Stories

1968, by DC Diamandopolous

#lgbt #los angeles #realistic #womenauthors

Johnny kneeled on top of his bookcase as he wiggled the screen out of its frame and let it slide onto the bush outside his bedroom window. Just as he raised his leg over the ledge, he remembered his retainer and yanked it out of his mouth, tossed it onto the dresser and climbed out.

Sneaking around the side of the house, he unlatched the gate, inched through, then locked it. He glanced west toward the Brewers’ house and east to the Fillmores’. At ten thirty at night, the neighborhood had tucked itself into bed. His old man’s station wagon parked in the driveway was a real daddy’s car, but it had wheels, and that’s what Johnny needed to take him to his first gay bar.

Johnny pulled his dad’s key from his crushed velvet pant pocket, unlocked the car, and slipped behind the wheel, leaving the door ajar. He put the gear in neutral and let the Buick roll back into the street and then pushed the car past the Wilsons’ house, shut the door, started the engine and took off for the Harbor Freeway and Santa Monica Boulevard.

When he had read in the local paper that his science teacher was arrested in a raid at The Rusty Nail and lost his job because he was a homosexual, Johnny felt bad for Mr. Gilroy, but excited to know he wasn’t the only queer in the universe. The Rusty Nail reopened as a bar for men and women, gay men and women, Johnny learned through the back pages of the underground press.

Johnny pounded his fist against the wheel, feeling the victory of freedom. He had the fake ID his sister’s boyfriend made for him, thinking Johnny wanted to meet some fox at the Blue Turtle, but with a constellation of zits on his chin, his voice still swinging between the Little and Big Dipper, Johnny’s chances of making it through the doors of The Rusty Nail were still slim.

Three days before he got his driver’s license, Johnny rehearsed punching and fluffing his pillows like he’d seen prison escapees do in the movies, then he pulled the cover over them to make it look like a body underneath. He practiced climbing out the window so he wouldn’t mess his clothes by falling into the bush that grew outside his bedroom. He committed the perfect getaway until he realized he’d left the Free Press with the big red circle around The Rusty Nail lying on his desk. No sweat. He’d be back before his parents woke-up.

Johnny rolled down the window just enough so that it didn’t disturb his long hair that he brushed and groomed until his arm felt tired. When he had missed several hair cuts, his father told him he didn’t want his son looking like a queer. Johnny told his dad not to worry, he hated fags, but long hair was in.

His dark mop covered his ears, and he grew really cool sideburns.

If his old man saw him now in his bitchin’ yellow stripes and red polka-dot shirt and Nehru jacket, driving his car, he would flip.

Johnny drove up the onramp. Too bad he wasn’t in a boss looking Mustang instead of an old fogey’s car. He’d park a block away from the bar so no one would see it, but what if he met someone? It was his uncle’s car, he’d tell them, because his Mustang was in the shop. Lies. That’s what his life was about, dating girls, football, acting tough, all to please his dad and everyone else. He even put up a poster of Raquel Welch when he wanted to tack up Steve McQueen.

Johnny’s secret gave him headaches. It was a monster that gobbled him up until he felt like he’d become the thing that consumed him. Something dirty. Something that made guys pick fights with him. He hoped to replace loneliness with friendships and meet a cute guy at the bar.

He relaxed into the flow of the cars, turned on the radio and switched the dial to KRLA and Dave Hull, the Hullabalooer.

“Mony Mony” blasted through the speakers. Johnny thought he would explode with pleasure. The sexy beat sparked his fantasies into a rocket fueled ascension where dancing led to kissing and kissing led to hot sex and hot sex never ended.

His loud singing drowned out Tommy James. He took his hands off the steering wheel and clapped along with the Shondells, laughing and hollering, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!”

Johnny zoomed past downtown and veered into the lane for the Hollywood Freeway. He slouched down in the seat, his left hand hanging over the wheel, real cool, like he’d done it millions of times. He glanced left, then right, just to see if anyone was lucky enough to see how groovy he looked.

He reached in the glove compartment and took out his dad’s cigarettes. Shaking one free, he stuck it between his lips then punched in the lighter. It popped out, and he lit the cigarette. He took a drag and coughed. His eyes watered. He puffed without inhaling.

Someone pulled in front of him.

“Asshole!”

Johnny stepped on the gas and swerved into the fast lane.

“Wanna drag? I can make this mother move.”

He stubbed out the cigarette and caught up with the guy who almost creamed him. The jerk wasn’t even paying attention to him, probably didn’t even know he almost caused an accident. Johnny blared the horn. The guy gave him the finger. Johnny laughed. He had to be at least eighty, older than his grandparents.

He passed the Melrose exit. The Western offramp would be next, and he’d take it to Santa Monica Boulevard.

He flattened the gas pedal all the way to the floor. Street lamps flickered by, he felt the air lift his hair, smelled the damp night and asphalt. Johnny glanced in the rearview mirror. Red lights flashed. A siren screamed.

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I Must Have Wandered, by Mary Ellen Gambutti

#japan #memoir #realistic #short stories #womenauthors

On a sunny late June 1962 morning Mom directed me to return to school for my cordovan oxfords. I had forgotten to change into them on the last day of school, and wore my black indoor uniform loafers home on the bus. “Go get them!” she shouted. I was ten at the finish of fifth grade, a cautious child. To leave Washington Heights, our military housing complex, alone, on foot, was a daunting prospect. But I obeyed Mom and hiked to the main gate carrying nothing, not even my dependent’s identification card. A Japanese guard waved ‘bye,’ asked no questions as I entered Tokyo streets, to feel my way to Sacred Heart campus.

Beyond the sentry at my left was Meiji Park. I gathered my recollection of the school bus route, past the commuter rail station, and into the modern business district of Shibuya. Perhaps it was a Monday–maybe I’d been out of school a week—the sidewalks filled with boys in school uniform shirts and jackets, businessmen, department store shoppers in kimonos or skirts and blouses, pedestrians young and elderly; people I had come to trust during the first year my Air Force family lived in Japan.

City bustle around me, I rested briefly against a building, my head in a whirl. I exchanged smiles and bows, then made my way across a wide, busy intersection among the throng. With vague memory of the way, I began to ascend a narrow street into Hiroo, where homes rested along the road to my destination. Relieved to see the massive tori gate on my right, I walked under it and entered Sacred Heart school grounds.

My mission urgent, I turned up the stone driveway to the main building. Free of my uniform navy jumper and white blouse, and instead wearing sneakers, summer shirt and shorts, I felt out of place. Up the marble steps and into the halls of my all-girls school, I passed a few nuns, but they didn’t seem to notice me. In the cloakroom, that place where the daily business of shoe change and outerwear hanging was conducted under the demands of silence, I pulled the culprit shoes from my cubby. Without hesitation, I returned to the hall and exited into the drive, past the silent tea house and stone lantern, then under the tori—but what next? I should have turned left to descend through Hiroo, but did I?

I must have wandered; have no recollection of how long, or how I ended up in the village of Shinjuku opposite Washington Heights, the other side of Meiji Park. But when I found myself in front of a familiar shop, face to face with my American playmate, Kathy, and her mother, Mrs. Meadow, I was relieved.

“How did you get here? Are you alone?” Mrs. Meadow looked concerned. Kathy smiled in surprised.

I was tired, and gave in to self-pity. “My mother made me walk to school for my shoes.” I clutched them in my arms.

Mrs. Meadow, always friendly when I played with Kathy in their home, didn’t smile this time, but pointed to her car. “You can ride home with us.” I gladly accepted her offer of a small icy bottle of Pepsi, and rolled into the backseat of her Chevy.

I let the front screen door slam behind me, and held the shoes out to my mother. “Mrs. Meadow brought me home,” I told her, but said nothing about the journey.

“Put them in your closet,” was all I recall she said. She must have been relieved to see me, but I’ll never know.

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Under the Yaquina Bay Bridge, by Steve Carr

