Azalea Martine’s Daily Schedule
Every morning at 6:30, Azalea Martine wakes up and throws back the covers. She opens the blinds and windows before freshening up in a bathroom with walls the color of sun-bleached grass. At 7:10 John Martine watches his wife, Azalea, make oatmeal and bacon for breakfast while he taps his fingers on the tabletop and debates telling her the nightgown she’s wearing makes her look fat.
At 7:30 Azalea Martine cleans up the breakfast dishes and turns her cheek to the side when John kisses her goodbye. He didn’t come home last night, but she doesn’t complain to him. At 7:40 she showers, does her hair and make-up, and gets dressed. She doesn’t complete the 10-minute exercise routine her sister, Agnes Merchant, suggested two days ago while Azalea sucked on her third cigarette in two hours. John wouldn’t notice if her hair caught fire while she stirred brownie batter in her pink slip.
At 8:05 Azalea Martine picks up a basket and begins straightening the living and dining room. She takes John’s slippers and throws them into the garbage pail because it’s the third time in two days he’s left them beside his chair. She ignores the ashtray, it’s hers.
At 8:25 Azalea Martine makes their bed and fluffs the pillows. She decides not to wash the sheets because they haven’t shared the same bed in four days and his pomade hasn’t dirtied the pillowcases. She steps on John’s blue suit jacket on her way to the door and doesn’t stoop to retrieve it.
At 8:30 Azalea Martine stops paying attention to the time, drops her basket in the middle of the hallway, and wanders back to the kitchen.
At 8:31 Azalea Martine opens the cabinet underneath the sink and pulls out a half-empty bottle of red wine. She uncorks it and takes a big swallow.
She will drink until 10 and then wipe down the kitchen work surfaces. She might even pour boiling water down the sink to flush the pipes.
The grocery shopping will have to wait until tomorrow.
Azalea Martine makes a mental note to pick up flour. She only has half a cup left.
A Bottle of Daddy’s Laughter
I tore Daddy’s bedsheets five days after he died, and his birthday card I tossed into the trashcan with the banana peels and spoilt pork chops.
“They’re doing a lot with wax dummies,” Aunt Mamie said with a cigarette gripped between her fingers. “Didn’t look a thing like your daddy. Hair’s different, that ain’t his hair.”
I ignored Aunt Mamie. To her the world hadn’t been right since Elvis and Priscilla divorced.
“Bet your mama buried him with that gold ring.” Mamie whistled through yellow teeth. “It’d fetch some big cash at Pete’s. You know Pete, don’t you? We used to date way back when dirt was new.”
Yeah, I knew Pete. The filthy old man shoved his hands up my pleated skirt when I was seven, but I never told Daddy.
“It was your mama that killed him.” Mamie flicked ash onto a cracked green saucer. “Your mama worked him to death, worked my brother right into the grave. I told him Audrey was bad news. Don’t trust them girls with red hair, they’re evil.”
I unscrewed the cap on the vanilla extract and drank. The taste smelled like Daddy’s laughter.
Rebecca Buller is a native Oklahoman. She was the Second Writing Prize Winner of the Dream Quest One – Winter 2016 – 2017 Contest and a Semifinalist in the 2016 New Millennium Writings competition. She works for an insurance company and enjoys writing fiction and poetry in her spare time.
Miss Jeanette Theresa picks up a fallen branch from the water oak. Ozeal Autin watches her march around the front year. He thumps, thumps, thumps the top of his head. Miss Jeannette Theresa slams her feet into peat moss, an earthy sponge. Her hand dances around alligator bark. Her wrist rotates in perfect circles. She twirls. She twirls and twirls and twirls. She shines silvery. Light reflects off of her. It finds Ozeal Autin. The Light says, “Ozeal, you love that Miss Jeanette Theresa.”
Miss Jeanette Theresa circle the tree. Her hand rolls raw, tender. She nimbles the edge of a blister in the crescent of skin that links her thumb and forefinger. Ozeal wants to lie still in that space, let her rock him to sleep in the hammock of her hand.
Miss Jeannette Theresa lets the fluid drip into her palm. She gathers it there. She reaches with her tongue. Ozeal Autin thinks: salty. She sprinkles the drops into the puddle beneath the water oak. Ozeal watches them fall.
When Miss Jeannette Theresa goes inside for her lunch, Ozeal pulls a cane fishing pole from inside the flatboat he is working on. He breaks the pole in half, sands the broken edges down and sticks corks on either end. He tucks it between the trunk of the water oak and a thick heavy branch that swings down low to the ground.
For one solid week, Ozeal Autin checks to see if Miss Jeannette Theresa find the cane baton. Her sleeps under the flatboat in Mister Salmen Fritchie’s shed that rides up on the side-yard of her house.
