From the Desk of the Editor;
Hello and welcome to Issue 11, Volume 3 of Larks Fiction Magazine. This week we are offering two short stories by two of the rising stars of fiction.
We are proud to welcome two new members to the Larks Media team this week—Katelin Pool and Jessica Rowse. Kate is my wife and will be taking over the task of prescreening the submissions in order to help make our response times faster. Jessica is joining our team as an editor and photographer. She was supposed to start in December but for health reasons had to wait till now.
In other news we have been hard at work getting a few projects off the ground. Stay tuned on our Twitter (@LarksMedia) and on our Facebook page for details.
Thank you for joining us and I hope you enjoy this issue of Larks!
Daniel J. Pool
By Kerry Lown Whalen
Buffeted by wind and rain, the cab carried Grace home alone from the funeral. The driver scowled and drummed the steering wheel while she fumbled in her purse for the right money. She shuffled to the front door, turned the key and stepped into the empty hallway. The house hunkered down under the lashing storm, floor boards shifting, roof shuddering, the side gate flapping on its hinges. The noise upset her, entered her consciousness and stayed there, because today was different. Today she’d fare welled her husband, his sudden death leaving her shocked, unprepared and on her own.
Her thoughts turned to the past when she had relinquished the kitchen to Arthur. He’d enjoyed pottering there, whipping up batches of scones, fancy cakes, biscuits and pots of tea, an aging Jamie Oliver. Throughout the day, he’d appear at her side, an unbidden servant. “Like a cuppa?”
She would nod, lips moving as she counted two purl, two plain, before casting aside her knitting.
Arthur created a sense of occasion, wheeling the tray mobile to the lounge room and revealing his latest culinary creation.
“It’s a chocolate slice. Like a large piece?”
Using the silver cake knife, he’d lift it onto the plate and wait, eager for her reaction.
“It’s rich,” she’d say, letting it melt on her tongue. “And delicious.”
He’d smile and they would relax together, sipping English breakfast tea, eating cake and chatting about recipes and celebrity chefs. But now Arthur was dead and things would be different.
Grace had always hated winter, found every aspect grim and dreary. She loathed rugging up in a prickly woolen jumper and heavy coat to go outside. And she particularly disliked forays down the side passage to the clothes line where sodden washing slapped her in the face as she reached up to fasten the pegs. Now winter had another association – Arthur’s death.
She sat in her black pleated skirt and matching jacket, cream long-sleeved blouse and black patent leather pumps. Widow’s weeds. She kicked off her shoes and shivered in the unheated lounge room. Already stiffness had set her knees and elbows at sharp angles. After resting awhile, she’d switch on the heating.
When the clock chimed five o’clock, dark shadows cast about for somewhere to settle. She flicked on the reading lamp, a jaundiced gloom veiling her solitary figure. A stomach rumble reminded her to eat. Since Arthur’s death, she hadn’t touched the stove. A sandwich was all she could swallow.
Wearily, she raised herself from the lounge and switched on the heating. After changing her clothes, she’d prepare a snack. Near the bedroom, a wispy outline lingered in the doorway. Grace propped, steadied herself against the wall. Was it a trick of the light?
“Who are you?” Her voice quavered.
“You know who I am.”
Wide eyed, she gasped. “I don’t.”
Stumbling to the bed, she perched on its edge. Was she hallucinating? She fumbled for her spectacles and peered at the vision silhouetted in the doorway.
“What do you want?” Her chin trembled.
“A reason for what you did.”
“What did I do?”
“You know exactly. And it’s time to explain.”
Grace groaned. “I can’t think, can’t cope now.”
With clumsy fingers, she undressed, tossing her skirt and jacket onto the chair. They’d need dry cleaning. She threw the cream blouse into the clothes hamper, pulled on her tracksuit and bed socks, pushed her feet into fluffy pink slippers and shuffled to the kitchen. Opening the fridge, she stood contemplating its contents. Nothing appealed and she let the door swing shut.
“You must eat.” The wisp shimmered near the sink.
Grace sighed, removed a crumpet from the cellophane pack and slotted it into the toaster. From the fridge she collected butter and waited for the crumpet to pop up. Once on the plate, she smothered it in butter. This melted and slid off, spilling over the sides like hot tears. With a splash of milk she mixed a gritty paste of cocoa and sugar, filled the mug to the top and heated it in the microwave. Hobbling to the dining room, she sat at the head of the table and began eating.
