This has nothing to do with FCU!

Hey everyone,

Thanks for being patient while we update the magazine for new issues this winter.   My husband and I (Taylor) are preparing to welcome a new addition to our family in a few months and Kathryn is busy finishing her graduate program this semester.

Now, here’s some shameless self-promotion: my husband Luke wrote and directed a film called Hit Men a few years ago, and we’ve finally managed to get it on Amazon.  If you’re interested in independent films or you just want to see a bunch of writers yelling at each other about how the entertainment industry sucks, check it out here.  You can view the trailer at that link as well.

Taylor

 

“Waiting at Bloomingdale’s” – H. Brad Halverson

They spoon, some delicate,
others with an intensity.

An outburst of “hi”s,
enthusiasm conveyed
with rapidly
ascending pitch.

They prance around
in their work-out leggings,
every shade of hair,
almost consistent with the
past-the-shoulder length.

The poise with which
they carry the plastic
containers of frozen yogurt –

it almost seems as law –
the length of their hair,
their pants so formly clinging.

© 2016 H. Brad Halverson

H. Brad Halverson received a BA in English Literature from San Francisco State University and now Lives in Brooklyn NY. His writing has been featured in Five on the Fifth fiction magazine, La Volpe poetry blog, and The Burgundy journal of style. The End and the Echo, Halverson’s first novella, is now available in print.

“The Love Letter” – Decater Collins

The funeral was a fitting tribute. Everyone did their best to keep their tears to themselves, while sharing more than a few laughs. It didn’t matter that his skin was a different color.

When Stan died, statistically speaking, she had six months to live. That’s what a widow in her age group could expect. The grief counselor told her that women who surpassed the average were more likely to say they had a good reason to keep on living, whether it was an active social network, volunteer involvement, or grandchildren.

In the practical manner in which she approached everything in her life, she decided to make a list of her personal reasons to keep on living. After an hour at her desk, interrupted only by the delivery of two separate casserole dishes at her front door, she had managed only three items:

Bridge, Television, and Spite.

She had to admit it wasn’t much of a list.

Most of the boxes in the attic belonged to Stan or Michael. She was always the one cleaning the corners and weeding out the clutter, trying to maintain some semblance of control over their household rather than allowing it to succumb to the disorder of their lives. She’d throw away old magazines within a couple of months, give away books as soon as they were read, and donate her old clothes that she’d given up saving for a daughter who was never coming.

The boys, as she called them, refused to be parted from their possessions no matter how damaged or tattered they became. The best she could do was force them into boxes. Now here they were, stacks and stacks of detritus that they’d sworn was valuable, either financially or nostalgically. As always, she’d be the one to clean up after them.

She was surprised how unsentimental she found it all. Stan’s old army uniform, which had made him look so distinguished, was horribly old-fashioned now. Michael’s baby clothes and toys called to mind the happiest times, when their lives were still defined by the possibilities, but she didn’t long to go back. That was then. Now all she could think about was how she should have given everything to Good Will years before.

But then she found the letter. Just seeing the envelope was enough to catch at her throat.

They all agreed to celebrate his life rather than mourn his death. He had brought pleasure to millions. He will be remembered by children and adults alike.

Stan’s last words had been, “Forgive me.” She told him it didn’t need forgiveness.

It was the proper response, the soothing response, the human response. Rule of thumb: if someone apologizes to you on their deathbed, you tell them they have nothing to be sorry for.

It was also probably the truth. If anyone should be blamed, it was her.

She tried to forget. At first, she was too busy being grieved for to think about Stan’s confession. But after the ritual period of mourning and condolences ended, she found herself alone. In a previous era, as a widow of means, she would have been coerced to remarry despite being so close to dotage. Perhaps under those circumstances her age would have made her more attractive. In this era, she was destined for anonymity.

There was a place for people of her situation. Not an old folk’s home, though she noticed Michael was already gauging how long before he could safely make the suggestion. No, her place was to be found in network television.

She would often hear talk of demographics, and that her demographic was the one to be avoided. The networks wanted to skew younger, but nothing had really changed. Her shows, like 60 Minutes and Law & Order, were always the highest rated.

He had his whole life in front of him–except the sixty years he’d already lived.

Michael came over once a week for dinner. He’d always apologize for not coming more often and list all the reasons he was so busy. Today, something was different.

He normally prattled on about his practice, about the interesting–in his mind–turn that his latest case had taken. She would listen and nod and watch TV without really paying attention. It reminded her of when he was a child and would demand her attention to show off every stick figure and sand castle.

Tonight he was abnormally quiet. Perhaps it was the silence that allowed her to realize for once she had something she wanted to share.

“Look at this, Michael. This was a letter your father sent me when he was in the war.”

“Why would you show me that, Mom?”

“This letter was the reason I married your father.” Michael didn’t seem to understand its import, to understand how close she had been to calling off the engagement. Michael would never have been born.

“We need to talk about the house.” That was the reason for his silence.

She told Michael that it would kill her to sell the house. She wanted to say that his father had built this house with his bare hands, but that wasn’t true. He hadn’t even designed it. It was the same floor plan as all the other houses in their subdivision. And it wasn’t true she would die if they sold the house. She just wanted to be stubborn. For once in his life, Michael wasn’t going to get his way.

He wasn’t used to being refused by her and he was visibly angry as he left. She felt guilty. She probably should have grown a backbone years ago. He wouldn’t have grown up so self-indulgent.

He lived to make people laugh. Tears were offensive to him; deeply offensive…

She would never be sure if it was a dream or if she really woke up in the middle of the night. To tell the truth, at her age, entire days sometimes had a dream-like quality to them. It probably didn’t matter if the conversation were real or not.

To her mind, The Dick Van Dyke Show was the greatest television show of all time. It wasn’t that she preferred the classics to modern television. There were plenty of new dramas and sitcoms she looked forward to. It was just, once a thing is your favorite for a while, it’s hard for something new to replace it. Not just the show but the idea of liking the show becomes part of your identity.

The fact that her most beloved programs from her childhood were on the late night cable stations brought nightly comfort. She found herself staying up later and later and often fell asleep watching Dick Van Dyke, no matter what Stan would say about it. She especially admired Mary Tyler Moore, who was a real modern woman.

Her favorite episode was the one where Rob is watching a science fiction movie in bed, then it turns into a dream episode.

She woke up to find Stan sitting in the chair. The clock read 3:55.

“I was waiting for you to wake up.”

“I fell asleep watching Dick Van Dyke again.”

“That’s just like you.”

Stan was younger. Not as young as when they first met, but not old, like he was at the end either. He looked happier.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner, when it would have mattered?”

“Would it have mattered?”

That was the question she had been wrestling with ever since he had told her the truth about the letter: Would it have mattered?

It probably would have but she wasn’t going to tell Stan that, even the dream Stan.

“I’m thinking of taking a trip.”

Stan didn’t respond. Instead, her late husband urged her out of bed. He said he wanted to show her something. She was expecting him to comment on the letter, to offer some explanation, some attempt at closure or commiseration, but after dragging her down two flights of stairs, all the way to the basement, he pointed towards the empty space where the National Geographics used to be.

They bickered then, just like they used to. In a way, it was comforting. It felt like slipping on an old pair of shoes, one that was never particularly comfortable, but your feet had calloused over in just the right places to dull the irritation.

The bickering reminded her of a particular quality of both her husband and son. Neither liked to appear uncertain about anything and the more you questioned them about an opinion or a recollection, the more entrenched they became.

This unwarranted conviction of theirs never sat well with her. Yet the older she got, the more she started to realize it wasn’t Stan and Michael who were the aberration. She often fretted over her state of mind, wondering about simple things, like whether the wallpaper in their bedroom really was yellow, or if it was just her imagination. These sorts of doubts were never spoken out loud. She had learned that certainty is one of the currencies of modern society.

Stan continued to prattle on about the state of the basement, listing off all the items of great value that had been discarded. She eventually grew tired of the conversation, real or not, and returned to her bedroom. Another episode of Dick Van Dyke was about to start.

It’s a release. A kind of defense mechanism. It’s like whistling in a graveyard. You try to make light of something because it scares you. We laugh at death because we know death will have the last laugh on us.

Every Tuesday was bridge club. If you missed a Tuesday and Nancy was drafted to replace you, then you would be mercilessly subjugated to the worst form of gossip, the truthful kind.

There’s no center to a bridge club, just like there’s no central point to a diamond. Nevertheless, each woman of the club liked to imagine she was the center, that she was the only one who wasn’t criticized and denigrated and laid bare for all her annoying faults. No one knew these women better than their friends in the bridge club, despite rarely seeing each other outside of their weekly card game. Not even their husbands could better catalog their imperfections.

That’s why she refused to miss Tuesday night. Her road trip could wait for Wednesday.

Tonight she played with her usual partner, Mrs. Burke, a 73-year old divorcee from New York City who had retired to their subdivision more than a decade ago. Mrs. Burke was roundly criticized as the worst of the players, always prone to overbidding and miscounting how many tricks were left. But she liked having the weakest partner. It was extra sweet whenever they managed to win and, more importantly, provided a built-in excuse for the times that they lost.

They lined up against Mrs. Eisenberg and Mrs. Miller, a formidable duo that had been caught engaging in table talk on more than one occasion. Mrs. Eisenberg, twice-widowed, organized the games and treated them as an excuse to socialize and gossip and was not always worried about the cards in her hand. She contrasted nicely with Mrs. Miller, who spent most of the time nagging her husband and found a refuge from her routine in the cards. She treated the games most seriously and had the least to say, either during the rounds or while the deck was being shuffled.

She contemplated sharing her road trip with the club but she divined their responses without having to open herself up to their scrutiny.

Mrs. Burke would champion the idea and immediately demand to go along. Never mind that she was barely able to walk to the mailbox since her hip replacement. Mrs. Eisenberg would completely ignore the trip, it being inconceivable that she would ever dare such a journey (knowing she was doubted made her all the more committed). Instead, Mrs. Eisenberg would want to know everything about the letter. She’d demand to read it herself, and would start asking pointed questions about her marriage and whether she had been happy. These were questions she didn’t want to answer. It was bad enough contemplating them.

Mrs. Miller would offer the most welcome advice. “Shut up and get your head in the game.”

Do you remember Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo’s little catchphrase? Remember how, when his archrival Señor Kaboom hit him with a giant cucumber and knocked him down, Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo would always pick himself up, dust himself off, and say, ‘I hurt my foo-foo?’ Life’s a lot like that. From time to time we all fall down and hurt our foo-foos. If only we could deal with it as simply and bravely and honestly as Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo.

As a road trip, it wasn’t very eventful. The Interstate was much like her marriage, extremely repetitive with many of the exit ramps closed for construction. She stopped for lunch at Denny’s and wondered why people spoke so disparagingly of it. Their omelet was just the way she liked it.

A road trip is something you take when your life has become boring. She and Stan drove down Virginia Beach the summer after Michael finished kindergarten. By then, they had been trapped in their routine for years.

When the cast of your favorite sitcom takes a road trip, it’s a sure sign the writers needed a shot in the arm. Ratings have probably dipped or the characters have become stale. Drop the entire cast into a new situation and see what happens. It’s a tradition that began as far back as when Lucy and Ricky drove to California and has remained a part of the television arsenal as recently as Seinfeld.

The trip to Virginia Beach hadn’t been a debacle but it didn’t save the show either. Life in the car turned out to be just as boring for her as life in the home. Michael asked just as many questions, Stan told the same boring stories about work. She wasn’t allowed to do any of the driving, so she was left to flip through magazines bought at the filling stations along the way and to nod appropriately to either one of their demands for attention. What someone needed to do was invent a television that fit inside a car. Maybe they could power it from the engine. The dashboard was certainly big enough for a television.

Imagine if she were the one to come up with the design. How much money could a person make off an idea like that? What would the women in her neighborhood think, the ones in the bridge club? There’s the woman who invented the car television. They’d probably rescind her invitation to play.

Virginia Beach was a long time ago.

Somewhere out there there’s an elephant with your name on it.

She found Paul by asking her neighbor’s daughter to do an Internet search. She didn’t know how to use the Internet herself and Michael’s insistence that she do so had only made her more resistant. Chelsea had found the address for her, as well as a photograph.

The house is huge. He’s rich.

She’s nervous. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“I guess it just proves it’s never too late,” encouraged Chelsea.

“I was hoping the same thing.” It was the boldest thing she ever said in her life.

The house is what he calls an estate. “We can take a walk on the estate if you like.” It’s a house out of Dallas or Dynasty and she imagines they come and film television shows here. There are two stone fireplaces.

“How did you make your fortune? Writing love letters?”

He laughs. “I started my own company. We make power strips.”

“Like for plugging in stuff?”

“Pretty boring, huh?”

She suddenly grows self-conscious. Perhaps this is what rich people do, pretend to lead boring lives to keep poor people from being attracted to them. It’s like when Frasier’s dad pretends to be gay to deflect the attentions of an interested suitor. No one could become this rich selling power strips.

Over lemonade, they compare notes about their lives, mainly talking about their children. Paul has three daughters.

“Did you ever wish you had a son?”

“Early on, I thought that it mattered. We talked about trying again for a while, but we already had our hands full. Then we got divorced.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It happens. Now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t know if I could handle watching a son make the same mistakes I did. Daughters make completely different mistakes. Do you wish you had a daughter?”

“If I share something, do you promise not to think me too awful? Some days I wish I never had any children at all.”

Rather than the condemnation she was expecting, Paul commiserates and pats her on the knee.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. A lot of people feel that way at one point or another.”

“But not you?”

“Not since they were out of diapers.”

“Do you wonder, now that they are adults, if you’re essential in their lives anymore?”

“Is that something you worry about?”

“If they do need us, it’s because there’s something wrong.”

“We’re family, that’s never going to change.”

“Maybe that’s the problem. Michael doesn’t see me as a person. I’m just a mother to him. On the way here, I was thinking about the time we drove as a family to Virginia Beach. Michael was maybe ten at the time, and he didn’t really have many friends of his own. He was a mama’s boy. There was always a part of me that secretly loved the attention.

“But when we got to our cottage, next door there was a family with three girls, all teenagers. Michael fell in love with them, and they fell in love with him. They took him everywhere for that week. Dressed him up in makeup, buried him in sand, took him to the Dairy Queen. He was in heaven.

“Then when it was time to leave, Michael didn’t want to go. We said that we’d all get to be together next summer, but he somehow intuited that he’d never see them again. He started crying, and we had to pull him to the car. He cried the whole way home. Every night for a week, he woke up in the middle of the night crying. He wanted those girls back. His mother just wasn’t going to cut it anymore.”

“Kids grow up.”

“Michael was only ten years old, but I can trace the distance in our relationship to that exact time. It was never the same after that.

“What age in our modern society do our children push us aside? This wouldn’t have happened in monarchies. The children are happy to wait their turn. Look at Prince Charles. And this didn’t happen in oral societies, when people were still smarter than their tools. They needed the wisdom of the older generation. But look at us now. No one needs us anymore.”

Paul takes a sip of his lemonade and listens to her rant.

We take people for granted while they’re with us. Then, when they’re gone, we wish we’d been nicer to them. So we dress in black and cry our eyes out. Why don’t we ever think to do that while they’re still alive?

“So when did you find out about the letter.”

“My husband told me right before he died. Did you ever feel guilty for writing it?”

“Why would I feel guilty?”

“Our relationship was a lie.”

“Why was it a lie?”

“I married him, but they were your words that made me do it. Maybe I was meant to marry you instead.”

Paul smiled and put his lemonade on the glass table. She secretly cringed and forced herself not to ask where he kept the coasters.

“I never thought too much about doing it at the time. The first time, a guy had gotten his glasses busted and couldn’t see too well, so he asked me to write a letter for him. What he had to say was, let’s just say it wasn’t very romantic, so I took a few liberties with it. Word got around and, well, it became a way to make a few bucks on the side.”

“You mean my letter wasn’t the only one you wrote.”

“No. And you aren’t the first woman to come see me either.”

“Oh.” Like a sheepish Mr. Ed after being scolded by Wilbur, she was crestfallen.

“After a while, I started following a formula. I would take a couple of real incidents from the guy and plug them into what I had already written. A lot of the romantic lines I took from this translation of French poetry that I carried with me. I even used them with my girlfriend.”

She wasn’t listening anymore. She was thinking about all the spouses who weren’t meant to be together who ended up marrying because of Paul. How many children were born, modern Annies, orphans of divorce, born to mismatched parents? They were all living ghosts.

“My life is like a sitcom.”

“Excuse me?”

“You know how in a sitcom, it always happens that someone mishears a conversation, or misidentifies someone, and a hilarious misunderstanding occurs. That’s what happened in my life. Except it’s not very funny. Not to me anyway.”

“More lemonade?”

Chuckles liked to make people laugh. And you know what I’d like to think? I’d like to think that somewhere up there tonight, behind those pearly gates, in the Great Beyond, where some day all must go, somewhere up there tonight, in honor of Chuckles, a celestial choir of angels is sitting on whoopee cushions.

In the end she outlived the statistics. Television proved an even more compelling reason to live than marriage and family ever had. She had another decade of life to go. Another decade of bridge night, another decade of 60 Minutes.

She had known in her heart Stan had not written the letter and so she could not in good conscience find fault with him. The fault was as much hers. Their marriage as much her fiction as his. Their love a sham, a wish, an ideal that was always impossible because she did not have enough courage to hold out for the kind of love that letter had described.

But the truth was, it wouldn’t have mattered. People are all imperfect, even soul mates. Television really was the best life had to offer.

And with TiVo, she never had to miss one of her shows ever again.

© 2016 Decater Collins

Decater Orlando Collins is a writer, photographer, and videographer who lives in Portland, Oregon. He began writing when he was 10 years old and hasn’t stopped. He recently finished his first collection of short fiction, entitled They Both Loved Vonnegut. Quitting The Grave, his first full-length novel, was published in 2015. He has previously released Picasso Painted Dinosaurs, a collection of microfiction, and Ahab’s Adventures in Wonderland. Currently, Decater spends most of his time at the beck and call of his beagle. Follow them both on Twitter (@doctorentropy2) and Instagram (@allthebeauty). For more information, visit his homepage.

“Sensation” – Aja Hannah

Breaded twigs stuck with shining, salted sap
Snap between incisors
Crunch between molars
 
Fingers dip and dart
Graceful ballerinas
Steady soldiers
Sweeping the bag for the next rebel
 
Target sighted.
Take him to the hole!
 
Careful of the fingertips
Careful of the tongue
 
Not too quickly
Bite down quick
Clean the lips
the tips
the bits
of the dusted grits
Off the pretzel stick.
l
l
© 2016 Aja Hannah

Freelance writer and author, Aja (Asia) Hannah is usually described as intense and odd, but fun. In 2013, she published the YA novel Zarconian Island with indie publisher Curiosity Quills. In that same year, she won the Columbia Writers Association award for creative nonfiction for a separate piece. Since then, she’s given talks at conventions, bookstores, and schools in Hawaii.

“Biting Into A Gummy” – Aja Hannah

Molars slice gelatin flesh and burst
sharp, sweet pain shivering through cheeks,
caressing upwards the pink membrane with neuro-fires
pausing to burn love at a pit stop in the nasal tissues,
losing force in the temples, and coming to rest behind closed eyes.

Saliva pours, kicking lids open
pooling on the floor and dripping from spit valves hiding under insides of lips.
Slick are the sides of old drainage lines,
stinging with enzymes and electrolytes,
mucus and glycoproteins.

A wet carpet of papillae and red dye number 40

© 2016 Aja Hannah

Freelance writer and author, Aja (Asia) Hannah is usually described as intense and odd, but fun. In 2013, she published the YA novel Zarconian Island with indie publisher Curiosity Quills. In that same year, she won the Columbia Writers Association award for creative nonfiction for a separate piece. Since then, she’s given talks at conventions, bookstores, and schools in Hawaii.

“Deities” – Jenny Griffin

Renee

She was the kind of woman who straightened her curls. God forbid they would bounce up and out, revealing her true nature.  Abandoned time and time again, she picked herself up and went right on living. Sometimes that meant packing up and taking the next exit off the highway. All dirt roads lead somewhere.

She ended up at the Sunshine Diner during one of these packing up and heading off days. Trying to emulate the diners of the fifties, Sunshine’s silver rimmed walls and roof blazed in the desert sun. She was dazzled. Though she was trying to spend as little as possible, nothing could keep her from coffee and a glazed donut.

Habits, even those of others, have their effect. Coffee and a donut once a day, when the sun was at its highest, and taking the time to enjoy it, was something Grandpa Mike used to do. Day after day for over forty years. He must have eaten thousands, she reckoned. “Gotta make time for your pleasures,” he’d say with a smile. But that was a long time ago. Grandpa Mike was part of her other life, one she rarely let herself reminisce on. The cool blast of air as she opened the diner door was like heaven after miles in the old station wagon. She strode forward, ignoring the hostess, took a booth by the window. Probably for parties of two or more, but who cared. She wasn’t the type of woman people stood up to.

An aging Hispanic woman approached, set down water. Too much ice made her teeth hurt. The straw would make it bearable. She studied the woman’s face as she revealed the specials in monotone broken English. How long had she been here? Too long in this place. Fingernails worn to the bone. The fire had gone out inside this woman.

Renee ordered her coffee and donut. Maybe afterwards she would have eggs, but the coffee would probably give her enough energy for the next stretch of asphalt. She watched the waitress tend to other customers, methodical in her movements, drop a check here, wipe a spill there. Still, better than what she had left behind, probably. Everyone is running from something, out here in the no-man’s land of endless highways between hubs. At least the frontier settlers had unspoiled landscape through the puckered gaps in their wagons. Now it was billboards for cars and bail bondsmen. Things change. She felt like she had not. She adapted to the circumstances. She paid the check, leaving a few singles for the waitress. Their eyes met as she reached for the door. An understanding, each recognizing something in the other. A toughness, hard to say. The heat had not abated. It was time to go.

Jackie

Nevada was an unforgiving place, Las Vegas in particular.

Jackie and her husband Ron moved there five years ago from L.A. Their agency bit the dust and they found a cheap foreclosure a few miles from the strip. Part of Jackie enjoyed the anonymity this place offered. She could hide in her air conditioned house all day, no one would bother her.

Ron was beginning to slip in and out of dementia. He was no longer fully of this world, but seemed happy nonetheless. He spent his days reading his old National Geographics, reengaging in his twin childhood loves of science and nature.

He had somehow talked her into getting a cat.

“They don’t need taking care of,” he prodded, while they stood in the mall staring at kittens behind glass. “They do their own thing. Just like you.”

He twisted her arm. Still knew how to talk her into something. “I can put up with one lousy cat,” she decided, showing no outward signs of enthusiasm.

Felix, so aptly named, was astute and almost princely, true to his feline nature. Jet black with one white paw. Did that one splash of white remove him from the black brethren of lucky cats? He enjoyed a languid existence, napped often, and kept to his own schedule. Sometimes he would stop and look at Jackie before he departed for his evening prowl in the abandoned construction site behind the house. He would look for a moment, then go on his way, as if to say “Don’t wait up.”

He would return in the violet light of late evening, his bounty in his mouth. Mice, usually. Sometimes a bird or two. One time the sinister half carcass of an opossum, smiling in death. They had an understanding, Felix and Jackie. Though she liked to be alone, he made her feel less so. Two planets in orbit around a central sun that nurtured them both. Sometimes Jackie liked to walk the strip at night when Ron was sleeping, Felix curled beneath the air conditioning vent.

Bachelorette parties, guys on tour, the beautiful and damned, spilling into the streets and back into casinos, clubs, the next hot spot. It appeared to her that they were in a fog. They didn’t seem to see her. Once, people used to stare at her when she walked down the street. Red hair, smooth pale skin, a dancer’s body. She could have had her pick of the jobs in the best of these clubs. She knew she still looked good, but the sparkle of youth had been extinguished. Part of her mind still lived in that time, L.A. in the early fifties, sepia toned, parties till dawn, the taste of last night’s gin and tonic on her tongue. She had no desire to go back, but sometimes she wished she could visit.

Jackie found herself at the Bellagio fountains, behind the throngs who worshipped as the jets rose higher. It’s amazing what man can create, this desert playground. She kept walking.

Some small bar in the Tropicana was serving two-for- one. Two gin and tonics for old times’ sake. They went down easy. Round two, old habits die hard. Ron and Felix wouldn’t miss her. There were still a few hours to go till dawn.

Renee

She closed her hand around a roll of twenties. The cool night air felt good as she strode purposefully away from the alley. Knocking the guy out had been easy. He was so drunk all his reflexes were off. Met him at the bar, sweet talking. Lured him to her car with the promise of further sweet nothings. She knew he was carrying cash, the telltale cube in his jeans pocket. She felt no guilt. He had it coming. Smart talking to the bartender. Why did some people just adore the sound of their own voice?

Renee slipped the notes into her jacket pocket as she reached her car. This money would get her a little further, across one state, maybe two. Maybe along the way she’d splurge on a Courtyard Marriott. It wasn’t like she didn’t deserve it. Lay by the pool for a day. The idea latched in her mind. Quit running for one day. Sometimes pleasure has to come first.

She sat into the car and pulled down the vanity. She liked how she looked in this half glow. Confident, unafraid. She turned the key in the ignition and rolled out onto the road.

Jackie

She took an aerobics class every Tuesday morning, but not for the company. She liked the beat of the music and the peppiness of the instructor, Roberto. He was gay, with eyebrows most women would die for. That perfect arch.

Her classmates were of varying ages. Some young, cocktail waitresses staying in shape. Others at the far end of the spectrum, like Jackie, just keeping fit or getting out of the house. Even though in Las Vegas, getting out of the house meant leaving your house for another air conditioned building. Jackie liked the rhythm of the class, movements blending into each other, the women moving in unison. Just the right amount of human interaction. She could spot the others like her, at the back and in the corners. These women made eye contact, smiled, but she knew not to start a full on conversation with them. It wasn’t what she wanted, nor they. Ron never understood her need for solitude. He always needed people around, that was how he relaxed. As she grew older, she found herself retreating more. She liked being an observer, inventing stories about the people she didn’t get to know.

Roberto danced in a Chippendales style show somewhere on the Strip. Part of her wanted to organize a night for the class to go and see him perform. She knew inside it would go down a treat. So what was stopping her? The little voice that she knew was looking out for her best interests. “Think on it a little longer. You don’t have to decide just yet. “She let it win, carried on with the high kicks.

The evening light was waning as she left the nail salon after her aerobics class. The mixture of neon and natural light was disorientating for a moment, otherworldly. Plain pink shellac, the usual. Her nail lady didn’t even ask her to pick a color anymore. Over the years, Jackie had learned bits about her, though they didn’t talk much. Her son, eight years old, was autistic. His father gone, aged grandmother caring for the boy. No English spoken. That’s real hardship, she said to herself and reminded herself of it every time she cursed Ron’s snoring or this desert life, ablaze in white light.

In the car, heading back home. She dimmed her headlights before turning into the driveway, not wanting to disturb Ron in his slumber. In the final flash she saw Felix’s silhouette in the window, waiting for her to return home, betraying his icy exterior. This warmed her heart, and she found herself growing to appreciate her feline companion.

She entered the house through the back door. The hose trickled lazily on the concrete step. She told herself she really ought to turn it off, but she was already halfway inside. Cool air, a faint hum. The house in darkness. She sat at the table, spread her hands on the smooth top. An image came to her then, a memory of the shrouded woman spreading her cards on a table like this one, long ago. Psychics always fascinated her as a child. On her way to school in the mornings, Jackie and her mother would pass Miss Eleanora’s, on the ground floor of a brick two story at the end of the street. Letters on the window in faded gold spelled her name. Jackie would press her face against that window and try to peer in, her mother dragging her away muttering “Fool’s magic.” Mother was strict but gentle, God-fearing. Some things from the old country never leave you. It was God who you listened to and obeyed, not some dark eyed woman who danced with the devil.

