I’ll admit it. I have an insatiable appetite for THINGS. All the beautiful stuff of life: Meissen china, Georgian silver, Aubusson carpets, the whole kit & kaboodle. As Coco Chanel once advised, “The best things in life are free, Chérie. The second best are very, very expensive.”
It is a passion that never leaves me. At the end of a long day of shopping, after I have gotten into bed, slipping in between my freshly pressed Wamsutta Dream Zone 1000 Thread Count PimaCott sheets, I might sit up for hour and read. Oh, not reading as you think of it. I don’t enjoy reading BOOKS. Staring at a lot of black marks on a page and trying to make sense of them. Not my idea of fun. No, I’m a visual person. What I like best before sleeping is paging through mail-order catalogs. Hammacher-Schlemmer is a favorite. Hammacher-Schlemmer is a wonder world of gadgets—that’s where, as a young married woman, I found my first cordless telephone and Mr. Coffee machine—and Neiman-Marcus, with their solid dark chocolate Monopoly set or a dirigible, yes, you can have that, too, flying high above the world in a great silvery gas balloon! To think that in this world of so many things, they are still making and selling MORE fantastic things! I think it’s a good thing, don’t you? Because no matter how much you have, it still gives you a reason to WANT MORE. And wanting more is a reason to go on living, isn’t it? The great golden carrot that keeps you dancing and grasping ahead until the Maker draws your ping pong ball in the Great Mortality Lottery.
I look about this room. So many clocks. Tiffany clocks, Cartier clocks. I lie here motionless, but Time keeps marching on. And everything I know and love moves into the past, second by second—Tick. Tick. Tick. Everything piling up behind me. Like a huge cluttered warehouse of furniture kept in the back of my mind. Remember that marvelous old movie Citizen Kane and the absolute crates and crates of statuary and furniture and art Kane had stacked up? I know the feeling—“ROSEBUD.”
Feeling sleepy now, as I am about to drift into a dreamland of merchandise, I think of that adorable little blonde-haired orphan Oliver pleading, “I’d like some more, please.” Yes, please, God—I’d like some more.
by Charles Leipart
Charles Leipart was a finalist for the 2017 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize for What Wolfman Knew, Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival; What Wolfman Knew is published in the Summer 2017 issue of the Jabberwock Review. His work has appeared in the Bayou Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Panolpy Literary Zine, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Scene and Heard Journal, QU Literary Magazine, and Projector Magazine of the University of Greenwich, London UK. Charles is a graduate of Northwestern University, a former fellow of the Edward Albee Foundation. He lives and writes in New York City.
When you burn your life down
it takes a long time to rise
years of reaching out
With or without feathers, the sifting
through ashes, burnt bone, table legs
is difficult work: a shoe lace, a blue button, scraps of leaf colored silk
you don’t remember wearing
Memories you can’t recover, sing and itch like phantom limbs
you feel but cannot see
The eggs you crack for breakfast
held promise once
Home on Your Back
Every horizon is an invitation to start over
you remember this line as you make coffee
in the French press you unpacked earlier
you can’t remember who told you this
or if at the time it helped.
From the back porch, you look east
to the yet unopened sky
partially blocked with shrill green needles
huge pale gray clouds hover overhead
a hint of pale yellow showing through
you will see morning before light sparkles across the marsh
with its smells of sawgrass, earth, decay
not what your roots know.
Anxiously your toes curl
origins thin and pale under the balls of your feet
crimped inside your soul, not ready to dig down
to connect the familiar
with the unfamiliar
Behind you, boxes sit unopened
full of kitchen things wrapped in newspapers
furniture pushed into empty spaces
you will trip over chairs for weeks
until muscle memory takes over
and you make what you have carried here
home, another home
The only familiar sound is your breathing
orange brushes of words from other mornings
trapped in warm coffee, you hold
your youngest daughter balanced
on your hip, head buried in your neck and shoulder
her sticky sweet drool mixes with new smells
you try to imagine this is the place you live
your baby child oblivious of the world outside
her immediate view
encased in the husk of half sleep
her scent as known as your own
love me how big she mumbles into to your cheek.
A Cooper’s hawk flies over head, named for you
by the long sweep of its wings, the white tips of feathers
a predator you have seen before
you take refuge in its shadow
stretch your left arm wide like a bridge
girded between before and now
“This big,” you tell your daughter, “this big”
by Martha Catherine Brenckle
Martha Brenckle teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of Central Florida. Publishing both poetry and fiction, sha has published most recently in Driftwood, The Sea Journal, Broken Bridge Review, Lost Coast Review, and New Guard Literary Review among others. In October 2000, she won the Central Florida United Arts Award for poetry. Her first novel, Street Angel, published in 2006 was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and a Triangle Award and was a Finalist for Fence Magazine’s Best GLBT Novel for 2006. Her short story, “Nesting Dolls” has been nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize.
