A SIGHTING by Charles Rafferty My friend was on the subway in New York when he noticed a man get on, walk down the aisle, and take his place two rows forward of where he sat. This new passenger was our old friend. Neither of us had seen him in twenty years, and now there was a sighting — a proof that he existed, that he had climbed out from under whatever the world had heaped upon him. But my friend, the one who was on the train first, said nothing to this other friend. He couldn’t really explain it when I asked him, but said there was nothing of his old flash and bravado as he shambled down the aisle. Was he homeless, I asked? Was he drunk? Was he broken in some dramatic way — a missing arm, a tattoo from radiation therapy visible above the collar? No, … chop! chop! read more!
CLOSING THE CURTAINS by Ann de Forest 1. Daughter A little girl sits alone in her room at night, reading. The lights are on. The curtains are open. She feels safe inside her room, inside her book. She knows what lies outside in the dark. She doesn’t even have to look. Just below her window, a hedgerow of purple-berried bushes. If she eats the berries, she will get sick and probably die, says her mother. The bluejays eat them though. Sometimes the little girl watches them, so greedy they drop most of their harvest on the ground. The sidewalk is stained with splatters of red juice. Beyond the bushes and the sidewalk is the street. Across the street, a street lamp glows. When she looks up from her reading, she does not see the bushes, the spattered sidewalk, the street, the lamp, the neighbors’ houses. She sees herself, her body bright and transparent over the night’s silhouettes. It is time for bed. She undresses in front of the window and stops to stare at her naked reflection. Her … chop! chop! read more!
WHY NOT THROW KISSES? by Michelle Fost My parents thought it hilarious when I sent them giddy kisses from behind the glass at JFK. I saw them standing there, gesturing with their hands lifting off their mouths into the air in my direction. I mistakenly thought they were sending me farewell and bon voyage kisses, and I sailed my kisses back to them. My parents saw it as slapstick. They kissed and laughed and waved their arms. They would tell me later how they were trying to remind me to pick up the carton of cigarettes we’d purchased together at duty free for our Israeli cousin, Marta. On both sides of the glass our gestures grew larger and more rapid fire as they mimed the smoking of cigarettes and I broadcast kisses. We had terrible reception. Last week, I brought my son to the island airport in Toronto for a school trip … chop! chop! read more!
UNDERGROUND & DEATH PANEL by Jim Eigo Underground (Union Square) On the crowded subway platform a space had cleared around the couple. For reasons no passerby could ascertain, the expensively-dressed young man and woman—Wall Street by the cut of the suits, the fabric, the accessories—were slapping each other. Fewer of us were passing by anymore: we had stopped to watch. Clearly the guy was holding something back, like this was all a kind of game—though his clenched jaw told the captive crowd he was having no fun, taking more care to parry his partner’s blows than to land his own. By contrast the woman was swatting hard, dead serious from the first instant I saw her, more furious now that blood was trickling from the man’s lopsidedly big upper lip. Had the ring on her finger caught him there? The gold band sent out a ruby spray as it caught … chop! chop! read more!
“THE 104″; “TIBET”; “LIKE THAT” by Kevin Tosca The 104 Two men were standing in the belly of the bus. The one with a cane—old, but not too old—approached the younger. “Should I take you there?” said the older man. The younger, middle-aged man had a couple of bags at his feet: groceries. He looked at them, and then he looked up, unsurprised by the older man’s question. “Where’s there?” he asked. “Your house,” said the older man. The younger man paused again. He was neither flustered nor annoyed. “But I know the way to my house,” he said. “Is that all that matters to you?” asked the older man. The younger man looked thoughtful, as if he were considering the older man’s question, but he did not respond, and the older man shuffled back to the railing he had been holding onto before he approached the younger man. A … chop! chop! read more!
by Kathryn Kulpa
The streets smell like fried dough and there’s the carnival sound of an outdoor mic, a tinny crackle that makes him think of Little League games and awards day at summer camp. It sounds like the end of summer. The locals are celebrating something, the patron saint of clam cakes. They’re selling raffle tickets, but he’s not buying chances. The sky is dark blue, but he’s not watching the sky. The café door is open, inviting him to a darker world of scratched wooden floors and mismatched tables and hard metal chairs: the world of Latte Girl, whose sweet smile is only for the locals, whose cups she graces with sailboats and dragonflies and long-eared dogs, while his foam never holds more than an indifferent swirl. There’s a line—there’s always a line—but he doesn’t mind. He likes to watch her tamp and pull; he likes that everything is done by hand on one old espresso machine; he likes that they are her hands, small and plump, still childish, with chipped black polish on her short fingernails. As often as he tries to touch those hands, she pulls back. Leaves the change on the counter, slides the coffee card across. But today it’s the end of August, his coffee card is full, and when she punches his last hole Latte Girl will know he’s no tourist; he’s here for the long haul.chop! chop! read more!
GARY’S SISTER by Max McKenna The same way we didn’t know, way back when, that mom and dad couldn’t stand their “friends, ” so we didn’t know that Gary’s sister wasn’t interested in either of us, which starts to explain why she kept mixing up our names last Saturday night in the busted stretch limo that cut through the grey-blue soup of Pacific Avenue, with the winding path of a rocket about to be decommissioned, after she pulled us into the back of it where she was already singing along with the radio and pounding the ceiling that snowed bits of dried-out upholstery on our heads and where her skirt kept flying up—though, yes, you were right, there were three other guys in that limo with us; it wasn’t in the cards; and weighing it all out now, we did do the right thing to leave and drive the forty-five … chop! chop! read more!
WORM DIRT by Rachel R. Taube She found me digging up worms in my backyard. Just plopped down beside me and started wriggling herself when I found one in the freshly turned soil. Later, her mother was angry about the worm dirt on her dress, but she came back the next day. “My name is Mara,” she said this time. What a pretty name on her lips, she smiled just a little on the “ar” and I saw her dimples. Her lips were pink like a worm. “This one’s name is Cara-Beth,” she said, pointing. She named each worm we found: Mariel, Nathaniel, Courtney. She wouldn’t touch them, but demanded I house each in a plastic cup, which we then placed in the shade. Digging them up, they dry up. When one died, she would say, “Poor Cara-Beth” and hand me the emptied cup, ready for the next worm. If … chop! chop! read more!
SUBJECT by David Schuman You’re scrubbing grout in the bathroom when the old guy next door shouts through the wall. Wants to know if you’ll come over and see his paintings. He’s been bugging you ever since you moved in, convinced you’ll understand what he’s getting at. It’s ten minutes before Maritza may or may not arrive. The tub looks clean, even around the drain. The old guy opens his door and you’re hit with a whoosh of stewy air. He’s got about twenty canvasses, some hung, some leaning against the walls, all of his little dog. Pepé. My muse, he says. Pepé, a dishwater Chihuahua, peeps from a mound of newspapers behind the sofa and yawns. The paintings are crude, with colors right out of the tube. Pepé as a circus ringmaster, a pizza chef. Pepé behind the wheel of a red blob you suppose is a sports car. … chop! chop! read more!
ONYX by Rebecca Entel Raised voices hush a room, lower eyes. But the sound of skin hitting skin. But a slap. The sound, an air-thickening sponge, slogged from one room to the next. It stilled the action in each. Heads looked away from the TV; hands paused lining the table with silverware; mouths at the door stopped saying hello. After a few minutes, our hostess came back downstairs. Her eyes were the slightest bit red. But she smiled. “Time for dinner, everyone.” We followed her into the dining room. Our host came in quietly while we were shuffling about, finding seats. He sat down at the head of the table. We avoided eye contact with both of them. Soon dinner began and was busy. Our hostess spoke and smiled; tension drained from the room. We all eased, slumping in our chairs like unclaimed marionettes. Drinks slipped through chattering lips. We … chop! chop! read more!
THE CURATED HOME by Michelle E. Crouch When maintaining the curated home, one must behave much as if were one were employed at a museum. The collections management database, however, will not exist on a computer or even on yellowed paper files. You will have to create the catalog in your head. It may help to invent a mental taxonomy. For instance: “memorabilia, rare” – which consist of anything from a guitar signed by Rod Stewart to vintage Russian film posters. This would be a distinct category from “collectibles,” consisting of say, a matching set of Le Crueset cookware. Or the cookware might be filed under “status symbols, functional.” The point is that creating these specific categories will help you to remember each item and its location, which might be helpful when you are trying to arrange the Moroccan throw pillows in proper formation on the sofa after vacuuming. Remember … chop! chop! read more!
CORMAC by Martha Cooney I was kicking my football along the road in our estate, timing my kicks to each time the curbstones changed color. They were painted in the Ireland flag’s green, white, and gold, just to let anybody foolish enough to get lost in North Belfast know they were in a Catholic estate. I turned into the alley and kicked the ball ahead, prepared to chase after it past imaginary defenders, but stopped short. Standing in front of the rubbish bin halfway down the alley was Cormac Devaney, from my year at school. He was holding a teddy bear, not even looking my way. He laid the bear on the edge of the bin and held it down with his elbow while he lit a match. Then he picked up the teddy, pressing the light against its fat stomach and dropping the ball of flame into the bin. … chop! chop! read more!
EVERYTHING MUST GO by Elizabeth Mosier “Here’s what you do,” a friend said to my husband, eyeing the dreck on our front porch, residuals from a previous sale: the single chair, incomplete set of plates, fancy dolls our daughters never played with, battered sleigh they had outgrown. “You go to the bank. You get $200.00 cash. You pay someone a hundred bucks to haul this shit away. You give your wife the other $100.00 and tell her it was a huge success. Nobody wants stuff you don’t want.” How I wish my husband had done it, though I’d insisted on the sale. When we’d moved to the suburbs twenty years before, we’d paid for a vacation by selling “antiques” we’d spent years collecting in Germantown. These things filled our imagined future, but didn’t fit in our new house. Nor did the wedding crystal I’d been carrying from the basement when … chop! chop! read more!
