Monday, July 30, 2012

Issue Seven, Volume Four

From the Desk of the an Editor,
Hello and welcome to another exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this issue we explore the meaning of life after adventure, love lost, and as always the very best in up-and-coming wordsmiths!

Make sure to check out the Fox House Tumblr for updates on our beautiful new office and constant weekend diversion at:

Thank you for joining us and enjoy the works of Sy and Kevin!

Jessica Rowse
LFM Editor
Neutral Corner Voices
by Sy Roth

A blink of water boinked the sea floor.
When it arrived full-blown
a tsunami
rushed ashore sweeping them all away.

She vacuums upstairs
in that hostile place, her sanctuary,
pillaging the corners with her Oreck
messaging kickplates under the cabinets,
finding no voice for her anger
except in the angry roar of the vacuum
distaste settling in her shoulders.

He has retreated to a neutral place
where the poetry of his loss
gives him voice
in the pounding keyboard,
his metronome,
ransacking the corners of his brain,
Ben Gaying the pain away
with delicate tidbits
that force the screams in.

Storm warnings abound
wrapped helter-skelter in joyless
waters about to blossom indelicately.


About the Poet;
Sy Roth is a retired school administrator and has finally found the sounds of silence and the time to think whole thoughts. This has led him to find words and the ability to shape them.

 He has published in Visceral Uterus, Amulet, BlogNostics, Every Day Poets, Barefoot Review, Haggard and Halloo, Misfits Miscellany and The Eloquent Atheist.  Recently, he won a poetry contest sponsored by Newsday.

Welcome Home
Photo by Daniel J. Pool

Kevin P. Keating

Morgan Fay lived with her ailing mother in a terraced row house of crumbling brick and calcified limestone that teetered on the left bank of a river whose swift waters twisted through the center of town.  She commuted to the university every day, rain or shine, though often it seemed in rain, on a rattling bicycle that looked as though some madman with a blowtorch and welder had assembled the thing from dozens of antique parts.  That her people were natives of these hills and valleys--broad-shouldered laborers toiling in the steel mills, bruised and broken-boned brawlers knocking back beers in the smoky saloons, slouched and slow-witted reapers of rotten luck smiling dully at insubstantial specters on a flickering TV--came as no surprise to me, but I liked this about her, liked her small town values, her lack of pretension, her faded jeans, the holes in the sleeves of her flannel shirts, the mud caked to the soles of her heavy, black boots.  She gave the impression of knowing her way around the world, a cartographer confident of her powers, and she was wise enough to steer clear of those cynical, self-absorbed students whose idyllic, suburban upbringing had sabotaged their capacity for simple, human compassion.

I first met Morgan in French 101 when we were both freshman, but we didn’t become romantically involved until we accompanied our professor to France during the spring semester of our senior year.  I had spoken to her in class from time to time, using only the most formal française, but I lacked the courage to ask her, in timorous and tongue-tied English, if she cared to join me for lunch or go out for beer and pizza, and during my four years at the university I never ran into her at any of the wild parties along fraternity row.  On campus she was practically an outsider, scoffed at or ignored by her more fortunate peers, but in France she seemed if not like a native then at least like an expatriate, an American poet or artist eking out a humble but happy existence on foreign soil.  She navigated the bustling boulevards of Paris and the narrow lanes of Nice with great confidence, and she politely directed our group to the famous monuments and museums whenever our bumbling professor became hopelessly lost but was too stubborn to admit it.

“I’m impressed by your sense of direction,” I told her one afternoon as we finished our simple but delicious lunch of quiche poireuax at one of the ubiquitous boulangeries on the square in Avignon.  The other members of our class had already gone off to explore the town.  The plan was to meet up later at the hotel and then see an operetta by Offenbach at the local theater, but I had serious doubts they would successfully find their way back.  “You’ve been to France before, I take it.”

She laughed.  “No, I just memorized all of the maps before we got here. I’ve been looking at maps of France ever since I was a kid. Tell me what you’d like to see and I’ll lead the way.”

“Well, I wouldn’t mind checking out the old palace first.”

“S’il vous plaît, monsieur, suivez-moi.”  She was already pushing her chair away from the table when she suddenly stopped and said, “Oh, wait a minute! It would be criminal of us, wouldn’t it, to visit the palace without a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape? Come on. I know a shop that sells some good wines at a reasonable price. Saw it in my guidebook. Memorized the address. Memorized everything.”

With bottle in hand we trudged up the hill to the Palais des Papes.  We wandered through its shadowy chambers and cold corridors and paused to marvel at the painted walls and ceilings in the cavernous gothic chapels.  After our tour, we sat in the courtyard under the shade of a chestnut tree and admired the view of la vieille ville and its red rooftops.  We sipped our wine from plastic cups, and Morgan told me about life in the ugly little row house that, with each passing year, seemed to sink deeper and deeper into the treacherous mudflats, how as a child she watched in alarm as the river crested its banks just below her bedroom window, and how she shut her eyes and tried to pretend it was the Seine.  France was all she ever thought about--visiting France, living in France, writing a novel about her adventures and romantic entanglements in France.  She’d been saving up for this trip for years.  Of course, she really had no business spending her money on such an extravagance, not while her mother struggled to pay the bills and earn enough extra cash to buy cigarettes.

Morgan shook her head.  “She has emphysema. I think the woman is suicidal. She’s made a mess of her life. I’m not going to end up like that.”

I took a long sip before speaking again.  “Well…now that you’re here, what do you think? Has it been a dream come true?”

With an enigmatic smile she said, “It’s still too early to tell…”

Half drunk and giggling like children, we decided it might be fun to rent two bicycles and see a bit of the countryside.  We crossed the Rhône, leaving Avignon behind, and pedaled past ancient farms and acres of mature cherry trees.  One dusty road led to another, and by late afternoon, parched and exhausted, we stopped outside the gates of a vineyard where two men rolled big oak barrels toward the double doors of a winery.  Perhaps mistaking us for a young couple honeymooning in wine country, they invited us inside.  We followed them down a steep ramp into the welcome cool of the cellar where they poured generous samples of Tavel and Lirac into clean glasses.  Before long Morgan and I were very drunk and, if I recall correctly, we actually started singing French folksongs, plaintive ditties about love and heartbreak.  Impressed more by our ability to properly enunciate each word than to stay in tune, the men refilled our glasses and joined in the chorus.

It was late in the day when we decided to head back to the hotel.  We traveled down a dozen different roads, first north for several miles and then east, but we could not see the distant lights of Avignon, and it became obvious that we had lost our way.  Soon it was dusk and getting cold fast.  Morgan leaned her bike against one of the tall plane trees that lined the road and with a shiver bundled her thin jacket around her throat.

