Stories

Street Burrito, by H.K. Wrench

Every day, on her way home from school, Madison walked by the top of a little canyon. There had been a fire there the summer after second grade, and heavy rains the following winter had caused a mudslide, wiping out much of the brush and all of the paths where she and her Dad had taken Buster for his evening walks.

Since then she had witnessed how the canyon filled with trash and debris, and then a little brushy growth. By now, the ground was largely covered in sage, manzanita, and scrub oak; and a low hedge that the city had planted along the sidewalk at the top of the slope. There were aloes and several spires of expired Century plants. One new one was just beginning to flower.

Madison liked to think of the century plants as the guardians of the canyon, protecting it and keeping at bay the spirits of whatever poor creatures had perished in the fire and subsequent mudslide. And whenever she passed the canyon, on her way to or from the middle school, she would make a silent greeting and small gesture of thanks to them.

One afternoon, as she approached, she noticed a half-eaten burrito, wrapped in yellow waxy paper and lying in the gutter. For a moment she stared, not recognizing the lumpy form as food. She began to feel angry as she imagined some thoughtless teenager, driving by too fast and tossing his half-eaten lunch out the car window, leaving his mess behind in her beautiful neighborhood. She felt a flash of disappointment and irrational anger at the century plants, for failing in their duty as protectors of the canyon. She didn’t want to touch the thing, but it seemed no one else would take responsibility for the neighborhood, so she approached.

She reached into her backpack, searching for something to pick it up with but, just then, a scrawny little dog appeared. Smaller than Buster, but the same creamy color, it had wiry hair instead of Buster’s smooth coat, and was very dirty and undernourished. It had darted out from behind the hedge and, almost before Madison was able to register its presence, certainly before she had any chance to react, it had scooped up the burrito in its mouth and disappeared again down the canyon.

Madison was intrigued. She assumed the dog was a stray, somehow lost by its people, probably living alone, there in the canyon. She imagined that it might sneak into the neighborhood at night, especially on trash night, stealing whatever bits of food it could find and drinking from the sprinkler heads in the lawns and gardens of her neighbors and friends. With no definite purpose in mind, she decided to follow the beast.

Remembering the informal but well-travelled paths she had taken as a child with her dad, she pushed through a break in the hedge. The old paths were gone, but there were random openings in the growth here and there, places where a small dog or even a girl might find a passage. She could hear, and occasionally see, the rustle of the bushes where the dog was moving and she followed it as best she could until she came to a sort of clear space, partly surrounded by a patch of manzanita thicker and taller than most of the nearby growth.

There sat the dog, the now empty burrito wrapper in front of it, on a corner of a stained and ripped sleeping bag. At the far end of the bag was a plastic Albertson’s bag full of clothing, arranged like a pillow. Madison took a step back and spoke aloud. “Somebody lives here,” she said. The dog lifted its lip and offered a quiet growl, as if to confirm her observation.

A little pile of magazines—Scientific American, Sun and Mother Jones—told Madison that whoever the somebody was who occupied the clearing had been educated well. A larger pile of empty bottles and an old coffee can full of cigarette butts said that education was no insurance against a life of tragedy. She heard a cough and a low curse from beyond the manzanita, and saw movement there. A face appeared, covered in stubble and topped with a shock of long grey-blonde hair the same color as the dog’s, and just as wiry. The dog turned to face the man, tail in motion, while Maddy turned the opposite direction and fled.

Panicked, Maddy couldn’t locate the paths she had followed to reach this place. She moved in as straight a line as she could, following whatever track was open and going uphill, the direction in which, she knew without thinking, she would find her sidewalk. She tripped once over a rock and scraped the heel of her hand catching herself. She tore her leggings breaking through a thicker part of the hedge, but soon she was at the road where the sight of cars, going by too fast, made her feel safer. From there, she hurried the last few blocks to her house.

When she got home, Maddy asked her mother if it would be alright for her to be picked up after school for the rest of the semester. Her mom gave her a quizzical look and glanced at the rip in her leggings. Then she said, “OK, honey, if that’s what you want.” Maddy went up to her room to change.

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Blog Post, by Garret Schuelke

#action #scifi

Regent Park, Toronto

“Four on the roof,” Godan said, “stationed at each corner.”

Murrieta flew them closer. One of the Braves spotted Godan and Murrieta and shouted. They opened fire. Murrieta put his hand up to his face as the bullets bounced off him.

“Okay, now I’m curious,” Murrieta said. “Do the bullets even deflect back and hit—”

“Dodge! DODGE!” Godan yelled, gripping Murrieta’s hand. Murrieta looked down and saw Godan shielding himself as the bullets entered him.

Murrieta swerved. “My bad. I keep forgetting that you got soft flesh.”

“Shit, that hurts!” Godan shook his arm. “Just blast them already!”

Murrieta aimed his finger at the Braves and fired four Sun Bullets, knocking them out. They then set down on the roof of the apartment building.

“They’re on the sixth floor, right?” Godan asked as he clenched his fists, concentrating on his healing factor. “What apartment number?”

“I got it here.” Murrieta pulled out his phone and looked at the saved screenshot of the blog post. “Apartment seven!”

Godan looked over the ledge. “Hey, they’re gathered in front of the entrance.” Murrieta levitated over. “Bomb them, and let’s do this.”

Godan walked to the door. Murrieta looked down at the Braves. All of them were either looking up at him or talking amongst themselves. He flattened his palm and created a Sun Grenade. He threw it at the pavement. Light vaporized the Braves. It vanished, leaving cracks in the pavement.

Godan busted the lock and kicked the door open. He walked in, looked down the stairwell, and jumped down the gap. Murrieta flew past him and hovered in front of the sixth floor entrance. He extended his hand and Godan grabbed it.

They entered the hall and found apartment seven. Godan knocked on the door. No one answered.

“Bullshit, they better be home!” Godan said, knocking harder.

“They’re just scurrying to the door as we speak,” Murrieta said, rolling his eyes.

The doors of the other apartments on the floor opened. Braves entered the hall, talking and yelling amongst themselves. They fell silent when they spotted Godan and Murrieta. They cocked and aimed their firearms.

“I’ll take care of them.” Murrieta cracked his knuckles. “Again.”

Godan smashed the lock and opened the door. “You’re such a considerate partner.”

Gunfire erupted as Godan closed the door. He didn’t see anyone in the apartment. He growled, then he heard sobbing coming from behind the kitchen counter. He walked around and found an elderly woman holding a young girl.

“Ms. Ruiz? And you’re Ellen, right?” Godan asked, kneeling down. “Hey, we’re here to get you guys out of this hole!”

Ellen buried her face into her grandmother’s chest. Ms. Ruiz shook violently as she stared at Godan.

“I’m not with the Braves of Aztlan!” Godan said, offering his hand. “My partner’s taking care of them right now. We’re the heroes!”