“You need to buy food.” The wisp watched her eat.
“I’ll decide when to shop.” The hot sweet cocoa flowed easily down her throat but the soggy crumpet stuck halfway, making her cough.
“Take it slowly.”
Grace thumped the table. “Leave me alone.” She resumed eating, gusts and rain battering the house, shaking the windows in their frames. With a clatter, she rested her knife on the plate. “I want you to leave.”
Grace returned to the kitchen and rinsed the items she’d used.
“I’m going to watch TV until I’m tired.”
“I’ll stay until then.”
She shrugged, settled on the lounge and watched the ABC until nine o’clock. Yawning, she stretched, lifted herself off the lounge and prepared for bed.
Grace slept deeply, undisturbed by the raging gale. She opened her eyes to a dismal day, bursts of rain flaying the window. Her chest hurt and a flurry of sobs erupted, racking her body as she howled.
By time the time her tears had dried, she’d made her decisions. She would vent her grief whenever it surfaced, staying home and crying all day if she wanted. And she’d have conversations with Arthur as if he were alive; wouldn’t shower, dress or eat unless she felt like it. But if she was able to face the day, she’d take long solitary walks in the nearby park. And if she was lonely, she’d visit the shopping centre and mingle with others, soaking up the bright atmosphere, muzak and shoppers’ voices.
She wandered to the kitchen, pained to see a trickle of cocoa staining a cream cupboard. A gentle wipe with a damp paper towel erased it. Arthur took pride in the kitchen – kept it immaculate. Now Grace crept around it like an interloper.
Arthur had loved supermarket shopping and stocked the shelves with exotic foods. She opened the pantry door, assailed by the fragrance of vanilla and cloves, and read the labels – relish, chutney, pickles, vinegar, oyster sauce, and spices. A cornucopia of items she’d never use. Didn’t know how. She’d have to throw them out. Cold air and light spilled out when she opened the fridge, its shelves crammed with odd-shaped cheeses – triangles, rectangular blocks and red-wrapped cartwheels. They sat alongside liverwurst, bratwurst, minced garlic, oysters, olives and colored liquids in tall thin bottles.
“Everything’s foreign.” She sank in her chair, hands resting in her lap.
“You will cope, you know.”
She lifted her head. The wisp addressed her from the window. If it hadn’t spoken, she wouldn’t have seen it in the folds of the lacy curtain.
“I don’t want that strange food.”
“Throw it away then.”
She shook her head. She’d toss it out at a time of her choosing, perhaps starting in the pantry and emptying one shelf at a time. The wisp interrupted her reverie.
“It’s time to talk about me.”
Grace shook her head. “I’m not ready.”
She dabbed her eyes. “I’m grieving.”
“You were cruel.”
She gazed at the window. “I did what was best at the time.”
“You didn’t discuss it with Arthur.”
“I couldn’t. He was the reason for it.”
“You decided not to have children. Denied me life.”
Grace paused. “I had nothing to offer a child.”
“What about Arthur?”
“He was a child himself.” Between bursts of pelting rain, Grace heard the clock on the mantelpiece ticking. “He was selfish.”
“So were you.”
She nodded. “But I did what I thought was right.”
“Well, now you’re alone. Have no one to care for you.”
Her shoulders slumped. “I chose to be childless. Knew the consequences.”
“You were self-centered. Uncaring. Heartless.”
The house shook, wind gusts menacing its foundations.
Grace gazed at the curtain. “Perhaps I was. And I’m sorry.” She drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I’ve often wondered what might have been.”
Silence shrouded the house. Grace hauled herself out of the chair and struggled over to the curtain. The folds hung undisturbed, hiding nothing.
About the Author;
Kerry Lown Whalen lives with her husband in Queensland, Australia. She is the proud grandmother of ten-day-old Madeleine Daisy. Kerry's stories have won prizes in literary competitions and been published by Bright Light Multimedia, Stringybark Publications, Pure Slush and Down in the Dirt.
What'cha Looking For?
By Jessica Rowse
About the Artist;
Jessica Rowse is a poet, writer, and librarian from the Southern Mid-West. She loves taking photos but hate being in them. Her ambition is to be romance writer and crazy old cat lady.
