“There was no other way.”
How do you read that? Do you think of it as the truth, in the way a determinist might? Does it make your existentialistic heart rage?
Or do you get all swoony for stories of fate and destiny? Soulmates and fortune tellers?
Do you look at the palms of your hands as maps that you must follow?
There was no other way, no choice. How many times have you been in a situation where you thought that there was only one option, one door to open?
This week we have six stories that explore these very questions from Karen Schauber, deb y felio, Francine Witte, Kelli J Gavin, Debjani Mukherjee, and Sunil Sharma.
Enjoy! And please come back tomorrow for the (first ever!) podcast featuring two of these stories, read aloud by yours truly.
Harold drums his fingers on the gummy Formica tabletop. The thumb leading the procession picks up the pace. A second cup of coffee now cold, stale, and thin, sits untouched. Donna, he grumbles, late again. He tries convincing himself she’s not worth it; no sense inviting further humiliation.
Time to blow this pop stand, he murmurs. He digs his aluminum chair’s heels in, scraping the mustard yellow linoleum and drives back hard into the wall. The metallic screech raises hairs all around in aggravated protest. The woman with the bouffant updo seated at the adjacent table turns away as if to signal her displeasure. Harold pushes up out of his seat; a loping simian asserting dominance.
At checkout, he twirls a handful of silver coin on the counter. They glitter like whirling dervish. The cashier’s eyes light up with delight. His hand waves away her adulation and the receipt, before slamming the heavy glass door of the diner behind him. There will be no reconciliation today.
Flashing a quick look up and down the street, Harold surveys the oncoming traffic for Donna’s pink Declasse Tornado. He bid pretty low for the beauty at Dixie’s auto auction last June and got her for a steal. Now she’s been forked over in the settlement. The optics are not good. He shields doubt and embarrassment behind cobalt blue Ray-Bans and stands fidgeting in tired cowboy heels a while longer.
He’ll give her a few more minutes. Truthfully, he has nowhere else to go.
Across the street, he slides into the parked dusty brown Chevrolet slumping low into threadbare upholstery and pushes up the visor for a good sightline to watch her arrival. She never does show.
He will say nothing. Bringing up her defiance would be like inviting two bobcats into a burlap bag. Instead, he will call the lawyer in the morning. Another 300 bucks down the drain. There is no other way.
Karen Schauber is a seasoned Family Therapist practicing in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her earlier writing is non-fiction and details three decades of psychosocial and analytical cases. Flash Fiction is a new and welcome adventure for her. Karen’s flash fiction is published and forthcoming in 25 Literary Magazines and Anthologies including Brilliant Flash Fiction, Bending Genres, CarpeArte, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, and Poems for the Writing: A Textbook. The upcoming Group of Seven Flash Fiction Commemorative Anthology celebrating the Canadian modernist landscape painters is her first editorial flash venture http://GroupofSevenFlashFiction.weebly.com. In her obsession with flash fiction, Karen also facilitates http://VancouverFlashFiction.weebly.com. She can be reached directly at http://karenschauber.weebly.com
deb y felio
We thought about this carefully
before setting out the plan,
despite the numerous casualties
we assumed people would understand.
How to spin the message
give it a proper reason
without all the baggage
that didn’t sound like treason.
The profits that were gained
came at a price of course,
the progress we obtained
required a little force,
That’s the story we are telling,
the press we are releasing,
the product we are selling,
the palms we are re- greasing.
We cannot admit that we ignored
the data from the experts
who begged us and implored
not this! children will get hurt.
Was there something more philosophic,
something else we could have done
maybe less catastrophic
and still we could have won?
Perhaps but then there wasn’t time,
immediacy was the essence —
there were other hills to climb,
give the ratings extra presence.
When someone asks what’s going on
what’s causing all the chatter
reassure them nothing’s wrong
and the issue doesn’t matter.
So set aside the could have beens
and what we’ll never say,
the official statement to the crowd –
“there was no other way.”
deb y felio is a witness poet exploring and writing on the mundane, the miraculous and the under-represented sides of historic and current issues. deb lives and writes in the hills of Boulder Colorado and is active in the Denver Lighthouse for Writers and the Stain’d art community. Her work is published in multiple online sources) and in the print anthologies Hay(na)ku ( Eileen Tabios, editor) and in Minnie’s Diary, A Southern Literary Review October 2018.
Love has rules
Love has rules
and you can’t change ‘em. I tell this to Harley again and again.
Been like this forever, I say. He ignores me, but still I try.
I sit him in his favorite chair. all fluffy pillows and doilies where the fabric quit.