Ms. Ruiz looked at Godan’s claws. Her eyes widened, and she scooted herself and her granddaughter into the corner. “EL DEMONIO!” she yelled. “EL DEMONIO! EL DEMONIO! EL DEMONIO!”

Godan backed away. Ellen began to cry. Godan shook his head and walked towards the door.

The Braves stopped shooting. The smoke cleared. Murrieta stood with his arms crossed. They lowered their guns.

“Good thing I can get these ponchos on the cheap,” Murrieta said.

<You little shit!> one of the Braves yelled, whipping out a machete.

Godan entered the hall. “You try to talk to them,” he said to Murrieta. “I don’t speak Spanish, plus I’m white. They’ll trust you more.”

Murrieta nodded and entered the apartment. The machete-wielding Brave rushed towards Godan.

Ms. Ritz screamed when Murrieta came into view.

<Miss, please don’t be afraid,> Murrieta said, <I’m not the bad guy here.>

The windows in the apartment rattled. Crashes and screams intruded from outside.

<You’re Ellen, aren’t you?> Murrieta kneeled in front of Ellen, holding up his phone. <This is an entry you posted, isn’t it?>

Ellen sat up. She stopped shaking and nodded.

<All your friends are worried about you, especially Selena. She showed us this, and we agreed to get you two out of here.>

The fire alarm went off, followed by more screams and crashes.

<This is the only place we can afford to live!> Ms. Ritz said.

<But you’re living right in the heart of Aztlan territory! Selena said Ellen hasn’t been seen at school for over a week. When was the last time you guys even left this building?>

Gunfire drowned out the fire alarm before it was silenced.

<I want to leave!> Ellen said. She breathed deeply, trying to control her crying.

Murrieta stood up. He extended his hand. <I’ll get you out of here. Selena said you can stay with her as long as you want.> He looked Ms. Ritz in the eye.  <Seriously, it’s all good.>

Ellen got to her feet. Ms. Ritz took Murrieta’s hand and he pulled her up. They walked to the door. Murrieta put his hand up.  He could only hear the fire alarm and the sprinklers going off. He opened the door slightly. The bodies of unconscious Braves were strewn across the floor. He pushed it open all the way.

Godan was leaning against the wall, covered in blood and water. “I was beginning to think we would have to drag them out,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Godan walked over the Braves. Murrieta told Ellen and Ms. Ritz to hug him tightly, then he levitated them down the hall, following Godan.

Godan held the door open. He looked down the stairwell and saw Braves running up. “GO!” Godan yelled, jabbing his thumb upwards before he started ascending the stairs.

Murrieta flew to the top level. Ms. Ritz screamed. He stopped himself before they hit the roof. He flew them out the door.

<Okay, we’re gonna go real fast now!> he yelled as they flew higher into the air. <Keep your heads down and hang on!>

Ellen dug her face into Murrieta’s poncho. He tightened his grip on them and sped off. He gritted his teeth as the wind slapped his face. He hoped that the speed and air pressure wasn’t harming them.

Out of the corner of his eye, Murrieta saw Selena’s house passing by. He stopped, causing Ellen to gasp. He apologized, flew back, and landed in the backyard.

Ellen and Ms. Ritz dropped to the ground. Ellen immediately got up and ran to the screen door and banged on it. Selena answered and they embraced.

<I think you guys are good now,> Murrieta said, helping Ms. Ritz to her feet. <I gotta get back and help my partner.>

Murrieta slowly flew up. He heard Ellen and Selena calling to him. He flew over and levitated above them.

<Sir, I have—> Ellen said.

< ‘Sir’? I’m not even a teenager yet! Just call me Murrieta.>

<Murrieta, could you save our other friends at the apartment?> Selena asked.

Murrieta’s eyes widened. <Other friends?> He felt a tingle go up his spine. <Yeah, I’ll save your friends. No prob!>

<I also have a cousin that lives on the first floor.> Ellen said. <Could you please make sure the Braves don’t hurt him?>

Murrieta bumped his chest. <Call TPS for me. Tell them that Murrieta and Godan will have so many Braves waiting for them that every cell in Toronto will be filled to the brim!>

Murrieta launched himself into the air and flew back to the complex. As it came into view, he saw Godan choke-slam a cyborg Brave. Godan stomped on a Braves metal tentacle that was about to lash out at him. He kicked the Brave in the head, knocking him out.

“Hey, I made another promise to Selena and Ellen,” Murrieta said, looking over the Braves that Godan put down.

Godan tore off the tentacle and tossed it to Murrieta. “I suggest we finish this first, then we’ll do whatever they asked.”

Godan nodded towards the edge of the roof. Murrieta landed and walked over. He looked down and saw the Braves gathering in front of the entrance, initiating their arm cannons, distributing firearms, stretching their tentacles, and spreading Judas Ashes on themselves.

One of the Braves looked up and, spotting Murrieta, shouted <YOU WILL BURN BEFORE AZTLAN! WE WILL COVER OUR FLESH WITH YOUR ASHES!>

“What did he say?” Godan asked, dragging the cyborg Brave over.

Murrieta tossed the tentacle over his shoulder. “Loose translation: they’re gonna annihilate us.”

Godan laughed. He heaved the Brave over the ledge. The Brave’s tentacles smacked against the side of the building as it tumbled down. He crashed into a car that had its trunk open, full of firearms.

“Nice shot,” Murrieta said.

“I wasn’t even aiming for anything in particular!” Godan said.

The Braves raged. They started to enter the building. Some took aim with their arm cannons and guns. Godan crossed his arms. Murrieta pointed his finger at them. It started to glow yellow. He grinned.

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The Last of the Pilot Hounds, by David Nees

#dogs #new england #pilot hound

Growing up, the family had a cottage in McGregor Bay. McGregor Bay is an archipelago of islands, channels and bays. It is off Georgian Bay which juts out from the north side of Lake Huron. McGregor Bay contains a small, close community of cottages and lodges all connected by the sheltered waterways. In these waterways there was a post office and a general store that sold groceries, some marine hardware and clothes. There was a fuel dock as well. The community came to the store to pick up their mail, get supplies, buy gasoline or kerosene and share local news. This was what you would find in a typical small, country town in the forties or fifties. But what was unique to this store was that everyone arrived by boat. There were no roads in the McGregor Bay community. You parked your car at the “landing” and came into your cottage by boat. While there, you went everywhere by boat. The bush, away from the shore, was impassible.

The cottagers had developed a stereotype called the “Ohio fisherman.” This was a guy that rented a cottage in the bay, often with some buddies, and for a week or two did nothing but fish and drink beer. I guess most were okay, but they definitely did not mix with the regular cottagers, who felt they were the proper residents of this summer community. The Ohio fisherman stereotype didn’t emerge undeservedly. The worst of them often threw their beer cans overboard, left trash about and generally were not friendly when encountering the cottagers. Unfortunately, as with most stereotypes, the worst defined the group.

