Thursday, December 1, 2011

Issue #18: December, 2011

by Matthew C. Funk 

Donald had what he needed—his robe, the butcher knife, baby Walter cradled in his arm—everything but a sense of where he was. He just knew why he was here—to buy something orange for Sally. Tide detergent; that was it.
But what he saw around him didn’t add up: A glass door with iron bars over it was behind him. A stainless steel box with a plexiglass porthole to his right was around him. Shelves with Mac ‘N Cheese, Cup ‘O Noodles and other small, bright boxes of snacks were ahead. Was this a convenience store? Was it a bank? It seemed neither.
Donald was sure he should know the answer. He’d almost certainly been here before. But it didn’t add up to one place—just pieces of other places. Things were so much easier when he’d been starting Quarterback at Carver High.
“Hey.” Donald yelled above baby Walter’s wailing and above the sharp edge of the knife. “Is this a bank here? I need to buy some Mac ‘N Cheese.”
Something was wrong about what he’d said. A lot had been going wrong since he’d started smoking all that crack.
“Hey, can I get some help here? This baby needs some Tide.” Donald called. He heard women yelling back, but didn’t see them. Maybe his eyes didn’t work. He could see a metal gate lowering in front of him clearly enough, though. It was cutting him off from the shelves, sealing him in the steel box.
Donald told himself not to panic. He didn’t want to scare baby Walter any more. Walter squirmed like the bags of warm water Donald used to lay under Granma’s feet when her gout got too bad. Much more fragile than a bag of water, though. Much more delicate than a football.
Fragility reminded him this was an emergency—the scaled gate was almost shut ahead. Donald waved the knife around to show he meant business. This was going all wrong.
What did Coach Farris call it when a plan went wrong? A broken play. Yeah, Donald knew, this was a broken play.
He slashed the knife at the steel and it sparked like floodlights. Jesus Wept, crack made life exciting. But Coach had taught Donald not to panic during a broken play. He just had to audible.
Football was so simple. “Rolling right!” Donald yelled to his linemen, though he couldn’t see Sammy or Big George anywhere. He staggered right and banged his shoulder into the steel wall just below the plexiglass porthole. Donald almost fumbled the football.
No, he realized—he’d almost fumbled the baby. Donald gaped down. Who was this baby? Walter, he remembered. His girlfriend Sally’s baby.
“What the fuck you doing on the football field, Walter?” Donald wondered. He wondered why Walter had a spidery strand of drool dripping onto his brow. Was that Donald’s drool? He figured it must be. Uh oh.
“Where’d we end up this time, Walter?” Donald got no answer but raw-throat wails. He hadn’t sworn this time, though. Sally scolded him when he swore around Walter, even though Walter was a baby and didn’t know a fingertip from a titty anyway. And besides, it was hard not to swear, frustrating as life was now.
There was the rent to sweat and the power bill to pay and the dishes to wash and his busted knee to coddle and the crack, of course. More and more crack by the day, and no matter how much Donald smoked, it just didn’t help his knee like it used to.
“Goddamn broken play.” Donald slung the football under his arm and looked around to see what formation Coach Farris was calling from the sidelines. He caught sight of a bass-mouthed white face staring at him through the porthole. Distortion made it look like it was pasted on the glass with a paint roller, but Donald knew it was some real dude’s face.
This was definitely not the Carver High field. It was some steel box with a white dude shaking his head at Donald. His knee ached something terrible—felt like the sack of fluid and splintered bone it’d been since Larry “Razorback” Randall laid him out in the second-to-last game of the senior season. But no, this wasn’t football.
Where was he, really?
He’d gone out for something orange that Sally needed. Probably orange juice. Orange juice and milk. That seemed right. Though it probably wasn’t, really.
Nothing had been right since school nurse Linda and Coach Farris took him into the locker room and checked out Donald’s knee and pronounced it wrecked. He was supposed to go on to a top-ranked football school, scholarship all paid and everything. He was going to be a Miami Dolphin or a Tampa Bay Buc—someplace warm, with banana trees just like his New Orleans home town, but with air that smelled like tanning oil and bikini-clad pussy rather than refinery fumes.
“Where’s my scholarship now, you cheap bastards?” Donald waved the knife around. He had the knife to show he meant business. Nobody took him seriously otherwise. His Carver High teammates had bailed to their colleges, his friends avoided the shame of his company like a rash. Even Sally laughed at Donald, the way he’d wet himself from the pain of his knee or would wake up calling for Granma to turn on the nightlight.
They’d take him dead seriously now that he had a butcher’s knife. Donald would set things right.
Crack made things right. They called it rock, but it felt like a gem to him. So firm but so light in his palm. That kitchen-fresh smell to it before it burned. And the sizzle of it turning to smoke, an electrical noise, making the pull of it into his lungs seem like hooking up to Heaven’s circuit board.
Everything would be alright if he could just get a hit of crack. He smiled at the thought. His happy reverie had a break in it—Walter was wailing himself bloody, foam popping from his tomato-red face.
“What’s wrong, Walter?” Donald couldn’t think of a damn thing that was wrong. Except that he wasn’t high. Not really high. He’d smoked some before he went to the Louisa Mini Mart, but not enough.
That was it—Donald was at the Mini Mart to get some Tide. He looked at the steel gate that barricaded the rest of the store. They must be closed. Oh well, win some lose some—he knew all too well that’s how life worked. Time to go home.
He pushed the barred glass door open. Humidity bathed his eyes in summer’s molasses. Through his squinting, Donald saw a shiny-head dude in a cop’s uniform standing in his way, right where the parking lot sloughed into the busted pavement of Louisa Street.
“A cop in Desire?” Donald chuckled and flashed the grin his Granma always called his Go Fish Grin—the one he’d put on when he knew he was going to win a hand.
The man didn’t grin. He raised a gun at Donald.
“Put your hands down!” The cop yelled.
This was definitely a broken play. Donald drew his arms in, expecting to get hit. The baby socked firm against his chest; the knife lay against the baby. His robe licked his naked waist, reminding Donald he had no padding on. Getting hit would hurt.
“Man, I got to roll right.” Donald explained. He had to holler above the roar of the crowd, or of the baby. Whichever.
“I said put your fucking hands down!”
Donald began to shake. The knife shaved up the pasty pools of puke and grime on Walter’s one-piece. No time to worry about that now—he knew he had to do what the cop said.
“I’m getting some orange juice.” Donald yelled. “Sally needs some orange juice to wash Walter’s clothes, man. He’s dirty as shit.”
“Put your hands down, goddammit, or I will drop you!” The cop sounded afraid and his head creased like a deflating football. What the fuck he was afraid of, Donald couldn’t figure. He was the one with the gun.
“Man…” He worked at the words to express all that, but they felt as spongy and shattered as his knee.
“Hands fucking down!”
Donald wished he could, but that order made no sense—his hands were attached to him. As much as he would like to set them on a table and then go sit back in his Uncle’s recliner, he couldn’t. For all the trouble they’d caused him, he thought he might be better off putting them down at a bus bench for someone else to use, then walking off. But he couldn’t—his wrists held firm and he had no idea how to detach them. He was desperate to comply all the same.
Donald began to cry. That only made the cop more desperate.
“Jesus, man,” Donald explained. “I need to be at Miami Beach. This ain’t right. I’m going to be a Dolphin.”
No sooner did he say it, Donald knew it would never be true.
“Knife down! Just put the fucking knife down.” The cop had tears in his voice too—Donald could hear them, bright noises, like the sequins on Granma’s funeral dress.
“I can’t.” Donald began.
“Put the knife down, Donald!”
Again, he couldn’t. He’d thought this through: Knife down meant driving it into little Walter. The knife had to go sideways.
The spiders crawled sideways, the knife had to go sideways, and this morning, the sun was shining sideways, across the face of the world and burning, chasing Donald down like a fireball after Tom Cruise. And it occurred to him that life went sideways—not forward like people thought, not from point-A to point-B by way of intention. No, life aimed at point B from point A, but then slid sideways, always sideways, into whole other alphabets. And by the time you learned those alphabets, it had already begun sliding into a new one.
“I don’t understand the choice,” Donald whined and hated the sound of it. It sounded awful, echoing in the locker room. And the last thing he wanted was for Coach Farris—his only real father; more than a father than that perfume-smelling pimp locked up in Angola—to hear his star quarterback whine.
But he had to whine—had to have some escape, even if it was through crack. He hadn’t understood the choice. He understood plays—choosing between throwing to one open receiver or another; choosing to run if the defense came at him on an outside blitz; choosing to fall on the ball if he was sacked. Donald could choose between two decisions he knew the outcome of.
“Goddammit you fucking crackhead maniac fuck, put the baby down and put the knife down, or I swear I will put what’s left of your brains through that fucking door.” Coach yelled at him, jabbing with the gun.
It was the outcomes you didn’t choose that really decided your life.
“No, this ain’t going to do, Coach.” Donald moaned and sweat under the floodlight sun and almost dropped the football.
If Donald had been given a choice between a healthy leg and a loose bag of fluid around two matchsticks rubbing their heads together, he knew he’d have answered, “Leg, Lord. Thank you, but I’ll take a leg!”
But he hadn’t been given that choice. He hadn’t chosen Sally and her drug fiend friends. They’d chosen him when all his friends went off to colleges. He hadn’t chosen to need crack so badly—need it more than his teeth, more than emptying his nuts, more than sleep. Crack had chosen him.
“Man, I got to the get the fuck out of here.” Donald started to shuffle away—anywhere else but here, a place he’d never chosen to be.
Donald had chosen to read aloud to Granma from the Reader’s Digest until she could sleep through her gout pain. He’d chosen to strain through two-a-day practices and bust his bones to sawdust in the weight room to become the best quarterback in the history of Carver High. He’d chosen the Dolphins.
But Granma had died of the diabetes and was buried in her sequin dress. Donald couldn’t even run anymore on his knee. Miami was another planet.
Donald had to go.
The cop stepped in his way.
“One more step and I will shoot you!”
And the crowd gasped—a flock of fat women and skinny boys on Louisa Street. Donald knew it was crunch time. This was the fourth quarter. The next inches would decide the whole game.
Donald raised his face to the floodlight sun. Crack buzz clicked down like a dying scoreboard. He sweated. He drooled. His knee wept inside its puckered skin.
“I’m done.” Donald decided.
Fuck football. He wanted out—wanted back; back before football set his dreams up like a good hand of Go Fish, only to rob all his cards in one run; back when Granma was the one who read to him and there were no savage suns like this, only nightlights.
He tossed the football down. It screamed on the way down. The crowd screamed. The baby stopped screaming when he bounced, rolled, swelled and bruised like a busted knee.
Donald would make the crowd stop screaming too. He turned the knife on them. He meant business.
The next thing Donald knew, he was hit—he was down; his ears were ringing. Damn, Larry had put him down hard. He tried to spring back up, but his entire body felt like a bag filled with bad water. And the bag was leaking.
“Shit,” Donald felt blood running from his smile. It smelled orange. Nightlight orange. The buzz in his head felt better—bigger, brighter—than crack. “Miami here I come.”
He couldn’t breathe. That was all right. He needed the buzz more than he needed breath. And the buzz from this hit felt so big that Donald was sure it could last forever.

