December 4, 2018| ISSUE no 246
crack the spine
Mick Ó Seasnáin
short fiction by Henry Presente
What am I in for? Why does any self-respecting man go to jail? Bingo.
No, she wasn’t worth it. Things just got weird.
Picture this: Tuesday night we sat down at a table at Luigi’s on 19th Street--barely got the bread basket in front us
--when she said “I can do better than you,” and she swiped her hand in front of my face like she was deleting me from her mind.
Bad chemistry. Big deal. I knew the break-up was coming. If she hadn’t done it, I would have.
But there was something odd about the way she spoke. No anger, no frustration, no wondering what could have been if only I’d gotten along with Dan-her-douchey-Dachshund. Just this cool certainty that she was wasting her time with me. She poured the olive oil and ripped off a hunk of bread, for Chrissakes, wolfed down half a loaf like it was the only thing making the moment worthwhile.
Then she stood up, patted me on the cheek like I was some rejected puppy at the pound, and lumbered out of the restaurant in her cave-woman lurch, knuckles dragging on the ground behind her. I rubbed my beard where she’d touched me and it was dripping with olive oil.
The woman had been dunking the bread, slapping grease around the tabletop with her thick, clumsy fingers, and then she’d used my face as a napkin. Seriously, it took the waiter ten minutes to clean up after her before he could bring out the night’s salvation: a steaming bowl of zuppa di cozze so delicious it never fails to put everything right with the world.
But that night, I couldn’t drown the girl in Luigi’s delicious red sauce, couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off--and it wasn’t just because the creepy hipster at the bar kept checking me out, dipping his handlebar mustache into his frothy cocktail and giving me these weird looks. The problem was that every time I spooned a pillowy, perfect mussel out of the bowl, Petra’s calm conviction that she could do better than me kept bubbling up from the bottom.
It ruined the dish. It wrecked the night! It called me in sick to work and put me on a three-day rampage across the city's pubs and clubs.
It took every minute of that bender--especially the random, toothy blowjob in The Cellar’s bathroom on 80’s night--before I could clear my head, but finally there it was: a beautiful Saturday morning and I felt free. I could do anything: read the paper on the balcony with a cup of coffee and the wind soothing my sore loins, or go see my grandma at the home, or even bump a line and sweat out some hangover at SoulCycle. Jenny might be there.
And she was! Jenny--Jenny with the amazing thighs--wearing the luckiest spandex in the city. I started chatting her up, mentioned I’d been looking at motorcycles, but I didn’t get two minutes in before she said she’d seen Petra out the night before with some new guy. So I said good for Petra for picking up the pieces and then I tried to steer the conversation back to the relative merits of Ducatis versus Harleys.
But Jenny wouldn’t let up. She said that when Petra had gone off to coat check, she’d steamrolled Petra’s new guy with questions, and he confessed that it was their third date in as many days. And who knew?--three dates, who could tell?--but this guy would not deny that things were getting kind of serious, this new guy, this new guy Todd.
So I reiterated my congratulations that Petra had dug up some clingy scrub, but Jenny shut me down. “Nuh uh, he was fine,” she said, drawing the “fine” out like it was two words--“fie ine”--and then the class got going and for the next 60 minutes, despite Jenny’s juicy ass pedaling in front of me like the most gorgeous piece of perspiring fruit you ever saw, all I could think about was Petra dumping me at Luigi’s, so sure she could do better, and then not even a week later, there was Jenny implying that maybe she had.
My head was sprouting all sorts of self-deprecating junk, so I showered and hit the bookstore next door, but despite 15 minutes rereading how high my lobbying shop was ranked in the journals, I was still only semi-distracted by my own success, so I made for the photography section--the dark corner of the photography section, where the flickering fluorescent light makes all the “tasteful nudes” just trashy enough to take a man’s mind off his troubles.
And success!--the trash was transporting!--but then I stumbled onto a photo album featuring the women of Eastern Europe, which is where Petra’s family tree traced its roots. The book was shamelessly titled “Hearty Stock of the Eastern Bloc,” and all the women it depicted had the same full-bodied, thick-fingered, plow-pulling look as Petra (and in one of the pictures, a model was actually yoked to a plow), and I’d only slept with Petra once (prude as she was), and I swear I hadn’t done this since I was a kid, and I didn’t even really know I was doing it before I’d begun, but I started ripping pages out and assembling the body parts of different women into this naked Frankenstein complete with Petra’s bear-trap jaw, rugby-player frame, and slightly mis-matched breasts.
I was shaking my head and trying not to admit there was still something intensely attractive about how strangely Petra was put together when one of the bookstore crew--the cute girl with the Jessica Rabbit tattoo--caught me and told me I had to buy the book I’d been defacing, which was forty bucks and a boatload of dignity I hadn’t planned on parting with.
So I was slinking out of the shop, oversized photo album under my arm, already regretting that I’d been too humiliated to wait for Jessica Rabbit to bag up my purchase, when I bumped into some dude on the sidewalk and dropped the book, and a couple of Eastern European breasts caught the wind and fluttered to the ground. I snatched them up, enduring the disgusted glance of a gorgeous SoulCycle-bound girl walking by. I mumbled an apology and looked up expecting a blast of contempt from the guy I’d collided with, but he was busy muttering his own apology and picking up what he’d dropped: a little leather pocketbook pursey type thing, definitely of the feminine variety. Before we could figure out who should be more embarrassed, he rushed through the SoulCycle doors.
Let’s get this straight: I stood there on the street not because I was stunned by this guy’s baby brown eyes--which (I’m man enough to admit) packed enough allure to tranquilize a stampeding elephant--but because something bothered me about the purse he’d dropped. And as the SoulCycle doors clicked shut after him, I realized what it was: my second date with Petra, when I’d tried to pay for our Thai dinner and she’d insisted once again on going Dutch, she’d taken her corporate AmEx card out of a purse just like it.
And goddammit, I figured all this out exactly one second before I saw (through the SoulCycle windows) baby brown man hand the purse to Petra, and she shoved it in her locker, gave him a quick kiss, and hustled off to her bike. And baby brown man--Todd, I realized--ambled outside and stood not five feet away from me, blinking his beautiful eyes against the sun ray that suddenly shot out of the sky like God was throwing a spotlight on His favorite child. The Chosen One smiled like something had just occurred to him and then shot off down the sidewalk.
Fie ine Todd was going for a jog.
So what could I do? Let the supposedly better man get away before I could observe his hidden weaknesses?
