Listen to the podcast episode for Issue 30.
In this week’s issue, we have seven different visions of scenes just out of the corner of the protagonists’ eyes. Through these stories, we see that these incomplete sideways glances afford clues that our imaginations feast upon, confirming hopes as well as suspicions. (And among all the insight we gain from these indirect views, perhaps one lesson is that one should be a little more cautious regarding the tilt of the screen.)
This week’s contributors include: John Sheirer, Mark Kuglin, Sunil Sharma, Kelli J. Gavin, deb y felio, Kira, and Jenny Birch.
Change is Good?
She sat in her favorite overstuffed reading chair in the early light of a Sunday morning at home. He peeked over her shoulder to see her cell phone. Their bad-tempered cat perched just behind her head atop the chair back, blocking his view of her phone.
She wasn’t reading today–just clutching that damned phone six inches from her nose.
“Finished the book for book group?” he asked, sauntering behind her chair to try for a better view of her phone while pretending to look out the window into the backyard.
She drew the phone down almost imperceptibly, tilted it just a few degrees away from his line of vision.
“Yesterday,” she replied. He hadn’t noticed her reading yesterday, something she usually did most of Saturday afternoon. He couldn’t actually remember what they did yesterday afternoon. A movie? No. Walk? No. Late lunch? No.
The cat wasn’t really bad-tempered. The cat just didn’t seem to like him, instead preferring to snuggle near her head on the chair back and stare at him. Judgmentally? he wondered. Maybe.
Her phone emitted the tiny whoosh of a text message launching into the mysterious world of cyberspace. He never texted. He couldn’t remember seeing her text before either.
He craned his neck to see her phone screen. When she got that phone a year ago, she had taken a photo of him and installed it as her background photo. She said she liked the blank look on his face. “Not smiling, not frowning,” she at the time. “Just being you.”
He thought about how she carried his image close to her in her purse or, better yet, in her pocket, thin layers of fabric between his face on the phone screen and her skin.
The texting screen evaporated from her phone just before he could focus his eyes on the tiny words there. He recognized the home screen with her icons arranged into all four corners of the glowing surface. But his face had been replaced on her phone screen. Instead, there was a photo of the cat spread across that same chair back.
“Why is the cat on your phone?” he asked.
“Hmm?” she murmured. “Oh, no reason. Sometimes change is good. You know?”
He didn’t know.
The cat stared at him simultaneously from the phone screen and from the back of her chair.
Then she held the phone’s power button down until everything went dark.
John Sheirer lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his wonderful wife Betsy and happy dog Libby. He has taught writing and communications for 26 years at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut, where he also serves as editor and faculty advisor for Freshwater Literary Journal (submissions welcome). He writes a monthly column on current events for his hometown newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and his books include memoir, fiction, poetry, essays, political satire, and photography. Find him at JohnSheirer.com.
Bane of My Existence
Up until that moment, everything had been picturesque and idyllic. I had been lost in thought and daydreams, for over an hour, and thoroughly enjoying my solitude. Although I was sitting at a busy outdoor cafe— and could hear the nearby traffic and conversations of other patrons and passersby— it was like sitting next to a babbling brook in a peaceful, quiet meadow on a gloriously sunny day.
I was thrilled to be in such a wonderful mood and I felt carefree. I could feel each nerve ending and all of my senses were heightened by my inner stillness. Combined, it created a magical world of ideas and infinite possibilities.
Tragically, it ended the moment I spotted Jerry— out of the corner of my eye. In an instant, I knew my solitude was over. The odds of him leaving me be or passing on by were zero. He would stop.
Jerry was— and still is— the type of person I derisively call a trumpeter. There’s no need to describe him because I am sure you are well acquainted with his ilk. Trumpeters— like Jerry— come in all shapes, sizes and forms and they occupy every imaginable role in life. They’re the ones who feel compelled to loudly announce their arrival without any regard to what you may be doing. And after forcing themselves upon you, they chronically interrupt in order to deliver a non-stop monologue.
To make it worse, Jerry brought the added bonus of being absolutely clueless as to how his behavior affected me. And trying to point out his deficiencies— in a kind way— was an absolutely futile endeavor. As far as he was concerned, he didn’t have a part in anything.
