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“Temper” by Lauren Frantz

Temper

Lauren Frantz

Anna came home to a tiny, empty apartment. She threw her bags more than dropped them, and stalked into the empty kitchen. Crunch went the stiff refrigerator door as she wrenched it open, and she sighed, closing it carefully this time. She stepped over to the cabinet, and stubbed her toe on something with a clang. She swore and looked down. A black iron bar with pinched edges was lying on the floor of her kitchen, and the sight of it brought the memory back.

Anna stood squeezed into her tiny balcony, body pushing out over the edge toward the open air. The red and orange sky made the distant mountain show black and distinct against the colors, and the sea shone under the light of the sunset, but she could barely see it, her eyes running with furious tears. She had come here to do work that now felt impossible; there was no end to the assault, no point in lashing out, no words that meant anything or accomplished anything. Her lips compressed and her hands tightened on the railing as she thought of leaving these people to their own stupidity and selfishness and suffering. Her body jerked forward. The railing had come off in her hands, each end melted under her palms and the anger that had heated them. She threw it into the kitchen and stalked out of the house. If she was losing control severely enough to melt iron, she needed to expel some energy.

 

Now she was back in the house, tired but no less angry. She picked up the iron bar, thwacking it against her palm. Even without concentrating she could feel power gathering in the bar, focusing out of her hands. She looked down at it, and it began to glow slightly. A faint smile stole across her face. “Why not?” she murmured. For once, maybe she would be not careful, not cautious, maybe not even kind. She swung the bar in a circle, and it left tiny stars behind it in the air. She turned and strode out into the night.

Nicole downed a shot in the hopes that it would make her less aware of how people kept stepping on her feet and how godawful the current guy singing karaoke was. She was tired, bored, and in the mood for some real music, but she doubted she would get it in this packed bar.

“Thanks for coming,” Carrie shouted over the noise, a little ruefully.

“No problem,” Nicole answered, which was more or less a lie. Carrie hardly ever asked her for anything, so here she was, waiting for her friend to sing.

“I should get up there soon,” Carrie said, a little nervously. “Do you want to beat it to a club or someplace with live music after?”

“Maybe… let’s see how we feel,” she answered absentmindedly. She was watching Paul, who was hanging around over by the bar. She was fairly sure he hadn’t noticed her, which was probably a good thing. She didn’t mind running into him every now and then, but now was really not the time.

Carrie followed her gaze across the room. “…oh. I’m sorry, Nicole. Do you want me to get rid of him if he comes over here?”

“Nah… it’s no big deal… We talk sometimes and stuff. I’m not mad at him anymore.”

“Uh huh,” Carrie was looking at her skeptically, and Nicole let her gaze travel around the room. Her eyes fell on a woman sitting on the bar, one leg up on a barstool. Even though the room was crowded, there was a clear space around her, and no one seemed to notice her sitting up there, observing everything with a sardonic smile. Nor did anyone seem to notice the iron bar that she was swinging idly through the air.

Nicole stared at her fixedly, and the woman turned her head sharply and met Nicole’s eyes. Slowly, she smiled. Then, in a gesture that no one but Nicole appeared to notice, she raised the iron bar and pointed it directly at the speaker system. The music stuttered and stopped. The room filled with surprised voices and the singer onstage uncomfortably sidled away.

Nicole’s jaw dropped. The woman’s smile widened, and she jerked her head toward the stage. The speakers filled the room with static, and then began playing a new song.

“Hey, it’s your turn!” Carrie shouted cheerfully. Nicole looked at her in confusion, but in spite of the fact that her name was nowhere on the list, Carrie took her hand and started to propel her to the front of the room. Strangers joined her, people Nicole had never seen before—“It’s your turn!” “Get on the stage, girl!” “Come on!”—and then, when she stumbled, her body took over, and her mind froze in fear as she felt her legs walk her up onto the stage.

Her mouth opened. That woman on the bar was still smiling, now waving her iron bar like a conductor. Some distant part of Nicole’s shocked mind knew that she was singing, and knew that it was good. Paul had pushed to the front of the crowd, and was standing just below her, looking at her as he had not looked in months—like she was magical.

Anna saw the kid and her boy wander out into the night, wrapped in a dream, before she left the bar. The girl must have some kind of latent abilities, or she wouldn’t have noticed Anna in spite of her spells. Those abilities would likely be enough to keep the boy from realizing he’d been drawn in by magic. There was no reason for Anna to think about them more. She had more to do with her night of freedom than playing with teenagers.

Two hours later she strolled out of the now-empty zoo. As she walked down the street, power wreathed around her legs and sparked against the sidewalk. When she passed the city courthouse, a jet of sparks streamed up to coat every window and wriggle their way inside. And when she came to the discount department store where, earlier that day, she had undergone the last of the petty assaults that had finally made her crack, she strode inside with broken glass shimmering in her wake. Socks, T-shirts, sheets and underwear whirled through the air and fell like a blanket of soft, white snow. When she walked out, she looked up at the stars for the first time in what felt like a long, long time.

Anna turned the key to her building. She was tired. There was a reason she didn’t generally throw around her power this way. There would be a price; not only her personal exhaustion, but likely more work, new responsibilities that she had little energy to face. She slogged her way up the stairs and decided to worry about consequences tomorrow.

She opened the door to her apartment. The lights were blazing, and the smell of coffee was wafting from the little efficiency kitchen. Her eyes widened.

Nicole walked out of the kitchen. “Oh good, you’re home. I was getting tired of waiting.” She settled into Anna’s armchair and smiled wickedly.

“Who are you?” Anna choked out. “How did you get in here?”

“Well, I think I probably busted your lock.” Nicole looked thoughtful. “Once I knew there was magic available, it wasn’t that hard to use it, but I don’t have a lot of finesse.” She took a sip of coffee. “Yet.”

Anna’s shocked brain finally recognized the face she’d seen across a hazy bar. “You’re—the girl, from—the karaoke thing.” Her brow furrowed. “Didn’t you wander off with that boy? How did you find my house?”

Nicole raised her eyebrows. “After seeing somebody cast a spell or something for the first time in my life, I had better things to do than get back with my ex. You came on a motorcycle. I looked up your plates.”

Anna collapsed onto her tiny sofa. She hadn’t covered her tracks as well as she’d thought. Silently she began gathering the power she would need to erase herself from this woman’s memory.

“Stop it,” Nicole said sharply. Anna looked up in surprise. “You’re not going to do whatever you’re doing. You’re going to teach me.”

Anna’s jaw dropped. She had expected questions, demands—but not this. “What?”

“If I could figure out this much on my own, obviously I have some kind of talent. I’m assuming you don’t just use yours to mess around with people.” She stared at Anna over the rim of her mug. “I saw some of the other things you did tonight. I want to be a part of it.”

Anna hesitated—but she was sure, somehow, that the rest of her questions weren’t necessary. “Are you sure?” Nicole nodded.

Anna took a breath, then let it out in a deep sigh. The consequences—the new responsibilities—this was it. And somehow, now that it was staring her in the face, the weight didn’t seem so heavy anymore. Whatever she did, she wouldn’t be alone.

A faint smile passed across her face. “Well, then, welcome to the work, apprentice.” She held out her hand.

Nicole grinned, and took it. “Thank you. Now tell me where you sent all those animals when you busted them out of their tiny cages! And what, exactly, did you do to the mayor’s office? And all those huge, ugly mansions!”

“First I’m getting coffee.” The sun was starting to rise. It had been a long night, but today—today would be better.

© 2015 Lauren Frantz

“River Date” by Erica Korer

River Date

Erica Korer

Since all the the events that happened two years ago, Cory had become fearful. Suddenly all sorts of things she’d never given a second thought to–flying, skiing, passing strange dogs on the sidewalk–sent her into a terror spiral, suffocating in a flood of worst-case scenarios.

Or maybe, she thought, this was bound to happen regardless when she reached a certain age. She thought of her mother’s many anxieties, they way she clutched the steering wheel as she drove, always five miles below the speed limit, braking for nothing at all. “Be very, very, very careful,” she always said and still said when she talked to Cory on the phone.