I followed him. And I wish I could blame how hard that was on my shoes, but I was still in my Nikes from SoulCycle class and Todd’s shoes--when I caught glimpses of them in the distance--were Tom’s. The brand “Tom’s,” you know the ones? With the Tom’s logo on the back of the heel and the soles made from the thinnest substance known to man, zero shock absorption, and the whole deal where for every pair you buy, some African kid with AIDS gets a pair, too.
As I was gasping and choking and trying to keep up, it occurred to me that Todd hadn’t planned this run. It must have been a spur-of-the-moment decision. The guy was wearing khakis.
And that meant Todd was more spontaneous than me. He was in better shape than me. He cared more about shoeless African kids with AIDS.
And he lived in a nicer place, too. Fifteen minutes later, I was standing in the lobby of his condo building, which smelled like lavender and clothes-line laundry. Good address, triple-paned windows, marbled entryway, Romanesque columns, concierge who wouldn’t let me up.
Lovely and cheerful place, I found it thoroughly depressing, and I was wrung out from the run, so I decided to get a coffee in the equally cheerful and depressing café next door, with yellow walls and flowers all over the place, and a beautiful barista with long, brown hair and a French accent, who refrained from remarking on the nude photography book in my sweaty grip, but prosecuted me with her silence nevertheless.
I was expecting the coffee to taste like bile, almost eager to drink a mug of boiling oil to match my mood, but it was delicious. Strong--with a rich, smoky aroma so pleasant that I felt my soul unclench. That’s what a good cup of coffee can do, right?
I saw how the magnificent morning had aged into a gorgeous afternoon. I thought about the magic--the majesty!--of how the sunshine illuminated the warm yellow walls. And by george, there were possibilities. Possibilities today, possibilities every day!
And because I was thus reinvigorated to life, I not only noticed Todd making his grand entrance--showered and sharp in a button-down shirt with cuff-links--but also the way the cute little French barista greeted him with a “Bonjour Monsieur!” composed of equal parts tenderness, admiration, and desire.
Okay, I couldn’t begrudge him getting a coffee at the place downstairs, but that’s not what he got. He plucked out a $16 bouquet of sunflowers from one of the buckets near the cash register and refused the change from a $20 bill.
I looked at my watch and realized that Petra’s SoulCycle class was just about over, which meant she’d have enough time to shower, change, and prepare herself to receive Todd’s noble, floral intentions. I hated myself but I had to see it.
While Todd stood on the curb hailing a taxi in an old-timey kind of way, I called an Uber, who ended up being some American University freshman, and when I explained that we were going to follow that handsome man over there when he finally caught a cab, she said that she wanted no part in my whole “stalking scene,” having herself just escaped a relationship with some clingy sophomore, so I offered her a bump to bribe her to be reasonable, but she got all huffy about that, so I had to threaten a 1-star rating and lodging a formal complaint with Uber before she settled down into teary-eyed whimpers about how much she needed this job.
Which was great, because she channeled the energy of all that sobbing into the pursuit, weaving through traffic behind Todd’s cab, keeping our distance, but never letting the other car snake too far away. Before I knew it, we were winding down the less-traveled roads of Bethesda--miles away from Petra’s pad--and pulling into the rear parking lot of some apartment house, right up to the side entrance of the building. Todd handed the cabbie a bill, popped out of the car, and snagged the side door as some octogenarian in billowy pants blew through it.
And I rejoiced. Specifically, I shouted out “I’ve got you, you gorgeous, cheating bastard!” probably confirming all the jilted-boyfriend suspicions that my still-whimpering Uber driver harbored about me, and I shot outside to catch the building door before it clicked close, finding myself at the bottom of a stairwell. I heard footsteps above and rushed after them, five floors at max speed until I hit the top, burst into the main hallway, and saw Todd all the way at the far end, knocking on an apartment door.
I ran forward, whipping my phone out and pulling up the camera app, because how sweet would it be to present Petra with evidence that her new knight was nothing but a scoundrel, because even if I’d dated other girls while we’d gone out, at least I’d had the decency not to be photographed with any of them--and the timing was working out perfectly, and the apartment door was pulling open, and Todd was thrusting the flowers forward and saying “Hello, beautiful!” and I was skidding in like some ravenous paparazzi and punching my phone’s brightest flash onto the sordid scene, and I got it! I got the photo of Todd with his smug, surprised face, and the flowers, and there on the other side of all that blossomy betrayal, my grandmother reaching her hand out to accept them, tears in her eyes, touched as she was by the gesture.
Bewildered, I looked around and verified that it was indeed my grandma’s apartment house, my grandma’s apartment door, my grandma herself.
I asked myself how I hadn’t recognized the place and took some consolation that I’d never come in through the side entrance before. And that building management had repainted the hall from green to blue and swapped out the artwork on the walls (replacing the fruit bowls with paintings of horses leaping). And that I’d been in hot pursuit. But all those excuses just underscored the despicable truth: it had been forever since I’d visited my grandma.
Which was, perhaps, why the old gal was absolutely radiating joy. Already face-deep in Todd’s bouquet, she was suddenly even happier. “Oh, my!” she said. “Both of my favorite boys! You two know each other?”
“Well, we’ve bumped into each other before,” Todd said and hesitantly extended his hand for a shake. “Nice to see you again,” he said. And then, in a quieter voice, “Did ‘Grins for Grannies’ send you, too? The admin is always getting confused about who’s got which visit on which day.”
"Hi Granny," I said, ignoring Todd’s hand and stepping in to kiss my grandma’s cheek.
"Tyler, this is such a treat. It's been so long," she said, and tugged me into her living room.
“Things have been busy at work,” I fumbled. “Lots of new clients.”
Todd followed us inside. "You're Tyler," he said, putting the puzzle together. "Irene’s told me all about you. Great that you're here," he said and clapped me on the back. I fought off an impulse to respond with violence.
"Todd, these flowers are gorgeous. Thank you so much," Granny said and then looked over at me. "And did you bring me something, Tyler?" she asked, not in any mean way, just this heartbreakingly hopeful inquiry, the woman pining for some small token of affection to help her suffer the many months between her grandson’s visits.
The guilt was horrible. My mind screamed and searched for something to give her. I remembered the Dolcezza café ‘buy-10-get-1-free’ coffee card in my wallet. I felt a sudden reluctance to part with the prize, selfish bastard that I am.
And then Todd spoke. "Yes, Irene," he said. "Tyler got you something wonderful."
I was dumbfounded, vaguely angry, completely confused. Todd nodded at the oversized book of nude photographs still clasped in my clammy hand and before I could react, my grandma snatched Hearty Stock of the Eastern Bloc from me and started flipping through it. A familiar pair of Eastern European breasts fell to the floor, momentarily unnoticed.
