Monday, December 31, 2012

Issue Twenty-Six, Volume Four

From the Desk of the Editor;

Welcome one and all to the final issue of Larks Fiction Magazine (for 2012)! In this issue we meet to new indie writers from in and/or around Oklahoma.

In news effective immediately we will be closing submissions for a little while. We are way too backed up and our small staff hasn't been able to pull ourselves out of the slush pile. This isn't good bye forever but we will be waiting before we take more stories.

When we do reopen submissions we will have a brand new shiny email address. Until then however you might try submitting to some of our friends and distant relations listed at the end of today's issue.

Thank you for joining us again and have a happy new year!


Daniel J. Pool

Winter Moon

By Holly Thomson

Winter moon, pale & round

Rising out of a purple ground

on the way

to hold your sway

over men & beast

May your celestial wanderings

never cease

About the poet;

Holly Thomson is a wife, mother, and special education teacher from Oklahoma. She enjoys spending time with family, reading, and writing the occasional verse.

Wake Up Somewhere

By Thaddeus Komula

Wake up somewhere new the screen says to me.

It was one of those adds for vacations to different planets by the travel bureau. Sounds nice but since I don't have enough money to keep my lights on every month its out of the question. watching the end of the infomercial I check the clock. 1:23 am I work at 6. If I get up now I can make it to my factory early. Maybe I can pick up part of a shift. Getting up and walking down the hall to the bathroom is hard some days but today is worse than most. I'm sore again from a night on the couch instead of in bed where I know I should sleep.

Sometimes the weight of the day just comes on to strong. Shower is cold again it should have been fixed last week I need to remember to complain at the next tenants meeting. Breakfast is the same as every morning; boiled egg and dry toast, black coffee. putting the dishes in the sink making and note to myself to remember to clean up when I get home. I put my dull gray uniform on over my boxers and undershirt.

Black socks and black boots laced up and ready to go. I try to remember where I left my keys. On the coffee table like always. Closing and locking my door apt 321 I try not to make much noise in the halls on the way to the elevator. Pressing the lobby button I wait and day dream. I am only on the third floor I should really take the stairs.

The bell dings and the door opens. I get in press lobby the doors close and it starts to descend. Bells ring The door opens to the lobby. I cross and walk out in the the early fall morning air. My car is parked on the street. There aren't any fliers or tickets this time.

The drive to work is about as uneventful as it gets; light traffic and no roadblocks. Picking up some overtime I am on the clock as soon as I get in the door. It seems someone is always sick or out for some reason or another. I go to work making plastic casings for long term sleep shuttles for the travel bureau. I take a break at 4:44 am. More black coffee and a cigarette no—slowing down. Work just goes on. I can't help but think of leaving just taking a vacation and not coming back. 7:45 am bathroom break passing by Frank Ambros in the hall on my way to the pisser waving and saying hello.

Ambros is the boss (well the boss of my shift in the factory, other bosses work the other shifts and they have a boss as well everyone works for bureau or one of the other powers). 1:43 pm is lunch and then its all a downward slide, cleaning my station and product checking for the new hires, mine all score fine. leaving work and going to the convenience store for my after work purchases cigarettes and beer the register reads $8.88 I pay the cashier with a ten grabbing my change and purchases I get in my car and drive home.

Wake up somewhere new the screen says to me.

It was one of those adds for the vacation service to distant planets.

I still don't have the money to get out of this place. Its 1:12 am.

About the author;

Thaddeus Komula is a writer, musician, and dreamer from Oklahoma.

Thank you for reading this special edition of Larks Fiction Magazine. Make sure to keep checking back for more great articles, poetry, stories, music videos, and art from rising independent minds in 2013!

Also make sure to check out our friends and distant relations in the writing world:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Issue Twenty-Five, Volume Four

From the Desk of the an Author;
Hello and welcome to another exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine. Today we are featuring prose of the everyday world in literary fiction.
As of now we are changing our guidelines for publication. We are currently trying to allow content to be published on our site as well as in the emagazine editions. Due to copyright concerns we cannot accept any work that is not acceptable for resell.
This is not because we are evil greedy publishers but because we do not want to accidentally sell work we do not have rights to. If we are not allowed to sell your work then we cannot include it in the emagazine. Which in turn creates too much time researching which rights we have and do not have.
So from today on we will only be considering that can be sold. Further more we will consider any work submitted to us as appropriate for resell.
All the best,
Jessica Rowse
LFM Editor