Matthew C. Funk is a professional marketing copywriter and social media consultant, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts that illuminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the Professional Writing MFA at USC, his online work is featured at sites such as Beat to a Pulp, A Twist of Noir; Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; Flash Fiction Offensive; ThugLit; Powder Burn Flash; Pulp Metal Magazine and his Web domain.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Issue #17: November, 2011

by Marie Shields

Today I received an invitation to my thirty-year high school reunion. My initial thought, as it was twenty years ago, and ten before that was, What could I possibly have in common with anyone from Devil’s Fork, Texas? But today another thought crosses my mind. Besides being raped by Deputy Witherspoon.

The night it happened, I was working the late shift at Frenchy’s truck stop about a mile out of town and got off at eleven. We wore white nylon nurse’s dresses that came above the knee, black aprons edged with white lace, an uncomfortable bandeau to match in our hair. It was the owner’s idea of how a French maid would dress, but in truth we looked like women with bad fashion sense.  I wore canvas tennis shoes without stockings to work, as did the other girls. The older women, whose arches had already fallen, wore practical oxfords and support hose.

The deputy’s car pulled up beside me. He rolled down the passenger window and in his best Texas friendly way, said, “Hop in and I’ll drive you home. Young girls shouldn’t be out walking this time of night.”

He was an authority and a police officer. I hopped in.

He called his police car Trigger. He patted the steering wheel and said, “Yep, old Trigger and me give many a young lady rides home when they out alone at night or about to get they self in trouble.”

He took the next side road off the highway. When I asked why, he said he thought it was a nice night for a moonlight ride. 

“Y’all got yourself a boyfriend?” he asked.

My face felt hot and I was sure I was blushing, although he couldn’t see it in the dark. “No. Mama says I can’t date until next year.”

“Betcha when that time comes, ever boy in town gonna be after you, fallen in love. Don’t I know, ever time I see you, I think, ‘now there’s a girl I could love.’ You about the prettiest girl this town ever seen.”

He pulled off into a grove of cottonwoods and parked. Slide the seat back and put his arm around me.  “You ain’t shy now are you, Sugar?”

It was then I noticed his rifle wasn’t in the gun rack. He wasn’t wearing his uniform or the heavy belt with his pistol, hand cuffs and night stick attached. He had on blue jeans and a cowboy shirt with the sleeves cut off. Not so unusual. The sheriff and his deputy had full personal use of their police vehicles and could make arrests in or out of uniform.

His hand hovered over my right breast. I turned toward him so he couldn’t touch it. Even though I’d necked with a couple of boys, I never let them touch my heavily padded bras.

He pulled me closer and kissed me. I let him, flattered a grown man would be attracted to me. He was probably in his mid-thirties, with muscles high school boys hadn’t yet developed.

When he slid his hand under my skirt, I pushed it away.

Then he raped me. Pushed me down on the car’s bench seat, roughly spread my legs apart, and jerked the crotch of my underpants aside with a two finger hook. It was over so fast the pain didn’t register until he was sitting up adjusting himself. It felt as if he’d ripped open everything from my navel to my tailbone. Then, the cramping started. I’d heard horror stories about the birthing of a child, but nothing could possibly compare.

“Ain’t no girl in this town ever been with old Deputy Whit and remained a virgin,” he said.

With another notch in his gun belt, he drove me home as he said he would.

I stumbled into our house and ran a bath as hot as I could tolerate, eased into it and turned off the cold and let the hot continue to trickle into the tub. Scrubbed every inch of my body and hair and rinsed. Again and again.  By the time my mother came in to use the toilet, the water was tepid and had gone from bright red to a pale pink. The cramping was easing, but I was dizzy and felt weak, afraid my legs wouldn’t hold me up if I tried to get out of the tub.

“Why in the name of God’s good grace are you taking a bath at this hour?” Then she saw my bloody uniform and panties on the floor. “God have mercy. Now you done it. Who was it?”

            I’d been crying before she came in, now I cried harder. “Deputy Witherspoon. He raped me, Mama.”

“Don’t try to use that as an excuse. If you wasn’t leading him on with your bare legs and short skirt, this don’t happen. Men know. They can smell a slut jest like a dog smell a bitch in heat.” Mama pulled up her pajama bottoms, flushed the toilet, sat back down on the lid. Then she started to cry. Between sobs she sputtered, “How could you do this to me? I’ll never be able to hold up my head in this town again. Don’t you never ever tell anyone about this. No decent man will marry you now. Don’t you know that?”

Three months later I graduated from high school, picked up my diploma from the principal’s office and boarded a bus to Los Angeles with the $874.16 I’d saved from my job and the $2000 Grandma Phyllis gave me to further my education. College in California was practically free at the time. I got my degree and taught elementary school for twenty-five years.

For the past five years I’ve been Dean of a private school; am happily married to the owner of a small chain of gourmet grocery stores. Our son works with his dad and we have a daughter still in college.

I’ve never been back to Texas, but as far as I know, no rapes were ever reported. My mother wasn’t the only mother who believed in the value of virtue. The sheriff, his deputy, the mayor, and the judge were above the law. There were few trials by jury.

No, there’s nothing I want to be reminded of or have in common with the folks back in Devil’s Fork.

by Marie Shields

The next group was called for jury selection and the last two people at the table where Marlene was sitting left the room. She started to move to one of the more comfortable chairs. Her ankle twisted as she stepped on something beside her chair; looking down she didn’t immediately see what she’d tripped over…a wallet. She set her purse on the floor, looked around the room to see if anyone was watching her, and  stretched as far as she could. She touched it, but couldn’t grab hold of it. She kneeled down, put her hand on the wallet, scooted back and pushed herself to a standing position with a grunt.

A man at the next table covered his mouth. The girl sitting next to him giggled. Marlene bit her lower lip and clump-clomped after the handsome man who’d been sitting next to her.

“Excuse me,” she hollered. “Sir. Sir…you…”

He turned halfway around and said, “Jesus, Lady. Give it a rest. I’m married.” He hurried after the group who’d been called.

The bailiff was standing at the door of the juror’s waiting room. Rushing around like this made Marlene sweat profusely. She could smell her own foul odor and the wet trickling down her back and sides and worse, between her legs. Knowing it looked as if she’d wet her pants, she covered her crotch with her hand and the wallet.

“Excuse me,” Marlene held out the now damp wallet, “that man…he dropped his wallet.”

“What man?”

“He was sitting at the table where I was sitting…”

The bailiff cut her off, “I don’t have time for this. Turn it in at the information desk in the lobby. And you can go. We won’t be calling anymore jurors today.”

“Should I come back tomorrow?”


Marlene was sure they’d let everyone else come back, just not her.

As she headed for the elevator, some of the other potential jurors rushed past. The elevator was nearly full by the time she got there and squeezed in. Oh, my god. She felt it coming, there was nothing she could do to stop it. One loud smelly wet fart. She stepped back  and waddled as quickly as she could toward the ladies room.

Inside the stall, she opened the wallet; five fifty dollar bills, four twenties and some fives and ones. She shoved the bills into the pocket of her sweat pants, wrapped the driver’s license and everything else in the wallet in a copious amount of toilet paper and stuffed it in the sanitary napkin receptacle. She wrapped the wallet in toilet paper too, put it in her purse and on her way out of the building, dropped it in a garbage container.

by Marie Shields

“There ain’t nothing in the world like a slope-eyed girl. Oh, she steal my money, but she calls me Honey,” Richard sang in his reedy voice.

Ahn Thi stood close to the front door, holding her car keys, her purse on the table beside her. She felt safer here, less likely to be trapped. Two hours ago she’d picked Richard up at the airport, home from his latest tour of combat duty. They’d stopped at the commissary so Richard could get a bottle of Maker’s Mark 46. He’d opened it in the car and babbled on about how you couldn’t get it ‘over there’, how many of the guys he’d gone over with had returned, how many hadn’t. She hated hearing it. When she’d first come to the United States with him, she spoke almost no English and nothing he said bothered her. He said everything with a grin on his face so she didn’t have a clue.

On the drive to base housing, Richard gesticulated wildly, bottle of Makers in one hand, as he spoke, “These fucking rag-heads come over this rise, see, twenty or more a them bastards.  I raise my M-16, an got every god-damn one them fuckers. Then we charge that hill - -”

Ahn Thi tuned out. She’d gotten the call that his unit was on their way home on the day she’d started a letter to him to let him know she was moving out of base housing and filing for divorce. It had been a hard letter to write, but not nearly as hard as telling him in person was going to be.

He poured two large glasses of the bourbon and held one out for her. She shook her head. “We need to talk now.”

“How about some sucky dicky long time for the old man?” he said, setting both glasses on the table and reaching for his zipper.

“You’re an idiot,” said Ahn Thi.

“Yeah. But you love me anyhow.” He slapped her butt. “Now, my slope-eyed girl, she is just a pearl.”

“Shut up.”

He slipped his arm around her waist, took her hand and tried to waltz her around the room as he continued to hum his tuneless song.

She put both her hands against his chest and shoved. “Leave me alone. I wish you never come back.” She was crying now.

“What did you just say to me?” He straightened his uniform jacket and touched the fruit salad on his chest as if to remind himself who he was. “You stupid little slope. I married you. Brought you here. You owe me big time.”

 “The price is too much.”

“What’s your problem, Ahn Thi?” Richard sat on the sofa, slumped over as if burdened by a tremendous weight. He covered his face with his hands for a moment. Looked up at his wife. “This is one hell of a homecoming.”

She watched him open the drawer of the end table. He pulled out his old service revolver and the cleaning kit. Richard never cried, never yelled, never hit. He made jokes. When he was angry, upset or when his nighttime terrors of battles and men lost under his command became too much, he cleaned his gun.

He was still slender and rock-hard. Ahn Thi noticed a little gray in his blonde crew cut now. She fell in love with him because he brought happiness and laughter into her ‘Sucky dicky long time. Five dollar’ world. Would she still love him if he hadn’t done this last tour of duty in Afghanistan? If she hadn’t fallen in love with someone else? Someone who treated her with dignity and respect. She no longer thought Richard was funny. He was a buffoon and she had been the butt of his jokes for more than thirty years.

 “I am not a slope-eye girl. Not a zipperhead. And I am not your little frog. I am Eurasian woman.” She turned her back to him. “And, I want a divorce.”

He said nothing. He began to reassemble the gun. He watched his wife open the front door and get her purse. She put her house keys on the table. The front door closed.

She did not hear the gunshot as she pulled onto Olive Street.

For the past eight years I’ve been a full time fiction writer and student, writing, loving, cooking, and living in the Pasadena area with my husband Michael. My short stories and novel chapters have won awards and contests, been published in anthologies, print, and online journals. The New Short Fiction Series will present an evening featuring several of my short stories May 2012.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Issue #16: October, 2011

by Jodi MacArthur

One, two, three…
Nails and teeth go beneath.
Hair and gums, unbecomes.
Legs and fingers, let them linger.
Heads and tails flip for sells.

Sometimes, Rhiannon repeated the rhyme in her head over and over. Other times, she hid in the closet, pulled the string light bulb and wrote it on the walls, carefully, inside squares. It calmed her before a big pitch or after one. The sale didn’t matter, it was her nerves, the panic she could feel like an entity. A worm crawling from the front of her skull to the back of it, writhing, wriggling like the legs of a spider after its abdomen had been crushed.

Rhiannon had been to the doctors. They gave her meds. And what did the meds do? Made her put on weight, gave her zits, made her hair fall out, and gave her massive bouts of gas. This made a drastic impact on her sales.

So she’d dumped the pills down the toilet. The sales improved as did her figure, but the worms crawled worse. In fact, they crawled out of her ears at night and had begun to disturb Derry. They told him bad things about her, lies.


Rhiannon stood in her bedroom in a black bra and panties, looking at her face in the mosaic mirror on the wall. She’d made a big sale today. Autumn sunshine streamed in through the window. She should have felt happy. But she didn’t.

She felt hollow. Hollowed out.

A drop of blood appeared on the mirror. She dabbed at it with her index finger wondering where it came from, and as she did, her green eyes transformed in the mirror. They grew long and oval, pinched in the middle like an hourglass.

She drew her fingers to her trembling lips. The hourglass ovals shifted to square blocks sinking deep inside her forehead.

She heard footsteps. Derry’s head moved behind her in the mirror. She wanted to move, but couldn’t. Paralysis. Her own sunken eyes held her captive. She felt a familiar movement in her forehead, a pain, and then the whispers started. Dream or real? they asked.

Rhiannon’s eyes slid forward, taking a new form. Round. The pupil widened, then narrowed into a sharp slit like a serpent’s. Dream? although posed as a question, the worms demanded an answer. They began to crawl.

Perhaps she was dreaming? She hated doubting herself. She hadn’t made it this far by doubting.

A classic Derry fart ripped from the bathroom, then a healthy stream hit toilet water. It was then she knew she was real, here. Rhiannon breathed a sigh of relief even as the worms screamed. Derry kept her real.

“Rhi? Whe’re’s the spa’re bla’nkets?” His Kentucky drawl used to be endearing. “This pl’ace never w’arms up. Brrr… ”

Another drop of blood appeared on the mirror, then another. Derry was moving towards the closet. Rhiannon willed her lips to speak, her arms to wave, but the worms wouldn’t let them. More blood splatters hit the mirror.

Rhiannon heard the closet door open. The worms laughed at her. They laughed in a high pitched scream.

“Wh’at the hell is this all over the w’all, Rhi? One, two, three, n’ails and teeth…” his voice tapered off.

She blinked once. Twice. Thrice. Suddenly, she was free and the worms were silent.

“I can explain it, Derry! It’s just a little rhyme.”

Derry slowly turned. He glanced her up and down, his eyes lingering at the cleavage in her bra. He shifted his pants and met her eyes. “I know you were hear’ang some things awhile b’ack and went to the doct’or. But this shit’s just… cr’azy.” He shook his head, slowly, pointing inside the closet. “It’s the last dr’aw.” The look in his eyes spelled disgust, easily imitated from many daytime drama shows.

“Derry,” Rhiannon licked her lips. If there was a sale to make, it was now. “You…” She paused. “You make me feel… here. What they’ve told you is lies. Don’t leave me now. Don’t leave me alone.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Who’s told me lies?”

Rhiannon shifted uncomfortably, then lowered her voice, “The worms. They’ve told you lies about me at night while you sleep.”

“Ok’ay.” He nodded his head and looked as if in thought.

Rhiannon felt a surge of hope.

Derry tipped his head towards the closet. “Sorry, d’arlin. The last dr’aw. You need to go back to the do’ctors and get re-pre’scribed.” He drew his drawl out to make his point, then turned and went down stairs.

From the stairwell he said, “I’m gonn’a have a beer, then split th’is joint.”

“Damn it. Damn it.” Rhiannon had to do something. She couldn’t just let Derry leave. Sure he was unemployed, mooched off her money, and sat on his rumpus all day watching The Price is Right and Oprah. But there was something calming knowing he was a real lump of living flesh sitting in the Lazy Boy when she came home at night. Everybody needs somebody and she didn’t want to be alone. Not with worms crawling in her head! He kept her real. Why couldn’t he see that? She tiptoed downstairs, watched him opened one last can of Bud Light and flick Dr. Phil back on.

She didn’t know what to do, so she sneaked to the kitchen, crept up behind him, and hit him over the head with a frying pan.

“I think you’ve made the right decision,” affirmed Dr. Phil. Rhiannon agreed and turned the TV off.


What to do. What to do. The worms were crawling, crawling, crawling. Rhiannon snatched a pencil from Derry’s crossword puzzle and ran up to her closet. She wrote the words over and over in their little squares. Her daddy once told her that if she ever got in a pickle to pick up a pencil and write the first thing that came to her mind and that would solve the problem. He also said that if writing didn’t work to pick up the Bible, close your eyes, and wait for the Holy Ghost to fill you up. You’d know that the Holy Ghost was filling you up because it was like a little wiggle in your soul, and that meant that Jesus loved you. You opened up your Bible and pointed at scripture. And whatever scripture you pointed too, that was the Holy Ghost guiding you to your life’s purpose. Daddy had hanged himself with his bed sheets from his third floor balcony when she was twelve. All they found was his Bible on the dining table. A verse circled in red where Judas had hanged himself. Rhiannon had been in and out foster homes after that.

Rhiannon didn’t care for the Holy Ghost or the Bible, but she liked to write. She made good grades in college, and she had landed herself a top sales position at ‘Just Skank It! J. K. Crack’s Clothing Massacre’. The stock had doubled since they had brought her aboard five years ago. Doubled! Stores had gone up in every mall across the country. Rhiannon was invaluable.

Heads and tails flip for sells.

Her scribbling became faster, and she tried to slow so it wouldn’t be sloppy. Her greatest fear, if she were to admit it, was the worms in her head were Jesus, but this made her laugh every time. Jesus wasn’t a worm on a cross! And Jesus wouldn’t tell her to flip heads or tails for sales. No sir. He’d tell her to pray. She laughed as she wrote. She laughed and wrote, laughed and wrote, until she calmed. Suddenly, with amazing clarity, she knew what to do. Derry would never leave.

She dressed and went downstairs. He still slept. Rhiannon tied and gagged him, and hit him again with the frying pan. Then she retrieved her purse from the counter.

Rhiannon went to Lowe’s and bought an electric saw and a filet knife.

Dumping Derry out of the Lazy Boy into the wheelbarrow wasn’t much of a problem. Figuring out where to filet him was. Rhiannon hadn’t a basement. But, the little Yardman 2000 shed did just fine. She had a woodstove and a small vegetable garden for the leftovers, the parts that weren’t in her rhyme. She called in sick to work the next morning. The neighbors thought nothing of her using the electric saw out back. It all worked out just fine. And afterwards, Rhiannon carefully placed each body part in its jar, box or shelf in her closet. Then she retrieved Derry’s pencil and carefully wrote each in its own square:

One, two, three…

Nails and teeth go beneath.

Hair and gums, unbecomes.

Legs and fingers, let them linger.

Heads and tails flip for sells.

As she finished up and closed the doors, the phone rang in the kitchen. She put on her slippers and made her way down the stairs, feeling much better. The message machine picked up. “Derr’ay? It’s your Ma. Where’s m’ay sweet little birthd’ay boy?”

Ma’s Kentucky drawl was annoyin’ as all get out. Rhiannon poured herself some coffee. Black. She thought about her closet.

“You’re alw’ays home,” Ma pouted.

Derry’s little ol’ Ma lived in Kentucky, eons from Washington. They had never met. Ma was frail, sick, practically on her deathbed, at least that what’s Derry had told her. Rhiannon wouldn’t have to worry about her.

“I wanted to sing Happy Birthd’ay to my little pumpkin pie cake.”

There’s no such thing as a pumpkin pie cake, MA, Rhiannon thought. The worms, awake again, gathered in the front of her head. Gnawing. Gnawing. She spat the coffee out in the sink.

“I’ll just sing it right he’re… Happy Birthd’ay to yoooou!”

The worms gnawed, chewed, their way to the back of Rhiannon’s mind. Tears streamed down her face. She fell to the kitchen floor. She pulled her knees to her chest and rocked herself like a newborn. They ate through gray matter, asking questions. Was this what death felt like? Was she alive? Dreaming? She needed to make the sale, dammit. Needed to make a sale. She wanted Derry back in the living room watching The Biggest Loser and munching Cheetos. She’d know then that she was alive.

“Anyw’ay, I expect you to call me back str’aight aw’ay. Love you, pump’kin.”

The message machine cut off.

A slight knock on the door. “Sweetheart? It’s Mrs. Doober from next door. I brought you some flowers from my garden.”

Rhiannon wiped her tears. She whispered her rhyme. She had an idea.


Business had picked up. She had a pitch this morning. Where had the week gone? Rhiannon carefully brushed her hair, swept it up in a twist and clipped it. She put in her green contacts and layered on thick eyeliner. She examined herself in the mirror. Serious. Scary. Her eyes shifted feline and her teeth pointed. Her body grew slender like a snake. She closed her eyes and shook her head. Opened her eyes, looked in the mirror again. She looked like her average aging self. Then she felt them, the worms writhing from the front of her skull to the back. Eating away her brain, leaving holes, asking questions. Did the Holy Ghost ask questions? She shivered and shook it all off.

Focus. Concentration. Lipstick.

Rhiannon’s hands shook as she applied the red lip stain. Big sale to make today. Big sale to loose. Heads and tails flip for sells. She thought of what was in her closet on the shelf. Rhiannon turned and threw up into the toilet. She grabbed her lipstick and ran to her closet. Underneath her old hat box, she grabbed a satchel of fingernails and tucked it into the vest of her business suit, breathing deeply. She began to relax. She turned up a notch in her lipstick and wrote:

One, two, three…

Nails and teeth go beneath.

A brisk knock on the front door broke her concentration.

Rhiannon dropped the lipstick.


Another knock. The doorbell rang.

It was probably just the mailman. Her eyes flicked inside the closet. No, she supposed it wouldn’t be him. Perhaps it was Chloe, her secretary from work. Although, she’d very specifically asked her to call if she had any updates on the meeting this morning. She’d told them all Derry had left her quite suddenly and she needed to be by herself in the house. No guests. No guests at all.

The worms crawled. They writhed. They asked questions like the Holy Ghost. “The Holy Ghost doesn’t ask questions,” she whispered.

Are you dead? they asked.

“Daddy’s dead. The Holy Ghost told him to do it. A wiggle in his soul.”

Are you alive? they asked.

“Yes, yes of course I’m alive. I’m going to make the sale.” She touched the satchel of finger nails.”

Are you dreaming? they asked.

“Shut up. Shut up.”

The doorbell rang insistently.

Rhiannon closed the closet and leapt down the stairs.

“I told you to call me!” She unlocked the door and flung it open.

A little old woman adorned in a paisley dress stood on the porch. Her body was bony, face pointy and beaked like a bird’s. Gray eyes magnified by glasses that took up half her face said who she was even before she spoke.

When the old bird opened her beak, the drawl confirmed everything. “Derr’ay! I want to see my pumpkin pie cake.”

The worms writhed. They screamed. Rhiannon grabbed her head.

“I’m Derr’ay’s Ma and I demand to see my Derr’ay!” Ma squeezed past Rhiannon and marched into the kitchen.

Rhiannon closed the door. “Wait, hold up, Ma. Derry isn’t here anymore. We broke up last week.”

The worms moved to the back of Rhiannon’s head. Slowly. Eating. Munching. Asking questions.

“I don’t believe you. My son would have c’alled me.”

Rhiannon rushed after Ma around the kitchen. As they passed by the knives, she drew the butcher knife from the block. Ma marched through the living room. Rhiannon followed her. “Don’t you see, Ma? We weren’t getting along anymore. He wasn’t happy here. So he left.”

Ma stopped and turned.

Rhiannon hid the knife behind her back.

Ma held up her nose and pushed her glasses back, inspecting Rhiannon’s face. “Where did he go then?”


“Why Tex’as?”

Tears streamed from Rhiannon’s eyes. The worms screamed in her skull. Dead? Living? Dream? I don’t know, she shouted back at them, then looked at Ma.

Ma waited patiently for an answer.

“Um, I, he… met someone,” Rhiannon said.

Ma squinted her beady, gray eyes. “I don’t beli’eve you.”

She turned and headed towards the stairs.

“Stop, please, stop,” Rhiannon whispered. They all asked at the same time in their own needy voices. She wanted to bang her head against the wall. She needed to make the sale to prove it to them. Then they’d be quiet.

Prove it. Prove it. Prove it, they replied.

She had to deal with the old bird first.

Calm. Rhiannon needed to be calm.

“Liar! Liar! Liar!” screamed Ma from upstairs.

Rhiannon raced up the stairwell to find Ma digging through Derry’s closet. Rhiannon cursed herself for not burning his clothes and shoes. This week had been so overwhelming. She couldn’t remember most of it.

Dead? Alive? Dreaming? demanded the worms.

Ma grabbed a shirt off the hanger and approached Rhiannon. “Liar! You bi’atch. Tell me where my son is or I swear I’ll…”

Rhiannon opened her own closet doors, pushed Ma in, and shut them. She sank back against the doors and let her head rest against her knees. There was a delicious pause. Rhiannon tried to think. Think. Think.

And then, Ma’s voice started as a whisper, building to a high pitched crescendo scream a heavy metal band could never even hope to reach. “They’re dead. They’re dead in here. They’re dead. They’re dead in here. They’re dead! They’re dead in here! THEY’RE DEAD! THEY’RE DEAD! THEY’RE DEAD IN HERE!”

Rhiannon glanced around the room and eyeballed her window. She leapt to the blinds, cut the cord with the butcher’s knife, and jumped back to the closet doors. Just as Rhiannon wrapped the cord over and around the doorknobs, securing them, Ma tried to open the doors, then pounded her fists against them.

“Heads or tails! Make some sells!” Rhiannon said.

“Let me out. Oh, please let me out!” And then, just so Rhiannon knew for sure, Ma said, “They’re dead in here!”

Rhiannon marched up and down the room with the butcher knife as the old woman screamed.

The worms crawled in her mind. Up and down, in and out. As if she were dead already. How did that old child’s rhyme go? The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out. The worms play pinochle on your snout.

Dead? Alive? Dreaming? A nightmare, a horrible nightmare like in Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis. She’s stuck in the closet screaming, “They’re dead! They’re dead in here!”

“Prove it,” Rhiannon whispered to herself. “Prove it. Prove it. Prove it.” An idea came, a way to prove that she was dead, alive, or dreaming. She carved it out on the bedroom wall with the butcher’s knife as she repeated her mantra, her little rhyme.

One, two, three…
Nails and teeth go beneath.
Hair and gums, unbecomes.
Legs and fingers, let them linger.
Heads and tails flip for sells.

Calmer, Rhiannon went downstairs, out the patio door to the Yardman 2000 shed, grabbed the filet knife, ran back inside, upstairs, and opened the closet door.

Ma was still screaming. “They’re dead! They’re dead in here!” She held two heads by their hair.

“You’ve got Derry, and… oh, Mrs. Doober!” Rhiannon said with a bit of surprise as she reached in and pulled Ma out. “I was busier than I thought.”

Ma shook and shivered. Rhiannon grabbed the heads from her hands and tossed them back into the closet. Briefly, she saw the writing on the wall, and this assured her what must be done.

Rhiannon held the butcher’s knife to her throat. “You need to pull yourself together, Ma. Do you feel a wiggle in your soul?”

Ma cried and shook her head.

“Damn it, Ma! Look for it. Look for the wiggle. This is a matter of life and death and dreaming. Do you feel the wiggle in your soul?”

Ma’s beady eyes grew wide. Her glasses fell lopsided. She gulped and nodded.

“Good. That’s the Holy Ghost. And you’ve got to do what the Holy Ghost says.” The worms screamed in Rhiannon’s head. “We never met, but your son and I were together for many years. I think it’s time to get personal. He’s dead as you found out.”

She let out a wail. Ma’s legs gave, her paisley dress fluttering.

Rhiannon caught her, being careful not to cut her with the knives, and pushed her up against the wall. “But you can still live. Do you want to live, Ma?”

Rhiannon had already missed her sales meeting, but she had this one last chance to make a pitch, to make the sale. “There’s something you need to do.” She put the filet knife in Ma’s hand.

Ma whimpered and dropped the knife. A wet stain streaked her dress.

“No, no, it’s time for courage, Ma! Courage. Now, I need to find out if I’m dead, alive, or dreaming. There’s this poem I made up a long time ago when the Holy Ghost told my daddy to kill himself. I thought it was like a rhyme or a mantra. But I had it all wrong. The worms inside my head, they helped me realize the words are instructions. I want you to do as I say. And when you’re all done, I need you to flip my heads and tails before dialing 9-1-1, because that makes the sale.”

Ma shivered and hippo tears streamed from her eyes. She wasn’t going to do it. The worms laughed at Rhiannon.

You’ll never know! they said. You’ll never know!

Rhiannon went for the kill. “I gagged your son in front of the TV, Ma. He was to going leave me and I couldn’t let him do that. I filleted and sawed him up into tiny little pieces while he was alive and preserved the best parts. You found them in the closet there. His head? You were holding your pumpkin pie cake’s head, bitch.”

Ma glanced at the closet. When she turned back to Rhiannon, her gray eyes were stone.

She nodded. Just once, then removed her glasses and tossed them to the carpet. Her small, birdish body assumed a warrior’s stance.

When Rhiannon offered her the knife the second time, Ma took it in hand.

Rhiannon smiled. She had won. She’d made the pitch and sealed the sale. “There’s a little killer in us all, ain’t there, Ma?”

Sweat dripped down Rhiannon’s forehead. Mascara streaked like evil down her cheeks. Worms squirmed in her skull like death. They should have stopped by now. They always stopped after the pitch.

Rhiannon wanted to end this nightmare, this life, this death. Whatever this was or was not. “Now do only as I say, Ma, no fast moves or stabs. Only as I say.”

Ma was shifty. Unafraid.

The worms crawled. Rhiannon didn’t trust Ma. She clutched her butcher knife in her own hands. Ready to thrust it if she needed too.

Ma’s face had turned hawk. Predatory. Her arms open wide. Ready to strike.

Rhiannon wished she could write the “game plan” out for Ma.

One, two, three…
Nails and teeth go beneath.

First the nails and teeth, obviously. It would be painful, but it was the only way to know if she was truly dead, alive, or dreaming as the worms taunted her. The nails and teeth had to be put underneath the old hat box in her closet. Rhiannon smiled and patted the satchel of fingernails still sitting in her vest. Next would be the hair and gums, both of those unbecomes, therefore needed to be buried in the garden or if Ma wished could be burned in the woodstove. She’d offer the choice to Ma. The problem with this “game plan” was that everything had to go according to instruction, according to her rhyme.

