Yesteryear’s Silicon Jukebox “Do No Evil” World – Gerard Sarnat MD

SAN FRANCISCO, AP, April 21, 2005 — Google Inc. is experimenting with a new feature that enables the users of its online search engine to see all of their past search requests and results, creating a computer peephole that could prove as embarrassing as it is helpful…

Doing my parking lot homeless medical clinic today, there’s
old Wild Ray root ‘n toot’n folks to sign his petition banning
the growing identity theft crisis. Somethin’ ’bout the
gov’ment stealin’ three of his eight multiple personalities.
Which he damn well wants back, and pronto, please.

The late Erik Erikson first used the now common phrase
“identity crisis.” When his biological Danish dad split before
his birth, he was adopted by his Jewish stepfather and took
the name Erik Homberger. But because of his blond-and-
blue-eyed Nordic look, Erikson was rejected by his Jewish
neighborhood. At grammar school, on the other hand, he was
teased as a Jew. Feeling that he didn’t fit in with either
cultural world, Erikson’s own identity crises fueled his career’s
work. Not needing a weatherman to know which way the wind
blew, he left the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute and
immigrated to the United States in 1933.

In 1935, Monk Eugenio Pacelli Pacelli, speaking of the Nazis,
told 250,000 pilgrims at Lourdes, “It does not make any
difference whether they flock to the banners of the social
revolution, whether they are guided by a false conception
of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by
the superstition of a race and blood cult.” Four years later,
this hybrid Monk committed identity theft, evidently no
identity crisis for this hypocrite, when he oxymoronically
renamed himself Pope Pius XII. For much of the war, he
piously maintained a public front of indifference and
remained silent while German Holocaust atrocities
were committed. He refused pleas for help on the
grounds of neutrality, while making statements
condemning injustices in general. Privately, he
sheltered a small number of Jews and spoke to a few
select officials, encouraging them to help the Jews.

Homeless Squirrel Girl shows me her very own hybrid
Munk, a mixed-breed pet chipmunk squirrel she’s raised
since birth as her baby girl. Now looking like an overfed
rabid rat, the fat rodent slithers from her shoulder down
her blouse, crawling up her skirt. How ’bout that.

Looking for a place to stay, Milo’s back from a short
unsuccessful vacation in Waikiki. “Turned out to be
Disneyland corporate Amerika, a tourist companytown
scam, too many regulations, too high a cost of living.”
Sniffing his unmistakably sweet smoke, I’m inappropriately
asked if I want a toke. Nope. “But by the way, Doc, will
you renew my San Francisco City and County Volunteer Medical
Cannabis Card that Hawaii won’t honor”…for nonexistent
chronic hepatitis B?

Now a middle-aged Stanford dropout, Shady Slim sidles
over with a new story about an old identity. “Once upon a
time, I was a horse trainer until my partner died. A year
ago, I was surprised when his son contacted me with an
offer of 20% equity if I taught him all I knew. We got lucky
getting a horse runs good down in Southern California. Now
Consolidator’s rated fifth of the ten that’ve qualified for
the Kentucky Derby next month. Four-time Derby winner
Wayne Lukas’ training him. Got new duds to wear back there.
If he wins and goes to stud, I’m a rich man, wish me luck.”

Hard to hear under the boombox’s Iggy Pop and Bessie Smith,
Suzanne, a Native American with congenital alcohol syndrome
stutters, “P-p–lease g-g-ive me s-s-ome p-pills to s-s-stop
my piss.”

Vicious truth sees into metal, making it melt: President
Tru Man spoke of the White House as a jail cell. Same time,
in a woman’s parallel outlaw universe outside the usual soupy
gumbo political rain, Billie Holliday sang about Strange Fruit.
Today, a middle-aged Lady Day lookalike and stranger to the
Urban Ministry, there she is in her full black glory. So demure
and sexy, sitting there on a folding chair, strangely unnoticed
and alone, rubbing oil slowly onto calves lifted above green
socks under brown high top boots. Mother Mary full of grace,
I long to kneel before and anoint you. Rings on every finger,
black garbage bag backpack covered with wilted red roses,
busted guitar case held together by fraying bungey cords.
Short gray dress above the knees, with sparkly white specks
peaking out like stars on a cloudy night. Chartreuse and
purple silky head scarf tied in front like a beautiful serenely
freed non-Aunt Jemima.

Jimena, Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and Northern
Africa, among today’s forgotten refugees. Thinking he’s
helping by wielding a broom to the ceiling’s corner to clean
out a nest of spiders, a new volunteer is booed by all for
making fellow creatures homeless. Even if you don’t
have everything you want, be grateful for the things you
don’t have that you don’t want.

The radio blares a Marketwatch Bulletin: Google profit
rises fivefold as revenue tops target.


GERARD SARNAT MD’s authored HOMELESS CHRONICLES (2010), Disputes, 17s, Melting Ice King (2016). Gerry’s published by Gargoyle, Oberlin, Brown, Stanford, Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, American Journal Of Poetry, Poetry Quarterly, Brooklyn Review, LA Review, San Francisco Magazine, New York Times. Mount Analogue selected KADDISH for distribution nationwide Inauguration Day.

Image via Pixabay


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The Drink – Christine Brooks

It was the first time I surfed wearing my little bone surfboard pendant with my mother’s initials carefully carved into the back – MJCCB, the first time I dared enter the cold, fall Rhode Island water alone when the tide roared, and the first time my paddle out didn’t necessarily include a paddle in.

Covered in Neoprene from head to toe; boots, wetsuit and gloves, I made my way over the slippery rocks of my favorite break, Deep Hole, and tried to let the rip currents, the thick fog, and the low bellows of the distant lighthouse, distract me from the fact that my mother was going to die. Surfing had diverted me from the struggles of life before, but this time was different. This time, the water could not wash away my thoughts, cleanse my nightmares, or offer me the peace the waves had brought me before, in happier times.

Belly down on my longboard nicknamed Blue Betty, I made my way through the soupy white froth that tried to push me back to the safety of the shoreline, now just a cloudy, thick gray memory.

Ignoring all the signals of impending danger, I paddled out farther and farther, towards what I knew to exist, the safety of the thin blue line.

Wave after unseen wave would rock me, occasionally dumping me into the blackness of the drink. Resting only briefly, treading water holding onto my board, my mind waged war with the keeper of the tides.

Fuck you. No one would hear me yell. Fuck. You.

Dangling over Deep Hole, clinging to Blue Betty, I thought maybe I could just stay there, or maybe, I could just let go.

I thought of that little pendant tucked safely under my black wetsuit and of Mom, fighting a battle with pancreatic cancer that she would not, that she could not win.

The lighthouse in nearby Snug Harbor now sounded more like Noooo Chris than the groans it had just recently expelled warning sailors of the rocks and surfers of the danger of the thick fog.

My nostrils now filled with gallons of salt water, and my arms noodles from paddling against the incoming tide warned me that it was time to paddle in.

Even though my muscles and lungs begged for rest, my heart still needed time. Time out in the frigid Atlantic Ocean on this late October day to come to terms with what was to be, and my heart knowing it was boss, threw my arms out again and again, over and over, into the liquid darkness.

Farther and farther towards Block Island I went, Blue Betty teetering unsteadily beneath me. I couldn’t see it as I usually could, but I knew it was out there, as well as potentially boats, and other surfers.

If anyone was going to die, I needed to scope out the battlefield first. I needed to know and see, what was already written. Her obituary, carefully worded by her to include everyone, had been written days before, and her new light blue sweat suit from Walmart that she wished to be buried in, was carefully placed in her top drawer, until her death. No doctor could save her, no Whipple surgery to prolong her life was possible, and now, not even chemo was an option.

Cancer was a guest that had come before, but this time it would leave with my mother’s laugh, her smile, and the light in her eyes, and all I could do was paddle harder and farther, not knowing if I could have the strength to paddle back in.

Noooooo Chris. The fog moaned.

Exhaustion had set in. Panic did not.

In the darkness of the heavy fog, I could not see the giant wave building, or have any way to prepare for it, or, let it take me under. Before I could decide, before I even knew, this wave, with a plan and a mind of its own, threw me into the air and left me no choice but to paddle in.

Pmpffff. I landed on my belly and paddled in without the option of breathing. The toss had knocked the wind out of me and left a bump on my head that was already pounding and bleeding profusely.

As I sat on the rocky coast with thoughts of paddling back out, I listened to the lighthouse, to the surf, and the fog that although silent, spoke to me. They whispered what I knew to be true. Four months later she would take her last breath while in my arms, and exhale to the face of God.

It was time to go home.

(Mary Joanne Celina Comeau Brooks February 15, 1941 – February 12, 2011)

Image via Wikimedia Commons, Vicki McKay [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

Non-Cardiac Origin – Stephen O’Reilly

Too much coffee?