Juan Valdez Sings the Blues
by Jesse Kirkpatrick

Misty Mountain Hop” came on. I used to like that song, before I started working here. The CD changer in the back cycled through a program that repeated every four hours, meaning I heard Mr. Plant yearn to go “over the hills” about two and a half times a day. I’d been there for five weeks, with about three days off a week. This is repetition 47, since I was sick last Tuesday.
Right after I came in that morning, I’d been going at the newspaper bundles (delivered late) with an X-ACTO knife when someone walked by the window, and my heart crawled up in my throat. Was that Audrey? I thought. Nah, couldn’t be. You’re just tired, that’s all. She probably isn’t even in this state.
I’ll admit, it wasn’t the first time. One of the actors in our Barista Basics! video looked like her, except with red curls instead of straight black strands. I played our last conversation in my mind, over and over, for the first few weeks post-breakup, hoping that, like in one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books, I could go back and not pick the “You are eaten by robots” ending. It almost got me in trouble with Reggie, the manager, not a day after I was hired. After I’d faked memorizing our operations handbook, we were doing a store overview when I zoned out.
And now, here I was, zoning out again. I brought myself back and checked my watch. Reggie should’ve arrived. He had a low tolerance for BS but he was decent, with no obvious craziness. It had become clear from day two that he was a by-the-book kind of guy. He was glad I could at least pretend to be responsible.
Me? I was desperate for anything, having been smacked with the reality that my degree wasn’t getting me where I wanted to go. Did I want to stay here for the long-term? Not as just a coffee monkey.
Reggie had mumbled something about needing an assistant manager since he'd be overseeing two stores soon. I was the only one in the running. Not that there was much competition. Everyone else was swiping tubs of caramel, hiding 6-packs in the back of the fridge, or some other kind of unreliability. Or Bobbert, who is his own category.
I glanced over at the pastry case. In another 10 minutes, we’d change over to the evening layout: the doughnuts, Rice Krispies, and the petrified breakfast sandwiches got shuffled into the back. I quickly fixed the only drink I hadn’t gotten tired of yet (iced tea with black cherry syrup) and ducked into the back room.

