September 11, 2018| ISSUE no 242
crack the spine
Rose Maria Woodson
A Yellow Marigold
short fiction by Ana Vidosavljevic
A yellow marigold wanted to talk. She was just a garrulous little flower who couldn’t keep silent.
And she was so sad that other flowers didn’t talk. They sometimes whispered some secrets to the wind that passed by and petted their yellow petals. But the little yellow marigold wanted to talk, seriously talk, sing, even shout loudly. However, she knew that if she started doing that, her petals would fall off and her green dress would disappear. And instead of a flower, she would become a little redhead girl who had no friends and whose home was not a happy place.
Maria lived in a shabby little house at the end of the village. The end of the road was the place where her father had built their home. And behind the house there was a beautiful forest that brought not only a fresh air and enchanting bird song, but the playground for Maria and her little sister Martha.
Their father was a miner and he often left the house and didn’t come back for a week or two. He probably was trapped in those underground catacombs, as her mother had explained to Maria and Martha. And those days without him around were the best. Those days were filled with the peaceful hours, their mother’s hands knitting, her soft voice singing, while Maria and Martha played in the garden. They didn’t miss him, because he brought the awful alcohol odor, angry red eyes and his leather belt that left long red painful marks on Maria and her sister’s skin. But those red marks didn’t hurt as much as it hurt to watch him beating up their mother with his bare hands, fists and kicking her with his dirty boots. Those wounds hurt more. They left imperishable scars.
Every time her father came back stinking of beer, cigarettes and sweat, her mother would usher Maria and Martha to the forest and tell them to stay and play outside until she came to look for them. They knew what would follow: their father’s drunk yelling, throwing the chairs and other furniture around the house, and beating their mother. And they couldn’t help her. They looked at her sad and terrified eyes and begged her to let them stay in the house with her. But she was persistent. They were to go immediately and play outside. The girls obediently did what their mother had asked them.
Once they went deeper in the forest and found those clean grassy areas with marigolds, strawberries, clovers and other colorful flowers, they forgot what might be happening in the house. They got immersed in their playing and singing. Sometimes, they played for hours and hours before their mother came to find them. And the sight of their mother was terrifying. Even though she tried to mask her bruises, cuts and broken teeth, the little girls could see that she must have been in hell during those few hours. And they knew that coming back from that hell was announced only when their father fell asleep.
Every time they spotted their mother coming though the breeches and oak trees and looking for them, they rushed toward her carrying in their hands marigolds which they had picked up for her. They hugged her and stayed long in her arms letting their mother’s tears fall down on their hair and wetting their red curls. The three of them stayed embraced like that for a long time as if they hadn’t seen one another for years.
Every time their mother sent them to play in the forest and they went to their favorite playground, Maria’s heart ached with fear that their mother might not come to look for them that day. That thought made her panic. She was afraid to go back home alone with Martha, without their mother holding their hands and encouraging them to follow her back home. But they were also afraid to stay in the forest during the night. Night brought some strange sounds, shadows and creatures that lurked around and threatened to eat alive her and her sister. Night in forest was scary for little girls. However, night at home while their father was there was not less frightening.
One gloomy day, when the sun hid behind the clouds and didn’t want to show up, and the dark clouds covered the sky threatening to turn day into night, their mother with the tears in her eyes sent Maria and Martha to play in the forest. It was not a good day for playing outdoors, but their father was so drunk and angry that they could hear his scary voice a mile away.
Maria took Martha’s hand and told her that everything would be fine. They walked slowly toward the forest which seemed dark and hostile. Their little hearts were beating fast but they comforted each other. They had one another. They were not alone. When they came close to the meadow full of marigolds, the thunder and lightning ripped the sky. Big rain drops started falling and, in a few minutes, Maria and Martha were wet. They looked around searching for a shelter but there was no cave, no place that could give them temporary protection from bad weather and danger. Maria took off her jacket and put it on the top of the blueberry bushes and then she and Marta hid below. At least the rain drops didn’t fall directly on their heads but instead Maria’s jacket collected them. They waited probably a couple of hours the rain to stop and when it finally stopped, they felt relieved. But the sun didn’t come out and since they were wet, they felt cold. They waited their mother to come and take them home.
Hours and hours passed and their mother didn’t appear. The evening sky told them that maybe they would have to spend that night in the forest. Hungry and shaking due to being cold, they hugged each other and prayed. When the darkness ruled over the forest and the temperature dropped significantly they fell asleep. After some time, their breaths slowed down, and their hearts started beating less intensely until they completely stopped. And Maria and Martha fell into a deep eternal sleep.
The next morning, a hunter accompanied by his dog, found two little dresses, two pairs of old children’s shoes, two little jackets and purple hair ribbons. But he didn’t see any girls whom these things belonged. He and his dog searched the whole forest looking for the children but they didn’t find them. What the hunter and his dog didn’t see were two beautiful yellow marigolds that stayed calmly and silently next to the place where the hunter had found the children’s clothes.