That night, fear came in through the window and found my open, somnolent mouth. Dusty, alien wings flutter against calcium rods. I watch the duvet vibrate in the watery morning light.

At the hospital, the doctors are delighted and a troupe of clammy-handed students come to grope and question.

A splash of joules across my chest is indicated and a nurse wires me up, the watching cardiologist nudging a female student.

“Ever see this before?”

“Just on TV.”

He winks at her and promises that she can press the red button.

She looks at me lying bare-chested in the bed and giggles into her hand at the prospect.

These strangers are the last humans I will ever see.

Milky peace sliding into a wrist. Darkness seeping into my eyes. After all my bravado, in the end, how meekly I succumbed like some ailing pet.

When I wake, they are gone. A passing nurse glances at the steady stream of spiky, phosphorescent facts above the bed and tells me I am fine.

My tongue is swollen. Bitten.

The metallic aftertaste of blood and drugs.

I am afraid.

*      *      *

The next day.

“I shaved his groin for you Bridget.”

“Ah, thanks.”

I smile at the relief evident in poor Nurse Bridget’s voice. The groin in question vaguely but effectively dodged all morning.

They want to thread a tube through an artery there and go look for the fear.

Poke at it in a darkened room, amid machinery hum and cathode glow.

I can’t care, filled to the hairline with anxicalm.

Afterwards, I am deposited back in a busy hallway, on a trolley with a single sheet of paper no-one can read. Nurses huddle, deciphering in whispers, nervous of the author. He must be an awkward sod.

Non-cardiac origin, they decide eventually.

“Tea? Toast?”

“Coffee,” I tell them, tired of being afraid.


STEPHEN O’REILLY lives in Galway. He has previously been short listed for both a Francis MacManus and a Sean O’Faolain Short Story Award. He is a recipient of a Molly Keane Memorial Award and his work has been published in various collections in the UK and Ireland.

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Leetspeak – Sanjeev Sethi

I seal liabilities of loneliness
with maud of meter to create
hygge of vicarious happiness.

I peruse from mavens of mortal play
the trick is to transfer emotions.
Marinating in a bleak headset
is to break within.

The way out is to change the gear.
No one can jockey you out of it.
Chauffeur your car.


SANJEEV SETHI is the author of three books of poetry. He is published in more than 25 countries. Recent credits: The Poetry Village, Amethyst Review, Bonnie’s Crew, Selcouth Station, Picaroon Poetry, Laldy Literary Journal, The Sandy River Review, Packingtown Review, Otoliths, and elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India.

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How Fairy Tales End – Mileva Anastasiadou

Hypothetically speaking, I’d meet him again the day after tomorrow. He’d offer to buy me coffee and I’d accept the invitation. I’d be comfortable and cozy, sitting gracefully inside the bubble. He’d ask me about the weather and I’d politely reply it’s either too warm or too cold for the season.

Hypothetically speaking, he’d hold my hand, walking me home. He’d then confess his undying love to me. We’d go around exploring that new-found land of bliss, where Icarus never fell, because the sun didn’t burn his wings, Robin Hood didn’t steal, because he didn’t need to, Snow White didn’t get lost, because the Queen wasn’t evil, the wolf didn’t eat Red Riding Hood, because they were friends.

Hypothetically speaking, he’d ask me what sounds I find mostly annoying. ‘Real or imaginary?’ I’d ask. Imaginary he’d say, for imaginary sounds are more disturbing than real ones. You can’t close your ears and avoid them. Ghosts playing guitar, I’d say and he’d understand. He’d laugh, for he also mistook a centipede for a ghost once. Yet bursting bubbles are more annoying, he’d then say and I’d nod.

Hypothetically speaking, we’d never fall from the clouds. It gets tiring, falling from the clouds all the time. He’d never teach me the lesson I don’t want to learn: how fairy tales in real life. I’d be the queen of denial, conveniently sitting still in my fairy tale, high above in the sky, looking down to common sense. It’s not denial after all, if you close your eyes, not being aware of what you deny. He’d caress my hair, my face, my body, until his hand would merge with my skin, his soul inside mine. Until that heavy blow that’d bring awareness. That hit that’d separate us, forcing me to open up my eyes and look ahead. I’d even feign blindness for a while, but not for long.

Hypothetically speaking, reality would never burst my bubble, a shape-shifting enemy invading my pink colored bubble all the time, this time with his words. It’s not you, it’s me, he’d say, the usual combination of words, an arrow straight to the heart. Of the bubble. Or to my heart. Or to the bubble I keep inside my heart. And I’d deflate like a balloon. For breaking up is like falling. Standing up is hard after sitting comfortably in the bubble for too long. Standing up gracefully proves an impossible task.

Practicing reality is a game not easily mastered.


MILEVA ANASTASIADOU is a neurologist. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in many journals, such as the Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, Sunlight Press (Best Small Fictions 2019 nominee), Ghost Parachute, Gone Lawn, Ellipsis Zine, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Bending Genres and others.

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Recycling – Cath Barton

I never liked those garden seats you bought. Anyway they’re rusted now. They clank against other people’s junk as I heave them into the recycling bin.

When I turn away there’s a black Labrador at my feet, looking up at me expectantly.

“No way, old son, oh no,” I say, examining his collar. No tag. I’m laughing, I don’t know why. What kind of bastard abandons a defenceless beast at a municipal tip?

As I drive away I see the dog in my rear view mirror, sitting by the bins, watching me go.

Back home I load the car again, my thoughts spooling. Thoughts of, maybe, getting another dog. A companion. I shake myself and the thoughts scatter, like water drops off the back of a dog after a dip in the river. This won’t do. I’m trying to clear stuff out of my life, leave myself free.

There’s a post-lunch queue of cars at the tip now. I shut my window against the ammonia smell of used cat litter, watch as a couple struggle lifting what looks like a perfectly good table. As the wood splinters I hear him snarl at her. At least there’s no sign of the Labrador.

Finally I get to the head of the line. As the detritus of five years of wasted love crashes into the metal bin I feel a kind of emptying of myself. All done apart from a couple of old radios. There’s a hut in the yard where there’s usually someone to ask about where to put electrical stuff. Feeling the sun on my neck on my way over there, I think about looking on-line for places where it shines more reliably.

There’s no one in the hut. Leaving the radios by the door, I stroll back to the car and slam the boot shut without looking inside.

“Uh oh! And where did you spring from old son?” I say, home again and opening the boot to fetch out my empty bags, thinking about sitting in my sweet-scented garden with a cool glass of wine. The black Labrador is lying there gazing at me and my heart turns over at his panting.

When he’s had his drink I find an old tie to use as a lead and take him to the vets. He has no chip.

“If he isn’t claimed within 48 hours we’ll have to send him to the dog pound,” says the receptionist. “Unless you…”

“No,” I say. “No, no, I can’t.”

But he’s sitting there, my black Labrador, looking at me. You don’t choose your loves. We both deserve a second chance.


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Conflagration – James Lepak

The pizza boxes we had accrued
Almost hit the ceiling. There were no dorms
With more collegiate hygiene.
The diet, the order, the sloth of bright
And horny teens bled out
Into our idealized décor.
What better sacrifice to make
Than this monument to the cusp
Of adulthood? We burned it all
In a pyre that excited solely
Because of its novelty,
And that it was our waste,
Our waste of health and time
And privilege underused.
The burning of our eyes in heaving smoke
Was joyous, as only the illusion of freedom
Can allow. Rob shouted,
“Fuck pizza!” and echolalia ensued.
You weren’t much in the spirit, Scott,
But you dutifully repeated,
And that chain of brotherhood
Was not broken by solemnity.
Pat was most aware
Of the nihilism we celebrated
And was therefore the happiest.
I saw the fire’s reflection
In all their eyes and loved
This projection from hearth
To man to world,
And did not care
The order in which it truly came.


JAMES LEPAK is an ESL instructor who enjoys reading and writing poetry in his spare time. His work has appeared in Isacoustic and Songs of Eretz Poetry Review.

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Rosner & Rhodes – Alan Swyer

Pulling up in front of a nondescript apartment building in a sketchy part of Hollywood, a guy in his early thirties did a double-take before checking to see that he’d reached the correct address. Puzzled, he climbed out of his dented Toyota and walked toward the front door, then climbed to the third floor.

Finding 3-D, he took a deep breath before knocking.

Footsteps were heard before the door was opened by a sleepy-eyed man in his late 70’s with a goatee and an ancient Brooklyn sweatshirt.

“I’m Barry Pearl,” announced the visitor. “Doing an article for a magazine called ‘Blues & Rhythm’?” When no response was forthcoming, he added, “You and I spoke Monday and set an appointment for today at 10?”

“Right,” said Flip Rosner with an absence of certainty. “C’mon in.”

Leading the way into a living room filled with an eclectic mixture of CDs and vinyl, plus takeout food containers, vintage photos, and a dazzling array of gold and platinum records, Rosner cleared some newspapers off an armchair. “You okay?”