"Oh," she said. "Oh my."
All my blood rushed into my blush. Paralyzed by shame, my throat wouldn't make a sound.
"Isn't it great?" Todd asked.
"Oh my," Granny said again.
"Tyler remembered how much you loved photography back in the day, Irene," Todd said. "All those pictures you took. The one you published in LIFE Magazine. You know, before getting married and having a family turned your attention away from the camera."
"Oh my!" my grandma said and turned the pages with new enthusiasm. “Look at this one," she said, pointing at the picture of an Olga attached to a plow. "Look at the contrast between light and dark--it's like that Spanish painting technique... ‘tenebrism’ I think it’s called.
"Oh Tyler, I love it! Thank you!" she said and threw her arms around me.
“You’re welcome, Granny,” I said, staring confused at Todd, who gave me a wink and a grin.
“Okay, now that we’ve got the mushy stuff out of the way,” my grandma said, “who’s up for lemonade and Scrabble?”
“I was hoping you’d ask,” Todd said.
And so I played Scrabble with my grandma and my ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend and frankly I had a great time... not just because Granny was aglow in all the attention, not just because she won three games in a row and I only let her win the first two, but because in the middle of the third game, when I got up to use the bathroom, I peeked at Todd’s tiles and saw that he’d spelled out “HUNGRIE” with his seven letters and there was an empty “R” on the board waiting for him to score a million points on his next turn, but when I got back from the bathroom, he’d only plunked down “HUNK” and Granny was teasing him that his looks were going to his head.
Todd was letting my grandma win, too! And that was such a thoroughly decent thing to do that I found myself asking him a bunch of questions and hearing about how he grew up dirt poor outside Lynchburg, that his parents passed away when he was young and his grandma raised him, that my grandma reminded him of his, that he was the first in his family to go to college, that he had to win a track scholarship to afford it, that he was an architect now but still liked to run... and I was having such a good time that I was actually disappointed when Granny said “It’s been lovely, but you boys need to scoot” because she had to get ready for her Saturday night sewing circle or whatever. That was when, wonder of wonders, Todd and I realized that we lived near each other and agreed to share a cab back.
Before I could get my address out, Todd told the guy to drop him off at Luigi’s and I got excited and started raving about the red sauce, and Todd agreed it was the best in the city hands-down and started telling me about the history of the restaurant, that it had been around for 60 years, that there used to be another downstairs dining room but then the city dug Metro tunnels through it... before I knew it, the cab had pulled up to Luigi’s and I was kind of flustered that I’d forgotten to give my address, but Todd was glancing at his watch and saying that his date wasn’t showing up for another 20 minutes, so why didn’t we hit the bar and have a Peroni?
And so we pulled up a couple barstools next to the same creepy hipster with the same creepy mustache who had ogled me earlier that week, but totally ignored him while Todd got halfway into a story about his college improv comedy group--about a skit they did on a rubber duckie accidentally dropped in a public toilet, and as the duck was finding his way in the world, falling under the influence of toilet-paper activists fighting to preserve the brown icebergs for future generations--and I was laughing so hard that I pissed myself a little, that’s when Petra showed up.
She stared bullets at me while Todd introduced us, and I didn’t want to screw anything up for him so I played it cool, said it was nice to meet her, and told them to enjoy dinner and I’d catch up with Todd later. After they grabbed their table, I hit the bathroom, bumped my last line, and returned to the bar, feeling alright about life. Romeo the bartender poured me another Peroni and plunked another frothy glass of pink crap in front of the hipster.
“That’s a good dude,” I told Romeo.
“Mr. Todd is a very nice man,” Romeo agreed.
“I hope those two are happy together,” I said and meant it.
That’s when the hipster snorted. I slugged back half the Peroni and turned to him.
“Something to say?” I asked.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s just that if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put money on that horse.”
“What do you know about it?” I said. “Drink your milkshake. Mind your business.”
“I know enough to have made 20 bucks when she walked out on you last Tuesday,” he said. “Isn’t that right, Romeo?”
Romeo frowned and walked to the other end of the bar.
“There’s no doubt she doesn’t have the best taste in men,” I said, “but a blind woman could see that's a good guy,” I pointed across the dining room at Todd. “She’s not going to drop that dude.”
“Yeah?” he said. “Wanna bet? Twenty bucks says--” he went quiet. “Damn,” he said. “Forget it.”
“What?” I asked.
He nodded his head at the dining room and Petra was getting up from the table and lurching toward the exit. And Todd was following, muttering things to her retreating back, a pained expression on his face. I couldn't believe it.
“What is wrong with that girl?” I said. “Goes through guys like it’s her goddamn job.”
The hipster snorted again. “Something like that,” he said. He seemed to savor my glare as he sucked down the rest of his Crayola-colored beverage, plucked out the maraschino cherry, and popped it between his thin lips. “It’s too good,” he said, glancing up at the hipster gods. “The expression on your face. The hell with the policy.”
He pried a business card out of his tight shirt pocket, put it on the bar, and pushed it towards me. “Vince Sherry, Senior Analyst, Consumer Reports,” it said.
“Consumer Reports?” I said. “You’re the magazine that tells the world which vacuum cleaners suck the most.”
“Uh huh,” he said. “But that’s not all we do.”
“Which batteries last longest in grandma’s dildo?”
Vince grimaced, which gave me no small amount of joy. “That’s the old-school Consumer Reports. We’re in other lines now, too.
“I’ll let you in on something,” he said, pulling his stool closer so I could smell his cherry breath. “A few years ago, the Internet destroyed print readership and we couldn’t make up the lost revenue with online subscriptions and advertising. We had to branch out from our traditional business model. We don’t just review for the masses anymore. We’ve gotten into customized assessments. Bespoke reviews. They’re super high margin.”
“So let me get this straight,” I said. “Instead of figuring out which dildo is right for grandmas across the country, now you figure out which dildo is right for one specific grandma?”
“Yeah,” Vince said. “But you’re the dildo. You and Todd and all the other dildos running around.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Picture the most successful, most eligible women in the city. Picture what a pain it is for them to actually have to date a guy to figure out if he’s funny or interesting or at all worth the time.”
“So we figure it out for them,” Vince said. “Who better than Consumer Reports? People aren’t much harder to grade than salad dressing or jumper cables. We design a ‘potential partner’ schema personalized to our client’s needs. Then we test out the available products in the marketplace.
