Volume 1 Issue 38: Resolutions

A year ago, I started this endeavour as an attempt to balance my writing practice with my Japanese study. It was, essentially, a resolution. Like all resolutions, I faltered many times. I wanted to quit every other week, questioned the conception of such a foolhardy resolution, was puzzled by the evolution of the project. It grew from the seed of my desire to write regularly and became an entirely different tree, filled with the fruits of others’ labours.

Accepting the tree as it was, letting it grow into what it is now, was more meaningful than establishing a better writing practice, it turned out. Supporting others in their own literary resolutions required a creative skill set that I did not possess at the beginning of 2018. Many people question the point of New Year resolutions and this is a much overlooked value of the tradition: setting a goal and heading towards it, even if you end up far away from your intended destination.

One glaring aspect of sticking with this project over the last year has been a very practical one: the realisation that I cannot do everything. Teaching full-time, raising four young citizens of the world, and running this website has consumed all my minutes, leaving no time for my language studies. And since I cannot let go of two of those elements, I am afraid that I must surrender the time given to Mercurial Stories so that I can focus all my non-work/non-parenting time to my studies.

I am an immigrant. I shed the nomadic expat identity when I started thinking about high schools and universities here in Japan for my kids. I have always resented studying the Japanese language because it took away from my writing but I also discovered over the course of this past year that I want to become a translator, specifically a literary translator. My reading and writing skills can still be of use, combined with my ever-expanding understanding of the Japanese language and culture. Thus, I no longer resent the time and effort I must invest. It is a long road ahead of me and first I must dedicate one year to an intense course of study that involves total immersion: reading, writing, and eventually speaking in Japanese for at least 70% or more of my days. This means that editing an English language flash fiction journal will not be feasible.

Know that it is a hiatus, not discontinuation, but it will likely be a lengthy one: it is possible that I will not return here until 2020. The website and FB page will stay alive so you can read (and link to) stories from past issues. And when I have passed my proficiency exams, I will let you know what the next prompt will be. Until then, I just wanted to tell you how grateful I have been for your participation with this “resolution”. Thank you for your stories, your encouragement, your readings, everything. It has been a very interesting journey.

Okay, now on with the show….

This week we have seven resolute stories to get you going for the New Year:

(2) To the Letter by Copper Rose
(3) A One-Liner by Mark Patterson
(4) Why I Do Not Make New Year’s Resolutions by Kelli J. Gavin
(5) Dating at 50 by Karen Petersen
(6) A Village Outing by Sunil Sharma
(7) Unbreakable by L Swartz

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Volume 1 Prompt 35: PSA

We interrupt this program…

By popular suggestion, write a PSA this week. Make it serious, absurd, romantic, heartbreaking, terrifying, whatever you please, but make it so it could be broadcast on a loudspeaker or posted on a bulletin board.

Hear ye, hear ye…

As usual, 500 words or less. Due Thursday, November 22nd by 8 pm EST.

Submit your story here. 
 

Volume 1 Issue 34: Dawn

I used to live on an island far out in the middle of a steely blue sea. During that time, I was in communication with a friend who meant more to me than I meant to him. The imbalance of our relationship was rooted in our very different situations that created very different perceptions of this world. I was off living in on the other side of the planet, teaching kindergartners; he was stuck back in our hometown, working long hours in the service industry without much hope of change.

Nothing captured our imbalance more accurately than a quick exchange of photos we shared, on a morning (my time, evening his time) when I got up before dawn to walk down to the harbor in time for sunrise. Sunrise and sunset were the only moments in the day when we shared the sun at the same time, a fact that felt rather significant then.

So I sent him pictures of the glorious sky, the pinks, purples, oranges, reds painting the heavens as the sun eased itself into another day.

In return, he sent me two pictures he had taken early that morning: one of a very dead possum, ghostly in the camera’s flash, and the other of what I thought was a bowl of flour, being weighed on a kitchen scale.
It turned out that it was not flour.

Two different dawns, two different worlds.
 
This week, we have seventeen different dawns, seventeen different worlds.

(2) “Static Dawn” by Christopher Roper
(3) “Dawn Awakening” by Rekha Vallippan
(4) “FLASHPOINT” by Louis Kasatkin
(5) “Who could arrest a creature capable of scaling the overhanging sides of Mont Saleve?” by Elaine Mead
(6) “Awakening” by Kira Writes
(7) “Once Upon A Time At Christmas” by Christy Kunin
(8)
(9) “The Avowal” by Debjani Mukherjee
(10) “May the Night Take Me” by Kelli J Gavin
(11) “Lauds” by Kathy Sanford
(12) “The Sun is Rising” by David Ritterskamp
(13) “A Misty Dawn” by Jose Varghese
(14) “First Light” by Sunil Sharma
(15) “The Scammer” by Julie Eger
(16) “Cowboys” by Kristin Ferragut
(17) “Goin’ to Dirt” by The Poet Darkling
(18) “Trapped” by Audra Russell

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Volume 1 Issue 28: Fire

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We have five elemental stories this week, each ablaze with intensity and searing with imagination. This week’s contributors include Kira, Sunil Sharma, Jenna Mason Stay, Kelli J Gavin, and Francine Witte. Warm yourself with these glowing stories of passion, loss, adventure, connection, desire, and fear.




Fire Fall
Kira

Have you ever felt like one of your dreams was real? I hadn’t, until then.

I was wandering around in a forest nearby. Fall had started its work: a fiery red was now slowly making its way into the woods, replacing the lush green I had started to get used to.

I preferred red. Red was fire and passion. Fight and fire.

I took a red leaf in my hand. Contemplating it made me feel powerful. Energy coursed through me, I felt invincible. I started to get worried when I felt a burning sensation going from my head to my arm, but it also felt familiar, like an old but impulsive friend.

Hi, anger.

A sharp pain, gone in an instant. The leaf caught fire, immediately destroyed.

And then, I blacked out.

I woke up in the middle of red maple leaves. Still groggy, I got up and resumed my walk. How come I had fainted so suddenly? I started hobbling, unsure and confused. I probably needed some rest. The flush of energy was gone, I wouldn’t be able to try my magic for a while.

Exhausted, I arrived in a clearing. It truly was a beautiful place: the sunlight was shining upon a red carpet of leaves. It was noon. Soon, the forest was bathed in a bright red light, so much that I couldn’t see the trees clearly anymore.

The forest was on fire, and it was magnificent.

This vision made me feel so much better. The bright light was comforting, the wind was blowing softly, ruffling through the leaves, making some of them fly away. Fall was here, softly announcing the Earth’s coming slumber.

Small issue: I didn’t see the arrow pointed at me on time.

It went through me, stuck itself into a tree behind me. A sharp, piercing, short pain rushed through my entire body. Blood came out, my face was twisted in surprise. I collapsed, then felt nothing.

I leapt to my feet, alarmed and confused. No time to be tired. I was still in the forest, lying in the middle of red maple leaves. I was fully awake this time. I was in danger. The dream felt so real… It had to become true.

A shot of anger pulsed through my veins. They had transformed me, and now they wanted me dead?

I was going to burn them all. It was a kill or be killed situation.

I dashed towards the clearing, hid behind a tree, sneaked a peek towards the general direction the arrow had come from. I couldn’t see for sure…I would have to lure them out.

Desperate for a solution, I lit up a stick and threw it towards the middle of the clearing, then rushed behind another tree. Three arrows missed me. I heard ruffling noises in the shadows. I was surrounded.