On the seventh day of Ozeal watching, Miss Jeannette Theresa discovers the cane baton. She picks it up, runs her holy hands across its smooth surfaces. She twirls the cane baton round and round her palm. She twirls the cane baton round and round, inside and across her fingers. Ozeal thump, thump, thumps the top of his head. He wishes he was that cane baton. He wants her fingers to twirl his body. He wants to move inside her hand, between her fingers. Ozeal wants to be silvery.
From morning till noon, from noon to dusk, Miss Jeannette Theresa twirls. Ozeal like the way her skirt flares up, showing her slippery petticoat. On one twirl he sees her underpants; he grows hard.
On the ninth day, he climbs from under the flatboat before the sun rises. He washes his face in a bucket of rainwater that collects behind the boathouse. He takes a sip and rinses out his mouth. Ozeal is hungry. He pulls a pickled egg out of his pocket, but forgets to eat it. He leaves it rolling on the open lid of the tackle box that sits on a bench inside the flatboat.
Ozeal Autin crosses the yard and pulls himself over the chicken wire fence. He sits down under the water oak, on a thick root balancing his feelings. They teeter-totter inside. They burst into his throat and burn.
Ozeal takes off the steel-tipped boots he inherited from his daddy, and wipes smudges of creosote from the shipyard of the toes. Socks peel off like second skin. He washes his feet in the puddle that holds the driblet of Miss Jeannette Theresa’s blistered palm. Then he pulls his boots back on again.
Betsy Woods is a native New Orleanian. Her fiction has appeared in The Louisville Review, The New Orleans Review, Alive Now, and The Literary Trunk. Her nonfiction has appeared in ACRES USA, The Times-Picayune, Citizens Together, and Sophisticated Woman. She is a writer, editor, teacher, and narrative therapist. She has an MFA in writing from Spalding University.
Every day Amanda Treese would draw hearts on her math warm-up when she finished it, and finally Matthew Taylor, who sat next to her, couldn’t take it anymore and he said, “What do you love?”
“What are you saying that you love with all these hearts?”
She looked at her paper. “It means love.”
“I know it means love. But what are you saying that you love?”
“It’s just love.”
“It can’t be just love. It has to have a point behind it. Like as in you love something or somebody.”
“Because otherwise it’s just floating out in the air and it doesn’t have a…”
“A destination. A place to land.”
“Why does it have to land?”
“Why does it have to land? Because otherwise of course love. Of course love is nice, but…”
“Do you like love?”
“Of course! How is anybody going to be against love? But…”
“You should draw a heart too then.”
“I can’t draw a heart. I have to have some purpose for drawing a heart.”
“What is your purpose?”
“I mean suppose I loved somebody. Then I would draw a heart and write their name. That would be a purpose.”
“Do you love somebody?”
“Not like that.”
“What do you love?”
“I love my family.”
“You could draw a heart and write your family.”
“I already know I love my family. Anyway this is just a math warm-up.”
“It’s still a good place to draw a heart.”
“If you say it like that, then any place is a good place to draw a heart.”
“Any place is a good place to draw a heart.”
“Then people would just be putting hearts everywhere!”
“What is wrong with that?”
“Well, somebody would want to know what is the thing that all these hearts are saying they love?”
“You would want to know that.”
“Yes, me. And some other people. Everybody who thinks that if you’re going to draw a heart, you should say what you’re talking about.”
“What if I just say that I love love?”
She drew two hearts on her paper next to each other.
“That’s better at least. But everybody loves love.”
“Do you love love?”
“I’m going to draw two hearts on your paper.”
“You don’t think it’s girly?”
“I’m not worried about girly. Girls are people. I just don’t understood having something about love without talking about what you’re talking about.”
She drew two hearts on his paper.
“There,” she said.
“You don’t mind?”
“I don’t mind. This has some purpose to it at least. It’s not just out there floating by itself.”
This happened near the start of seventh grade. For the rest of that year and through all of eighth grade, Amanda Treese drew hearts on her math warm-ups. She always drew two hearts together.
Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran and grew up in Seattle. She has been published in Kenyon Review Online, Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, and Chattahoochee Review. Her collection, Better Than War, received a 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.
When I was a child, my father’s trombone hung from a hook in the utility room in the basement. It was the color of dull brass, with a few greenish patches. It was an unremarkable piece of household flotsam among the extra furnace filters, metal folding chairs, and boxes of old clothes to give to charity.
He played it a couple of times a year. Played? He would blow into it for a few seconds and move the slide up and down, seldom conjuring up a sound that could be called musical. He puffed his cheeks out comically and crossed his eyes at us kids. We would shriek with delight that our strict, straight-laced father was clowning for us.