“I-I didn’t expect –”

“To find me living in squalor?”

“To catch you off-guard. Sure this is a good time?”

“As opposed to when my music meant something?”

“The songs you wrote will always mean something.”

“Co-wrote,” Rosner corrected.

“I’m someone who focuses on lyrics.”

“And once-upon-a-time they mattered.”

“To me they always will.”

“To me, too,” acknowledged Rosner. “Get you some coffee, tea, water?”

“I’m fine.”

“Nonsense. Wait till you taste the green tea somebody brought me from China.”

“Okay if I tape our conversation?” asked Pearl, pulling a small tape recorder out of his pocket.”

“As if anything I say matters,” answered Rosner dismissively.

“To me it does.”

“So you’re still trying to reconcile a string of hit records with a dump like this,” Rosner said five minutes later while handing his guest a cup of tea.

“Well –”

“Try four disastrous marriages with painful settlements. Want to know why?”

Pearl nodded.

“I like wedding cake. Add time I spent feeding my nose. Plus some rotten investments and a cockamamie belief the hits would keep coming forever. So, want to talk music? Or simply cut to the chase?”

“Which means?”

“How Flip Rosner and Claudia Rosen of Brooklyn became the team of Rosner & Rhodes before one rose to stardom while the other faded away.”

“I wouldn’t call the song you went on to write for Gladys Knight fading.”


“Which is no different than Leiber & Stoller, Goffin & King, Mann & Weil, Pomus & Shuman, Barry & Greenwich, Sedaka & Greenfield, even Bacharach & David.”

“Somebody knows his shit.”

Barry Pearl’s response was a shrug.

Driving home after a nearly two-hour session which ended when Flip Rosner grew weary, Pearl ran through his mind the topics the two of them had covered. First was the innocence of the era in which Rosner… then Rosner & Rosen… and finally Rosner & Rhodes carved their niche. It was a world of singles – 45s – played on jukeboxes, at sock hops, and on AM radio, a time in which the aging pioneers of rock & roll – Ike, Chuck, Bo, Fats, Ray, and Jerry Lee – were largely succeeded by the Manhattan-based record biz, with “Maybellene,” “Hey, Bo Diddley,” “I’m Walking,” “What I Say,” and “Breathless” replaced on the charts by “Poison Ivy,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Uptown,” and “Save The Last Dance For Me.”

The songs were birthed in a place called the Brill Building (and neighboring 1650 Broadway), where white songwriters – plus the talented Otis Blackwell, who penned “Breathless,” “Fever,” “Handy Man,” and “All Shook Up” – churned out future classics which, unlike their Rhythm & Blues predecessors, were designed for a burgeoning youth market.

Rosner also confirmed what Pearl had always assumed, that there was no sense whatsoever that the records would last, or that one day there would be something known as the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

The genesis of the hits, Pearl learned, varied significantly. Often, with the Drifters, the Shirelles, Chuck Jackson, or someone else scheduled for a recording session, songs would be solicited from writers, or occasionally written on the spur of the moment. Then there was the time Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler spotted Goffin & King walking down the street and yelled, “Give me a song with ‘Natural Woman’,” yielding a smash for Aretha Franklin. Pearl’s favorite tale, however, was how “Save The Last Dance For Me,” was inspired by the emotions stirred within polio survivor Doc Pomus, who wasn’t able to foxtrot with the bride at his own wedding.

“Anyone ever tell you you’re weird?” Pearl’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Libby asked that evening as the two of them were chowing on a Hanoi-inspired dish called Cha Ca.

“I get the feeling you’re about to.”

“Preferring stuff by mainly dead guys? I mean your taste in music and in film –”

“Whoa! Aretha doesn’t outrank Beyonce? Ray Charles and Bobby “Blue” Bland aren’t 100 times better than Jay-Z or Diddy?”

“I didn’t say that –”

“‘The Big Sleep,’ ‘Ninotchka,’ and “Once Upon A Time In America’ don’t put away ‘The Avengers,’ the ‘Harry Potters’, and ‘Fast & Furious 47’?”

“That’s not how I meant it –”

“Pick one you’d rather attend: Coachella or Woodstock?”

“Barry –”

“If I’m weird, I’m proud of it. I’m also happy to prefer food from China, Ethiopia, and Vietnam over kale and quinoa. And not to live in fear of glutens.”

“Finished?” teased Libby.

“Just getting started,” replied Pearl with a chuckle.

“Then you don’t want me to ask when you’re going to start focusing on your career instead of on all the writing you do for free?”

Barry Pearl took a bite of his fish and noodle dish, then frowned. “Exactly.”

“Gonna spend your whole life reading mediocre scripts that’ll make movies you don’t want to see?”

“As opposed to getting indigestion while eating my dinner?”

“I’m only thinking of you,” said Libby.

“And us?”

Libby sighed. “So,” she said, “what do you think of Rosner?”

“Sad, lonely, and talented as hell.”

Tossing and turning that night, Pearl found himself dwelling on the most painful of Libby’s questions. He had arrived from New Jersey with the dream of making a mark first as a screenwriter, then as a director. But the more he learned about the film business, plus the kind of movies that by then were getting made, the more disenchanted he became. It wasn’t “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane,” or “The Maltese Falcon” that were sought by the agent who signed him, or by the producers and studio execs to whom Herb Klein and his partner Gene Broder introduced him. Nor was it “Petulia,” “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” or “Annie Hall.” Instead it was what were termed franchises, tent poles, and branding. Cringing at the constant refrain of remakes, re-tools, sequels, and prequels, as well as new spins on superheroes, Pearl segued from writing scripts that earned him pats on the head – but zero offers – to doing what’s called coverage, first for a small agency, then for one of the larger ones.

Free to read scripts and write synopses at home in shorts and a t-shirt, with a work schedule largely of his choosing, Pearl channeled his creative energies into his other great love: music from eras he preferred. To his surprise, the articles he wrote were happily embraced by niche magazines both in the US and Britain, which then clamored for more. His first published piece posited that Rhythm & Blues began on LA’s Central Avenue after World War II. The next dealt with the fact that the term Soul Music was created by Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler because the great Solomon Burke, who was a minister as well as a soulful vocalist, couldn’t have his records in a category – R&B – that was considered by black clergy to be the devil’s music. The third dealt with Ike Turner’s career after his breakup with Tina then a stint in prison.

The fun for Pearl was the rush from seeing his work both in print and online. The downside was that the fees – when there even were fees – did not cover his bills.

“I bet somebody wants to hear about Claudia,” Flip Rosner stated when he opened the door for Barry Pearl three days later.

“Only if you’re up for it.”

“C’mon, admit it.”

“Admit what?”

“That you’re a starfucker like everybody else.”

“Only for lyricists like Frank Loesser –”

“‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ and ‘Guys & Dolls’.”

“Willie Dixon –”

“‘My Babe,’ ‘Wang Dang Doodle’, and ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’.”

“Jerry Leiber –”

“‘Hound Dog,’ Yakety Yak’, ‘Kansas City’. And me?”

“And you.”

“But,” said Rosner, “it’s Claudia who became the star.”

“Funny how I don’t have any of her records.”

Rosner shrugged, then pointed to a chair before heading into the kitchen to make some tea.

“So whatd’ya want to know?” he asked when he returned with a cup for each of them.

“What do you want to tell me?”

“Not a single bad word about her.”

“I’m not looking for dirt.”

“If there’s dirt it’s about me.”

“So how did you two meet?”

“She was an aspiring songwriter who reached out at a time when I was disenchanted with my writing partner.”


“Since I’m about as good at the piano as I am a ballerina, instead of just talking, I put her at the keyboard. Pretty soon, instead of being mentored, she was coming up with the melodies.”

“And then what?”

“One song we wrote found a buyer. Then another. Then another. And when my first wife started getting jealous –”


“I suddenly had a new partnership in more ways than one.”

In what proved to be at times a conversation, and at others an interrogation, the two men chatted for a while longer. Then suddenly Rosner stood. “Want to indulge me?” he asked.

“How so?”

“There was a time when I cheated on my wives. Now it’s on my cardiologist. Up for some cholesterol?”

As the two of them were led to a booth at Langer’s Deli, Rosner turned to Pearl. “New York may be the pastrami capital of the world, but it’s nothing next to this place.”

Once their sandwiches arrived, Rosner watched with approval as Pearl took his first bite. “Hand-sliced,” the older man stated with pride. “On double-baked rye.”

“So when did you sense,” Pearl began after taking a sip of iced tea, “that Claudia wanted to be more than a songwriter?”

“I should have known when she announced she was changing her last name. She said Rosner & Rosen sounded like a Jewish funeral home. But that didn’t stop Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne. Or Leiber & Stoller. Or Sedaka & Greenfield. Or Yip Harburg. From Day One I should’ve realized she had her eyes on bigger things. But I was too worried about coming up with words that rhymed.”