#memoir #realistic

Sitting on the edge of his bed, using his middle finger Jed slowly pushed apart one by one the photographs in the shoe box on his lap. Many were yellowed with age or had the remnants of Scotch tape on their corners from when they had been in photo albums. After going through them all and not finding the one he was looking for, he put the lid on the box and bent over and shoved it under the bed. Standing, he inhaled the aromas of the ocean being blown in through the open window. He put on his favorite cardigan he had laid on the end of his bed and left his room. Going down the stairs he heard Mrs. Jessup in the living room running the vacuum. As he opened the front door, the hinges creaked.
“You going somewhere, Jed?” Mrs. Jessup called out.
“Just for a walk,” Jed said, thinking she had the ears of a bat.
“Be back in time for lunch,” she said.
“I will,” he said, then went out the door and closed it behind him.
He stood on the porch for a moment and reached into a pocket in the sweater and took out a pack of chewing gum. He pulled out a piece and put the pack back in the pocket, then removed the paper wrapping and foil from the gum then put the stick of gum in his mouth. He put the pack back in the pocket then balled up the gum wrappers and tossed it into Mrs. Jessup’s flower garden along the bottom of the porch as he went down the porch steps.
Going down the walkway from the house to the sidewalk, Nero, the next door neighbor’s Golden Retriever came up behind him and shoved its cold nose in Jed’s hand. Jed patted the dog on the top of its head.
“No one looking after you again boy?” Jed said. “Come on, I’ll take you for a walk.”
Wagging its tail, the dog fell in place beside Jed’s left leg. At the end of the walkway, Jed paused momentarily, trying to decide which way he would go, then turned right on the sidewalk headed toward the 101, the main street and part of the coastal highway that ran through Newport.
A few houses down, Lark Maybury was standing at his hedges, a pair of clippers in his hands. “Where ya headed, Jed?” Lark said. Though retired from his position as a grocery store manager, Lark still wore a white shirt and tie no matter what he was doing. The tie he was wearing was being whipped about by the breeze.
“Nowhere in particular,” Jed said. “Just taking a walk.”
“Good morning for one if it weren’t for the wind,” Lark said.
“It’ll die down soon enough,” Jed said. As he continued on he said over his shoulder, “Don’t accidentally cut off that tie.”
“Got plenty more if I do,” Lark said.
Reaching the 101 Jed turned right and walked south. In front of him the green arch of the Yaquina Bay Bridge rose into the air from the bridge’s middle.
“You up for a walk across the bridge?” Jed said to Nero.
Nero affectionately shoved its body against Jed’s leg.
Within a hundred yards of the bridge’s walkway, Marris Hofstein pulled up beside him in his pickup truck and called out through the open passenger seat window, “You need a ride across the bridge, Jed?”
“No thanks,” Jed said. “Walking it for the fun of it.”
Marris pushed his straw hat back on his head. “You going to be at the Sea Net later?”
“Probably so,” Jed said. “As long as that busybody Mrs. Jessup doesn’t raise a fuss about it beforehand.”
Marris cackled. “Just don’t tell her,” he said.
“She knows what’s on my mind even before I do,” Jed said.
“If you make it you still owe me a beer,” Marris said before pulling back onto the road and heading across the bridge.
Jed stepped onto the bridge’s walkway and looked at the dark blue water below the bridge then out to where the Yaquina River flowed into the ocean, just a short distance away. The breeze had calmed but feeling a little chilled, Jed slid his hands into the sweater’s pockets, and hugged his arms to his sides and walked to the middle of the bridge, under the arch. At the railing as Nero stood on his hind legs and put his front paws on the railing, Jed watched the seagulls soaring above the gentle ocean waves.
He pulled the pack of gum from his pocket and removed a stick. After unwrapping it he rolled the wrapping in a ball and leaned against the railing. He put the stick of gum in his mouth and began to chew.
“Don’t tell anyone I’m throwing litter in the ocean,” he said to Nero.
He flicked the wad of wrapper out into the air and watched it slowly drift toward the water. Just before it would have landed on the surface, a hand reached up and grabbed it, and pulled it under. This was followed by a large blue-green fish tail rising above the water then disappearing beneath it.
Mouth agape, Jed stared at the water for several moments.
“I didn’t see what I think I did, did I Nero?” he said. “I must be losing my marbles.”
He hooked his hand into Nero’s leather collar and pulled him away from the railing, then turned toward home. He walked all the way back as rapidly as he could.
# # #
At the table, Jed peeled and tore apart the crust from the bread of his tuna salad sandwich. He had built a small mound of it and placed it on the table next to his plate without taking a bite of the sandwich.
“I thought you liked tuna salad,” Mrs. Jessup seated across from him asked.
“Can’t be,” Jed mumbled.
“It’s tuna salad alright,” Mrs. Jessup said. “I should know I opened the can of tuna and mixed in the mayonnaise, celery and onion myself, didn’t I?”
Jed looked up from his plate and saw her gazing at him with her usual expression of annoyance mixed with bewilderment. “Did you say something?” he said.
“Is there something wrong with your sandwich?” she said.
He picked it up and took a bite, chewed and swallowed. “Nah, tastes just like a tuna salad sandwich should.”
She took a sip of tea from a cup and staring at him, said, “Is there something bothering you? You’ve been acting strange ever since you got back from taking that walk.”
“I’m fine,” he said. “I was going to ask you, though, did you get into the shoebox with my photos? I can’t find the picture of Louise that I like so much.”
“Now, why should I get into your photographs?” she said defensively. “I have better things to do than get into your things.”
“I know,” he said. “I apologize for asking, but I can’t think for the life of me what I might have done with that picture. It was taken right before we found out she was pregnant with our son.”