But I’m just going to the supermarket, Cory used to think. Now, though, she wondered if her mother had a point. The world, if you really thought about it, was a terrifying place, a death trap around every corner.

When Miles suggested a kayaking date then, it took Cory a few moments, but she sighed and mustered some enthusiasm. After all, she had kayaked several times years ago and enjoyed it. And besides, she’d grown tired of sitting at bars and talking talking talking.

Miles was a good match for Cory, 90 percent if the algorithm was to be believed, and Cory felt you had to have faith in something. Like her he was tall and did environmental work, and they were both ex vegetarians. “Was bacon your gateway drug?” she wrote. “That was mine.”

“Bear, actually,” he wrote back. “My gateway drug was bear.”

She went to TJ Maxx to pick up some things she didn’t have and thought she might need–a towel that wasn’t clearly a bath towel, cheap athletic sandals, a sun hat. Cory’s family had a minor legend that took place in one of those stores. She was three and out shopping with her mother and father around the holidays. In a rare impulse, Cory’s father decided to scoop his daughter up and put her on his shoulders. The girl he lifted from behind, though, was not Cory but another small child who howled until Cory’s father realized what was happening and was completely mortified.

Cory had only shadowy recollections of the actual incident but was there for numerous retellings over the next few years, giddily standing by awaiting the twist. It was the wrong kid. The thing was, Cory couldn’t ever remember her father actually lifting her onto his shoulders, so with each re-telling of the story she felt the heartache of a missed opportunity. If only she’d been standing closer, she thought. TJ Maxx had become to her the spot where anything was possible, and so the few times she found herself back there with him, she stood in front of him and sent him telepathic messages. Now. Do it now. But he never did, and soon she was too big anyway.

They met at the harbor. Miles had his own kayak, but Cory had to rent one from the shop. She left her ID at the desk, put on a PFD, and sat down to sign their liability waiver. Risk of injury, including the potential for permanent paralysis and death. Across from her, Miles was saying something about his truck and his nephew, asking if she had any nieces or nephews, polite getting-to-know-you questions, but she was distracted. “Um, no, yeah, give me one second.”

His expression when she finally signed the paper was quizzical, but he said nothing.

“What a nice day we picked,” Cory said, getting back on track, and it was–windless and sunny, the water smooth as glass. Miles brought a six pack and suggested she take a few in her boat, but she declined, believing those few cans might throw her completely off balance, maybe throw the entire planet off its axis. It wasn’t impossible. She led the way out of the harbor, paddling side to side, pleased by her ability maneuver around the other small crafts. When she reached the open river, though, a vertigo descended. Which direction? She could go anywhere. Before she had a chance to decide, the current seemed to be choosing for her. She felt wildly untethered, like a released balloon that won’t ever make it back to Earth. She was relieved then when Miles pulled up next to her, and she allowed him to overtake her a bit before paddling again.

Cory began to take a good look at him. He had broad shoulders and bronzed arms that rippled as he paddled, which with his beard added up to a general rugged handsomeness. For the first time since leaving her apartment that morning, Cory was conscious of her own appearance. She smoothed her hair and tried to look friendly as she caught up.

“So you must do this a lot, huh?”

“Not too much,” he said.

“Well, I think I would if I had my own boat.” Was that true? She owned a lot of things she didn’t use, a dvd player, snowshoes, a food processor.

“Well, it’s not exactly my boat.” He cracked open a beer and held it out to her.

She was aware of their fingers touching as she took it from him. “Thanks.” She took a sip and thought about where she was going to put the can. There wasn’t a great spot for it, so she set it down between her legs. But that was a mistake, because they were suddenly passed on the right by a speed boat and caught in a field of its wake. Cory’s boat spun, and the beer tipped into her lap.

“Turn into it,” Miles shouted, and she did, focusing on keeping her bow above the ripples, ignoring the cold wet feeling until the water was still again. Then she picked up the can and chugged what was left.

“Look out. Another one’s coming.” This time it was a bigger boat.

She laughed, hoping it appeared she was having a good time, but she really just felt dread. Rationally, she knew that the worst thing to happen may be capsizing and getting wet, but she had her wallet and cell phone in a dry bag strapped to the kayak. What if that came loose and was lost. What if someone unknowingly steered a boat into her bobbing head. What if she was carried out to the ocean, the riverbanks already impossibly far away, spreading further and further apart, birthing her into a great lonely void. Or something.

Their two kayaks bobbed together and then, after a moment, stilled. Miles said he knew of a slough coming up. “Want to paddle over there where it’s less busy?”

“Yeah, okay.”

They didn’t go far, but it felt like another world entirely, the channel more narrow and shaded by canopy of trees. Instead of boat motors, they heard birds.

“Oh, hi!” Cory said

“Oh hi.”

“I’ll take another beer if that’s all right.”

“Yeah, definitely.” He handed her another can.

The water here was even more still, the trees mirrored on its surface. It made Cory think of one of the first art lessons she had in school, drawing a horizon line with stick figure trees, then turning the paper upside down and drawing them again, a neat trick she’d repeated all year on paper placemats and birthday cards.

“So, I have to ask,” she said, “what does bear meat taste like.”

Miles laughed. “I made that up,” he said.

“Oh.”

An eagle flapped its wings overhead.

“Sorry. Are you mad?”

“No.”

They drifted further east, paddling just enough to circumvent large rocks and tree branches. Each paddle stroke just a lazy scoop and drizzle of water.

Miles laid his paddle across the boat. “Hey, stop. Listen,” he said, and Cory did, motionless as a mountain. “It’s totally quiet. You can’t hear anyone.”

It was true. Cory locked eyes with Miles, who was grinning. A chill shot up her spine. “I think we should go,” she said and did a quick about-face before paddling hard the way they had come.

“Cory, wait,” Miles said, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Cory said, but didn’t let up speed, “I just think we should get back.”

Miles stopped paddling. “Okay. Clearly I said something that you took the wrong way. And even though I don’t think it’s reasonable at all, I’m going to stop here and let you paddle ahead.”

Since they hadn’t actually gone very far, she was back out in the main channel quickly and suddenly, in the bright sunshine surrounded by waterskiers, she felt foolish. “Hey,” she called back behind her. “Hey, I’m sorry. Miles, are you there?”

He glided out slowly, with his hands in the air. “Are we cool?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Cory said. “Sorry again. I guess I just freaked out for a second when you were talking about how quiet it was. I had this sudden thought like, and nobody can hear you scream. She laughed but knew it wasn’t funny.

“Jesus,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

Across the river was a large karaoke bar. On the second story was a balcony where people leaned over the rail and watched the boats. Cory felt like they were on display.

“If it helps, I’m really not even interested in you.”

This time she laughed for real. There was a lesson to be learned from all of this, but she didn’t know yet what it was. “Come on,” she said, “let’s go back.”

© 2015 Erica Korer

“Love on the Last Frontier” by Victoria Steik

Love on the Last Frontier

Victoria Steik

She stepped through the door into the low slung honky tonk on the edge of town. The stark change from brilliant sunshine to the smoky dark bar room forced her to stop and let her eyes adjust. As she stood there, she heard a loud wolf whistle and a male voice call out, “Hello, sweet thing. Step right over here. There’s a stool with your name on it right next to me.”

Amid hoots and catcalls, she looked around the crowded room and realized that the place was full of blue collar working men in plaid flannel shirts and Carhartt coveralls. A handful of women with heavy makeup, plunging necklines, and various degrees of inebriation were sprinkled among the rowdy good old boys. What she didn’t see was an empty seat.

“Come on, honey. Don’t be afraid. These boys might be hungry for what you got, but they definitely won’t bite unless invited.” It was the same voice as before, inciting another round of hoots, hollers and bawdy laughter. By now her eyes had adjusted and she could see the young man with black hair, dark eyes and a slyly crooked grin waving her over to what looked like the only vacant seat in the place. She stepped on toward him, trying to look cool and confident despite her shaky knees and wobbly ankles.

