Sunday, December 4, 2011

Issue Sixteen, Volume Two

From the Desk of the Editor
            Hello and greetings to Larks Fiction Magazine! Thank you for joining us for more great indie literature from up-and-coming authors. This week we are offering the extremes of heartwarming struggles against diversity and the deepest despairs of dark comedy.
            Thank you to everyone who has written in and submitted works to Larks. Right now we are still sorting out emails from as far back as August. We hope to make great strides in getting caught up so please don’t despair if you haven’t heard from us! We will be getting back with you soon.
            I hope you enjoy the pieces today and make sure to check out our library of back issues. Also Larks author Jerry Guarino has just published Cafe Stories and is for sale online at Amazon!
Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

            The Professor
            By Jack Bristow

"Suicide. How would you go about it? A thirty-eight
to the head? A slit of the wrists with large, jagged
chunks of a broken beer bottle? Excessive carbon
monoxide inhalation?" The professor had asked
the man - black and blind - sitting on the bench
beside him. Before the man could reply the pro-
fessor had resumed, speaking philosophically.
"You know. People kill themselves everyday,"
he said, taking a draw off the pipe, "and what
really disgusts me about it is how they can
never go about it originally. Creatively. Take
my stupid brother, Russel, for instance...."

The blind man's name was Darren Jones. A good man
who had lost his eyesight before returning home from
the war. Vietnam. He was on a swift boat minding his
own affairs when a Vietcong had sprayed his face with
several shots from the automatic pistol. The shots had
been so good, so impossible, that Darren couldn't help
thinking this was God's way of teaching him a lesson -
or, at least, His way of trying to tell him something.
Darren had returned home from the war an entirely
different person. No more skirt-chasing, no more
excessively long nights of drinking. And, most im-
portantly, no more brawls. His body was his temple,
and he was not about to abuse it. Not any longer.

Good God! I wish he would shut up, Darren had thought
about the professor, who was stilling going on about
suicide, and his brother.

"He hanged himself on the Goddamn rafters in the upstairs
attic. That was the last place my parents had thought to lo-
ok and me, I hadn't the slightest clue. My brother, you under-
stand, was a free spirit. A man who was powerless to his own
whims. Who could not control his impulses, you understand -
sexual and otherwise. Anyway," the professor had continued,
he had moved his arm around Darren's shoulder, as though
they were good, longtime friends talking about something
as natural as the Dodgers, or the weather. "Days later, there
was this stink, this ungodly stench permeating the entire
goddamn house. And then finally it had occurred to us where
it was coming from: The attic. My dad sent me up there and
there my brother was, mouth agape, neck broken at the top.
Dangling. And I remember not being sad so much as let
down. Couldn't Russel have done something, since he really
had to do it, better than this? Something newsworthy, perhaps?"

Darren was trying to read with his fingers "The Sun Also Rises."
He had read the book several times before. But he had made a
rule to read it every time this time of year: March. Anyway, the
professor's obsession with killing yourself originally and theat-
rically was finally starting to give Darren a headache - but he
had thought better of confronting this deranged old professor
about it. Instead, he had said, somewhat conversationally,
"Yeah, suicides. Unoriginal. We had a lot of those in 'Nam.
Guys just mostly sticking their rifles in their mouths and
then bang, pulling the trigger with their big toe or some-
times, if they were lucky enough, they had a friend who
would do it for them."

Darren could not see, but if he could, he would be un-
settled over how the professor's eyes had started to bu-
lge giddily, expectantly. It was as though the various
ways a person could kill himself had truly engrossed

The professor had noticed that Darren was finger-reading,
and tapped the book. "What's that you're reading?"

"The Sun Also Rises."

There was a pause, and for that Darren was grateful. Finally,
I will get to read this. And this crazy old professor will leave
me the hell alone.
And that's precisely what happened. For
three minutes. Until the professor spoke again.

"Ah, Hemingway. He's another one - he didn't do it creatively
enough either. It was such a letdown. You know - the foyer
in his little cabin in Ketchum, Idaho. I mean, he had seemed
so intelligent. And, obviously, very creative. So why didn't he
do it spectacularly - why, if he was going to kill himself, didn't
he put a little more effort, a little more wit into it?"

Darren had heard a tearing noise - it was the man, the
professor, ripping open a package of brown-and-green
M&M's with his teeth. Finally, after letting several roll
out of the bag and into his mouth, he had offered Darren
some. Finally, Darren had snapped. No longer out of fear,
but anger.

"Listen. And you seem like a decent enough guy. But could
you please just leave me the hell alone? All I want to do is
read this book. I could care less about your brother or
what ways you think suicidal people should kill themselves.
All right?"