“Just let me get my bearings,” she said.  “I studied the street maps of the cities, not these rural roads.”  She stood on tip-toes and tried to peer over the sprawling vineyards. “Oh, hell, we’re never going to find our way back.”

“Civilization can’t be far off,” I said with some irritation.  I paced back and forth, wishing for another glass of wine, and then I noticed how she turned away from to me.  “Are you crying? Look, this is world-famous Provence. Someone will come to our rescue.”

“I’m a fool. I led you all the way out here. See, I really don’t know anything at all.  This isn’t turning out the way I envisioned it.”

“Nothing ever does.”

Emboldened by the wine and using the cold night air as a pretense to hold her in my arms, I started rubbing her shoulders and then, very slowly, I let my promiscuous fingers glide ever lower along her spine until they slid snugly into the back of her pants.  Did she stiffen and try to pull away?  Did she give a little whimper of alarm?  I think so, but at that moment, in the darkest recesses of my brain where the lustful monsters lurked and waited their chance to escape the torturous confines of self-restraint, I believed, as boys of privilege so often do, that I had an absolute right to molest this small town naïf, almost an obligation to the other members of my tribe to take full advantage of this unlikely situation, and before I knew it, my mouth was brushing softly against her flushed cheeks and then, an instant later, pressing against her trembling lips.

We stood there for what seemed like an hour before a car trundled up the hill, and the amused driver, a little old lady with a yapping Bichon Frise on her lap, was kind enough to pull over and direct us back to town.       


A few months later, after we received our diplomas, Morgan and I moved into an apartment a short distance from the university, a one-bedroom unit with beige carpets and dirty white walls, a dun-colored shell that seemed intentionally designed to expunge from the minds of its broke and directionless tenants any traces of hope or dreams for the future, but unlike our neighbors, Morgan and I had a plan, a clear direction, and we were determined to stay on the right path.  We would take graduate courses together and then apply to the Ph.D. program.  In a few years time we would obtain teaching posts, write and publish books, attend academic conferences, move into a cozy colonial on a wooded hill with a big front porch that commanded a stunning view of the campus and its gothic bell tower.  We spent hours mapping out the details.

But then, only a few days before the semester started, Morgan became despondent.  Already struggling to pay back her student loans and not wanting to accrue any more debt, she decided to postpone graduate school and work for a year to save some money, but in a dying, industrial town with no practical need for idealistic French majors, her options were limited, and she ended up waiting tables at a diner near the power plant, earning just enough cash to pay her half of the rent.

Late at night, exhausted from another long shift, she rode her squeaking bicycle back to the apartment, threw her purse down on the kitchen counter, and sorted through the pitiful pile of quarters and dimes and crumpled dollar bills she managed to collect from her working class customers.  After a few months, her weariness turned to resignation then outright defeat, and it was around this time that I first noticed her coarseness on full display.  By now I had come to accept the fact that she lacked the will power to return to school and that I’d been deceiving myself all along about her character, refusing to notice just how rough around the edges she could sometimes be.

“Why in the world did I get a degree in fucking French?” she would say.

To be fair I often wondered the same thing myself, but somehow, after two years of research and revision on my thesis about the more sordid stories of the syphilitic genius Guy de Maupassant, I managed to obtain my master’s degree in French literature, graduating with high honors.

I decided then that we both needed a change.  The truth was that I had met another woman in the graduate program, someone who had already published several papers in a number of important scholarly journals and who was determined to obtain a full professorship at the university.  In many ways she was the person I always hoped Morgan would one day become.  Though she’d never been to France, not yet, she possessed a kind of Continental sophistication and style.  Instead of wool caps, flannel shirts and steel-toed boots, she wore berets and blouses and bright silk scarves.

Because I didn’t want to feel guilty any more, didn’t want to continue sneaking around like a cheating spouse, I decided to break the news to Morgan after the graduation ceremony.  I expected a great Flaubertian gesture, a slap to the face, a threat of suicide, but Morgan only turned away from me and quietly sobbed.  That evening I packed up my things and left her sitting at one end of the couch, feet tucked beneath her legs, hands clasped between her knees.

“What will you do?” I asked.

“I’ll go to France,” she said in a quiet, measured way. “I’ll go and never come back to this hell-hole. I’ll do whatever it takes. I don’t care. But I’m not staying here.”

I felt almost embarrassed for her as she spoke these words, for making such an absurd and extravagant claim, but I only nodded.  “Yes, you deserve that. You deserve to go back.”

She looked at me and as coldly as she could said, “Yes, I do. And now would you please leave me the hell alone, you pretentious, patronizing asshole.”

I refused to let this comment pass.  She had wounded my pride, and now I wanted to do a little damage of my own.  The precise words I chose to inflict the wound I cannot recall, something along the lines of “Have a nice life, you lazy, inbred hick,” but I do remember how Morgan refused to acknowledge me as I hurried out the door.  She stared out the window, her long lashes matted with tears, and watched the ugly black river slither down the dirty hills and snake its way through the sinister town of her birth.

 After two more terrible years spent poring over the lice-infested pages of forgotten tomes on French naturalism, I completed my Ph.D. coursework, but when it came time to actually write my dissertation, a magnum opus on Émile Zola I had been promising my yawning advisors, I struggled to find a way to begin (or rather, I suppose, a way to finish my education).  I was stranded, as if some redoubtable god had picked me up and deposited me in the middle of a desert waste without any hope of rescue, and in order to survive I had to teach classes as a lowly adjunct, instructing bored and listless freshman who only wanted to fulfill their foreign language requirements and who proved utterly incapable of correctly pronouncing bonjour and adieu and parlez-vous anglais.  I came each day to class, bearing life-sustaining knowledge, but these mentally emaciated refugees, slumping ever lower in their seats, refused to accept my precious gift.

I soon lost patience with them, but it wasn’t until the postcards from France started showing up in my department mailbox that I became truly irritable.  Into the quiet classroom I would storm and in my most fraudulently authoritative voice shout: “Pop quiz!”  As my grumbling students conjugated endless lists of verbs, I would march up and down the rows of desks, flipping through the glossy photos of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

So Morgan Fey had made it back to France after all and was now “living in a tiny but charming flat overlooking the Place de la Contrescarpe in Paris.”  I remembered the Place well and recalled how, as an undergraduate, I drank sangrias there one warm day in spring, a magical moment in my life, but whatever magic I once possessed had vanished.  Here at long last was the first serious crisis of my adult life.  Maybe, I thought, I had gone as far as a person of middling intellect could possibly go in the fiercely competitive world of academia; maybe I would never finish my dissertation; maybe I would never again have an opportunity to visit France.

“Maybe?” I said aloud.  “Ha! Almost certainly!

My students looked up from their papers, startled.