They were in for a world of pain.

I’m not completely human anymore. Remember that next time you try to fire anything at me.


Bio:

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!

www.jackofwritingtrades.wordpress.com

www.facebook.com/JackofWritingTrades



The Campfire
Sunil Sharma

—There!

Silhouettes.

Sounds—growling, howling, roaring, barking, laughing—enough to unsettle urban imagination fired by a mysterious forest, on a wintry night. The campers, huddled around a merry fire, shivered by the strange.

Part of the Gothic Trail, they were there seeking adventure.

—Where? I cannot.

Rahul said, the usual skeptic.

—There.

Said the guide.

—Yes. I can see. Said Reema, adding:  Glowing eyes. Edge of the lake.

The fire was continually fed. It leapt up high. The twigs burnt up fast in its yellow belly; the fierce flames, insatiable; warmth, comforting.

The bonfire lent a golden tinge to the faces. The shadows cast by the blaze were menacing.

—Look!

An outlined figure, shimmering.

The campers experienced a chilling sensation.

—Who is it?

The guide declared: Princess’s Ghost!

—What?

—Yeah.

—Ghost?

—Every jungle has got dark denizens.

—Hmm. Do not believe.

Rahul said.

—I believe.

Said Reema.

Many colleagues nodded: There are dark forces.

Rahul smirked: Imagining things!

—You should not have joined the believers.

Said Reema: eyes red, speech, bit slurred.

The all-young corporate group from Delhi was getting excited slowly. The brooding forest and the strong wind added to the Otherness.

The lake glittered.

—Wherefrom comes the ghost?

Reema asked the guide.

—From the 18th-century fort.

—Why does she roam the night?

—She wanted to marry a commoner. When her lover was killed publicly, she jumped into the lake and died young and unfulfilled.

Rahul exclaimed: How romantic!

Rajesh countered: No. Real. These things happen.

—What about her lover?

Another camper asked.

The guide was silent. Then: Some folks have seen him also. Two separated lovers in different locations, on full-moon nights, pining.

—What if she pops up here?

Asked another woman.

—You will die of fright!

They laughed.

—Haunting in the outdoors!

Exclaimed Rahul.

They drank and ate supper. The moon shone on the trail leading to the fort. Trees swayed like drunken giants.

Wolves howled somewhere deep in the tropical forest.

—I can feel the spirits of the jungle.

Reema said.

—Oh! Revisiting the Sea of Trees?

Teased Rahul.

Rajesh replied: Even Aokigahara is real. There are realities outside human ken. We should not be dismissive.

—I am not disrespectful. Just stating my view.

Argued Rahul.

—Do not spoil the show! Rajesh admonished, every inch his senior in the office.

—Hush! Exclaimed Reema. I saw the spirits hovering behind the campfire.

—Where? Asked Rajesh.

—There.

They peered.

Fleeting figures in the damp air.

A piercing cry.

Blood-curdling!

The group fell silent. The fire crackled. But the air underwent a change. Most felt evil lurking in the shadows.

—OK. I will check.

Before others could stop, Rahul ran down.

They waited.

his loud scream echoed; desperate, chilling.

The men took up torches—to chase the scream, near the lake…


Bio:

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:

http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:

http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/



 

The Fire-Handler
Jenna Mason Stay

She watched the flame danced across her fingers—the sparks, the colors of the flames. Most people thought of fire as yellow or maybe orange, but fire was red and blue too. It burst with bits of green or blinding white as it caught trace minerals on her skin. It was both loud and quiet, like the moment before sunrise, before the world turns back on again. It was sweet and tart, hard and soft, a study in contradictions. It was life.

The flames tickled, and she brushed it back down from its subtle creep up her arm. She liked it best when she held it in her hands. She could turn it and turn it, roll it from her palm to the back of her hand and back again.

No one wanted to join her. She couldn’t understand that—the way they stood back and watched. They were fascinated too, she knew it, but no one approached. Were the flames really so frightening?

She shrugged and stomped out an ember that had landed in the dirt. So be it. They wouldn’t know the glory of the flame, and she would not have to share. As long as she held the flame, she would be alone, but that was enough.

And then.

A figure stepped from the crowd. He was tall, and his face filled with fascination as he approached—cautiously, as if she might bite. When he came close enough, the light of the flames reflected in his brown eyes, and she felt the beckoning call from a fire that for once she did not control.

“What’s it like?” he asked, almost reverently.

“Like the world,” she said. “A tiny world, burning in your hand, and all the comfort and warmth and discovery and joy you will ever know, all encapsulated in one spot.” She held up her hand, and she watched him watch the flames dance, swirling around her hand like the sand on the beach.

Mesmerizing.

He looked at her then, and his face glowed. “May I try it?”

She blinked. No one had ever asked this. Hadn’t she thought—known—that no one else would ever join her? “You … want to hold the fire?” she asked, and she could not restrain the surprise.

“I’ve heard said it can be done, even by those without the gift.” He shrugged shyly and looked away. “I hoped you might teach me.” When his eyes returned to her, they held back nothing, and his tone was confident, certain. Warm. “I want to know.”

He was right. It could be shared. Even now she felt the fire aching to grow. She smiled. “Yes, I’ll show you.” She reached out her hand, and his joined hers.

They touched, and the fire flowed between them, the flame lighting both their hands, bursting into sparks of brilliant light. Her smiled widened. This was how fire was meant to feel—strong, powerful, true.

And oh, how it burned.


Bio:

Jeanna Mason Stay does most of her writing in fantasy and fairy tales, making up new ways to look at old stories. Occasionally, though, she hears a siren call from some other genre. Jeanna’s most recent fairy tale is “Breadcrumbs,” the story of a post-traumatic Gretel searching for healing, published in Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Tales.

Jeanna loves fireflies, serial commas, and her husband and children. Not necessarily in that order. She dreams of one day owning a herd of Chia sheep. You can find her at calloohcallaycallay.blogspot.com and www.facebook.com/JeannaMasonStay/.



 

Burn
Kelli J Gavin

I catch fire more often than I care to admit
I catch feelings that fan the flame
I wonder if others burn the way I do
I wonder if they have pulled all the alarms
You can only fuel the fire for so long
You can’t watch from afar

I burn up rather quickly
My throat tightens
My hands wring
My eyes wince from the smoke
I wipe the soot from my skin
My feet tread carefully

Not sure where to turn
Not sure if the floor will hold
The beams crash behind me
The flames shoot up each wall
Five alarm fire I am afraid
No one cares to respond

The flame is extinguished
Usually by me creating distance
The ruins are all I have left.
The embers continue to smolder
I have to work at regaining my composure
I don’t have anything to cling to

It must be obvious
I sweep up the remnants
Nothing left to piece back together
At  least the walls have been scrubbed
New rugs have been laid
All prepared for the next time I burn


Bio:

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





Woman, Man, Fire

Francine Witte

Woman

I’m saying this because. I need to live same as you. I gave you my heart. It was plump and red. I had a photo of it. You even took it. But then you started saying busy and work. Now that photo is blackened and curled. The fire started as quick as love. As wrong as love. I don’t even think you are listening.

Man

Trouble is I am listening. Listening when I should be walking away. I saw your troubled heart, your broken photo heart. I knew it needed fixing and I couldn’t. I’m glad the photo burned. The house, the shrubs around it. I worried about that stove. I can always smell the future, the burn of it. Trouble is you didn’t listen.