* * *
As soon as I fell asleep, the sun came back up, which meant I had to be in the same old place, doing the same old things. I had the “bitch shift”: eight to eight. No satisfaction in opening or closing, a lunch break, one snack break, and a guarantee of being hassled nonstop.
I scanned the storefront, policy having become instinct. We were running low on napkins, someone had spilled a mocha on the floor, and today’s shipment needed to be unpacked. I turned to go into the back of the store, and then the little shift leader in my head ran away screaming.
As the door shut behind Audrey, I kept staring to make sure I hadn’t died and gone to retail Hell. She had taken her place in line, just three customers insulating me from the inevitable. She hadn’t changed visibly. Same white shirt with the skull and roses, same long black hair, same plaid skirt. Two customers left. My mouth operated independently of my brain and the suit nodded, so the autopilot must’ve gotten it right.
What the hell was she doing here? Maybe she won’t recognize you, I thought. Yeah, right. One customer left. Bobbert was cleaning and Tina’s till had been closed out, so I was stranded.
Audrey came up, her platforms thudding on the floor tiles. I wondered how quickly I could fake my own death. She just stood there silently, waiting for the world to come to her.
Good, the words were out there. After the money changed hands, I’d be home free.
Silence. I knew I couldn’t stare at the touch screen forever. I met her eyes, and I swear I saw them focus on something inside of me.
Large, iced skim mocha, no whipped cream.”
A chill went down my spine. I had forgotten how much she could pack into a single word.
Is there a problem?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
I whirled to the right and called the drink. Bobbert gave me a short nod and started prepping it.
That’ll be $3.45.”
I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that, Paul.”
Game over.
Thank you.”
I put out my hand to take the money, and she bypassed it entirely, slamming the three bills and change on the counter. I scooped it up and dropped it in the drawer, and she’d moved on down to the drink counter. She tapped out a rhythm on the counter until the cup arrived in front of her. Audrey nested at one of the corner tables, picking up a paper someone had left there. Her eyes met mine, and there was that smile.
Hey, buddy, you with us?”
Another customer, a tall guy in a pin-striped suit, had come up to the register. To his credit, he looked concerned.
Of course. What’ll it be?”
I said, what would you like?”
Oh, a large melon green iced tea, light on the ice.”
Is that all?”
“Yeah. You sure you’re okay?”
“Sir, that’s none of your business. $2.73.”
The guy blinked but said nothing.
Bobbert, calling.”
Bobbert was staring off into space.
He snapped to and stifled a yawn.
I called the guy’s order. There wasn’t much of a line. As I went back to refill the ice water pitcher (our most popular drink, by far), I whispered to Bobbert, “Hey, can you solo it?”
It’s almost three, dude. The after-school rush hits soon.”
Just for a minute. I need a break.”
Okay. Don’t go AWOL, man.”
I went through the double doors, plunked down in the chair, and put my head down on the desk, next to a policy binder.
Relax, I thought. She can’t follow you home or anything. Probably just in town and wanted a drink. By the time you pull yourself together, she’ll be out of the store. I tried to look out the tiny plastic windows without anyone noticing. Sure enough, there was a line forming. Bobbert was holding his own, but I couldn’t see around to the end of it.
I slammed my fist on the table, hard enough to make the phone jump.
Bobbert swung the door in just then. “Paul, I need you out—holy shit, dude, you okay?”
I shrugged, got up, and headed out to face the crowd. They didn’t seem as pissed as I would’ve expected, but the bar was a mess. The whipped cream was out, two of the blenders were dirty, and a roll of receipts stretched out of the register. No Audrey. Just as well.
Paul, calling.”
I need one double mocha shake, extra large; a berry iced tea, no sugar; a single espresso for here; a banana cake; and a small, light dreamsicle shake.”
What, did you give me everyone’s order at once?”
Nope. That’s just the first one.”
I shook my head and began prepping the shake.
I jumped, dropping the whipped cream. The canister hit the floor trigger-first, coating the bottom edge of the cabinet. I cursed.
It was Audrey, leaning on the edge of the counter, grinning.
Why’d you do that?” I asked.
To scare you.”
And, again, I ask why,” I muttered, as I placed the can back up on the counter and grabbed the roll of paper towels. Bobbert and the rest of the line hadn’t noticed my fumble, as far as I could tell. I felt her eyes watching me wipe the goo off the tiles.
What…why are you here?” I asked.
She stirred her mocha. “I’m a customer, Paul.”
I know that.”
Still haven’t done anything useful, I see.”
That’s not fair.”
Neither were you,” she shot back, grin completely gone. “This tastes a little sour. You used fresh milk, right?”
Before I could answer, she added, “Make it again.”
What? You already drank a quarter of—”
The customer’s always right, Paul. Here.”
She uncurled her hand, leaving the cup on the counter. “I want a replacement. Are you okay, Paul? You seem stressed. Still living at home? How’s the job search? Oh, was this all you could get?”
I’m not living at home.”
I balled up the paper towels and hurled them into the trash can.
Paul, you can’t be angry with me.”
Why not?”
Because you dumped me. It was your decision.”
Which you agreed to,” I said.
She laughed.
I walked over to Bobbert, feeling her watching me. “Let’s switch, dude.”
But you don’t have a till assigned.”
Bobbert, I ask very little. Just this once. Please.”
He nodded and took his position at the bar. The clock read 3:13 p.m. Another four hours and change to go. Her eyes followed me as I shuffled over to the register.
Large, iced skim mocha, no whip,” I said.
Yes. Again.”
I rang up the next two customers before I dared look over. She was still there, nails drumming out a beat on the polished counter.
Large, iced skim mocha, no whip!” said Bobbert, and he slid the cup down the counter.
I heard Audrey’s voice but not her words.
I made sure that was fresh, going right by the book. Here, I’ll—” Bobbert cracked open the beverage guide and was about to put it down in front of her, when she interrupted:
I trust you. I just want him to make it.”
No,” I said.
She raised an eyebrow. “Why’s that?”
Because you’ve had two now, both made by the book. So it’s the espresso or the syrup, both of which are close to full. I can’t dump those out to please one person. Sorry.”
I turned away so quickly that I got a crick in my neck. I heard her walk away, her soles grinding wasted espresso beans into the tile. She’d nested in the corner again.
Who was that?” whispered Bobbert.
No one.”
She’s cute.”
Bobbert, leave it be. Trust me.”
Just sayin’ she’s cute,” he mumbled.

* * *
I was enjoying my Gameboy and my raspberry shake when Bobbert began rifling through the shelves.
We have any more peppermint?”
Nope,” I said. “It’s on the refill order and will be here tomorrow.”
Not even in the back?”
I checked yesterday.”
Still determined, Bobbert started shuffling boxes on the highest shelf.
Hey, Paul, what happened?”
With what?”
This girl. What’d you do to piss her off?”
Leave it, Bobbert.”
Dude, it’ll be good for you. Get it off your chest.”
I hit 'save' and switched off the game.
Well, I met her through a friend of mine who was an orientation leader back at school. We kept running into each other, and eventually, she invited herself over to watch movies.”
You didn’t ask her out?”
Not at first. But I didn’t object. It was cool for about a year. We got pretty close. But then we didn’t go out of the way for each other as much.”
Things always settle down some, man.”
I know, but this was different. We both took it for granted and let some other issues just…sit there.”
So you had a fight?”
Yeah. I started it. Convinced myself that it would be better for both of us to get out.”
And she didn’t agree?”
I took a deep breath. “Not at first. Turned out I was one of the few good things in her life, the way she described it.”
So she was high maintenance?”
No, that’s the thing. She was really sweet and smart, the exact opposite of what happened the other day. Total one-eighty.”
Damn, dude. And now she shows up here.”
You still into her?” He’d pulled the stool up next to me.
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Maybe. If she forgave me. I dunno.”
Rough, dude. So what’re you gonna do?”
I have no idea. If she doesn’t come back, I don’t have to do anything, really.”
Bobbert furrowed his brow.
I can hear the gears turning,” I said. “Spill it.”
Well man, it’s like… there’s some things you gotta do for you, not for them, y'know?”
You mean closure,” I said.
Exactly, man. Get your ducks in order.”
I smiled, despite what was waiting on the other side of the scuffed door.
I thought it was 'your house in order'.”
Bobbert made a dismissive gesture.
Ducks, house, whatever. You know what I meant.”
We let that sit there for a bit.
Bobbert, right now I want to finish my shake, clock out, and go home. Thanks for listening.”
Anytime, man.”

* * *
That Wednesday, I was scheduled for the closing shift. Reggie had said he’d stop for some paperwork, and then do a tea tasting with me. I was almost looking forward to it. I wanted to see if I could learn the difference between a “rich mouth feel” and “subtle citrus notes” or if managers were given new taste buds when they were promoted.
As I came in, the walkways and counters were clean and the newspaper stacks neat. There were only a few patrons sipping on overpriced drinks. A slow reggae beat flowed out of our sound system, and as the back of the store came into view, I saw that today’s shipment had been put away, leaving only folded cardboard boxes up against the wall. I let myself smile, looking forward to an easy afternoon shooting the breeze with Bobbert.
I heard a soft cough to my left. I didn’t have to look over. How long had she been here?
Hi, Paul.”
I forced myself to walk faster, to the safety of the back room.

* * *
I was just getting into a rhythm, not thinking about Audrey, when Reggie came in. He nodded as he passed, still talking on his phone. “I understand. And the sign is out front, along with the forms on the table, right as customers walk in. I can’t make them fill it out.”
He was silenced by the double doors. I poured more beans into the espresso machine. I figured he was talking to Owen, the district manager. Those are never happy conversations for him. He poked his head back out, and I heard his phone flip shut.
"Mr. Paul, we’ll be doing the tea tasting at two p.m. sharp today. We’ll try three different blends—”
Excuse me, are you the manager?” Audrey was in front of the register, arms crossed.
Yes, I am. What can I help you with?”
I want to complain about one of your staff.”
Reggie raised an eyebrow. “Can you describe them?”
She aimed a black fingernail at me. “He refused to remake my drink yesterday and was… insulting.”
You weren’t even here yesterday!” I blurted.
Are you sure? Do you remember every single person who came in and out of the store yesterday?”
Well, no, but—”
Paul, is this true?” Reggie asked.
I try to make every drink as best I can. And if I was insulting, it wasn’t intentional.”
That’s not an apology,” Audrey said.
I’ll deal with it, miss. I’m sorry you had a bad experience at our store.”
He ducked under the register and rifled through a drawer. He grabbed a piece of paper and held it out for Audrey to take. It was the “bastard coupon,” good for one of anything in the store, no expiration date.
I hope you’ll come back soon.”
She smiled at both of us. “I’ll be sure to.” She turned on her heel and headed for the door. Reggie nodded toward the back room and I followed.
Do you know her?”
I nodded. He almost looked sympathetic.
Paul, you can’t bring your personal life in here. I have no problem with everyone socializing off the clock and joking around—some—but any conflicts you have, keep them outside.”
Reggie, you know me. I don’t lose it at customers.”
Regardless, she must’ve had some reason to complain.”
“Yeah, she did.”
Reggie inhaled and exhaled calmly.
But it has nothing to do with this place.”
He reached up and grabbed a thin, green binder. “Now then, we’ll be brewing some red tea, from—”
So, what happens? Do I get a write-up? A demerit?”
Not this time, I trust you to handle it. But it can’t happen again.”