“Oh, speaking of Randy, he called while you were out. He said he won’t be able to make it this weekend as he planned,” she said.
Jed took another bite of his sandwich. “I’m almost forgetting what he looks like.”
# # #
Getting up from the overstuffed chair, Jed stretched and held back from yawning, not wanting to wake up Mrs. Jessup who had fallen asleep in her rocking chair. He tiptoed across the room and up the stairs to his room. While putting on the cardigan he glanced around the room, thinking he had placed the photograph of Louise somewhere just to look at it and had forgotten. Not seeing it, he grabbed his wallet from the top of the dresser and got his shoes out of the closet and carried them down the steps. As he opened the front door, the hinges squeaked.
“You going somewhere, Jed?” Mrs. Jessup called out.
“Damn that woman’s ears,” he mumbled. “Just going for a walk,” he said.
“Another walk and at this time of night?” she said.
“As far as I know I can go out whenever I’d like to,” he said as he went out the door.
On the top step of the porch he put on his shoes. While lacing them, Nero bounded into the yard and ran up to Jed.
Jed rubbed the top of the dog’s head. “Sorry, boy. Not now.” He looked over at the neighbor’s yard and thought again that it was a shame that they weren’t spending more time with Nero. As he walked out of the yard he smiled as Nero peed on Mrs. Jessup’s flowers.
It was the first night of a full moon and it shone brightly in the middle of the black, starless sky. He pulled the collar of the sweater up around his neck and stuck a stick of gum in his mouth. He put the gum wrapper in his pants pocket and strolled to the 101. Before turning north, he looked at the bridge’s arch illuminated by the moonlight and let out an involuntary sigh. The moment made him miss Louise even more than usual.
A few blocks up, he entered the Sea Net Saloon. Sailing ships’ wheels, anchors, fishing nets, oars, life preservers, glass buoys, and a variety of fishing spears lined the walls. Old whale oil barrels topped with round sheets of plywood served as the six tables with wood casks as chairs. The floor was littered with peanut shells. Met with the aromas of beer and whiskey, Jed went straight to the bar where Marris was seated.
“Looks crowded in here tonight,” Jed said looking around at the two dozen people seated around the tables or in the rear of the saloon playing pool.
“I didn’t think Mrs. Jessup would let you out of the house,” Marris said.
“Me neither,” Jed said with a laugh. “She forgets I’m just a boarder and not her prisoner.”
Don, the bartender, was busy filling glasses of beer from the tap. Jed raised two fingers and shook them so that Don would notice. Don nodded.
“Where did you get the dog I saw you with today?” Marris said.
“He’s not mine. He belongs to the neighbors. He’s a great dog, but I think no one pays any attention to him but me,” Jed said.
“He looks a lot like my dog Rascal,” Marris said. “I sure do miss that dog.”
Jed took a peanut from the bowl on the bar and broke it open. “You ever see things that you know can’t be real?”
“Happened all the time when I was working on the boats,” Marris said. “The light on the water and things swimming around out there plays tricks on your eyes. You must of experienced that during all the years you were on the fishing boats.”
“This seemed a little different, but yeah I guess that’s what happened when I was on the bridge this morning,” Jed said.
Don placed two glasses of beer on the bar in front of Marris and Jed. “Who’s paying tonight?” he said.
“That’d be me,” Jed said as he took his wallet out of his back pocket and pulled out a twenty dollar bill and handed it to Don. “Keep ’em coming,” he said.
# # #
Jed had his hands in his pants pockets and tried to steady his gait. He wasn’t drunk, but he definitely felt tipsy. He stopped momentarily at the end of the street he lived on, then continued on toward the bridge. With the street lights and bright moonlight it was nearly as bright as dusk. The air was calm and filled with the scents of saltwater and fish. Sea lions were barking in the distance. As he stepped onto the bridge walkway he put his hand on the bridge railing and slid it along the rail as he walked to under the middle of the arch.
Looking down at the glassy surface of the water he took the package of gum from his cardigan pocket and took out a stick and unwrapped it. He put the gum in his mouth then rolled the wrapping into a ball and reached his hand out over the railing and let the ball drop. Just before the ball would have hit the water, a hand reached up and grabbed it, and pulled it under the water. This was followed by the loud splash of a tail fin; the same tail fin he had seen earlier.
Jed shook his head in disbelief. “Who’s down there?” he called out.
Getting no response, he leaned on the railing and looked out toward the ocean. It shimmered in the moonlight.
He took another piece of gum from the package and this time dropped the stick of gum. Out of the water rose a mermaid with long golden hair and with seaweed draped across her breasts. While in mid-air she grabbed the falling gum and put it in her mouth, then did a flip and dove head first into the water, pulling her long slender scale covered lower body and fins into the water with her.
“I’m not imagining this,” Jed said aloud gleefully. “My name is Jed,” he yelled down toward the water.
A fountain of water sprung up as high as the railing. Balanced on the top of it were the two balled gum wrappers.
# # #
Mrs. Jessup was standing at the bottom of the stairs when Jed walked through the front door. “I was about to call the police to go looking for you,” she said.
Jed grinned sheepishly. “I’m not allowed to go out?” he said.
“You’ve been drinking. I can smell it from here,” she said.
“And enjoyed every drop,” he said.
“I’m going to call your son and complain. He signed your lease to stay here and I made it very clear that I wouldn’t put up with drinking,” she said.
“Let me know what my son says since he never talks to me,” Jed said.