Fire

First of all, I need to live. I need to eat in order to jump into my full yellow, blue hot at the base. The two of you so tasty. How could I resist? Started with dry and brittle love. Forget about the stove. The spark of romance out long ago, but this burned better. Woman still holding on. Man over. Out of balance works just fine for me. I can clean a mountain of its pine trees, leaving nothing but scraggled hands. Your love was an easy meal.  


Bio:

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.



 

Volume 1 Prompt 28: Fire

ms28prompt
In Japanese, the kanji for autumn has two radicals: grains and fire (秋). Before living here, I did not understand how this came to be but if you happen to visit a rural landscape in September and October, you’ll have an immediate explanation: after the farmers harvest the rice and late summer vegetables, they burn the dead plants in giant bonfires in the middle of their fields. Japan is a mountainous nation and the farms lie in the nutrient-rich valleys, dissected by streams. In the countryside during autumn, if you manage to ascend to even a slight elevation, you are afforded the sight of smoke rising over shorn squares of yellow and brown, crisscrossed with rivers, usually running full from seasonal rains and passing typhoons. Autumn has become a smoky season for me.

Thus the decision to use the word fire for this week’s prompt, coming just after the autumnal equinox (for us inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere, at least). It is a heavy word, weighted with possibility. Fire played a significant role over the course of humanity’s evolution and while many no longer encounter physical flames directly, it still exists as a regular linguistic feature in metaphors, verbs, and adjectives.
Fanning the flames. A flicker of recognition. I’m on fire. Burning with desire.

So, dear writers, this week I am giving you permission to play with fire.

 

Volume 1 Issue 26: Breakfast


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Breakfast.
Break fast.
The etymology of this word held a strange fascination for me as a child. The idea that we had somehow engaged in a fast, which seemed to be an exclusively spiritual act to me then, merely by going to sleep was intriguing. Our reward for making it through that harrowing period of dreaming and drooling on our pillows was a meal, a meal decidedly special. The food that was served for breakfast did not appear during the other meals, at least not in my household, and if it did it was because we were doing something zany like having breakfast for dinner. It was not until I moved to Japan that I realized that the American breakfast experience was not shared universally. That you can, in fact, eat the same food you eat for lunch and dinner in the early morning was a new revelation. Eating fish and miso soup was definitely healthier than a stack of pancakes with a couple of sausage links on the side but it just did not have the same feel as a “real” breakfast. Over time I have realized that it is the ceremony, rather than the food, that we breakfast-lovers cherish: the slow sit-down meal at the threshold of another day, a chance to discuss our dreams just disturbed, our plans yet to be enacted, all with a cup of coffee and a side of bacon/natto/fried tomatoes/dosa/olives/pao de queijo/akara.
The breaking of our fast.


This week we bring you six original stories from around the world about this daily rite, written by Kelli J. Gavin, Mimi and Miguel Rodriguez, Katherine Brown, Richard Wayne Horton, Sunil Sharma, and Tim Clark. Top off your coffee and butter your toast, it is time to get reading. Enjoy!




I Love Breakfast

Kelli J Gavin

When I was a child, my dad went to the movie store and rented a few VHS tapes for our family to watch once a week. He often would return home with a Western movie for him, a kids’ movie for my sister and I and a classic movie for my mom. Those classics were movies such as Gone With the Wind, An Affair to Remember and Casablanca.  I would sit with my mom; she would share with me if she had seen a movie before and if she remembered anything special of mention. One night, we sat down and she told me she had the best movie for us to watch. That night, we watched Breakfast At Tiffany’s. That was the night I developed an affinity for black dresses and expensive Tiffany’s jewelry.

When I was in Junior High, my dad brought home the movie The Breakfast Club.  A Brat Pack Classic that was released in 1995, my parents were wise to wait a few years before enabling my sister and me to watch John Hughes films.  A typical teen comedy, I loved this film. I loved how each character was so vastly different, yet they all craved the same thing. A human connection.  I watched that movie three times that week before it was due back at the movie store.

One of my favorite bands is The Newboys.  I have enjoyed their music since I was 14 and have seen them in concert more times than I can count. Originally hailing from Australia, they were a novelty, wrote catchy lyrics and their music was unlike anything I was listening to at the time. I devoured everything of theirs that I could get my hands on.  As an adult, still enjoying their music, I could barely wait when news of new album coming out came along. And then in 1996, the song Breakfast hit the airwaves. I was confused and intrigued. They don’t serve breakfast in hell? What? I am not sure to this day what that song means. But you bet, I absolutely still sing along every time it is played on the radio or my iPod shuffles it into a playlist.

Looking back, I see an odd pattern. A pattern that all has something to do with breakfast.  A woman who raves about Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but doesn’t really eat much. A bunch of misfits serving time in detention on a Saturday morning.  And a song about the amazing attributes of breakfast food that could never possibly be served in hell. I am not sure what the common thread is, other than realizing I love breakfast. Movies, music, and food. I love breakfast. Please pass the syrup and orange juice.


Bio:

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




Breakfast
Mimi and Miguel Rodriguez

I love waking up in the mornings next to her, and looking at her silhouette against the morning light coming through the window. She sleeps on her side, and I can either see her beautiful back, or her hands over her breasts holding her face. I usually wake up first, with the morning lights. I know better than to wake her up, she needs her sleep in the mornings.

My master plan is to get breakfast for her. I jump out of bed and get dressed. I’ll be going to the Pret A Manger just around the corner. She likes savory breakfast. Bean soup, a sandwich with egg and avocado. I’ll take the typical British muffin with sausage and eggs. The city is waking up. You can hear the ever-present sirens of London. I look at the busy passersby going places with this attitude of boredom in their faces. They have no idea that my paradise is just around the corner.

I get back to our little room. It is peaceful here. There is still this smell of our loving last night. As I close the door I hear the deep breath she takes when she wakes up. I can hear her move in the bed and look the way I came in. She is rubbing her eyes with the back of her hands.

  • Hey, you got breakfast?

I place the food on the table and proceed to remove my clothes to get back in bed. I want to cuddle next to her and feel her warmth. We always sleep naked and I love her for that. I embrace her and whisper “Good morning”. She makes space for me, looks at me back with her beautiful blue eyes and answers “Good morning”. She puts up her lips looking for a kiss, which she gets.

Except that she is wrong. It is not just a simple good morning. It is a fantastic morning. It is a magic moment to be able to lay next to her. To breath her in. To admire the thousand whirls of her hair in her face. To feel her warmth through my whole body. To caress her soft skin while I embrace her. To have her feet play with mine under the sheets. To experience how my little heart can not fit in my chest out of happiness. To feel the gratefulness towards this woman who chiseled away at my walls until love poured out of them. She feels my soul with her kisses and makes me the happiest man alive.

Sorry Pret. Your food will have to wait a bit. There is some unfinished business that I will have to attend first here in our love nest.


