Thursday, May 5, 2016

Flash Fiction by Victor Clevenger

Accepting Defeat:  For Small Pieces of My Dignity, I Do It

He met me at the front door and so did his small dog.  Such an ugly creature, the man, not the dog--white hair tangled and matted, hanging long over his eyes and a crooked jaw from being struck by an automobile in a crosswalk accidental a few years prior.  There was some form of arthritis that had set in throughout all the joints of Mr. Schlege, and he was now housebound.  His dog was a small black haired terrier and she was the only thing keeping him sucking air and living since the accident.

"Take her down by that big oak tree on 40th Street," he said, "She always loved walking down that way with me."

"Sure thing," I told him, "but you got to start paying forty-five dollars a week, because this thirty-dollar shit is not cutting it; it is getting harder for me to drink a good hard drink these days and besides, Angella is about to throw my ass out."

"Just walk the dog and we will discuss all that payment jazz later," he said.

I took his dog and headed down the street in search of this big oak tree, knowing that in all honesty, once I turned the corner and was out of Schlege's sight, I was going to stop.  We made the turn and were out of sight.  I leaned against an old Buick that was parked next to the curb.  I knew that the walk I had taken was much shorter than the walk that Schlege expected, so I lit a cigarette and started counting numbers in my head.

I made it to three-hundred before a swarm of tiny bugs began flying around my face, trying to land on my forehead.  They were quick and stealthy; like tiny jet planes flying suicide missions.  I swatted at them with my hands and connected with several; they fell to the ground and I knew that I still had not wasted enough time.  I finished the cigarette and lit another one, swatted some more bugs and watched a woman through her open front window.  She was brushing her long hair when the sky let loose with a loud roar of thunder.  The thunder startled me, the dog cowered and the woman walked over to the window and shut it.  The clouds were starting to darken and that was just the excuse I needed to take Schlege's dog back home to him.  Walking back around the corner, I saw Angella's car turn north, heading away from my house.

Once arriving to Schlege's front steps, his dog ran into the flower garden to piss once again on a rose bush that was half dead.

"Goddammit!" Schlege shouted, "Don't let her piss on that bush!"

"It looks like it is too late; she's already finished," I told him.

"Clearly," he said displeased, "By the way, your landlady was just over there beating the shit out of your front door with a hammer."  Old man Schlege opened his screen door which had no screen left on it anymore, it was just a door with a large square of cardboard pressed and taped to cover the opening; the cardboard was wrinkled and discolored, sun faded and dried from the weather.  He handed me ten-dollar bills, three of them, and his dog ran back inside as he said, "I will not pay you one cent more than what I pay you now!"

"Okay," I told him, "Thanks, Schlege."  I could have stood there and haggled with him, trying to push him for the other fifteen, but what good would it have done?  I would more than likely still be leaving none the richer.  Schlege is a troll, a long white haired troll.  Anyways, the ten-dollar bills that Schlege was tossing my way, were the only thing being tossed my way as of lately, besides Angella's mind games.

Rapidly on the verge of grim, it had quickly become amazingly dark for the afternoon.  You could smell the rain moving in as I walked down Schlege's front walk and headed back across the street.

Victor Clevenger spends his days in a Madhouse and his nights writing poetry and short stories from the kitchen table of his ex-wife's home in Missouri.  Selected pieces of Victor's work has appeared at, or is forthcoming from, Chiron Review; Blink Ink; Rat's Ass Review, and Least Bittern Books, among others.  His latest collection is titled, In All These Naked Pictures of Us.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Flash Fiction by Jackie Davis Martin

High Standards

We'd giggle at the slovenliness of the dance costumes, she and I.  We'd poke each other in the ribs and whisper:  "Look, she's wearing underpants underneath and they show!"  We'd nod our heads in united disapproval, even sadness, that the child's dancing teacher didn't have the standards the Miss Diedre did.

"Look," Shelley would say.  "There are no sequins in back.  They're just wearing the costumes the way they came out of the plastic bag!"

"Tsk tsk."  I'd make those little scold noises with my tongue.

We were attending a dance recital where a friend of hers, another 4th grader, was performing.

"Their hair isn't pulled back," she whispered.  "And they're doing ballet.  It looks so messy."  It was the next dance, just after we'd looked at each other incredulously in the semi-darkness:  No tights.  The group of girls sported bare legs with tutus, their hair hanging down or in pigtails.

We left the theater in roars of giggles.

"Did you notice how half of them didn't even try to smile?"

"And their toes weren't pointed.  Look!"  And she pantomimed an arabesque right on the sidewalk, leg extended, foot comically flexed.

Oh, we laughed.  We were so superior.

"And they walked offstage, instead of running after their bow!" Shelly was having such a good time.  The kids looked lost, lame, just wandering off, not purposeful the way Miss Diedre's students looked.

I'd made a good choice with that dancing school, I told myself.  The training was good and the standards were high.

But there the story ends.  I don't mean to end it there, but one wonders what happens to all the life lessons, what they all amount to.  People say you build memories.  People say that the value is in the experience.  I suppose all that is true.  But, haughty as we were back then, the superiority didn't get us anywhere.  Shelley--and then I, with her--continued to take dancing lessons, in spite of the fact that she gained weight and I couldn't stop her and that was no standard at all.  She pretended by the time she got to be fifteen or sixteen that she wasn't overweight.  I referred to her as "chubby" or "a bit hefty" to myself or to my friends, unless I was really mad and then I'd scream at her:  "You're getting fat!  I'm not buying you costumes if you're going to parade around in that fat!"  And she'd scream back and cry.