He walked past Mrs. Jessup and climbed the stairs and went into his room and turned on the light. He removed his cardigan and hung it on a hook on the closet door, then took off his shoes and placed them next to the bed. Sitting on the edge of his bed he pulled out the shoebox and removed the lid and placed it on the bed. Going through the photographs he pulled out the ones he had taken while on the fishing boat. He looked very closely at the ones taken of the ocean. The last one showed what he vaguely recalled seeing, a fin exactly like the mermaid’s jutting up from the water.
He put the lid on the box and put the box under the bed. He laid back on the bed and stared at the photograph. “I wish you were still here to talk to about this, Louise,” he said. He drifted off to sleep as the breeze through the open window carried in the aroma of the sea.
# # #
“Keep an eye out for you know who,” Jed said to Nero who was sitting at the bottom of the porch steps. Jed clipped the last of the carnations in Mrs. Jessup’s garden and tied the stem to the rest of the flowers.
“That should do it,” he said, turning the bouquet around admiringly. “C’mon boy.”
Walking at a fast pace with Nero at his side, Jed quickly reached the middle of the bridge. Leaning on the railing he looked at the calm waters under the bridge. “You down there?” he yelled.
The mermaid rose head first from under the water, then brought her entire body up and lay on the water slowly waving her arms and fin, creating concentric currents around her. He hair spread out on the surface and glistened in the sunlight. She smiled broadly and let out a small squeak of delight.
“We’ve been seeing each other for a couple weeks now,” Jed said. “I don’t think my dear departed Louise would mind if I gave you her name. Do you like the name Louise?”
The mermaid splashed the water with her fin.
“I brought you something Louise and it’s not gum this time,” he said.
The mermaid rolled over in the water, then dived under and sent up a spray of water.
Jed laid the bouquet on the top of the spray and watched it slowly descend. As the bouquet touched the water the mermaid surfaced and took hold of the bouquet and put it to her nose. She spun around in the water several times then did a flip and went under. A moment later a spray of water shot up with a multicolored shell in its center.
Jed reached out and grabbed it. “Thank you Louise,” he said.
The mermaid surfaced and squeaked several times, pointed at Jed, then pointed toward the ocean.
“You want me to go with you out there, Lousie?” he said.
The mermaid squeaked several times and splashed the water with her fin.
“If only I could,” Jed said. “If only I could.”
# # #
Jed sat on the edge of his bed with the shoebox in his lap. He looked at the pictures of him when he was a young boy flying a kite with his father, those of him when he played baseball in high school, the ones of him aboard the fishing boat, his wedding pictures, and pictures of his son. He put the lid on the box and sat the box in the middle of his bed. He turned out the light and left the room and went down the stairs and into the living room.
Mrs. Jessup looked up from the magazine she had in her hands. “So, have you come to finally apologize for cutting down my flowers?”
“I’m going out,” he said.
“If you go drinking don’t bother coming back,” she said.
“Have a good night, Mrs. Jessup,” he said.
He left the house and went to the neighbor’s house and knocked on their front door. The man who opened the door was dressed in a terrycloth robe and white sports socks.
“You got the money?” he said.
Jed pulled two one hundred dollar bills from his sweater pocket and handed it to him.
The man went into the house and came back a few minutes later with Nero on a leash. He handed the leash to Jed.
“He’s all yours,” the man said, then closed the door.
As Jed walked toward the 101, he saw Lark Maybury was in his front yard and looking up at the starry sky with a telescope. He had on a white shirt and was wearing a tie.
“Fine night for star gazing,” Lark said upon seeing Jed.
Jed looked up at the sky. “Sure is Lark,” he said.
“Where you headed with the dog?” Lark asked.
“To see a friend,” Jed said. “Before I go can I borrow your hedge clippers for a minute?”
“Oh, sure, they’re in the shed. Hold on a minute and I’ll go get them for you,” Lark said handing the telescope to Jed.
Jed looked at the constellations while Lark walked to the back of his house then returned a few minutes later.
He handed the clippers to Jed. “Kinda late to be clipping hedges.”
“But not too late to do this,” Jed said as he clipped Lark’s tie in half. He handed the clippers back to a speechless Lark and walked away.
On the 101 he turned north. In the parking lot of the Sea Net he met Marris who was standing by his truck.
“This is for you, my friend,” Jed said as he handed Nero’s leash to Marris.
“You giving me this dog?” Marris said, rubbing Nero’s head.
Nero’s entire body was in movement as he wagged his tail.
“He needs someone who will appreciate him,” Jed said.
“Thanks, Jed. This is quite a gift,” Marris said. “How about a beer?”
“Not tonight. I have to be somewhere,” he said.
“You want a ride?” Marris asked.
“No thanks,” Jed said. “I feel like walking.”
As he left the parking lot he looked back. Using a work glove, Marris was playing tug of war with Nero. His friend was laughing and Nero’s tail was wagging.
Walking onto the bridge walkway he looked up first at the night sky then at the bridge’s arch. At the railing he leaned over and called out. “You down there Louise?”
The mermaid broke through the black glassy surface of the water and did a spin and squeaked several times. She laid on her back on the water and doing back strokes circled about sending out small waves.
Jed took off his shoes and socks and placed them on the railing. Before taking off his cardigan he reached into the pockets and in one found the photo of Louise he thought was lost. In it she was sitting on a rock looking out at the sea, her long hair being blown by the wind. Jed kissed the picture and placed it by his shoes. He placed his cardigan on the railing then climbed over. Just before he leaped the mermaid send up a spray of water that caught him in mid-air and gently lowered him to the water.
Together, Jed and Louise swam out to sea.