That December Morgan sent me a letter, saying she would be back in town to visit her mother for the holidays and that it would be nice to see me.  I was jealous of her small victory and resisted the urge to accept her invitation, but in the end I went to the café she suggested.  Before I entered the door I saw her face framed and hanging in the frosted window.  Even from a distance I could tell that she had changed.  There was something new about her, something sly, brilliant, wicked, obscurely frightening.  Paris had given her a kind of sophistication I always wished she possessed when she lived with me.  Instantly I recognized her as the sort of woman I could bring to a faculty party and introduce to the chairman of the modern languages department, the sort of woman who would sing my praises and encourage me to persevere in my studies.

I stepped inside, and before I could say hello she kissed me on each cheek.  For an hour or so we sipped espresso and talked about the different direction our lives had taken.  I asked about her time in France: What did she do for a living?  How did one go about getting a work visa?  How did she cope with the notorious French bureaucracy? Where did she buy her breads and cheeses?  Had she made many friends? Her responses were deliberately vague, but I didn’t find anything suspicious in this.  She despised me for what I’d done to her, that was clear, and had come to the café merely to antagonize me.

“Almost finished with your Ph.D?” she asked.

“As a matter of fact, I’m putting the finishing touches on my dissertation. I’m simply awaiting final approval from my committee. It’s been a challenge, of course, but you know me. I’m pretty determined.”

“Oh, yes, I have complete faith in you,” she said, and I thought I detected a hint of sarcasm in her voice.  I also noticed how affected she sounded, how she pronounced every word with the faintest accent, and how she stared at me with vengeful concentration, how her eyes flashed with rage.  “You’ll finish your dissertation and then what? Come to Paris? Find a full-time professorship? Publish a book? These are the many ways in which a man can earn a reputation and garner respect from his peers, no?”

We said our goodbyes and agreed to meet again next year, and as I watched her turn the corner, I suddenly felt feeble, empty, alone.  The agony was exquisite, I never realized just how gratifying self-pity could be, and I wanted it to last forever.


As promised, Morgan and I continued our conversation one year later, and things went so well that we now meet every Friday before Christmas, a sort of holiday tradition that has continued for over a decade.  Our annual rendezvous has become, at least for me, a ritual, a sacred obligation, but a shameful one that must be concealed from the condemning eyes of the uninitiated, like the evil practices of those fabled cannibals who inhabited the caves of Lascaux and reputedly drank the blood and ate the flesh of their sworn enemies.  I used to look forward to these encounters because I knew that her story, like mine, was a total sham, an evil fairytale concocted by a sick mind, one that, sooner or later, would lead to her complete and total undoing, and I wanted to be there to see how she abruptly and predictably dwindled away to nothing at all.

A few months after our second meeting, while driving to class one morning and dreading the moment I would have to face my sneering students, I heard a familiar squeak and caught in the rearview mirror a glimpse of someone who looked a lot like Morgan race by on a bicycle.  Instead of turning into the faculty parking lot, I made an abrupt U-turn and shadowed her.

I’ve heard of a phenomenon where people, haunted by painful memories and succumbing to the weakness of wishful thinking, believe they see in the faces of total strangers the visage of departed friends and family members, and I must confess that for one terrible moment, maybe as a result of my spiral into depression and intellectual paralysis, I had summoned forth the ghost of an old love, but the longer I followed her the more convinced I became that this was not the warm-hearted girl I once adored, certainly not the cultivated woman who now lived so close to the Panthéon and the Sorbonne.  This was an apparition, a waxen-faced witch clad in a magnificent mess of flapping black rags, her wild wiry hair trailing behind her as she sailed through the pestilential air on a contraption dreamed up in a lunatic’s basement workshop, a rickety thing pieced together by candlelight with broken bits of discarded junk.

It wasn’t until she reached the diner on the outskirts of town that I knew for certain that it was Morgan and not some phantasm.  She threw her bike down on the ground and trudged up the worn stairs into the burning florescent lights, her face stern, her skin ravaged by cold, lashing winds.  For a moment I considered going inside and confronting her, but for reasons I can’t quite explain, I parked behind a pickup with silhouettes of naked women on the mud flaps and a massive set of truck nuts dangling proudly from the rear bumper.  Through the windows of the diner I watched as Morgan donned an apron and then for six long hours waited on customers.  At the end of her shift, I followed her back to the row house on the edge of the river and listened to her argue with her mother.  Their awful shouts erupted from the decaying brick and stonework and spilled ominously from beneath the drawn shades in crushed piles of smoldering yellow light.

After midnight I drove back to my apartment and sorted through the postcards she’d sent me.  Had I examined them more closely, I would have noticed how they’d all been doctored, how the stamps and cancellation marks were fabricated, some more carefully than others.  She must have used old stamps from her first trip to France and then, with a faded black marker and template, drew elaborate lines and circles and dates.  After doctoring each postcard, she must have hand delivered them to my department mailbox, creeping quietly through the halls, holding her breath, hoping I would not catch her in the act.       

For weeks and months and years I continued to watch Morgan Fey.  I watched as she wiped down dirty tables in the diner.  I watched her in the grocery store, in the library, in the Laundromat.  I watched her in the park, in the mall, in the movie theater.  One night I watched her ride in the back of an ambulance with her mother.  I watched her visit the hospital every day.  I watched her stand beside a cheap casket in the cemetery near the river where green pools and eddies formed along the muddy banks and threatened to wash away the bones of the dead.  I watched her go to the bars with her friends until the early morning hours.  I watched in fascination as a young man in coveralls pushed her from a bowling alley and dragged her by the wrist over to his car where he tried to force himself on her.  After a violent struggle she managed to escape, but this sort of thing happened more than once.  Usually she did not struggle, especially when she was drunk and stumbling and laughing raucously, and she even seemed to surrender to the man with something like gratitude.

In short, I watched her life unfold one terrible day at a time, and I waited patiently, year after year, for our next meeting.


More than a decade has now gone by, and even though our situation has become quite monstrous and we have grown weary and indifferent toward a life that seems more and more unreal, Morgan and I continue doggedly, perhaps even dutifully, to meet every year around Christmastime.  We have both changed a great deal.  Morgan’s beauty, if it could ever have been described as such, has faded.  Rather than winsome and wise, she looks outraged and calculating as if wondering if she’ll have to pick up the check again.  Every year she offers to buy, and every year I take her up on it.  She still wears the same borrowed--dare I say stolen?--clothes that she cannot afford, haute couture, stylish, trendy.  To what lengths does she go to get her hair and nails done for this brief appointment?