Maria was restless in her new clothing and role of a flower. She admired her own gracefulness and fragrance, but she couldn’t keep quiet. And she knew that every time she tried to talk, she would become a girl, vulnerable and alone. Her sister Martha was happy, on the other hand, just to sit quietly and admire surroundings. She was safe and her sister Maria was next to her. And what was even more important, very soon, within a few weeks, their mother who had become a fairy, would come to look for them and take them with her. That’s what the blue finch had told them. Their mother had sent him to inform her daughters that she hadn’t abandoned them. But they had to be patient and silent and they should refrain from talking, otherwise, their father might find them and then, they would probably never again see their mother, who couldn’t get back to her human figure. Between death and life as a fairy, she chose the latter.
And now Maria and Martha were waiting. At least they didn’t have to run away and hide. Here, no one disturbed them as long as they kept quiet. Talking and singing provoked Maria but the fact that if she kept quiet she would see her mother made Maria hushed. Just few more weeks. And then, the three of them, their mother, Martha and Maria will sing, smile and laugh altogether.
I was there when they pulled the man from the sea. Ordinary. He just looked ordinary against the heaving coastline of African palms and the gritty scales of white coral made small by the tide. The waves had licked and pressed him, combed his mop of sopping hair back from his forehead and laid the banality of his features neatly across his cheeks. He could have been anyone, a face I’d passed a thousand times back home on my six-fifteen shuttle train, made blurry by our cultural slur of keeping our eyes fixed vacantly ahead. Someone’s husband. Someone’s father. Someone’s brother. For a minute or two, convexed on my sun lounger by the commotion, I waited for someone to come running from beneath the woven umbrellas to claim him. Expected someone to claim him; no one traveled to paradise alone, even you were back at the room sleeping off your sunburn.
Paradise. That’s what everyone called this place. I’d been splattered with jealous gushing from the day I announced that we’d booked right up to the ten minutes that I lingered in the departure lounge toilets, dabbing at myself with sixteen-hour-wear foundation. I was under no illusion that the post-adolescent natives who loitered around the Sea Sports kiosk, offering hourly boat trips, thought this place no more special than I considered the heavy bustle of London; after all, they saw it every day. It’s remarkable how easily something can become a backdrop. I’d already grown used to the sight of newlywed couples strolling along the sand, ivory trains scooped up in their conjoined fingers, photographer trotting dutifully behind. The thought of it left a strange, sour taste in my mouth as I watched his chest bow under the pressure of frantic compressions. Naïve to these things and dulled by the tameness of hospital TV dramas, I’d never realised you had to press so hard.
In that rose-tinted way that spoke volumes of the sheltered upbringing you were always chastising me for, I was sure he was alive. He had to be alive and I waited for the collective sigh of relief that would ripple through the bystanders who had pulled him to shore. With no medical training and a fear of appearing voyeuristic, I remained curled on my sun lounger, bracing myself against my knees as if posed in a strained labour. It was one that I told myself would have a happy outcome, like all painful births. Because everything in my world had a happy outcome.
Perhaps it’s overdramatic to say that time suspended itself. Too much of a cliché. Rather, it was more likely that I was responsible for my inanimate suspension. In the muffled periphery, children were still running along the path above, dodging the room service buggies as if nothing had happened. The palm fronds drifted. The water crept and retreated, insultingly calm, and I waited for my cue to breathe from the splayed figure in the sand. No one came running for him. The babble surrounding him rose and fell in a melting pot of dialects and, yet, I felt sure that none of them were his.
A foreign wah-wah announced the ambulance pulling close to the beach front. Two bursts of the siren and then more strangers came to pull at his arms and slide him away from the last groping fingers of water. It was then that I felt most compelled to unfold myself, to ram my feet inside my shoddy holiday shoes and race towards him. I told myself that it was the not knowing that was the worst thing; I hadn’t yet seen him take a breath and I was afraid that my imposed distance would always leave me with that unanswered question but, in reality, it was much worse to know. It was worse to know that it is possible to drown alone in paradise and, alone, he was laid flat and taken away.
I slid into bed beside you, kicking off my gritty sandals and pulling off my shirt so that I would actually be as naked as I felt. I talked about it with you, of course I did. When that muggy afternoon haze had worn off and we were both awake, I propped myself up in the sheets and tried to explain. Where I had once been thrilled by the prospect of glass bottom boat trips and the kayaks that we could take out over the reef, I was now hesitant and wary of anything that presented me with such a great, unpredictable expanse.
I thought, after seventeen years of marriage, that I knew you but your reaction took me by surprise. There was nothing anyone could do, you said. He was probably dead before they got him to shore. Muted. You would carry on with the day in complete normality, shrugging off something that you couldn’t change. You couldn’t see how much it had shaken me to suddenly realise that we are all small against the sea.