“Great to be on the show, Jill!”
“So—what’s your outlook on today’s prison market?”
“Well, I’ve been bullish for a long time, and the private sector has done well by any metric. All is solid on the fundamentals. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. More than China, more than Russia. Belarus isn’t even close. Cuba and Saudi Arabia can’t touch us. The numbers don’t lie. The smart investor can still hope to see a good return.”
“But can growth continue? Some people say that opioids have created a bubble.”
“Don’t believe the doomsayers! You hear lots of sensational things in the media, but I don’t think the market has peaked. Here’s an inconvenient truth for the hand-wringers, Jill: opioids bring repeat customers. It’s a very loyal base. We’re seeing growth in rural America that folks wouldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago. And that puts a premium on our product. Law enforcement needs us. And so do hard-working, law-abiding citizens. We’re renewing a vital infrastructure and we’re big job creators. Construction and security contractors, laundry services and independent catering—you name it. Forget the fancy talk. The hotel industry isn’t seeing this kind of growth. Theme parks are saturated. But we’re still expanding.”
“How’s that look from the inside? Break it down for me. What’s hot and what’s not?”
“It’s a question of vision, of keeping up with changes in today’s world. Some people hear the word “prison” and they think: rapists and murderers. Armed robbery. Arson. To their mind, that’s the brand. OK, that’s our legacy, sure, but in reality there’s so much more—for instance, we’re seeing an uptick in incarcerations of undocumented people. For a long time it was a sleeper sector, but lately we’ve been tapping an unrealized potential. There’s less red tape involved, compared to regular prisoners, which brings a promising margin for the savvy provider. I’m bullish on the undocumented.”
“How about juveniles?”
“Depends. Investors need to do their homework. Different states have different codes. Overall, though, progress is being made, because we’re getting some leadership from the top. Nobody with skin in the game really wants bureaucratic meddling.”
“Terrorism? Where does it fit into this cycle?”
“We’re growing partnerships internationally, and domestically, we’re probably going to see some movement. I don’t have a crystal ball, but indicators suggest that we can expect more activity in this area. Nobody wants to think about it, but professionals in the field are rolling up their sleeves and they’ll be ready. A big part of our value added is being poised so that the rest of America doesn’t have to think about it. People sleep better at night knowing that the invisible hand has long arms. Count on us, Jill. We’ll be there!”
“Thanks, Tim. We’ll take a commercial break, and next we’ll hear from Micah Stevens about a controversial new pet food. The kitty kibble wars are heating up! Come back and learn all about it.”
by Charles Holdefer
Charles Holdefer is an American writer currently based in Brussels. His work has appeared in the New England Review, North American Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, Slice and in the 2017 Pushcart Prize anthology. His recent books include DICK CHENEY IN SHORTS (stories) and GEORGE SAUNDERS’ PASTORALIA: BOOKMARKED (nonfiction). Visit Charles at www.charlesholdefer.com
So this bartender starts telling me about a story he’s writing. You know how back in the old days when salt was worth its weight in gold. When you could buy anything you wanted with a little pinch of salt. This newlywed couple decides to go back to those days on their honeymoon. There’s a Time Machine that will take them—on the installment plan, of course. They can pay when they get back. But they can afford the trip because they know all about the salt and will bring along a couple of boxes of Morton Salt. The dark blue round boxes with the little girl on it with the umbrella. So they go back. They are having the time of their lives at the Coliseum watching the Christians getting mauled and eaten by the lions. They dine in the finest restaurants in Rome and rent a villa by the sea. On Capri maybe. They have the time of their lives and pay for everything in salt. Or maybe they forgot the salt. The newlywed husband left it on the kitchen table. Or maybe the newlywed bride did. Oh god, they say. They can’t pay their debts and end up getting thrown to the lions themselves. I haven’t figured that part out yet, the bartender says. The ending. The twist. What do you think. I get up from my stool to pay my tab and slide a tiny glassine packet of white crystals across the bar. Half a gram ought to cover it, don’t you think. The bartender looks around the room with panic in his eyes. I can’t take this, he says. Don’t worry, man, I tell him. It’s good. Kickass shit. And legal. Hell, you people back here in the twenty-first century haven’t even figured out how to synthesize it yet.
by Robert Perchan
Robert Perchan’s poetry chapbooks are Mythic Instinct Afternoon (2005 Poetry West Prize) and Overdressed to Kill (Backwaters Press, 2005 Weldon Kees Award). His poetry collection Fluid in Darkness, Frozen in Light won the 1999 Pearl Poetry Prize and was published by Pearl Editions in 2000. His avant-la-lettre flash novel Perchan’s Chorea: Eros and Exile (Watermark Press, Wichita, 1991) was translated into French and published by Quidam Editeurs (Meudon) in 2002. In 2007 his short short story “The Neoplastic Surgeon” won the on-line Entelechy: Mind and Culture Bio-fiction Prize. He currently resides in Pusan, South Korea. You can see some of his stuff on robertperchan.com.