When my father came up the stairs with the trombone, my mother, grim-faced, would walk out of the room. If she was in the kitchen, she banged the pots around. Sometimes she left the house entirely.
My father was not given to explanations and we kids were too timid—no, afraid—to ask: Why did he have a trombone if he couldn’t play it? Or could he play it and he just didn’t let on? And why did it upset our mother so much?
When I went back to visit my parents as an adult, I always meant to ask him about it. I’d mostly left my fear of him behind, but each time I visited I had other things on my mind—dating, career, marriage, children, divorce, my parents’ health—and I never got around to it. To that and many other things.
My father died five years ago, but his presence remains vivid to me: his smell, his V-neck undershirts, his anger. Above all, perhaps, his guardedness. I never felt I really knew him.
My mother’s memory is failing her, and now she is moving to a nursing home in another city to be closer to my sister. As we were packing the contents of the house my mother had shared with my father for forty years, my sister asked me whether I wanted the trombone. I didn’t have to think twice.
The trombone hangs on a hook in my basement. I take it upstairs a couple of times a year and blow furiously into it. My children howl with laughter at the fractured sound and my red face. They never ask me why I have it. I’m not sure I could explain if they did.
Joel Streicker is a writer, poet, and literary translator based in San Francisco. His fiction has been published in Hanging Loose and The Opiate, and is forthcoming in Kestrel and Great Lakes Review. Another story of his was a finalist in Epiphany’s spring fiction contest in 2016. Streicker’s English-language poetry appeared in the fall 2016 issue of California Quarterly, and his Spanish-language poetry was recently featured in El otro páramo (Bogotá, Colombia). Común Presencia (also located in Bogotá) published a book of his Spanish-language poetry, El amor en los tiempos de Belisario, in 2014. In 2011 he won a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant for his work with Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin, and in 2012 he was a translator in residence at Omi Translation Lab. His translations of Latin American fiction have appeared in numerous journals, including A Public Space, McSweeney’s, and Words Without Borders. Streicker’s translation of a story by the Argentine writer Mariana Enríquez is forthcoming in Freeman’s. His essays and book reviews have been appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward, Moment, and Shofar, among other publications.
When the birds and bees die off because of chemical misuse, where will procreation be, who will make love? Only the Doomsday Clock will keep moving and gasping.
Every field is being stripped. Big Dude tractors, and grain hoppers the size of two car garages. Harvest is part of mid-America; it’s what we do; it’s how we feed the world.
A slow and steady rain follows two days of harder rain, chides us for cranking up our diesel tractors and ethanol plants here in corn country, and causes this climate shift which accounts for alien-warm Midwestern winters with too little snow and too much gray. We call these downpours toad-stranglers.
It’s here where thighs turn thick as oaks in an abandoned field, where the waist takes on a tractor’s tire, and where breasts grow a valley between sagging hills. We don’t kill ourselves anymore like Karen Carpenter did because we know we must live with our choices. One too many flavored coffees and we forget how we once loved the pain, would do anything for a compliment. Now we find little shame in comforting ourselves in a weeping world where the only true love lingers along a crowded sky.
My gentleman farmer ages with the seasons. At fifty, the wear is evident. At sixty, a tractor becomes a ten-story building to scale. He wanted to climb Devil’s Tower once, but that was before his days ran together into a jumble of moments called Time.
See this mishmash of days, see it clear, this is life, this here and there. To forget to fight, to uncurl the fist, to close the lips, is not surrender. Peace comes to the quiet heart. And to pray upon the fertile land for an end to war is virtuous.
German-born Chila Woychik has bylines in journals such as Silk Road, Storm Cellar, and Soundings East, and was awarded the 2017 Loren Eiseley Creative Nonfiction Award (Red Savina Review) & the 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award (Emrys Foundation). She craves the beautiful and lyrical, and edits the Eastern Iowa Review.
Who are you?
You don’t know?
I’ll come closer.
Your face. What happened to your face?
You don’t remember?
Are you sure? Look.
It’s horrible. The holes in your face. Your chest. Your stomach.
Yes. So many.
Why are you laughing?
Children laugh. Don’t you know children laugh?
Stop. Stop it, please. The sound. It hurts.
Yes. It’s supposed to hurt.
But why do you hurt me?
I asked you that, too.
Please. Please I am begging you. Don’t look at me.
I have to look at you.
The sound, the sound! But who are you? I don’t understand. They said there would be virgins.
Marc Simon’s short fiction has appeared in several literary magazines, including The Wilderness House Review, Flashquake, Poetica Magazine, The Writing Disorder, Jewish Fiction.net, Slush Pile Magazine and most recently, Everyday Fiction. His debut novel, The Leap Year Boy was published in December, 2012.