I’m fifty years ago, at a party, drinking a martini and smoking a cigarette. I’m wearing my suit and tie and idly listening to little pieces of three different conversations. Wasn’t West Side Story a wonderful movie? How about the new president and his promise to have a man on the moon by decade’s end? Is there going to be a problem with this place suddenly appearing in the newspapers, this Vietnam wherever it is? People are dancing and the room is thick and warm. My martini is wonderfully cold and bitter. Someone puts a different record on the phonograph. They turn the music up loud.
I’m there and also here with you half a century later at the edge of a vast and darkened field. Rain has come and gone and we smell wet grass and a hint of autumn. If the clouds clear we’ll see the first of the evening stars. The wind blows itself out and the night grows still. A few minutes ago something unpleasant happened between us and we came out to the field because a little fresh air might wash the anger from our souls. I can’t tell if anything has gotten better. Maybe I’ve calmed down, but the truth is I am confused.
You’re here with me and the field stretches out ahead and those clouds aren’t getting any thinner and a drop of rain just hit my cheek and everything about us is vague and uncertain. The field is a continuation of the argument started back at the house. You hate how my mind forever wanders to somewhere far away. You want to know why I can’t change that about myself and the answer is there on my lips and at the same time is not.
Joel Best has published in venues such as Atticus Online, decomP, Crack the Spine and Blaze Vox. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and son.
My alcoholism was never once suspected. I had made it a strict habit not to get completely bombed under twenty-four hours before flight. Much of the time outside of flying and the twenty-four hours prior to flight time, is obliterated. I have a home in Los Angeles, and I have a home Pittsburgh. I have had two marriages, and remember very little of either one. The one time I felt in complete control of my life was behind the instrument panel of a jet airliner with the hundreds of souls behind me having entrusted me to their care and survival. This act, this solid performance, I was able to keep up for close to twenty-five years. I will neither declare nor confess that in the air I ever felt any particular sense of power. Rather, I felt a peculiar place of belonging, as when, as a young boy, I had watched a Scout Master surveying the white tufts of a river from the shore before taking our small fleet of six canoes through the whitewater. He was reading the line. He did so with his human eye and one paddle held up to it like a rifle, tracing the flow of the river. Even with all the computerized instrumentation that will chart a course in the air throughout a flight’s journey, when flying I felt this brief sense of being alive as I had once felt canoeing. While human participation in the flying of such airborne crafts is nearly superfluous, as flying a jet is nearly automated, I must also believe that this respite of being able to live a life outside of my time spent on the ground had saved me from one of criminal madness, an accidental suicide, or some passionate murder.
Duff Allen is a writer who lives in upstate New York. He has an MFA from Bard College where he teaches writing in the Clemente Course for the Humanities. His work may be found in “Prima Materia” and other publications.
He lay in bed quietly, not daring to move, holding his arms and legs and breathing as still as they could be held, waiting, not sure for what. The room had darkened, but was not too dark for him to see the outlines of the furniture, the central light fixture, the door slightly ajar, the slippers on the floor next to his desk. He could hear the slow ticking of the windup clock on his dresser but could no longer see the hands that marked the hour and minute. His heart beat along with the seconds, and the emptiness between beats stretched longer and longer even though he knew time could not be stretched.
Without realizing that he was drifting into sleep, the boy felt his body move, swinging back and forth on an axis through his navel. The movement dizzied him, but he enjoyed the speed, a whipping sensation as if he sat at the rear of a roaring roller coaster. He willed himself to spin entirely around, faster with each revolution. He was conscious that he still lay in his bed, but the part of his brain pursuing the thrill of movement cared not. Then, inevitably, his body slowed and he grew sad, sorry to be brought back to stillness. He opened his eyes to find the room pitch black, but could still hear the seconds.
Bruce J. Berger is an MFA candidate at American University in Washington, DC. His work appears in Wilderness House Literary Review, Prole, Jersey Devil Press Anthology, Black Magnolias, and a variety of other literary journals.
“Do Jesus and Santa Claus come from the same place?” our sons ask us. It is confusing because our family displays these icons together at this time of year: jovial, fat man in red pajamas beside nearly naked infant cradled in ceramic hay. “If Joseph isn’t Jesus’ dad, then maybe Santa is,” the boys say.