ENCOUNTER WITH THE DEVIL by Thaddeus Rutkowski You dirty rat,” I said. I was talking to the devil himself. I spoke without trepidation, even though I was addressing a creature with horns and a pointed tail. “You don’t have a monopoly on evil or sin,” I said. The earrings he wore started jingling. “I wish it would snow sometimes, here in hell,” he said. “Not in this circle,” I said, “or in any circle of your infernal underworld.” “I made my fortress strong,” he replied, “to keep out twerps like you.” I could feel my neck starting to burn under my collar. Maybe I was on fire, but that was impossible. How would I get out of here—could I find a handcart and drive myself out of heck? I doubted that mode of transport would get me very far; I’d still be a rat in a maze. The prospect of … chop! chop! read more!
ZAHRA by Nahid Rachlin When Shamsi and her two small children moved into some rooms in my aunt’s house, they looked very poor. My aunt, the owner of the house, took pity on them and reduced the rent by 30 toomans a month. Wherever Shamsi went her children followed her. One of her daughters, Zahra, the smaller of the two, was blind in one eye and her other eye could only see vague shadows of things. In the mornings her eyelashes were covered with pus and the whites of her eyes were lined with red veins. No one knew how Shamsi suddenly began to acquire new possessions. She bought new clothes for herself and her children. She bought copper pots and pans which she polished every day. And a faint smile began to light her sullen face. Then Zahra disappeared. No one saw her in the mornings or at any … chop! chop! read more!
WAKING by Michael Neal Morris The straps at the top of the mask cut a little into his forehead. The top of his skull seemed to be burning, and for a silly moment he wondered if he had any hair left. Of course he did. The taste of the air blowing on him said something was on fire. He fell asleep then, and dreamed his dead father had come over to help him work on the car. When he woke, his wife, shaking his arm, was talking to him. He unclasped his CPAP mask, and tried to look at her though his headache made him wince. “Your machine is out of water,” she told him. “Why is the humidifier set so high?” “I don’t know,” he said. And now free of the device, he didn’t much care. He said thank you and touched her hand. It was cool, comfortable. He … chop! chop! read more!
SCRABBLE by Beth Kephart I said it would be nice (look how simple I made it: nice) not to be marooned in the blue-black of night with my thoughts, I said the corrugated squares of the downstairs quilt accuse me, I said the sofa pillows are gape-jawed, I said there are fine red hairs in the Pier 1 rug that will dislodge and drown in my lungs, I said I can’t breathe, I said, Please. It wasn’t hard. But you were asleep by then, west to my east, uncorrupted by the plain and the soft of my imagination, the occasional and wire whipped and cruel: you couldn’t be touched; you wouldn’t stir; you. I broke and I climbed out and I climbed through and I climbed down into the blue black red threads and sat until a fat clack cracked the hollow between the walls and I knew that it … chop! chop! read more!
THE ASK SANDWICH by Lynn Levin The TSA lady at Newark Airport had a nice touch, and Josie enjoyed the pat down. The blue gloves slid under her arms, along her sides, down one leg, then the other. They searched, discerned. They pleased with just the right amount of pressure. Josie thanked the TSA lady, who nodded back with very professional brown eyes. In bed last night in Robert’s apartment, it was their sixth time together, Josie had attempted the “ask sandwich,” something she’d read about in a woman’s magazine. First she told him how nice his cologne smelled and trailed her fingers playfully down his arm. That was the first slice of bread. Then she said she’d really love it if he rubbed her back. That was the sandwich filling. She would have praised him and reciprocated generously, which would have been the other slice of bread. Instead he … chop! chop! read more!
BONES by Rachel Pastan Once, they’d read aloud to each other all the time: letters, menus, fliers posted on telephone poles along the streets. Missing dog, black, one white ear, answers to Shayna. For sale, stereo cabinet, some damage. Telugu lessons, $10/hour. Telugu, they’d said, maybe we should learn Telugu? Now, the sun streams in through the windows onto the stained tablecloth, onto the chipped cups and the tarnished spoons and the damp sugar in the saucer they use for sugar, and they no longer speak to each other even in English. She doesn’t even read him the headlines. ñShe won’t—can’t—read him the words banged out on her personal teletype machine, the banner that runs along the inside of her brain. Baby baby baby baby baby it says. But there won’t be a baby, and even her desire has been burned almost away, bleached down like the corpse of an … chop! chop! read more!
HUMMING by Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot Listening to Glenn Gould’s albums of Bach’s keyboard music, you will hear a noise in the background: the sound of someone humming. As a child I gravitated toward the Gould recording on the shelf that held my parents’ collection of LPs, everything ranging from the Bee Gees to Schumann, covers worn on the edges. Carefully placing it on the turntable, I dropped the needle on the vinyl, and then dropped myself to the floor where I would press my ear into the soft brown cover of the large speakers that were half my height, hold my breath, and listen as Gould’s voice periodically accompanied the Preludes and Fugues. Interpreting music is a creative process conducted through the medium of the body. It is a strange, mysterious sensation to intellectually conceive the idea of a sound, generate it through the mechanics of muscles and bones, … chop! chop! read more!