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.
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 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.
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).