Julia’s Hair

It was the first class of the morning. Five of six new students sat around the table, propped upright in their plastic garden chairs, attentive and ready to work. So far so good. Then the sixth student arrived.

She had long, long black hair. She said nothing, set a notebook on the table, lowered herself into a chair and in one unbroken motion laid her head down on the table and fell asleep. Her black hair spread out on the table like an oil spill.

From time to time I glanced at her, and eventually I asked her a question:

“Julia? What is an example of a relative pronoun?”

There was no answer, no movement. In the suspended silence, which seemed to anticipate—some consequence—all of us stared at her. Now her hair began to undulate in wide swaths, floating, covering her notebook, and a full quarter of the table’s surface. It looked as if it would entwine itself around the books, the chairs and finally, around us. It was voluminous, its brilliant, black sheen hypnotizing—alive in itself, it was both a reflective surface and a depthless expanse. As I stared at it, it darkened and—began to grow. I stood up and backed away from the table.

I covered my split second of terror by hop-stepping over to the blackboard. For the rest of the class, I stood beside it, supported by its reliable, solid substance. I scrawled all over it until the uninterrupted mass of sentences on the board reflected the uninterrupted mass of hair on the table.

For the next hour I couldn’t help glancing over at that hair, and every time I did, it looked slightly different and began to take on a range of emotional qualities. In one moment, the hair was luminous—emanating angular and vibrant rays of warmth and light; at another it was a malicious stain, glowing with hate. At another it was as brittle and fine as glass, emitting a shrill and painful sensitivity—I could almost hear it screech.  At the worst moments, it was dull—implacable, the dark matter of the universe.

I was shocked when this nameless substance rose up from the table at the end of the class. I gasped but covered, “Ah­—I—I hope you’re alright, Julia?”

She said nothing, picked up her notebook and did not show her face as she left the room.

She came to three more classes and slept through each one, her hair spreading out over the table and taking on an array of emotional qualities and physical transformations as I watched it. I tried to speak with her, but she wouldn’t respond or show her face.

After the fourth class, Julia disappeared. I never saw her again, but in the days that followed, the overhead light reflected off the table where her hair had been—a negative image of its substance— out of an obsidian darkness, a faint and iridescent haze of light.

 

Rosalind Goldsmith

Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival. She began writing short fiction four years ago. Since then, her stories have appeared in Litro UK (print and online), Popshot UK, Thrice Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Understorey, Filling Station and antilang., among others.

Popeye

When Uncle Sam shoots his gun, does a flag pop out? If so, whose flag is it, anyway?

When Uncle Sam shoots his gun, does his Cornucopian hat pop open? If so, do birds fly out? What kind of birds are they?

When Uncle Sam shoots his gun, does he lose his trousers? What else does he lose?

When Uncle Sam shoots his gun, does he ever hit the bullseye? How many Kewpie dolls has he won? Any wear a burka? A hula?

What kind of gun does Uncle Sam shoot? Without getting arrested? Without having his enlistment extended?

Is Uncle Sam related to Yosemite, by any chance?

 

by Michael Karl Ritchie

Michael Karl Ritchie is a retired Professor of English from Arkansas Tech University with work published in various small press magazines, including The Mississippi Review, Margie, OR Panthology – Ocellus Reseau. He has had three small press chapbook publications and Winter Goose Press has just published his collection of poems Ampleforth’s Miscellany (2017).

Control

The sound is faint, like the low grumble of an old man in his sleep, constant and all- pervasive—a unitary oscillating auditory net that suppresses spontaneous impulses and curbs undesirable actions. Holographic images in staggering colors pulse through the atmosphere, supporting auditory control, thus promoting emotional stability and forestalling anti-social impulses. All UniCitizens, like the dwellings they inhabit, the vehicles in which they are transported and the devices with which they communicate, are extensions of a unifying principle, components of the universal network that maintains a functioning society.

Life in the early 21st Century was messy and unpredictable. Terrorism, criminality and personal dysfunction prevailed. A multiplicity of information sources conflicted with one another, contributing to widespread confusion and disturbing behavioral patterns. Fear prevailed in a society riddled with contradictions. That is, until social scientists and engineers developed a panacea for chaos. Intensive Auditory Therapy has provided a comprehensive method to homogenize and control conduct, radically reducing the potential for anarchic and anti-social expression. It has transformed the troubled rumble of pre-UniLife into a unified buzzing hum, like bees at a distance, both a warning and assurance.

Despite Social Credit Scores that now weed out undesirable impulses, the quest for perfect social harmony is still occasionally subverted by expressions of errant desire that even the most precise algorithms often fail to take into account. Controlling human desire is a fragile and febrile thing, subject to resistance by the ambiguous and unruly qualities of the latent human spirit, impulsive emotions that even if rigorously suppressed will occasionally find expression in the side streets and back alleys of the maverick mind and delinquent heart.

Case# 45-41561X:  Two middle-aged men, each assigned to a member of the opposite sex for life, are granted a UniWork break at a virtual eco resort in the Outer Hebrides, otherwise known as “islands of the strangers.” They grow inordinately close to one another and conjoin in sexual union for which they do not have official clearance. Each party desires to continue with this unsanctioned social breach, straying from their UniRole assignments and thus disturbing calibrated societal balance. The transgressors are prescribed multiple treatments of Intensive Sound Aversion Therapy and successfully returned to normative relational function. Case closed.

The social order, codified under the universal doctrine of ‘Each An Assigned Place’ is restored, forestalling any reversion to pre-Uni conditions when individual choice and irrational urges subverted cultural cohesion and threatened human survival.