I pretend those scenes didn't happen, the dissolution of patience, of kindness.  Shelley died--and she was overweight then--indeed she had only a few brief spurts in her life when she lost enough weight to measure up to standards I was insisting on and I swear, I swear, she had such power at those times.  Why didn't she maintain it?  Oh, who knows.  It's an old story and the chapter is surely closed.

The irony is that Shelley thought she held on to the rules of the game as we learned them.  Up until the time she graduated high school at seventeen--and was still dancing--we both were, together--she rigidly followed Miss Diedre's teachings, and later used her as a model of setting high expectations for her, Shelley's, own students.  She continued to dress exactly, buy good make-up that she applied exactly, polished her shoes, had everything professionally dry-cleaned.  She exacted standards I thought were expensive and unnecessary, but who was I to say?  She was paying for it all, compensating, as far as I could see, for something that we also laughed at when we sat in those rows in a strange auditorium watching "another" dancing school's performances.

"Mom!  Did you see that fat one at the end?  She doesn't seem to go with the others."

"Well, she's trying," I'd say.  "I think."

"I hope she doesn't do acrobat," Shelley would giggle.  "That'd be really funny.  Plop!"

She was in third or fourth grade.  What did we know of life?

Do they mean anything, those high standards?  I'm still aware of dancers; I study the professional ballet dancers through my binoculars, I wonder about what they wear or don't under their streamlined leotards, admire their lean muscular legs.  And of course think of my daughter.

Death takes away the worry and the standards.  She is not overweight; she is dead.  Isn't that a relief?  No, it is not.

But there were the good times.

Jackie Davis Martin has had stories and essays published in print and online journals including Flash, Flashquake, Fastforward, 34th Parallel, and Sleet.  Her most recent work is in Enhance, Counterexample Poetics, Fractured West, Dogzplot, Bluestem, and Gravel.  A flash won the Spruce Mountain Press Awards.  Two stories are anthologiezed in the current print Modern Shorts and the new Love on the Road.  A memoir, Surviving Susan, was published in 2013:  all three of those are available on  Two stories have been included in previous Kind of a Hurricane Press anthologies.  Jackie teaches at City College of San Francisco.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Flash Fiction by Ruth Z. Deming

The Third Time He Died

Every morning we drank our coffees together over the phone.  Neither of us had much money, so we each brewed our own.  I made my strong coffee in a yellow Stangl coffee maker.

"How was your day?" he always asked me.

My two young children had gone to school and I took the phone, with its ultra-long curly-haired cord, into the dining room and sat down, arms on the table.  On the wall I'd hung a huge branch from a tree, which I looped with white lace.

He had been to my place many a time and got along well with Sarah and Dan, doing some magic tricks for them.

I could not believe he loved me.  He was a sculptor famous in our town, Chris Ray.  On an unforgettable day in April, when the magnolia petals littered lawns and streets, Chris picked me up at my apartment and drove me in his blue Mazda truck to his Wissahickon Gate in downtown Philadelphia.

I still have a photo of the gate pinned to my bulletin board in my upstairs office.  You can practically feel the cold metal as you view swirling designs he forged back home in his carriage house on Chew Avenue.  Huge rocks stood in place forever, along with dainty leaves on stalks of iron and a creature he called "The Mansect," a combination man and insect.  Chris was an optimist, believing ever one of God's creatures has a living soul.  Who was I to doubt him?

He walked me along the downtown streets, a bearded man with sky-blue eyes, who word his trademark jeans and plaid flannel shirt as he showed me the iron gates of banks on Chestnut Street.

"These are some of the places my inspiration comes from," he said in reverential tones.

I grabbed his hand and held it to my heart.

Chris was a loner.  Liked nothing more than staying home in his carriage house and forging his works of metal in the open garage.  On the grass in his back yard were creations he hadn't yet sold.  A huge red sculpture arched toward the heavens.  I lay my head against the metal and wished he'd give me something.  He never did.

My sister Amy was getting married at my mom's house.  I persuaded Chris to attend the wedding.  Amy and Rich were married inside the house by a rabbi clad all in white.  Chris put on the black kippah or head covering.

I wore a twirly purple silk dress.  It's still in my closet since I hope to fit in it again some day.

Quite simply, I was an attractive woman, with shoulder-length brown hair, threaded with gray, huge brown eyes and long eyelashes everyone commented on.

I never looked in the mirror.  Couldn't stand viewing myself and still don't look in the mirror.

After the ceremony, Chris came up to me.  He had loosened his tie.

"I'm not feeling well," he said.

"Oh no!" I replied and suggested he go upstairs and lie down.  I walked him up the stairs to a bedroom on the third floor.

"Lie down here," I suggested, patting the bed.

He lay down in the lime-green bedroom, where we could hear the merry sounds of the party below.

My heart was pounding.  I knew I was losing him.

The room began to swim.  I had gotten drunk on champagne to quell the awful feelings that Chris was breaking up with me.  It was our morning talks that hinted he might be seeing another woman.

Deirdre was her name.

The day after the party, the phone rang.

It was Chris.  He didn't mince words.

"I'm breaking up with you," he said.

All I remember is falling to my knees on the kitchen floor, staring at the blue star patterns on the floor and sobbing.

My coffee spilled all over the floor.

For years thereafter, whenever I passed Chew Avenue, where he lived, my heart sobbed inside.

One day my friend Marcy sent me an email.

It was an obituary notice from the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Chris Ray was dead from stomach cancer at age 63.

Now I had to mourn him all over again.

If I wish, I can open up a drawer in Sarah's old bedroom and look at his Polaroid photo.  A bearded man in a plaid shirt, smiling at me.


All I could do was write a poem about him, which I titled "The Third Time He Died."

Ruth Z. Deming has had her prose and poetry published in lit mags including River Poets, East Jasmine Review and Hektoen International.  A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder and their loved ones.  She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia.