out the door.

**

Kayla could only smile. She went over to Patrick’s cage and thumbed the screen open, reaching inside. Her fingers curled around Patrick’s wide belly, stroking the soft skin underneath. He curled around her hand and waved his arm.

She petted his chin. “Sometimes all you need is a little push to reach your full potential, right, bud?”

© 2013 Kellie Doherty

“Coaptation” by Giovanni Ortiz

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

Coaptation

By Giovanni Ortiz

There was a downpour on the window I stared out of. The city doesn’t faze me and never will. The lights jumbling up as each drop of entropy fall onto the window. The shapes outside has no form, no actual definition. Red, gold, and green seems to be all over my window. There is a Shhhh! that seems unending. Like, thousands and millions of people are outside throwing rice at the window. But, it is something beautiful and less hateful; it’s rain. I loved the rain, out in Nebraska it smelled fresher and cleaner, something man couldn’t poison with smoke. I want to stop the taxi driver and stand out there, in the middle of the street, and take a shower looking at the stars. I want the rain to fall over me and wash the sweat, tears, and nervousness off. I want to start fresh and have the rest of the day’s worries paint its picture, whether it’s abstract or objective. I want to look at everyone’s face and give them meaning. On the other hand, I need to go home. I continue to let my red eyes watch the silent movie called NYC. I’m sure he didn’t mean to break every bone in my body with only words.

I don’t think anyone would believe I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him– actually a lot of people would. I did spend the beginning of my life with him. I witnessed his first kiss. He told me all about his first time with Jessica Ramano, sophomore year, the day after they’d done it. I told him about all of my firsts. We usually told each other secrets when either he or I were on our way back home– we were neighbors– making a stop on the side of the road. You know, when you’re on the road and there’s an open field, well there were a lot of them in Nebraska. So, we’d stop and leave our school bags in the passenger seat. Then, we would chase and lose each other in the cornfields. The scent of dried grass, a field, and corn danced beneath our noses. We yelled our names, shielding our eyes from the sun, until we’re found. Usually, we’d laugh as our butt hit the ground. Our lungs, lighter and lighter, made us feel higher and higher. Is it possible to get high off of laughter? (I found out that being “high” doesn’t feel like “being high”. It felt worse. Like, a deeper pressure that made me want to cry and laugh all at the same time.) We’d whisper small secrets to each other as the sun jumps over us and dips below the corn. I’d realize I had math homework I needed to finish. My mother had a rule about being out without much permission after the sun is set. He’d guide me through the corn and find the old, faded blue 1980 impala. He’d drive home because I wanted to be in control of the radio. We never shared similar tastes in music, he was into punk and I was into classic. I wish I knew that would be one of the signs that it wasn’t going to work out. I wished we found our middle ground at the beginning.

“Excuse me, sir. Can you pull over?” I say to the taxi driver. He glances back at me, a line of sweat just beneath his hairline, black hair drooping over his forehead sticking to the sides of his face. Jeez, he was sweaty. I feel the car take a detour and my body lurch to the right. Tonight, I need something strong, to keep me away from myself. He pulls over and I ask him to wait, my box of things in the trunk reassured him. I open the door and the sound of rice hitting the window sounds like a crowd cheering instead. Opening my umbrella, I wedge myself between the two cars the taxi double parked over to get to the sidewalk. The fluorescent lights gave the store a sterile feeling, as if it’s a hospital. It’s like a morgue for wine and liquor. A middle aged man looks up at me as I walk in the store, my boots making the annoying squishy sound you get when you walk on linoleum with wet shoes. He diverts his attention back to the book he was reading.

I walk to the back of the store; I don’t know whether or not I want whiskey, vodka or gin. I was probably staring at the assortment of bottles for about two minutes. The guy shouts behind me, “You okay back there?” His voice is raspy and somewhat friendly. I grab a bottle of Scotch and went to the counter. He asks for ID, I give him money and show my ID. Maybe I need two… I grab the bag of alcohol and thank him. On my way out, I open the umbrella and make a jog for the taxi. I’m sure the hems of my jeans are soaked. I thank the taxi driver and repeat the original address I’m headed to. Cradling the bottle on my lap, I take a gander outside the window as the people’s faces blur around me. There’s traffic and I’m grateful for that. I’m not an alcoholic, I promise. But, I need something to make me feel temporarily better. Understand?