Our family doesn’t have a train set to put up at the holidays; instead we place the manger beside the tree and our sons play with the figures as though they are G.I. Joes. It may be sacrilegious—the way our sons engage the three wise men in wrestling matches or turn Mary into a C.I.A. agent sent to free the sheep and livestock from the overlord shepherd-boy; but they are only children. And we have decided that we are not a religious family.
“I think that God is Jesus’ father,” my husband points out.
“Then, maybe Santa is Jesus’ uncle,” our sons suggest.
And now it all makes sense: twelve disciples transported by twelve reindeer, water freezing so that everyone can walk across it, my husband suggesting, “Rather than milk and cookies, Santa might like crackers and a nice glass of wine.”
Dana Kroos received a MFA in fiction writing from New Mexico State University in 2008. Her short stories and poems have appeared in “Glimmer Train,” “The Florida Review,” “The Superstition Review,” “Minnesota Monthly” and others. She also holds a MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and a MA from Purdue University. Currently she is working towards a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature at the University of Houston.
She gave you a lot of different looks from the start. Did that throw you off? How cold it got on the final drive?
There are always variables you can’t control and sometimes things go wrong. Can’t blame the conditions, that’s for sure.
Did you get an explanation?
Some of our moves weren’t as smooth as they could be, we had communication issues and, let’s be honest, she knows how to avoid contact.
There have been some rather significant rule changes recently. You think they affected the outcome?
They were taken into account.
She suggested at one point that you were not very imaginative, like she knew just what would happen beforehand.
We try and take what they give us and make the most of it. Each night is a different challenge and, let’s give her credit, she’s tough, she can be a real force out there. In hindsight, of course, there are things you’d like to take back. Things that were sloppy, that you didn’t execute according to plan.
But the way it looked she could anticipate what you were doing before you did it. You think you’ve become too predictable?
You’ll have to ask her. We’re on to Saturday night. Anything else?
Did you feel you got unfairly penalized?
We’re not getting into that. Saturday night. One more.
Let me rephrase: she intimates there was some kind of breakdown at the end. What accounted for that?
Well, if that’s what she says. You’ll have to ask her.
Since 2015 Alexander’s stories have either appeared or are forthcoming in Buffalo Almanack (recipient of its Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence), Umbrella Factory Magazine (a 2015 Pushcart Prize nominee), New Pop Lit, DenimSkin, Per Contra, Constellations, The Bicycle Review, Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, Flash Frontier, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Down in the Dirt, Contrary, the Blue Bonnet Review, The Nite Writers Literary Arts Journal, and The Binnacle, the latter of which won Honorable Mention in its Twelfth Annual International Ultra-Short Competition.
He’d just scooched his ass down into his favorite vinyl booth for a celebratory drink at his favorite Republic bar, had just signed half his life away to his bitch of an ex-wife (and the other half to his lawyers), and now it was her asking him why he had called.
His large hands fumbled with the thin phone as he tugged it out of his back pocket, nearly dropping it twice as he turned and twisted in his seat to better hear over the din of bar sounds and bar voices.
“It was an accident,” he said.
“What was an accident?” she said.
He watched a young couple enter—the woman with a radiant smile and large expressive eyes and the young man smiling in her wake. He envied their happiness in these “salad days” of their relationship.
He’d forgotten her for a split second while in reverie over the young couple, now making their way down to the other end of the bar to visit with another happy young couple, hugs and kisses all around.
“What was an accident?” she repeated.
He turned away from the happy couples and stared blankly at the hockey game on the television behind the counter. A terrible urge came upon him—to call her a “slutty whore” and “cunt” for putting herself before their kids and family. But then a wild and sinister and better idea came to mind.
“This call!” he said. “It’s a butt dial, bitch!”
Glancing up and down the bar, he spread his fat thighs, then cupped and lowered the tiny phone into the little vinyl amphitheatre he’d created there and let out the loudest and happiest fart of his crazy busted life!
Dave Barrett lives and writes out of Missoula, Montana. His fiction has appeared most recently in Midwestern Gothic, Gravel, The MacGuffin and the Scarlett Leaf Review. He teaches writing at the University of Montana and is at work on a new novel.