Well, I had a childhood dog, a stray I brought home from school in the seventh grade. She was beagle-sized. I called her Queenie, a prescient name given by her young “owner”. The vet called her a mixed terrier. She had a cream white coat, sweet disposition and quickly established herself as the queen of the family. She was friendly, loyal and fiercely brave. She traveled with the family every summer to the bay.

In the bay, Queenie loved riding in the boats. We had open boats with bows that were planked over in a small triangle. You could stash gear under the bow, and, if the boat didn’t leak badly, it stayed dry from spray. If we went anywhere, Queenie would jump in the boat, insisting to go along. As the boat motored away, she would run up onto the bow and stand as far forward as she could get, like a look out, inches from the edge. We all wondered at her amazing sense of balance: when the waves built up and the boat bucked and pitched, she stayed at her post, never tipping. I saw her crouch down, almost going overboard, only a couple of times in all the summers we spent together on the water.

One summer day Louis, my father, headed off to the store. As usual, Queenie jumped in the boat and took her position on the bow. At the store, Queenie trotted around the aisles, checking everyone out (yes, dogs were allowed in the store along with the owner’s two overly fed Labrador Retrievers). As Louis lined up to pay for his groceries, an Ohio fisherman, standing in front of him, remarked about Queenie.

“Funny looking dog. That your dog?” he said with some disdain in his voice. Maybe he had a German Shepherd back home—a real man’s dog—but who knows?

Now Louis was an ex-army colonel who had spent the war years (WWII) in the arctic. In his youth he had boxed Golden Gloves. He was a tough guy and nobody’s fool.

Giving the Ohio fisherman a hard look in the eye he replied, “That is a very special breed of dog.”

The Ohio fisherman looked at him incredulously. “You got to be kidding. That’s just a mutt.”

“That just shows how little you know about dogs. This is a Pilot Hound and she’s the last of her breed. Mister, this is a very rare dog.”

There was a pause. “I don’t believe you. I never heard of a Pilot Hound,” the Ohio fisherman replied.

“Well that proves what I said. You don’t know much about dogs. Let me educate you.”

By now the conversations in the store died down and people began to turn to look at Louis. “In the nineteenth century, they shipped goods up a down the New England coast by sailing ship. It was a good way to move a lot of cargo, but it was dangerous. There are a lot of fogs and shoals, especially off the Maine coast.

“Navigation was primitive in that era, so the mariners developed a special breed of dog to help them. They called the breed Pilot Hounds. The dogs were bred with a white coat so they could be seen at night.”

Pointing to Queenie, Louis continued, now to a growing audience, “She also has very keen eyesight. These dogs were trained to look for shoals and rocks. They could see them well before the sailors could. If the shoal was on the starboard side, that’s the right side to you, the dogs were trained to bark twice. If the shoal was on the port or left side, the dog would bark once.

“Well, with the advent of modern navigation aids in the twentieth century, there was just no need for the breed anymore, so it began to die out. This dog—this ‘mutt’ as you call her—is the last of her breed. She’s a pure-bred Pilot Hound.” Louis held the Ohio fisherman with his eyes; a man probably twenty years his younger, staring at him, daring him to denigrate this special dog.

The Ohio fisherman finally looked down at Queenie and, shuffling his feet, said, “Well, that’s quite a story, but I’m not buying it. I never heard of any dog like that in my life.”

“Well, I’m not surprised. You come from Ohio and you wouldn’t know about sailing off the New England coast, especially all its perils.”

The man harrumphed in defense of his ignorance.

Louis continued: “Mister, I don’t tell tales, I don’t tell stories. Now you’ve insulted my dog, but instead of taking offence, I’m trying to educate you. But look. You don’t have to believe me on the basis of my story alone. You just watch from the docks when I depart. You’re going to see the dog in action. I’m going to get into the boat and I’m not going to have to call the dog to get in, she’ll jump in on her own. The first thing she’ll do is run up to the bow and stand as far forward as she can. It’s bred into her to do that. Now when we motor off, we’re going to head towards Meanwell cut, to the west. But just out from the store we’ll pass a shoal on the right side. You know the one I’m talking about?”

The man nodded.

“Well, listen, the dog is going to bark twice when I drive the boat past the shoal. I don’t have to tell her to do that, it’s what she’s bred for. You hear her bark, you’ll know that I’m telling you the truth. And the next time we meet I’ll want an apology for insulting the last of the Pilot Hounds.”

Louis gathered his groceries and called Queenie. As he went out of the store, he looked back. “Just watch and learn.”

By now most of those in the store had stepped out to see the Pilot Hound in action. Louis knew Queenie would jump to the bow of the boat, it was her spot and she always went there. Louis also knew that seagulls hung out on the shoal that they were going to pass.

Queenie hated sea gulls. They were impertinent and always flew into her territory. She was queen of the cottage and the little peninsula on which it sat. No animal or bird was allowed to be there unchallenged. Sea gulls however, ignored her, and worse, baited her into attacking, at which they would nonchalantly lift off into the air, laughing at her. Their unwillingness to accede to her authority and their bad manners only infuriated her more. Sea gulls were her sworn enemy. As a result she would bark at them whenever and wherever she saw them. Louis figured Queenie was good for a couple of barks.

As they motored by the shoal, sure enough, there were some sea gulls hanging out on the exposed part of the rock. Louis whispered to her, “Queenie, sea gulls. Get ‘em!” Queenie’s fur bristled, her tail went up and she let out two sharp barks at the gulls that shook her frame.

Louis finished the motor boat ride home and thought no more about his encounter with the Ohio fisherman. However, that weekend, at the sailing races (the cottagers held informal sailboat races every Saturday), one of the men approached and said, “Louis, I didn’t know Queenie was a Pilot Hound. Is she really the last of the breed?”

Louis smiled, “She sure is, Harry.” From that day on Queenie got a lot more respect from the inhabitants of McGregor Bay. After all, everyone in the bay felt a special pride in having the last of the Pilot Hounds in their community.

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Ritual and Romance, by Michael Moran

#comedy #dating #religion #romance #shortstory

Billy Pruitt had lived all of his twenty-eight years in the same coal mining town in southern West Virginia. He married his high school sweetheart and made a good living as a mechanic working on heavy-duty mining equipment. But one day the world changed for him when his wife began speaking in tongues and eventually left him to marry a snake handling preacher in the next county. Heartbroken and lost, Billy sought new surroundings and landed a job with a large coal company in Wilkes-Barre, PA. The transition from the soft coal of West Virginia to the hard coal of Northeastern Pennsylvania was relatively easy. Adjusting to differences on the surface proved to be more challenging.