I say, Harley, you gotta start bringing me flowers. Daisies are my favorite. You can pick ‘em out back.
He is already shifting his shifty feet, big clunky boots that are waiting to walk him straight back to Loretta.
Who I know all about, and the spell she cast over him. With her big brown eyes, her fingers quick as a bluebird. Harley once told me that the first rule of love is to obey your heart and that’s what led him to Loretta.
Well, I gave him that. At least, that time he listened. But if he was gonna stay with me. He would at least have to act sorry. And sorry meant flowers.
So right now, that’s all I want to know. Where the hell are my flowers? He finally says, they are busy out back, and not ready to pick. And I needed to give them time to grow.
I remind him that the rules of love say that time has no meaning. How it seems too long when you’re away from the one you desire.
Speaking of which, are we done here? This is taking forever, he says.
Not for me, I tell him. Time just flies when you’re around.
And that’s when he gets up to leave. Leave me for the very last time.
Days later, at his funeral, I strew his sorry casket with daisies. Nice, big plump ones they sent from the store. I squeeze out a tear, but no one believes it. Not Loretta, who is still angry about the stabbing, not the policeman over there in the corner waiting to take me to jail, and certainly not the newspaper guy, who named me Crazy Daisy and chuckled when I said that I was just obeying the rules of love, and when it’s clear that a love thing is over, you need closure or something, and if only Harley had listened for once, it might have been different.
But since it wasn’t different, really, there was no other way.
Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two flash fiction chapbooks. Her full-length poetry collection, Café Crazy, has recently been published by Kelsay Books. She is reviewer, blogger, and photographer. She is a former English teacher. She lives in NYC.
No Other Way
Kelli J Gavin
When she left him, it wasn’t a moment too soon. She had stayed for far too long but couldn’t imagine her life any other way. She felt stuck. Stuck where she lived. Stuck in this situation. Stuck with him. She needed to get away, but where would she go?
5 years together was a long time. A lifetime. An eternity when you didn’t want to be there. 5 years was never something to brag about. 5 years meant nothing except for 5 years of insults, 5 years of assault, 5 years of beatings. He raised his hand to her 4 days after they were married. 4 whole days. But of course he didn’t mean it. He was a passionate man, and she had upset him so much when she wore that short skirt and too much makeup for his liking. She was told she was married and didn’t need to dress and look like that anymore. She was told that if she ever did it again, she would have more than a busted lip.
When stitches were needed the first time, it was because she was a half hour late getting home from work. A half hour. She stayed late to earn some more money to pay for a nice birthday gift for her husband. She did it for him. And how was she repaid? With a gash three inches long splitting her eyebrow. She told her friend she tripped and ran into the open front door. She smiled and tried to joke about her clumsiness. She was anything but clumsy. Didn’t she use to be a graceful dancer? Her friend knew she was lying. This was the first of may lies.
She lost the baby when he kicked her so hard in the stomach after she decided she wasn’t cooking dinner that night. She felt so sick all day and had no appetite to eat. Maybe a few crackers later if she was up to it. She had plenty of leftovers to serve him, but leftovers were never good enough. How dare she feed him “food that shouldn’t be served to animals!” She ran when she saw the rage in his eyes and balled fists that were never going to relax. The running made him more angry. She didn’t want to make him angry. She realized that too late as she was running from him. Running to save herself. Running to save the baby.
The baby was not saved. But she was. That night, she told the doctor in the ER how many times he had hurt her. She knew it was the last time. That night, her mom and friend packed up all of her belongings. She would never return to him. She was ready to leave town, if only for a short time. But she knew she had to leave. She would create distance. So goodbyes were said and tears were shed. There was no other way.
Kelli J Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company. Look for Kelli’s first book of short stories and poems in 2019. You can find her work with The Ugly Writers, Sweatpants & Coffee, Writing In a Woman’s Voice, The Writers Newsletter, Writers Unite!, Academy of the Heart and Mind, The Rye Whiskey Review, Spillwords, Mercurial Stories, 121 Words, HerStry, Ariel Chart, The Basil O’Flaherty, PPP Ezine, Southwest Media, Otherwise Engaged, Pleather Skin, Paper.Li, The New Ink Review, among others.
Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin
Blog found at kellijgavin.blogspot.com
From a very early age Kritika was attuned with the admiring looks in the eyes of her fellow male classmates. A blooming rose always gains the attention of the bumble bees. Kritika understood this fact right in her early teen but never indulged those bees in her life. When she walks through any public place, few heads always turns following her motion just like the sunflowers which turn their head following the direction of the big bright fiery sun and why not! Kritika’s beauty and charm is no less than the monarch of the universe. With Her creamy white competition, hazelnut eyes, rosy plump lips and perfect figure she looks no less ravishing than a star. She is now habituated getting love proposal almost every week which she obviously turns down. Her close friends have great fun times discussing about the number of new Romeo’s she earned till date. Kritika smiles at their comments but never indulges the discussion. She is more happy discussing books and music instead of these meaningless things.