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Regressed, by John Jones

#realistic

Arrogant, cocky, over-confident were a few of the labels that could, and were, levelled at Greg Curtis, a 38 year-old fork-lift truck driver at a Chinese wholesale food retailer. He had enough friends however, but secretly nobody really liked him. People like and in various ways are attracted to those who emit charisma, charm, and confidence. Some people however, have this in abundance and it can simply become too much, because no-one really likes arrogance, except for maybe a few, bizarre individuals, but they are the exceptions to the rule, as there is with everything.

He had his close-knit circle of friends, or followers, people who laughed at his jokes, who agreed with his political opinions, who never disagreed with him on anything, and this in turn, only fed his ego, reinforcing his own delusions of importance. He had never married, and had only had three girlfriends who couldn’t take anymore of mannerisms and promptly left. He claimed he didn’t want a partner, because according to him his freedoms would be stifled. Going for a pint and watching the match with the lads would probably be jeopardised, and he didn’t want that. He would always claim that he could easily chat a woman up if he wanted. He could have a one-night stand with practically anyone he chose was his bold claim, believed by his friends as usual. It was just that, he never actually wanted to chat any women up, he would usually say, such was the paranoia he had of commitment, of losing his freedom.

Always sporting a shaven soccer hooligan look, with a stud in the top of each ear, and wearing casual attire wherever he went, he was one of those people most would try and avoid, and if you were to enter a conversation with him, you would hear his opinion, no matter what.

Of course, he used to be the school bully, had spent several months in jail for glassing a friend over an unpaid £1 bet, and even his work colleagues, indigenous Chinese pretended not to understand him, yet he was always, however, under the constant delusion that everybody liked him, that he was popular.

Usually at least twice a year, he and his so-called friends, Robbie, Davey and Jimbo would holiday in Ibiza, or Majorca, or any of the other home from homes, little pieces of England only with more nightclubs and takeaways. His friends would always try and enjoy themselves as best as they could, putting up with him, but sometimes he would simply be in a bad mood, and whatever was on his mind you would not hear the last of, over and over again, the same arguments, the same opinions, until he’d settled down and forgotten about it.

It was a sojourn to Malaga from where they were now returning. They had arrived in Bristol airport, caught an extortionately priced taxi that drove them to Avonmouth which put him in a sour mood for a few minutes. They had all decided that before they went their separate ways home, they would all go to a fast food outlet, and as they walked along a row of shops by a canal, one in particular caught his attention. ‘Who you were’ it was called, and upon closer inspection on a curtained window, several notices were up proclaiming what it was.

‘Revert to your past life. Who were you? Were you a knight in shining armour, or were you the princess he rescued? Come in and find out for free’

“Free!” he said, and pointed at the notice, looking around at the others.

“It’s free” he continued, “How’s this place supposed to make money?” He didn’t expect an answer.

“Dunno, are we going for scran, I’m starving.” said Jimbo

“This’ll be a laugh,” Greg said, “It shouldn’t take too long. I’m gonna say I used to be a king or something like that”. They all followed him as he entered.

Inside, they found it to be no bigger than a normal sized living room in a semi-detached, with what was basically a dentist’s chair in the middle that looked like it had been passed around a few times and was finally sent to the dump, only to be found and rescued.

Besides that there was a high stool, akin to those found in pubs, and nothing else. The others all stood near the laced curtained front windows just standing around as though waiting for a bus. The walls were bare, as was the floor. Across the entrance leading into the back room Greg saw there was a curtain, which was pulled back, and a man who must have been no more than a few years older than him with dark black glasses and a cheap black suit walked in. He smiled at Greg and his friends without any humour, without any meaning, as though he was the last customer of the day and wanted to shut the place and go home.

“Hi, my name is Seymour. Take a seat, lie back, and just relax” he said, gesturing to the chair.

Greg did so, and winked at his friends before resting his head back.

“Okay,” said the man, “Clear your mind”.

“That shouldn’t be too hard for him,” said Davey, and instantly regretted his sudden act of bravery because even though Greg smiled, he knew that behind it he was genuinely insulted. The man continued.

“Close your eyes, and tell me what comes into mind”. Greg grinned at the man.

“I’m not sure I should tell you, it involves me and two women,” They all burst into laughter, except Seymour who simply stared at the floor. Soon Greg was back with his eyes closed, and was thinking of himself sitting on a throne with a golden crown.

“I think…. I think…. I was some sort of king…” In a quick movement, he lifted his head, winked at his friends, and returned back to thinking of being on the throne.

“Tell me what else you see,” said the man, “Tell me your surroundings”.

“I see…I see….” As he saw himself as the king, he watched as the throne faded away, along with his attire, only to be replaced with a filthy sheet. Greg suddenly found he could not move at all, or even open his eyes. He could only watch his mind’s eye as it showed him with greater and more clarity the person he used to be.

The image became like a dream, only with more distinction, based more in the real world, the real world for 1241, and his present day conciousness became that of his older self, in his new reality, his new world. The sky was clear blue, it was a nice day, and he found himself on the floor against the wall of a castle. He was a beggar. Some other people passed by, none of them looking in his direction. His skin was muddied and grimy, and he was sprawled on the ground holding out a small tin cup for any trinkets or money.

With his new mind, and his new knowledge of some distant future world, he knew that this is who he was now, and who he used to be. He also thought that he perhaps would not be returning to that small room back in Avonmouth by the canal so he flung his cup aside, one coin falling out, and dragged him self along the bridge and looked down into a moat, its waters dark and murky. He pushed himself over the edge and plummeted down in some effort to kill himself and return to the room, to wake up, but his reality was simply that. He hit the water, found he had no strength to swim, and sank away into the gloom.

His friends back in the room simply watched as their friend seemed simply to be asleep, and wondered if they were not seeing things as he slowly faded away.

The man turned and simply looked at them.

“What’s happened?” said Robbie, “What have you done with Greg?” The man looked at him like a defiant schoolboy not answering the headmaster’s questions. Rob knew he wouldn’t get an answer, and he also knew it was time to get out of there, they would have to find out another way. However the fact remained. Greg was gone.

“Come on lads,” he said, turning and walking to the door. The others hurried out

“Tell me one thing,” the man suddenly said. Robbie turned.

“If I could bring your friend back, would you really want me to? You see, I know that you don’t really like him do you? He stifles you, he influences you in ways you’re not comfortable with. Obviously you pretend to like him. You pretend and even convince yourselves that he’s a good mate, but you can never convince your conscience, can you? The voice that always tell you what you really think. So tell me, would you like me to bring him back?”. Robbie did not hesitate, and simply shook his head.

“No,” he said quietly, then turned and left. The man got off his stool, and walked back through the entrance at the back.

Outside, Rob rejoined the others who suddenly had a barrage of questions. He looked back at the place, and found that it was simply a derelict, boarded up newsagents. They all stared at it, then hurried away.

“Is Greg coming back?” asked Davey.

“No,” said Robbie, and all of them remained quiet for a few moments, not showing any emotion, but inside, they were smiling.

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Stories

The Last Sunset, by Steve Slavin

#brooklyn #new york #realistic

1
Can you remember your favorite sunset? My father had always wanted to see the sun set over an ocean. His favorite song appeared to be Red sails in the sunset (written in 1935 by Hugh Williams and popularized by Bing Crosby, and later, Nate King Cole). He seemed to recall just the title line, and would hum the rest of it.
My father knew that he would have been able to see some great sunsets on the West Coast, but he never had the time to make the trip. Then, finally, when they were in their late seventies, my parents flew to San Francisco to attend a family wedding.
They stayed for two weeks and returned with hundreds of photos. When I asked if there were any sunsets, my father explained that the ocean was too far from where they were staying. A few minutes later, I heard him humming, “Red sails in the sunset.”
I’ve never seen the sun set over an ocean either. But, then again, it wasn’t such a big deal for me. Maybe that’s because I’ve seen a couple of much more memorable sunsets. In fact, I was actually in Brooklyn when I saw them.
If you’re old enough, you can remember where you were and what you were doing on November 22, 1963. I was in Kelly Park playing basketball. Someone had a transistor radio, and we all stood around listening. We knew that the president had been shot and was rushed to a hospital.
The park was a few blocks from the apartment where I grew up. Depending upon whom you asked, the neighborhood was called Midwood, Kings Highway, Sheepshead Bay, Gravesend, Madison Park, or Flatbush. Only three years earlier, when John F. Kennedy was campaigning, he made a stop in front of Dubrow’s Cafeteria on Kings Highway, just three blocks from our house.
As soon as I heard the news, I rushed home. My mother was sitting at the kitchen table, listening to the radio. She was crying. I knew then that the president was dead.
A month later I was on an elevated train going from Jamaica, Queens, all the way across Brooklyn, and then over the Williamsburg Bridge to the Lower Eastside where I lived. It was, by far, the coldest day of the year. Passengers getting on at each stop were shivering. One girl was shaking. Her lips were blue.
It was the last day of mourning. Flags all across the nation were at half-staff.
The train had just made a right turn and was headed north. I looked out the window to the west. The sun had just set and the sky was a pale orange.
In the distance, I saw the metal frame of a five- or six-story building that was under construction. And visible through the frame was a flagpole silhouetted against the sky.
I memorized that image, knowing that in minutes it would be gone forever. There would be no going back. Not for me, not for anyone else on the train, not for our nation, and maybe, not for the world.

2
A few years later I moved from the Lower Eastside to Brooklyn Heights. I could afford only a studio apartment; but it was just two blocks from the Promenade, which provides a spectacular view of New York harbor.
One of the first people I met in Brooklyn Heights was Seymour, who lived in my building. At the time, he was a graduate student at NYU. He supported himself by teaching English composition part-time at a couple of community colleges.
Seymour was a mountain of a man, maybe six-foot-six, and close to 300 pounds. Truly a gentle giant, he was often apologizing for offenses that only he appeared to notice.
For months, studying for his oral exams completely consumed him. To relax, he would walk along the Promenade, often reciting poetry to himself. One beautiful summer afternoon, he was lost in his recitations as he strode across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Back in those days, the footpath was not yet clogged with tourists, although it had long been a magnet for Europeans and Japanese. As Seymour power-walked, his arms swinging wildly, a middle-aged German couple walked toward him. Seymour was spouting poetry in Middle English at the top of his lungs.
The couple suddenly turned, and began rushing off in the opposite direction. Seymour, who was horrified that he had frightened the couple, galloped after them, trying to explain that he was studying for his orals. They either could not understand him or perhaps were just not that impressed with his explanation.
The German man, growing more alarmed, yelled over his shoulder, “Please, just leave us alone and we will say nothing to the authorities!”
Seymour, almost out of breath, slowed down and whispered plaintively: “You don’t have orals in German Universities?”
But Seymour passed his orals, and defended his dissertation a year later. When he was offered a tenure-track teaching position at Jersey City State, he bought a seventeen-foot wide three-story brownstone near the college for just $28,000.
The only problem was that he missed the Heights more than he could have ever imagined. Once or twice a week Seymour would take the PATH train to the World Trade Center, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and then continue along the Promenade.
Another friend I met soon after I moved to the Heights was Bob. He had grown up in the neighborhood and often proclaimed that he would never move away. Whenever someone asked if he had lived in the Heights his entire life, he had a ready answer: “Not yet!”
Known as “the mayor of Brooklyn Heights,” Bob wrote a humor column in The Heights Press. But for a living, he sold steel and other metals to construction companies on Long Island and in Connecticut.
When I asked if he liked his job, he said that he’d much rather be the full-time mayor of the Heights. Regretfully, that position did not exist.