One glance let everyone know that she was new in town. She wore a flirty mini dress, just long enough to keep from looking slutty, and platform heels high enough to break an ankle walking across gravel parking lots in a town with no sidewalks and very few paved roads. Her thick brown hair hung nearly to her waist in perfect hippy fashion.

She perched herself on the barstool beside the young man with broad shoulders and an outdoorsy tan.

“So whatcha drinkin?” he asked.

“Black Russian,” she replied.

“Barkeep, a Black Russian for the little lady,” he called out.

“Now,” he said to her, “You need to tell me your name, because I make it a practice not to buy drinks for women I don’t know.”

“I’m Val,” she replied with a smile. “I never drink with strange men, so what do they call you?”

“These guys all call me Johnny Spark. I’m a welder by trade. Strike and arc, make a spark, that’s how I make my pay. I’m a journeyman with the Pipefitter’s Local. I have a travel card, so I can go anywhere in the country and get a job at any union local. I move around a lot. I’ve seen some beautiful places in the past few years, but none as beautiful as here. I guess that’s because this is my home. I was born and raised here. I’m an Aleut. So what’s a sweet young thing like you doing in the Last Frontier?”

“I wanted an adventure. I grew up in the West, in Utah, but there’s not much frontier life left there now. Then I started hearing more and more about Alaska. My dream is to get out somewhere remote, set up a log cabin and start living off the land. I want to have a big garden, a few chickens and commune with Mother Nature.”

“Whew, you are a hippy girl, aren’t you? Want to dance, hippy girl? Here’s some quarters, pick out something you like on the juke box.”

She went to the jukebox, but quickly returned. “All that’s on there is country music. I didn’t know what to pick.”

“Well, I guess it’s up to me then,” he said as he left her to go choose something suitable for dancing.

“You better beware of Johnny Spark, little lady,” said a man seated beside her. “All the women here call him ‘the Devil in a welder’s cap’. He can be a heartbreaker.”

Johnny returned, hand outstretched to her, just as the music began. It was a slow ballad. He held her close as they glided across the dance floor.

He softly sang to her, “Silver wings . . . They’re taking you away . . . leaving me lonely.”

From that moment on she was completely swept away by Johnny Spark. Within a few weeks they moved in together. They spent the summer together “playing house”. Johnny was attentive; he took her dancing, brought her flowers, and helped her make new friends. Toward fall, Johnny’s local job ended. So he went to work on the TransAlaska pipeline. The jobsites were very remote and he would often be gone for weeks at a time, but there were no local jobs available.

After one particularly long stretch alone, Val decided that she needed a change.

“Johnny, it’s so hard for me being alone so much. What’s the point of me sticking around here when you’re not here with me? This is not why I came to Alaska.”

“Aw, babe, you know I’d be here if I could,” he said. “Let Daddy give you some sugar and you’ll be just fine.”

“There’s only one thing on your mind and it’s not commitment,” she snapped, turning her back on him.

“Well, I told you from the beginning that I move around a lot for work. You’ll just have to get used to it,” he said coldly.

“I’m not going to get used to it,” she said. “I’m going to move on and find a life that makes me happy. It just doesn’t look like it will be with you.”

They parted ways and each went on with their own challenges and adventures.

Johnny traveled the country working in nearly every state here and there for nearly forty years until construction jobs became scarce and he was no longer strong enough to perform the hard physical labor required.

Val pursued her dream of a remote cabin in the woods. Eventually her cabin grew into a remote lodge where she welcomed guests from around the world to share her home, her table and her corner of the great Alaskan wilderness. Occasionally, she would reminisce about her “ex”, the only man she ever loved. She carried an emptiness inside and like Johnny, she never married. Eventually the rigors of life in the bush became more than Val could handle. She sold her lodge and settled in a home overlooking Kachemak Bay.

On a shopping trip with friends, Val was browsing in a discount department store seventy five miles from home looking for outdoor furniture for the balcony of her cabin by the bay. She noticed a man walking by she thought she recognized. He wore a plaid flannel shirt and Cahartt overalls. His hair was nearly all white, his eyes dark.

She walked up to the man for a closer look.

“Johnny?” she asked.

“You’re as beautiful as ever, little hippy girl,” he said, flashing his slyly crooked grin.

They embraced at once laughing and crying tears of joy. They sat on the furniture on display and caught up on their lives now.

“I have a little place about twenty miles south of here,” Johnny told her. “I stay busy keeping it up. I’ve done enough traveling. I’m glad to have a place to call home.”

“I have a nice cabin overlooking Kachemak Bay,” Val said. “I still raise a few chickens for fresh eggs and keep a small garden for fresh vegetables. Tell me you’ll come visit me some time.”

They sat together sharing the particulars of how to contact each other and directions to their homes. They even picked a day for Johnny to visit Val at her cabin.

On the chosen day, Val was excitedly preparing for her guest. She cooked a lovely meal, set a small table alongside her balcony rail so that they could enjoy the picturesque view while they ate. She was taking the homemade strawberry rhubarb pie from the oven when she heard a strange sound. She walked out to the balcony rail and looked down to the front yard. There was Johnny with a huge bouquet of flowers. Beside him was a small box. He pressed a button on the box, picked up the microphone and began singing karaoke just for her.

“Silver wings. . .”

© 2015 Victoria Steik

“#bestbargainever” by Holly Helscher

#bestbargainever

Holly Helscher

 

DiscountDepartmentStore@DiscountDepartmentStore

Grand Opening. Flea market prices. Upscale setting. Get your designer on. Or low-name brands. 528 Hitte, Cinti. Prizes. Food. #DDSrUs

Nancy’s insomnia woke her every three hours, and her primary sleep-inducer was to read Tweet drivel sent to her by her followers. Then she would create hashtags for them. She didn’t care if Cinda’s baby, whom she didn’t know, puked all day. #vomit. She didn’t care about another first date of someone named Zoey. #giveitup. Most tweets were like that. And they all adhered to some mythical metric of percentages about self-promotion versus self-disclosure. The formula claimed to improve sales of whatever blog or product the Tweeter publicized. #unicornsarerealtoo.

Nancy also followed Discount Department Store across the street from her apartment building. Six months ago they closed due to a change in ownership. #theyhavetobebetter. Nancy hadn’t been surprised at the sale since the original store was rat-dirty and roaches rode purchases home like people rode cars.

Her smart phone chirped an alarm. She snatched it off the bedside. At six o’clock in the morning it was going to be a long day. The July sun through the window lit up the dust particles jumping off the mini blind as she raised it. She thought about wiping it down, but housekeeping wasn’t her thing. A day off work was a day off work and cleaning was work. She did plenty of it at the restaurant where she and her best friend, Teresa, worked. Satisfied she had enough lazy scheduled into the day, she showered and dressed. #cleanfor24.

To: Teresa

From: Nancy

Re: Breakfast

Hey! Come over for breakfast. #notinbed. XXOO

To: Nancy

From Teresa

Re: Breakfast

No can do. Working a double. Saw your grand opening re-tweet. Keep me posted. Take pics. BFF

Fun would be lower key without Teresa, but virtual sharing was better than nothing at all. She’d virtually share the DDS event with all her followers, too. Time to see what pre-festivities DDS invented. She shoved the phone into her then she dashed out to her balcony and scooched into her neon pink camp chair. She set her phone on the petite table beside her. Propping her feet up onto the white balcony rail, she watched opening activities across the way.

DiscountDepartmentStore@DiscountDepartmentStore

Starts nine a.m. Games. Prizes. Sing Karaoke in the Street & win Discount Department Store Sweep. Opening until one. 528 Hitte, Cinti. #DDSrUs

She re-tweeted it. A few Instagram snapshots later people scuttled out the glittering double doors of DDS. Some carried shiny, Crayola-crayon-colored helium balloons. Others heaved tables through them and set them up on the sidewalk. A few mom-like employees, and maybe they were moms, flurried tartan plaid tablecloths in the air before flinging them on the tables in one swoosh. #impressive. In ten or fifteen minutes instead of three hours, the street had altered itself into a carnival of booth invitations. Each would draw its own niche of people to the Grand Opening of DDS. #comeonecomeall.