Maybe you had to see it. Maybe you had to be there.
flash fiction by Amy Crosby
poetry by Rose Maria Woodson
Snug in your job & quarterly reports,
you think you’ve arrived,
going nowhere fast in Damascus traffic,
in the back of a cab, one
pedestrian after another
passing you by when you turn & see…
him, deep brown skin, dreads,
her, a caramel latte cameo framed in cumulus black hair,
leaning in to each other,
over Italian ices,
lemon, maybe, or coconut,
at a small
leaning in, like private towers of pisa,
slanted towards love, or something close
to it, bigger than life & laptops,
their Olympus clouded in laughter &
you would die to hear the punchline &
you could die waiting for a green
light & you
try to remember the last time you felt breath
leaving you in laughter,
leaving you becoming
Adoption, they suggested. Or foster parenting. Both were dirty business. Secrets revealed, privacy relinquished, just to become three. She created a different perfection, cleaning, mopping, scrubbing, dusting. Today, Clayton gifted her a pie, mixed with water, earth and love, patted firm by short chubby fingers. She laughed when it dripped on the floor.
micro fiction by Nancy Jorgensen
Evangeline Walker had a cut-out picture of Santa Claus on her wall, and right next to it was Carole Lombard and another was of Greta Garbo. My sister, Lucy, and I saw it through the front door when our Sunday School class went to her house to leave some apples at Christmastime. We figured out that she got them from the picture show house because our cousin Teddy said he sees her all the time sneaking around out back looking through the trash. Lots of people have pictures on their walls to keep the cold out but most people just use newspapers. Mama says Evangeline’s a little bit off and that her real name is Evie, but she added all the rest of her name when she was in high school so she’d sound like a movie star. She’s related to us somehow, a third cousin or something, but that describes most everybody in Looma, Alabama. Mama says all white people in Looma are blood related by at least a drop or two, but I can’t see it because there’s the Henchie family that lives over behind the sawmill. My sister and I both say we’d rather die than to think we’re related to the Henchies. Their kids have lice and pinkeye all the time, and we know for a fact that Mrs. Henchie doesn’t wear underwear, but I can’t say how we know that. I guess if I had to pick between the Henchies and Evangeline to be related to, I’d pick Evangeline. When I told Mama that she just said, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” She’s always saying stuff like that, but I didn’t think it made much sense since I figured I was complimenting Evangeline, and what I said about the Henchies was just the God’s honest truth.
Mama had told us not to bother Evangeline because life had already been “tough enough on that poor girl.” But there was something about her that was like picking at a scab. I just couldn’t help myself. One night we followed Evangeline right to the movie theatre. Teddy was right about her going through the trash. She sneaked around to the rear of the building and sat behind a broken down wooden fence at the back of somebody’s yard. Lucy and I waited on the other side of the street in the dark. Not long after, the picture show let out, and a few minutes after that they started turning off the lights out front. The fellow that runs the snack counter came out the backdoor carrying a big paper sack of leftover popped corn. He locked the door and dropped it in the trashcan. As soon as he peddled his bicycle down the street, Evangeline came out from behind the fence and went for that bag of popcorn. Lucy and I stepped out from where we’d been hiding like we were just passing by, and we walked right up to Evangeline. “Why hey there, Evangeline. It sure is a nice summer night for a walk.” I shoved my hands in my pockets and rocked on my heels, trying to look the way I’d once seen a fellow do in a film.
Evangeline’s eyes got wide. Her mouth was so full she could hardly talk. “Hey there.”
“That popcorn looks so fresh and delicious. Lucy and I always have popcorn when we go to the picture show.”
Evangeline swallowed hard and looked back and forth like she was expecting somebody. “Me too,” she said, and suddenly her face changed and her voice went up higher. “I think it’s divine to have popcorn when I’m watching Gary Cooper and Joan Leslie on the big screen.” My sister, Lucy, started to laugh but I thumped her on the back of the head and made her stop. Before I could say anything else Evangeline started up again. “Now you girls need to get on home before your mama starts worrying about you. Only us adults are supposed to be out this time of night. Now go on, shoo.” She made a little wave with her free hand, but she held tight to that big bag of popcorn with her other. I was a little peeved that she didn’t offer us a taste.
Mama said Evangeline’s parents died when she was a teenager, right about the time she changed her name. She has a younger brother who lives somewhere in Oklahoma. I’ve never seen him, and neither has Lucy. Mama said she’d seen him around town back before Mr. and Mrs. Walker died of the flu, just six days apart. All she said about him was that he had hair as red as a fire engine. I’ve never in my life seen anybody’s hair the color of a fire engine, but Mama doesn’t tell lies, so I guess walking around Oklahoma somewhere is a man with hair so red it hurts your eyes. Evangeline’s hair was dark blonde like mine and my sister’s. One time out in front of Pike’s Grocery I heard Evangeline say that she wished her hair was as blonde as Jean Harlow’s, the blonde bombshell. I saw a picture of Jean Harlow on the posters in front of the picture show and her hair was sure blonde. I figured if her hair could be that blonde then maybe Evangeline’s brother’s hair could be that red. I said Evangeline’s hair was dark blonde like ours, because she did something that made the whole town talk about her. She disappeared for about a month and we all wondered if something had happened to her. The next thing you know she’s walking around with hair that looked as blonde as Jean Harlow’s except it wasn’t fixed as nice like a movie star’s. Evangeline’s hair stuck up all over her head like it had been burned in places. She’d tie it up in little pieces of white cloth to try and make it curly and wavy, but she just looked like she had a mop on her head. We all laughed at her, but I made sure I didn’t laugh right to her face. We heard some ladies at church saying that she must have stolen a bottle of bleach or something because everybody knew Evangeline hardly had a nickel to spend on stuff like hair color. Everybody said she’d steal stuff every chance she got. I heard one of Mama’s friends say she once saw Evangeline stuffing a big napkin full of cornbread in her dress pocket at a funeral, and to steal at a funeral has got to be an extra bad sin.
Lucy and I got so curious we decided we’d ask Evangeline just what she’d done to her hair. I admit I was wondering about what it was like to have your hair colored. I even sneaked one of Mama’s slips over my head in the bathroom and looked in the mirror trying to imagine what I’d look like with white hair, but it just looked like underwear on my head so I stuffed it back in Mama’s drawer before anyone knew. We showed up one Saturday morning at Evangeline’s house, which really wasn’t much of a house but a shack with cracks so big the bugs crawl inside to get warm in the winter and to cool off in the summer. Evangeline came to the door with half the little white rags missing from her hair. She was wearing a green dress that had been in fashion at least ten years earlier. I could see where she’d re-sewn the sleeves back in where they’d pulled loose. A button was missing from the front, and Evangeline had painted over a bottle cap with white paint and stuck it right where that button used to be. I could just make out the “RC” underneath the paint. I thought it was a really smart idea to use a bottle cap like that and I wanted to tell her so, but I just stood there trying to figure out how she’d made that cap stick in place.
“Hey there,” said Evangeline. “I was just getting ready to go out.”
“Yeah,” I said, still looking at that bottle cap.
Evangeline’s eyes narrowed a little bit and she put a hand over the bottle cap button. “I had to make some changes to the dress. It was Mama’s.”
I finally came to my senses and looked up at her face, “Uh, you look real pretty.”
“Thank you.” She gave us a little smile and looked down at my sister and then at me like she wanted us to leave but she was too nice to say so.
“We just wanted to ask you,” I stopped. “We wanted to ask you a question.”
Evangeline pulled another one of the little rags from her hair and tried to finger the fuzzy white hair into a curl. “Ask quick, now. I’ve got somewhere to be.”
“How did you?” I scratched my head but then stopped quickly and dropped my hand. Mama always said if you scratch your head in public people will think you have lice. “We just wanted to know how you, how you liked that Myrna Loy picture that’s playing.” Lucy punched my arm and I pushed her back a little. Evangeline stopped fooling around with those flimsy curls and tilted her head at me.
“I haven’t got the chance to see that one yet. I’ve been busy.”
“Yeah, well okay. We were just wondering. Bye.” I grabbed my sister’s hand and we hopped off her porch and started running. This time I didn’t look back.
“Why didn’t you ask about her hair?” whined Lucy when we finally stopped.
“I changed my mind,” I snapped. The truth was I didn’t really know why I didn’t ask Evangeline about her hair except to say that when I saw her all dressed up in that tacky old green dress with her hair looking like a basket of cotton on her head, I knew something was up, something big.
“What do you mean you changed your mind? What for?” asked Lucy.
“She was getting all dolled up for something. I want to know for what?”
“Why’nt you go back and ask her?”
“You’re so dumb, Lucy.”
“I am not! You said you were going to ask her how her hair got all blonde like that, and you chickened out. You said you were going to ask. You’re the one who’s dumb,” said Lucy.
My sister was eight years old, and most of the time she was as stupid as any other eight year old girl, but sometimes she got one up on me and I hated it when she did that. After all, I was twelve. I kicked at a stone in the road. “Just let me think a minute. I’m making a plan.”
“What kinna plan?”
“The kinna plan you don’t go blabbing to your little sister before you’re ready.” I squinted and tried to see what was happening back at Evangeline’s house at the end of the road, but I couldn’t see a thing. She was up to something, all right. At first I reckoned she must have a date, but who would go on a date with Evangeline? She was nearly as old as my mama, and Mama was thirty years old. No woman thirty years old went on dates. The very idea was too crazy. It wasn’t time for church, and Evangeline didn’t go to our church anyway. She probably went to the church that the Henchies went to on the far side of town. A few women in Looma, like school teachers or the librarian or the lady who gives out car tags at the courthouse, get all dressed up to go to work, but this was four o’clock on a Friday afternoon, and nobody gets ready for work at that time of day, least of all Evangeline Walker.
The sun was still high when Evangeline finally came out of her house and started walking down the road toward town. I made Lucy get down low on the ground with me off the road until Evangeline passed. I wished I had on my overalls because the grass was itching my legs below my dress something fierce, and the sleeves were too tight over my elbows. I could hardly throw with that thing on, let alone hide in the bushes. Ever since my last birthday Mama had made me stop dressing up like a boy, and she cut up those overalls to use for rags. Watching Evangeline swishing down the road in that old dress, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anybody would want to wear something as awful feeling as a dress when they could have been wearing overalls.
We let Evangeline get some distance before we started following her. Her hair wasn’t sticking up the way it did before. It was flat against her head. From a distance, the dress looked a lot better. The hem was shorter than most women wore, but Evangeline was pretty tall for a woman. I figured her mother had been shorter than her and you can take a hem up, but you can let it down only so much. Evangeline was taking little steps like somebody trying to walk around baby chicks without mashing them. I couldn’t see why she was having so much trouble walking on the road until we’d made it another mile and got into town. She was wearing white heels that looked like nursing shoes. If she could go through the trash at the picture show, then I guess she could sneak into the hospital and find herself a spare pair of nurse’s shoes.
“What you reckon you’d look like in a dress like that?” asked Lucy, taking me by surprise.
I don’t know why, but my face turned red, and I felt my hands sweating over the cotton floral flowers of my frock. “I reckon I’d look like a durn fool if you have to know.”
“Lindy Blackmar says you need to take lessons to walk like a lady. She says you walk like a mule going to the feed barn at suppertime.”
I walked faster, desperate to put some distance between myself and my big-mouthed sister. “I guess Lindy Blackmar can kiss my foot,” I called over my shoulder. “And I wouldn’t even bother to wash it first,” I said even louder.
“Hey! Hey, where you reckon she’s going?” Lucy ran to keep up, and soon she was huffing along beside me. “You think she’s going to the picture show?”
“She ain’t got the money to go to the picture show. And even if she did, why would she get all dressed up to do it?”
“Maybe she got herself a boyfriend,” suggested Lucy.
“If she had a boyfriend then he’d be calling on her at home and driving her into town in his car.” I thought a minute and then added, “Or at least he’d be walking with her into town.”
We walked along in silence a few more minutes and Lucy said, “If I had a boyfriend he’d pick me up in a big car and bring me a box of chocolate candy.”
I started to tell Lucy that she’d be lucky to have a boyfriend with a bicycle and a pack of gum, but suddenly up ahead, Evangeline turned and disappeared. I couldn’t tell where she’d gone. I began to run and Lucy, now thoroughly hot and tired, cried out for me to slow down before she began a fast trot after me. I got half-way down the block where we’d seen Evangeline disappear and stopped. On that end of the street was a hardware store, an appliance shop that sold used ice boxes, stoves, and the like, and a tire and auto repair shop. She couldn’t have gone into any of those places. I didn’t figure a person like Evangeline needed any hardware. She sure couldn’t afford an appliance even if it was used, and she didn’t have a car that needed fixing. Then I spotted the sign.
Take your own professional portraits. Strips to tear and share. Ready in two minutes! 25 cents for 4 poses.
Lucy ran up behind me, all out of breath. “You didn’t have to run off like that.”
I was looking around the street, trying to figure out exactly where we were. Only one of the shops was still open, the auto repair place. I could see the backside of a man in the garage dressed in blue coveralls and making a racket with some kind of machine. When he stood up he scratched at the back of his head, and then I saw that he was a colored fellow. Lucy saw it, too, and her eyebrows went up at the sight. “Mama won’t like this.”
I pretended to be unconcerned. “Don’t you want to find out what Evangeline’s up to?” I pointed at the sign. Along the side of the words an arrow curved upward toward a set of stairs. The door was still open. Evangeline must have been in such a hurry she didn’t bother pulling the door shut behind her.
Inside the stairwell, Lucy and I made shushing sounds at one another and then tip-toed up the stairs as quietly as we could creep. At the top was a hallway with some shops, small, run-down stores that didn’t look like they did much business. A beauty parlor with pink faded letters that said Racine’s Beauty Shop was shut down for the day. Next to that was a shop that sold hats, gloves, and scarves, also closed. A sign that read Hal’s Candies brought a moment of excitement before we noticed the dust on the windows and the big lock on the door. Lucy pressed her face to the glass to see that the shelves had long since been emptied.
“Where is she?” Lucy whispered. Her voice echoed in the dismal hallway. “We’ve never been on this side of town before.”
“I’ve been here a time or two,” I said, but that was a lie. The place sure needed a good sweeping. At the end of the hall we heard a click and somebody said something, but we didn’t catch what was said. It was Evangeline’s voice.
The photo booth was pushed against the wall and there was hardly any light around it. A gray curtain was pulled shut over the place where a person sat down to get a picture made. The glow from the inside lit up Evangeline’s white shoes and the bottom of her green skirt hanging over a low seat at the bottom. We walked with the quietest steps we knew, the steps we used when we didn’t want Mama to hear us sneaking pie from the kitchen, and stopped in front of the photo booth. Lucy looked at me and I looked at her, and then we both looked back at the booth with Evangeline’s green dress and feet showing. Over her knees the edges of the dress hung ragged with little strings from where she’d pulled the hem out as low as it would go.
The click sounded, followed by a cuss word I can’t repeat. Lucy gasped and put a hand over her mouth. I put a finger to my lips warning her to keep quiet. We were both sure Evangeline must have heard the noise, but the man in the auto shop outside was still making noise with that machine, so I guess between that and her being so caught up in the picture making, Evangeline didn’t notice us at all.