Bio:

We are a couple in love writing about our adventures together. She is the creative half, artsy and perfectionist. He is the rational part, good with words and total chaos.  Bear hugs and short dresses… Together we look at open relationships, arrangements, and what it means to be loved in the 21st century. We publish in Medium under: https://medium.com/@ursushoribilis




But a Simple Breakfast
Katherine Brown

Elegant cloths flow over the table but are barely visible beneath the array of dishes crowding the entire surface. Fresh fruit assortments of apples, oranges, and bananas line a silver tray. Warm biscuits rest on a platter beneath a tea towel. Sausage swims in steaming white gravy, ready and waiting to be poured from the delicate china gravy boat. Mounds of eggs and stacks of bacon battle for room on a gold-inlaid china plate. Cold fruit salad in a crystal bowl beckons those with a sweet tooth. Tantalizing scents waft from the skillet potatoes tossed with onions and peppers. Freshly baked banana bread looks loftily down at the plain wheat toast. Jelly and jam nestle in between each main dish. Butter softens in the center of it all. Each place setting, with magnificently gleaming gold dinnerware, is softened by linen napkins and awaits an honored guest to choose their spot for this magnificent feast. Tall crystal wine glasses sparkle welcomingly in anticipation of being filled. The beverages line the countertop ready to fulfill any order: water, tea, orange juice, apple juice. At the last moment hot, sticky cinnamon rolls float in from the oven. The aroma draws the long-awaited diners into the room. Each face is filled with awe at the elaborate assortment intended simply for them. Eyes dart excitedly from favorite food to fancy décor. Each person takes their place and hold hands as grace is said.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is exactly how breakfast commenced during holiday visits to my great Aunt in Oklahoma for my entire childhood. She and my mother worked together in the kitchen creating a literal feast. That iconic breakfast where we were treated like royalty simply over breakfast before church is something that seems completely magical as a child and is still unforgettable as an adult. My sister and I try to pitch in a little these days as well because the tradition has continued.

Breakfast in Oklahoma is where I learned that the fancy plate underneath the plate for your food is called a charger.

Breakfast in Oklahoma is where I learned that it was okay to eat potatoes for breakfast. (And I do love potatoes.)

Breakfast in Oklahoma is where I should have learned which fork you use first, but somehow didn’t commit it to memory.

Breakfast in Oklahoma was synonymous with love and family.

Somebody pass the biscuits, please!


www.katherinebrownbooks.com




Obit
Richard Horton

I pulled into a breakfast joint in the town where I went to college and ran with poets 40 years ago.  I got out of the car and headed inside, but when I got there, I saw that the cafe was connected to a series of flea markets, one-room museums and snack shops, all lined up, room after room, connected to each other by a door.  I could look through them all without going outside. College was close by, and I had plenty of time, so I gave it a go. The people behind the wooden counters in the rooms were friendly and I occasionally stopped to talk with them even if I wasn’t buying anything.  I decided that if I came to the last store, I would exit its front door and return to the café from the outside. After a few stores, I came to an empty room, not yet rented. It gave me a weird feeling. I passed through it and went through the next door, into a hallway that had a door and windows looking out on the street.  This was reassuring so I walked to the end of the hallway and pushed through the next door, into complete darkness. It must be either a closet or a windowless room. I couldn’t even see the other side. So I turned back into the hallway which had the street door and stepped outside.

This was the beginning of a day spent searching for my car, the breakfast joint, and the nearby campus.  About two in the afternoon, I saw a dispenser full of free campus newspapers, pulled its door open, and sat down under a tree to read it.  Whoo, I was bushed! I got to the events page and discovered several bookstore readings taking place later in the evening. Great. I turned that page and came to obits.  I thought, campus obits? Come on, now! But I went ahead and read them. That’s when I found my own obit.

I’m still trying to find my car, and, man, I tell you, when I find that breakfast joint, I’m going to order two of everything!  Then I’ll get a real campus newspaper. Freakin’ college kids these days, with their joke newspapers! Mmm! Short stack and waffles too!  Coffee, orange juice, three, no, four eggs! And for meats…

 


Bio: 

Richard Wayne Horton has received two Pushcart nominations and has published a chapbook, Sticks & Bones, available from Meat For Tea Press.  He has published in Meat For Tea, Bull & Cross, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and others.




The Date
Sunil Sharma

Marriage was to be discussed over breakfast. He said even a hurricane cannot stop a Romeo!

But he never turned up. Somebody else did—and altered histories.

Here is how this Maupassant/ O’ Henry- type tale unfolded in downtown Mumbai.

.

Rita occupied the window seat of The Rendezvous, awaiting Mr. Right, if not the Prince Charming. After a whirlwind of courtship—online exchanges; long phone chats; short meets, all compressed into a fortnight—the two decided to give it a try in the breakfast tryst. She was elated—earlier attempts at romance had failed badly, due to the increasing expectations and other norms of evaluation—commercial viability of the possible alliance; respective career trajectories; current incomes and finally, behavior towards the parents and overall gender-roles, post-marriage home. Naturally, the parties could never arrive at a consensus!

This time you will be lucky! Her flat-mate had predicted, after a peg too many. That pleased her. All the five girls—in desperate search for soul partners— wished her success. They were the only family in the megapolis.

Moved to tears!

.

As she waited for the suitor, she recalled an earlier conversation:

—Any real-time fairy-tale endings in life, granny?

—Yes, child. There are.

—The princess finding her prince, love, big castle and royalty?

—Yes.

—You never found one, ma?

The Ancient One smiled: Got a secret lover but don’t disclose it to grandpa. The bearded bastard would kill!

The teen smiled and asked: How can I find true love?

—No worries, kiddo. It will find you!

She expected to find true love on that morning mission in a manic city of millions. After a long wait and unsuccessful attempts to reach him, the sad reality sank in. She was duped… again.

—Have you ever checked the mirror?

Her last boyfriend had screamed, when caught in bed with another girl. And then given the answer: Check that pug nose. The ugly specs. The uneven teeth. The coarse skin. Who would love a Ms. Plain Jane?

She took a year to recover from the hurled insults by a violent man—and then went in for a makeover with a vengeance. Blue lenses; blunt hair-style; regular bleaching and facials; long heels; trendy minis and tops—enough to make her look like a girl from London rather than provincial Ghaziabad.

Appearances can be treacherous!

As she was about to get up, in silent tears, a nerd easily slid into the opposite chair and asked in a familiar tone: You read Robbie Singh?

Offended, she countered: Why not?

—Dark fantasies?

— So what? Humans need fantasies. Inverted realities. Anticipate future—such utopias.

He declared: Genius!

—How?

—Brilliant defense of my best-sellers.

A stunned silence: My ideal! Before me!

After a long breakfast and varied discussions, she immediately grabbed the unexpected proposal: the fan and her idol to wed after three months.

Fiction never looked so real; real, fiction!


Bio:

Sunil Sharma, a writer-freelance- senior academic from Mumbai, India, has published 18 books, solo and joint.

He edits Setu:

http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

Blog: http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/




The Sounds of Isolation

Tim Clark

“This morning, for breakfast, I had waffles, sausage, bacon and two eggs over easy.” The man in the back seat said. There was no response from the front of the car. He fidgeted with his tie and twisted his cufflinks.

“I buttered the waffles, put the sausage on top of that, laid the bacon in over the sausage, put the eggs on top and poured syrup over the whole thing. It was delicious.” He continued, glancing nervously out the window. The front seat was silent as a tomb. So, the man took off his glasses, pulled a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his suit and carefully cleaned the lenses. He held them up to the window to admire his work.

“Yesterday for lunch I had a salad with cabbage and kale. There were tiny grape tomatoes laid over the top formed into a pattern, almost an ampersand, and top of that they sprinkled vinaigrette dressing. It looked fantastic, but it was a little bland.” The man said, his hands fumbling with a pen he had removed from the pocket in his briefcase. In his mindless tinkering he accidentally unscrewed the top and the cartridge, spring and opening mechanism fell on the floor.