* * *
I was on break, reading Pop Sci when Bobbert came in.
Hey, dude,” he said.
How’s it going?”
I gave him a thumb’s down and kept reading.
I’m sorry.” He clocked in and rescued a breakfast burrito from the fridge. “Oh, guess who I saw today?”
No clue.”
Your ex, just before I opened.”
Huh? Where?”
Down the street. She was unlocking Kitsch Korner as I walked by.”
Explains a lot. She didn’t see you?”
Bobbert grinned. “I’m like James Bond, man.”

* * *
I went home, cracked a beer, and began rummaging through my closet. Audrey had given me a teddy bear once. I still had it, since tossing him out would be like blaming him. After all, the bear hadn’t done anything wrong. I found him the way he’d always been, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, black jeans with a chain, and soccer cleats. I plunked him in my guest chair and sat on the couch.
What do you think about all this?”
His eyes wouldn’t quite look into mine.
Don’t give me that look. You know exactly what’s wrong. I can’t ignore her, I can’t skip work–so, what do I do?”

* * *
She was cleaning off a pottery table, just inside. I cleared my throat. She looked up, letting my appearance sink in.
Back for more?” The smile returned.
We need to talk.”
She went back to placing the pottery on the table. “No, we don’t."
Wrong. You don’t. I do."
She put down a vase and crossed her arms.
This shit has to stop. You come in every other day to where I work, and even though I hate the job, that’s not the point. You’re upset about everything you didn’t say a few months ago, and it’s twisted and exaggerated because you didn’t say it back then. It’s eating at you and now you’re making it eat at me. I refuse.”
An old lady who’d been browsing behind Audrey was glaring at me. The guy next to her continued staring at the same page of a sketchbook.
Paul, I—”
I’m not finished. When I’m done you can go ahead and call me on my shit, say I’m hopeless, or I’m a coward, or that I cheated on you with one of my friends, which I didn’t. Is any of this healthy? The sniping back and forth? How much time did you spend plotting what you’d do in my store?”
She just stood there, holding a vase in one hand, cloth in the other, stiff and unreadable.
I’m sorry that something we both wanted to work didn’t.” I said. “I’m not over it and you’re clearly not either. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be your lunch-break entertainment. But what’s going on now is not healthy.”
I felt all of the blood rush to my face, and by the end I was breathing heavily. She put down the vase. The smile was nowhere to be seen.
You cared this much?”
I cared, just not the way you wanted.”
She nodded. “What now?”
We had a small crowd around us. No one looked at me, though.
Now?” I said. “I have to get back to work before Reggie kills me.”