I had a plan. I got down on all fours and crawled until my head was nearly at the bottom of the booth’s curtain. It wasn’t easy with my skirt hanging in the way, but then I rolled over onto my back and pushed with my feet so that I could see up into the booth. I was expecting Evangeline to look down at any second and start screaming and we’d all get a big laugh, but she had her face all smushed up in this funny expression with her hand in front of her mouth and she was looking right at the thing on the wall that made the picture. When the camera clicked she made a blow-a-kiss motion with her hand, but she must have gotten the timing wrong, because she said that cuss word again. I was just about to pull my head back out, but that was when she spotted my face down at her feet and she jumped up from her seat. It was in that second when she first looked down that the camera clicked for the last time. She jerked the curtain back and saw Lucy down on her hands and knees giggling so hard I thought she’d pee her pants. I jumped back up onto my knees.
“What do you two think you’re doing?!” She was so mad tears spilled from her eyes. Her face looked as if it would burst open like a melon.
“We were just funning you, Evangeline,” I said, trying to calm her down.
“Funning me? What for? Can’t you see I’m trying to do something important?”
A strand of hair had fallen down over one of Evangeline’s eyes and stuck in her tears. I shushed at Lucy behind me, but it didn’t do any good.
“You’re just getting pictures made,” I said.
“You wouldn’t understand!” She wiped away her tears. Her eyes were puffy and her skin was so pink from crying, I couldn’t help think of a baby opossum I’d once seen.
I stood up from the floor, and something made me want to straighten out the front of my now dirty and wrinkled dress. “I got my picture made at school.”
“These pictures were for a modeling agency, if it’s any of your business!” she hissed. “If you send them your picture, a place in Memphis takes on girls and they get jobs in Hollywood in the movies. Why do you think I swept the floors for nothing at that beauty parlor for three whole weeks to get my hair done? Huh?”
For a second I didn’t know what to say, and Lucy’s stifled giggles were the only sound. “We didn’t know you worked in a beauty parlor.”
“Well I did! And now my pictures are ruined because of you.”
“Just the last one.”
“I only needed one,” she shrieked.
“Why don’t you make another set?”
“Because that was my last quarter! The very last one!” On that last word she ran right out of the booth and down the stairs, leaving her pictures lying in the dispenser. I stood there staring at the stairs Evangeline had stomped down, feeling something hard in my stomach that made me sick inside. Clasping my arms around myself, I looked down at my legs, streaked with dust, and my scuffed brown shoes. Lucy had stopped her laughing when Evangeline ran off, and she came closer, looking up at me quietly, waiting for me to explain something I knew I had no words for. In a minute the last picture strip rolled into the dispenser. In the first picture Evangeline’s eyes were closed, and in the next two her hand lay palm up in front of her face in a kiss blown too late. The last tiny square was of her looking down at something unseen, her white hair covering part of her face, and her eyes, angry and hopeless.
The Blonde Bombshell
short fiction by Cathy Adams
The Salon of Single Men
In the salon of the single men, weed smoke traces faeries through the stale air. The men look up when I enter, from their beers and their pizza boxes and their video games, appraising me with clouded eyes.
Welcome, says a man at the entrance wearing a flannel shirt; he is in his early 30s, like me, and has a new beard, like me. Make yourself comfortable, he says.
No, I say. No. No, no. You don't understand. I am not going to be here very long. There was a misunderstanding.
The man nods impatiently. You can watch TV whenever you like, whatever you like. You can play video games. There's porn round the clock.
No, I say more forcefully. I don't belong here. I had to come here because my wife made an unfortunate mistake.
Food is harder, the man continues. Most days we just order in. Some days there will be instant noodles, cereal out of a box. But we have lots of protein bars.
I will be gone soon, I say.
Here is your key, says the man. You can leave laundry lying around. We call the cleaners once a week.
I sit down at the bar, in front of the big TV screens showing various football games. A man next to me turns and nods.
I heard what you said there, he says. Your wife left you. Mine fucked the gardener.
I look at the man: he has tired, raccoon-like eyes and there is dirt in the rims of his large glasses and faded sweat stains on his shirt. I love my wife, I start to say; she just made a mistake. But instead I say: I have to go, I am sorry. I rush back out into daylight.
When I return to the salon of single men, nothing much has changed, though months have passed on the outside. The man in the flannel shirt greets me. You look like you need a drink, he says. Welcome back.
I won't stay for long, I say, but I can feel the tiredness in my bones. The fights reverberate in my head. You just want your ex-wife back, I hear the girl say. I am only dating you because I don't want to be alone, I reply, driven to honesty by frustration and anger.
I'll sit down for just a while, I say to the man in the flannel shirt. I find an uncomfortable chair, far away from the video games and the big screen TVs. I don't want to get too cozy. I have to head out. I don't want to get stuck here forever. I shake my leg nervously, tapping the scuffed wooden floor. After a few minutes I can't take it anymore -- the dullness and the desperation, the stink, the loneliness -- and I rush out once again.