As for me, well, I’ve had fearful occasion to think back on my life, and I am revolted by my unspeakably cruel, bestial, black-hearted youth and the senseless darkness I have helped to perpetuate.  It shows on my face, especially around the eyes and the downward turn of my mouth and the hint of gray at my temples.  If I know Morgan’s secret, she certainly knows mine.  My lies are just as outrageous and transparent as hers.  I tell her that I am now an associate professor, that I have written several highly regarded books of literary criticism, that I am often asked to give talks at prestigious academic conferences, but of course nothing has changed for me.  Instead of lecturing graduate students on Baudelaire and Proust and Le Clézio, I teach incoming freshman how to speak elementary French, and sometimes, when money is tight, I do a little private tutoring.  As for my girlfriend, she left me when she finally understood that I was incapable of completing my dissertation, that I was an incompetent hack, that I was in fact doomed to live out the rest of my days as an adjunct, which, aside from being a groundskeeper, is perhaps the most contemptible position in the world of academia.

Morgan and I don’t say much, and when we do speak we don’t smile, not once, not ever.  In this regard we are probably more French than the French themselves.  The Parisians in particular despise Americans because, they claim, we smile all the time, like fools, like simpletons, like drooling idiots who have been deprived of oxygen, and only stupid people are happy, or pretend to be happy, all the time.  Life, so say the clever French, is a serious and sorrowful affair, and therefore one must wear an appropriately sober expression--that of thoughtfulness, deep brooding, constant vigilance.  Morgan and I certainly concur with this insight.  Instead of coffee or espresso, we’ve switched to a proper apéritif and now brood over a cheap bottle of wine.  Sometimes we split a pack of cigarettes and sit outside in the cold night air at table covered in an intricate latticework of ice. 

And so we continue to play our charade and monitor the other’s failures, but if there is one thing we both know for certain it is this: we are equals now, townies, and we will never escape the epic boredom of our wretched routines.  Maybe one day we’ll get married, have children, make more townies.  I think we are in love.  We must be, and this idea alone, that we still care deeply for each other, is the only hope that our story might end happily.


About the Author;
Kevin P. Keating's essays and fiction have appeared in a number of literary journals, including Identity Theory, Perigee, Slow Trains, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Subtle Tea, Ascent Aspirations, The Mad Hatter’s Review, The North Coast Review, Tattoo Highway and many others.

His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize (by Thomas E. Kennedy) and the StorySouth Million Writers Award.

Keating's novel, The Natural Order of Things, is scheduled for publication in November 2012 by Aqueous Books.

He currently teach English at Baldwin-Wallace College near Cleveland, Ohio.

Thank you for reading! Come back next week for more great independent literature!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Issue Six, Volume Four

From the Desk of the Editor,

Friends, countrymen (country-ladies), and assorted Romans--I must apologize for not publishing the magazine on time. It has been waiting for the publishing button to be pressed since Sunday and I forgot.

Please accept these works of independent literature as tokens of awesome for your wait. In this issue we bring you works of faniciful and fearful to amuse and amaze.

Please enjoy!

Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

There ain't no Damned Witches
By Gary Clifton

Homicide cops already had a full load.  The central alarm office sent Harper and me out there because six people had burned to death in a house fire.  Fires were tricky - this one could have started in an electric space-heater in the kitchen, but we smelled gasoline.

Neighbors said the single mom had been a witch, who'd "hexed" neighbor Malachi.  We cornered him down at the river, fishing.  A slimy little man with a brown mole on the end of his nose, he hissed that Witch-Mama was evil and caused him to have boils.  He had motive, opportunity and - ask any Homicide dick - his eyes read guilty.

Harper slapped him across the back of the head and tossed his fishing pole in the river, but he refused to admit setting a fire that killed six people.  He said Witch-Mama had cast a dust-scent on the air which made his ears ring.  He quit talking to us - his ears were ringing  too loud to understand, he said.  I talked Harper out of chunking Malachi in behind his fishing pole.

 Only three, her family dead in the fire, the little survivor lay at Parkland, hands and feet bandaged.  Scarred, mentally and physically, she'd recover, the shrinks speculated.   We figured they neither knew nor gave a damn.

We bought her a tricycle at Sears which she rode in the halls.  They let her take it to the County Home.  They locked her up in a cage and called it rehabilitation.  "Some sucker needs to pay hell for this," Harper said through clenched teeth.

"And that goofy little snake Malachi is good for it," I said.

Two nights later, neighbor Malachi was cleaning a paint brush in a coffee cup of gasoline and went up like a roman candle - a lot of fire for very little accelerant.  Witnesses said he ran screaming down the street and collapsed - ran out of gas we joked.  They also swore Witch-Mama was standing talking to him just before he immolated - not a joking matter.

"McCoy," Harper growled,  "couldn't have been Witch Mama.  She's as dead as Malachi out there in the middle of Birmingham Avenue."

"Yeah," I said.  "There ain't no damned..."   The sudden, icy gust of cold wind in the sultry summer night air was unexpected, sobering.  Harper looked up sharply.  Then another, colder blast.  Harper, the tough guy - and me too, I guess - studied the darkness.

 "Hellfire, McCoy, that's gotta be a coincidence."  He didn't sound fully convinced.

 "Has to be," I said.  I wasn't quite ready to admit I had a tad of least out loud.
The End
About the Author;
Gary Clifton, forty years a cop published a novel in national paperback and short fiction pieces pending on Writer's Type, Spinetingler, Broadkill Review, Yellow Mama, Shotgun Honey, Boston Literary Review, 50 Word Stories, Black Heart Magazine, Disenthralled, Fiction on the Web, Spasm Valley, Bewildering Stories, and Linguistic Erosion.  Clifton has an M.S. from Abilene Christian University.


The Star Dollars
By Inge Moore

I walk along the road, cherry laurel blossoms on my right. A cat darts from the hedge and runs across the cobbles, a mouse clenched in her jaws. I watch, admiring her independence and agility. I can’t remember when I last ate. I am in a different country and I can’t go home.

Once upon a time there was an orphan girl, alone and very poor. She had been living in the orphanage until the bigger girls, envious of her golden curls, chased her away. She fled with nothing but a piece of bread and the clothes on her back.

I walk in the sunshine and reach town. I debate whether it is safe to go home. Whether he has calmed down. I breathe deeply and heave a sigh, “Not yet.” I am passing shops now. I finger the wallet in my pocket. I haven’t much money with me and have to be careful. The look of a plump golden-brown loaf in a bakery window and the yeasty smell wafting into the street makes me think that I have waited long enough.

When she had walked a little way, she met a little old man. He pointed to the bread in her hand and pleaded with her, "Will you give me some bread? I am so hungry." The little girl handed him her piece of bread.

Outside the shop sits an old woman, her eyes dark hollows as she grins a toothless smile, “A penny for an old woman, my lady?” I look at the window, then at her filthy, tattered clothes. I hand her my wallet and walk on. I look at my watch, the watch he bought me for our anniversary -- real gold real diamonds, real love? The watch tells me it’s been only 18 hours yet it feels like days. I gauge how much longer I will have to wait by the remembered fury on his face. All hopes of food gone now, I head toward the town square. At least I’ll be able to get a drink of water from a fountain.

When she walked a little farther she encountered a younger child, sitting by the path, crying. "I’m so cold!" the little one cried. "Please give me your coat to keep me warm." The little girl took off her jacket and put it lovingly on the toddler. Again she went on her way.

When I get to the square I take a long drink from the fountain then sit on a stone bench, pigeons flocking around, pecking at crumbs. Some of them are crippled, with stumps for legs. I see a young mother. She is holding a baby wrapped in rags. I approach her and smile. I ask her if the baby could use a bunting. She says yes. I take off my watch and give it her, pointing to the pawnshop where I think she can make a trade.

By-and-by she saw another child, crouching naked by the wayside. "Won't you give me your dress?" The little girl took off her dress and gave it to the other. Now she had nothing left but her little shirt. It grew dark, and the cold wind blew. The little girl crept into the woods, to sleep for the night. But there she saw another child, weeping and naked. "I am frozen," the child cried, "please give me your shirt!" And the little girl did, and now she had not a thing left in all the world.

Now that I have no watch anyway, I think to head back. I will be there in three hours or so and the time that has passed should be enough. I walk past tidy gardens for a while and then along country roads. It is now dark and I crunch snails under my shoes, shuddering, but unable to avoid them. I pass a pub and see a man outside it leaning against the stone wall. He is ruffled and it looks as though he may have been thrown out. As soon as he sees me he calls me over to him. I walk into his arms and he takes me behind the pub and into the wood. I give him myself. Afterward, he rolls over in the dirt and snores. I get to my feet, brush myself off and continue walking.

She stood looking up at the sky. As she watched, the whole skyful of stars fell in a shower round her feet. There they were, on the ground, shining bright, and round -- hundreds of silver dollars. And among them was the loveliest white silk dress. The little girl put on the dress, and gathered up all the star dollars in her skirts; and she was rich, all the days of her life.

I arrive at the door to the cottage. I look up at the sky sparkling with stars. I slip my key in the lock and push the door open as silently as I can. Then gasp. There he stands. I flinch, poised to turn and run. Then he smiles and opens his arms wide. My heart melts and I fall into his arms, sobbing. I am so certain I will be rich, for all the days of my life.

The End
About the Author;
Inge Moore lives in Fort Erie on the shores of the Niagara River with her husband and two dogs.  She has been writing since she was in grade school.  Her loves are family, horses, reading and writing and her muse is the river.  Moore's short fiction has been published in numerous literary magazines across Canada and the U.S.

Thank you for reading and join us next week right here on Larks Fiction Magazine!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Issue Five, Volume Four

From the Desk of the Editor
Hello and welcome to another exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine! We are pleased to bring you two wonderful pieces of literature this week from up-and-coming authors. In this issue we are featuring an experimental contest winner and a quirky story of growing up.
We wish to apologize for our tardiness in responding. We are currently moving our office to a new building and we have been busy with repairs at the new location. Check out our videos and blog for Fox House—the new world headquarters of Larks Media Group!
Thank you for joining us and good reading!
Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

The Bus Station
By Peter McMillan

Andy would wish he had never seen the young teenage boy walking towards the men's room.
It was well past midnight in the bus station. One of the officers had said "Don't go into the restrooms alone,” and his partner added “and whatever you do, don't fall asleep." That unsettled Andy. His bus to Salt Lake City was another 6 hours away, and he was tired and had drunk a lot of water walking up and down the hills, killing time. He'd missed the famous cable cars; they wouldn't be back until the following year, he heard.
He'd already seen more than he wanted to see in the Mission District and that was in daylight. In the dark, the city had an altogether different atmosphere—foreign and threatening. It was better in the bus station as long as other passengers were around. But at this time of night, there were only two—Andy and a young black soldier—Army, it seemed.
The mood inside changed for the worse when an old white-haired giant wearing a baggy and soiled mustard-colored suit lumbered in shouting loudly at an invisible companion. The old guy circled and studied the young soldier, who sat quietly staring unblinkingly at his Reader's Digest. On his second pass, the old guy stopped, wobbled a bit, and screamed in the soldier's face. The soldier must have been fresh in the service because his whole body screamed back in silent fear. The old guy kept screaming and then stopped as suddenly as a summer downpour and walked away.
Andy was angered but mostly stunned. What kind of person— What kind of place was this where a person could be assaulted for no reason whatsoever? And where were the cops ... security, anybody?
An hour or so later, a pleasant, round little man, deeply-tanned from his bald pate to his sandaled feet and sporting a brilliant pink polo shirt, walked in, passed the soldier, and approached Andy. He engaged Andy in friendly conversation about the weather, the city, and finally religion. After judging that the man wasn't recruiting for a cult, Andy put his religious upbringing to good use. After 45 minutes of theological discussion, the pleasant, round little man politely excused himself and said he had to go make some money.
Over the next two hours, more came in from the streets—some almost normal. One of the “normals,” in a business suit but without the tie, was looking for someone in particular, but it seemed odd that he didn't stop to ask the soldier or Andy for help. A second went straight to the lockers and took out something, which he tucked away inside his 49ers windbreaker. A scary-looking couple, maybe a man and a woman, went into the men's room. Meanwhile, an ancient woman, her back crooked so badly the floor was just two feet from her face, settled into an out-of-the-way corner for herself, her cat, and her overfull grocery cart.
Just after 4:30, Andy saw the freckle-faced teen walking in the direction of the restrooms. Andy couldn't recall seeing him in the bus station earlier, but he wasn't sure. The teenager was carrying a suitcase. His short-sleeve plaid shirt was buttoned to the top, and his blue jeans didn't quite reach the top of his white crew socks.
The cops hadn't returned and probably wouldn't. Andy looked across at the soldier. His eyes were glazed over—the magazine lay limp in his lap.
Andy couldn't help himself. He had to warn the boy. It was the right thing to do. That's how he'd been raised.
But what if it was the kid that was the dangerous. Maybe he had been an innocent, a runaway but had become an itinerant serial killer. Suppose he were to warn the kid, and the kid were to turn and give him that look—the look of a cold-blooded killer? And what if the kid had a serrated stainless steel hunting knife in that suitcase?
Out of the corner of his eye Andy glimpsed a head peeping out of the men's room, and quickly got up and walked over to take a seat next to the soldier.

The End

About the Author;
Peter McMillan is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers.