“So what do you think about Claudia’s records?” asked Pearl as, with stomachs full, they walked toward his car.

“More importantly, what do you think?”

“They’re what I call sensitive.”

“Give me that in English.”

“You won’t get pissed?”

“Only if you bullshit me.”

“Compared to the originals done by black artists –”


“They’re pretty wimpy.”

“You’re tough,” said Rosner.

“But wrong?”

Rosner smiled, then shook his head before climbing into the passenger seat of Pearl’s Toyota.

As they pulled out of the Langer’s parking lot, Pearl spoke again. “Even though there’ve been some pretty good ones, for the most part I’m not big on cover versions.”

“I get it.”

“But if you want to know what really drives me up the wall –”

Rosner nodded.

“It’s people who think rock & roll started with Elvis,” Pearl said. “Or the Beatles. Or Springstein.”

“Forgetting Chuck, Bo, Clyde McPhatter, and the Drifters?”

“Exactly. I call those people Rockists.”

“Which,” said Rosner, “must really piss ’em off.”

“I sure as hell hope so.”

The next day, as he again sat across from Rosner, Pearl asked, “So what do you think of singer-songwriters?”

“Overall, are they as good as Cole Porter? The Gershwins? Willie Dixon? Leiber & Stoller?”

“Or Rosner & Rhodes?”

“Not for me to answer. Look, early Dylan was talented.”

“Before he got boring?”

Rosner nodded. “Early Joni Mitchell, too. But what I can’t handle is autobiographical stuff that’s first and foremost whiny.”

“James Taylor?”

“And Neil Young.”

“So, do you have favorites?” asked Pearl.

“Lou Reed for one. Van Morrison, especially that first album. Plus that guy who once had a voice but now sounds like a frog.”

“Tom Waits?”


The following morning the Q&A continued. “How did a song come to life?” asked Pearl after accepting a cup of tea.

“On assignment? Or one I generated?”

“Either. Both.”

“With an assignment, the key was who was it for. For someone who could preach – say Solomon Burke, or Chuck Jackson – you wanted there to be a life lesson, or maybe a sermon. So you’d start with a phrase like Life can be tough, or My heart is aching. With me?”

Pearl nodded.

“With a girl group,” Rosner continued, “it’d be something wistful, like I’m hopeful, or If only. Still on-board?”

Again Pearl nodded.

“But with something fresh, something on spec, in those days everybody had a go-to thing. With Bert Berns, often it was crying: ‘Cry To Me’ for Solomon, ‘Cry Baby’ for Garnet Mimms. There was one guy who, whenever he was stuck, or blocked, or frozen, would break up with the gal he was going with. Want to know why?”

“You bet.”

“Invariably he would hear something – Where has our love gone? Or I thought we had it all or I’m broken-hearted now that we’ve parted – that he could turn into a song.

Pearl chuckled. “And with you?”

“With me,” said Rosner, “it usually begins with a phrase, or a word I heard somewhere. Or something that pops into my mind while driving, taking a shower, or watching TV.”

“Such as?”

“Without you. Or maybe Beware. Or Sometimes I’m lonely.”

“And then?”

“You play with it. Sometimes I’m lonely, sometimes I’m blue, sometimes I find myself thinking about you. Follow? You start with a spark, then milk it.”

After two more sessions with Rosner, Pearl had pretty much all the information he thought ne needed. But even as he moved from organizing the material to thinking about a narrative, then starting his article, he found excuses to reach out periodically by phone, and even to lure the songwriter out for a Thai lunch one day, an Indian buffet another.

Then one Tuesday night Pearl woke up with a start as a question surged into his head. Unable to fall back to sleep, he fidgeted for an hour or so, then read an Ian Rankin detective novel until the first rays of sun appeared.

At 8 AM, having already done three sets of push-ups and crunches, Pearl at last called Rosner. “What’re you up to?” he asked.

“You tell me.”

“Okay if I come by for a cup of tea?”

“So what’s this curiosity at the crack of dawn?” Rosner asked as he opened the door for Pearl.

“There’s one question I never asked.”

“Want to ask it before or after I pour the tea?”

“How about I ask it now, then you answer while you’re pouring?”

“Fire away.”

“Are you still writing songs?”

“That’s a ridiculous question,” Rosner barked as he headed into the kitchen.

“And that’s not an answer,” replied Pearl as he followed.

“Why in hell would I still be writing?”

“Because it’s what you do.”

“Without a writing partner? Or a deal? Or anything going on?”

“Are you or aren’t you?”

Rosner frowned as he poured two cups of tea, then turned to face Pearl. “So what if I am?”

“That’s exciting?”


“Because you’re a great songwriter.”


“C’mon –”

“And I’m not so sure about great.”

“I think you are.”

“Forgive me for saying this,” sad Rosner sadly, “but in the scheme of things, who the fuck are you?”

Two days later, after spending an unpleasant morning writing coverage first of an Asian knock-off of “Get Out,” then a “Lord Of The Rings” ripoff set in outer space, Pearl switched gears.

Re-reading his almost-finished article about Rosner, titled “The Last Lyricist Standing,” he replaced a comma with a semi-colon, then made a couple of tiny tweaks. Gritting his teeth, he hit Save, created a pdf, and sent it off to Britain’s “Blues & Rhythm.”

As a reward to himself, he laced up a well-worn pair of Air Jordans, then hit a playground to shoot hoops.

That evening, at an Italian restaurant well beyond his price range, to which he had taken Libby for a birthday celebration, she smiled as the two of them toasted with glasses of Pinot Grigio. “So,” she then asked Pearl, “did he ever answer your question?”

“Better than that. He showed me a couple of new lyrics.”


“I don’t think they’ll ever make it on the Hip-Hop charts.”

“That figures.”

“Or be recorded by Bruno Mars or Ariana Grande.”


“I’d love to get ’em to somebody who’d see how good they are.”


“John Legend? Steve Tyrell? Maybe Dolly?”

“Or Claudia Rhodes?” asked Libby.

“Now that would be interesting.”

As both of them took another sip of wine, a bearded guy pushing forty did a double-take while passing by their table. “The cult writer who never phones,” the newcomer exclaimed while approaching.

“So as not to have my calls returned?” countered Pearl, who then turned to Libby. “Libby Saks, say hello to Herb Klein.”

“As in his beloved agent,” explained Klein, who studied Pearl. “So when am I gonna see something new?”

“I haven’t been writing scripts.”

“But knowing you, you’ve been writing something.”

“He just finished an article,” Libby interjected.


“Nothing you’d be interested in,” stated Pearl.

“Which makes me want it even more. Email it to me.”

“It’s not even published yet,” said Pearl.

“It’s got a publisher? Now I really want it!” With that, Klein turned to Libby. “Pleasure meeting you.”

Libby watched Herb Klein amble off, then shook her head. “Am I wrong, or is he a cartoon figure?”

“No dispute from me.”

“Ready for this?” Herb Klein exclaimed the next afternoon when Pearl answered his iPhone.

“Depends what it is.”

“Three meetings, bro! Three face-to-faces with the hottest of producers.”

“To discuss?”

“Your new story, dude.”

“You read it?”

“C’mon, man! A story this good you don’t even have to read.”

“Herb –”

“That’s a joke, Barry. Remember those?”

“But it’s not a story. It’s an article in a niche music magazine.”

“Niche, schmiche. I’m calling it ‘A Star Is Born’ meets ‘The Sunshine Boys.'”

“You’re kidding.”

“Do I sound like I’m kidding? We’ll email you the where-and-whens.”


“Why whoa?” asked Klein.

“What you’re billing as a story has no story. It’s about a songwriter who’s been put out to pasture.”

“Not with the ending I came up with.”

Pearl’s stomach sunk. “And what might that be?”

“When what’s-his-face is dying of cancer –”

“Flip Rosner –”

“Whatever. Anyway, his ex-, who’s now a superstar, adds music his words.”

“Lyrics, Herb. And that’s not what happened.”

“But it’ll play like a motherfucker on-screen! So how do we close? With the concert to end all concerts before what’s-his-face dies a happy man. Killer, huh?”

“Herb, one question –”

“What kinda question?”

“Did you actually read it?”

A moment passed before Herb Klein spoke again. “Isabelle did.”

“And Isabelle is?”

“My new assistant, who graduated from Brown last month.”

Begrudgingly, Pearl went to the first meeting scheduled, where a producer named Tina McGuire told him with a straight face that she could envision Beyonce and Bradley Cooper in the starring roles.

That was followed by a lunch in which a chubby guy named Mitchell Baum explained to him that his tale would be a perfect vehicle for Lady Gaga to star in and direct.

Then came meeting number three, in which Rich Graser, a prolific maker of films Pearl had never deigned to see, stated that he could imagine a marquee bearing the names Jennifer Lopez and Robert Downey Jr.

