The mole traps haven’t sprung. The wishbone handles of grey metal stick up from the ground like tuning forks. If I’d caught, the handles would be angled wide apart – V for victory, or fuck off, depending which way you look. I seldom trap one, but it makes me look busy.
Another Sunday, another Sunday roast. A ceremonial carve up. Do you take these legs and breasts as your lawfully stuffed lunch? Soon she’ll start banging the saucepans on the hob and peeling vegetables. The needle will start after breakfast. Could be anything. How long to cook the meat is our Sunday family favourite. Last week I did the cooking.
“It’s running with blood,” she said and didn’t touch it.
We used to yell but it skidded out of control. Rattled the kids. A bit of pushing that’s all, a slammed door, a smashed plate.
Yesterday she said, “Don’t roll your eyes at me. You’re beginning to look like your father.”
I said, “Control your temper. You’re beginning to sound like your mother.”
My father’s got his anxiety. Her mother’s dead.
To find the mole runs I prod the grass with a screwdriver then dig round holes into them with a trowel. I set the traps on a hair-trigger and lower them in. Lay on a lid of turf, plug the gaps with dead leaves to stop daylight or draughts. The moles sense both. Noses like radar dishes.
“Mum says lunch is ready. Can you come and cut the meat.” Our youngest enjoys running errands for his mother. I follow him as he runs back up the path from the toolshed.
Chicken’s on the table. The sharpening steel, carving knife and fork laid out like an amputation.
“This bird doesn’t smell right,” I say.
“In what way?” she says.
“Smells like shit. Literally like shit. Excrement.” I prize apart its back end and bring out a smear of brown on the knife.
“Smell that,” I say.
“I can smell it from here.” She takes the carving fork from my hand, spears the meat and dumps it in the bin.
“Just roast potatoes and veg today. The chicken is shit,” she says to the kids.
Back outside a trap’s been sprung. I pull the dead animal from the earth, its neck broken, a lick of blood oozes from its mouth. I take the mole to the fence and spike its corpse onto the barbed wire. By morning all trace of it will be gone.
Steven John’s writing has appeared in Riggwelter, Spelk, Fictive Dream, Cabinet of Heed, EllipsisZine, Ghost Parachute and Best Microfiction 2019. He’s won Bath Ad Hoc Fiction a record six times and has been nominated for BIFFY 2019. He lives in The Cotswolds, England. Steven is Fiction & Special Features Editor at www.newflashfictionreview.com @StevenJohnWrite www.stevenjohnwriter.com
“Yes, well, here at Ventura Capital, we pride ourselves on our work environment, and I think you’ll fit in perfectly, John. Thank you for coming in today.”
“Of course, my pleasure, Alex. I look forward to hearing from you.”
The two men get up from their chairs. They shake hands solidly, just as their dads had taught them when they were four.
John opens the door and starts to walk out –
“ – oh John I have to ask you one last question.”
“Yes I can accept the job right now,” John replies wittily, “but seriously, ask me anything, Alex.”
“It’s just this question that HR wants me to ask all interviewees. I forgot to ask you because we were having such a pleasant conversation, in spite of the fact that you’re a Yankees fan!” a hearty laugh comes with the joke. “An employee a few years back had a bit of a drinking problem and turned the 2013 Christmas party into the most unforgettable party this office park has ever seen.”
“Do you mind if I ask what happened?”
“Perhaps when you start here, John, I’ll tell you more.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Alex”
“Anyway, I now have to ask all interviewees whether you have, or have ever had, a problem with alcohol or any other form of controlled substance?”
“Never. I enjoy a drink every now and then, but that’s it.”
“Excellent. That’s what I thought. I’ll mark down just a social drinker.”
“Well . . .”
“Well . . . I wouldn’t say I’m a social drinker.”
“What type of drinker would you say you are then?”
“More of an individual drinker, an alone drinker, I like to . . . just, you know, drink alone.”
“Of course, we all enjoy a beer every now and then just by ourselves. Completely understandable.”
“Well . . .”
“It’s just that I only drink alone. I never drink with other people.”
“Right but just like a beer or a glass of wine right?”
“Oh yes to start, definitely.”
“And then you have more . . . while you’re alone?”
“How much do you drink?”
“You know just as much as anyone else.”
“Yes, alone only.”
“There is just something more rewarding about drinking alone.”