This time it's quicker. There is less yelling. This time nobody calls the cops. It is easier to see the girl for what she is: unsure, scared, broken. This time it is easier to look her in the eyes and see my reflection. The pieces don't fit. Nothing holds for longer than a week or a weekend.
I walk past the flannel-shirted man without a word, and sit at the bar. The man with the grimy glasses nods at me.
I hate my ex-wife, I tell him. I hate it that she did this to me. I had to come here because of her. Everything is broken. Everyone is broken.
It's okay, the man says through the tear-stained lenses of his glasses. Here, have a drink. Watch a game or two.
Okay, I say. But just for a minute. I just need a minute, and then I'll try again.
I have a drink and then another. I think about the things that happened to me. It feels good to not try so hard. Why was I yelling and crying and fighting so much? This is not so bad.
When I look up from my drink, the man next to me is thirty years older. My hands are gray and wrinkled. In the reflection in my drink I can see that I have white hair and false teeth. All that remains of me is the sadness in my eyes, the grief that pools at the edges of my mouth.
flash fiction by Mehesh Raman
a child is born without history
so we tape
to its forehead
onto its smile
its mouth flashes
like a dental ad
what a kid!
a whole lotta
good one day
as the child
to the entire world
A Child is Born
poetry by Erik Fuhrer
(Meditation at a Korean Day Spa)
"Do you ever spend time outdoors?" my well-meaning friend asked, her voice, probably unbeknownst to her, a bit heavy with judgment. She is only one of several people, including my husband, who periodically hint at or question me on this issue. This time, a delivery truck arrived and I had to cut her short, so never answered the question, but I'll do it now.
I spend quite a bit of time looking out the sliding glass doors that open from every downstairs room in our house and while I greatly enjoy what I see out there – lush woods, grass, birds hopping around or chattering as they fly tree to tree, mossy rocks, chipmunks darting madly, flowers and glimpses of sparkling lake between the trees, do I enjoy actually being out there sitting or walking about? Not much.
The moment I step outside, bugs attack. They adore the scent and taste of my skin. While they feed, they use their tiny cellphones to text their friends and these soon arrive from miles away ready to party. Something is always crawling on me somewhere; I spend most of my time outdoors slapping at my body. A horsefly has his thick proboscis drilled into my upper arm, another variety of fly buzzes my nose, a gang of gnats dive-bombs my eyes, mosquitoes just got my ankles, a spider is on my pants and a wasp is circling in a threatening manner. They like my hair too, love to crawl in it and expire in there messily when I murder them. The bugs I actually enjoy, dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, ladybugs and beetles are nowhere to be seen. Just two minutes outside and already welts are forming that will fester and itch for days, if not weeks.
Anytime I have tried reading outside, I spent more time swatting bugs than absorbing anything on the page, in the process smearing the paper with blood. The pages flip over in the breeze too. As for painting - how did Van Gogh and Monet stand it? Bugs crawl on my canvas and into the paint and at least two die in my water cup, while others perform their usual carnivorous feast on my body. Sweat runs into my eyes and everywhere else. A sudden gust of wind knocks everything over. I have to use the bathroom and it is far away. Any artistic or literary mood quickly vanishes under such an assault. So much nicer to paint inside where the temperature is controlled, nothing other than kitty-cats bother me and I can watch a low key documentary while I work. Or read on a comfortable futon with a cat purring beside me.
Well, judgmental people would say, "Why don't you take walks outside?"
In my past, which has been relatively long considering how ancient I am, I have taken many walks outside. In my youth, this was something I did as a matter of course, walking to school or class. When school was out, we were outside as soon as possible in the morning and stayed until we were forced back inside for meals. When a child, being hot or cold did not bother me, neither did being sweaty. I don't remember bugs driving me as crazy as they do now. We lived in a typical American housing development with a woods behind our street and my friends and I were in those woods playing Sheba - Queen of the Jungle, Indians, or Robin Hood, building tree houses, dangling our hands and feet in a rocky stream or just walking the trail. If we weren't in the woods, we ran in the streets or rode our bikes for hours in the blazing sun. My bother and I hiked the mile and a half to the swimming pool, swam all day and then walked home. There were no scary animals about, just the occasional loose dog, and nothing to hurt us. The outside belonged to us.
During college, I took solitary walks, starting in town and walking until out in the country before turning back. We trekked across campus to classes or dorms, strolled to restaurants and everywhere else. No one I knew had a car. And later when married to my first husband and living in a town hear Philadelphia, I walked to the store, rode my bike and roamed the neighborhood days and evenings, enjoying peering at houses and into front picture windows.
Now I live beside a lake in a rural, very wooded area. There are no sidewalks. For years, I have done an hour to hour and a half workout upon arising in the morning, using a rowing machine or combination of aerobic videos and elliptic machine. Once that's done, I bathe or shower, get dressed for the day and enjoy feeling cool and clean and undisturbed while I work. The animal population is active and bears, coyotes and fisher cats visit, and several people have seen cougars though the game commission denies their existence. The bears have become overly familiar in some cases and my husband carries a gun for protection if he in in the woods or mowing a field. Anymore, I would not take off by myself through the woods or even around the lake. I saw a bear in our long driveway. So, what's left for me is to talk down the hill to the lake to sit and be devoured by bugs or to sit on the front deck and be devoured by bugs or to remain cozily inside and do anything I please while enjoyed the beautiful scene right outside the sliding glass doors.