A Guide to Rejoining the Universe
By Mimi Rosen

Onto the front porch a hobbled barn cat came creeping from dewy fields, woodpiles and prickly brown bushes. It looked at Zach sternly with haunting gray eyes, as it slinked along the step’s rail and into the rocker. A door inside the house clapped. Jeff’s footsteps descended the stairs and faded down the hall. Zach raised his snout towards the purple-gray sky and sensed with heart-pounding certainty that his life was about to change.
“All packed,” Jeff announced.
“I see that,” Rita said. “You do travel light, Mr. Baum.”
“A toothbrush, some extra socks, and a couple pair of clean skivvies, all a guy needs for a weekend away. ”
Zach’s perked-up ears turned towards the screen door.
“But you know, Mrs. Baum, I’m not opposed to a larger suitcase, if you happen to change your mind.”
“Hmm?” Jeff said, inside of kisses. “Come with me.”
Zach danced a little at the door, catching glimpses of Rita and Jeff inside.
“Uh-huh yeah, you got that thing. I get it.” More kisses.
“Yeah,” she said, in her cracking-bone voice. “That thing.”
“I don’t got a problem with staying home either. It’s just agility trials.”
“Are you kidding me? You and Zach have practically been married these past months.”
Zach cocked his head.
“Really Rita?” Jeff asked. “You see it that way?”
“Not really. I just know you enjoy spending time with him. Zach’s a great dog. Bet he wins for you, too. You can’t not go, Jeffy.”
More silence.
“Rita, this me going and you not going places is uh…well, maybe the answer isn’t sitting home. Maybe you ought to try harder to get out, like Doc Howard said. You know, make plans to look forward to, push yourself a little.”
“Now you sound like my mother.”
“I don’t mean it like that. Baby, what happened, happened, but…”
“You know I’m not ready to talk about that, Jeff.”
Keys jingled. “We’re gonna have to someday.”
“I know, just not today. Farshtay, Pearl Fein.”
“Yow, I love it when you talk Yiddish.” Again kisses. “I’ll call you from the road, Wise Ass.”
More footsteps. Zach marched in place and watched the door, until it sprung opened and Jeff came through, then Zach looped-the-loop, and bounced and dashed all the way to the Bronco. When Jeff threw his bags in the back that heart-pounding certainty stopped Zach cold.
“Come on Boy, let’s go play.” Jeff’s eyes danced from Zach to the truck.
Zach backed away, barking.
“What is it boy?”
More barking.
Jeff snatched the leash from the dashboard and clipped it to Zach’s collar. “Come Zach.” He gave him a tug and they walked to the truck. Then Jeff put his dog in the front seat and they drove off.
Six weeks later
Jeff stood on the rim of a dead fog. Rita shivered at the sight of him. The crimson gash that split his face from right temple to left cheekbone was black when Rita had identified his body. She knew it wasn’t really Jeff standing there, but even his apparition deserved more from her than bone-quaking fear. “Run,” she told herself, but her legs were anchored. She wanted to scream, but could only whimper.
A phone rang.
Jeff’s eyes scolded her.
Ringing, ringing, ringing.
Rita hated the bells.
I’m so sorry, Jeff. It happened because of me.
She blinked and he bounced closer,
She blinked again and his body-drawer essence loomed over her.
Jeff’s mouth moved – speak-ready
But the ringing grew louder and louder still.
Drowning his words
As Rita withered.
She opened her eyes, but couldn’t move, the shadowy ceiling, a reminder that she was home and still in bed. The phone rang and rang, stopped just before the answering machine - which was full anyway - would have picked up, then rang and rang again. “Leave me alone,” Rita screeched, jostling into a slumped sitting position. Whoever this is sucks, she thought. Her mother, who insisted on coming up from Florida to take care of her, could be that relentless. So could Doctor Howard, to chastise Rita for missing yet another appointment, no doubt. Then he’d deliver that same, “rejoining the community” speech that had been his mantra since her miscarriage. She rested her hand on the night table, careful not to disturb the pile of crusty dishes, empty Ben and Jerry containers and half-filled vodka bottle. Then she burrowed through a mound of scrunched up tissues, until she found the phone.
“Mrs. Baum?”
“This is Dr. Ratcliff from Hamilton Animal Hospital calling about Zach.”
Rita knew perfectly well why he was calling.
“He’s ready to come home.”
The doctor’s words spiraled Rita through memories of yet another unwanted call; “Hello Mrs. Baum, I’m sorry to tell you there’s been an accident,” and in that same instant she was shivering in the morgue, where Jeff’s scarred body was laid out on a gurney.
“Mrs. Baum?”
Rita spent the post-crash weeks drowning all thoughts of Jeff in food, booze and sleep - a painfully hollow endeavor. She and Jeff had been in love since they were teenagers.
She coughed back sobs.
“Mrs. Baum?”
“Yes.” Rita squeezed out the word.
“We’ve left you several messages. The trauma to Zach’s face was worse than any I’ve seen.”
“Right, we spoke before the surgery.”
“Yes, and back then I didn’t know what to expect, but he came through like a champ. Now, he does have a cranial malformation and is blind in one eye but…”
“Dr…uh…Ratcliff is it?”
“It hurts to talk.”
“Excuse me.”
“I don’t even get out of bed most days.” The wrong words were fighting to come out. “I…I can’t think about that dog right now.”
“Oh…well, so what then…”
“Send me the bill. I’ll gladly pay it.”
“But…you know Zach can’t stay here.”
“It was my husband’s dog.” Her throat tried to strangle the words.
“Mrs. Baum, do you need help?”
“No, what I need is for you to find another home for Zach.” The word betrayal thunder-clapped through her as soon as she made the demand, but instead of taking it back, Rita hung up the phone and sunk to the floor.
On a nippy afternoon, Zach stood in the far corner of a dung-covered yard, watching an unruly pack of canines fight for Inga’s attention.
“Settle down now,” she said, and dropped one food bowl after another.
Her shifting eyes had Zach watching with dread as bowls clanged on the ground and dogs pounced on them.
Zach’s stomach panged. Prickling crept up his spine. His mind tumbled back to Jeff’s face with bloody eyes, to blaring horns, and screaming tires, and crunching bones and flashing lights.
“Za…Zach? I can’t see.”
Zach yelped, wanting to squirm free of the toothy door, while the man he loved - the bloody-eyed man - dangled beyond his reach. Jeff gurgled and wheezed and that heart-pounding certainty hit Zach once more.
“Guess you were trying to warn me, Boy.” Jeff trembled, rattling the Bronco. “Oh Rita,” he cried. “How’m I…who’s gonna help my girl through...” The man groaned and reached down, raking the leather seat and Zach wiggled and whimpered, until his broken snout bumped Jeff’s fingers. “Don’t know how much you understand, Boy. But if you can, hel…help her.”
Then Jeff was gone.
Zach scanned the yard with his good eye, tipping his head towards the sounds around him. A long stretch of dogs guarded food bowls, and others with sinking ears skulked away, and others came running from digging and scratching as Inga limped back to the sickly rear door. It creaked opened, she stepped inside, and then Zach launched. He climbed the fence and dove over it, as dogs barked, and sprung up and tussled with each other. He landed on a grassy slope and kept going; down the rural road, up a busy street, through the woods, and onto the highway.