We had our first cans of beer together. I didn’t like going to parties until college, so whenever there was a party we’d sit in his basement, watch a classic horror flick, eat stale doughnuts and drink a cold can of beer we spent four dollars on. Sometimes when Dale, a senior at the high school we went to, worked a shift at the local drug store he’d let us buy cans of beer. His long pale hair sometimes mixed in with his facial hair, the drugs made him age a lot quicker than he’d have wanted, and he always spoke in a sort of whisper saying something like “Don’t drink and drive, Juniors.” He reminded me of the stoners you’d see on television with a bag of drugs sitting in their back pocket at all times. I always told him what I thought of him, too. He always said we looked more like a couple than “a pair of pair of good friends”. Actually, everyone said it. I was always first to deny, he always had a girlfriend.

I could barely imagine myself sitting in his basement, the washing machine and dryer mending the laundry, as the opening credits of a movie played. The brown carpet floor tickling my toes and the old squeaky couch sitting in front of the new-but-old television we’d saved enough money for. I would always lean back on the arm of the couch, while he sat on the other end, and let my feet touch the side of his thigh. Helen Chandler’s scream acted as background as we’d debate whether or not Bela Lugosi was the best Dracula. I remember when he realized the argument was over and that I won, he stopped talking and ruffled his hands in his brown hair and watch the movie. His hair wasn’t exactly soft and fluffy, but thin and wild, as if he’s never combed it (Probably didn’t). It still is crazy looking, from time to time. I miss spending four dollars on beer, eating stale doughnuts and watching Frankenstein in your basement.

The taxi turns the corner to my apartment. It is small and cheap. Granted that it is Manhattan, not enough space for everyone to live and breathe in luxury. I tip the driver and thank him. He looks a lot like Freddie Mercury and smells what I imagine Russell Brand would smell like if he wasn’t famous. The taxi driver helps me inside by holding my umbrella. I grab my box of things, hold on to the Scotch and make my way up the stairs. We used to live together, mainly because we were best friends and that’s what best friends did. They’d moved to New York City together after leaving their small town in the mid-west. They’d eat breakfast together and helped each other find jobs. They’d give each other ten dollar bills and felt bad when their boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with them. Best friends are brothers and sisters that were lost in the war of parenthood, and dropped into two different families by fate. That’s exactly what we were. I had to get my own apartment as soon as we realized we both grew icicles on our shoulders. There was never a warm shoulder to give anymore. We gave it a try and it didn’t work. The one thing we promised each other wouldn’t happen happened. Nothing was ever the same.

It took me a whole month to find an apartment. The movers dropped everything off earlier this morning, that’s when I realized that this was actually happening. We both moved, I moved across the city and he moved on. He probably doesn’t even care anymore. So, I try not to care and move on.

My apartment is full of boxes, the bed is bare and set up in the only bedroom and the living room is bare. I search the boxes for sheets and glasses. I walk, practically crawl, to my bedroom and sit on the floor and lean my back on the base of my bed. My feet touch the wall. The walls were white and needs a new coat of paint. Maybe turquoise. That’s the luxury I have now, choosing my own wall colors. I place the glass on the floor and pour some Scotch. I down it in one gulp. The liquor burns my throat. It always burns on the first gulp. I pour some more. Henry, the dog I’ve had since I graduated college, pounces on my lap. I lazily drag my hand across his short fur.

“I don’t need him, I only need Henry. Right, boy?” I scratch behind his ear and make baby noises at him. He wags his tail and licks my face. I grab the glass and drink the glass in a second. Another burn, only a slight tingle. He settles on my lap and huffs. I continue on a gentle stroke and decide to drink straight from the bottle.

When I was ten, I wanted to be an animal trainer. I watched all the television shows on Discovery Kids and Animal Plant. I practically begged my mom for a dog or cat. But, she was terribly allergic. I got a turtle, instead. All my other fish didn’t last long. He had a puppy. It was a golden retriever. He named her Gold, very original. I tried teaching Gold how to sit and used phrases like “give me a paw, girl!” We practically shared her. I even fed her sometimes. I really appreciated him and his family, even as a ten year old. I got Henry because I missed the way Gold licked my face. I missed how her golden fur felt soft under my hands. I even missed walking her, stepping on dog poop and having to clean my flip flops off before walking in my house. When I went to college I no longer wanted to be an animal trainer. I wanted to be something mature and sophisticated. I wanted to be something my mother could brag about, “Oh. My daughter got into this college in New York City.” I gave up my dream just to be an adult. Now, I wish I was a kid again, more than ever.