“Ma, you must follow my instructions exactly. Do you understand?”

Ma nodded, yes.

Liar! The old bird lies! the worms cried.

To the right of Ma’s shoulder hung the mosaic mirror. Rhiannon saw herself in it. She was slender with green, feline eyes and pointed teeth. Poisonous.

Both women faced each other. Hawk and Snake.

“Derr’ay,” said Hawk.

Snake hissed, “One, two, three… Nails and teeth—”

The bird’s beady eyes twitched. Her talon swung out.

The snake struck faster.

They stabbed each other at the same time.

Rhiannon’s butcher’s knife sank in Ma deeply, as Ma’s filet knife did in Rhiannon. There would be no fingernail filleting or gum slicing. Not this time.

Rhiannon tried to keep calm waiting for the dream to end, life to begin, or death to arrive. She heard Ma gasping for breath, gurgling Derry’s name over and over. That was her mantra.

Rhiannon had hers.

The worms slowed. Darkness seeped in like a wiggle in her soul. Jesus loved her. Rhiannon whispered the Holy Ghost a lullaby.

One, two, three…
Nails and teeth go beneath.
Hair and gums, unbecomes.
Legs and fingers, let them linger.
Heads and tails flip for sells.

Jodi MacArthur lies buried in metaphors. She resurrects through your fragmented reality. Discover more at

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Issue #15: September, 2011

by C.J. Edwards

Jimmy Wade had been watching her for a month. She had smiled at him when she had walked her small poodle around her front yard as the movers hauled her things into the renovated double. He hadn’t been sure what to do about that. Pretty girls never smiled at him. His pudgy frame and pimple-scarred features didn’t inspire smiles, even from the homeliest of girls. Living with mother after the age of thirty didn’t help much either. So when those bright even teeth framed by plump lips flashed in his direction he had turned away to hide the crimson sheet that flashed across his face, and the erection that sprung up against his sweat pants. He almost didn’t make it to the mini-barn behind the house, to spill his junk into the oily rags piled behind the John Deer riding lawn mower.

From then on he had taken every opportunity to catch a glimpse of her. From her mail he had discovered her name, Carley Jacobs, and from the White Pages online her phone number. Her Facebook account had provided him with a wealth of knowledge, even some shots of her in a bathing suit from a spring break spent in Cabo. They now hung on the wall in the back corner of the mini-barn. He didn’t dare keep them in his room for fear that his mother might find them. She had discovered him in the bathroom once when he was thirteen with a Victoria’s Secret catalog swiped from a neighbor’s mailbox.

“You filthy little animal,” she’d screamed at him. “I’ll not be having such dirty sin in this house.” Then she snatched away the catalog and proceeded to beat him with it as he fled outside. All the while she screeched her condemnation of the foul nature inside the souls of all men. Banished to the barn he could still hear her calling on the Lord to save her from having to witness such abomination.

After that first month of watching Carley from afar, glimpses of her from his bedroom window as she walked her dog, or as she mowed her lawn, Jimmy finally worked up enough courage to take a peek in one of her windows. They were quick and furtive sorties at first. Her half of the double had a single stretch of a privacy fence separating it from Mrs. Jeffries’ house next door. Mrs. Jeffries was Carley’s landlord, and Jimmy did odd jobs for her from time to time. The fence didn’t fully enclose the yard, and there wasn’t a security light.

Darts across the street turned into strolls, which then became lingering skulks in the shadows beneath her windows. As spring grew warm Carley would often leave her windows cracked open to let in the evening breezes. Sometimes Jimmy was treated to phone conversations between Carley and her girlfriends. He became intimate with the sound of her voice, especially her laugh. Boldness, nurtured by continued success, led to his first extended peek into the living room.

It was a Wednesday night. He had crouched just below the open window listening. The TV was on, and he could hear Ryan Seacrest hosting the latest American Idol. During commercial breaks, Carley would call her friend Amanda, to discuss the performance of their favorite contestant.

“Did you see their faces when he hit that high note? … Oh my god I know… He is so hot. Too bad he’s gay…He is too…Okay, yeah whatever…”

After another commercial, Jimmy finally worked himself up enough to raise his eyes level with the window sill. Another male crooner was belting out a remixed Michael Jackson eighties hit when his eyes collided with the sight of Carley’s bare legs as she sat on her faded couch painting her toe nails. He could smell the tang of the polish that she spread across each nail with a red stained brush. His body began to shiver as blood rushed to his groin. She had just finished with her right foot, and was preparing the left when Carley’s poodle perked up his ears and growled. Jimmy ducked as the curly haired dog bounded to the window.

“What is it Max?” Carley said.

Jimmy ran. This time he didn’t make it to the mini-barn. He was forced to climb up to his room to change his briefs. As he stripped off the sticky underwear, heart still pounding from almost getting caught, Jimmy realized that he had to do something about the dog.

The next couple of days Jimmy kept to his room, plotting. By the weekend he had a plan. When Carley went to work the following Monday, Jimmy walked over to the window where Max had almost exposed him. It was cracked as usual, security pegs preventing it from being opened all the way. A crack was all he needed, for now. Sliding up the screen just enough, Jimmy set two moist doggy treats on the sill and waited. He was rewarded by Max’s snuffling nose followed by his pink tongue licking up the tiny treats.

Jimmy returned two more times that day with offerings for the little pooch. On Tuesday he followed the same schedule. Wednesday he began feeding the treats directly from his fingers to the poodle’s mouth. Before the week was out Jimmy and Max were good friends. Jimmy almost felt bad about what he was going to do next.

On Friday nights Carley would usually go out. She would sleep in the following morning. On these occasions she would let Max out into the small fenced in area behind her half of the double, and then go back to bed. After a week of making friends with her dog Jimmy watched from his bedroom that Friday evening. He had seen Carley come home from work, and three hours later watched her red Honda back from its parking space into the alley and pull away. Before going to bed, Jimmy set his alarm to wake himself at six A.M.

* * *

Strangling Max turned out to be easier than expected. After luring him from the yard with more treats, he took the dog to the min-barn. Inside, while Max gobbled up a pile of the meaty bits, Jimmy looped a thin cord around the dog’s neck.

“That’s a good boy, Max.”

He tied one end to the bottom of the mower, then took a firm grip on the other, and jerked. Afterward, Jimmy pushed the lawn tractor to one end of the barn’s interior, pried up three of the floor boards, and dug a shallow grave.

When Carley had knocked on his door later that afternoon, for a split second Jimmy thought he had been found out. He stood, face frozen and mute, staring at her. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and a lonely trickle snaked its way down his spine.

“Hi,” she said. Her smile was thin. “I live across the street. I was wondering if you might have seen my dog Max today.” Her hand reached out. In it was a lost dog poster with a picture of Max’s curly haired face set in the middle of the paper. His little head cocked to the side, his open mouth made him look like he was smiling.

Relieved, Jimmy took the poster. “Um, no. I haven’t seen him.”

“Okay. Thanks anyway. Please, let me know if you do.” She turned to go.

“I could take a few more of those,” Jimmy said, and pointed at the stack of posters in her hand. “Maybe post a few for you?”

“That would be so sweet. Thank you,” She said.

With Max out of the picture, Jimmy resumed his visitations. He overheard the tearful conversations Carley had with her mom, then her sister, about poor old Max. Different emotions flitted across his mind. He sampled each one as he watched and listened to her distress. Guilt was never a good flavor. Guilt was what he felt when his mother chastised him for some new offense, or filthy male habit he had acquired. Sadness worked all right. When he saw those tears trickle down her soft cheeks he could almost taste what it would be like to sit down beside Carley, put his arm around her, and squeeze away her pain with his urgent fingers.

After savoring each, Jimmy settled on satisfaction. He could still feel the rough cord tight against his hands, vibrating between his fingers while Max had flopped, then twitched, eyes bulging, his little teeth snapping at the still air inside the barn. The thrilling satisfaction reminded him of the feeling he got while jacking off into the dirt outside Carley’s window, while he watched her folding laundry in a t-shirt and shorts.

The weekend following Max’s disappearance, Jimmy began to realize that the relationship between him and his beautiful neighbor must progress to the next level. She needed him closer, so she could finally get over her lost pet.

Lifting the spare key to Carley’s house was as easy as switching it with the same brand of key he had purchased from ACE hardware when he stopped over to see if Mrs. Jeffries needed anything. Now, all he had to do was wait. The following week seemed to drag as he anticipated Carley’s Friday girls’ night ritual.

In his darkened room the following Friday, Jimmy watched until Carley’s car made its backward turn into the alley and drove away. Not able to contain his anticipation a moment longer, he pulled on a black windbreaker and skipped down the stairs. Before he made it to the door his mother called to him from the front room where she was hunched over her bible.

“James Lester Wade, where are you going?” Her steal eyes probed his face. “Out to do the devil’s work?”

“No mother.”

“Look at me when I’m speaking to you.”

Jimmy turned and raised his head from his chest where it had fallen when his mother had called to him.

“You’re up to no good. I can smell the sin on you boy.” She pointed her bible at him. “Just like your father, always thinking your dirty thoughts. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re always doing out in that shed.”

His face boiled red. His mother cackled. She made him think of sour milk.

“God will send you to the roasting pit for it. You, and your filthy little hands!”

Jimmy bolted from the door. His mother’s laugh chased him from the porch. It wasn’t until he reached the shadows beside Carley’s house that he unclenched his fists. He felt a stab of pain in his right palm where the spare key had jabbed deep into his skin. He felt the blood recede from his face.  His heart rate and breathing returned to normal.

When he fist inserted the key into the lock on the back door it stuck. It was a copy, and hadn’t been used much. He pulled it out, put it back in, and jiggled. The lock turned. Jimmy stepped into the kitchen. After the door was closed and locked behind him, he turned to face the short hallway that lead to the front of the double. The smell of roasted chicken hung in the air, fading into the underlying scent of candles, and the slightest hint of perfume. He stood there for a long time in the light of a single florescent bulb left on over the sink. Jimmy closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He listened to the silence, wallowing in anticipation.

The digital clock on the stove had read 9:45 when he had let himself in. A loud hum shook itself from the refrigerator. He flinched, and opened his eyes. Jimmy looked at the clock. It was 10:10. He moved towards the living room, glancing around at the familiar furnishings as he went. Not able to wait any longer, he climbed the stairs, passed the bathroom door, and approached Carley’s bedroom. Jimmy’s fingers brushed a towel draped over the dresser as he entered. It was still damp. The smell of perfume was stronger here, coiled around the aroma of moist fabric.

Jimmy’s knees shook. He crossed to the unmade bed and sat down on its edge. The soft sheets and comforter invited him to stretch out on them. He pressed his face into Carley’s pillow. The rest of his body shook. He reached a hand down into the front of his sweat pants.

There was a click. Jimmy froze. He felt his blood crash to his chest as it fled from his extremities, leaving the prick of needles on his skin. His ears strained. Someone had opened the back door. Footsteps tapped on the white linoleum, then disappeared when they reached the carpet of the living room.

Rolling from the bed, Jimmy peeked through the window that looked out over the back yard. Carley’s Honda sat in her parking space idling. The parking lights spread an amber glow over the gravel.

“Fuck,” he whispered. If he hadn’t been so turned on, he might have heard the car pull up.

A creak announced Carley’s arrival at the stairs. Jimmy’s head snapped back and forth as he looked for a place to hide. There was no time to get out a window, or hide in a different room. The closet was an open cutout in the bedroom wall across from the bed. It didn’t have a door, and it sunk about two feet deep, with two foot wings stretching to either side of the opening. He crossed the room in two strides. The left cavity was filled with extra blankets, pillows, and shoe boxes. The right had only an umbrella and an extra curtain rod next to it. Brushing past the clothes, he squeezed himself as best as he could into the tight space.

Carley reached the bathroom. Jimmy could hear the sink faucet come on, water making gulping noises as it found the drain. The water shut off. Maybe she’d just needed to use the sink and whatever she had forgotten was downstairs. Maybe she wouldn’t come into the bedroom, or at least not to the closet.

Light flooded the bedroom. Jimmy shut his eyes. He had read somewhere that if you didn’t look directly at someone they might not realize you were so close by. There was a sound of clothes rustling. A shadow fell across Jimmy’s face as Carley’s body blocked the light from the room from where he crouched in the closet. He could feel her next to him as she began picking through the clothes on their hangers. The light taste, almost memory of her fragrance, was replaced by a heady sledgehammer of her perfume and bare skin. It was too much. Jimmy’s eyes wrenched themselves open.

Carley stood mere inches from the tip of Jimmy’s nose. The bedroom light fell in a halo onto her blond hair. She was shirtless. When he saw her breasts loosely bound in her black lace bra, he gurgled deep in his throat. His hand rose to cover his mouth. For a moment Jimmy held onto the hope that she wouldn’t notice him, that she would select a new top, and leave him undiscovered.

Carley scrunched her lips into a delicate pout as she picked through the hangers. Jimmy didn’t know whether it was the sound in his throat, or the movement of his hand that alerted her to his presence. It probably had been a combination of the two. In the end it didn’t matter. What mattered was the look on her face, and the sound of his mother’s voice in his head.

“Now you’ve done it, you filthy boy!” he heard his mother trumpet. “I always knew you’d get into trouble. Just like your father.”

For the smallest of moments, Carley’s face didn’t register anything at all as her eyes met Jimmy’s. Then the gravity of what she was seeing washed across her face. It started in her eyes. Those thick eyelashes rose, pulling the lids high. Wide pupils dilated even more until they banished all of the blue from her eyes. The carefully prepared blond hair tossed. Her nostrils flared.

The head toss trickled down through her chest. Her arms came up. Her hips squared toward him, and then her knees sagged, almost collapsing with shock. Carley’s feet writhed while they fought with the decision of whether to fight, or make a run for it.

As Jimmy took all this in, something occurred to him. For the first time in his life he felt… powerful. The terror taking shape on Carley’s face and spreading across her body was because of him. Someone actually feared him. His chest filled, blood exploded through his muscles. Adrenalin stabbed at his heart, flooding his veins with a lustful inferno. He saw everything clearer and brighter. Under Carley’s perfume he could smell new sweat spring to life along her skin, her hair spray, soap, the leather of her belt, and the musk between her legs.

Carley’s lips peeled back as a scream built in her chest. Jimmy burst from the closet. His heavy frame slammed into Carley’s tiny one, his hands clamped over her mouth with stunning force. He heard the hiss of air forced from her lungs as one of her high heels gave way and her back struck the floor with Jimmy’s weight pressing down upon her.

Jimmy felt Carley’s teeth sink into his palm. To avoid being bitten again, his hands slid beneath her chin onto her throat. At first he just wanted to keep her from screaming, but then his grasping fingers severed Carley’s lungs from her air supply. Jimmy found that he liked the way her eyes bulged, and the pretty purplish color that spread from his hands up to her hair line as he choked her. He clamped down harder and her body began to writhe beneath him. The sound of her heels stomping up and down was muffled on the carpeted floor. Manicured nails clawed at his fingers as Carley tried to buck him off with her hips. Jimmy got hard again.

White splotches were now splattered across the purple skin of her face. Her mouth gaped and her teeth bit at the air that couldn’t reach her lungs. She looked like a goldfish, Jimmy thought. The one he had as a child. He would pull it from the water to watch it twitch and squirm. Heat stained Jimmy’s sweats as Carley urinated. It washed across the skin of one of his thighs. He came as Carley’s body stilled. Her pupils opened wide, and the sea blue color of her eyes disappeared.

Jimmy was panting like a dog when he rolled off of Carley’s limp, lifeless body. He lay staring up at the blank ceiling for a while, and attempted to process what he had done. When his breathing steadied, he rolled over onto his side, propping his head up on one hand. A silky smile grew on his lips. He stared at Carley’s face, now blooming with tiny red dots from neck to eyebrows. Her features gazed at him and he could see the whites of her eyes turning crimson. Now she was even more beautiful, he thought.

* * *

The next morning Jimmy stepped out of the mini-barn and wiped sweat from his face. His hand left muddy smears across his nose and cheeks. A couple houses down he heard a car horn blare. He walked around to the front of the house and glanced across the street. Standing next to a moving truck was a large breasted girl in a tight t-shirt and shorts with the word PINK stenciled across the ass. She turned. Her long red hair flicked over her shoulder. When she saw Jimmy looking at her she waved.

C. J. Edwards has been a police officer for the Indianapolis Police Department for eleven years, and is currently assigned to investigations. His non-fiction short story can be found in American Blue: Real Stories by Real Cops from Varro Press. This is his first fiction publication.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Issue #14: August, 2011

by Patricia Abbott

The door flew open, striking the wall with a force that brought the sleeping boys to a sitting position.

“What time is it?” Greg asked, throwing an arm over his eyes. Across the room, Charlie moaned softly.

“Six o’clock,” their father said, yanking the curtains back and letting in a blast of sun. “Get a move on, fellows.”

Denny—in his head Greg never thought of him as Dad— must’ve been up all night— Greg remembered the brown-checked shirt and tan slacks. Only the substitution of sneakers for the scotch- plaid bedroom slippers of last night seemed new.

Two weeks out of the slammer and Dennis Batch was already antsy.

“Where’re we going?” Greg asked, looking around. There were no packed bags so it wasn’t a hasty move to dodge the rent today.

“The shore. As long as we’re up, we might as well beat the crowd.”

“The shore?” Greg echoed. Had they ever gone to the shore before? “Is Mom going?”

Charlie sat up, finally awake. “Mom’s going too?”

“Of course, she’s going.” Denny Batch said this as if the customs of family outings were firmly established. “Come on, guys.” He was struggling with the sash. “Try to give you two a treat and—”

“What beach, Dad?”

Charlie stood flat-footed in front of his father now, wearing a pair of footed flannel pajamas that should’ve been packed away months ago. Most of his toes had wormed their way through the flannel.

Dennis usually took a question like this one as a wise-mouthed remark and Greg could hear him catch his breath.

“We’re going to Wildwood, Charlie. Wildwood has the best beaches.”

Both boys nodded thoughtfully, though neither had heard of Wildwood’s superior beaches before.

Denny left the room whistling the theme from Bridge on the River Kwai.

“Do we have to wear our swimming suit?” Charlie was hunting frantically through his bureau drawer. “Or do we just take it with us.” A detail like this could be crucial to the day’s success.

“Put it on under your clothes,” Greg advised. “Dad’ll probably make us strip right out in the open. Tell us real men aren’t ashamed to be naked.”

Charlie shivered audibly.

Head down, Greg ransacked his drawer, finally coming up with the suit he’d worn for his seventh- grade swim class, two years ago now.

“You can’t wear that thing, you fruit loop,” he said when Charlie triumphantly pulled out a tiny white suit with a bobbing whale.

“It’s the only one I have,” Charlie said, struggling to push his legs through the tiny holes, footed pajamas still on.

“No way you’re getting your butt into that.”

Greg went back to his drawer and came up with an older suit of his, wondering all the time what this trip was about. “There you go.”

Charlie grabbed it midair.

And their mother was going.

In the kitchen, Billie was dragging on her Salem and drinking a cup of tar black coffee. She wore a faded black and white striped swimsuit with a floppy red belt at the waist. It looked like a maternity swimsuit and neither boy had the courage to look at her.

“You two have me to thank for this little trip to the shore. He’d never have thought of it on his own.” The smoke funneled up above her head. “The thug.”

Neither boy commented on this because five minutes from now she could be slipping Denny the tongue in the back hallway.

“Better grab some food fast ‘cause he’s ready to take off.”

Greg grabbed the Cheerios and poured two bowls.

“Are we going to be gone all day?” Charlie asked, his mouth full.

“Cause shouldn’t we be packing stuff to take along?” Greg added.

“What stuff?” Billie took a sip of her coffee, made a face, and then dripped more milk into the cup. She blotted up the spilled drops with her forearm.

“An umbrella. Towels. Maybe a beach ball or a shovel for Charlie.”

Charlie nodded his approval.

“We got plenty of towels. The rest we’ll get there.” Billie rubbed out her cigarette and stood, her arms raised in a lazy stretch. “What kind of holiday is it if we have to spend all morning packing? We can rent chairs,” Billie added, “cause I don’t think we have any. Right?” Her head swiveled back and forth between the two boys. “Does anyone remember sitting in one? All right then. Can’t bring what we don’t have.”