“ . . . ”
“Alone, I drink sip by sip with my attention focused solely on me, my surroundings, and the effects of the alcohol. With each sip, the alcohol’s effect changes and compounds on the previous sip. Only when I am alone can I truly experience each increment of intoxication. When I drink with others, conversation carries the night and, next thing I know, I’m drunk. That’s not necessarily bad. But alone, I have a deeper understanding of how alcohol impacts my body and how joyful and different each little sip can be.”
“So you really like drinking then?”
“Oh I wouldn’t say like.”
“ . . .”
“I’d say love.”
“Okay well. Thank you for this information, and . . . we . . . we’ll be in touch with you.”
Randall Weber-Levine holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School and a B.A. in philosophy and economics from Colgate University. He is an aspiring writer who has been published in and served as the editor of, Columbia Law School’s literary magazine, the Morningside Monocle.
We pack into a mover, driven by men we never see. (It is always men.) We bump along the clouds, no windows, trusting in the dark. The mover groans and shakes before landing. It’s too soon. The door lifts, and we hear waves but see only greenhouses, sun blacks, scrub brush. A voice bawls: “Walk!” So we walk, wandering the maze of humming buildings. On a beach, they scan us as we board an aluminum and blue-glass skiff, population 32. This isn’t in the plan but there’s nothing to argue, nowhere to go.
My brother whispers: “Remember to say you’re my wife.”
As if it unlocks an unseen door. As if he could get a woman like me. But I nod.
On the deck, we choke on hydrenated diesel. Below the glass, it’s like sick in a kettle. A sense memory: my mother, drifting to an alcoholic sleep, repeating, I’m sorry, baby. A man watches me and I move seats, offering to hold a child on my lap, his pee filling my shoes. The pilot is locked behind a door, immune to our pounding. Four days, two deaths, and the baby starts kicking. A gunship appears, guiding us into a bay. Someone translates: “We can go back or go to detention.”
“No,” I tell my brother. “This time we stay.”
Joel Wayne is a writer and producer from Boise, Idaho. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Chattahoochee Review, The Moth, and Salon, among other places. He has won the Silver Creek Writer’s Residency, the Lamar York Prize, and is a Pushcart nominee. Wayne produces the NPR-affiliate programs “Reader’s Corner” and “You Know The Place” for Boise State Public Radio, and serves as a judge for the annual Scholastic Writing Awards.
He was caught, with loads of cash, trying to cross the border to avoid our invasion. His brown, wrinkled skin resembled bark. Fear glinted in his wide eyes. He hunched his shoulders, anticipating violence, hands tied behind his back. His dark-brown skin indicated he belonged in the hot place we had conquered. I saw him hunched over between two of our soldiers who were bone-white with red noses. His irises resembled freaked mahogany in their tanned surrounds. He was accused of being the head of a clan–with using his money to incite rebellion. No legal process had occurred.
Sipping soup in the kitchen, I heard: “Narahhhhh…..”
The spoon stopped before my mouth.
That high shrieking of horrified disbelief conveyed the amazement of shocked innocence.
My head shot around to look down the corridor.
I carried a chair down the corridor. Standing on the chair, I looked through a window above the door into the room where the seated suspected clan leader’s ankles and wrists were tied. His head fell forward. Blood dripped onto his lap. His puffed-up eyes were hardly visible in a face that now resembled putty.
Big, blonde Aaron released a flurry of fists, cracking the man’s head. The man howled like a wounded dog when a burning cigarette got stubbed out on his nose by Ariel whose smile resembled a malevolent spotlight in the room’s gloom. The man’s money was scattered across a table. Horror waves smacked my skull.
I bashed on the door while hearing: “Arhhhhhhhh…”
“Go away,” Ariel screamed.
“What did he do?” I yelled.
Aaron opened the door and said: “You’ve got work to do on the trucks. Do it.”
The tortured man’s wincing was high-pitched with disbelief.
I lingered in the doorway. Aaron was my commanding officer. His penetrating, blue eyes, like cut glass shimmering with anger, glared as he jolted his head and hissed: “Well?”
The blood on his green shirt contrasted vividly with his snowy hair. The tortured man wheezed like a punctured lung. Aaron and I stared at each other in a slow moment of both realising that we could never be friends. A savage brilliance filled his electric-blue eyes.
“Is this going to help us?” I asked.
