The Prison Forecast

“Welcome, Tim!”

“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

Salt

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.

Goddess

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.

 

 

 

Barcode

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.

 

Noble Metal, Best of Class

RIP Kenneth Arrow, 23 August 1921- 21 February 2017

 

Bizarrely charged – not unlike Alfred inventing dynamite — often polarizing Noble Laureates taught me at Harvard and Stanford.

The repellant Brit who co-discovered DNA — their shared award had the prestige of a “once in a generation Prize” — was notorious for looking-up skirts bottom of a steep auditorium he always requested as his Harvard undergraduate lecture classroom…

A Stanford Medical student doing a cardiology rotation, I sometimes lunched in the clinic’s empty waiting room with one who’d been honored in both chemistry plus peace; his goofy smile offered strawberries or oranges or capsules of vitamin C…

Handfuls of Laureates invited us to tea; I sensed the Administration required it.

Several belonged to our family’s synagogue.

Two were father and son: the former nearly threw a microscope at me when as a freshman I said the Dean of Admissions told me (a non pre-med) during a recruitment interview I wouldn’t need to use one; the latter was a college classmate then faculty colleague.

None were women though a hematologist-aunt made the short-list, as did a neuroscience asshole uncle.

But the magnetic gentleman I recall most fondly — an “impossibility theorem” was named after him — instead of resting on his laurels remained active “to be of use” developing fundamental theorems of welfare economics that gave ballast to progressive government action.

This kind soul had a seemingly insatiable curiosity.

Although not particularly close, we were friends of the same couple so had infrequent cordial dinners. Once sitting next to him, I explained that because of G6PD deficiency, which led to my red blood cells breaking up if I took the required anti-malarial prophylaxis Primaquine, I couldn’t accompany my son on New Guinea field-work.

Listening intently, he didn’t say a word.

Two years later, he mentioned casually that he’d gotten interested in malaria.  I read his article, “Making Antimalarial Agents Available in Africa.” His accomplishment demonstrated cost effectiveness of artemisinins derived from Chinese wormwoods to treat resistant malaria: that gave ammo to adding it as a benefit to a national HMO I ran.

When his equally substantial wife of seven decades passed, the professor-emeritus shrank from view.

Last night I saw this once straight-as-an-arrow attractive figure at a holiday party — now he hunched over while his caregiver wiped drool. Intimates smothered him with respect and love; those in outer circles like me whom he didn’t remember stopped by for a smile; others figured he was our host’s demented relative, simply gave wide birth.

 

by Gerard Sarnat

Gerard Sarnat has won the Poetry in the Arts First Place Award plus the Dorfman Prize and been nominated for Pushcarts. Gerry’s authored four collections: HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burning Man (2010), Disputes (2012), 17s (2014) and Melting The Ice King (2016) which included work published in magazines and anthologies including Gargoyle, American Journal of Poetry (Margie), Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, OCHO, Brooklyn Review, Lowestoft, Tishman Review, Tiferet, Fiction Southeast plus was featured in New Verse News, Edify, Poetica, Songs of Eretz, Avocet, LEVELER, tNY, StepAway, Bywords and Floor Plan. Among other publications, Deronda Review, San Francisco Magazine, Radius, Foliate Oak, Dark Run, Scarlet Leaf, Good Men Project, Veterans Writing Project, Anti-Heroin Chic, Aois, Poetry Circle, Tipton Review, Creative Truth, Harbor Village, Indian Ruminations, KYSO, Flagler Review, Poets and War, and Ordinary Madness’ debuted feature sets of new poems. Mount Analogue selected Sarnat’s sequence, KADDISH FOR THE COUNTRY, for distribution as a pamphlet in Seattle on Inauguration Day 2017 as well as the next morning as part of the Washington DC and nationwide Women’s Marches. In May “Amber Of Memory” was the single poem chosen for Gerry s 50th college reunion symposium on Bob Dylan; the Harvard Advocate accepted a second plus Oberlin, Brown, Columbia, Johns Hopkins accepted concurrent pieces. In August Failed Haiku presented his work first among over a hundred contributors. In January 2018, among other acceptances, six Sarnat poems were featured in True Living Documented Relentlessly [TL;DR], his work was front page in International Journal Of Modern Poetry, and pieces were accepted by Australian, Israeli, Canadian and Indian publications.

The Art of Flying

When Filmore turned thirteen, she took the test and flew. Filmore had no wings, experience, or knowledge of flying. She thought: Take the mandatory test and return home to Mom and Dad. When the examiners watched her fly, immediately they caged her so she could not fly away, and rushed her to the place for girls who fly. Her parents and girlfriends looked on helplessly and cried. In a few years they brought her home, an older and changed person. When the next mandatory test came, she knew how to fail. She also knew when to fly.

by D. D. Renforth

Since 2016, D. D. Renforth has published many short stories, poems and one-act plays in both print and online journals. Renforth graduated from Syracuse University, Duke University and the University of Toronto (Ph.D.).