Just as Nancy thought every employee in the place must be outside, one final person strutted out. His five-foot sign said, “Me? Not for Sale. But Everything Else Is. DDS.com.” So DDS had hired a human arrow. Except this contemporary carnival barker seemed familiar. Nancy dropped her feet off the balcony rail and popped out of her chair. She leaned over the rail and squinted her eyes, as if doing so would improve her sight. #howsillyisthat.

The sign waver wore the DDS logo colors of lime green and turquoise. He sported a purple beret and even though the colors shouldn’t have blended, they did. #artistsnightmare. A mop of curly black hair peeked out beneath the beret and the man paraded down to the corner, twirling his sign the whole way. He could even throw it into the air and catch it as if its width were nothing more than a slim baton. As much as a magician as this guy was, his swag drew more of her attention. Where had she seen it? Then she fell back into her chair.

It was her ex. He was The Ex. The Ex of a Lifetime. They had broken up two years earlier after he stepped on a pair of fallen car keys. Was it her fault she’d spent an eternity in hell’s traffic on wretched I-75 due to orange barrel season? Was it her fault that when she burst through the door she had to get to the bathroom? Was it her fault the keys had skidded across the library table and buried themselves into the shag carpet? Okay, so she’d forgotten about them and never scooped them up. But if Wade hadn’t been so obsessed about removing his shoes at the door he wouldn’t have pierced his foot on them. She’d apologized, but her housekeeping skills, or lack of them, became a drone’s focus in a volcanic fight. He slammed out the door and never came back. But her feelings for him stayed behind. #nomovingon. She couldn’t get her thumbs jumping across the phone keys fast enough.

To: Teresa

From: Nancy

Re: It’s Him

You won’t believe it. Wade’s back. He’s the sign guy for DDS. What should I do? XO 😦

To: Nancy

From: Teresa

Re: It’s Him

Wade? A sign guy? #eyecheckneeded XXOO

To: Teresa

From: Nancy

Re: It’s Him

#myeyesare2020 You know how he walks. Hunky swagger. I’m going down. If it’s him, I’m telling him off. XXXOOO

To: Nancy

From: Teresa

Re: It’s Him

You’re crazy. Let me know.

Nancy flew off the balcony. Dashing into the bathroom, she applied I’m Not Your Ruby Slippers lipstick and inched a comb through her own copper curls. She gritted her teeth and rubbed a spot of the lipstick off them then stood back for a final assessment. #goodisgoodenough.

PF Flyers wouldn’t have helped her race down the three flights of stairs any faster than she did. She got to the bottom and flung open the main door to the building. She stopped short at the bray of a paunchy gentleman singing Karaoke on the portable bandstand. The reverb of the speakers added static to his barnyard voice. She labeled #hesadonkey to an Instagram and sent it to her network. They might as well see the whole show. Maybe she’d include her investigation on Wade or his clone.

She didn’t flow through the crowd as much as she staggered. A full-on drunk couldn’t force a misstep more than the pushing and shoving of step-sale wives. Many had strollers doubling as weaponry. She crept to the block cattycornered to the one where the Wade-look-alike held court. Had there been enough room, a stadium-sized crowd would have surrounded him. All he needed was a top hat and people would have thrown money. #givetheguyadollar

Even with the human obstacles blocking a clear view, Nancy knew it was Wade. Her memories of him devoured and consumed her. The living being pitching the sign through the air matched those memories with precision. She couldn’t tell if her heart pounded in her ears or in her feet or everywhere in between. She inhaled the oxygen around her for courage.

Nancy Lagget@NancyLagget

DDS Sign Guy might be my ex. Will approach. #causeascene

She hit the Tweet icon and crossed the street. About two yards from Wade’s sideshow a mommy with a double stroller missile ran over her foot. Nancy collapsed, yelping. In the process, she knocked heads with one of the princess toddlers. The princess screamed with the force of a nuclear warhead while mommy morphed into Momzilla, launching her own rage onto Nancy. Flashbulbs weren’t erupting in her direction, but Nancy knew phones everywhere clicked or videoed the incident. It would go viral. #imsoscrewed.

Nancy squeezed her eyes preventing escapee tears. The crowd split but she was oblivious. Momzilla trekked onward. Nancy still crouched, massaging her foot. Would it turn black and blue? Probably. Instagram worthy? #uglygross.

She stood, head down, avoiding further videos and pictures. Her face had to be one of splotchy red humiliation. Her knees cracked as she straightened.

“Hurt your foot, did you?”

She glanced at her phone, then realized that was wrong. It was real voice. And it belonged to Wade Faringer. She snapped to attention.

“Hi.” Her two-year long vision of creating a tsunami-scene was at least that far out of reach. She’d practiced it a billion times. She was ready. He was here. There were witnesses. #putonbiggirlpants.

“Has your injury gone to your voice?” He was still speaking.

She swallowed and shook her head. Why wasn’t she yelling at him? He deserved it! But somehow he’d twirled away her anger like he did his sign.

“Can I help you to a bench?” He jutted his chin to one bolted into the sidewalk. He took her arm and draped it around his shoulder. His arm arm curved around her waist while the other held the giant DDS sign. After lowering her to the bench, he sat beside her and the sign leaned up against the bench like a flimsy surfboard.

“It seems fair,” he said.

“What seems fair?” she mumbled.

He touched his thumb to her chin and lifted her face toward him. “I leave over a foot injury and I’m back because of one. Did you come for the grand opening?”

Nancy heard his voice break mid-question. Uncertainty? She pointed up to her apartment. “Sort of. I live across from DDS. Third floor. I saw you from my balcony and ran down to see if it was really you.”

“It’s really me.” He whipped his beret off his head and held it to his heart. “I’m sorry.”

“For what? You didn’t run over my foot.” She knew he wasn’t talking about her foot. But damn, she wanted him to admit he’d been a jerk. She wasn’t going to fall into his arms just because he happened to be here doing magic with signs. The crowd had forgotten about him, and her, and closed in on some sprout-thin lady singing an old Helen Reddy song, I Am Woman. Sprout had a good set of pipes. #hugemissedtalent. #singKaraokewell.

“For not coming back. But the longer I was gone, harder it was to call you. I’d like to explain, if you’ll let me. But not here.”

She didn’t respond. She didn’t know how to.

“I follow you.” He changed the topic like it was no more than changing a shirt.

“You follow me? Like on Twitter?”

“No, like on foot. Of course on Twitter. I love your hashtag spoofs.”

Had she ever spoofed something he’d tweeted? Crap. She would have. No one was exempt.

“I don’t think so. I would have recognized your name.”

“Doubtful. It’s silent barker@silentbarker. And yes, you zinged me once or twice. Most memorable was #evencourtjestershavetoeat. Speaking of which, I have to get back to my flying sign act. How about dinner?”

She gulped an ocean of saliva. #waterhose. “Sure. Mac and cheese? It’s all I’ve got.”

His grin seemed to pull him straighter. Could they be a real live throwback instead of an Instagram one? She returned the grin and mentally crossed her fingers.

To: Teresa

From: Nancy

Re: It’s Him

It was Wade. No scene. #yellowspine. XXOO

To: Nancy

From: Teresa

Re: It’s Him

I never thought you could do it. BBF anyway. Move on, now. K? XOXOXO

To: Teresa

From: Nancy

Re: It’s Him

I will. Sort of. Cooking mac and cheese for him. Tonight. #meltedspine. BFF, too. XXXOOO 🙂

Once Nancy limped home, she resumed her third-floor balcony seat and let the DDS carnival entertain her the rest of the day. Once in a while Wade would take center-street and perform just for her. Or so she thought. Sprout won the Sing Karaoke in the Street contest and got a $5000 shopping spree at DDS. #prizesworthwinning.