Soon, Darren had started to hear crying noises. And then
the sniffling. The professor, obviously hurt by Darren's
personal words, had jumped off the bench and run down
the street.
“Hey,” Darren shouted, ashamed at his outburst. “I didn't
mean anything by it. Come back – tell me about how your
brother and Hemingway should have killed themselves!
Please, I want to know!”

Instead, the professor had kept running, and running. He was
in the middle of the two-lane freeway now, and an enormous
Peterbuilt truck hauling firewood was driving in his direction.

THUMP. The truck had collided into the professor's body,
severing the torso from the legs. There was a resulting
twenty-car pile-up. Two dead, excluding the professor,
as well as nineteen injured.

At home, when he had heard over the radio what had
happened to the professor, and about the two dead
and nineteen injured Darren Jones had thought,
somewhat appreciatively, Now that's creative.

The End

About the Author:
            Jack Bristow, a flashfiction writer living in Albuquerque, NM, has written for several zines including; The New Flesh and Visatergo and Magnolia Press. Follow him, if you're bored: @RealJackBristow

Gustav’s Leash
By Melissa Palmer

The sun shone lemon delicious against a veil of blue silk. Its only companion was across the way, the lone Buddha in white, puffed up cheeks grinning down on a day that was much more Spring than burnt July. Mrs. Womack didn’t mind the early hour or the fact that Gustav, ever a creature of habit, had grown quite used if not entitled to the daily jaunt. There was something in his pleading eyes each time that she could not resist, a warm mingling of melted butter and sweet molasses tinged with a hint of mystery, like he knew a secret he couldn’t share. They were deep pools to which she could never see the bottom but despite it kept trying. It was her will to try that found her outside well before the coffee was even brewed.
The day was fresh and when it was this early Twin Oaks had a life all its own with none of the trappings of a neighborhood wide-awake. All the moms and dads and SUVs and big wheels were still sound-asleep, tucked far away from the parkway in the safety of a garage, nestled in the embrace of dew grass in the backyard. The inner circle belonged to the crickets who sang their morning praise to the squirrel who shook her tail in Samba, perhaps seducing the rabbit who stood frozen pretending not to be seen. Bumbles and birds flew overhead in a dainty airborne ballet making ribbons in the sky avoiding the more common fast and frantic straight line that only occurs when fleeing. Despite the woman’s feigned protests, it was her favorite time of day, long before the droning importance of numbers overtook the sound of the true worker bees.
“Well aren’t you just the dapper Dan this morning Gustav?” He had stopped on the second step to take a quick sniff of his surroundings. “You know you look like a movie star when you stand just like that?”
He sauntered off the landing without blush. He was used to compliments from his longtime companion and within moments they had retreated into the silence that accompanies comfort, relying on what was around them, their own steps joining the symphony.
“I like the way your hair falls like that just there over your eye. That new shampoo suits you, you know. I don’t know if it’s these flowers or what but I smell something sweet and I think it’s you.” Her breath caught in the back of her throat, not from shock or sadness or even an accidentally inhaled bit of saliva. Air didn’t come as easily as the donuts and pies seemed to just lately. She was reminded of that every day, though their little walks together were helping her forget.
He lowered his head as if fascinated by his own armpit.
“Oh don’t be like that silly. You’re as sweet as the day is long. There’s no need to be bashful.” She gave his shoulder a pat and ruffled his shining golden hair.
They padded along a stretch bathed in sunlight and birdsong. But when he stopped she was grateful. He was the younger and more fit of the two and he could hear the breaths as they’d become shallow and syncopated. They paused silent in front of a large white house with an ebony door, dead center in the Twin Oaks loop while she fished a tissue out of her shorts pocket and patted at her glossy cheek.
“You’re awfully quiet, honey. Don’t you like the new hedge? It’s had to have grown a full half of an inch since it went in. And it’s only been a week. Must be some great soil. Makes a world of difference you know, not seeing straight back into that yard any longer. Wouldn’t you say?”
As usual, he didn’t. But nonetheless she pressed on with a smile on her face and as much bounce in her step as her less than graceful body would allow.
The coffeepot was full and steaming by the time they got home. Mr. Womack stood completely hidden behind the open refrigerator door.
“Oh good, you’re having breakfast with us,” she beamed. But no sooner had the words come out of her mouth, than the back of his head was disappearing through the kitchen entryway. From the backhanded wave she could make out the silhouette of a lone banana already bitten.
“All right then, well I was just going to fix something for me and Gustav. You’d like some eggs right honey? They’re good for your hair.” She called back through the door to the phantom who ate the banana. “If you change your mind, there will be some toast too. I’ll make whole wheat if you like.”
He was working again, always working. Despite tax season being long over he’d been at it on some accounting company’s finances or investments, algorithms had he said? He could have said pie à la mode for all she knew. Math was completely beyond her even in the smallest form, never mind that computer.
She should be used to this by now; the years of his imprisonment locked away in the confines of that paper mountain he called his office. He was hooked up to that computer like it was his life support machine, but why would she question that? That’s how he’d met her after all.
By the time she cleared the dishes a thick orange yolk was hanging in the sky, rich and full of promises she did not want to miss. They pushed out barely saying good-bye to the man who worked the keys in the busy back room with the locked door.
“Oh honey, you look like a hero when you stand like that.”
Gustav paused on the second step, this time taking in the scents of cut grass and sweaty bodies. The sun caught in his golden hair just as the breeze lifted unseasonably, framing him in the halo Mrs. Womack knew was always there. That very same breeze saved her in an instant from the stifling heat she’d felt inside.
“Oh look dear it’s Mollie and Alton and that little munchkin of theirs. Hello dears!”
She waved at the sister and brother coated in a thin layer of dust and summer stickiness. Toddling close behind was the little one in green carrying a lollipop much too large for little hands.
“Hello, Pigg. My how big you’re getting! You know I bet you’ve grown a full inch since I saw you last. You’re almost as big as your brother now.”
Everyone but Pigg was aware of the lie but smiled as the little one grinned wide standing tall and straight looking like a tow-headed string bean.
“Ima rockit asher knot,” the child said proudly.
“Gustav says you’ll make a fine astronaut Piggy,” she winked at the older children.
Alton, the eldest and most cynical of the three gaped at Gustav and then to the woman in turn. “No one ever understands Pigg.”
The woman nodded down at her friend with a response that she’d given just about everyone in the neighborhood.
“Gustav is really smart.”
With a wink and a pat the duo were off leaving the children to do as they would on such a glorious and refreshing day, but she waited a few ticks before addressing her companion’s quizzical backward gaze.
“Well, I don’t know either Gustav, it’s hard to tell.” He leaned against her leg as they walked like a single creature. “Yes you are right on that. Some pink or blue would help. No, Gustav I don’t know why they don’t tell anyone. That is their business to know, not ours.”
She stopped short and framed his face with her hands looking him right in the eyes.
“I don’t know what kind of name that is actually, but I won’t make any further comment. Who am I to judge anyone?”
She gave him an affectionate ruffle as they moved on.
“How do you suppose people would talk about a person who marries someone they met on the dot com machine? Not very nicely some, I bet. No, Gustav, not nicely at all. And we wouldn’t like that.”
He paused again, this time lifting his nose.
“I smell it too dear. It must be tea-time for Mrs. Granger.”
The stately home with the pink door favored their senses once a day with a sweet airy cinnamon cloud. The woman inside was just as stately. Mrs. Womack often admired her silky suits and fancy jackets, the way her white hair looked icy cold in the heat and at the same time resistant to unpredictable summer breezes. She was graceful and light on her feet, though she stood tall and confident, like a Prime Minister or Head of State. And she knew the importance of a snack around midday.
She grabbed three croissants from the kitchen pantry, stuffing one with ham and cheese, smearing the other with a bit of lemon curd and honey. But the fate of the third hung in the air in her frozen hand.
“Oh, don’t crinkle your nose like that. It’s the same stuff I put in the pies. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Gustav wasn’t sold on the gloopy yellow contents of the glass jar sitting open on the table. He sniffed at it cautiously and with a little lick thought the better of the sour spread.
“It’s not for everyone. Don’t be hard on yourself. At least you tried.”
She smeared the last croissant with a bit of cream cheese and peanut butter and served it to him as dessert after chicken hearts and beef.
The house was dark and hot, shut up like a box in an attic, curtains drawn tight against the day holding out sunlight and air. Her skin felt like bubbling dough in a wood fire oven, uncomfortable and itchy and her throat had the constricted feeling of allergic reactions and walking through smoke.
There was a crackle of static and the elusive Mr. Womack emerged from his office for a refill of coffee and a few sesame seed breadsticks. He wasn’t interested in the lady’s wares, not even a sniff. He turned around returning to the office before she could ask why he kept the television tuned to the channel with ant fights and why he kept the volume so high and why he’d turned off the air conditioning but hadn’t opened the windows. She waddled down the hallway looking for answers and more paper towels from the hall closet and as she padded up the pool on her neck she heard him from the other side of the door.
“I can hear you breathing out there for God’s sake. You know I can think of at least two reasons you’re always so hot.”