“It generally takes four to six dates to complete an assessment,” he said. “Labor-intensive stuff. That’s why Petra’s such a quick break-up: she’s always got another date to get to.”
I was gobsmacked.
“You didn’t score so great,” Vince continued. “You didn’t make the shortlist to meet our client.”
“Are you telling me that Petra is some crash-dummy dater for another woman?” I said.
“Petra’s no dummy,” he said. “She’s my boss. She’s an innovator! This whole line of business was her concept. We’re piloting the program in DC before we go nationwide.”
“Oh my god,” I said.
“You’re good-looking enough and you made her laugh, but one roll in the hay was all she needed to confirm you’re too self-centered,” Vince said. “Your not-so-recreational drug use didn’t help either. And of course, overall your personality kind of sucks.
“But Todd didn’t have those problems,” Vince said. “His problem is that when a relationship goes south, he’s a whiny, clingy, little bitch. At least you take a break-up like a man. Our research indicates Todd is going to take two months to get over Petra dumping him. We can’t expose our client to that. What if it didn’t work out between them? Then we’d be sticking her with all those voicemail messages full of all that pleading, putting her on a long and terrible guilt trip.”
Vince plucked the straw out of his empty glass and licked the bottom clean, waiting for my reaction. “So what do you think about our little dildo assessment business?” he prodded me.
I slugged back the rest of my beer and gathered my thoughts.
“Good luck with your glorified dating service,” I finally said. “Todd and me--we don’t need to meet the awkward hag paying your invoices.”
Vince shook his head and vomited up a gleeful laugh. “No, no, no. She’s beautiful, she’s rich, and she’s super, super kind. Do you know how much pro bono work she does? One of the most thoughtful people you’ve ever met. But she’s too nice for her own good. Imagine how painful breaking up with a guy is for such a kind-hearted person. That’s one of the reasons she hired us.
“Thank god there are more than a dozen of you dildos living within a half-mile of her townhouse,” he said, “because even on paper you were a longshot, and Todd--well, Todd might have been in the money if he wasn’t such a whiny bitch, probably still clinging to the memory of every girl whose hand he ever held, probably way too damaged by his parents getting killed in Laos to ever be with a truly top-notch female--”
And that’s when I hit him. Couple times, and then Vince fell to the ground, so that’s where I hit him some more.
And honestly, I don’t think Romeo was all that broken up by this turn of events, because it took him a good long time to make it around the bar to pull me off Vince, and that let me get in a few good kicks to the gut too, because I figured if the cop reluctantly getting up from his spaghetti primavera was probably taking me downtown anyway, I might as well get my lawyer’s worth.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
So that’s why I’m here, capping off a beautiful Saturday night in D.C.’s finest jailhouse with you, Roberto. A couple of cool kids like us don’t need belts or shoelaces to have a good time, do we? We’re men of action who make decisions and don’t look back, right?
I’d do it all over again. What a pleasure to pummel that piece of crap.
Besides, Petra may have been some undercover wackjob, but I didn’t blow too much time on her. And frankly, I’ve got more respect for a gal doing her job, getting ahead, and paying her half of the dinner check than some of the vampires I’ve dated who never touched their wallets.
Plus, in some weird way I owe it to her that I got to see my grandma smile all afternoon, and you can’t beat that. Assuming I make bail, I’m going to Scrabble it up with Granny next Saturday, too. I've been meaning to visit the old gal more often anyway.
So how about you, Roberto? You got someone special to see when you get sprung?
Oh boy, look at that smile. I had a feeling you had a story.
Go on. Write me another page in that thick book about guys going down for girls.
What sort of pussy cat dragged you in here--was she a hell kitten? Did she take her claws out? Yeah, you didn’t get those scratches from shaving, did you?
On television, the hoarders could not cope without their many possessions; the camera crew, climbing over feet-high mounds of newspaper or cardboard, would turn up a photo album under a bed of cockroaches or a family heirloom beneath long-spoiled food, sometimes, in extreme cases, a desiccated cat corpse buried under a decade’s worth of trash. Still, the hoarders, often monumental in size themselves, would tearfully wave away whole piles of detritus as dump truck after dump truck came and went.
It was this cleansing that she found so appealing.
Frivolities had been the first to go. There was no need to rationalize—a vase or a framed photograph served no utilitarian purpose, and therefore there was no need to keep them around. She tossed away all the books she had read, and, later, the ones she hadn’t. After a while, even the necessities started to make her flinch: the stove, taking up so much space along the smooth white wall; the toilet, impossible to remove but ugly with its undignified round edges, so at odds with the austere lines and sharp corners of bare rooms. Why sully the place with a bed when she could sleep on the floor just fine—better, even, for her slumber having left no evidence of untidiness. Her stuccoed ceiling was an imposition on the rest of the room’s cleanliness, and she had it plastered over smooth.
“Oh, I just moved in,” she told the workmen who looked around skeptically, for there were no boxes in sight. She couldn’t wait for the paint to dry so she could remove the ugly clear plastic carpeting her pristine wooden floor.
For a while, no one knew; as she quietly pitched out her belongings, she spent time at her friends’ homes, where she would twitch at the clutter, resisting the urge to remove the tables and chairs she would sit at.
“Jesus, Meg,” one said, stepping out of the bathroom he had asked to use in an emergency. “There’s nothing here.”
“I have clothes,” she said, motioning toward the sparse closet, “and shoes”—a single pair next to the door.
Friends began to drop off one by one as the compulsion to clear clutter crept inside her body—does one really require a gallbladder, a pancreas? She thought about the eggs cluttering her ovaries like caviar, her kidneys squatters in her own body, and she felt as though she would skin herself alive.
She arrived at the hospital and began furtively filling out the forms: height, weight, health habits, blood type. She offered altruism as the purpose of her intended donation, finding no sufficient checkbox for the actual reason—an itching from the inside, something frantically clawing to get out. And as she lay weeks later on the gurney, watching a gloved hand bring the mask down over her nose and mouth, she resisted the urge to tell them to tear out her still-beating heart.
flash fiction by Alanna Weissman
poetry by Wendy Gist
busted open on a limb:
A dove ducks in,
plucks a pip, in sun’s ray--
the hot gem:
Not a sound of what is to come.