After the first meeting, Herb Klein called to express his delight. After the second, delight morphed into relentless gushing. After the third, the agent was positively orgasmic. “First I thought you were the flavor of the week,” he began. “But now you’re the absolute shit! If this were the mob, bro, you’d now be a Made Man!”

Despite the skepticism he had wore as protective armor, in off moments – while tossing and turning at 3 AM, trudging to the laundromat, or gulping at prices when he dared venture into Whole Foods – Barry Pearl found himself wondering if maybe, just maybe, Herb Klein was right.

Would that, he wondered, allow him not merely to be somebody in Hollywood, but also to get out of his stuffy studio apartment on a block where gunshots were heard through the night? And buy a car not always in danger of breaking down? And maybe replace the cap on his incisor that was turning yellow?

Though it disturbed Pearl that his grandiose dreams of following in the footsteps of Billy Wilder, Robert Rossen, and Jean-Luc Godard had given way to musings about not being eternally consigned to a marginal existence, it was gratifying to have something ressembling hope.

As an aficionado of movie cliches, Barry Pearl had long considered certain ones to be favorites. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you topped his list, followed closely by It’s not what it looks like and I wouldn’t do that if I were you.

But he was even fonder of the trite sayings used in Hollywood shop talk. A Martian wouldn’t say that he considered a classic, and the same was true of You’ll never eat lunch in this town again.

To those, after an extended period of silence, he added one that was painfully autobiographical: There’s no such thing as a bad meeting, just zero follow-through.

That was what happened… or worse, failed to happen… with his tale about Flip Rosner. For what ensued was nothing but silence from all corners. Not a word from the producers, nor even a peep from Herb Klein.

Hope of salvation simply gave way to more coverage of monster movies, superheroes, and scripts about teenagers trying desperately to lose their virginity.

Only when copies of “Blues & Rhythm” arrived from England was there any further discussion of the article that had brought him fifteen minutes of Hollywood fame. That was when Barry Pearl drove Libby and Flip Rosner down to Langer’s Deli to celebrate the publication over pastrami sandwiches, egg creams, and sides of cole slaw.


ALAN SWYER is an award-winning filmmaker whose recent documentaries have dealt with Eastern spirituality in the Western world, the criminal justice system, diabetes, boxing, and singer Billy Vera. In the realm of music, among his productions is an album of Ray Charles love songs. His novel ‘The Beard’ was recently published by Harvard Square Editions.

Image via Pixabay

Jessie: A Pastoral – Kathryn Kulpa

Jessie’s mother always called the cows “my ladies.” She said a cow was a soft creature, with no malice. They showed malice to Jessie often enough, kicking over the pail during milking, but it was true that under her mother’s hand they stood patient as nuns. She sang to them, and sometimes Jessie swore she heard the cows sing too, soft and secret. Jessie wondered if those cows were the softest things in her mother’s life. Years of working in the sun had made a dried apple of her face, though she said her first young man had called her his lily of the valley. So fair I was, she said.

Jessie had never known that young man, and no pictures of him existed, nor any of her mother in her young beauty. Married at 17, Jessie’s mother sailed with her husband one weeping day, left Aberdeen and its misty rains forever. But that first husband died. Jessie’s father was old, older even than her mother. He didn’t sing, to cows or anyone else. She’d never known parents who were young and carefree. She’d never seen them kiss, never saw her mother put her arms around anyone except Mehitabel the cow. Jessie was only sixteen, but she’d already made up her mind: her life would have plenty of kisses in it, and none of them from cows.


KATHRYN KULPA is a flash fiction editor at Cleaver magazine and was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash collection Girls on Film(Paper Nautilus). Her work is published or forthcoming in Flash Flood, New Flash Fiction Review, Superstition Review, and Pithead Chapel. 

Image via Pixabay

Miniature Warrior – Christine Collinson

Resting atop my enormous belly, the healing-stone feels smooth and cool, but it does not lessen the waves of pain.

Beneath me, the rush mat is damp with sweat. My lady passes me a cup and I sip the mixture, breathing deeply of its vapours. It helped at first, although that seems long ago.

I’m not afraid of pain but I’m afraid for my child. In the early months I was out walking when a storm swept across Texcoco and lightning cleaved a tree near my path. It jolts me still; the split trunk severed like a broken bone, smoke from its fresh scar rising to meet the rain.

I told my husband my fears. “We must hold to our faith,” he said, wrapping me in his arms. “You cannot undo what you saw, Tayanna.”

All night I’ve lain here and now, through the small window, first light is showing. Market-sellers and farmers will soon be toiling as usual beneath the golden sun.

Of all my labours, it’s been the easiest; I’ve three children around my hearth already. I might relax, but the image of the stark white streak doesn’t fade; shock has blighted me and buried deep, perhaps to where my child is curled.

My next pains are the strongest yet and my lady comes close. I grasp her hand. “Nearly there, Tayanna,” she says, softly. Her serenity’s a balm more than I can say.

As the sun reaches its apex, my baby is born bellowing like a miniature warrior. He’s the loudest I’ve known and I’m engulfed by relief. My lady joins in, rhythmically chanting to praise his arrival.

My heart’s pounding a beat to the sounds around me. “Thank you, Xochiquetzal,” I whisper.


CHRISTINE COLLINSON writes historical short fiction. She’s been longlisted in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and by Reflex Flash Fiction. Her work has also appeared in Ellipsis Zine and FlashBack Fiction, among others. Find her on Twitter @collinson26.

Image via Pixabay

North Lincoln Avenue – Michael Igoe

Those ancient piles of freight sit outside the window./I pour another beer from a bottle,/this glassful of jinxes;/it remakes the time it takes/to quash a roomful of victims,/this place they breed in./At last, free of disease,/a crimson flock plays for keeps./They’re made of brass, in stone relief./Animals grow accustomed to cages;/when they leave, they meddle in water./They brush past strangers at the Quick Lunch,/they feel odd about their god./Shades drawn on a sunlit afternoon,/I’m grateful for this source of flickers./I stretch my arms before me,/I telegraph my moves./I dwell with speckled birds /I can paint them./Once more I head downstairs/,I jam machines guarding cream pies./Dressed out of habit,/for the wars of the Sabbath/to enlist you in my feuds./Mannikins come alive by night/then linger in the distance,/vagabonds who wait to ring/the bells on brass nameplates.


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Invisible Souls – Stella Turner

She was trying to be her normal self, invisible. No one ever acknowledged her, spoke to her, looked at her in all her years living here. But today someone would see her. Someone would remember her and she’d be on tomorrow’s six o’clock news. It had to be today! She’d never have the courage again.

“What did you say your name is?”

The old man cupping a hand behind his ear.

She was sitting on a frayed, dirty old armchair sipping Guinness from a chipped mug. At the top of the second set of stairs an arm had shot out of an opened door and she’d been pulled inside. For an old man he was surprisingly strong. He told her about working on the building sites, out in all weathers and how you never saw a rusty man. This had made her smile, well a tiny smile moved across her pale face. The old man noticed.

He thought she was his home help, or the woman from the social, or an angel come to save him from what he’d planned next. He was invisible but today someone would see him. Someone would remember him and he’d be on tomorrow’s six o’clock news.

She felt the knife in her coat pocket. It would be so easy to spill blood here.

He looked at the knife on the kitchen table. It would be so easy to spill blood here.

They talked for hours, visible for once. She felt a bit heady from the Guinness, she told him her name was Collette, from Letterkenny in County Donegal. She wasn’t. He told her he was Joseph from South London. He wasn’t. They hid their secrets well. Future plans and past deeds forgotten. Her visit to flat 6 postponed for ever.

Sitting between the nosy old biddy from flat 10 and the girl with the fabulous figure and the tumbling red hair from flat 6 she looked around the church, two old blokes from the bookies were the only other mourners. The Roman Catholic priest was talking about William Quinney but it was Joseph in the coffin. The solicitor had shown her the copy of the will. A picture of her at the bins with flat 4 scrawled on the back and the words this is the woman I leave my possessions to. Joseph had got the girl from flat 6 to take the photo and to witness the will. Collette was William’s only beneficiary. He’d told the will writer that she’d saved him from a lonely old age. Joseph was shrewd. He knew she wasn’t Collette.

The girl from flat 6 started to sing Ave Maria. Joseph’s final request. Strange choice for a funeral but the girl of course had the voice of an angel. Collette smiled, grateful she hadn’t yet appeared on the 6 o’clock news.


STELLA TURNER was sent to Coventry, England at birth. She loves the rich history of the city, its two cathedrals and its infamous ring road. She writes flash fiction and has been published in several Anthologies. Was joint winner of a competition held by the online literary magazine Deracine.

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It Wisnae Me – Leela Soma

Damien was kept behind in the class again.