Some people seem to put a higher value on being outside than on being indoors, as if sitting in a lawn chair outside trumps painting a picture, writing a story, or baking a cake inside. A person at the kitchen table paying her bills is inferior to a person drinking a beer in a hammock outside. A man in his garage building bookshelves is second rate, while someone in the driveway washing his car is superior. I don't get it. Would this apply to scientists in a lab, working to cure cancer? Is a person playing badminton outside superior?
But rest assured that while I try to figure this out, I will be comfortably inside without an ounce of sweat on me, nothing crawling in my hair or down my shirt and reaching for a glass of iced tea that has nothing swimming in it.
creative non-fiction by Margaret Karmazin
Cathy Adams’ second novel, “A Body’s Just as Dead,” is scheduled for release from SFK Press in August, 2018. Her debut novel, “This Is What It Smells Like,” was published by New Libri Press, Washington. She is a Pushcart Prize nominated short story writer with stories published in Utne, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Barely South, A River and Sound Review, Upstreet, Southern Pacific Review, and 41 other journals from around the world. She earned her M.F.A. at Rainier Writing Workshop, Pacific Lutheran University, Washington. She lives and writes in Liaoning, China, with her husband, photographer, Julian Jackson.
Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier is a writer and visual artist. She loves to layer imagery. She has been a Wild Musette, Existere Journal of Art and Literature, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Gigantic Sequins, Crack the Spine and Gateway Review cover artist and featured in New York’s Calliope Magazine and WebSafe2k16, Toronto’s The Scarborough Big Arts Book, New South Wales’ Long Exposure Magazine, Los Angeles The Lunch Ticket and Dek Unu. Recently she contributed images to Ottawa’s A Caged Mind. She also designs for San Francisco’s VIDA, supporting literacy.
Amy Crosby currently lives on the south coast of England with her family and, despite a perfectly happy upbringing, has always enjoyed focusing on darker themes in her work. Her short fiction has been published in MUSED – The BellaOnline Literary Review, Prole, Bunbury and Litro Magazines as well as featured on the Freedom Fiction, Cease, Cows, Ink Sweat & Tears and Fixional websites.
Erik Fuhrer holds an MFA from the University of Notre Dame. His work has appeared in BlazeVox, Dream Pop Press, Crab Fat Magazine, Noble/Gas Qrtrly, and various other venues.
As a musician and writer, Nancy Jorgensen has published two choral music education books, “Things They Never Taught You In Choral Methods” (Hal Leonard) and “From the Trenches: Real Insights from Real Choral Educators” (Lorenz Corporation). She participates in the book writer’s workshop at AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop where she is completing a memoir about her daughter’s successful journey to 2016 Olympic gold. In May 2018, she won first place in Prime Number Magazine’s 53-word story contest. She also won Smith Magazine’s #SixWordPinnacleMoment contest. Her flash fiction appears twice at With Painted Words.
Margaret Karmazin’s credits include stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review, The Speculative Edge and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. Her story, “The Manly Thing,” was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has stories included in several anthologies, including “Still Going Strong,” “Ten Twisted Tales,” “Pieces of Eight (Autism Acceptance),” “Zero Gravity,” “Daughters of Icarus,” and “Space Between Stars. She has also published a YA novel, “Replacing Fiona” and a collection of short stories, “Risk.”
Mahesh Raman is a scientist and writer living in San Francisco. His work has appeared previously in Necessary Fiction, Corium Magazine, and Jersey Devil Press.
Ana Vidosavljevic from Serbia currently living in Indonesia. She has her work published or forthcoming in Down in the Dirt (Scar Publications), Literary Yard, RYL (Refresh Your Life), The Caterpillar, The Curlew, Eskimo Pie, Coldnoon, Perspectives, Indiana Voice Journal, The Raven Chronicles, Setu Bilingual Journal, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Madcap Review, The Bookends Review, Gimmick Press, (mac)ro(mic), Scarlet Leaf Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, A New Ulster. She worked on a GIEE 2011 project: Gender and Interdisciplinary Education for Engineers 2011 as a member of the Institute Mihailo Pupin team. She also attended the International Conference “Bullying and Abuse of Power” in November, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic, where she presented her paper: “Cultural intolerance”.
Rose Maria Woodson
Rose Maria Woodson holds an MA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University and an MA In Community Development from North Park University. Her chapbook, “Skin Gin,” was the 2017 winner in the QuillsEdge Press chapbook contest. Her poems have been published in numerous journals including Kettle Blue Review, Clarion, Gravel, Wicked Alice, OVS Magazine, Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature, Volume II, Jet Fuel Review, Stirring, Scape Goat Review and the Mojave River Review.
BECOME A MEMBER OF CRACK THE SPINE
CRACK THE SPINE LITERARY MAGAZINE