I am halfway through the Scotch; it no longer burned my throat. Henry laid across my waist as my face was stuck to the hardwood floor of my tiny bedroom. I take another swig. My head is clouded with him, him, him. I want to scream, kick, and throw. But, I can’t scream, kick or throw. I’d disturb the neighbors. I want to lie down and cry. But, I refuse to lay down and cry for my own dignity. On Henry’s collar is a small owl charm he’d bought for the dog when I first brought him home from the animal shelter. It symbolized Henry’s job as being the watchdog. Plus, the ol’ puppy had a habit of being a night owl. Henry the Sad and Lonely became Henry the Happy and Brave. I became Happy and Swooning. He became Moody and Argumentative. It was like he didn’t like the relationship part of me after a year and a half. He hated me even more after we called it splits.

I take Henry’s collar off delicately, as if it were Queen Elizabeth’s crown. I hold it up in the dim light. I have everything that I’ve given to him. He has everything he has given to me– excluding the charm, it belongs to Henry. Does he look at the things and remembers when he gave them to me and how I reacted. I remember hugging and kissing him. Thanking him for giving the charm to me to put on Henry’s collar. He was less moody and argumentative, then. He was happy and swooning. He smiled too much and his messy hair was cut short. He began to grow it out. It became the messy and scruffy mess it was when he was just a sloppy teenage boy. He still smelled like cheap cologne and talked too fast. He was angry and blamed me for everything. I’m sure Henry was happy, too. He looked happy, his tail wagging fast as I kissed him full on the lips.

Henry began licking the empty glass. “Stop!” I hissed at Henry. His tail hung low and he went into a whimper as he laid his head on my leg. It was like turning off the engine to a chopper. It died to a silence. No more whooshing. I rubbed Henry’s head. I finished the bottle of Scotch.

We went to a French restaurant. He just got a big deal for a film and was excited and happy. He was the happiest he has ever been, I wanted to cry. He knew I wanted to cry. I’ve always been an emotional fool. This was the first time we’ve ever been to a French restaurant, another first of ours. He was holding my hand. I was wearing this expensive dress my mother gave me money for. He was wearing an expensive suit his mother gave him money for. There was some violinist playing in the back and waiters with fake French accents. The room held the conversation amongst the rich. I was joking about it all in whispers to him. He laughed. Jesus, he laughed a lot. I missed that about him. He hasn’t laughed in a long time.

We ordered something that came in small portions that made us want to eat pizza an hour later. It was almost like a dream. The chandeliers and the diamonds sitting in the middle of the table were almost dream-like. I made another joke about how I wanted to dance on the tables like a drunken fool and he laughed and dared me to. I’m not a dare devil. Neither of us are. He ordered a chocolate cake that had a name I couldn’t spell or pronounce properly– he’d made sure to make fun of me for it. I was getting ready to eat a big spoonful of the cake. He dramatically gets up, green eyes wide, and nearly yells, “Don’t eat that!” I drop the spoon on the clean white table cloth. He pulled something from the food and wipes it off with his napkin. He gets on one knee and very romantically proposes. Everyone was looking and cheering us on. I did the worst thing ever and said no. His world shattered. It lasted us a month before we officially broke up. I saw it coming. It felt as if it were too late. I already denied his proposal.

The bed got colder and colder. It was like sleeping next to a ghost that haunted you. The idea of marriage scared me. He didn’t want to accept that. I blame the fact that my parent’s marriage never worked out. What makes you think my marriage would work!

He shouted at me and nagged me at everything I did. You’ll never make a good wife if you cook like this. You’ll never make a good wife if you say no to a proposal. I couldn’t take it. Neither could he and I left. We left the relationship. I had to leave the apartment. Now I miss him and wish I said otherwise. Now I wish I was booking wedding venues and tasting cakes. I wish I loved him the way he loved me. It was all my fault, or were truly never meant to be?

I wake up to Henry licking my face and the poisonous sun shining through my window. The birds are chirping a somber song and my phone is beeping along with it. I have a headache. It feels as if my head was thrown around and hitting the ground like a basketball. Then, someone delicately twisted my head right back. I groan and pull the phone out of my pocket. It’s a voicemail. I dial 1 for speed dial and put the password in, it was the first five letters of my last name. The answering machine’s voice can’t talk any faster. His voice reminds me of honey, it sweetened up my days. All he said was, “I miss you, too.”

Those four words told me that there was a coaptation of our lives. We’ll never be over because we are best friends, and by fate we are together.

© 2013 Giovanni Ortiz