She slipped out of the room and Greg rinsed out her cup and dumped the ashtray. Both boys looked up when they heard the sound of Denny starting up the car.

“It sounds like it’s farting,” Charlie said.

“It needs a new muffler.” Greg pressed him toward the door. “Don’t say anything to Dad though.” He paused. “About anything.”

Trouble could come from many fronts in the Batch household.

* * *

“Sit up front, Greg,” Billie ordered. “You can help your father find the bridge. I didn’t want to lug along my glasses.”

She opened the door and waved him in. Thankfully, she’d thrown an oversized Phillies’ tee shirt over her swimsuit. Her brown vinyl bag, the strap replaced with Denny’s old belt, swung wildly from her shoulder. Out in the light, Greg could see dark roots climbing down her blonde head.

“I don’t need anyone’s help,” Denny said.

He was wearing an extremely tight pair of swimming trunks, and a yellow linen shirt, reading Havana Hilton in red script, was stretched across his middle. “But as long as you’re here, Greg, you might as well see if we have any maps in the glove box.”

The box was full of empty cigarette packs, books of matches, lottery tickets, race track paraphernalia, betting slips, envelopes with lists of numbers, and circulars for various food franchises—but no maps.

“Hey, be careful,” his father said, grabbing a few fallen circulars. “Sometimes I use this car as my office.”

In the rear, Billie hooted and Denny turned around and gave her the evil eye.

“Take the Tacony Palmyra, Dennis,” she said. “That’s the bridge my stepfather always took. Would somebody put the radio on?”

“Mickey took the Tacony to Wildwood? Why would he cross the river up there? Better to use the Ben Franklin and take the Atlantic City Expressway.”

“Then you’re gonna have to drive through the whole fuckin’ City,” Billie reminded him. “Think about the traffic.”

“Don’t I have to drive across the whole fuckin’ City in the other direction to get to the lousy Tacony?” His voice was getting a curl in it.

“The Tacony’s only a nickel,” she pointed out fearlessly, her elbows resting just behind Denny’s head. “Greg, would please you get that radio on.”

Greg obliged.

“Think I care about a lousy nickel toll,” Dennis said, immediately switching it off. “I’d spend more on gas going your cockamamie way.”

“Go however you want, you big—” Billie said, her final noun either lost or unuttered. She sat back, her arms folded across her chest. “Wake me up when you can smell the salt, boys.” She slid her sunglasses down and promptly fell asleep.

“Greg, you got any idea how to get to the Ben Franklin?” his father asked in a lower tone, adjusting the mirror. “Else we’ll have to go to the Sunoco and get a map.” He shook his head like going to the Sunoco was the worst thing in the world.

“I only remember going to New Jersey once,” Greg said, “and we took the Tacony.” Even the word “Tacony” felt strange in his mouth. Was it some Indian name?

Denny’s eyelids fluttered thickly, “Okay then, tell me how to get to the Tacony.”

* * *

Neither boy had seen anything like it: miles of beach with a boardwalk stretching most of the way. Charlie’s head hung out the window like a dog’s.

Twice, Billie had yanked it in. “Want to get your block knocked off.”

“How will you know where to stop, Dad?” Charlie asked, trying to rake down his windblown hair. “Do you have a place you go?”

Dennis shrugged. “One thing that’s gonna factor in here is if there’s a good place to park.”

Billie made a strangled sound. “He means free. Good means free.”

Denny suddenly put his foot on the break, shifted the car into reverse, and backed into a spot in three quick moves.

“You sure you’re allowed to park here?” Billie asked. “Seems funny that it’s sitting empty. Matter of fact,” she said looking around, “there’s a bunch of empty spots.”

No one noticed a street sign or anything forbidding parking; there were no meters, no attendants.

“I don’t know why you couldn’t just park in a lot—but okay,” Billie finally conceded. “Ocean at Juniper. You boys remember that in case I get frazzled by the sun.”

The boys looked at each other. It was more likely to be booze that frazzled their mother.

They’d started to walk toward the beach when Greg suddenly said, “We better get some supplies, Dad.”

“Supplies?” Denny asked, whipping around. “Didn’t you bring anything, Billie? No spread, no cooler, no suntan lotion? Couldn’t someone have packed a lunch for pity’s sake? A can or two of ginger ale?”

“We don’t have any beach stuff to bring,” Billie said. “When’s the last time we went to a beach? That’s what I was saying last night. You’re just a big, cheap—”

She was already heading up the steps to the boardwalk—to a shop called Big Bob’s Beach Balls. Bob’s had a large, red plastic crab on its roof and the theme song from Gilligan’s Island played inside. A bunch of rafts were stacked in front of Big Bob’s, and before anyone could stop him, Charlie threw himself on a purple raft with a huge chartreuse octopus crawling up the middle.

“I bet I could ride all the way to China on this one. Can I have it, Dad?”

“Every house has beach stuff,” Dennis said, ignoring his son. “Just have to know where to look. Did you look in the cellar? I know I saw an umbrella down there.” He shut his eyes, remembering. “And was it too much trouble to throw a spread in the trunk?”

“If we ever did have any beach things, they’re gone now. How many times have we moved? And all our spreads are on the beds.” Billie was already fingering a wide-brimmed straw hat. “What d’ya think?” she asked, looking in a mirror.

“Good, Mom,” Charlie said. “Can I have this raft?”

“You can’t even swim,” Billie said, eyeballing him in the mirror. “You’d better be looking for one of those itty bitty inner tubes to keep you afloat.” She pointed to a pile clearly meant for toddlers.

“You could have thrown a spread from Charlie’s bed in the car,” Dennis thought aloud. “Sand shakes right off.”

Charlie’s lip turned down. “I bet Greg could teach me to swim in about a minute,” He waved his arms and legs and the raft he was bellied on moved incrementally across the wooden planks of the boardwalk. “See! I’m doing it already.”

“Kid’s a freaking loon…” Denny started to say.

“We can both use the raft,” Greg interrupted, taking pity on his brother,

“No rafts,” Denny said, yanking Charlie to his feet. “I got a cash flow thing going on right now in case you hadn’t noticed.” He turned away from their down-turned faces. “When would we ever use a raft again? You can’t use a thing like that in Glenside Pool. You’d take up half the space.”

He was making his case for the ladies at the cash register. They nodded sympathetically and one of them said, “I think you can rent rafts on the beach.”

“See,” Denny said, smiling.

They finally stood at the cash register with a bottle of Coppertone, a woven mat, a pail and shovel, and a pack of Winston cigarettes—Denny’s brand. At the last minute, Billie showed up with her straw sunhat, a can of Tab, and a Cosmo magazine.

“We could have spent this money on a great dinner if you’d have come prepared.” Denny was pulling out his wallet though.

* * *

“We’re gonna fry,” Billie said a minute later.

“Christ, you haven’t been out here five minutes,” Denny said, examining her pinkening nose with interest. “Sit under the boardwalk, why don’t you?”

“Last time you told me to sit under the boardwalk, I feel asleep under the men’s restroom and got peed on.”

“Christ, Billie, it was a leaking faucet,” Denny said. “Are you gonna tell that story till you dying day? Not like it puts you in a good light.”

“Look, Mom, nobody’s sitting under that umbrella,” Greg said suddenly, pointing to a red and white striped one.

“Grab it, hon,” Billie said, breaking into a run and throwing down their mat with a proprietary finesse when she reached the umbrella. All four sat down, bottom to bottom.

“Do I get to go into the ocean?” Charlie asked.

“Do you think I’d bring you down here and not let you go in the ocean? I’m catching my breath.”

Denny reached into the shopping bag and took out the pack of Winstons. Billie joined him with her Salem. It was an oddly peaceful moment despite the tangle of smoke.

“Come on, Chas, I’ll take you in,” Greg slid his shorts off and removed his shirt, folding them into a tight bundle.

“Will you look at the neat freak? You’ll make your drill sergeant happy some day,” his father told him. “Don’t pay to be too fruity.”

Charlie scrambled out of his clothes too and a second later, the brothers ran down to the water. “Is this all you do? Jump over the waves?”

“We’re getting used to it,” Greg said.

“Used to what?”

“The temperature.”

Some people were lying on their stomachs on rafts, but lots of people just jumped over each wave just before it hit the beach. No one was swimming.

“I guess it’s hard to swim in oceans,” Charlie said.

They stood studying the actions of the other bathers, trying a few moves of their own, watching the lifeguard direct the action with his whistle. Its shriek cut through the din every few seconds.

“Maybe we’ll get to see them rescue someone,” Charlie said.


“Do they swim out or use the rowboat?” Charlie asked, nodding toward the peeling vehicle propped up against the stand.

“I guess it depends on how far out the person is.”

“Hey, let’s get our bucket and shovel,” Charlie suggested, and spotting their umbrella in the distance, they headed back.

A kid wearing an apron over a pair of shorts was standing next to it. Dennis and Billie were both gone.

“Look, kids, these umbrellas are for rent. You can’t just toss your blanket under one. It’s three-fifty a day.”

Greg leaned over and pulled the mat away from the umbrella.

“Better move it a little further,” the guy said, scratching his stomach sleepily.

“Good thing Dad wasn’t here,” Greg told his brother. “He’d put up a fight.”

“Oh, boy,” Charlie said. They both paused to contemplate the possible scenario. “How long were we gone?”

“Twenty minutes tops.”

Charlie eyes brightened. “Maybe they went to get us some lunch. I saw a hotdog stand.” He hand-visored his eyes, scouting the boardwalk.

“Can you really picture them going off together to buy us lunch?” Greg shook his head thinking Charlie might never wise up to the state of things.

“They’d have sent us for it. Right?”

“Right. I think I know where Mom is.”

He’d spotted a spot called the Atlantic Breeze. A fancy umbrella in a frothy drink festooned the sign. Dad’s whereabouts were more unpredictable. Was there an arcade nearby? A casino?

Charlie began to dig in the sand. “Hey, how do you build one of those sand castles?” He was straddling the small mound, trying unsuccessfully to hold it together with his legs.

Oh, what the heck. It was better than cruising the boards for their parents.

“You need wet sand. Go fill your bucket with water.”

The boys spent the next half hour constructing a castle, Charlie ran up and down the beach looking for scallop shells, discarded straws, and other found objects to decorate it. His best find was a rhinestone earring that he set on top.

“I think it’s pretty good,” he said, sitting back on his heels. “For our first one.” He looked at Greg. “Or did you build some castles before I was born.”