― So, this was your review of the play you saw last week?

― Aye

― Damien, I’d rather you tell me the truth.

― What do you mean?

― Not your usual style is it?

― I like the play aw tha stuff about thievin’ an’ tha’.

― Well, I’m impressed that you liked the play but this’s not your work is it?

― Eh? I worked real hard an aw’.

― Not quite, Damien, how come it is word for word the same as Andrew Norton’s review?

― Wha? You need to ask him tha’.

―Come on now. Did you not copy his work?

― No way man. Nae chance. I don’t hang aboot with that swot!

― How come it is word to word the same then?

―Nae idea. Aw that in the play that wimmin Jam, saying Scotland stole aw that plantation stuff cotton and sugar an that really got me goin. Countries stole an aw, right?

― Are you saying that it is right to steal another pupil’s work?

―Naw just sayin that the play was good. That jakey sayin thay big building in Merchant City was paid by thay plantation owners. I liked tha’. An’ the poor in Glasgow jist stayed the same.

― Damien I’m glad you got the gist of the play.


―That you understood Glasgow’s history but coming back to the review …

―Naw miss, you’ve got tha totally wrang an aw. I’ve never touched Andy’s jotter.

―Then perhaps you could tell me the source of that quote that you’ve used in the review?

―Wha dae you mean?

―Where is that quote that you used in the third paragraph?

―Eh? From thay books you told us aboot.

―Which one, Damien? Who was the author?

―You’d know, miss, tha thick black book you showed us in class.

―Really? I showed you three books none of which had a black binding.

―Ah! I remember noo, ma pal Nash says to put that quote in. I go tha from him, right enough.

―Damien, I don’t have any more time to waste on this. Detention next Tuesday after school and you’ll do that review again at that time.

―Aw no miss, that’s my footie practice day. We’re playing Schools league next Saturday. You cannae keep me in.

―There is a simple solution to this Damien. Did you copy this from Andrew Norton? Yes or no?

The noise and commotion outside the room was sudden. Sounded like pupils fighting. Miss Cummings ran out the door.

Damien slipped out of the room quietly.


LEELA SOMA was born in Madras, India and now lives in Glasgow. Her poems and short stories have been published in a number of anthologies, publications. She has published two novels and two collections of poetry.  She has served on the Scottish Writer’s Centre Committee and is now in East Dunbartonshire Arts & Culture Committee. Some of her work reflects her dual heritage of India and Scotland.  Twitter: glasgowlee

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Goya’s Dog – Dirk van Nouhuys

The dog is alone looking, seeing, finding no more than he presumed. Finding the past. Wanting the past to be the future, wanting not hope but satisfaction, the satisfaction of familiar smells, the satisfaction of familiar figures, the satisfaction of familiar selves, the selves around and above him now empty, now filled with sentiment but no faces. An eye, an eye for those above, those somehow himself and not himself more present in their absence than their presence. Is the future the past? – Oh such a poignant question! The poignancy is itself future! Is the future poignant absence of past love? Love of what is below the horizon line. The horizon line is bent uphill; surely that is hope? Hope does not stay. When will hope call him, offering him her red ball, the red bull of the sun setting. Let the sun not set until the future or the past has called him. Where are they? If they are lost, if they have run away or gone on to their other business, where can it be? Where is not the future or the past? Surely they love him there wherever it may be to the side of time. If he bent his head, could he sniff out where they are beside themselves to the right or left of themselves? But oh! If he lowered his nose to the ground, he could miss it if they saw him.


Image “The Dog” – Francisco Goya via Wikimedia Commons

Mindless – Timothy Tarkelly

Francine peels the color-printed foil off of her yogurt and digs in, careful to get a liberal amount of berries in her first bite. This is her favorite part of the day: breakfast. It is ten after eight o’clock, which is technically ten minutes after the work day begins, but no one really cares until around nine.

She is at her desk and Karen is in one of the plush, blue chairs against the wall (where clients sit), playing on her cell phone, occasionally making silly faces into the camera.

“Maybe,” Francine begins. “I am just having a bad reaction to adulthood. Like, more than ever I just want to go back to working at the movie theater. That was the best job ever.”

Karen doesn’t say anything, which begs the question, “Who is she texting, exchanging photos with at ten after eight in the morning?”

Francine keeps talking anyway. “Yes, my job is relatively important. I can afford things, that’s good, I guess, but really I just have bills. It doesn’t seem worth it. Do you know what I mean?”

Her audience doesn’t seem captivated and her yogurt is depleting. Is this a depressive episode, or does her job suck? “Do you ever just get sick of this?”

“Nah,” Karen finally says, barely.

Outside the office, footsteps are progressing through the hallway and both parties lock it up, hiding phones and yogurt containers, just in case the footsteps open the door and say something managerly: “What are you doing?” “When will you have the [mindless obligation that in no way reflects actual work] for me?”

They pass.

“How do you keep it from getting to you?” Francine asks as she scrapes the final film of yogurt from the edges of the cup.

“I just don’t think about it, really. I just show up and do my job. Let my boss suck. At five, I go and do whatever the hell I want. I do what I want at work most of the time, too.” She lets out an unnecessary laugh. Her laugh. It’s always unnecessary.

“At the movie theater, I just did my job and left. There was never work to follow me home, real or emotional.” As if the emotional drainage is better than the extra paperwork kind. “I just made popcorn and swept the floor. I got to see free movies, got free snacks. It was the best.”

“In high school?”

“No, the summer after college.”

Karen puts her phone in her pocket, which, as Francine has observed a number of times, countless times, means that she is bored and is about to get up and leave.

“Why did you quit?” she asks.

Francine ponders as hard as she can without showing it. It is a simple question, with a simple answer, but she is baffled (more like offended) that Karen would ask the question when she knows she is about to get up and leave and forget they ever even talked about it. Now, Francine feels only interesting enough to warrant four seconds of eye contact and it is used to ask a question that does not need to be answered, will not be remembered. Francine will leave and then the boss will come and there will be more eye contact, but it will be tired and frustrated without any known reason. It will make Francine feel that she is responsible. She will work as hard as she always does (but if she’s being honest, she won’t because she has also taken to kind of doing her own thing, using the internet to keep her mind focused on staying put and not quitting to go and apply at the movie theater), but no one will ever tell her that she is doing a good job. Instead, there will be (imaginary) tasks that didn’t get accomplished and no matter how excellently she performs at mundanity, or how effortlessly she wears mundanity on her furrowed and busy brow, someone will invariably come by to make a comment about how she could have gotten her [mindless obligation that in no way reflects actual work] a little closer to perfect.

“It didn’t pay enough,” she says.

Karen stands to leave, she laughs unnecessarily. Her laugh. It’s always unnecessary. “Yep. That’s life.”


TIMOTHY TARKELLY’s work has been featured by Cauldron Anthology, GNU, Peculiars Magazine, Work to a Calm, and others. His book, Gently in Manner, Strongly in Deed: Poems on Eisenhower was published by Spartan Press in 2019. When he’s not writing, he teaches in Southeast Kansas.

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And No Bird Sang – Richard Hillesley

When morning came it was snowing and I lay on a mattress on the bare floor, shivering as the light crackled across the window panes, fingers of wind nipping the buds, numbed by the cold and unable to move, chilled to the bone and dying for a pee, and a woman on the radio was talking to a man who had walked to the North Pole in winter.

– It must have been cold,
she said.

– Colder than charity,
he said, and a shiver went down my spine.

– When I boiled a kettle for a cup of tea the water froze before it reached the cup,
he said.

The light seeped in between the curtains. The wind rattled the window, and I lay beneath the sheets, immobile and stiff, dying for a pee, and tried to picture the ice between his kettle and his cup. I wanted to get up and dress myself but my clothes were strung across a chair on the other side of the room. I wanted to wash my face and make a cup of tea. I wanted to catch the bus and get to work on time, but my arms and my legs were stiff with cold, and I was dying for a pee. I dreamt of the ice and snow beyond the window and sank beneath the sheets. Someone moved across the room above and I heard the bathroom door open and shut and the mysterious anguish of the pish in the bowl and the release of the flush of the chain, and still I couldn’t move.

– How did you wash yourself?
asked the woman on the radio, and I didn’t hear the answer.

What happened when he went for a pee? I wanted to know. Did a dagger of ice shoot from his crotch to the ground and impale him in the snow? I wanted to know, but she didn’t ask the question and I never heard the answer I wanted to hear, and rolled across the mattress in agonies of procrastination and indecision, torn between lying in bed and the ice-cold walk to the loo.

Time went by and the voices on the radio turned to other stories and faded into the ether. My alarm went off and I went for a pee, my hand on my crotch as I went, and I ran down the stairs and made a cup of tea and walked to the bus stop through the ice and snow. I was late for work again.