She turned back towards the closet to grab another roll for good measure, buffering the sounds of the rest of his suggestions with absorbent relief. She made sure her breathing was calm and even when she approached again to make amends but he was already talking to his colleague online. She could hear the voice coming through loud and clear, replacing the static from before, PersianPrince_15. He seemed to help him out a lot lately, for hours at a time, even late into the night.
The only reprieve from the hot stale air that seemed to plume from the walls in invisible waves of flame flooded her in citrus scented bubbles as she scrubbed in the sink. She kept the water cool and let it flow over her forearms and elbows keeping the blaze at bay, humming to herself as she looked at the sky. Mr. Womack hadn’t emerged for an early supper. Even when she’d called to him it seemed the static had the best of him. She’d had to shout like a washwoman through the door.
“Do you want some supper? DO YOU WANT SOME SUPPER? Hello?”
This was not met in an agreeable fashion. He didn’t even bother to open the door but shouted through it, which was as disappointing as his absence.  The heat was strongest in this part of the house. She imagined the quick rush of air that would come when he opened the door but instead heard the muffled shout.
“No. I don’t want supper. I don’t need to eat all the time.”
Her voice wilted, melting inward as she swallowed under a practiced yet determined smile.            “Doesn’t all that static drive you crazy? You can’t hear anything.”
There was no pause, only the quick answer that was followed by footsteps and the return of the
fuzzy sound.
            “No, no it doesn’t.”
Between a second helping of soapy water and creeping back to the door, time got the better of her. The sun ducked into the horizon, a sliver of pink grapefruit dipping into colored sugar.
              “It is beautiful Gussie isn’t it?”
He looked like a commandant on an old timey ship taking in the sweet kind of sky that was the forbearer of good things to come.
“We’ll miss it if we stand around like statues!”
And with that he snapped to. It was late enough in the afternoon in any other time of year it would be called evening. Had it been winter the Pollack children would be in their baths or winding down for dreams of milky skies and intergalactic travels. But they were still going strong, playing big wheels among the lightning bugs. It was Mrs. Womack’s second favorite time of day, when the day creatures lived in harmony with the almost creatures of night, the time just before the true nocturnes took over, the true dark of owls and bats. Somehow when the night was that black something ominous took over. Even the beloved circle of Twin Oaks looked more sinister dipped in the shadows of things unseen. When the only thing hanging in the air was mystery, Mrs. Womack would just as well stay inside.
“Let’s go little man. We don’t want to miss the show!”
They looked comical together moving forward at this pace, Gustav smooth and graceful cutting through the air like an oiled blade, and Mrs. Womack, pallid and encumbered by her own limbs. She was beyond embarrassment. She gave that up the day of her wedding standing lopsided to her tiny new mate who never once returned a gaze. She leaned like a swollen Pisa wrapped in lace in the only photo they had, her smile not yet as practiced but just as determined.
Her rubber shoes squeaked under a combination of pressure and sweat. Yet she pushed on despite an ever- so-light headwind until they reached the house with the pink door. If she waited on the breeze to calm she could make out the faint hiss and scratch of needle finding groove. And in that moment it was worth it all, all the wayward hairs clinging to her face, the faint burning in her chest as her wind returned. It all turned to water as it flowed out of Mrs. Granger’s house. To most it was undetectable just as the hint of cinnamon that dangled in the air like a friendly neighborhood ghost. Things like that were underscores that most people didn’t see. But Mrs. Womack lived for those lines.  
“I never would have pegged her for Ragtime, Gussie, but oh isn’t it lovely?”
She imagined Mrs. Granger performing a soft-shoe inside, perhaps leafing through old scrapbooks filled with pictures of Vaudevillians and Burlesque queens. She couldn’t help but sway to it just a touch as her companion and she slowed their walk to a glue-stuck crawl as to not miss a measure of the song’s moment. It wouldn’t come again until tomorrow at this same time.
And as if an invisible hand cranked at the woman’s back she sped up past the large house with the black door and hedge, the one that elicited no sound, and slowed again approaching the little ones on their “big rigs” who disappeared down the driveway into the backyard for which Mrs. Womack was lucky. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see them but at this time of day she was more interested in what she might hear.
The children’s father would disappear after dinner into the garage out back from where the most curious sounds would erupt. Sometimes it was great banging or splashing water, other times silence and gasping breaths.
“Do you think that hurts Gussie, that earring he’s got up top?”
He was the first man she’d ever seen in real life with an ear piercing, let alone that hard bit of the ear way up top.
              “That beard of his has grown at least an inch since I saw him last. Don’t look at me like that. You remember. During that Memorial Day thing when they were showing off the new houses, remember? He was wearing that white t-shirt.”