The people of Wilkes-Barre were a mix of Irish, Italian, Polish, and other Eastern European nationalities all holding strongly to their heritage and customs and all very unfamiliar to Billy. His friend and co-worker at the coal company, Marty O’Malley, tried to help orient Billy to his new surroundings. Marty, a ruddy-faced Irishman whose waist measured almost twice his in-seem, thought the best way to acculturate the recently transplanted young man was to introduce him to the local cuisine. Marty taught Billy the difference between cannoli and cannelloni, told him that in that part of Pennsylvania “pigs in a blanket” referred to stuffed cabbage, and that green peppers were called mangos. On Wednesday nights, Marty took him to Fumanti’s tavern for tripe, which Billy enjoyed until he discovered that it was cow’s stomach.  Although Billy appreciated Marty’s efforts, most of the culture lesson ended up giving him indigestion and, more importantly, it wasn’t food that was troubling Billy. As with so much of the world, religion was at the center of Billy’s angst. Knowing Marty to be a Catholic, Billy raised the issue with his friend one Wednesday night over beers at Fumanti’s.

“Marty, you know I’ve been dating Sharon Grady for a couple months now.”

“Yeah.” said Marty, “She’s real cute. You guys gettin’ serious?”

“We might be, but there’s a problem. She’s Catholic and I’m not. I was raised Baptist but I ain’t much o’ anything anymore.  ‘Course that don’t matter ‘cause you people got a problem with your women marrying anybody who’s not Catholic, especially if they’ve been divorced.”

“Oh yeah!” said a sympathetic Marty. “A Catholic girl marryin’ a divorced Protestant, that makes the Pope shit in his hat. She’d be excommunicated and her family would probably disown her. …You know you could convert and try to get your first marriage annulled.”

“Yeah, I don’t know if I wanna do all that. For now Sharon thinks I oughta at least learn somethin’ about her religion, so she wants me to go to Mass with her on Sunday. I’ve never even been inside a Catholic church and I’m a little nervous about it. I heard y’all do a lot of standin’ and kneelin’ and talkin’ in Latin. I don’t wannna do somethin’ dumb and embarrass her.”

“Oh, hell,” Marty snorted. “Half the men who go to church wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t watch everyone else. Just stand when everyone stands, kneel when they kneel’ like that. And we say mass in English now, so when the congregation talks, just move your lips and mumble a little. We ain’t like you holy rollers always yellin’ and screamin’ and praisin’ Jesus at the top o’ your lungs, we’re pretty low key.  Let’s see… what else should ya know? … Oh yeah, when everyone goes up to take communion just stay in your seat, only Catholics are allowed to take communion.”

“Won’t that let everybody know I’m not Catholic?”

“Naw, they’ll just think that you committed some mortal sin and didn’t get to confession.”

“So it’s better they think I’m a sinner than a Baptist?”

“Sure, sins can be forgiven, but being a protestant… that kind of sticks with ya.  Oh, one more thing, before you get into your seat, you need to genuflect”

“What’s that mean?”

“You go down on one knee, always your right knee like this.” Marty clambered down from his bar stool to demonstrate, startling the bartender who thought that his rotund customer was having a stroke.  “Sharon’ll be real impressed if you know enough to genuflect.”

“OK, Marty. I’ll give it a shot.”

The following Monday during coffee break, Marty found Billy and asked, “Well, how’d it go Sunday?”

“Not so good”, replied a glum Billy. “Sharon was pretty nervous about showing up at church with a strange man, so she was lookin’ around to see if people were starin’ at us. I saw a couple of open seats and did that one-knee thing you told me about. Well she didn’t see me go down and she went flying ass-over-tin cups right over my back, looked like one o’ those Chinese acrobats on Ed Sullivan.”

“Ow! Did she get hurt?”

“Nah, just her dignity. But that’s not the worst of it. I really embarrassed her when I took off my top coat.”

“Oh no, I forgot to tell you that Catholics around here never take off their overcoats in church. That’s a Protestant thing.”

“Thanks for telling me that now. I couldn’t o’ felt more outa place if I was wearin’ a Masonic Lodge bowling shirt.  You Catholics have some odd ways about ya.”

“Well like my mother used to say, if you don’t like Catholics you can go to hell because there aren’t any there.”

“Funny, that’s where my mother always said you people were headed.”

As the weeks went by, meatless Fridays, sexual abstinence, and having to wear his overcoat in church wore Billy down. His relationship with Sharon ended and he began to look toward other women.  After a few weeks he once again turned to Marty for advice.

“I’ve been talking to Shelly in the front office. She seems like a nice woman. I think she’s Amish because she has a picture of her family on her desk and one old man has a big black hat a long beard like the guy on the “Dutch Country” pretzel box.”

“Her name is Shelly Goldberg,” said Marty, “So I think she’s Jewish.”

“Geez, I didn’t know there were Amish Jews.”

“They’re not Amish Billy…Oh never mind.”

“If there is one thing we got less of in West Virginia than Catholics it’s Jews. But she seems to be interested in at least being friends. Her sister just had a baby and she invited me to a family shindig on Sunday. I guess it’s like a Jewish baptism or somethin’, she called it a bris. If nothing else it’ll be a new experience for me.”

“Oh, I think that’s exactly what it’ll be,” chuckled Marty.

The following Monday, Billy didn’t even wait for the coffee break. He burst into Marty’s office looking like he had just returned from a space alien abduction.

“Do you know what those people do at a bris? cried Billy. “They trim up a baby’s pecker right there in the living room. Then they eat bagels with some kind of fish on them.”‘

“Yeah, bagels and lox, they’re pretty tasty, huh?”

“Are you kiddin’? After the pecker trimin’ I couldn’t eat anything. Y’all are crazy up here. I don’t know if I can live in this place anymore.”

Billy’s decision to relocate was helped along by economic factors.  As the coal industry in Pennsylvania declined, the company was forced to cut back on staff and Billy was laid off. Seeing this as an opportunity for adventure, he took a job with a copper mining company in Montana. He sent a letter to Marty telling him that the food in Montana wasn’t as good as in Pennsylvania but the people seemed more normal. He also told Marty this:

“I’m dating a nice woman. She told me that she is LDS. I think that means she’s got a learning disability, but she seems plenty smart to me. I’ll let you know how that turns out. Best regards, Billy”

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Bacchanalia by E. Young

#bacchanalia #fantasy #haints #shortstories #stories #witchcraft

The Magician knew his time was drawing close. For months he had regaled the small bayou town with sleight-of-hand tricks, parlor games, and the odd séance.

But wherever there was people, there was superstition. And like all things children can’t understand, they began to conjure up haints and witches in their heads. They pointed their fingers at him for their nightmares; fair enough, he was an easy target.

The final straw was the Satanic accusations. After they had run through everything else, they accused him of cavorting with the Devil. For the record, he had not being trying to talk to the Old Fiend himself, just his helpers.

But that was all past. Now he was alone in his big, old estate on the water’s edge. He’d let his help go the other night. Despite their protestations of loyalty, he knew they were relieved.

The mob was coming. He knew that because a girl that was sweet on him tipped him off. He thanked her before he killed her, to use her blood for tonight’s concoction.