“Go,” Aaron said, pointing down the grey corridor.
His attitude towards the man he was torturing seemed unnaturally personal.
“You don’t know what animals they are,” he said, slamming the door in my face.
The man’s body, dumped onto one of the trucks I had been working on, got taken to a mass grave for people massacred in the villages we had destroyed, its legs flying up and crashing down as the truck hit a bump when leaving the compound.
Terrorism started about ten years later.
Kim has worked for aid agencies in three conflicts: Kosovo, Iraq and Palestine. He takes risks to get the experience required for writing. He likes fine wine, art, photography and bullfighting, which probably explains why this Australian lives in Madrid; although he wouldn’t say no to living in a French château or a Swiss ski resort. 154 of his stories have been accepted by 91 different magazines.
My husband and I go to the church craft fair. We are surprised because my mother is there. Her booth is in the corner. She is selling crocheted baby blankets and baby beanies. We don’t think it’s her at first. The booth is draped in black. Her products are black, too. No pretty-in-pink pink or robin’s-egg-blue. Not even the occasional relief of white. When we get close, my mother puts down the beanie she’s working on and smiles shyly. I smile shyly, too. My husband wanders away to the booth that has pottery car parts.
The woman in the booth next to my mother’s comes over and says,
“She’ll need a ride home.”
Like I wouldn’t know this.
My mother’s eyes are as big as a puppy’s. She nods. I nod back.
Then I go and spend money on gifts. Because that’s what you do at a church craft fair. Jesus died on a cross. His robe was shredded. We have to buy him a new one.
When I get back to my mother’s booth, it is packed up. Like Christ, she is gone. My husband, who bought a pottery V-8 engine, finds me in the corner confused. The woman in the booth next to my mother’s comes over and says,
“She’s waiting for you in your car.”
Like I wouldn’t know this.
My husband and I go out to the parking lot, and there she is. My mother’s in the driver’s seat. We are surprised. My mother never liked to drive. Before she died, she didn’t even have a driver’s license. My husband next to me says,
“Move over, Mary.”
My mother doesn’t move. She looks straight ahead and stays in the seat. Just when we least expect it, my mother starts the car, and drives off.
My husband’s jaw drops.
I am bereft.
“She left.” I say.
“She took the car,” my husband says.
“What will we do?” he adds. “She’s gone.”
Like I don’t know this. Like every cell in my body doesn’t know this.
Nan Wigington works as a para-educator in an autism center classroom. Her flash fiction has appeared in Gravel, the Gordon Square Review, and Pure Slush.
“I’m sorry, your position is being eliminated,” she said, handing me the divorce papers.
“Do you think I’ll just accept this lying down?” I asked.
She smiled, impartially, waiting.
“You’re not really eliminating my position,” I said. “If you were joining a nunnery then, yes, that would be eliminating my position. But you’re not joining a nunnery, are you?”
She continued smiling, always the professional, making a show of patience at the complaining customer.
“No,” I continued. “I didn’t think so. You’re not Ophelia off to the nunnery. I’ve been fired. I think you should reconsider. Sure, I’ve had a few bad performance reviews. Who hasn’t? But my job description changed to something very different from what I signed up for. Surely I deserve a second chance.”
“Sorry,” she said. “I’ve already begun interviewing applicants to replace you.”
“Ah,” I said. “That explains the little black dress and the alcohol on your breath. But what about our kids?”
“We might have a spot for you as a consultant,” she said.
“Oh, a consultant. Contracting out the heavy lifting, are we? I’ll pay child support. I’ll take the kids to Disneyland or whatever in the summer. I’ll pay the private school tuition. I’ll foot the bill for everything, but I don’t get benefits. Not that much different than marriage, is it? What about a severance package?”
“You’ll have the memories,” she said. “Those are portable.”
I exhaled heavily to show my disdain for her chutzpah and my exasperation at the injustice being shown me. I decided to play hardball.
“What if I sue you for discrimination?” I said, wiggling my eyebrows up and down in a significant and threatening manner. The tension left her face, and I knew I was toast.
“I’m sorry,” she said, smiling. “Faithful husband isn’t a protected class.”
Mike Wilson, a writer in Lexington, Kentucky, has had work published in small magazines including Appalachian Heritage, Solidago, The Seventh Wave, The Aurorean and The London Reader and will have work appearing in Fiction Southeast and Edify Fiction.