Kritika is now twenty-one and studying law, nourishing the dream in her eyes to become a top corporate lawyer one day. Her fan following in the law school is no less than the past but her reserved personality leaves her male friends with no option than to whiff cold breathes into their chest. With age people develops ego and with the fear of getting humiliated they learn to act with patience and understanding. The male acquaintance of the law college thus refrain themselves from proposing Kritika as her reticent personality and quite nature bespeaks the message “not interested’ in bold letters.
But there are always few people in this queer world who believes in the never give up theory. Subhash is one of them. No matter how well the fact is acknowledged in the premises of law school that Kritika is not a girl to wish for, Subhash is not ready to give up. He is happy to act like some ambitious soul alluring himself with this impossible dream, which has every chance to get rejected in near future. He sets his voyage for the mission marry Kritika with the best whack of his. He is a CA, already running a farm successfully and joined the law graduating course to get more clients of big companies. He is elder than most of the students in the college and of course already successfully earning good money. So he has got some respect among the students. He is a little short in height and his eyes are ornamented with spectacles. His fair skin goes red whenever he becomes a part of a college canteen debate as he has a tendency to prove his point with utter conviction. He became a member of the same group in which Kritika dwells and keep finding ways to praise and support Kritika in anything and everything.
Kritika understands the meaning of every gesture Subhash performs from passing her the canteen tea glass before anyone else, paying all the food bills of the group voluntarily, talking always in support of Kritika, she surely understands it all. Subhash is not leaving any corner untouched but Kritika was nowhere to give in for any of his efforts. As somehow these constant endeavors of Subhash to impress her makes her feel very uneasy and embarrassed. One day he even visited their house by surprise and chatted with her mother for long which Kritika didn’t like at all.
Theirs is an evening college as many people like Subhash who are already established in other field intend to pursue the law graduation as an add-on qualification to enrich their portfolio. After the classes they walk back home in a group. Some of them who come from far walk to the bus stop to catch a bus. Some take the bus to the railway station to board a train and some like Kritika whose house is just at the walking distance walks back to her house. And here something Subhash does every evening which absolutely disgusts Kritika. Subhash who stays at the next town comes to college riding his bike and every day after the classes are over and the group starts walking together to a point where they gets apart for their respective destinations Subhash pushes his bike along with them saying that he want to be with the group for more. But the true reason is known to all which makes Kritika so embarrassed that she wants the ground to split and submerge into it.
That evening after everyone leaves for their own destination Subhash takes out a book from his bag and gave it to Kritika for a read saying “it’s a great book please read it. I know you will love it.” Unwilling in heart Kritika takes the book as it is not mentioned as a gift , though she could see the shining brand new cover of the book “Thakur Barir Andormohol” ( the inner life of the Tagore house) by Chitra Deb. But as it is not mentioned as a gift, turning down a good book like this seems illogical so she takes it without any word. After reaching home she opens the book to read and discovers a single line written on the empty page at the beginning of the book. “Gifted to the person I love” no to or from mentioned just a line which says it all but leaves her with no option to confront it. Kritika got extremely angry, after being an embarrassment for her every evening now this man got the guts to pronounce it loud too!! She is absolutely disgusted and wants to teach this educated idiot a fitting lesson for all his calculated steps towards this disgusting climax.
After few days Kritika gives the book back to Subhash, thanking him casually she proceeds to her class for the lecture. Subhash gets disheartened by not receiving any reply from Kritika. May be the message was too passive in manner he thought. He was going to put the book in his bag when a folded paper slipped to the floor from the folds of the book. Subhash’s heart started racing, he could almost hear the lub dub repeating wildly inside his chest like a hammer. He grabbed the paper and sat on the staircase at the end of the huge corridor of the collage and as he expected it’s a letter.
You are the most beautiful thing ever happened to me. I fell in love with you right at the moment when I saw you for the first time. I never believed in love at first sight but see it happened to me. The intensity of my love is at a constant raise. Increasing with the waves of time my days and nights are getting more consumed by your thoughts. My imaginations come to an end when I think how my life would be, if it’s not with you! I could only weave the pictures of my future around you. I know you too love me with the same intensity so let’s paint a life together with the colour of each other’s life.