“Not that I remember.”

“Think we’d better go look for them?” Charlie asked. “I’m getting pretty hungry,”

“Yeah, but put your shoes on,” Greg said. “I think you can get splinters up there.

They left their socks hidden under the overturned bucket and climbed the steps.

“Let’s try that place.” Charlie nodded and they walked across the planks to the Atlantic Breeze. They hadn’t put two feet inside when a fat, bald man in an apron rushed over.

“What d’ya think you’re doing. No kids allowed in here. Especially no sandy-assed kids.” “We’re looking for our mother,” Greg said.

The man sighed, “Who isn’t? He turned back, letting the door slide shut. “What she look like?”

“Short frosted hair, Phillies tee shirt, real skinny.” This wasn’t the first time Greg had given a description of her.

“Drinks seven and sevens?”

Greg nodded. The guy opened the door and went back inside. Cool air, old smoke, and stale beer eased out.

Billie flew out a minute later. “Come on, boys. Let’s grab a dog. It’s lunchtime, right?” She was blinking fast, trying to get used to the ferocious August sunlight but pretty steady on her feet. “Where’s Denny?”

“You were both gone when we got back to the umbrella.” Charlie said without thinking. “And then some stupid kid said we had to rent it.”

Billie wheeled around. “I came up here to make a phone call.” She looked at the nearby booth. “And then that public one chewed up my dime.”

Excuses exhausted, she stepped up to the hotdog stand. The man dug three dogs off the grill and slathered them with yellow mustard.

“Oh, here’s your father now.” Billie grabbed half the napkins from the holder and patted her face.

The boys turned. Denny was marching down the boardwalk at a good clip.

“”Let’s go,” he said when they were in earshot. “Step lively now.”

“Back to the beach?” Charlie asked, mustard dripping from his chin. “I made a sand—”

“Never mind that,” Denny said, “What street was the car on again, Billie?”

“Juniper,” Billie said, stuffing the rest of her hotdog in her mouth. “Juniper at Ocean.”

“But our stuff’s still down there,” Greg started to tell them. “We don’t even have our socks.”

“And you didn’t even go in the ocean, Dad,” Charlie added. “We gotta a surprise for you too. We built a sand castle with a sparkling diamond on top.”

“Stuff’s just junk,” Denny said, pushing them toward the steps. “Who needs that kinda crap in the city? Socks probably have holes the size of Texas in ‘em. Leave ‘em go out with the tide.”

When they arrived at the car, Juniper Street was half-submerged in water.

“High tide,” Billie said under her breath. She sloshed through it and the boys followed. Only Denny seemed flummoxed by the situation. He stopped, removed his loafers, paused a second, looked around nervously, and then wadded through the water too.

“Be careful of the brakes,” Billie said. “They could be spongy.”

He pumped the brakes a few times experimentally and then put the car into drive and eased out. The Olds, tank that it was, glided through the water and the boys hung out their window, listening to the engine’s groan.

“The Olds is like Dad. It doesn’t like water either,” Charlie giggled. “Hey, there’s a man waving at us from the boardwalk. We must have forgotten something.”

Denny threw his arm out the window and gave him the finger.

“Ha, ha,” Denny said, once they rounded the corner.

“Big man,” Billie said. “Did you have to pull a stunt today? This was supposed to be our day at the beach. Our perfect day.” She was sitting in the front seat, applying a new coat of lipstick. “You never even put a toe in the water.”

“I didn’t notice you frolicking in the ocean either. The only liquid you enjoyed was in a glass. See anything funny going on behind us?” Denny’s eyes were on the rearview mirror. All three turned around. “Don’t be so obvious about it,” he hissed. “Just take a quick peek.”

“The guy in the Buick behind us has a little kid next to him,” Greg said.

“Good deal.”

“And behind them there’s a Coca Cola truck.” Billie added.

“Okay then,” Denny said, slowing down. “Who’s up for a seafood dinner?”

* * *

The restaurant sat on the pier. A row of men fished along each side. “What are they catching?” Charlie asked. “Can we try it?”

“Maybe flounder,” Dennis said, pausing to watch. “Too shallow here for blue fish. We don’t have any gear, boys.”

He put an arm around both of their shoulders and directed them toward the door. Billie was already inside, looking out of place in her tee shirt and skinny legs. Most of the people were dressed in regular clothes. The hostess took them to a booth in the back and handed them four huge menus.

“Just here for lunch,” Denny said, handing it back.

“Lunch’s on the back,” she told him, flicking some dry sand off the tablecloth.

“Right.” Dennis flipped it over, scanned the offerings and let out a whistle.

“If you’re not the cheapest man in the world,” Billie said. “He wasn’t always like this,” she said to the boys. “He used to be a big spender.”

“Mr. Roper,” Charlie said suddenly. They all looked at him. “Mr. Roper is the cheapest man in the world.”

“Who the fuck is Mr. Roper?” Denny finally asked. “Is he that guy on TV in the cardigan? What a twerp!”

“No that’s Mr. Rogers,” Greg said.

“I bet he’s that guy down the block who mows his lawn in a sports coat,” Billie guessed.

“He’s talking about Three’s Company,” Greg told them. “You know.”

“When did you start watching that?” Billie asked. “I don’t think that’s much of a kid’s show,” she added, looking accusingly at Greg.

“Oh, for pity’s sake,” Denny said. “You can’t compare me to a person on the box. Things are a little tight lately. You know. With inflation and other stuff. You’ll understand it better when you’re grown up.”

“And don’t forget your recent gambling losses,” Billie reminded him, turning her menu back to the dinner entrees. “Well, I’m having lobster” She put the menu down. “Who comes to the Shore and eats a grilled cheese sandwich?”

“I’m not saying you have to order a grilled cheese sandwich, but the menu doesn’t even list a price for lobster,” Denny moaned. “That means they can look us over and name any price they want.”

“Then it ought to be a pretty cheap lunch.What do you boys want?”

Both wanted a clam roll. “First bring us our drinks” Billie told the waitress. “I’ll have a seven and seven and my husband wants a Bud. Give the boys a Coke.”

“I think I saw someone I know going downstairs to the men’s room,” Denny said when the waitress left. “Let me just run down and say hello.”

“Oh, Key-rist,” Billie said, “can’t you let it rest?”

“Easy for you to say. I don’t notice you bringing home a paycheck to help out. The best you can do is drink mine away.”

“Oh, just forget it. Go do whatever it is you’re gonna do. Two months out and you’re dying to go back.”

Billie lit a Salem and blew a stream of smoke at her husband. It was hard to believe a ninety-pound woman could extract so much smoke from a cigarette. It billowed around their table like the special effects at a magic show.

“I’m not running out of here like a fool cause you can’t pull off a good grift anymore,” she finally added, looking him up and down. “When I met you, women used to fall down at your feet.” She exhaled another stream of smoke without having inhaled one. “Now…” she shook her head. “That why you’re going after the old guys?”

“Shut your fuckin’ mouth,” he hissed, smoothing down his shirt. “Boys, I’ll be right back.”

He didn’t come back till his fish plate was ice cold and Billie was working on third drink. On the ride home, nobody said a word for fifteen miles. Finally, Billie switched on the radio. An Elvis Presley song was playing.

“Did anyone notice that blue Torino following us before now,” Denny asked. All of them agreed after a now-practiced glance that they hadn’t noticed a blue Torino before but they did see one now.

Dennis watched it another minute or two. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m gonna pull off the Parkway at the next exit. I saw a Kmart there on the way down. Now I’m gonna pull in, park a way back from the store, and then turn off the car and head for the main door.” He paused again. “Everyone with me still?” They all nodded. “As soon as I go through the door, start watching for the blue Torino. If a guy gets out of the Torino, a big burly guy probably, you take off as soon as he’s inside the store.”

He looked at Billie. “Remember how to drive?”

“Of course, I remember how to drive.”

“Right. Anyway, I only need you to drive across the road to the rest stop. All of you go inside but leave the door unlocked. Park it on the far side where the car isn’t noticeable from here. I’ll make a beeline out as soon as it seems fitting and hop in the backseat.”

“What if we don’t see the blue Torino?” Billie asked.

“Then someone come in and get me. But be sure he didn’t sneak in. These guys can be crafty.”

“But not as crafty as you. Right, Dad?” Charlie said.

“It sounds like a crackpot scheme.” Billie rolled down her window. “Why are they playing Presley again? Is it his birthday?”

“Forget fucking Presley.”

“Just what did you do in that restaurant in Atlantic City?” Billie asked, her voice flat.

“Look, it’s got nothing to do with A.C.!” Dennis said. “Just stop asking questions cause we’re about to arrive.” He cruised off the exit ramp at the posted speed, slid past the rest stop and into the Kmart lot and stopped.

“Perfect,” Denny said, easing out of the car. They watched as he tried to move as nonchalantly as possible across the parking lot.

No blue Torino showed up.

“Think we waited long enough,” Greg asked after about ten minutes.

Billie opened an eye. “Go get your father.”

Greg found Dennis eating a piece of cherry pie in the cafeteria. “All clear?” he asked his mouth half full. Greg nodded, and his father rose and paid the bill.

When they got the car, Billie was sobbing. “Elvis is dead,” she bellowed. “That’s why they’ve been playing his songs.”

“I never knew you even liked Elvis,” Denny said, looking shocked. Billie hardly ever cried. “How did he die? Drugs?”

“He wouldn’t have been that fat if he did drugs.”

“The guy on the radio said he was on the hopper,” Charlie said.

“Anyway, no sign of the Torino, huh?” They drove home listening to a medley of Elvis songs, Billie crying softly in the rear.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Denny finally said. “Turn off the waterworks.”

They got home at four. The blue Torino sat in front of their house. No one was in it. “Uh oh,” Denny said, turning the engine off.

“What now, Dad?” Charlie asked, hiding his eyes with his arm. “What’s the plan now?”

Patricia Abbott is the author of more than 80 stories that have appeared in literary and crime fiction venues. She is the co-editor with Steve Weddle of the ebook DISCOUNT NOIR. An ebook of her stories, MONKEY JUSTICE AND OTHER STORIES will be published by Snubnose Press. Forthcoming stories will appear in DEADLY TREATS, PULP INK, GRIMM TALES, PLOTS WITH GUNS and D*CKED. She won a Derringer for her story "My Hero."