The moment Jerry saw me, he made a beeline for my table, took a seat without asking and said— without preamble, “It isn’t healthy to be spending so much time alone.” But before I could respond, he emphatically stated and then asked, “You must be depressed!…What’s going on with you?”
“I am..er..was completely fine..,” I started to say.
“That impossible,” Jerry interjected. “I could see your depression from down the block.”
“Nonsense,” Jerry tsked. “There’s no way you can fine. Healthy people don’t spend their time alone.”
“How dare you, “ I said— in an assertive tone. “Who are you to call me unhealthy?”
“Now, now,” Jerry tsked again. “No need for that…Besides, you proved my point”
“What point?” I asked— with anger in my voice.
“Anger and depression are identical…Anger is outward and depression is inward.”
At this point, I should have gotten up and left him sitting there. However, my anger got the best of me. “As hard as it is for you to believe,” I shouted, “I was fine until you walked up.”
You don’t have to be an asshole,” Jerry interjected.
“Actually I do,” I countered. “You left me no other choice.”
Mark Kuglin is an American expat currently living and working near Ensenada, Mexico. He writes fiction, poetry and the occasional essay. Samples of his work can be found on his website markkuglin.com or by following him on Twitter @cr8fiction. Additionally, he has a profile and a page @markkuglincreativewriting on Facebook.
A quick exchange of smiles but could not escape him.
They sat on the sidewalk café. She wanted to catch the early-morning glory of the ancient city.
—I love the way sun paints Venice in gold! She exclaimed.
He nodded, adjusting the camera.
—I want the best shots. He said to the woman.
The shoot began.
He asked her to tilt her head a bit against the bridge in the back. The Cathedral shone brightly. The waters sparkled. A gentle breeze blew across a slumbering street. The view was magical!
She walked with certain poise. Stopped. Bent a glance and smiled!
Setting his heart on fire! That Mona Lisa smile. The very quality was ethereal.
Then he realized it was not for him—but, maybe, for someone else. For a second, her eyes wandered, face lit up and lips formed into a grin, faint but sublime.
Out of the corner of the eye, he saw her fleetingly smile at a stranger clad in red T and blue denim, holding up a long stem of red rose. He smiled back. The tall rival stood inconspicuously among the American tourists and when the photographer looked back, the competitor vanished in air.
Afterwards, her face became serene.
Action in a jiffy!
Robert Browning echoed in an agitated mind;
…she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere
Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile?
Am I reading too much into a smile? He thought.
After some time, they went down to the bridge. She posed by pouting like Marilyn Monroe. She radiated joie de vivre that was infectious—waving at the kids, gondoliers; the Vietnamese waiters; Asian and Chinese tourists; nuns; old lady residents with small dogs; in fact, everything. Even he got affected and smiled at the world, forgetting a competing suitor.
She wanted to capture the famous spots.
Some poses were solo; others, in crowded plazas, train and bus stations, museums, and, the water taxis.
—I want a bit of Venice for posterity! She exclaimed, this beautiful French woman, hardly 24, with a lilting voice.
He followed as pet. Both sought immortality. He, from photography; she, modeling. Their worlds were different, yet converged in Paris apartment full of ambition where ethnicities hardly mattered.
While returning to the hotel room, she was a bit tensed, glancing back, often.
His peripheral vision registered these sideways movements of a person in perpetual rebellion.
For a sec, he saw a familiar figure but turning around, only a blur of action—a spot of red fading in a side alley.
They slept heavily after lunch.
When he woke up, she was not there.
A scrawled note: Sorry! Email the pictures.
Hit him hard!
Going through the pictures, he got the vital clue: In a frame, outer edge of the scene, a blurred figure, in red T, holding up a long-stemmed red rose…
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:
For more details, please visit the blog:
What I See
Kelli J Gavin
I see more than most people
Maybe because I am always watching
Knowing that if I pay attention
At some point it will happen
Out of the corner of my eye
I see exactly what I need to
The smiles as I turn to walk away
The joy of my kids when I say yes
My husband’s look of adoration
My friends wiping tears in laughter
Of course I see many things when
I am face to face with other people
But it is that afterthought
That sinking- in feeling
That emotion that isn’t always shared
That is what I look for
That is what I see
Out of the corner of my eye
I see exactly what I want to
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
Looking Both Ways Before Crossing
deb y felio
Out of the corner of each eye, her only vision of world events, Her world of narrow views and half formed opinions about what she thinks she sees. Half exposed, half hidden, sideways glances and steps keep her adjusting to cracks in her perspective.