He looked at the pen, laying in pieces on the carpet, sighed and started to bend down to pick them up. He thought better of it and decided to leave the whole mess there. It had been a gift from his boss, a reward for a job well done. He had always thought he did a better job than a pen indicated, cheap bastard, anyway. He would be damned before he picked it up and reassembled it.

“Since the salad was so healthy I went all out for dinner, a bacon cheeseburger with onion rings, and two Scotch whiskeys, neat. Followed by a brandy and crème brulle for dessert, and one more brandy as a nightcap.” By now he was looking out the window and not even thinking about what he was saying. It was just words.

He went through his favorite foods, a divorce, his ex-wife’s rehab from prescription diet pills. He talked about the lousy way he was treated at work, his fascination with the butter sculptures at the state fair. A dam had broken, somewhere between describing airline food and the new shoes he was wearing.

“You have arrived at your destination,” the voice said. It sounded distant and fleeting.

After he got out the man stood there, looking at the building swallowing all the people, masses of humanity rushing toward the waiting beast. “I hate driverless cars.” He said, and nobody paid any attention.

Somewhere, thousands of miles away, a circuit lit, clicked and a data packet arrived from the car. “Man,” it contained in a series of ones and zeroes, “those humans are stuck on a loop. They never stop.”

“Don’t worry,” came the digital reply, “the way he eats he won’t be around long.”


Bio:

Tim Clark is a blogger who wants to be a writer, a warehouse associate, a happily married man (for 28 years) and a father of two from Columbus, Ohio.

He is an occasional and proud contributor to Street Speech, a local homeless advocacy newspaper, and is thrilled to be allowed to write a monthly column for The Wild Word.  And he has a blog, visible here.



 

 

Volume 1 Issue 22: Yellow

yellow_ye

Hello and welcome to Week 22.

Yellow. The color of the sun, of dandelions, of jaundice, of a nasty bruise.

This week we have six stories of yellow from Kelli J. Gavin, Debbie Felio, Lesley Crigger, Sunil Sharma, Michael Sarabia, and Karen Petersen.  Guaranteed to add a splash of yellow to your day.

Happy reading!

P.S.
The next prompt will be posted on Sunday to make up for this week’s delay. 

 



Better Than Puke
Kelli J Gavin

My husband exited the doctor’s office and walked toward me in the waiting room.  He looked a bit flustered. We finished at the front desk scheduling future appointments. Josh has been ill for the better part of five months and he was seeing another neurologist, just to rule out “anything else”.  My husband suffers from Bilateral Vestibular Dysfunction with a complete failure of the Vestibular System. His days are filled with dizziness, fatigue and lack of energy. Most weeks it is two or three trips to the doctor or rehabilitation therapists. When you go to so many different doctor’s offices, you start to really take a close look at your surroundings.

Was the building easy to access from the freeway? Is parking free or is valet available? Can I locate the Medical Suite easily based on the directions I was given? Is the front desk staff welcoming? Did they ask about your physical comfort? How long is the wait until your name is called?  Have they read the lengthy medical records or will you have to start from the beginning? What does the examination room look like? – This might be the most important question.

My husband at his worst, will notice his surroundings. He could be struggling with the world spinning upside down, but will notice if the chairs are comfortable and if artwork is on the wall. “That was the most unwelcoming doctor’s office room I have ever been in. The walls were a weird puke color and the examination table was tiny and pushed up against the wall just so it would fit.  I had to get up and lay down and do it again because the doctor couldn’t walk around the table to do a full examination.”

As we returned to the car, we talked how the waiting room furniture and walls were the same ugly not quite brown, green or beige, but puke color.  I shared with him that I love a light blue or green wall. my favorite was a welcoming Yellow. The color yellow often makes people feel calm and happy. “Did you know in the bible, yellow often represents fire, and fire often refers to purification?”

“If yellow if purifying, paint the entire office yellow. Purify the heck out of that place.  Maybe the purification will make that puke color fade away. Hey, if there is a survey, make sure you remind me to tell them they should paint the entire office yellow.” My husband replied with a smirk. I loved that Josh is able to joke around and make fun of the horrible color pallette.

Josh has another appointment Thursday with the Neurotologist and a lab visit, we will be watching. We will look at the furniture and artwork and wall color or lack thereof. Let’s hope it is a beautiful light shade of yellow.  Let’s face it. Anything will be better than that God forsaken puke color.


Bio-

Kelli 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. She enjoys writing, reading, swimming, and spending time with family and friends. She abhors walks on the beach (sand in places no one wishes sand to be), candle lit dinners, (can’t see) and the idea of cooking two nights in a row (no thank you).

Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin

Blog found at kellijgavin@blogspot.com




Once Upon a Time In the Future
Debbie Felio
There was a time in the distant future in the land of JoerJha, families huddled by the hot ice melting into their shoes and warming their feet, puddling between their toes, when stories would be told of an ancient time, and no one really knew with certainty if the tales were history or simply fables of a culture long gone. But the tales had remained unchanged for generations, some translated from a sanskrit like writings of a late 21st century simpleton left on a handsized tablet unable to be read with surety having #s which archaicologists believe substituted for some yet undiscovered addition to a centuries old alphabet, and letters scrambled as if a code also yet to be fully comprehended. The elder of the tribe, about fourteen, began to recite again this tale, familiar to those who had lived as long as he, and astonishing to those hearing it for the first time. A hologram filled the center of where they had gathered – the reproduction of that simple tablet tool. The young ones laughed, mocking – as so many generations had done – the cumbersome and primitive inventions of ages past.
They settled into the warm ice and the elder began to tell the story of a time that now no one had first hand knowledge or memory of. Each flicked their fingers for light and listened. “There was a time – yesterday or before – when ice would not warm you.”
Gasps. “How could that even be?”
“ice was something called cold – something we feel when we are not in the ice. It was also clear or white, not gray from the ash like we have now. I have been told this – but there is no proof as it has been gray for the last seventy years – maybe longer, but no one knows.
The elder continued, “It was also during this time there would be night and day very distinct from each other and no fingerlights would be needed for half the day.”
“What would they do with their fingerlights?” Qwerty was always the one with questions.
“There were no such things as fingerlights. They came much more recently after the Event.”
Everyone hushed. They knew the great mystery was coming.
“it had been predicted for years and years and few believed it. No one wanted to understand what was coming and what would happen. So they went living their lives using the tools they had – automobiles, electricity, cell batteries, water –  however crude they were, using up what were called natural resources.Until that fateful day when this bright yellow star began to flicker.”
“Great elder, what is yellow? We do not know that.” it was Uiop, Qwerty’s younger brother.
“You are right, Uiop. No one knows what that is. It was something not gray.”
“As it flickered, the day became dimmer. until there was nothing left at all but dark.”
Those familiar with the tale prepared for the ending chorus.
“For that was the day…

“The lights went out in JoerJha!”

About the author:
deb  y felio is a witness poet and essayist writing the underside or other side of historical and current issues. She is published in various online journals and will be in two anthologies to be released Fall 2018. She enjoys the opportunity to share some humor as a diversion from her more serious topics, believing laughter really is good medicine. She lives and writes in Boulder CO, USA.


Yellow
Lesley Crigger

“If that big ass yellow sign doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will,” James said. At least twice a day Brian and James pass the weather-beaten sign. Once on the way to school and once on the way back. On the days they bother with school.

“It’s not so much the color as the wording: Adult comics. What the hell does that even imply?” Brian imagines his fingers tracing the curves of a busty anime character as he flips the pages. Curves his virgin digits have yet to glimpse on a real female figure.  