Nancy Lagget@NancyLagget

Sign guy was my ex. No crime scene. He’s coming over for dinner tonight. #bestbargaintoday.

© 2015 Holly Helscher

“Heather” by Rebecca Hicks

Heather

Rebecca Hicks

Looking through the miscellaneous sale items, I hide behind a wall of discount toys so that I may continue to watch her. She sweeps through the toy aisle touching and laughing at everything; Mackenzie, her niece, trails behind her with a gleaming smile and rosy cheeks. Erratically, Mackenzie begins pulling on her sleeve with laugher erupting between them as she points to a karaoke machine. Before they even begin to sing, I find myself smiling at her beautiful voice that replays through my mind like a skipping record player.

“I can show you the world

Shining, shimmering, splendid

Tell me, princess, now when did

You last let your heart decide?” Her voice arches over the shelves and deeps into the aisles, pulling people from their mundane actions to investigate the serenity that can blossom when people appreciate their existences.

Gradually, a small crowd of eager children with tired parents gather around her and Mackenzie as they obliviously sing. Children turn away stomping their feet as the static in the microphones grows louder, but what kind of quality can you expect from a discount department store? She remains content though, happy in her moment and unaffected by the opinions of others, it painfully reminds me of us falling in love.

I can’t say how or when we were over, but it wasn’t at the flick of a switch with a definitive date. Instead, it came slowly like the sun sinking into the ocean and the sky being consumed by abysmal blackness. Our finality was complete; when the sky becomes nothingness there is not a switch to restore light. There is only silence and parting boats as two people sail into the sea unknowingly searching for one another.

I have come to accept I am the only one searching though. I have remorsefully accepted that she does not live by the laws of the sun because her existence is so luminescent that the sun’s brightness cannot compare to herself.

The song ends, childish clapping springs from the makeshift audience, and her copper hair cascades over her face as she bows down in a deep blush. Reaching for Mackenzie’s hand, they duck away together and disappear from my sight. Chuckling to myself I feel her addictiveness just as when we first met and I find myself creeping through aisles looking for her. The words sputter through my mind before being consumed by a lazy fog that swirls around my thoughts suffocating them. Leaning against a shelf of discount books with fading words, I close my eyes to imagine her in my life once again. The imagery does not come easy and within the struggle of it I realize my life may be meant to continue with someone else cast in her role.

“I saw you there,” a timid voice whispers from behind me.

Grinning, I turn around and begin pulling books from the shelf. They stack up on the floor beside me, but a window forms in the mass of books. Peeking through it with a dimpled grin, she looks at me with such sincerity in her eyes I forget for a moment she lives only within my memory and not my present.

She reaches through the little window, her fingers brushing against mine. Her smile falters for a moment as I look down, but her façade continues and she is once again rightfully gleaming in delight.

“Come with me,” I drop the words like stones breaking apart the stillness of water.

Gradually, we walk through the various aisles and locked doors until we stand in the warmth of radiant sunlight on the loading balcony. Leaning against the rail, I close my eyes for a second and feel the veins within my heart being pulled to unnatural lengths and I begin to shiver. My heart thumps against my ribs and suddenly I’m afraid it will crack a thin part of bone, but my heart will continue to thump. The thumping will persist, beating against the bone until a shard impales itself into my only connection with life.

“You ok?” She asks while twirling her hair between slender fingers.

I nod my head; positive I can feel a ghost of her running its fingers through my hair as we fall asleep together. Her nails tickle my neck while the whispers something outlandish, the same action she done every day for years until one day her nails were missing and her voice could not whisper, only scream.

“Aw, come on now, don’t be so shy,” she taunts with hypnotizing tones bouncing through her words.

“I loved Heather,” I repeat to myself, unsure if she is even listening to me.

“Heather this, Heather that,” she mocks with acid burning along her throat and corrupting her voice.

I turn around, twisting my hands around the railing until I feel the blood dissipating from my fingers and my knuckles shine white.

“Heather, oh Heather, I wonder where she could be,” her voice relentlessly continues, “I wonder if she’ll ever come back for you.”

Pulling in a deep breath I turn to face her malicious smile, “Heather is here, Heather is standing before me in flesh and blood and only is she missing in words. Heather is the essence of your existence and never will you be able to escape her, but I pray continuously and exclusively that she can escape you. “

“My name is Casandra. I am Casandra!” She blares with scratchy words and puffy eyes.

“I know, Heather.” I reply deadly.

Heather roughly grabs Mackenzie’s arm, pulling her along while they storm through the door. I watch them leave for a moment, consumed in her determination to be someone other than herself. I lie awake many nights wondering what led her to this ultimate downfall. We were living together, blissfully content in our own existence and engagement when one day I awoke to discover we were no longer engaged.

We may never be whole again and we may never reunite, but until she finds safety within her own existence I will continue to watch her because while she may act as someone else, that is still Heather’s body and I owe it to her to preserve it.

© 2015 Rebecca Hicks

“Second Chances” by Kristin Lemons

Second Chance

Kristin Lemons

I wonder how different my life would be if Mama hadn’t gotten herself hooked. It would be wonderful to have Mama back, or some version of her where she still cared if we’re alive. She used to care about a lot of people. She worked so hard for her fancy degrees. She taught the problem kids at my school for Christ’s sake and she threw it all away.

My name is Jessie Thorn. I’m seventeen, and I live in a small town that’s dying. It’s shriveling like a rotten apple. Soon, all that’ll be left is a moldy lump of nothing. But hey, we do have a new Walmart out by the interstate – because that will save us, right? We are in Arkansas so let’s build a new Walmart and kill the few businesses left in downtown, which is already boarded up and hollowed out except for a few antique shops and second-hand stores.

It’s getting late, and I know I should get home. The sunset is reflecting pink and gold as I stop and look in the window of a second-hand shop. The name Second Chances was painted on the window ages ago in fancy script, the green and gold paint was cracked and flaking. I lean in and cup my hands around my face to see through the window. They have a pair of little pink sequined shoes that look about Shelby’s size. Maybe if I can babysit for one of the neighbors, I can get some cash and get Shelby some new shoes. She’d love them. Mama’s not gonna do it, she probably hasn’t even noticed that Shelby’s little toes keep peeking out the side where the seam came apart.

I have three little sisters. Elizabeth, always called Sissy – I have no idea why – Annabelle, we call her Annie, and the youngest is Shelby, no nickname just Shelby.

We didn’t live in this shithole before the meth. We live in a shitty house, with a couple of bullet holes on the front porch to give it character, on a shitty street, with the occasional shooting for excitement. We have some shitty neighbors who sit on their front porches in the summer and wait for something, anything to happen. Nope, before all this, we lived in the country. It wasn’t anything special, just a run-down little farmhouse, but I loved it. Now I’m just another kid with a meth head parent in a neighborhood of kids with meth head parents. I’m not so special around here.

“Jessie.” I turn around to see who is yelling my name.

“Where have you been?” Annie ran across the street toward me.

“Jesus, Annie. I only left an hour ago.”

“Come on, we have to go,” She said grabbing my arm.

I pull my arm away. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I said looking back at the window. I wasn’t quite ready to go home.

“It’s Shelby. She was fighting again, but this time it’s bad.”

My youngest sister Shelby was trouble, and she was only eight years old. I think the problems with Mama hit her hardest. She was only six when things started going downhill. Lately, if I wasn’t at home, she’d be out in the neighborhood beating the crap out of all the other little girls. The older kids thought it was funny. It wasn’t.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Shelby’s hurt.”

“What?” I said grabbing Annie’s shoulders. “What happened?”

“You know how Shelby is.” Annie started then paused, looking down and bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“What happened?” I repeated.

“I just went to take a shower. Just a quick one. Shelby went out and started another fight with Gracie.”