A day or two later I was on a bus into the city and an old man sat on the seat next to me, talking to himself. This happened to me all the time, and I didn’t usually notice, preferring to watch the world go by and listen to my own thoughts, but he had a story to tell, and no-one else was listening.

– Johnny was lonely,
he said to himself, looking out the window at the road below,
– and they sent him to the North Pole.

I drew a face in the condensation on the window and stared at my reflection in the glass.

– It was cold up there,
he said,
– and there was nobody there but Johnny.

He had a scarf about his face and mittens on his hands. The snow was still on the ground.

– They sent him to the North Pole,
he said.
– and that was why he talked to himself.

I knew he was talking about himself. He sighed and said,

– That was why he talked to himself.

The bus jerked to a stop and I got up. I tried to catch his eye, but he didn’t see me, and the other passengers didn’t care to see him. The cold and dark had wrapped themselves around his soul.

– It was colder than charity,
he said, and stared into the void.

– And no bird sang.

– That was why he talked to himself,
he said, and I pulled my coat up round my collar, jumped off the bus, and went into the city, dodging clumps of snow and listening for birds.


Image via Pixabay

Passage – December Lace

It’s a lonely walk through the dark tunnel
All light extinguished
There’s no guarantee
He’ll be waiting for me
At the other end
I’ve left the cold, but it crept in
Keeps trying to attach itself to
The cloth I wear, snags in my hair
Wind picks up and enters the walls
No matter how far I’ve come
It follows me
Like an earlier sin
My velvet boots make echoes in
The hollow darkness
Rats scurry round my ankles
Away from my destination as
More wind slaps my face
My punishment for braving the night alone
I am unsure if there are
Any demons poking about at this hour
Dressed in rags or suits
Then my hearing fails
And it’s darkest at the end
One lone street light is on
The man with the dim coat
Isn’t where he said he’d be
He’s at the opposite entrance
Waiting for me across the street
But he is


DECEMBER LACE (@TheMissDecember) is a former professional wrestler and pinup model from Chicago. She has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Molotov Cocktail, Pussy Magic Lit, The Cabinet of Heed, Awkward Mermaid, Vamp Cat, and Rhythm & Bones YANYR Anthology, among others. She loves Batman, burlesque, cats, and horror movies.

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Timidity – Dan Brotzel

When Tony Bell retired at 57, he told his wife Simone that at last he’d be able to focus on the things he really cared about. She thought this meant Sudoku, county cricket, trad jazz, Radio 4 and the Battle for the Atlantic. She had no idea that he meant writing fiction.

Tony had a well-paid job as the Business Development Manager for a company that provided disposable self-testing drug kits to governments, prisons and sporting bodies. But it was a long time since he’d had any enthusiasm for what he did, and for several years now his working life had been a tedious round of calls to make and meetings to be seen at. Tucked in his little office on the sixth floor, Tony had spent much of his time discreetly plotting his exit.

He was good with money, good with figures. Early in his career, Tony had been in at the start of a PR agency that specialised in controversial clients, back in the brief window of time when being in PR was vaguely sexy and new.

The agency had quickly grown because of its willingness to take on high-paying if ethically dubious corporations (and even countries, in one case). An international media network had bought it out, and Tony had been a semi-willing casualty of the transition. The sale of his shares had given him some money to play with, and ever since, his canny investment portfolio had shown steady and gratifying growth.

His wife Simone had begun by admiring Tony’s way with money. Like him she was a careful, even frugal spender; both of them made sandwiches every day for work and always looked for voucher codes before they bought anything online. But over time, she became increasingly frustrated by Tony’s reluctance to do anything with their burgeoning nest egg. He baulked at holidays that went beyond Europe, preferred to fix up the rooms they had rather than extend or remodel, and insisted that owning two cars – despite the obvious conveniences to them both – was not fair to the planet.

What then was the money for? Though he had not realised it consciously, Tony saw now that he had been saving up to buy his way out of work. Early retirement – a dream he could now make real.

*      *      *

In the weeks and months before he left work, Tony talked to several friends and acquaintances about the transition from working life to retirement.

He heard tales of men who went off the rails, driving their wives crazy by hanging round the house under their feet all day, messing up their well-established domestic systems and routines. He heard of men who’d taken the plunge early without realising they couldn’t really afford to, and now spent their time reading the papers in the library and cadging the free-coffee stickers from better-off customers in MacDonald’s.

Then there were the smug ones, the ones who said they things like I’m busier than ever! and I don’t know how I ever made time for work! These ones painted, they ran reading groups, they campaigned to save hospitals, they raved about the University of the Third Age. I only wish I’d done it years ago! they invariably said.

Then there were the lonely ones, the ones who had enough income but had lost their partner or had little family around them. They told him to get Sky Sports.

Tony took from all this the idea that retirement didn’t really change you so much as show you who you’d really been all along. If you were a busy, social, life-loving sort of person, you’d have that kind of retirement. If you’d been on the run from your own life for years, retirement wold find you out. The thought alarmed him.

*      *      *

‘Time is our element – it’s the very air we breathe – but how often do we feel we are actually in time?’ intoned the contract Christian on Thought for the Day (the one thing on Radio 4 Tony used to hate but which he now listened to religiously.)

‘We talk of making time, killing time, losing time, saving time. But these are all reflections about time made from the outside. Lord, just for today, help me to relish and revere the sacrament of the present moment. Help me to live in your time. Just now. Just for Today.’

‘And this is indeeeed Today you’re listening to right now,’ said John Humphrys with a twinkle. ‘It’s very nearly a quarter past eight.’

And so to writing. Tony had always wanted to write, he just hadn’t thought about it for years. He had spent his working life saving up money to buy time. But without any idea of what to fill that time with, the exercise was futile.

But the time to write was now. It was, ahem, write now. It had always been now. While he was working, he should have been getting up early to scribble stories like Mary Wesley and Fay Weldon had done, jotting down dialogue in between ironing shirts like JG Ballard, or sneaking down lines of verse in his corner office, like that mad American poet they’d mentioned on Poetry Please the other night. Instead of checking his portfolio and plotting his escape, he could have been plotting his novel.

But perhaps some of the other clichés about time could still save him.

Better later than never. All’s well that ends well.

No time like the present.

*      *      *

Into the planning of his retirement – or what he liked to call his rewrite-ment – Tony threw all the very considerable strategic and time management skills at his disposal. He drew up a fiction-writing calendar populated with realistic milestones and solid deliverables. He factored in time for planning and structure, background inspiration, note-taking and drafting. And he stuck it to all, he delivered. He wrote like a man whose very life depended on it.

He even gave up The Archers.

Tony had always wanted to write a novel, but his idea was to build up to that daunting challenge by spending a year writing short stories. To give him extra impetus, he chose a short story competition to write for every month. His task was to hit the competition deadline every time, and by the end of the year he’d have a bank of a good dozen stories – any one of which might prove to be the kernel of something more substantial.

Stories began to fly from Tony’s PC. There were thinly disguised tales of men who didn’t know what to do with their retirement, scathingly satirical parodies of office life (often set in a vaguely pharmaceutical sort of workplace), and a historically scrupulous account of a submarine attack on a convoy of merchant navy ships. There was even a whimsical story about a man who became so obsessed with Japanese puzzles that he…

Actually Tony had to stop there, because he really couldn’t think how to end that plot summary, let alone write it up.

After a few months, Tony took stock. His stories had received no feedback, positive or negative, from any of the competitions he entered, except for one tick-box assessment (free with the entry fee) which had given him 4/5 for punctuation and grammar.

The stories were, he knew, bland. They were formulaic, they were feeble projections of his own interests, they did not sing. They lacked balls, grit, edge, risk.

The punctuation, however, was solid.

And so he began again.

*      *      *

Tony started to write about what he really felt, about the things he wished he’d done, and the things that usually go unsaid. He wrote a story about a man he called ‘Tommy’ who had always wanted to fuck a colleague in Marketing, whom he named ‘Jan’. There had been a moment once at a drinks do when something seemed to stir between them, but both had stepped back from the edge.

Now, for this story, Tony wrote for the first time about something that hadn’t happened to him: he pushed the couple right over the edge and into a passionate affair. He imagined them wangling business trips to visit key suppliers in Amsterdam and Stuttgart and Malmo – all just so they make delirious love together in random hotel rooms.

He wrote about the sex he’d never had. The inside-outsideness of our sex, he raved. Me-in-you and you-in-me, my mouth chasing your vulva across a hectare of pure white bed.

He stopped shaving. He began to drink as he wrote – Dubonnet mostly, it was the only thing he could find in the house. (They weren’t big drinkers.) He felt stirred, raunchy, sort of juicy. He couldn’t imagine this on Book at Bedtime.