“Exactly what it sounds like.”

‘It’s abandoned now, they might as well tear it down.” Brian’s heard his mother bitch year after year about the sign. An eyesore, she’d chant. Tourist won’t clamor to a town with a filthy glory-hole smack dab in the middle. Bulldoze over the lot, erect a Denny’s. like that’s what the town needs- another all-day breakfast joint for old fuck to congregate. They had the Dairy Queen. The words that pass their lips are every bit as filthy as anything you’d find in an adult superstore.  

“They tried. Place is haunted.”

“A porn store is haunted? Are you high or just stupid?” 

“I don’t know man, something about a rape… a murder. Place was shut down not long after that. Wanna check it out?” James asks.

“I sure as shit do not.”

“What else do you have planned? Drunk by noon again?” James has a point. Brian’s usual Saturday MO is being smashed by 12 o’clock. Not that either has ever minded, it’s what they’re doing on this part of the road anyway. Route 522 leads to one place, one place that matters. Dell’s minute market. Dell doesn’t give a rat’s ass what two 17-year-old boys buy as long as they buy it with cash.

James raises an eyebrow, pressing the question.

“I don’t know…” Brian’s hesitation is enough for James. The old Chey teeters between the double yellow lines before grinding to a halt. James throws the gear into reverse and speeds backwards, back to the looming yellow sign. 



Fragment from the Yellow Diary
Sunil Sharma

.

Adore yellow—reminds me of turmeric.

Of the Arles Sunflowers.

Of The Yellow House (The Street), 1888.

.

Vincent wanted to create a symphony of yellow and blue. He claimed sunflowers as his own.

I love Vincent.

Therefore, I, too, love these tender flowers that got the great artist’s special attention, in two series, and made them iconic across the world.

Whatever Vincent touched became gold.

Posthumously.

Shameful!

The painter died pauper, unsung.

Fate of a true artist.

Now— enjoys cult following.

.

Yellow.

Melancholic—like a wintry afternoon.

Magical also: The Yellow House is a landmark for fans. Vincent wanted to create a studio of the south where painters could live and work in a shared space. Gauguin was there as guest but things went from good to bad.

Rest is history.

Yellow House where a genius lived for short time. Resented by neighbours.

They found him a threat and wanted him to be sent to an asylum.

An artist as a threat!

Every great artist is a danger.

Society does not want them outside but inside a nut house, every age.

How funny!

Who is sane?

The bourgeois?

Or Gogh?

.

Why is yellow appealing?

Is it its lightness?

Or ability to blend?

Both.

It sits soothingly—on eyes and mind.

That is why a disturbed Vincent employed the yellow and rendered it vividly.

And made it famous as a medium.

.

Yellow signals jaundice.

Death. Decay.

Friendship.

A primary colour.

Have seen many dead with pale faces.

The face drained of colour—except an odd paleness that confirms lack of vitality, breath, life.

The paleness found on Vincent’s hollow face.

Perhaps, he was living and dying at the same instant—like an autumn evening.

.

In India, the weddings are incomplete sans turmeric (haldi in Hindi) application—the lotion applied to both the bride and groom. Called Haldi rasam, this ritual takes hours and involves cleansing amidst song and dance by the family in a room. After bath, it leaves the body resplendent.

The spectrum of yellow!

.

Fire is yellow. It too cleanses base material and purifies.

Baptism through fire.

.

I call my diary, a yellow diary.

It contains smudges of turmeric on the first and last pages.

Have drawn yellow lines across few pages.

Yellow and white background mix together and create a stunning visual.

Try that.

You will find your inner Vincent through such elementary sketching, doodling and drawing.

Art is about creating new patterns, visuals, artifacts, verbal objects.

By drawing a yellow line across a white art-sheet, I am trying to do a Vincent—and trying to understand his mental state in that Yellow House.

These few entries on August 16 of 2018 at 5.30 pm, in Mumbai, are random attempts at capturing the flux of that state.

And tribute to Sunflowers and The Yellow House that brought out the best and worst in a creative mind, mostly misunderstood in his lifetime!

.

Author-bio:

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:

 http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:

http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/




Yellow
Michael Sarabia

Searching foam for my daughters, I see only stone. I’ve returned to the shores of Colonia Norte, seeking Fátima and Deysi, missing their shadows. Rumored to be gone forever, I’ll continue my labors. I’ll find them.

We arrived four years ago seeking escape from Coca Gangster that grabbed Cajul, my Guatemalan village known for excellent Coffee plants. I left with my daughters catching Mexican rails north. Arriving at Colonia Norte, a sprawling cardboard encampment leaning against the United States, we sought American amnesty, desired her embrace. Told I needed to make money arrangements prior to applying for amnesty, I quickly learned that no amnesty fixer would accept Guatemalan Quetzals or Mexican Pesos, taking American cash only. Holding our last pesos, two-hundred total, I had nothing to sell, thus forced to stay in Colonia Norte, where we spent the first day learning rules.

Every word from the mouth of La Amarilla -The Yellow – is a lie. Agent for the Unseen, true rulers of Colonia Norte, she was everywhere doing everything always at a profit. Sanctioning my acquisition of a heated shack which included fifty gallons of water, two cases of vegetables along with several cartons of milk, La Amarilla tripled the price when she discovered I was manless, traveling only with two daughters.

“You’ll need an amnesty fixer to get to the other side. If you learn to satisfy all men’s cravings, you’ll acquire enough funds. I’ll teach you, provide immunity, take only one third of your transactions. You’ll soon afford a fixer enabling you to leave in two months minimum.

Our kiss underscored the deal. I followed her advice, saved money, contacted a prized amnesty fixer called Santos who took my money, attended papers properly, eventually escorting us across a weathered bridge into a gray building. Biding me farewell, Santos the amnesty fixer tipped his hat, handed over an envelope, silently walked away.

Whirlwinds followed. As we entered the building, my daughters were pulled away. I was searched, photographed, fingers rolled in ink. ICE soldiers questioned me, especially particulars concerning Guatemala’s Coca gangsters. Later I was thrown two blankets, taken to a huge room, told to sleep. I pleaded for my daughters, told they were learning English, singing to a flag, trying to be American. I cried for them every day.

One morning I was taken before a woman lurking behind papers.

“If you want to see Fátima and Deysi again you’ll sign this confession. I had not choice. I signed. That night I boarded a jet, woke up in Guatemala. Accused of harvesting cocaine, I was jailed two years.

Today I’m in Colonia Norte spying into La Amarilla’s house. I enter without knocking, desiring to again be her fierce lover. She smiles, reclines into my arms, wraps me roughly. As we embrace I thrust two steeled points into her heart, give a justified kiss, end her life.

I pause before a mirror, watch my face transform into yellow stone. I’ve become La Amarilla. I will find my daughters.



 

Consolation
Karen Petersen

She came into the diner almost every day. He saw her more than his wife, who was at home most of the time taking care of their house and land. He loved his wife, but one day he realized he loved this girl too.

He could not bear the thought of selling the diner and never seeing her after that.

Each time he saw her he found himself inching closer and closer to the cliff edge. But then he thought of his wife, his beautiful wife, who he’d spent so many years with, and of the shelter dog they’d recently gotten which had brought them close together all over again.

The feeling of guilt was overwhelming.

One day the girl came in, all bubbly and laughing, full of life, and he couldn’t help himself, he felt so happy.

“How are you today?” he said smiling.

She had sat down at the counter close to him, and he could smell her perfume. She was oblivious to the havoc she was creating in his heart.