 

by William Torphy

William Torphy’s poetry, critical reviews and articles have appeared in numerous magazines. Ithuriel’s Spear in San Francisco has published three books. Short stories have appeared in The Fictional Café, ImageOutWrite Volume 5, Main Street Rag, Miracle Monocle, Sun Star Review and Chelsea Station, the story for which was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. He works as an art curator in the San Francisco area.

Nicolas Ridley, Featured Author

Virtually Identical

FICTION

 

‘I shan’t introduce you to my sister,’ said Kate. ‘You’ll fall in love with her. Then I’ll have to hate you.’

‘Fine,’ I said.

(I’m used to Kate’s pronouncements.)

We were driving to Sussex. Having decided to marry me, Kate felt I should meet her parents.

‘You and your sister,’ I said. ‘Are you alike?’

‘We’re virtually identical.’

‘Twins?’

‘Stop the car,’ said Kate. ‘There by those bushes. I need to change.’

 

I find it captivating: Kate’s ability to transform herself. From brisk solicitor to untamed party-animal. From formal dinner guest to fun-runner in baggy shorts and shapeless t-shirt. The Kate, who now appeared in a black skirt and white blouse, was the dutiful daughter.

 

‘I must warn you,’ said Kate. ‘My parents are prudes.’

To me they appeared courteous, welcoming, perfectly charming.

‘Samuel will be sleeping in the guest bedroom,’ said Kate.

(Another of Kate’s pronouncement.)

Did I see Kate’s mother raise an eyebrow?

 

‘Don’t come looking for me in the night,’ said Kate. ‘You’ll end up in someone else’s bedroom.’

Kate’s father’s generous measures of single malt meant that I fell deeply asleep, but I woke up immediately when the bedroom door creaked open.

‘Don’t turn on the light.’

I didn’t.

In the morning, she’d gone.

 

‘Were you alright last night?’ said Kate.

‘Last night?’

‘By yourself in your lonely little bed.’

‘By myself? But didn’t you …?’

‘Didn’t I what?’

‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘I slept fine.’

 

‘Who are you?’

‘Me?’ I said. ‘I’m the bridegroom.’

‘I thought you looked familiar,’ she said. ‘I’m Aunt Astrid. I’m potty as an aspidistra. Did you know there was madness in the family?’

‘Really?’ I said, looking round the marquee. ‘Tell me. I haven’t met Kate’s sister yet. Is she here somewhere?

‘Sister? Kate has no sister. Kate’s an only child.’

 

by Nicolas Ridley

 

Unarmed Combat

NONFICTION

 

It’s a pleasant day in early April. Winter is no more than a memory and today we are learning how to kill people. Or maim them. Maybe both. I’m not sure yet.

Together we chant the sergeant’s mantra:

One-two-three-four,

Step-on-his-jaw,

Just-to-make-sure.

‘Next!’

Last January we slept in our boots on Dartmoor. We learnt the lesson on the first morning. If you leave your boots outside the tent, they freeze like solid blocks of ice. The answer is to keep them on all night. This means lying on your back in your sleeping-bag with your feet pointing upwards. It’s awkward at first but you get used to it. When you’re fourteen-years-old, sleeping isn’t usually terribly difficult.

One-two-three-four,

Step-on-his-jaw,

Just-to-make-sure.

‘Next!’

This spring the school’s Combined Cadet Force is camping in the Thetford battle area. We have spent much of the week crawling through damp bracken and sheep’s droppings but we’ve camped in many worse places and will do again.

This afternoon a group of us has volunteered to undergo training in unarmed combat. It sounded more fun than signals, mortars or map-reading. We are in the care of our instructor: square, unhurried, amiable, Sergeant Jones.

Methodically, almost languorously, Sergeant Jones disarms, disables and dispatches us by numbers.

‘You take the arm. You break the arm. You twist the wrist. And over he goes.’

Perhaps it’s a little chilling but it’s also oddly hypnotic.

‘You take the arm. You break the arm. You twist the wrist. And over he goes.’

One at a time, we rush at Sergeant Jones with wooden weapons. Step-by-step — cool and unflurried — he goes about his business.

‘You take the arm. You break the arm. You twist the wrist. And over he goes.’

I’m not certain what we’re learning except that Sergeant Jones is the master of his craft. If we have to watch him very much longer, we may become bored and rather restless but, for the present, it passes the time.

One-two-three-four,

Step-on-his-jaw,

Just-to-make-sure.

‘Next!’

All afternoon the sun shines down on us benignly. Tonight the damp bracken and sheep’s droppings will remain unfrozen and we will sleep peacefully in our socks.

 

by Nicolas Ridley

Nicolas Ridley has lived and worked in Tokyo, Casablanca, Barcelona, Hong Kong and Paris and now lives in London & Bath (UK) where he writes fiction, non-fiction, scripts and stage plays. A prize-winner and Pushcart Prize nominee, his short stories have been read at Liars’ League (London), Rattle Tales (Brighton), The Speakeasy (Bath), The Squat Pen Rests (Swindon), Story Friday (Bath), The Story Tales (London), Storytails (London) and Talking Tales (Bristol). Others have been published in London Lies, Lovers’ Lies & Weird Lies by Arachne Press (UK), Ariadne’s Thread (UK), Barbaric Yawp (USA), The Linnet’s Wings (Ireland), Litro Magazine (UK), O:JA&L (USA), Rattle Tales 3 (UK), Sleet Magazine (USA), The Summerset Review (USA), Tales from a Small Planet (USA), Tears in the Fence (UK) and Black is the New Black & True Love by Wordland (UK). Godfrey’s Ghost, his biographical memoir, is published by Mogzilla Life.

 

 

More

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.

Martha Catherine Brenckle

Phantom Limbs

When you burn your life down

to nothing

 

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.