Before the fence fell apart, I’d balance on the top bar, jump up, and pull myself onto the barn, crawling to the peak, and sit with my legs stretched in front of me. I’d push loose pebbles and other debris through the hole in the roof, listening as they clattered on the tractor. At the far end of the field, tree branches broke the sunset into jigsaw pieces. I’d imagine the shards of sky falling into the pond. Then I’d dive across the yard and retrieve them before they became waterlogged, so our puzzle could still be put back together.
micro fiction by Darren Cormier
A neutral facial expression. Delmar considered this, before recommitting himself, once again, to the view that this is preferable to a natural smile, which is also permitted. He kept very still and practiced holding a neutral expression, imagining he was sitting on the adjustable swivel-stool of the 500-yen photo booth outside the train station, looking into the camera. He felt neutral and calm. Ready to start cooking.
It had been a joke, the offer to prepare dinner. But Miwa had acted thrilled, even as Delmar proclaimed his lack of culinary skill. So now he faced the additional stress of having to prepare an edible meal. Additional to the stress inherent in any visit by a woman to his narrow studio apartment, of which there had been eleven in the six years since he’d been discarded by his first and only serious girlfriend. None of those visits had been a first date, like today. And almost all had been a last date.
Just concentrate on the cooking, Delmar thought. Carefully placing a half dozen passports back into his dresser’s top drawer, he closed it silently. He then moved to the kitchen area, where he marshalled his ingredients: a canary-yellow box of linguine just like at Ristorante Shinagawa, near the technical college where he diligently taught “Business English,” a 480ml jar of expensive imported sauce, and some ground beef, mushrooms and a bell pepper which he would sauté and add in together with the leftover red wine he took from the fridge. Forty minutes later the concoction smelled good. Meanwhile, Delmar, had made a rudimentary salad, tidied up, and set the table. He grated some fragrant, extra-aged parmesan cheese. This was Delmar doing his very best.
He returned to the dresser and gently, respectfully removed all thirty-four passports, one-by-one, flipping through the pages and stopping randomly. He looked wistfully at a Bulgarian spousal visa.
Why, he wondered, would anyone collect decorative teaspoons or Zippo lighters? These old passports had such richer variation and complexity, and were so nice to hold. They told true tales of exotic adventure in the lives of real people. With every new acquisition, Delmar meticulously wiped the pages with a shammy cloth, but all retained a faint, thin mustiness that intensified their authenticity. Most impressive was when extra pages had been sewn in.
And they were official documents that could be trusted, including the photographs. The neutral expressions were suggestive of bravery, that of real human beings preparing for great exploits. Also, neutral expressions were more consistent with business trips, which Delmar, never having been on one, thought the pinnacle of glamour.
The passports calmed Delmar, and he resolved not to think about his other collection, which sat in the uppermost part of his closet. Not to think at all about high-heeled shoes until after dinner, and even then not about the pairs in the closet. He would be welcoming and kind to Miwa, but show no sign of strong emotion, despite that he thought her wonderful. Despite that such soft eyes and such a soft voice could only, he thought, be bound to a sweet and loving heart. Delmar would stay calm. Experience had showed this was the safest course.
It was time. He put a lid on the pot, turned off the burner and headed out. The cool early-December wind blew, but he did not bother with a jacket.
Delmar spied Miwa from a distance, already waiting next to the photo booth. She held a pocket book as if to read, but cast her gaze from one direction to another. Seeing him, she hurried the book away and kept waving with two arms until he stood just a few paces in front of her. “Thank you for coming all the way to meet me,” she said.
Miwa gave Delmar a quick, tight hug and smiled, and then looked down with an embarrassment that did not seem to cloud her happiness. “You must be so cold,” she said, putting a hand on his upper arm, leaving it there a few seconds. He could feel her warmth through his thick cotton shirt.
They walked along, Delmar hiding his excitement from Miwa. But he could not, and should not, hide the shoe issue from himself. It was a practical matter. And it was his own deliberate choice – made six years earlier.
Back then, in the aftermath of the rejection by his girlfriend, the crushing weight of emptiness had pushed Delmar into systematic reflection about his experiences with romance during the thirty years he’d then been alive. Before Japan, there had been much loneliness, but no particular catastrophe. In Tokyo Delmar found a girlfriend quickly, but never felt the relationship stable. The lowest point, nearly a year in, came moments after he thought he’d finally been able to bring her to orgasm, when he realized that her uncontrollable shudder of passion had merely been a miscellaneous consequence of yet another earthquake striking Tokyo, magnitude 5.3.
In the upshot, Delmar arrived at a set of beliefs: (a) a successful long-term relationship depended on him performing adequately the very first time in bed with a woman; (b) having the confidence to perform adequately with a new woman depended on close to optimal conditions; and (c) for this, the woman had to wear high-heeled shoes, preferably red.
Merely having some beliefs to embrace brought a little comfort. But one might well suppose that these particular beliefs could impede the implementation of any strategy for actual romance. It would be hit-or-miss, at best, depending on the woman.
And in Japan, it was all the harder. Shoes were not worn inside, but removed at the genkan. This omnipresent architectural feature might be an expansive, tastefully decorated sunken vestibule or just a sliver of depressed floor-space abutting the doorway. But it was part of the outside. Inside was when you stepped up from the genkan into the home. Shoes could be worn inside only if they had never been worn outside, in which case they had the same status as indoor-use slippers. (No footwear, not even slippers could be worn on tatami, with the sole exception, as every schoolchild knows, being for police in hot pursuit of criminals).
But even if a Japanese woman had at hand a pair of brand new, unworn shoes, wearing them inside would seem odd, especially in someone else’s home. She would feel unease.
All this pressed against Delmar as he clasped Miwa’s soft hand during the fifteen-minute walk to his apartment. Outwardly appearing calm. Making chit-chat.
That inevitable unease when the woman actually puts on the shoes … The challenge this represented loomed ahead, as Delmar and Miwa turned off the main avenue towards his apartment. But there were also preliminary obstacles. Broaching the subject. Gaining agreement. Finding appropriate shoes. Ensuring they fit. Getting everything else right. Seven shoeboxes already sat on the closet shelf, one for each time he had made it through those preliminaries. And in a bare majority of those seven cases, the final unease too had been overcome, the shoes actually being worn within the confines of his apartment.
Task number one was getting Miwa to the nearby shoe store before it closed at nine. But even if he made it that far, what if the shop clerk smirked? Or let on that Delmar had previously accompanied seven other women there on the same specific mission? He struggled to stay calm as they waited for the elevator.
“Oh, Del-san, you really cooked dinner,” said Miwa, as he held the door open for her. “It smells delicious!” Delmar took in at a glance the women’s shoes now resting on the genkan floor. Violet-blue, almond toe, two-and-a-half-inch kitten heels. A silver buckle on the thin strap that had, moments before, laid flush against Miwa’s ankle. Sensible, but not unsexy. Definitely not unsexy. Delmar removed his own shoes, leaning down rather more than necessary, inhaling the combined scent of the violet-blue shoe leather and of what it had just enclosed. Delicious indeed. He struggled to maintain his composure.