Syracuse Psychiatric Center
“While this feeling of sinking into darkness is a normal reaction to the tragic events of the past year,” Dr. Howard said. “You have a responsibility to yourself to make choices that will push you towards light.”
Rita rolled her eyes.
“Your willingness to speak about Jeff’s death during session yesterday was not only brave, but an example of the kinds of choices that will help you work through your grief and self doubt.”
“Are you kidding me?” The follow up to Rita’s disclosure was an afternoon spent in a fetal position on the psych-ward cot. Yet, this was somehow less preferable than her succession of days curled up in her dark bedroom. She had mingled that with the Zoloft and vodka combination that put her in the hospital.
“I would like you to continue in that same light today,” Dr. Howard said.
Instead of appreciating the man who had saved her life, Rita registered her impatience with a loud tsk and slumped posture. The doctor ignored Rita’s disgruntled manner and meddled onward, as he had done when she missed so many appointments and wouldn’t answer the phone. He just showed up at her house - walked right in without knocking. He found Rita non-responsive and just in time, according the EMT. The ER nurse said that Dr. Howard had a sixth sense about
his patients. Rita had other ways of describing it. She fired off a barrage of them shortly after they pumped her stomach.
“Now, your baby was nearly full term when…”
“I’m not ready to talk about the baby or that other thing.” Rita waved off the notion.
“You mean the Post Partum Psychosis you experienced.”
“Thank you for spelling it out, Doc.” She wrung her ankles together and fidgeted with her plastic identification bracelet - her seventy-two-hour-hold badge of dishonor.
“I’m nothing if not a fairly-descent speller,” Dr. Howard said in a good-natured way that Rita wanted to smile.
“What happened to you would make anyone resistant to talking about it.” Dr. Howard tilted his head, repositioning the small suede kippah over his much larger bald spot and said, “But it’s time, dear.”
Rita picked at her cuticles. She had spent the past eight months keeping all of her dark feelings, lodged deep within her. Was it really time? Her eyes connected with the doctor’s. His patient yet hopeful gaze compelled her. She lowered her head and whispered the name, “Elijah.”
His was a quiet demise that came near the end of an uneventful pregnancy. Rita and Jeff had been preparing the nursery. He wanted a baseball theme and she, Beatrix Potter. They teased each other about it often and had inside jokes about not-so-funny topics as diaper-rash and baby puke.
Then, on a night when soft rain pattered against their bedroom window everything changed.
Canned laughter was bursting from their 24-inch Sony as the latest episode of Thirty Rock aired. Jeff crawled under the hand-made quilt that Rita’s mother had sewn for their fourth wedding anniversary. He loved the show and Rita loved the laughter it triggered from him. She had always worked hard to raise Jeff’s spirits. He was one of those people who grew up with money, but was never taught to see his own worth. So, when the heart-pounding realization that Rita hadn’t felt the baby at all that day rattled her, she kept it to herself.
She kept it to herself, after a doctor’s visit confirmed her fears. She kept it to herself and went through the motions of each day. She kept it to herself, but tried to abduct her neighbor’s newborn, believing with unyielding clarity that she was protecting her baby. The icy fetus she’d been keeping inside her, while evading doctor’s calls and Jeff’s concerns. The child she refused to give up on, because in her heart and mind she’d given birth to Elijah Sidney Baum, but he was out in the world, somewhere just beyond her reach.
Dr. Howard postured for analysis.
Rita felt the urge to block.
“Do you feel that people are angry with you, Rita?”
“Wouldn’t you hate me?”
Dr. Howard shifted closer to her. “None of this was your fault, my dear.”
“Tell that to my neighbors.”
“No one was harmed. It was an unfortunate and frightening episode, born of illness, not ill intent.”
“So, this isolation is your way of avoiding others?”
Rita opened her mouth, her thoughts swaying like a pendulum. “I feel like…” Her eyes welled up. “It could it happen again.”
Dr. Howard put his large hand on Rita’s. His warmth tingled through her body, nearly melting her. Then he said with certainty, “It won’t.”
Rita’s lips quivered into a crooked smile.
“When life altering events happen,” the doctor continued. “There may be a period when solitude is necessary. But isolation at this point is only delaying the healing tasks of facing your community, acknowledging the episode, and making reparation. In order to do that, my dear, you must rejoin the universe. Only then will you relearn how to trust yourself.”
A stick-wielding round man snuck up during Zach’s dumpster-breakfast. Zach climbed a mountain of wilted produce, hopped over a fence and dashed off. Then the man came cursing, over crisp fields and through train-car alleys. So, Zach leaped into a carnage-scented caboose and tried to diminish. There he remained, still and in shadows, panting, frothing, and most of all listening.
Footsteps crunched. The man crept in across hay-covered floorboards, and grunted and stood, and loomed in the doorway. Zach shrunk towards the slatted wall, the stink of cigar and bacon grease oozing in his direction.
“Come on, Boy. I ain’t gonna hurt you.”
Zach pointed his eye at the man, whose girth consumed his chance of escape. Beyond the doorway, crisscrossing train tracks and gray field and blocks of houses waited.
Zach hunkered down.
“That’s it,” the man said through teeth. “Just stay right there.” He slid out the stick.
Zach’s hind legs pulsed.
The man stepped right and Zach shot off, tangling with the man’s stubby legs as he tried to thread the gap between them. The man twisted and fell, raking Zach’s collar, but the dog squirmed free. He zigzagged across the tracks and into a ditch that smelled delightfully of carnage.
“Damn it!” the man said.
Zach stretched out in a hard run over weedy mounds and windswept rubbish, over fields, and roadways, and past blocks of musty houses and on and on into day’s amber end.
Three weeks after being released from the hospital.
Pearl Fein burst into Rita’s bedroom and began her ritual-10AM ruckus of letting in light. Rita, in keeping with her ritual, growled the word, “MOM,” and buried her face in a polka-dotted pillow. At 62-years-old, Pearl was a powerhouse with a vacuum, and not above disturbing the wee hours of dedicated quiet in anyone’s home. She had moved in right after Rita’s release from the hospital, and threatened to stay until her daughter stopped feeling sorry for herself.
“Is this really necessary?” Rita asked.
“Of course it is, Bubbe. Those sheets won’t wash themselves.”
Rita scraped herself out from under the covers and drifted through a wide band of sunlight, to a dim corner on the other side of the room. She slumped into a rocker, ignoring the sweaty feet smell from the piles around it. Her defiantly baldheaded mother folded the quilt, hung it on the footboard, and snapped the sheets off the queen-sized mattress.