He stepped off the curb into the street, turned around and stared at me. A bunch of us were waiting for the light at Broadway and 44th. Tall, wild-haired, enormous brown eyes, wide mouth slightly open — I immediately looked away.
“You are beautiful,” he said.
I pretended not to notice him, or to hear his astonishment.
“You’re really beautiful. You’re amazing.”
I looked over his head at the crush of people waiting on the other side.
“I mean it,” he said, looking directly at me and holding out his hands. “You are truly beautiful.” His voice enveloped me like warm vapor.
Heads turned in my direction, straining to see what he was seeing. I wanted to move, but the orange hand of the traffic signal nailed us all to the spot. He kept talking, his words gathering speed, his voice rising in intensity.
“Please,” he said, “look at me. I must tell you. You are a dream, where have you been, you are so very beautiful.”
I flushed. I looked down, then away. A neon white “walk” had replaced the orange hand, and the crowd surged forward. I glanced at him as I stepped into the street. His face was earnest, his eyes searching. He moved backwards, arms lifted, still facing me. His coat billowed around him like wings.
“My God, I swear. You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
I hesitated, then veered around him to the right. His hands flew up, fluttering in front of me like prayer flags.
“Wait, wait. Don’t go. Please.”
The bunch on the corner was dispersing, some looking back, a few smiling. Now he was at my side.
“Wait, I don’t want to lose you, please.” His words loomed out like a lariat, tugging on me.
“You’re a goddess, you’re my life. I mustn’t lose you!”
Turning sharply, I broke away. A bus was coming down Broadway, and I ran for it. Never mind lunch with Norma. She’d understand. Waving my arm above my head, heart pounding, panting to myself—please, bus, don’t pass me by.
Miraculously, it slowed. The doors hissed open and I lunged aboard without looking back.
The doors snaked shut behind me. He hadn’t followed.
Relief spread through my body and I collapsed into a window seat. Good God, what ever was that? I looked out the window. I had never thought myself beautiful. Maybe nice-looking, okay, but not beautiful. Now suddenly I was beautiful—to someone. Someone who saw something in me no one else had ever seen.
Someone I would never see again.
The bus lurched across the intersection. I felt a huge hole inside. I glanced back down 44th. There he was, standing in the middle of the street, arms aloft, coat flapping and mouth moving, but not in the direction of my departing bus. He was facing the curb, his eyes and his words pinned on a pudgy middle-aged woman who was standing there, waiting for the light to change.
by Sandy Robertson
Sandy Robertson’s interests in teaching literature led her to writing fiction a few years ago. She has published two short stories and is currently at work on a novel. She lives in San Diego, California.
She said I’d be better off going with their ‘Premier Publication’ package – leave the decisions to the experts. For instance, had I taken into account: edge determination, modulation, minimum reflectance? Had I considered DataGlyphs, weighed up the advantages of continuous over discrete, closed system over interleaved? And what was my checksum determinant?
I thought you were just sent the barcode automatically. I didn’t realise there were so many… factors, so many choices to be considered.
That’s where a lot of people stumble, she added. Even before you’ve turned the first page you can see they’ve f***ed things up, down in the bottom left or bottom right corner, back cover. And though your average person won’t consciously notice it, they’ll know something doesn’t feel right. And so they’ll put the book down, move on. You don’t want that? I didn’t.
And the great thing about the ‘Premier’: it covers everything, even has barcode insurance bundled in as standard. That comes with £200,000 legal cover, a writ of inviolability, and you get to choose the first three numbers. It sounded very attractive.
It is! She’d published twelve novels herself, plus four ‘how to’ books – and so she now knew – not just thought, or believed – that if you get the barcode right all the rest falls into place. And don’t your stories deserve the best?
I knew one or two of them didn’t, but I said yes. And, on reflection, it’s comforting to know that the chances of me being successfully sued over my barcode are now very, very slim.
by Paul Tarragó
Paul Tarragó is an experimental filmmaker and writer living in London. Recent writings appear in The Wrong Quarterly, 2HB, decomP magazinE, Leopardskin and Limes, and Ink, sweat and tears. His most recent short story collection is ‘The Water Rabbits’ (2018). Before that came ‘The Mascot Moth and several other pieces’ (2013). Both are available from both good and bad booksellers.