After pouring Miwa a glass of wine, Delmar quickly asked if she would like to see his passport collection. “They’re pretty old, and belonged to all kinds of people from all over the world.” She said yes. He started calming down.
Delmar retrieved the entire collection, letting his fingers briefly touch all the covers and their embossed coats of arms. Laying the passports on the table, he explained that his fascination began in childhood. It was television, he said. Spy shows. The heroes – even some villains – would sooner or later snap open an attaché case to reveal passports with different names and nationalities. “It was excitement waiting to happen.”
“These, my passports,” he was pointing, “are excitement that really did happen. In the old days, going abroad necessarily meant adventure. Whenever some border guard stamped a page, it was an important moment in the life of a real person. A turning point.” The words were flowing better now. But he wasn’t trying to sound clever. “I like to look at the passports and imagine the stories.”
“Probably I need more adventure in my own life.” Delmar looked down. “It doesn’t have to be an African safari or skydiving. But something.”
"Me too,” said Miwa, just a little sadly. “I don’t know how to say well in English, but I think I was like small girl for too long. Scared for adventure. Just okay to be safe.” She reached toward a particular passport, and stopped. “Is it okay to touch?”
“Go right ahead,” said Delmar. He smiled. “Don’t worry about anything.”
Miwa studied the cover, and then opened it.
“That’s a British passport from 1914, the year they started including photographs.”
Delmar refilled their glasses and picked up another passport. “I like the photos. This guy with the moustache, for example. What was he thinking about right then? Look here, and here,” said Delmar. “It was issued in Washington on May 14th, 1935, and then two weeks later that same guy is crossing the Russian border.”
At some stage Delmar realized that with each passport, before Miwa looked inside she first looked at him observing its photo. It occurred to Delmar that he’d never before shown his collection to a woman whom he was hoping would wear red, high-heeled shoes. Delmar smiled straight at Miwa. He looked into her eyes. The linguine boiled over. They both ran to the kitchen area, laughing.
Dinner was going smoothly, and they were most of the way through their second bottle of wine, a Bordeaux brought by Miwa. But time did what it does; it flew. Delmar must take action now.
He cursed his inability to throw away the seven shoe boxes on the closet shelf, which had room for just two more. His pathetic inability. Why should he keep the boxes and what they contained? The memories – some happy, most not – would endure without them. He should donate the almost-unworn shoes to some clothing drive for a typhoon-ravaged poor country, so long as he could just drop them at a collection point without explanation. Why shouldn’t women in poor countries have sexy shoes?
The shoe shop was only half as far as the station. Delmar suggested going for a walk and, bolstered by a last glass of wine, promised to keep Miwa warm. “Del-san, how is it you always know what I want?” He prayed that this would stay true for at least a little longer.
They stepped out into the evening. Delmar, though wearing a neutral face expression, curled his right arm as far as it could go around Miwa’s waist. She pressed her cheek into the crevice between his chest and his shoulder. “Let’s go that way,” he said, guiding Miwa to the lights of the main street. For a few seconds, he allowed himself to picture her in red high heels.
In front of the shoe shop, Delmar stopped. “Miwa, I’ve had such a good evening. I’m so glad you came for dinner. I’d really like to get you a present. Please let me.” She resisted, saying he had already cooked her a wonderful meal. “Please let me,” he repeated, and she gave in.
Looking at his watch, he said, “The stores will all close in around five minutes. We better go in here and pick something quickly.” So far, Delmar had not flubbed even one of his painstakingly-memorized lines. As they entered the shop, he asked Miwa her shoe size. He then repeated the number to the clerk as he pointed towards a pair of red, high-heeled shoes on the wall.
“Del-san, are you trying to make me look sexy? I am not a sexy woman.”
“Miwa, you don’t need those shoes to make you sexy. You are already very sexy. That’s why I thought of those shoes right away,” said Delmar, concentrating on accurately reciting his lines, turning his mind away from the ultimate purpose. “They’ll suit you perfectly.”
The clerk announced that it was closing time and they purchased the shoes. Walking back to Delmar’s apartment, Miwa stayed pressed close to his body, but looked toward the pavement in embarrassment. Delmar breathed the cold air in and out and tried to think of nothing at all.
At Miwa’s suggestion, they popped into a convenience store to buy another bottle of wine. As Delmar opened it back at the apartment, she said, “Del-san, do you buy red high-heeled shoes for all your girlfriends?”
Delmar, lacking a prepared response, froze. He turned pale. “I don’t have any other girlfriend. I don’t have any girlfriend at all.”
“Oh, Del-san. I’m sorry. I am very, very sorry.” She smiled a little. “I know you’re not a playboy type. I’m just nervous because … Because I like you.” Miwa looked downward and was quiet for a minute. “It’s hard for me to say, and I don’t want you to think that I always say things like that to men. I am shy, but I try not to be so shy with you.”
“Anyway, even if you did buy shoes for other women, there’s nothing wrong with it. I am happy you bought me these, Del-san.” While Miwa spoke, she took out the shoes from their box and put them on. Not in the genkan, but while sitting on the sofa. She had flattened out the shoe shop’s large paper bag over the floor and now stood upon it, looking down at her new shoes.
“You are so beautiful,” said Delmar.
“Del-san, how come you know what I want? How come you know me so well?”
Not so very long after that evening, Delmar and Miwa took a week’s trip to Indonesia – a first for them both. Miwa had a new Japanese passport. In the centre of its red cover was a golden stylized-chrysanthemum seal, and it was valid for ten years. Inside was a photo showing a natural smile, which Delmar knew was definitely permitted.
The upper shelf of Delmar’s closet held three new boxes, each containing shoes Miwa had picked out to wear just for him. But there was still room for more, since the old collection was gone. Delmar had given it to a charity drive. Soon, in an earthquake-struck region of Nepal, seven pairs of husbands and wives got an interesting surprise.
short fiction by Mark Halpern
There was enough strychnine in Gerard’s orange juice to kill an Ox. Jessica stood over her dying husband as the last spasms twitched out of his body. She held her breath, steadied herself upon the wooden chair, and stared at Gerard until she was sure he was dead. She was surprised at how violent the ending had come. The remaining contaminated orange juice spilled onto the white linen tablecloth, and Gerard’s half-eaten scrambled eggs stared at her, partially framed by finger-painted streaks of catsup—everything cold, crusty and dry. She covered Gerard with a pink sheet, looked around the room, and decided to leave everything in its place, because, after all she thought, it didn’t matter anyway. A curious electrical sensation spread throughout her body; she had just murdered her husband.