Yours and only yours
Subhash is so happy that he couldn’t even realize where he is and all his emotions of the joy of victory got sketched on his face instantly . The best girl in the college is now his. He got what others never could. He surely is the best so the most beautiful girl in the college is now his girlfriend and may be the would be wife. When he will walk with Kritika the other boys of the college will burn their eyes with envy. Having a girlfriend as beautiful as Kritika is no less than a dream come true. He was always an achiever, minting money with both hands in so early edge he was always way ahead than others. So if not him, then who could win the princess of the college!! Certainly Kritika couldn’t have found a better boyfriend than him. Along with the high bank balance in this early age now he has achieved the most beautiful girl also surely he will be the talk of the town for the rest of his life. He thoughts kept dancing on his eyes but then something caught his eyes at the other side of the page. It’s just a short note of one line. “P:S- I Love you Subho from the bottom of my heart.”
Subhash felt as if he missed his heartbeats for a while. The happiness of achieving the best girl in the college and then discovering it’s just a myth left him as a stone on the stairs. Kritika who was watching him from far hiding behind the door of the class smiled a little. She hurried to Subhash as if she didn’t notice his previous happiness and now this acquit disappointment flashing on his face. She said “Oh! Subhash I forgot an important paper inside the book please can I have it back?” she said it in one go pretending to be worried losing the paper.
Subhash stretches out his hand holding the letter, with a bewildered look in his eyes which gave Kritika an indomitable urge to laugh out loud but she kept her face straight and came back to her class room with the mock letter in her hand which she wrote to some nonexistent Subho just for this purpose. She was content with the thought that she taught the self-obsessed man with huge superiority complex a good lesson. She never liked Subhash flaunting his money in the canteen as if none of them could afford the snacks and those high volumes arguments of his where he never cared to listen to others view absolutely irritated her like anything. What did he thought Kritika will be allured with his show off!! She went to her seat wearing the smile still on her lips. She knows she did it brutally but what to do there was no other way.
(**Note from the editor: This story did exceed the word limit but there are exceptions to every rule.)
Debjani Mukherjee is a MBA in applied management and also a poet and a writer. Her poems, short stories and articles are published in several international anthologies and magazines.
The monster slayer
…The trail goes to the cave of the monster. Slay your father-killer there.
The Old Seer to Kelly, the reluctant warrior.
The man with the golden locks and eyes of a poet would have rejected the challenge earlier but priorities change.
Then the nagging question: Why did it happen to me?
He was determined to punish the elusive beast.
As per the directions of the Wise One, young Kelly undertook a long and dangerous journey; the Wide River and stars, only compass. There were craggy mountains and treacherous paths; swift streams and fatal falls. A misstep—you are dead meat.
Last part, most testing!
The warning sounded true.
As Kelly approached the final trail, things grew strange. The cave did not look formidable or dangerous but rather beckoned!
An outside garden with a murmuring brook. The trees were in bloom and birds sang merrily. The seductive aroma of the exotic flowers and the soft breeze lulled the brave quester into sleep.
Waking up, he found himself tied on a rough table.
And a host that announced most cheerfully: Welcome, my lunch!
Kelly had never seen such an odd creature. The huge and unwashed hybrid stank badly. Bones littered the entire floor. The kitchen fires blazed, giving some light and warmth in that damp place. Dismal sight!
The giant reassured the victim gleefully: Do not be afraid. I kill my victims without pain. Only problem, I am bit slow for their liking.
The monster got excited by the scent of fear: I thought you were brave but I can sense terror. Mortals! Easily scared!
Kelly was repulsed by the hollow laughter.
—Not fair! Kelly was calm.
—This uneven contest.
—Life! Never fair!
—You are philosopher also.
—I reflect. Observe things.
—Humans love to invent their own monsters!
Kelly was astonished.
—A thinking man’s monster. Not a complete brute!
—Fairy tales! Why do you create appalling images of the other species? Why this need for terrifying aliens?
—Because the unknown is dreaded. Part of evolution. Kind of processing threats in great images.
—Nice thinking, Kelly!
—Know my name?
—I can read the tattoo.
Kelly became quiet.
The fiend said: Monster is created to make you feel human, superior, master.
They looked at each other for long.
— I like you, Kelly. Here is a game: Run for freedom. After an hour, I come after you. If you reach the border before, you win. Now run.
Kelly ran against the wind and crossed the border. Monster kept his word and let him live.
… Having survived the ordeal and returning home happily, Kelly remembered suddenly: Father killed by a beast-cum- cannibal.
He felt angry.
He was there to slay him, not escape.
Killing the giant, not easy.
Kelly knew he was to overcome fear and go back to the cave only.
There was no other way!
Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.
Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:
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