He was giving something up; she had seen it that day, maybe coffee. He fidgeted like someone trying not to scratch at an itch they couldn’t appease. Sometimes when he turned a certain way she could see something colorful peeking out the sleeve; sometimes it bled through the white. At first she was worried he might be cut the way he pawed at it but then realized his secret. She had tried not to stare but whatever it was it was large and colorful and must have taken up his entire upper arm.
She smiled feeling her face get pink where the apples pushed up under her eyes.
Mr. Pollack didn’t care what other people thought of him.
She wondered if he was doing Bohemian things back there, the likes of which bearded folks with earrings would do in the middle of the summer.
“Sounds like Mr. Chalmers is at it too.”
The mournful song of a Spanish guitar had crept its way across the circle as they ventured further into the last walk of the day. This last hook around made her love Twin Oaks even more. With one loop she was whisked to the faraway places of which she only dreamed. And she was able to do things she would never do, all in broad daylight with no risk of hurt or torment or judgment. She walked a few steps and was a street performer or ballerina or in her most secret places, a can-can girl at the Moulin Rouge.
She was somewhere else walking, somewhere else in her own skin. She was somewhere else doing the most mundane and dismal tasks.
“Uh, hi. Mrs. Womack right?”
She was ducked down paying Gustav a service of true companionship but didn’t need to look up. She recognized the voice. It jolted her upright in a motion that made her wobbly accompanied by the warm and freshly tied baggy in her dominant hand. But none of that mattered because he already had her left hand in his, lifting her to the sturdy ground.
            Nothing seemed worth a second thought as she looked deep into two dark eyes that seemed to devour the surroundings like tiny black holes. She dove down into them hoping to drown. They darted now and then to Gussie, then to the baggie and to her moistly soiled knee but she held on following their dance, bouncing balls in a sing-a-long.
            “Wilma. Call me Wilma.”
            Her breath was strong and she was thankful for not sounding wheezy or weak. And she found herself standing straight and tall, somehow more familiar with her surroundings.
            “Well, it’s nice to meet you in person, Wilma. I hear that Gustav here is very smart.”
            He gave him a pat on the head and her companion responded just as Wilma did, straightening out his back, standing taller than usual.
            She felt her face erupt in spontaneous sunshine grabbing her golden friend in a well-deserved hug and couldn’t surmise whether or not she’d said thank you or good-bye or anything for that matter, before she turned on her way.
            And remarkably, it was he who stopped and not the he she thought would be stopping at all.
            “I’m Jack by the way,” he had called to her, this time rubbing his long whiskers, “not Jackson, that is, just Jack.”
             “Well, all right then. Just Jack,” she said over her shoulder smiling in a way she hadn’t in years trying not to let out a giggle as she walked steps that felt like girlish skipping.
“Night, Wilma,” he said and waved, his other hand drifting to the phantom itch.
It was so hard to breathe in this house.
               She pulled the note like Excalibur from a bowl of grapes on the kitchen table where it sat in wait for her return. It said things like necessity and hiding and a whole bunch of other words that came in hiccupped breaths as she read through the page. The static was blaring from the back room. He’d no doubt departed in a hurry after planting his notice in her beautiful fruit.
            Without knowing why she walked back toward the room to which she was never granted entrance and tried the knob. It was open of course but what was shocking was that he was still there. His back was to the door he’d absently left unlocked and he was so taken with his own rushed words he didn’t notice her or the fact she’d gone out and come back holding a thick loop of leather in her hands. He was too busy speaking non-business words to the one who was neither Persian nor prince, the one who looked agape onscreen watching Wilma Womack creep in from behind.
            “I got back faster than I thought I would.” Her voice was smooth and confident despite the heat that radiated from the walls.
            The little man sat helpless beneath her heavy hand as she dangled Gustav’s leash just in front of his slender throat.  Before he could offer a word she was upon him, close to his face speaking into his ear. It was closer than they’d been in their entire courtship.
            “You will be gone before I return.”
            She wasn’t asking.
            She turned on her heel with grace and dignity, walking tall. She didn’t look back and called over her shoulder.
            “And open the windows before you go.”
            She and Gustav moved with singular mind without pause or hesitation. They walked directly, a silken ribbon, a pas de deux in motion and certainty as they pushed passed the threshold and straight into the dark.

The End

Thank you for joining us once again. We hope to see you all back here next week for more wondrous tales of science fiction from writer Sean Dodds and more.

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