* * *
I got back to Misty Mountain Coffee, wondering if I’d really just pulled that. As soon as I came out of the storage room in uniform, Reggie was waiting. He put his arm around my back and said, “Mr. Paul, step into my office.”
Before the door swung shut, he started in. “You’re consistently late. You haven’t been able to manage a high volume of customers reliably. You don’t follow policy and you haven’t set an example for the other baristas. Paul, I can’t give you the assistant manager position. Not until you start taking things seriously. There is no way it'd get past Owen.”
That settled it. I saw it all stretched out before me. Irregular schedule, so good-bye to a social life. Just making enough to hang on to my crappy little apartment, never really going anywhere, never really winning or losing.
Then I’ll start taking this job seriously right now.”
Good to hear it. Owen is coming by tomorrow and—”
I won’t be here. I’m done. I quit.”
That got his attention. And then “Misty Mountain Hop” came on.
Okay, so you’re giving me two weeks’ notice. Wednesday after next, I’ll hand you your last pay stub and—”
No. I’m gone. Right now.” I stood up and began to undo my apron.
That’s against company policy. You consented to follow it when you signed your contract.”
I looked him right in the eye. I never realized how short he was. “Reggie, some things are more important than the company.”
I threw the apron behind me and walked through the double doors.
Bobbert was leaning up against the espresso machine, grinning.
"Ship’s all yours,” I said. “You have my cell, right?”
Bobbert nodded. “Good luck, man.”
I got in my car and headed off to drink with an old buddy. I had three-and-a-half weeks before I needed to worry about bills. I slept for about ten hours, and then I called Audrey.
Hey, it’s me.”
I’m surprised you kept this number,” she said.
I keep forgetting to erase it.”
So what happened the other day? Did your boss ride you for it?”
Actually, I’m done there.”
She laughed quickly. “Nice.”
Yeah,” I said.
So this was just a casual call? To inform me that you’re a bum?”
Then, why call?”
“Audrey, you know that Thai place a block down from Misty Mountain Coffee?”
Want to go there tomorrow night?”
I heard nothing but the fridge churning in my apartment.
Paul, did you just ask me out?”
Yes and no. I want to see this through to the end. I want to tie things up, one way or the other.”
You know, you’re really good at this.”
Good at what?”
Leaving me speechless.”
I laughed. “So that’s a yes?”
You’re crazy.”
I know.”
She let out a small breath. “Yes.”
* * *
About the Author;
Jesse Kirkpatrick is a writer with longstanding ties to the Washington, D.C.-Chesapeake Bay area. He frequents local writer’s groups and is a recent graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where he earned his B.A. In English.
He is currently writing his first novel.