She once believed looking inward toward the other corners would offer a balance — the two extremes in the middle, but the middle was only a nose trying to sniff out the truth.
She often wishes for eyes operating from a focused straight ahead and forward approach. An approach providing more certain and collaborative witnesses verifying and affirming a common rather than an exceptional reporting.
Once considering operations to bring her eyes into a more popular and accepted form, the surgeon rolled his stool to her side, looked her in the eye and asked her, if not she then who would bring to the public forum another, often overlooked, view of the world?
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.
Out of the corner of my eye
Out of the corner of my eye
I can see you’ve sent a reply
My blood pumps, quick!
I must take my phone and… blink!
Another notification appears.
Distracted, the thought of you disappears
And I’m lost in a firework of stimulation.
Yet, I quickly realise who should receive my adoration
And, out of the corner of my eye
I wish I could see my favourite Gemini.
Kira is a writer and blogger as well as a languages teacher. She creates short stories and flash fiction, and is in the process of writing her first book. She also writes about mental health, video games, teaching, and likes to show off her photos.
All of this, because she aspires to make a difference to those who stopped seeing the beauty in this world.
Onwards to her writer’s den!
By the End of the Day
She couldn’t look directly at them, or the whole thing would be ruined.
Paul would have a fit if he saw them, cloistered behind the new drapes they’d spent all weekend hanging. But she knew as long as she didn’t look at them, they’d stay in one spot, more or less quietly. She just wanted to sit. Just for a minute.
“You can’t see us!” someone squealed, rustling the sheer fabric. Maybe less quietly, then. But at least still in one spot.
“Where on earth did my precious babies go?” She tipped her chin to the ceiling and arched her neck so that she could scan all parts of the room – except the windows. “They were just here a second ago!”
Four tiny eruptions of joy. Her skull echoed with the reverberation of it and she resisted the urge to tip sideways, bury her head in one of the throw pillows. She almost gave in, but then noticed the jelly splotch she’d land in, remnant of the rainy-day picnic she’d granted at lunch. She’d have to wipe it up before Paul got home.
The oldest jostled the younger ones. “Shhh! Not too loud, or she’ll find us!”
She tipped her head so that she could just barely see them, piled like stacking cups in the too-small space. She knew what Paul would say: They’re going to hurt themselves! Or rip the curtains!
But she would have gladly sacrificed the drapes a hundred times over for these precious seated moments. There wasn’t even anyone on her lap!
“Let me think,” she sing-songed. “Now a few minutes ago, they were in the kitchen having a snack, and then –“ she tapped her chin – “they were gone! Like magic!”
The baby, truly a baby no longer, laughed and then snorted, which set the rest of them off. They collapsed in a heap, the drapes tangled around them. She wished she could turn her head, make sure they weren’t pulling the rod from the wall. She hesitated, then turned away. It wasn’t worth the gamble. The drapes were probably fine.
The garage door rumbled unexpectedly, a full twenty minutes earlier than she’d been expecting. She shifted, flipping the pillow jelly-side down and fluffing it up. There was nothing to be done about the mess in the kitchen; no use even trying now.
The kids started pulling away from one another. “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy’s home!” Just as Paul’s footsteps reached the top of the basement stairs, there was a great, roaring rip, and the drapes tumbled to the floor. He was opening the door into the family room when the rod, with a groan, followed it, clattering to the floor and scratching the hardwood.
Paul surveyed the scene with a frown and furrowed brow.
She rose and went to the children, smiling her apology at Paul. At the windows, she draped herself in her children. They nestled into her, wiggling against her chest. Loud, chaotic, but at least all in one spot.
Jenny Birch is a middle school ELA teacher and freelance writer who writes primarily contemporary and YA fiction. She hails from Pittsburgh, PA, where she lives with her wonderful husband and two crazy-awesome sons. She is an active member of the SCBWI and Penn Writers. She can be found on Twitter @TheRealMrsBirch