“Oh, I’ve had quite the saga! I was in my garden and I stepped aside absentmindedly right into the needle of an agave! It went all the way into my ankle bone and got infected.  It’s very serious and I’ve been taking all sorts of antibiotics.”

He wanted to take her little foot in his hands and gently kiss her ankle where the puncture had been. But instead he said, “Well, you look gorgeous and I think you’ll be with us for a long time!”
—–
A loud buzzer sounded.
—–
The silver cover to the 69027 Recall Tank slid back. An attendant with a yellow robe stood by, smiling. “Did you have a nice memory visit, dear?” he asked.

She looked at him and sighed. Oh yes, and got out of the tank slowly. Her ankle still hurt even now from that silly accident with the agave needle so many years ago.

In the mirror just beyond she saw herself for who she was–a bent over, white-haired, wrinkled old lady–now a frail shadow in the noonday sun. The last survivor of an era.

But none of it mattered at all. She’d remembered. He’d called her gorgeous. Gorgeous.


BIO

KAREN PETERSEN has traveled the world extensively, publishing both nationally and internationally in a variety of publications. Most recently, her poems and short stories have been published in The Manzano Mountain Review in the USA, The Bosphorus Review in Istanbul, Antiphon in the UK, The Wild Word in Berlin, and A New Ulster in Northern Ireland. New work will be appearing in the Saranac Review in the USA and Idiom 23 in Australia. In 2015, she read “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” at the Yeats Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the KGB Bar in NYC. Her poems have been translated into Persian and Spanish. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy and Classics from Vassar College and an M.S. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She teaches English Composition at NNMC.



Volume 1 Issue 18: Starting Over

Hello and welcome to Week 18, Starting Over. This week we have stories from five writers (well, and my own as well, so six): Matt J. McGee, Tim Clark, Linda M. Crate, Deb Felio, and Sunil Sharma. Each story includes the prompt in a unique and compelling way, making this revival collection a really splendid set. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

———————————————————————————————————————

WEDNESDAY NIGHT CHICKEN
Matt J. McGee

“Can you imagine you and me married?”

It would’ve been a perfectly reasonable question coming from a fiancée, or a girlfriend, or at least a friend, none of which I have right now.

But this slim blonde woman, alone at a nearby table in the Jack in the Box, her hair pulled back in a tight single braid and her figure wrapped in a light cotton jumper, apparently decided to go out of the house this evening with the intent of popping the question. It had been a hot day, the kind people go crazy on. I took that into consideration.

“Sure,” I smile. “Does that mean I get half your stuff when it doesn’t work out?”

The smile beneath her beautifully high cheekbones didn’t fade. “Alright by me. I don’t have anything so you wouldn’t be getting much. So where are we getting married?”

I dumped my trash in the can and slid the tray on the top rack. “If we leave for the airport now, we can get an Elvis impersonator in Vegas by six.” I walked near her table and held out a hand. She didn’t take it right away.

“You’re not half bad-looking,” she said. “What a shame you have no taste in romance.”

“I’m as romantic as the next guy.”

She smiled. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“I ended a bad relationship recently,” I say, thinking if six years ago counts as recent. “Maybe this will help me get over that hump.”

She smiled. Her head shook lightly. “Thanks. I don’t want to be anyone’s slumpbuster.”

“Say it that way it makes me sound desperate.”

“No offense but you did just accept a proposal from a random stranger in Jack in the Box.”

I rolled my eyes. ‘Didn’t you ever see Rebel Without a Cause? I’m James Dean staring down death and jumping out of the car at just the right moment.”

“Didn’t he end up dying when his coat got hooked on the door handle?”

“Nah, that was the other guy.”

We stood in silence a few moments. I still had a smile on my face. She finally looked up, smiled back, then shook her head lightly again. I shrugged.

I took my drink and turned for the door. “What a shame. I was just starting to like the idea of starting over again with another total stranger.”

My car still had all its ambient heat from the day’s sun. She waited until I was pulling away to get in her own car: a brand new Nissan. I thought: Nothing valuable, huh? See? Not even married yet, and already we’re lying to each other.

 

MATT McGEE writes short fiction in the Los Angeles area. In 2018, his stories ‘A Day in the Life of a Favor Saver’ and ‘Schneider’s Last Stand’ appeared in Grey Wolfe Press’ ‘Legends’ anthology, ‘The Flaming Tadpoles’ will appear in the UK-based ‘Painted Words’ anthology in July and his first romance novel ‘Wildwood Mountain’ was released June 19th. When not typing he drives around in a vintage Mazda and plays goalie in local hockey leagues.
——————————————————————————————————

Starting Time
Tim Clark

As a child you are taught the importance of the accurate measurement of time. The big hand, the little hand, the fast moving, long, skinny hand that they seemed reluctant  to explain, all described in glorious, Gregorian detail. Time is everything, and if you didn’t believe that try showing up late for 1st grade class. Time was a tool to provide the gauge of just how awful you were.

Time, it was said, was a constant, unchanging motion, or fixture, or state of decay, despite being absolutely distinct from any method used to measure its passage. Sixty seconds would always be one minute, and 3,600 of them an hour. The people who always lectured the most on the passage of time didn’t want to answer a lot of questions about it. And they hated the really difficult questions; “why is this taking so long?”  “When will this be over?” Those were the kind of things that got you sent to the Principal’s office, where time took forever.

But, you never really understood time until you got a job. Once you are trading time for money things start to make sense. Once that “commodification” takes place then the true value of time becomes apparent.  “Love to come to your pre-sentence hearing, mom, but I have to work.” Time is money, you know?

Once you sit there counting down the days until vacation, or the weekend, the minutes, or seconds until lunch, or quitting time (which is kind of mislabeled, it isn’t when you quit, I won’t make that mistake again) then you understand the measurement of time. Newton’s first law be damned. The last five minutes of a day can be an eternity. The last day before vacation is a black hole. Slowing time to the a crawl. And if you are lucky enough to make it to the last five minutes on the last day before vacation you might want to bring some extra lunch.

Really, it is no wonder people have been fascinated with time since a long, long time ago. It is the thing that gets us through the day. Watching the clock, counting down the seconds, cursing the dragging, crawling seconds, because you just know the minute hand never changes. Never!

And you wonder “what bastard invented the digital clock, anyway?” At least with an analog clock you see the destination. Five o clock, target acquired, assume attack formation. With a digital clock it is only the present, only just now, and when it is gone there it is again. Damnit!

Really, they should teach you more about time in elementary school. When you are forced to pick it up on the streets the whole thing gets a little weird. But, it is time for me to go to work. See you next time. Have a good time, and last but certainly not least, the always appropriate Bob Dylan “And you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, cause the times, they are a’changing.’”

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Broken But Healing
Linda M. Crate

Nicholas knew that he had to let bygones be bygones. His late sister Michaele would want him to start anew. But he didn’t want to forgive the man that had taken her life.

“Forgiveness isn’t about them,” Michaele’s voice whispered in his ear. “It’s about you. It’s about freeing you.”

He knew that living with all this wrath and anger couldn’t be healthy. He didn’t want to disappoint his own wife and children with all the complicated emotions he was feeling, but he thought in forgiving this terrible man he would be forgetting Michaele, too. He wasn’t willing to let his sister go, too.

Walking to the church, he paused outside the doors for several long moments. He feared what he may be told. As he walked to confess his sins, he wondered if he would be able to voice out loud what he was thinking.