“Shit. And…”

Annie took a deep breath. “When I got out of the shower and realized she was gone. I ran outside, and Gracie’s daddy come out to yell at her. He said he was gonna turn the dogs out if she didn’t get the hell away from his daughter.”

I held my breath, praying Annie wasn’t going to tell me that Shelby was attacked by the pack of mutts that lived behind Gracie Taylor’s house.

“Shelby took off running,” Annie said as I motioned for her to hurry up. “She ran right into the road. There was this car – it hit her,” she cried, “It was horrible Jessie. She flew in the air. I didn’t know what to do.”

“Is she okay?” I asked, terrified at the answer.

“Well, she’s alive, but she looked pretty bad.”

“Where is she?” I asked sitting down on the ledge of the store window. I couldn’t breathe.

“Mr. Taylor called the ambulance. They came and took her. The cops wanted to know where Mama was.” Annie grabbed my hand. “Jessie, we need Mama.”

I put my head in my hands. I was worried about Shelby, but I knew what Annie was thinking. Child services. I was seventeen. Sissy was fourteen, and Annie was twelve.

“Where’s Sissy?” I asked.

“She’s with her loser boyfriend, I don’t know where.”

I rubbed my face. Where do I start? “Okay. Try to call Sissy. If she doesn’t answer, keep calling. See if her boyfriend can drive both of you to Troy’s house. I don’t want child services to find you at home.”

“Troy’s house?” Annie asked surprised, “not to the hospital?”

“Not yet. I have to find Mama.”

“Should I call Uncle Joe?” Annie asked hesitantly.

“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t want him involved.”

Where the hell do I find Mama? I’m sure she’s with Wayne. Wayne is her boyfriend, and I blame him for this mess. She was a single mom and not perfect, but she tried. Then she fell for Wayne. I have no idea why. He’s a slime ball and drug dealer. That’s when it started. I tried to keep things at home as normal as possible for my sisters. I don’t know where they go to get high. Sometimes she wouldn’t be home for days. I’m sure Wayne has a place that he cooks, but I don’t pay attention to that. I figured I was better off not knowing.

I pull my cellphone out of my pocket. It’s nothing fancy, just a pay-as-you-go phone that I keep in case of emergencies. Please, God, let me have some minutes left. I have to find someone with a car that can help. I dread making the call, but I can’t think of anyone else.

I walk around the corner and sit on the side stairs to the Washateria. I felt too exposed standing on Main Street. I try the number three times. It keeps going to voicemail. I scroll through my contacts. If Ethan isn’t answering his phone. Junior will know where he is.

“Hello!” Junior yelled into the phone. I pulled the phone back from my ear.

“Junior?” The background noise was loud, I didn’t think he would hear me. “Junior? Can you hear me?”

“Jessie? That you?”

“Yes, where are you?”

“We’re at Duffy’s” Junior hollered.

“Is Ethan with you?” I cupped my hand over the phone so he could hear me over the background music.

“Sure is.”

I shook my head. It’s not even 8:00 pm and they’re at the bar. Ethan just turned 21 a few weeks ago. I know, I’m only 17. I don’t need a lecture. It doesn’t matter; he’s history. A couple days before his birthday, I found him with Darlene Simpson. I told him to go to hell, and since then, we haven’t talked. But… he has a car, I know he’s still interested, and I need transportation.

“Stay there,” I yelled and hung up the phone. Duffy’s was about a mile away. I started running.

I stopped short of the parking lot and bent over at the waist to try and catch my breath. I was sweating, and my feet and calves were on fire. I dig in my purse and find a tissue to wipe the sweat off my face and arms. I spray some perfume and swipe on some lipstick. I want to feel somewhat presentable before attempting to sneak in the back door of the bar.

Duffy’s is your typical small town honky-tonk with big ambitions. With the lack of jobs around here, they have all the usual promotions to get people in the bar, Ladies’ Night, Karaoke Night, and Trivia Night, anything to draw business.   It’s common knowledge among the underage kids in the area that Duffy’s didn’t watch the back door too carefully. In all honesty, I don’t think they cared, as long as someone was buying drinks.

I jogged up the back stairs quickly, trying not to draw any attention. Opening the door halfway, I peered inside. There were a couple people at the end of the hall facing the dance floor. No one was looking this direction. I slip through the door and try to blend in with the crowd.

There’s a stage in the corner of the room. It’s a triangle about ten feet wide across the front. A very drunk blond in high heels is singing “Before He Cheats” with the karaoke machine. I cringe as she warbles, it’s painful, both to watch and to hear.

I inch my way around the outside wall looking for Ethan and Junior. The place was busy for a Thursday night. I look up to see if they are sitting next to the rail of the balcony. It’s their usual spot, but they aren’t there. Thankfully, the Carrie Underwood wannabe was done. The next song started, and I heard the first few bars of “Save a horse, ride a cowboy”. I turn around and see Ethan on stage. Of course, he would pick that song. What an idiot.   I spot Junior across the dance floor, standing by the speaker waiting for his turn on stage and start in that direction.

“Hey,” I shouted touching Junior’s arm.

“Jessie!” He grabbed me in a bear hug. Junior was not a small guy. “Girl, it’s been too long.”

“I need to talk to Ethan,” I said pointing at the stage. I look up and see Ethan trying hard to look sexy as he sings. It’s not working. I shake my head and realize Junior is talking.

“Is your mom okay? I heard about what happened at the Stop and Shop.” Junior yelled.

“Stop and Shop? What are talking about?”

“Shit, you don’t know?” he said, looking embarrassed.

I shake my head, afraid to ask. He looks around to see if anyone is paying attention and pulls me toward the back hallway. He leaned in, so he didn’t have to yell.

“I heard that Duke knocked Wayne out. One punch. Right in front of the Stop and Shop.”

“What?” My brain wasn’t processing what he said. Duke was The Man around here – he was the one guy you didn’t mess with if you want to keep all your body parts intact. If Wayne was in trouble with Duke, we were all in trouble.

“Wayne is your Mom’s boyfriend, right?”

I nodded.

“Duke is pissed. I guess your Uncle Joe called in a favor with Duke on account of the fact that Wayne is the reason your mom’s a tweaker.”

I wince at the word. He was right, but it still stung.

“My Uncle Joe?” Uncle Joe is a small-time dealer who always manages to skate the edge of trouble. He hasn’t done time, yet. Uncle Joe and Duke have been buddies since high school.

“Yeah, I guess Joe told Duke about your mom and asked if he’d teach Wayne a lesson.   Duke saw him walking out of the Stop and Shop and bam – dropped him right there at the front door.”

“Was my Mom there?” I asked, afraid to know the answer.

“Yep, she threw her entire cup of hot coffee on Duke. She’s lucky he didn’t drop her too.”

Tears start to sting my eyes and I try to blink them away. I need to keep it together, for Shelby.

“It’s my turn,” Junior yelled and I realize that Ethan’s song is over. Junior kissed my cheek and started toward the stage. As they pass on the stairs, Junior leaned forward and said something to Ethan. Ethan looked in my direction, and my stomach did a flip. I can’t help it. I still care, even if he’s an asshole.

Ethan made his way across the dance floor as Junior started singing “I got friends in low places”. Ethan sidled up, put his arm around me and led me back to the hallway.

“Jess.” He said and pulled me into a hug. “I’ve missed you.”

I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to lead him on, but he was the asshole that slept with Darlene, so I don’t feel that bad.

“I need your help,” I said, trying to smile and look sweet.

“What’s up?” Ethan said leaning closer.

“Let’s go outside and talk.” As I took his arm and turned to leave, something caught my eye. Duffy’s second floor had a balcony overlooking the dance floor and stage. There was a woman leaning over the balcony railing. She waved her hands and yelled something, pointing in our direction. I couldn’t hear her over the music. So much cleavage popped out of her low-cut tiger print shirt, I was sure one of her boobs would pop out of her shirt any second.

“Wait a minute.” Realization hit me. “Is that Darlene Simpson?”

“Whoa, Jessie.” He put both hands around my waist and leaned in to whisper in my ear. “She doesn’t matter to me.”