It felt liberating to sit behind the wheel of Gerard’s 1958 Buick Century, as she hadn’t been allowed to drive for many years. The car was pointed toward Niagara Falls, the place that Gerard forbade her to go, and the place that consumed her day and night. The last time she mentioned the Falls, Gerard tied her up for two days, hand-fed her, and tended to her like an injured calf, preaching in a fevered blur about the sinners that littered the natural wonder. As soon as that torturous episode ended, she had decided his fate.
Jessica had wonderful memories of visiting the falls as a child, though lately, they’ve become eerily saturated with the Niagara Green color. The green had also taken on something of a physical form in her present state. Some days, from the moment she opened her eyes, the green tinted her entire world. Other days, a mysterious green fog followed her around the house, which she’d taken to whisking away with a broom. It was futile to resist the gravitational pull of the river any longer, it was time.
After a two-hour drive from Rochester, New York, Jessica arrived at Niagara Falls in a fiery panic. The last quarter of the trip, she could hardly take the anticipation, trying not to speed while fidgeting with the radio knob, smoking like a maniac, and trying to keep the car on the road. But once she arrived, and heard the all-encompassing sound of water, a peaceful surrender enveloped her. A light mist coming off Bridal Falls settled her nerves; it was as if she had finally come home to wash away her suffocating anxiety. She leaned against a metal railing and inhaled the familiar cool dampness that permeated the park. Fifteen minutes later, the amorphous green apparition appeared and began floating beside her. She turned to confront it, but not before the strange fog disappeared into the mist of the river.
At the furthest point of Three Sister’s Island that stretched into the river, she took off her white tennis shoes to dip her feet in. Holding onto a secure tree branch, the rushing energy of the river moved through her body as she placed her left foot atop the water. Jessica, on alert, looked behind her and spotted a child. She immediately took her foot out, and put on her shoes so that the child wouldn’t follow her dangerous lead.
Standing up again, she became unbalanced while admiring a Great Egret that flew overhead. The mischievous and always opportunistic river took notice of her slight teeter, snatched her ankle, and pulled her in. She resisted weakly, only for the slightest moment before submitting to the water’s violent strength. Swirling watery white noise consumed her while her vision turned soapy and green. Then the thud of her fragile head against a jutting rock came quickly after. The primal water flipped her upside down, threw her left and right, and dragged her now limp body through a fatal obstacle course of boulders, rocks and zigzagging tributaries.
The scene had not gone unnoticed by the surveilling green fog. The ever watchful, shifting vapor, appeared just before the drop, shepherded Jessica over the falls, and escorted her home, to her final, peaceful, resting place, at the bottom of the Niagara River.
flash fiction by Brian Morse
She had resisted the temptation of a dishwasher
in honour of her mother
she stood at the sink that afternoon
letting her hands find their way
letting her fingers coax and clean
while she gazed out the kitchen window
out over the back garden and the lives of our neighbours
into a milky blue sky
it appeared in silence and hung there
a simple, small grey shape
it was not a smudge on her glasses
it was not a trick of the light
it was not Age and his magic tricks
as this was her summer
her hair still black, her eyes still clear
minutes passed, she watched
she felt her heart almost fall to her stomach
when the shape moved, once and then again
how quick it moved
how quick it stopped
how it seemed to belong
how it seemed to be just it and her
and no one else
and then it was gone
absorbed by the sky
and she could finally blink again
though she knew it would not come back
she stood at the sink
her hands continued to find their way
her fingers continued to coax and clean
what else could they do
My Mother Saw a U.F.O.
poetry by Steve Denehan
n at a Korean Day Spa)
Las Vegas: city of billboards, debauchery, and celebrity second-chances; a desert oasis of burning lights and alcohol-fueled gambling binges. It’s a city with an identity crisis: a metropolis among sand dunes, a tourist haven founded on poor imitations of the world’s tourist havens. Casinos have no clocks or windows, as if the rules of time and space are inapplicable. The city’s hotel carpets and gaudy stage productions flow so richly with hedonism that it invented a tagline to assert its lack of consequences for whatever occurs within its boundaries. It also invented the Drive-Thru wedding chapel.
And it was the site of my first and last family vacation.
I was eight—the youngest, trailing behind by at least five years. It was my first plane ride, my first time in a hotel, my first excursion outside the vast borders of Montana. At the time, the Bozeman airport had only two gates—Delta and United—and the only nonstop flights went to Salt Lake City and Denver—hubs of Delta and United. We transferred in Salt Lake for what would have been a three-hour nonstop flight to Vegas. My brother Max told me planes didn’t crash much, except for the small two-row planes like the one we were boarding. Had my executive functioning skills been more developed, I might have quipped that if I died, he would, too. Instead I turned to my mother for reassurance.
My parents told me I’d been on planes before, but was too young to remember it. We’d gone to Disney World when I was three. I assume I loved it, but, not being able to know myself then, I can’t say for sure. I enjoyed it when I was twelve and finally surpassed the yellow bar to ride roller coasters, but I was in Florida with only my mother. It was her mother’s 70th birthday.
I’ve never ridden a roller coaster with my brothers.
It was late afternoon when we arrived in the desert. There were two rows of slot machines in the lobby of The Excalibur Hotel, which is what my parents deemed the most “family friendly” of the behemoths on the Las Vegas strip. I knew gambling was illegal at my age, which I assumed meant I could not be in the presence of gambling. While I waited for my parents, I glared at the machine, red cherries and green clovers and gold coins glaring back at me. I noticed a security guard, clad in non-threatening UPS brown with a badge and gadget-belt.
He made no effort to move.
I stared longer, a four-foot rebel testing the boundaries in a city where women adorn the sidewalks in rhinestone bikinis.
The guard did nothing.
Then my parents herded us to the room and I trudged along, satisfied with my new status as a law-breaker.
The Excalibur Hotel and Casino: an expansive tower of sleep/sex rooms capped with cartoon turrets—an almost-adequate replica of Cinderella’s castle, but a castle nonetheless. I remember the carpets: Hotel Carpet. I’d never stayed in a hotel before, but I recognized them instinctively. That beaten-down gaudiness; that imitation filigree stamped on dull primary colors; that overbearing effort to be distinctive.