By Jerry Guarino
“Are you enjoying breakfast Jack?” Hannah watched her husband eat while reading the paper. “Oh, yes. Sorry dear. There’s this story about a thief in the neighborhood.” Jack passed the paper to his wife. “Yes, these eggs are very good. Ana-Maria, remember how you made these.” Their housekeeper smiled. “Gracias Mr. Jack.” The doorbell rings. “That will be the delivery for the dinner party. Excuse me.” Jack looked at Hannah. “Ana-Maria is working out so well. I’m glad we gave her a room here.” Hannah nodded. “Yes, we finally found the perfect help. I’m going to pick up a little present for her today.”
Jack and Hannah were two of the fortunate few, but not uncaring, Wall Street types. Jack was a medical administrator and Hannah, a pediatrician. Their only daughter had just left for college, so they had more time to entertain. Both in their mid-forties, with better than average looks, Jack and Hannah had been college sweethearts at Harvard. They stayed in Cambridge after Hannah finished med school, and then moved to Beverly Farms to raise their daughter Kelly, now at BU.
The salty, summer air of the Atlantic floated through the house as guests arrived. This wealthy town, north of Boston, was home to many accomplished preppy graduates from Harvard and Dartmouth, still in their button down oxfords, blazers and khakis. Women wore cashmere, cardigan sweaters over Izod polo shirts, pleated skirts and tights. Here political ties were less important than college ties and marina berths for their sailboats. They didn’t struggle with the down economy; they just adjusted some investments.
Meanwhile Ana-Maria directed the caterers and served the appetizers. Salmon on toast points and mini quiches, fresh vegetables with fragrant sauces and one of those large bouquets made out of fruit that are so fashionable now. She lined up the colorful food in the most alluring way, adding a sensual touch of flowers and seashell strings, so perfect for this house by the ocean.
Jack’s friend Alan came over to him, sipping his drink. “Jack, did you hear about the house burglaries?” Jack nodded. “I was just reading about it this morning. Don’t you know a detective?” Alan played this with a straight face. “Yes, and he told me today that they have someone in custody, a domestic working on Chestnut Street.” Jack was curious. “Any details?” Alan dropped the last line without giving away his ruse. “Yes, a male personal servant was stealing jewelry from the wife.” Jack realized he had been taken. “Really, Alan? The butler did it. Your sense of humor hasn’t improved since college.” Alan had been playing jokes like this on Jack, ever since they were in school.
Hannah caught her new employee as she went into the kitchen. “Ana-Maria, we want you to have this in appreciation for all your good help here.” Ana-Maria opened the box to reveal a small but beautiful pin, shaped like an egg, with yellow, pink and green swirls. “Oh, Miss Hannah, thank you!” Hannah pinned it to Ana-Maria’s sweater. “You’re very welcome. We hope you like living with us.” Ana-Maria gave Hannah a hug. “Very much. I love your home.” Hannah smiled. “I’m glad you feel that way. It’s your home now too.”
The main dishes were brought in, traditional New England fare. Clams, lobster, corn, beans and biscuits were laid out in a buffet style on the table overlooking the ocean. A string of soft lights, colorful balloons and streamers gave festive ambiance while smooth jazz played in the background. After she finished, Ana-Maria disappeared upstairs.
“Hannah” said her friend Lindsay. “The rumor is that the burglaries are being done by people working in the house, maids and cooks. You haven’t had anything taken, have you?” Hannah wasn’t concerned. “No, in fact we are very happy with our new, live in person Ana-Maria. She put this party together. Besides, she came with references from a family we know in California.”
The doorbell rang. Jack answered the door. “Detective Riley. May I help you?” The detective took Jack aside to avoid interrupting the party. “We have a lead in the thefts that have been traced to your house. Please put your hands behind your back.” The detective started to put handcuffs on Jack. “Officer, I can assure you that I had nothing to do with any thefts.” Detective Riley smiled. “We have had surveillance on the house Mr. O’Donnell. The eggs, salmon and lobster you had today were all poached.” Alan and the guests behind them applauded and laughed, throwing streamers and confetti. “Happy Birthday Jack.”
About the Author;
Jerry Guarino’s short stories have been published by dozens of magazines in the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain. His first collection of twenty-six critically acclaimed stories, Cafe Stories, was released in November, 2011. It is available as a paperback on Amazon.com and as an e-book on kindle.
Thank you for joining us once again! If you are still hungry for literature check out our Monthly issues on Smashwords.com!