Of course not, I thought. You only slept with her. It might not matter to you, but it matters to me.   I can’t think about this now. I need to find Mama and get her to the hospital and I don’t have a car. I glance back as we walk toward the back door, Darlene is still leaning on the balcony rail. Our eyes meet, she flips me off. I smile at her and return the gesture.

I start talking as soon as the door closes. “Shelby’s in the hospital. I have to find Mama. Will you help me? We have to find her and get her to the hospital.”

Ethan was quiet for a moment. Shit, is he going to say no?

“I’ll help you, Jess. Where do you think she is? Where do we start?”

I hadn’t thought that far ahead.

“I don’t know. Any ideas?” He opened the door to his brown 1984 Ford Pick-Up and helped me up to the passenger seat.

Ethan thinks for a few seconds. “I’m not really into the whole drug thing, but I know Duke’s guys hang out in the old Walmart.”

When they built the new store by the interstate, Walmart left the old building in the middle of town to decay. It’s had a For Lease sign as big as a billboard on it for five years now. Everyone in town knows that you can score whatever you want there.

Ethan turns into the old parking lot and shuts off his headlights before driving to the back of the store. He parks next to one of the old loading docks.

“Now what?” he asked.

“Um, I guess we go in.” I’ve heard rumors about this place for years. It’s dangerous, a lot of bad shit happens in this building.

Walking up to the entrance door next to the loading bay, I start having second thoughts and slow my pace. What am I thinking? These are not nice people. Ethan opens the door and puts his arm around me protectively.

We pause for few seconds and let our eyes adjust to the semi-darkness. I put my hand over my nose. It smells like piss, rotten food and a weird plastic smell that reminds me of when I put up a new shower curtain. I can see lights ahead to the left.

“This is creepy,” I whisper to Ethan. There are columns at regular intervals in the large space, and separate sections with temporary walls made of canvas tarps strung between columns. In the dim light, I can just see the graffiti sprayed on the walls. It’s hard to judge the number of separate areas in the shadows of the large room. I can hear people talking quietly, and the click of a lighter, but I can’t pinpoint the direction.

“Where do we start?” Ethan whispered. I shrug, take his hand and move forward into the shadows to try and find Mama.

The door we’d just come through flew open with a crash. I jumped and Ethan pulled me further into the shadow of a nearby tarp. The first thought that ran through my mind…cops.

“Jessie Thorn!” a voice bellowed into the dark room.

Ethan and I look at each other. What the hell?

“Jessie Thorn, get your ass out here.”

“Uncle Joe?” I said as I walk out from behind the tarp.

“Girl, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Joe said storming toward me. The lines etched on his face told the story of his rough life. He looked more like 60-something than 40-something.

“I came to find Mama,” I said quietly.

“Then what?” he asked, moving closer. His nose is inches from mine. I can smell his sour breath and fight the urge to lean back. I don’t answer his question because I don’t know.

“How did you know I was here?”

“Sissy called me and told me you were out looking for your Ma, at least one of you has a God Damn head on her shoulders. You could have been killed.”

He turned to Ethan. “Get her outside.”

Ethan nodded and steered me toward the door. As we walk, I see some of the people from the tarps coming out of hiding to see what was causing the commotion.

“Jessie?”

I see her, peeking around one of the tarps. I don’t run to her, I don’t say a word. How could this be my beautiful, smart mother? I don’t think I’ve really looked at her in weeks. It’s too sad.

“Mama,” I said after a moment, but I still don’t move. I don’t go to her and, at that moment, I realize that in my heart, I’m not even happy to see her.

Joe strides over and grabs Mama’s arm. “Let’s go.”

She pulls her arm away and takes a couple steps back. Wayne appears out of the shadows behind her and puts his hands on her shoulders.

“What are you doing Joe?” Wayne asks his left eye was swollen shut and he seems to be missing a few more teeth than I remember.

Joe didn’t answer. He just grabs Mama’s arm again and starts to guide her toward the door.

“Get your hands off her,” Wayne said stepping forward.

“Move back Wayne,” Joe said through clenched teeth. “You don’t want to piss me off right now.” Wayne takes a step back and Joe continues to move Mama toward the door.

As soon as we are outside, Joe tells Ethan to take off. Ethan throws an apologetic look my way but doesn’t argue. I watch the taillights of his truck as he drives away.

I help Joe lift Mama into the cab of his truck, climb in and shut the door. She doesn’t ask questions. She doesn’t even look at me. I take her hand, “Mama, there’s been an accident. Shelby’s hurt, she’s in the hospital.”

Still no reaction.

I look at Joe. “What do we do?”

Joe digs some pills out of his pocket and hands them to me. “Make her take these, it should sober her up. Maybe she can pull off half-ass normal.”

“What are they?”

“Xanax,” he said. “Christ,” he said shaking his head as he looked at his sister, “you need to get your shit together, right now, or you’re going to lose your girls.”

Mama sat in the middle, she didn’t speak, she just stared out the windshield of the truck, looking the back of the old Walmart building. I look at her face and think I see tears in her eyes. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking

© 2015 Kristin Lemons

“The Bathroom Stall” by Rockin’ Writers

The Bathroom Stall

Rockin’ Writers

I sit in on the toilet seat of my high school’s bathroom, the door locked after receiving the news during class that I have detention. Rain patters on the tin roof erupts my thoughts, as they get louder along with the thunder. The weather matches this oh-so-perfect-day. The graffiti on the back of the stall door dare me to stare at them. It says “Eleanor is a hore” along with many other writings of “fuck you.” I agree, bathroom stall, my only fucking friend, which is so freaking stupid, I’m so luxurious that my best friend is a fucking bathroom stall. Wow. New progress for me.

I lean against the cool stone wall and tuck my chin to my knees, my bones shaking like an earthquake because I’m still a little bit dizzy from that vodka I sneaked in and drank during History II, which luckily I didn’t get caught because Mr. Mongoma is the most oblivious teacher ever and too dedicated to the idea of Natizis which results in the Boringest History Class In History, so it doesn’t really matter any way if I take just a little sip to calm my nerves. Now I have a slight head ache and a something exciting buzzing in my chest, like I have something trapped inside me.

I’m hoping that is the reason why I’m in for detention, but I know it’s not, and it’s not even my freaking fault. I’d rather it’d be my fault for breaking the rules of alcohol on campus rather than I being the accused for what happened, and it not even being true. The lies are deep in the soles of my finger tips, trying to scratch their way out with the dirt from my backyard’s garden (which only has weeds but Dad says I have to pick anyway, but he’s always a little high, so it doesn’t matter if he seems crazy to other people, because it will always be normal to me), trying to get chipped away, but I have to keep the lie, or else my life will be even more worse, because how worse can it get? Always more, freaking always. In my life, nothing can’t turn out worse.

My scruffy bangs are in my eyes again, burning their blue Oceanside. I shake them out of my eyes so I can close them and try to focus on the silence in the bathroom rather than the loud gossipy voices, high pitched and laughing, chattering so much it reminds me of when you speed up the music and sounds like screeching eagles on a record player and put it on the wrong record size. It sounds like time will never slow down. Every time I hear a high-pitched voice, or footsteps coming closer, my stomach squeezes until I think I’m going to throw up and I push my head harder against the wall even though it makes my head hurt worse.

If feels weird to have my eyes itch so regularly now from my night shifts at the cheap no-one-ever-goes-to-except-loosers (drop out seniors) and old grandmas discount department store. I get minimum wage, which fits me and I’m okay with because I’m sure it’s going to go out of business soon, and Marlin, the retired but-works-part-time at the department store because she’s always bored at home, has no grand kids, lives in a quiet house, and has to go over to her daughter’s house every weekend to help her because she has a disability and can’t pay all her bills. So, some people have it worse than me, and because of that possibility, which is always stained in my mind like the permanent black rings in my coffee mug I always take with me on Tuesdays, the one day every week I go to work from 4-close, which is 11:59 every Tuesday only because Marlin and I can’t work the day shifts.