After each public witch trial, he’d had to give something away: trinkets, ingredients, spell books. Now all he had left were a couple of crystal balls he hardly ever used ‘cept to see out of, and his black cat familiar Michel.

He ran a finger under the cat’s chin while he ate a strip of catfish. One of the crystal balls glowed with the fire of torches, and the other shook with cries of outrage. The Magician rolled his eyes.

The mob was at his door already. He didn’t think they would knock, but he was still ticked when they crashed the door.

“Wizard!” bellowed a bearded old man that looked more “wizard” than the Magician himself. “Show yourself, devil!”

From the top of the stairs, the Magician leaned over the railing, Michel in tow.

“How can I help you fine gentlemen this evening?”

“Don’t play with us,” someone else hissed. “We mean to run you outta here!”

The stone-faced priest at the center of the crowd began muttering the Magician’s favorite church hymn, and when he began to sing along in his pleasing baritone, the crowd went off like a powder keg.

It’s hard to see from the ground with jostling bodies in furious motion, pulling fixtures from walls and snatching curtains down. Even innocent table chairs are chopped and well-stuffed chairs ripped apart and their guts strewn on the floor. Upstairs, the Magician ducks back into his boudoir like a coward. Some men chased him in there. The mob saw this and began to cheer loudly, but their hoorahs died down in the eerie silence behind the cracked door. What had happened? Where was the Magician’s head on a pike?

Then there was screaming, agonized screaming. At least two of the men staggered out clutching their heads and faces. They were splattered with too much blood and oil, and their flesh appeared to be melting. There was a loud whoosh that sounded like a bullwhip crack, and great long tentacles black like licorice whipped out from behind the doors, through the walls. Ten in all, with some flailing angrily and one snatched one of the men back and dragged him inside the boudoir kicking and screaming.

The Magician floated out like the blasphemous creature the town always knew he was, holding a fractured ball of quartz. The ball continued to crack with a childish twinkle like something out of a jewelry box. Upon reaching the center, the ball shattered and sent shards flying every which way in the room. The mob was broken up in a way mimicking the quartz shards, clutching their faces and heads and other soft tender parts that the haunted pieces were embedding themselves into. Faces and hands were cut to ribbons as the shards ricocheted off walls and went through the heavy drapery. The abomination in the bedroom was grabbing people up and shaking them like toys before a child throws them out the basket, dropping broken bodies with thousand-yard stares.The Magician watched the chaos for a while; people were so much like ants in the rain when they were hysterical-like, but not nearly as effective.

Michel pawed at his face.

“Oh! Time to go.”

The other ball he had reserved and now blew it away like sand in his palm. The particles clung to skin and fabric and ignited them in white smoke and blue flames. The Magician took his escape route through a tunnel in his bedroom that led to the undisturbed kitchen and out the back door into the swamps.

Poor Michel couldn’t swim, so the Magician carried him through miles of stinking, sludgy water riddled with alligators and probably more than a few forgotten bodies. But the water and wildlife parted at the Magician’s presence, so at least it was a dry trip. Once, he turned back to look at his former estate and seen the place gone up in a supernatural blaze. Love the place, not the people, he always said.

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B.G.G. by Hugh Centerville

#comedy #funny #Humor #shortstories #stories

“Terrific! Super! Beautiful!”

The chief of detectives was euphoric, talking into the phone, and hanging up, he pulled a box of expensive cigars out of a drawer and presented the box to the seventy-something ex-detective across the desk from him.

“For me?” the detective, McGillicuddy said, taking the box.

“The reign of terror is over,” the chief said. “Think that’s not worth a box of cigars?”

Mac nodded, smiled.

“The big one confessed, said it was all on him,” the chief said. “He asked could we take it easy on the other two, since he bullied them into going along.”

“They’re as guilty as he is,” Mac said.

“You think so?”

“They maybe didn’t commit murder but they set the victims up for the big guy.”

“Well, I’d be a fool to argue with you, Mac, with what you’ve done for us, and I’m sorry for doubting you.”

“Oh, it’s OK,” Mac said. He removed the cellophane wrapper from the box, opened the lid, took out two cigars and passed one to the chief.

“To be honest, Mac,” the chief said, after they’d lit their cigars and were puffing contentedly, filling the office with blue smoke, “I didn’t bring you back expecting you’d solve the darn thing. I did it because I didn’t know what the hell else to do. With all the pressure I was getting from the tabloids and the city council and the mayor, I put everything I had into this one and with no resolution, until I recalled what Chief Brown said, when he retired and I stepped into his shoes, fifteen years ago.

“ ‘Whenever you’re stumped,’ Brown said, ‘when you don’t know where to turn, turn to McGillicuddy.”

The chief laughed. “The mayor was apoplectic when I brought you back. He asked how a fellow who couldn’t even use a cellphone was going to solve the worst crime spree this city has seen in years.” He laughed some more, enjoying himself immensely, and sucking on his cigar: “Maybe you can’t work a cellphone, Mac, but you damn sure know what to do with a tin can and a ball of string, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I suppose I do,” Mac said.

“When the mayor saw you unravelling your string and tying a tin can to the end, he got all snarky. He asked me was tin cans and string how my detectives communicated and maybe it was time for him to scrutinize my budget, since I obviously wasn’t using it to equip the department. You showed him, didn’t you, Mac?”

“Yes, sir, I guess I did.”

“You’re a genius, Mac.”

“A genius?” Mac said, and smiling: “Sometimes we just get lucky.”

“What the hell gave you the idea?”

“Oh, something I read a long time ago,” Mac said.

“How’d you know they’d be hiding in the park?”

“I just looked for the greenest grass.”

“But a tin can dragged at the end of a string, Mac?”

“They know better than to go after it,” Mac said. “They know it’s a trap but it’s something they can never resist.”

The phone rang, the chief picked up.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Mayor. He’s right here with me. Yes, sir, I’ll tell him, and thank you sir.”

The chief hung up.

“Can you picture yourself, Mac,” he said, grinning broadly, “wearing a sash and a derby and riding in the back seat of a convertible, awash in the accolades of a grateful city?”

“Sir?” Mac said.

“The mayor has nominated you for Troll of the Year.”

Humbled, Mac reached up and rubbed his horns vigorously, something all trolls did, when the elation got to be too much.

 

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Not So Typical Family Reunion by Bella Sci

I turned to my left. There he was, standing, lurking at me with a gaze of sheer inclination in his eyes. Dressed in a plaid flannel and jeans, it was the same man who had been pursuing me all day while I made my newspaper route. I rounded the corner on 10th street and headed for home on 13th. As I noticed him start to approach me, my suspicion arose. A slow pace turned into a steady jog. The sweat dripped like sap from the forehead and I turned around slightly to find him within five feet of me. In that moment as I turned around, my whole body slowed down. It was like a bad nightmare when the monster is chasing you but you can’t run. My legs started to fall out from under me like wet noodles.