“I almost feel guilty watching you,” Rita said, whiffing her mother’s jasmine body lotion.
Pearl raised an eyebrow. Then she marched over, cutting through a yellow-white sunbeam, and shoved a pillow into her daughter’s hands.
Rita cradled it against her bosom and asked in a creaky whisper, “How’d you do it, Mom?”
“After Daddy died, how’d you start living again?”
“You just do.” Pearl shrugged. “You think you’re the only one with troubles, Ritale?” She leaned against the bed and patted her smooth scalp. “Whatever has happened, you have to get up every morning and make each day the best that you know how, because the alternative is nothing to bargain for.”
Pearl Fein, who had endured the death of one of her two children, and that of her true love, and most recently triumphed over cancer, came to her daughter’s side. She pressed her thin lips to Rita’s forehead and said in a deep, rusty voice, “Now get up and go do something, Bubbe.” Her scolding eyes shimmered with a breathtakingly warm feeling of love for Rita. Then the stoic woman abruptly bent, picked a heap of dirty clothes up off the floor and carried it across the room.
Rita clutched her pillow and wondered how she could have had the audacity to bargain for the alternative.
Zach’s nails scraped pavement again-and-again. He turned a corner and another after that, then took off down a long street, as children that smelled of sour milk and earthworms gawked, and men in crusty clothes slid out of dented trucks. The yellow glow of street lamps brightened above lines of parked cars, and a succession of screen doors clapped through the neighborhood. Zach felt the sting of things like mosquito bites and longing, yet would not succumb to any opposing force.
He raced onward.
The putter of what Zach had come to know as the man’s boxy truck sounded in the distance. He elevated his snout, localizing the diesel scent, then sharply turned in the opposite direction. He’d not seen the man since entering the housing tract, but Zach’s heart pounded with prey-like urgency. There were woods up ahead, dark, uninviting woods that would conceal Zach. He picked up his pace, stumbled over a bicycle, and bonked head first into a telephone pole. He scrambled and scurried past fenced yards and eggy trash bins, until the zip and snap of the stick whipped him on his side.
“Gotcha!” the man said.
And so he had.
Two weeks after Pearl’s wisdom
Rita watched Pearl step out of the Corolla, walk around and open the car door. She had been worrying about her mother for the past hour, but worrying bled into panic upon seeing what the woman had done. Rita, so unprepared for the moment, gnawed the inside of her cheek, and stood blocking the doorway. She held her breath, her heart thumping with an odd, heaving rhythm.
The Australian Shepherd mix tilted his head, pointing his golden-brown eye up at Rita. Rita cringed. His silky coat - black, brown, white and gray - was filthy and
matted. His nose bent right, so that his lower fangs protruded hideously and only a milky starburst remained where his left eye had been.
“Mom, what did you do?”
Zach’s ears fell back.
“A shelter in Syracuse called,” Pearl said, pushing past her daughter. She hung the keys back on the hook by the door.
Zach skulked through too.
Rita’s eyes welled up. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“I thought this would make you happy.”
“Do I look happy?” Rita turned her head, not wanting to cry in front of her mother. “It was Jeff’s dog, Mom.”
“Doesn’t that make him yours too?”
“He was…” Rita put her hand to her mouth. She glanced over at Zach, who stood in a far corner of the room, tilting his head and regarding her with his only eye.
“I can’t,” she said, then ran to her bedroom and closed the door.
The jasmine scented bald woman stepped out of the Corolla, onto the crisp grass, and to the rear door. The backseat crackled and plucked under Zach’s dancing paws, as he panted and watched her through the window. The latch clunked. The door swung wide.
Zach flew across the brown lawn and onto the porch, and nudged the aloof barn cat that remained curled in its rocker. Then he stood at the front door, yelping and marching, and staring at the wood panel, until the door crept open.
Rita stood in the doorway punchy and frumpy, her face pinched in anger as she blocked the way in. A whiff of melancholy and ammonia came rushing outside. Zach sniffed and waited.
“Mom, what did you do?”
The bald woman pushed through.
Zach’s stomach panged. He gingerly maneuvered between door jam and Rita’s leg. Then moved quickly to the periphery of discord.
“I thought this would make you happy,” the bald woman said.
Zach tried to diminish.
“It was Jeff’s dog, Mom.”
“Doesn’t that make him yours too?”
Rita quivered and huffed and her puffy eyes pooled and she scurried away, down the heavy dark hall.
The Jasmine scented bald woman, who Rita called Mom, smiled at Zach.
“Listen Hintela. You and me are now in cahoots. You understand?”
Zach didn’t, but he liked Mom.
So, morning after morning Mom would go into Rita’s room and let in the light, and morning after morning Zach would stay by Rita’s bed and whine, and whine through the sequence of postures that Rita would display, each and every day. She’d cover her head, growl and open her eyes and look past Zach for a very long time. Then she’d roll out of bed and stomp through the hall, as Zach cocked his head, not knowing what to do.
Then, on a not-so-different kind of day, something unusual happened. Rita opened her eyes, and looked past Zach for a very long time, which was nothing new. So, Zach scooted closer, and looked back at her, as he had come to do, but on this day her eyes shifted towards him. So, he rested his head on her pillow. Her sour breath made him drool a little, but he felt something good in her crusty-eyed gaze. He took her in and let her take him in, until her eyes filled with tears, and she said, “I know, you loved him too.” Then she stroked Zach’s face.
One week later
Rita opened the front door.
Zach sat and looked up at her, expectantly.
“I thought you had to go out?”
Zach glanced at his leash, which hung from a hook. He wagged his tail.
Rita sighed. “You’re not gonna make this easy are you?”
Zach, with his Rooster Cogburn-style of visual regard glanced at the leash and back at Rita one more time. His snout bent left, making his lower teeth protrude. He appeared to be smiling.
Rita smiled too. Then she clipped the leash onto Zach’s collar. “Might as well,” she said, as Zach led her through the door.


About the Author;
Mimi Rosen is an early intervention teacher by trade - a job she loves -but her passion is writing. If she is not crawling around on the floor with her toddler students, she is sitting at her desk working on her current writing project. Her stories have appeared in: The Battered Suitcase, Halfway Down the Stairs, Rose and Thorn Journal, Bewildering Stories, Corner Club Press, and The Copperfield Review.

She is currently working on her first novel and is a member of Backspace Online Writer's Forum, from which this piece is a contest winner.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July Fourth

Sorry everyone--we were so caught up in the holiday spirit (and with remolding our new digs) that we didn't get this week up. Sorry guys!