Like every hotel on the Vegas Strip, The Excalibur came with its own C-list tourist experience and tacky restaurant. At The Excalibur, the two were folded into a single package: a medieval-themed dinner show. As much as I enjoyed fake kings making arbitrary decrees and watching horses run around inside, I was embarrassed to bang my fists on the table with the others in the amphitheater. I was embarrassed to eat with my hands.
We visited all the major hotels on the Strip—except New York, New York, which was under construction. My glimpse of the half-built fake Statue of Liberty ignited something in me. I was disappointed to miss even the imitation of the city I would one day live in. But the hotels we did visit? They all had Hotel Carpet.
The Luxor was a hulking green glass pyramid with a basement museum of Egyptian things and Walkman audio tours.
The Mirage was a bedazzled waterfall from the outside, complete with faux volcano; inside it were a bedazzled Siegfried and Roy. We went to the restaurant. We didn’t see the magicians with the tigers on our family vacation. Instead, I remember the tiny sharks in the lobby aquariums. I asked my brother if they were real sharks. Max assured me they were. I didn’t believe him, but it seemed equally unlikely that they were tiny robots.
The Flamingo brought the Florida tropics to the Nevada desert. It was decorated like I imagined Ricky Ricardo’s club would look in color. We ate at the restaurant there, too.
We drove past the Bellagio fountains and Greco-Roman gimmicks of Caesar’s Palace. We toured the Hoover Dam and its drab industrial guts. We evaded poker tables everywhere, not speaking about the elephant and its circus in each room we wandered through. All their winding pathways of hotel carpet and cigarette smoke were like a maze keeping guests from too easily finding their way into the daylight. Each hotel was distinctively tacky and yet without any real identity. They began to swirl together into a sphere of lights. Everywhere, there were lights.
I remember the lights. They were always on, blinking like defective stars: navigation guides for the drunk. I liked the lights. But I was eight.
We visited Circus Circus, a pink circle in the sky containing an amusement park I was too small to enjoy. My brothers rode a roller coaster while I watched smaller children jolting back and forth on a plastic school bus. I was separated from the other children by a metal bar and from my family members by my age. My father came by and I asked him if I could ride the school bus. It wasn’t the roller coaster I wanted, but it was something.
My dad stood behind the metal bar and watched my dangling feet move up and down. It seemed slower there than it did from below. Looking down at my dad, it was lonely. But it was the closest I had to an adventure. While I drifted on a fake yellow school bus, my family wandered around a circle in the sky, as far from each other as we were from the ground below.
At the end of the week, we walked through a carnival on our way to some 3D film at the MGM Grand. There were bumper boats, child-sized and brightly colored. My forehead surpassed the yellow bar to ride them. I asked my parents if I could try, but there was no time. No time for my adventures.
That week in Las Vegas was our last family vacation, although we watched the film Vegas Vacation annually. My parents would go back once a year, staying just off the strip at a cheaper hotel with a nice buffet breakfast. They liked it there. They almost moved to Las Vegas in retirement, but Arizona was less expensive with the same booze-slathered atmosphere.
Like the shellac that coated Nevada’s den of debauchery, our family’s exterior hid our darker insides. After that trip, illness—diagnosed and undiagnosed—piled up in the passing years, like the Bellagio’s stacks of poker chips. We hid beneath cartoon turrets and endless lights, suspended in windowless dissolution, distracting ourselves from the addictions and impulses harbored within our artificial borders.
I remember the lights, blinking like defective stars. There was nothing real there. It was so easy to get lost.
creative non-fiction by Maryann Aita
Maryann Aita is a Brooklyn-based writer and performer. Her work has appeared in The Exposition Review, The Collapsar, Big Muddy, Breadcrumbs Magazine, and others. Her teleplay, “The Matchbreaker” won the 2016 Broad Humor Film Festival Best Original Comedy Pilot. She was a featured storyteller in The PIT’s 2017 StoryFest and has participated in the Brooklyn Sisters Reading Series. Maryann has an MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in psychology from NYU.
Darren Cormier is the author of "A Little Soul: 140 Twitterstories.” His work has previously been published in Opium Magazine, Thrice Fiction, Black Heart Magazine, and NAP, among many others. He lives in the Boston area with his wife, their cat, and their growing book collection.
Steve Denehan lives in Kildare, Ireland with his wife Eimear and daughter Robin. Recent publication credits include Better Than Starbucks, Fowl Feathered Review, a “microchapbook” as part of the Origami Poems Project, Terror House Magazine, Dual Coast, The Opiate, Sky Island Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Evening Street Review, The Folded Word, Ink In Thirds and Third Wednesday. One of his poems was recently shortlisted for the Ireland Poetry Day Competition. His chapbook, “Of Thunder, Pearls and Birdsong” is available from Fowlpox Press.
Wendy Gist’s poetry, fiction and essays have been featured or are forthcoming in Amsterdam Quarterly, Empty Mirror Arts and Literary Magazine, Foliate Oak, Fourth River, Grey Sparrow Journal, New Plains Review, Rio Grande Review, RipRap, Soundings Review, St. Austin Review, The Lake (UK), and many other fine journals. Gist co-edits Red Savina Review. She’s the author of the chapbook “Moods of the Dream Fog” from Finishing Line Press. Gist is a Pushcart Prize nominee and semifinalist for Best Small Fictions 2017.
Mark Halpern has lived since 1993 in Tokyo, where he runs his own law firm and writes stories about foreigners in Japan. He was born in America, grew up mostly in Canada, and has spent substantial time in the UK and France. As for Japan, Mark has, like some of his characters, found a way to be both an outsider and an insider.
Brian Morse is the author of “Migration” (Pski’s Porch, 2016). His work has appeared in Pulp Metal Magazine, and has fiction forthcoming at Akashic Books and Visitant. He can be found online at brian1morse.wordpress.com
Mick Ó Seasnáin
Mick Ó Seasnáin has continually attempted to farm his quarter acre lot in the small town of Wooster, Ohio while catering to the diverse and often unanticipated needs of his tripod-ish dog and three rowdy children. His wife tolerates his creative habits and occasionally enables his binges of writing and photography. Find more of his work in his digital portfolio.
Henry Presente has published a short story collection called “Personal Earthquakes” (with Czykmate Productions), and tall tales with Harpur Palate, The Columbia Review, The MacGuffin, Prime Number Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, and others. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, helped save enough energy to power 1 million homes for 1 year, and once led a spontaneously formed conga line–fearlessly and with no regard for tomorrow. Kick up your heels with him at HenryPresente.com.
Alanna Weissman is a writer, reporter and copy editor from New York City. An alumna of Colgate University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she is currently an MFA candidate at New York University.
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Creative Non-Fiction Editor
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