The cracked concrete descended beneath my feet and I plunged forward face first onto the ground. Before I knew it, I was being scooped up and carried away by the mystery man. It all happened so fast. From what I can remember I was in the arms of a stranger as he ran with me towards the backstreet away apartment. He said, “You’re coming with me.” I let out a blood-curdling scream, but his cold hand muted it. I felt the clammy skin touch my lips; it chilled me to the core. The next thing I knew I was being thrown into the back of a car. It drove away into the distance with myself, 11-year-old Brayden Vagabond, in the pitch-black trunk.

 

#

Six hours earlier, my alarm went off with the ear piecing set of monotonous beeps. I slowly made my way out of my bed and tip toed to the bathroom, watching my every step to avoid being impaled with a nail sticking out of the floorboards. The shoebox apartment where my mother and me lived is what would be considered unsuitable for living, but for me, it was just fine. She worked multiple odd jobs just to get provisions on the table. Being a single Mom was already enough of a struggle, so me complaining about our living conditions was the last thing she needed. She never really talked about what happened to my father. It was always dismissed as a ‘tragic accident’, but I would have been too young to remember anyways.  When I got to the kitchen, I saw her clipping coupons out of the Chicago Times.

 

“Good morning, sunshine. Happy Saturday!”

I walked over and gave her a hug. We were very close, my mother and I.

“You don’t have to start your route till 7, how about some breakfast?” she said.

I nodded. She pulled out the stale frosted flakes from the cabinet and poured them into a bowl. As I ate, we discussed our plans to go the fair later that afternoon.

“Oh, Brayden we’re going to ride all the rides; The cliffhanger, the ship, and the funhouse!”

She went on excitedly naming every ride known to mankind.

“I have a special treat too. I’ve been doing well on tips lately so I saved some extra to buy a candy apple! Have you ever had one honey?”

“No, but you really don’t have to do that.” “I insist!”

She smiled and kissed me on the forehead. I walked out the door with my newspaper bag in hand and set off on my routes for the day. Little did I know that would be the last time I would see her for a while.

 

#

I woke up in an unfamiliar room. The blinds were shut blocking out all of the light that was trying to peek in from outside. The walls were a pale blue similar to the flower vase that I made for my Mom a few Mother’s Days ago. Where was she? Where was I…? Is she wondering where I am? The questions flooded my brain from all different directions and I went into a panic. I frantically sat up and looked around for a clock. My eyes wandered around as I panted heavily. Turning my head to the right, I caught a glimpse of a girl slightly younger than I.

 

I asked, “Where are we? Is there a clock in here?” She turned around and looked into my eyes with a deep stare.

“No,” she replied “He doesn’t keep one in here. As to where you are, my Dad’s house. Or at least that’s what he makes me call him.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Kendall.” She said quietly.

“I’m Brayden”

Kendall was fragile like a china doll. Her dirty blond hair and blue eyes were similar to mine. She wore a faded t-shirt from Derrick’s Car Wash. Derrick’s was on 3rd street, which led me to believe we were somewhere near there. 3rd was far away from my apartment on 13th. I was speechless.

“Kendall, why am I here? Why did your Dad take me? Can you help me get out, I need to get back to my-.”

I was cut short by the opening of the door, out from which he emerged. It was him. My kidnapper, Kendall’s “Dad”, or whoever he was.

“Kendall, come with me!” he beckoned.

She hung her head and walked towards him. He grabbed the bat from the shelf nearby and took her by the neck. WHAM, The door slammed shut. I sat there in silence as I waited for her to return. Even though I had only known her for a few minutes, I was clinging on to her like a security blanket. As I clung to the wall patiently I heard a girl let out a yell; a familiar yell that was followed by more yells and some pounding.

I waited for what seemed like hours after the yelling ceased; I just wanted her to come back. I was feeling a connection to a girl who I had never met before. Not the love kind, but the deep down bond kind. It made me want to risk my life to help her. At that moment, she came back into the room looking broken. There were welts on her arms and legs and bruises down her neck. The look on her face was the kind when a poor kid like me comes downstairs to no presents on Christmas morning: sad, but expecting it.  “Come here.” I said. My first instinct wasn’t to asses her wounds, but to hug her. I approached with a warm embrace. As I hugged her I asked, “Kendall, what’s your last name?” She barley squeaked the word out of her, “Vagabond.

 

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Gondola by Kelly Welsh

#Colorado #gondola #nostalgia #romance #skiing #winter #young love

I was twenty-two the first time I peed standing up. My hair snuck out from under my hat and whipped me in the face; my lower torso thrust forward over the edge of the open gondola door, knees slightly bent over the nighttime landscape. Davis held my hands behind my back, trying to keep me steady. He was my one line of security between freedom and an icy plunge down the frigid forty-foot drop to the slope below us.

“Hold on!” I yelled back to him. The tormenting wind garbled my words, forcing emphasis on a few strange syllables and carrying the rest away. A large gust threw the gondola jolting back and forth on its ridged wire.

“I am holding on. Will you hurry up? You’re a small girl—I don’t know how you can hold so much piss.”

“Sorry, am I pissing you off?”

I could feel his eye-roll through the back of my skull. I tilted my head back and let out a shout of delight into the stars. Maybe my voice would reach the ears of every tiny rodent curled and sleeping in snowy dens amongst the trees. They would wake up and watch me in my glory, noses posed and poking upwards in a pious and curious homage. My golden stream soaring through the air, leaving a trail across the pure white below me, tainting the beautiful. My voice breaking up in shaking decibels into infinity, and me—standing cold and in love and off balance on a hollow metal shelter suspended somewhere in the middle of it all.

I don’t want this to end. But just as the thought materialized, my empty bladder reinforced the inevitable. That’s the same thing I always think before every perfect moment comes to its finale. That’s why humans invented cameras—and Kodak invented Kodak moments—and poets invented poetry. There are no fireworks when moments end, only exploding wishes.

The wind gusted again and Davis jerked me back into the gondola. Both of us giggled as we barely avoided falling over. I shimmied my pants back over my hips, buttoning them, but leaving the fly unzipped, just so I could appreciate the breeze a bit longer.

“You’re nuts, you know that?” he asked.

“Yeah. I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t love you so freaking much.” And I did. Even with his stupid orange hat that clashed so badly with his stupid red shoes, I loved him. So I pulled him in and I kissed him and I wished the layers of coats and flannel and skin and secrets and pride would fall off into the Grand Canyon of Stupid Things and leave our vulnerable spirits to caress one another in their nakedness.

When he pulled back from our kiss, I saw that look in his eyes again. I didn’t want to see our future reflected in there like that.

“I don’t want you to lea—”

“Shhhhhh.” I put my finger to his lips. “Don’t say it. Just not tonight, okay?”

He nodded, but I couldn’t handle looking at the pain. That kind of pain that’s too stoic to give into tears, or anger, or admit to itself that it will be okay again. Too stoic to hate me like I hated myself when I saw that pain. But he was staying. He would continue to rotate on this gondola for another year, or two, or twenty. This was his home and he was at peace with it. I wished that I could be too, but I wasn’t; I felt the incessant tugging of something more. I could picture the law school acceptance letter resting on top of my nightstand in its seductive typeface. I could almost feel its weight. The future it entailed.

He couldn’t live in Neverland forever. I hated this line of thought, and to stop it, I bit it—his ear, that is—hard, poking out beneath the silly orange hat, just to get rid of it. Just to see the pain change into something physical. I could taste a trickle of rust swell up where one of my teeth broke the skin. Oops—a few precious drops.

“Ouch.” He instinctively shoved me away. “Son-of-a!” His hand went to his ear and wiped away the evidence, pulling the red smear on his finger in front of his face. He shook his head, half laughing.

“—fucking nuts.”

I felt a little guilty but I smiled. That was how he said he loved me.

The gondola car slowed down and lowered under the shadow of the overhang. Metal hit metal and the car snuggled itself between the runners. Walls blocked out the small amount of light that had been reflecting off the snow and seeping through our windows. The doors opened slowly, without us having to force them this time.

Here, at the top of the mountain, the air felt stiffer. The roof blocked out the stars and my lips were too cold to blow steam rings with my own breath.

“So what’ll it be?” he asked. “Are we going around one more time, or are we getting off?”

One more time, I wanted to say. I wanted to say, “Let’s keep going until the sun rises and we make fun the tourists with their cowboy hats and fur coats. Let’s go until we can smell coffee wafting out of windows from miles away and guess what brands are roasting. Let’s go until they catch us and arrest us for using our gondola keys illegally. Until we don’t just get fired from our lifty jobs, but every job we might ever have because we’re too late for the interviews because we’re here. Until they stop showing re-runs of Friends on TV. Until everyone we’ve ever known forgets us, until the ground forgets us.”

But my pocket was empty. We’d already used both the condoms I’d brought, the whisky was gone, and I couldn’t pee off anything anymore. My teeth were starting to chatter. I didn’t say let’s keep going. I couldn’t because, just maybe, I needed to be a bit more grounded.

Instead of saying anything I stepped off, and he followed. Both our feet fell on solid earth. The law of gravity wrapped us in its smothering weight, reasserting its obsession with us.

“What do you want to do now?” he asked.

I paused, but only for a moment. I couldn’t let the space between us fill into his eyes again.

Instead, I tore the hat off his head and sprinted towards the ski racks.

“If you want it back, you’re going to have to catch me.”

He chased after me, purposefully giving me a head start, probably because he was six-three and I was a slow runner. In a deft swoop he grabbed a handful of snow and fashioned it into a Calvin and Hobbes-worthy projectile missile, hurling it with the practiced precision that I could never master. The snowball flew, and fell, and crashed into my back as I sprinted away. I squealed, letting the little crystals fall down the neck of my coat. I ran and I kept running. Because of the momentum. Because that was how things worked. Just like the way everything else worked. With the exploding wishes and the perfect moments with empty bladders and the moving forward–the moving on. The melting.

Kelly Welsh is an author and editor at flatironsliteraryreview.com. For more of her writing, check out kellymwelsh.com.

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Let’s Color by Arya Oveissi

#color #fiction #literary #short story #webcam

“Hey, kiddo. I picked you up a pizza and left it on the counter in the kitchen,” said Mr. Worthy to his daughter as he put a shirt on his only son, Mikey. The boy was lying on his new Tiny Tots Starter Bed. “Put whatever you’re not gonna finish in the fridge and we can eat it tomorrow. Save Julia some of the pepperoni slices, too.”

“I’m eighteen now, dad. Don’t you think I’m too old to be ‘kiddo’ still?” asked Lilly.

“Look, as long as I’m around buying you pizza, you’re gonna be kiddo. Capisce?”

“I see talking with Julia didn’t go well,” said Lilly.

“No, not exactly. I get why she’s mad, Lil. I do. Fifteen-year-old girls are complex. But I just feel like it’s time. I’m glad you understand that — you get that from your mother.”

Lilly picked up Mikey and as she did, a bittersweet smile pressed up on her face like a moth outside a bedroom window.

“Now, you be a big boy while your sister watches you tonight, okay, champ?” she said.

“Yes. Lilly’s in charge,” said Mikey, hanging onto his sister like a baby chimp.

Suddenly the pounding of Julia coming down the stairs could be heard from across the house.

“Dad, I’m leaving,” she said from outside the nursery. “Nina’s dad will drive me home in the morning. Bye.”

“She won’t even come in to say goodbye to me in person,” said Mr. Worthy, looking out the door. “I should probably get going too. If you need anything, call me. I’ll be home by one at the latest.” He started walking to the door before saying, “And seriously, Lil, thanks for everything.”

“Yeah, no problem dad.”

There they went. Lilly’s father and sister joined the Friday night parade of cars passing by outside the house.

“Alright Mikey, it’s just you and me tonight. What do you want to do? Play with trucks? Watch Farm Festival?”

Mikey pointed to the transparent box with the white lid sitting on the bottom shelf of his dresser and said, “Let’s color!”

Lilly grabbed the box, several sheets of printer paper from her dad’s office, and took everything to the kitchen where she set them down on the five-person table. The box of crayons smelled nostalgic to her. Without looking at the colors he was grabbing, Mikey picked up a handful of crayons and set them by his paper. Lilly was particular when it came to choosing. By the time she began to actually draw anything, Mikey was already halfway done with his picture. The sound of his crayons quickly dragging back and forth across the piece of paper echoed in Lilly’s head.

“Look, Lilly. There you are. I made you red ’cause that’s your favorite color,” said Mikey, handing her his drawing. “I made everybody their own color. Julia is green, and daddy is blue. I’m yellow.”

The four of them looked so happy in Mikey’s picture.

“What did you draw?” he asked.

“It’s not done, or good,” said Lilly, showing Mikey her drawing. “It’s a sunrise, see. This is what tomorrow will look like. Or at least, what I hope it looks like.”

The way Lilly made the hues of yellow and red dance through the sun and burst through the deep blue sky would have impressed anybody.

“It’s pretty,” Mikey said. “Can I have it in my room?”

“You want it? It’s all yours. I’ll hang your picture up on the fridge so daddy can see it when he gets home. I think it’s time I go put the movie on, huh?”

In Mikey’s room, the television screen flashed blue as Lilly hit play from the child-sized bed. The theme song to Farm Festival started. Mikey’s face lit up as it always did during the song.

“Sing it with me, Lil,” he said.

“All the animals on the farm played and danced in their barn. The farmer came to see what he heard, but when he walked there wasn’t a word. Mother hen hushed all beaks making sure no chicks peeped.”