A Gift from Hans
by Clive Gill

At La Mirage Terrace apartments in San Diego, Bird of Paradise flowers proudly displayed their brilliant orange and purplish-blue colors above their tall, evergreen leaves. Purple leaf plum, fir and palm trees guarded a trimly cut lawn in front of the two story building located on a quiet street.
Second floor entrances to Manny and Joe’s apartments faced each other. On a warm, sunny winter morning in 1987, they met on the stairs located on the outside of the apartment building, when Manny came home during a break from his job as a school bus driver.
Joe asked, “How you doing?”
Okay. You just heading to class now?”
Yup. I couldn’t get any earlier classes that would meet the requirements.”
Uh huh. Is one of the requirements you have to be crazy to study psychology?” Manny smirked.
Ha, ha…good one,” Joe responded with a wide grin. “Hey Manny, you sold any of your Guatemala blankets this year?”
Sure have. Some of the bus drivers bought them. You need one?”
I’m fine for now. Are the kids on your bus still giving you a hard time?”
Manny rubbed his forehead. “Every day. Either the kids or the parents stress me out.”
I wouldn’t want your job. Say Manny, can you do me a big favor?”
What?” short, stocky Manny asked abruptly.
When my newspaper is delivered in the morning, will you let me read it first? I’ll be happy to pass it on to you.”
Manny nodded then tried to hitch up his pants that hung low on his hips, but failed because his stomach hung over his pants like a sack of corn meal.
Thanks, Manny. See ya.”
Manny turned, watching Joe’s tall, slim body and thick, black hair as he ran down the stairs. Manny smiled, extending his fat face, as he muttered, “I’ll read it first.” He lumbered up to his apartment and opened the door. Hans, his black dachshund, barked while he playfully ran around Manny.
A week later Joe saw Manny, puffing like a walrus, as he walked up the outside stairs.
Hey, Manny,” he said looking into Manny’s deep-set, black eyes and observing how Manny habitually squeezed his eyes and frowned. Manny’s large head sat firmly on his short neck between broad shoulders.
Hey, Joe.”
How you doing, Manny?”
Ever see your ex-wife?”
Not if I can help it. How’s that cute girlfriend of yours doing?”
She’s starting to bug me,” Joe answered.
Oh, yeah?”
Joe said, “Yeah. We’ve been dating since high school. Maybe it’s time for a change.”
Maybe so. What’s her major? I forgot.”
Manny said, “Art, huh? Artists can be strange.”
That’s the truth.”
I saw a guy on T.V. called Jackson Pollock. He throws cans of paint on a huge canvas.”
Is that right?” Joe asked.
Yeah. And this other artist, I can’t remember his name; he attaches a toilet seat to a wall. That’s a crappy thing to call art.”
Joe’s belly jerked as he laughed. “Ha, ha, ha. Yeah, it is.”
Bunch of weirdoes.”
Guess so. Just a reminder, Manny, to please let me read my newspaper first.”
Okay,” Manny answered as he stared at Joe’s sparse beard and hazel eyes.
Thanks. Gotta go…I’m late for class.”
Joe ran to his old, black Renault parked in back of the building, not stopping to smell the pungent sweetness of white jasmine flowers or watch a spectacular territorial fight between two exotically colored male humming birds.
Manny’s lips curled into a grin. He thought, Joe’s paper is mine first.
Manny opened his apartment door and greeted an excited Hans, then took his pet to the front lawn. Hans sniffed, searching for other dogs’ scents. Now he strained as he dropped his feces on the grass. Manny ignored Hans’s droppings and returned to his apartment to eat and nap before returning to work.
On Sunday afternoon, Manny listened to the Boston Pops conducted by Arthur Fiedler, with the volume so high that Joe felt vibrations resound in his apartment. Joe mumbled, “There he goes again. Every week… He’s a pain in the butt.” Joe left his apartment to study at the college library.
For three months, Joe had not seen his newspaper until after Manny had read it, then put it on Joe’s “Welcome” mat. When Joe opened the newspaper, he saw spotted remnants of Manny’s breakfast which sometimes caused pages to stick together.
On a Friday night, when Joe was driving home alone, he said aloud, “I’m fed up with Manny. I’ll get him.” Early the next morning the fog lay low and while Manny slept, Joe waited for the newspaper boy riding his bicycle. As the paper landed on the sidewalk, Joe opened the front door and ran down the stairs. Cautiously, he removed the newspaper from its plastic wrapping and opened it. With two small pieces of cardboard, he scooped some of Han’s soft feces from the previous evening, into the middle of the newspaper. Joe attached a Post-it note above the excrement. He carefully folded the paper, returned it to its plastic protective cover, sealed the top with brown masking tape and left it on the sidewalk. He returned to his apartment unobserved by Manny, his eyes sparkling as he smiled broadly.
Manny awoke feeling hungry. He cooked three slices of bacon, a large sausage, hash browns, garlic and onions and a mushroom omelet until they were almost ready. He started to brew his favorite coffee, then went outside with Hans to get Joe’s newspaper and to allow Hans to pee against a tree. Manny said to himself, Paper feels heavier than usual. Probably got lots of advertisement pages today. I guess the delivery boy taped the cover ‘cause of the dew.
Returning to enticing breakfast odors in his apartment, Manny toasted an English muffin then finished frying his food. He brought his breakfast and Joe’s newspaper to the kitchen table. Noticing a bad odor not overpowered by the breakfast, he turned to Hans who was waiting for his bacon treat. “Did you fart? C’mon, if you’ve got to let go, do it far away from me!” Hans wiggled his tail.
Manny blew his nose into a tissue, sounding like a foghorn. He jammed a large piece of buttered English muffin and half the sausage into his mouth. Chewing fast, he removed the masking tape, took the newspaper out of the plastic and opened it. He noticed a lump in the middle of the paper at the sports section. On opening it, his eyes bulged while focused on the spread-flattened feces. He roared, “What the…? How the hell did this get here? Damn that runt of a newspaper boy!”
Now he noticed the canary-yellow Post-it note on which was neatly written, “A gift from Hans.”
His ears grew hot and red as a lobster. He remained speechless for five seconds as his normally reddish cheeks turned white. He spat his greasy food over the paper and yelled, “Ahhhhhh!” Now he scrunched the newspaper.
Oh, shit!” he screamed. His stress caused blurry vision to grow in his left eye and led to a migraine causing vertigo, nausea and vomiting. He stayed at home for two days in darkened rooms.
For the remaining three years that Manny and Joe were neighbors, they never discussed the “gift from Hans.” Manny allowed Joe to get his newspaper first which was passed on to Manny after Joe read it. Manny always picked up Hans’s feces from the front lawn and put it into a black plastic doggy bag.
Manny continued to play along with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, but at a much quieter tone, while Joe remained comfortably in his apartment on Sunday afternoons.
About the Author;
Clive Gill’s short stories have appeared in Pens on Fire (, 6 Tales, and in Shark Reef ( His has worked as a salesperson, mediator, farm hand, information technology manager and school bus driver.
Born in Zimbabwe, he has lived and worked in Southern Africa, North America and Europe. He received a degree in Economics from University of California, Los Angeles and lives in San Diego.

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