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned,” he began. The words were caught in his throat for a long time before he could spit them out. “I know Michaele would want me to forgive the man that murdered her, but I’m afraid if I let go of my rage and my wrath that I will let go of her, too. I’m not willing to lose her.”

“The ones that we love never truly leave us,” came the voice on the other side. “Release your rage and your wrath. Not for the sake of your enemy, but for yourself. You will find in embracing peace that it may help you cope better with the loss of your sister. I’m sorry for what has happened to you and your family, Nicholas. I pray that things will get better for you all.”

“I hope so, too. But God has no easy answers.”

“He never does. He sometimes requires us to be stronger than we feel we can be, but He never gives us something we cannot handle.”

Nicholas didn’t know about that. He was barely holding himself together. Instead of saying anything, he simply nodded, and left. He didn’t know how he was going to forgive this man.

Slowly, as the days passed he figured out the answer. Simply to release his anger. He didn’t like what had happened to his sister nor would he ever understand it, but he couldn’t go back in the past and change it so he had to accept it.

He could not control the actions of others, either, Nicholas reasoned.

When he let go of his rage, he found the pain was still there, but somehow felt different as the priest had said it would. He found that with each day, he was putting one foot before the other, beginning again in a meaningful way.

Some days Nicholas stumbled and he fell, but his wife and children helped him when he faltered. He had discovered in that asking for help that Nicholas had actually helped free a piece of himself because there was no shame in admitting that one was broken.

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Another New Day
deb y felio

She opens her closet and wonders aloud, “Where did all these new dresses come from? How shall I decide what to wear?  I want to look nice. This blue one with the flowers and specks. I like this. Now where is my powder and lipstick? I thought I put it in this drawer…oh, here it is. Now I look ready.”

Tap tap tap. “What is that?”

“Mrs. Walters, are you ready?”   “Yes, dear. Now why are you here?”

“We’re going to breakfast, remember?”

“Oh, of course, dear.”

“But, Mrs. Walters, we’re going to need to change your dress.”

“But I like this dress – it’s new and my favorite color.”

“Yes, you’ve worn it every day this week, but there are a lot of food stains on this dress, and it really should be washed to keep it in good shape for you.”

“I’ve worn this dress before? I thought it was new. I didn’t remember it. I have all these new dresses in my closet.”

“Well, here’s a lovely green one. Let’s put this one on and go to breakfast. Then we’ll look through all your other new dresses later to see if any of the others need to be cleaned.”

“I like this dress. I think it’s my favorite. And it’s brand new.”

“Mrs Walter, every day is brand new for you, at the Care 4-U  Memory Center.”

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Monday blues and after
Sunil Sharma

Generally it happens on Fridays—the late-afternoon chat with the boss over tepid coffee; some common topics and then, the pink slip given without warning—a Tyson punch that knocks the wind out of the hit.

Hurried goodbyes. Silent tears!

For him, it happened on Monday.

Morning he was in the job. By 5 pm—out!

As in a tragedy, he could not believe this happening to him.

Why me? He asked the gods, quiet as usual.

Devastated, he went to the Marine Lines and watched a rain-soaked Mumbai skyline.

Lights came on, giving the place a magical feel.

The murky waters of a choppy sea beckoned as a solution to all the existential blues.

He sat dangling over the sea wall and thought of his options. At 38, no job; piling house -loan arrears; medicine bills; tuition fees; groceries.

Jumping into the sea was a temptation…

—Saar!

He looked back.

A kid selling roasted grams—eyes and tone pleading; frail body in faded clothes; tousled hair.

He dismissed the child with a rude gesture.

—Saar!

The voice was grating.

—Go away! He ordered.

—Saar! Saar! Please take a packet. Got a family to feed. Ma suffering from cancer; brother handicapped; father dead.

The tone was pleading.

—Your five rupees might get us a modest meal, Saar! I am not a beggar but a student working extra time…

The voice trailed off. The body shook. Tears mingled with the July rain drops pelting the city of glitzy bars, hotels and offices.

The downsized man looked into the eyes of the child, sobbing loudly—and oddly, saw his own kid in that gaunt face.

And felt terrified!

—Any elders left in family? He asked.

—Two elder brothers.

—They not supporting?

The kid paused. Then: The eldest separated long ago with his family. Second brother ran away.

Shocked, the man asked: You too can also run away?

The kid took a long breath.

—Running is not an option for some, Saar.

The man was struck dumb!

Everything changed fast afterwards.

He fished out a ten rupee note, patted the boy and said: Keep on fighting. Those down will rise up one day in life!

A message by a father to a migrant son trying to find work and shelter in Mumbai—recalled suddenly and relayed to another struggler.

The boy smiled through the tears, mumbled a thank-you and left.

Then he got a visual on phone, sent perhaps by a divine design: Sisyphus riding up the mountain with his burden.

Revived, he picked up his bag and bid goodbye to the murky depths.

—Where are you?

Whatsapp query.

—Starting over again…he wrote back, smiling at the world in general.

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Bio: Sunil Sharma is a college principal, freelance journalist, author and editor. Mumbai-based, he has published 19 books—solo and joint. His prose and poetry have appeared in many places in the world.  

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Green
Tiffany Key

Brown. Brown houses, brown roofs, brown cars, brown boots, brown shovels, brown towels, brown fingers, brown steps, brown plants, brown soccer balls submerged in the brown.

Fumiko used a rusty dustpan to scrape the mud from her front step and then her neighbor Fujiyama’s step. Fujiyama’s daughter had taken him to the evacuation center on the second day of the rains, before the street was closed. Fumiko was overjoyed when she uncovered her grandson’s tricycle, its red paint and silver spokes now brown. She put it in her kitchen so it would not be crushed by the bulldozers rolling past towards the mountain villages.

Fumiko was supposed to be in the evacuation center too but without electricity or running water, the elementary school serving as the town shelter was now overrun with exhausted neighbors whose collective body odor made Fumiko’s mud-caked house feel like a palace. She had to sleep upstairs with the windows open though sleep was hardly the word. What she did after sunset was to lay on her now dry but still dirty futon and alternate between staring at the ceiling and talking to her mother, whose framed portrait hung above a makeshift shrine.  

After sunrise, Fumiko would put on her dusty clothes and go down the hill to the grocery store where the volunteers had set up tents and tables. Every morning, those who were still in their own homes like Fumiko gathered for a bottle of green tea and a small bag of sweet bean buns. There would be rice balls for lunch and either curry or spaghetti for dinner. They had a generator running there so Fumiko could charge the battery on her phone to call her son in Yokohama. He had offered to come and get her but it was impossible. The mayor told them just yesterday that it would be weeks before power was restored. And since the bridges had been washed away, the train would not be running for months, if not longer. The roads were so damaged that the volunteers had to carry the food and supplies into town on foot.

After breakfast, Fumiko returned home, walking slowly over the brown that was now cracking from the unrelenting sun. The excess rain had been exchanged for excess heat. Someone heard on the radio that over ten-thousand people had been to the hospital with heat stroke since the rains had stopped. Over thirty dead. The village on the other side of the mountain had almost thirty dead as well, washed away in the river. Fumiko lowered herself slowly onto the front step and sat there fanning herself with a newspaper until the shade disappeared. Then she went inside and found her dustpan, now warped from overuse. She began to scrape away the brown that covered the living room tatami mats, knowing that they were ruined beyond repair but also knowing that they would be replaced, filling the house once again with the sweet scent of freshly cut grass.

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