Where would this story take him? Tony wanted Tommy and Jan to win. He did not want to see them get their comeuppance in some bourgeois dénouement of reprisal and recrimination. And so in the final scene, he has Brian the boss ask to see the illicit couple. They fear the worst. But in order to keep up their business trips abroad, it turns out the pair have both been performing exceptionally, securing new contracts and smashing sales targets. The final line went to the boss:

‘Keep up the good work,’ twinkled Brian. ‘Tommy, I need you to keep it up.’

‘Fair game,’ became Tony’s mantra. Everything to the serious writer was fair game. In the heart of every true artist, there sat a sliver of ice. Tony began to write stuff down as it happened. He wrote up his fantasies of violence and revenge, he lacerated friends and neighbours with frank portrayals of their foibles and their faults, he sent up the sexual conservatism of his own marriage. He was mercilessly satirical about the aggressive parking practices of his neighbours at number 32, and the casual racism of his other neighbours at number 36.

Still no one had commented on his stories. But – to cite another of his own mantras – ‘the great must wait’. When you’re doing something new and brave, it takes a while for your audience to catch up. The silence of the criterati was surely but confirmation of the rightness of his path.

*      *      *

Tony liked to rise about 6am and get down to an early stint of typing. To avoid the infamous tyranny of the blank page – something he’d never actually experienced himself, oddly – he always left off in the middle of a para at the end of a session. Simone needed more sleep than him, and if it wasn’t one of her working days (she did shifts at the hospital) she would usually join him for half a grapefruit and a bowl of porridge around nine, by which time Tony would have the smug feeling of a couple of hundred words already tucked under his belt.

But this morning, she was already downstairs, sitting at the computer. His computer. Looking at his files. A frown monopolised her facial features, and an arm of her reading glasses dangled pointedly from the edge of her mouth.

When she saw him, she began stabbing at the screen with it. ‘This bit here – it’s Andrea, isn’t it? The woman who knocks on the door of her new neighbour with a welcome present and says, “Thank God you’re not Somalian!”’

‘Well, yes. No. It’s fiction.’

‘And this bit here, about the man who gets a bang on the head and doesn’t realise he’s become sexually inappropriate with everyone… it’s Ned, isn’t it? Jodie’s brother-in-law?’

‘Well. It’s all about extracting the underlying universal truth from the particularities of the everyday…’

‘Jodie’s my best friend! And you’ve been going to The Oval with Ned for nearly 30 years! Did you think changing the area of the cortex would cover your tracks? How could you?’


‘And this one. This filth about a vulva in a duvet or something. This is obviously about that Janine girl at your work you were always going on about. You told me there was nothing in it.’

‘There wasn’t! I mean, there isn’t! Her name was Jane. This is a story.’

‘Oh come on! Jane, Jan, Janine, whatever. It’s obvious! Everything else is just verbatim from real life! You’ve taken all the bad or sad stuff from everyone we know, changed a few names, and you want to pass it off as art or whatever…’

‘Well, John Updike said…’

‘UpFuck John fucking Updike! John Updike did not have a sister like Naomi. When she sees you’ve painted her as a narcissistic monster who’d rather attend a client piss-up than go and see her own children when they’re ill…’

‘Well you yourself have said many times that she’s…’

‘I might have said it to you. But I haven’t typed it up for all the world to see! Do I have to watch everything I say now in case you turn it into a story for Radio 4?’

‘Actually they’ve rejected everything I’ve sent them so far.’

‘You mean you’ve sent this stuff out? People have looked at it?’


‘Please don’t tell me you’ve sent this Middleground one.’


He had. The Middleground was his favourite story, the one where he felt he’d come closest to saying something true and real. It was the story of a middle-aged couple who, though they had enjoyed an agreeable and prosperous companionship for years, had never quite managed to connect sexually. Neither had had the courage to really discuss the issue, and over time their couplings had become ever more stilted and infrequent, and the awkwardness had started to permeate the rest of their relationship.

‘I cannot believe you are parading our sex life to the whole fucking world.’

‘I’m a creative writer!’

‘You’re a muppet and a shit.’

*      *      *

Alternative ending 1: Tony sighed and shut down his PC. Though he had what he thought was a much better ending for The Middleground now, he would not be resending the story to the BBC or anyone else. There would be no new stories from his keyboard of dreams.

Contrary to his brief hope, his argument with Simone about his stories had not ended in erotic ecstasy but in bitter recrimination and corrosive silence. Now he had a new project for his retirement – the salvaging of his 32-year-old marriage. A work of non-fiction.

Alternative ending 2: That night, Tony added a final section to his short story, The Middleground. It described a toxic, years-in-the-making row between his middle-aged couple, which ended with up with them getting shit-faced on Tio Pepe and fucking right there on the sofa with more urgent vigour and rough experimental tenderness than they had known for years, if ever perhaps.

He couldn’t have written it better himself.


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Chink – Gail Aldwin

A navy sky extinguishes the day. Sitting on the balcony, Kate reflects upon her laziness. No excursions to the volcano for Kate, just a sunbed, a pile of paperbacks and the company of Robert. Still wearing his shorts, Robert stretches his legs then scratches a mosquito bite on his knee. Kate is cool in her strappy dress. She reaches for the tumbler, drains the contents then crunches a sliver of ice.‘One more before we go down for dinner?’ he asks.But he’s not even dressed. Hasn’t yet had a shower.‘No thank you,’ she says. ‘I’m fine.’‘Good.’ He sits back in his chair.What now? She waits. Irritation makes her skin prick.‘Are you going to have steak again tonight?’ she asks.‘Think I’ll ask for it blue this time.’Yes, mooing, even.From behind the mountains comes a rumble. Although Kate knows these steamy days can lead to storms, she hopes she’s wrong. Holding her breath, she clutches the armrests and counts. A flash comes before she’s reached number eight. She’s rigid in the chair but Robert gets up for a proper look.‘It’s coming this way.’ His voice is gleeful and he cocks his head. Doesn’t he know it’s ridiculous to swagger in flip-flops?‘I’ll get inside.’ Kate reaches for her bag but when she turns, Robert is blocking the doorway.‘Surely by now you can face it.’She hesitates. Does he know what she’s thinking? What she’s planning? Of course not! Robert means the lightening.‘Let me pass,’ she says.‘No.’ He grabs her shoulders and manoeuvres her for a better view. Kate closes her eyes, resists his pinching grip.‘There’s no point in struggling,’ he says. ‘You can’t be scared your whole life.’Kate breathes through her mouth, takes comfort from the steady pumping of her heart, listens to the gushes from her lungs. The crack and the searing light skewer her to the spot but she controls the trembling.‘See, it’s not so difficult, is it?’When the thunder comes again, she’s ready. This time with eyes wide open she waits for the crack and watches the chink of light brighten the gloom. A path to her future is illuminated. She can do it. She really can.

GAIL ALDWIN’s debut novel The String Games has been longlisted in The People’s Book Prize for fiction. To get to the next stage depends upon public support. If you like Gail’s writing, why not pop over and give her your vote?

(The competition ends 15 October 2019.)

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Suppose – B Lynn Goodwin

Suppose Hannah, age 9, closed her eyes and announced, “I have windowless eyelids”? Would she be creative or silly?

Suppose a storm made the lights flicker so hard that she retched. Would she have a fear or a brain disorder?

Suppose she saw a strip of a green “for sale” sign and wanted to touch the curly strip along the bottom edge? Would her parents say, “Don’t touch” or “Explore, Hannah, but keep your fingers out of your mouth”?

Suppose a row of goldfish wearing sneakers tap-danced their way into a dandy trap? Would Hannah crack up or try to rescue them?

“Why do we stitch our curls so tightly that the brain cannot breathe?” Hannah asked her teacher one day when she was tired of being told to sit still and pay attention.

Her teacher, wearing flats, a gray shift, and a loving smile said, “Soon you may be a polished artist or writer or brain surgeon, Miss Hannah.” She looked out the window at the leaves budding while Hannah sat up straighter When the bell rang three minutes later, she raced ahead of the others, got to the monkey bars first, and swung so high she could see a man in overalls and a woman whose bare tummy rubbed against them as the couple hugged.

Suppose she pushed her body into a boy’s like that. Somebody would be sure to call her Mama. She was about to scream at them to get a room, like her big brother did in the Walmart parking lot, but fear shut her down. Instead, she jumped off the monkey bars, raced to the fence, stared at them through a knothole. They must have felt her staring.

“Suppose you go back to class where you belong, Little One,” said the man in the overalls., striding towards her.

She stood still as his mouth came closer and closer to her knothole.

“Or would you rather I call the school?” his menacing voice whispered.

Part of her wanted to know what the school would do, but she not badly enough to double-dare him. Instead she turned away, rubbing her fingers along the seam inside her left pocket. Back at the swings, she shut her eyes and swung in windowless bliss.


B. LYNN GOODWIN is the owner of Writer Advice, and is a manuscript coach/editor as well as an author. She won awards for her last two books, Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 and Talent. She loves the challenges and brevity of flash.

Image via Pixabay

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