Years later, she pulled cards from the deck in a darkened room, Miss Eleanora watching with seasoned indifference. Did she know all the times Jackie had longed to sit in this chair? Her husky voice broke the silence.

“The eight of cups. Wanderlust. Dissatisfaction with what you have. Ennui.” These words meant something and nothing to Jackie. She wondered how many people had changed the course of their lives over a symbol on a card.

Back in the present, she poured herself a glass of crisp white wine and sat in the dark. The psychic’s words rang in her ears. Ennui. The world rolled easily off the tongue. Maybe she and Ron should go to Paris, see the Eiffel Tower. Ask a French person to explain the word to her, give her its true meaning.

Light padding on the tiles, the swish of Felix’s tail through the air. He did not join her at the table but perched on the marble hearth. He always liked to sit somewhere cool. He regarded her from his perch, eyes unmoving.

Jackie raised her glass to him. Silence enveloped them in the half light. She felt content in that moment, yet a tiny piece of her felt that something was still missing. She knew, but still could not give it any words.

Renee

She woke to the sounds of maids in the hallway, chattering in Spanish. A crack in the curtain left a shaft of pale pre-dawn light on her pillow. She closed her eyes and tried to block out these annoyances. She could feel the presence of her many shopping bags on the other side of the room and groaned. The logical side of her brain was wide awake, making up for its absence yesterday when she visited the mall with the wad of twenties.

“Those jeans could have bought three meals.”

She sat up, mouth dry, chest tight. Where to now? Usually she had a plan in place. Sitting in some generic hotel in the middle of America. Down to her last hundred. Immigrants came here with nothing. Surely the only way for her to go was up. As soon as she had her coffee and donut, then she would decide. Halfway to California. Maybe she would go to Santa Monica, walk on the pier, dip her toes in the Pacific. The thought soothed her restless mind. A lyric came to her and she found herself humming, “California here we come, right back where we started from.”

Renee liked to be on the highway as day broke. First, the sky tinged with lavender, then pink, the colors of a little girl’s bedroom. A waning blue, knowing its time was drawing to a close, the last stars fading. Then a burst of fresh light, slightly less glaring.

When she was a little girl, she was fascinated that it could be daytime on one side of the world and night on the other. Couldn’t get her head around it. She remembered Grandpa Mike showing her how the sun and moon could appear in the sky at the same time. Two deities. She sat rapt on the grass in the hot evening. It hurt to think of him, so she stopped.

A little further down the highway, she pulled into the shoulder, got out and laid back on the bonnet. The hot metal felt smooth and comforting against her body. A large bird wheeled overhead. A condor? She was getting close. Now and again, she thought she could smell the sea on a passing breeze. She felt tired now, having driven through the early morning hours. She allowed herself to doze. The highway remained mercifully quiet in these early hours, she was alone with the road, as she had been for so long.

The road never talked back or asked questions, it just let her drive away from what needed to be left behind. She thought now of the papers in the pocket of her bag, turning thin and soft with age. The name of a hospital, a woman, a date.

© 2016 Jenny Griffin

Jenny Griffin is originally from Co. Tipperary, Ireland and has been writing fiction and poetry since her childhood.
She lives in New York City with her husband, David.

“Bad Decisions” – Mack Curry IV

My dick sometimes gets me in trouble.
My hands also get me in trouble.

My brain stops functioning during sex,
which usually lands in me in trouble.

My mouth says “come over tonight.”
In the past this would always be trouble.

Her red Saturn pulls into the parking lot.
She gets out, and I know I’m in trouble.

She wears only a trench coat and heels.
Drop the coat, and I know I’m in trouble.

We go to the bedroom and strip,
both naked to start some trouble.

She says to tie a leather belt around her neck
and grab a condom to prevent future trouble.

Open my eyes to realize I’ve been dreaming.
Never responded to her text, so now I’m in trouble.

© 2016 Mack Curry IV

Mack Curry IV is a graduating poet in the Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.  He is a native of Bowie, Maryland, and he currently resides in Hampton, Virginia.