I mean, I can connect to Marlin, because she’s a nice lady and would be a great grandmother, even if she might be a little shadowy to some people on the streets, but she means well, and works hard for her small pay check at the end of every week. She actually works all week, but only one night shift, which is on Tuesday because of me. Tonight Marlin’s not going to be there (so I’ll be a loner, and bored, because no one freaking comes to a discount department store at 11:59 P.M. On a school/work night, especially on Tuesdays) because she recently got news that something happened to her disabled 40-year old daughter and she has no idea what, so it’s an emergency. So I’m just going to be sitting on the counter in the darkness of the small, weird, smells-like-leaking-rain-and-mold-and-random-grandmother’s acne soap, which doesn’t even work because have you noticed? Grandmas don’t really need acne soap. I’ll just put m ear buds in and listen to The Beatles sing about the sun and continue reading Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass.

The first time I discovered the “inner true poet in me” and decided to become one, was when I read Walt Whitman. He’s my dream hero to words. Some people have special tree houses, or man caves, or closets, or secret rooms or some “special quiet place” to go to when they are emotionally corrupted, but my special place, isn’t so much a place, but creating them with my own imaginary mind. I’m not saying I’m a freak that’s seventeen year old, a teenage girl in high school that still has an imaginary friend and creates imaginary places, because I’m fucking insane, I’m saying my special go-to-place are words. I’m a poet by heart, but mostly hand, so it’s my mind and hand that connects the telephone line to the pen tat makes it real. When I was six, I wrote my first poem because my class was learning how to write poetry, and I fell in love with it, so I told my shitty parents that I was going to become a poet and they shitted all my dreams and imaginary unicorn bullshit back at me and ruined everything.

“Who do you think you are, Bree? You’re never going to become successful at anything, so why the hell do you want to write for a living? You need a job that will get you rich, like us, honey.” Yeah, Mom, you’re both fucking drunks for a living and don’t even pay your bills, so how can you say I’m freaking not going to be successful when you don’t even know what the word means? Any way, when their words finally stomped me out, I quit trying until in high school, we had the assignment to write a poem and so of course I did and mine turned out so good, my English teacher pulled me aside and asked if I’d written more. I told her I kept some in this one journal I always keep with me in my back pocket with a sharp old-point black pen and so I agreed to show them tot her. Later, she asked me if I wanted to get published in the school newspaper, and I told her no, because I didn’t want anyone else to read my words again, and tell me how I couldn’t succeed and I was silly, just like my parents did. She told me I could go anonymous, and finally, after a month with nagging, I agreed.

They were instantly everywhere at school, and the poems became written by the mysterious anonymous famous writer, who is like a celebrity in secret at our school. The greatest thing is that I’ve been able to keep it up, and it gets better and better and no one would ever guess it be me, especially because I’m short, easily over-seen, invisibly normal with a gray sweatshirt, skinny, avoiding eyes, and long fingers with dull finger nail tips. My bangs hide my face well. Everything about me is a closed door, except when I write, which breaks everything inside me into something I could never even be able to describe in my poems except it makes me feel infinitely larger, stronger and definitely full of light, like even if no one is watching, I’ll always be a glowing light for everyone to find if they get lost.

But here I am, sitting here wailing away at how shitty my boring life is. I guess that’s how things role. I get detention because I was seen drunk in some club, singing bad karaoke and almost puking my guts out. I figure it was Michelle Taylor who ratted me out. The one with the long blonde hair, dark get-lost-in beautiful eyes, that smile that rips guys hearts out right with one handful of a twisted mouth and teeth. The girl who just happens to be my ex’s girlfriend. I remember that night all too clearly even though I was a drunken coward, and even though now I’m scared that I’m turning into my parents.

I was sitting at the bar, drinking some scotch, (I knew the guy who owned the place. It was right next door to the discount department store.) after my shift was done, and of course he walked in, Michelle tucked under his arm and in his hands, their mouths intertwined as if time didn’t even exist and… gosh what a bitch time is.

I swung away from them, trying to disguise myself among the others sitting at the bar, but of course she say me. Her eyes transformed into a nice little glare, one that I didn’t give back (sometimes, I’m a freaking dumb ass) and she stirred him over to the bar, and with a little persuasiveness of her large cleavage, they got drinks. I prepared and waited for what was to come next, but all she said to me was “Hello, Bree.” I smiled shyly back and then turned to stare at the almost-empty-bottle of scotch.

I had a thing for alcohol, not because I’m a drunk, but it mends the pain. Sometimes it even helps the physical pain, when the bruises turn eggplant purple and even when it’s summer I wear sleeves. There’s always cuts, too. I don’t like the bruises, but I know I have to get used to the pain, so I cut along my wrists so I can still wear short sleeved shirts because I have thick bracelets on.

I didn’t say anything to her for a while until the doors swung open and the cool air blew in, the rain filling the bar with the aroma of it.

The truth was, I was at the bar so I didn’t have to go home and hear my parents argue. That day was the anniversary of Mom’s first baby’s death, when she had fallen from a balcony railing three hundred feet high. Whenever I imagine it, I don’t think of it as a tall building, or a railing that was a little too loose and a baby girl falling, and not being able to learn how to fly, instead I think of her falling with her eyes closed, and floating, but I know it never worked that way, because death isn’t that easily not scary. I know she didn’t scream because she didn’t know how to, and probably didn’t even know what was happening at six months.

I knew they’d be past out, or drunk, and I didn’t want to have to be the one to hear their mourns and help them to bed, because it hurts to see your parents falling apart, instead of being strong and helping you. And I don’t stay away because they’re depressed, because I know that’s stupid, because that’s what Emma did, my 32-year-old-rich sister, who lives in New York and drinks champagne every Friday because she has work parties at her mansion or whatever and sleeps probably with a different guy every week even though she kisses her beloved “soul mate” husband, Kevin in her above-knee dresses left them, left me, so I am the only one that can support them. It’s the only reason why I work at the discount department store: so I my parents can be happy and see me successful; so I can pay the bills; feed us; and so I can save up to go to college and major in English to become a famous poet and write poems for the New York Times and write to inspire people, and succeed. Even tough I know I will never able to save up enough money with paying the bills, but I still work any way, for a dream that’s not even going to come true. It feels better trying to work for something knowing you won’t be able to work for it, than not trying to reach for your dream at all.

Yeah, so that was when my parents came into the bar, half drunk and the other half high, swallowing in slurs of laughter and words. My tumbling fingers fled straight through me, continuing to dig their fingernails into my guts. In that moment I wanted to scream, as they turned and waved, slurring my name. Their laughter shrilled me up into pieces, my breathing became short and erupted. I watched Michelle in the corner of my eyes, her face coming up into a smirk. I finally formed the words,

“You can tell any other rumor about me, except for about my parents being drunk. Please?” Her eyes stared mischievously at me, and finally she gave me a nod.

I ran out of the bar, still lightly buzzed, my parents and ex and my ex’s girlfriend and everyone laughing at me, as I got to my car and drove home, even though I knew it was illegal, I didn’t care.

Michelle kept her promise, but it didn’t make It much better that she had told the principle that I’d driven to school drunk. Now, as I sit here, reading the back of the stall door as if it were a newspaper, fucking this and fucking that, just like the black-sharpie graffiti said to.

I know going to college (especially now with my thirteenth detention this year) is just a dream I’m chasing. But I can’t help but keep going and working that crappy night-shift and the even sitter discount department store, waiting to become someone famous, someone that I’m not nor that ‘ll ever be.

I pull my hair up into a bun and pull out a black sharpie pen. I write, “Fuck the broken happiness.” I cap the pen, feeling pretty satisfied. There, I wrote something and no one can write in the same damn spot that I wrote there.

Someone knocks on the stall door, and I suddenly jump.

“Hello? Is someone in there?” I barely smile before I unlock the door and walk past the girl staring at me as I whisper, “I want to get better.”

© 2015 Haven & Coral Worley