Mikey cuddled up next to his stuffed gorilla. Lilly remembered when Mikey’s blue-walled room used to be her white-walled room, and her mom would lie beside her and watch movies till she fell asleep. Soon enough, Mikey was turning in his sleep. This is what Lilly had been waiting for all night.

Cutting through the living room was the quickest route to get to her room. But Lilly stuck to her recent trend of going through the kitchen, avoiding the big clear mirror that hung next to the family pictures. Once Lilly got to her vanilla-perfume-scented room she locked her door, closed her window, and lowered her blinds, diminishing the light from the lamppost outside.

An empty box of tissues sat on her desk next to her laptop. Lilly put the box in her trashcan and smushed down the garbage. The force of it mashed a pretzel bag that held a used pregnancy test. She pulled out her makeup kit and hair straightener, turned towards her small foggy mirror, and began making herself beautiful. Her lips were plump and red, like two strawberries; her mascara made her cerulean-blue eyes pop as bright as fireworks; and her blonde hair shone as if electricity was running through it. She did look beautiful, even in her baggy white t-shirt and black pajama shorts.

Lilly opened the laptop on her desk. With an almost convincingly still hand, she turned the camera on. The green light stared at her and she got lost in her image on the screen. Slowly, Lilly clutched the bottom of her shirt and raised it up over her head. She stripped herself of her clothes until she stood unadorned in front of the camera. Different positions and different angles made her feel like a different person. She received dozens of messages asking for different things. The woman of the house put on a show. The cars outside kept driving by.

After uploading what she had done that night, Lilly shut her laptop and put her clothes back on. In the bathroom she washed off her makeup, rinsing hard and fast. Lilly walked back across the house to check on Mikey. The boy slept silently, not waking from the light that was now coming from the hallway.

Lilly knew that she could not promise Mikey that tomorrow would be as beautiful as she hoped it would be. As the door closed, the light on Mikey’s face dissipated into the dark. In the kitchen, Lilly grabbed a slice of pepperoni pizza and a glass of wine, which her dad allowed her to drink at family parties. As she slid open the screen door that led to the deck where her family would sit and eat dinner in the summer, Lilly hoped that no bugs would fly into the house.

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Soup Kitchen by Louis Rive

#creative nonfiction #london #nonfiction #shortstory

Fuck I’m ill. On the plus side, everybody else is too and that feels good. It’s raining today as well, gone are the shorts and the ray-bans, gone is the illusion of British summer time. This feels good too.

Today at work I get to spend the day in the basement. I was too hungover to wheel out in front of the guests last time, so now I am paying penance for my actions. I am to polish glassware.

The limescale in the London water forms little white splodges on the glasses, splodges which subsequently need to be rubbed off so that some matrimonially minded arseholes or matt-grey conference manatees can revel in the idea of cleanliness. They don’t see the rats by the bins or the traps clogged up with roach carcasses. They just don’t see white smudges on their glasses and that contents them, apparently.

Ironically the process that involves the removal of limescale from the glassware is remarkably multi-faceted. The industry standard cleaner for cleaning London limescale smudges from glasses is London water itself. This water is obviously packed with limescale, it being from the same tap etc. Effectively this is like cleaning up paint with paint. Great smears of limescale adorn “polished” glasses which, with a sense of due irony, will need to be re-polished by order of the management. Obviously the bosses don’t help or sympathise, their sole role in the whole sordid affair is merely to evaluate and obviously find my workmanship “poor”.

To get a glass to a tolerable state of smudging takes a minimum of three minutes. This has to be done for every glass in the building. There are over 400 glasses. Mathematically this represents about twenty hours of continuous work. My shift is only thirteen hours long. Added to the equation is the fact that the clients keep using the clean glasses to drink a variety of soft drinks, all of which are diluted with London limescale-rich tap water. Occasionally the boss comes in and drains a glass right in front of me before leaving it in the “to be washed” pile, its journey to the polishing basement begun in earnest. I stand and watch his fat face guzzling down the limescaly drink. I can see the small smudges forming as he slakes his thirst with a dramatic “ah”! I think he does it just to spite me and my mind inevitably turns to revenge. I imagine ramming the vessel into his smirking mouth, laughing as he spits out glass and teeth. I watch closely as small splodges of limescale form on the collar of his acrylic suit, showing up perfectly against the crimson hue of his own claret.

But in the end I do nothing as always and subserviently return to my job, which is smearing the limescale around the rim of a never-ending carousel of glassware. The manager tells me to finish before I leave, a task that’s literally impossible, Sisyphean even. The true definition of a permanent job.

I have been looking for a good analogy for how this city takes pride in fucking you at every possible opportunity and finally it came upon me in the form of soup, yes soup. From the great soup kitchens of Tottenham Court Road to the value bucket at Best-In, this watered down vegetable mush has long been associated with hunger, longing and destitution, the triumvirate of modern London. It’s a culinary pairing with those that society shits upon, time and time again, that and bread. Still I mentioned I was sick. The infection had spread to the area under my back teeth so a bowl of hot soup sounded like practical paradise as I needn’t chew.

Now the Vietnamese are the kings of this scene with steaming bowls of spicy broth, replete with noodles like wet horsehair. Luck would have it that there was a “street food market” around the corner so off I went.

£7.95. For a bowl of soup. This represents one hour and twenty minutes on the minimum wage, which is what I earn. One hour and twenty minutes of pushing limescale around a glass just for a bowl of soup. Ah London “street food” everything “street” but the price.

Then I remember the Chinese supermarket does soup in a cup. It says it’s hot and spicy too but more importantly it costs 70p. Even though 70p represents 7 minutes labour, or 2 1/3rd glasses smudged acceptably clean, for those paying attention. This is sadly how I think now, my unit of time measurement is the polished glass, metric or imperial? It really doesn’t matter.

I still buy it because I want some soup you see and I don’t want London to win again. You will be familiar with these contraptions that simply require hot water to create the Styrofoam-enclosed miracle. I go to an evening language course round the corner thinking they must have an urn and they do. There it sits, steaming behind a counter manned by an insect like man called Keith. Soon I will have fucked the system with my cheap soup so I ask Keith for some hot water. I am top of the town, cock of the walk as I watch Keith methodically fill up a cup from the chrome urn but then just before he hands it too me he stops and his finger turns to the till.

50p. For tap water in a university. Keith actually smiles as he sees my face visibly drop, deflated by the last minute winner. I was clearly not the first to be making instant soup on the sly, which Keith’s broken smirk testifies too. Now 50p is by no means expensive but it’s the principle of the whole affair. Some of the students pay £6000 a year apparently. If ever there was a physical embodiment for education being a business, then this was it. I was ill and weak though, with an infected tooth so in my shame I bought it and London won again, his shard shaped dick tearing another inch into my colon. I made the soup. It looked like iodine solution and tasted of chemicals, mainly chlorine. Next time I would just buy beer like normal.

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