3
I spent a lot of time on the Promenade and especially enjoyed the sunsets. These attracted some serious photographers, who set up their tripods, perhaps hoping to capture the world’s greatest sunset, even if it wasn’t over an ocean.
After living in my tiny apartment for a couple of years, I caught the break of my life. A great apartment on Hicks Street, across the street from the Hotel St. George, had just become available. It was a floor-through, with fourteen-foot ceilings, a working fireplace, and even a sauna.
To this day, I can say that living there were the happiest years of my life. The rent was fairly high but still affordable, and the landlady, who occupied the third and fourth floors, kept to herself and was away half the year.
I held huge parties and often had friends and family over for dinner. But mainly, I loved coming home and enjoying all that space.
But as they say, “all good things come to an end.” My landlady, spurred on by her friend Mindy, a local real estate broker, decided to sell the building. This was in 1980, when the Heights was becoming a hot new neighborhood.
Mindy could get my landlady at least $400,000 if she could deliver the building without any tenants. I was an easy mark since I didn’t have a lease. The couple in the ground level apartment, Tony and Vern, who had spent hundreds of hours fixing up the backyard, also had no lease. The landlady didn’t even offer to compensate them.
There was an elderly couple on the second floor who still had almost a year to go on their lease. They refused to move. But Mindy persuaded my landlady to make them an offer they could not refuse. Grudgingly, she forked over the money.
We were heartbroken, but within a few months, all of us were gone. A friend and I bought a fixer-upper building in Downtown Brooklyn, about a mile from the Heights. Still, I never reconciled to living there. I was back in the Heights once twice a week, often on the Promenade. I was another Seymour, albeit a scaled down version with absolutely no facility with Middle English.
One day I ran into Bob.
“Did you hear what happened to me?” he asked.
I just shrugged.
“I had a heart attack!”
“That’s terrible!”
“I still don’t know how it happened. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. OK, I’m not in great shape, but I was just ten pounds overweight.”
“Were you under any kind of stress?”
“Not at all. But I did take on a new line at work that was causing some problems.”
“Bob, maybe that’s what it was.”
“Yeah, maybe. Anyway, I have a great cardiologist, I go to cardio rehab three times a week, and I walk a lot.”
“What about that new line you look on?”
“Yeah, maybe I should get rid of it.”

4
I still ran into Bob from time to time. He’d be walking in Cadman Plaza Park, or on the Promenade. He knew that I had moved, and was glad to see that I still came around. I confessed to him how much I missed the neighborhood.
He told me that it was becoming increasingly unaffordable.
“How much do you think my old house would go for?”
“Why? Are you thinking of moving back?”
“I wish I could afford it.”
“How much did your landlady get for it?”
“I think slightly over $400,000.”
Bob started laughing.
“What’s the joke?”
“If she would have held on to it another couple of years, she would have gotten almost double that.”
Now I was laughing too. It served the greedy bitch right!

5
A few months later, I was watching the sunset. It was the second or third week of September. Bob was holding court with a few friends and acquaintances.
He had recently started swimming in the pool at the Hotel St George and was looking forward to going the next morning. He declared himself one hundred percent recovered from his heart attack.
After the sun set, the sky remained a deep, deep red. Then, very slowly it faded to a blackish red. Almost an hour later, there was still a bit of color where the sun had gone down. It was as if the sun knew how much we enjoyed watching, and had only reluctantly disappeared.
The next afternoon I got the news. Bob dove into the pool and evidently had another heart attack. He was dead before they could call an ambulance.

6
I am writing these words thirty years later. I still miss Bob and Seymour. I still miss the Heights. And I still miss the sunsets. I checked Zillow.com the other day. My old house on Hicks Street just sold for almost four million dollars.
But the Heights that I miss no longer exists. It’s become an entirely different neighborhood. Only the upper one percent and long-time residents with rent-stabilized apartments can afford to live there. I doubt that I would feel at home there anymore – even if I could live in my old apartment.
For years, like Seymour, I was in denial. I was no longer living in Brooklyn Heights, but I couldn’t help going back. Until, one day, I stopped.
What happened? When did things change? When did I stop going back there? After that last sunset, there was no going back.

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Photo by Jeffrey Beall. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasta,_South_Dakota#/media/File:Calumet_Hotel_Wasta_South_Dakota.JPG
Stories

A Town Called Wasta, by Steve Carr

#literary #realistic

Standing by his truck at a pump at the Mobile gasoline station in Wasta, Jake Meggers said, “Even though Wasta is a small town, I’m one of the few people who actually knew the folks who built that house out there on highway 1416.”

It was extremely hot and the air was still. Heat rose up from the concrete in visible waves.

Jake took off his white Stetson and wiped sweat from his bald head with a red handkerchief. “Tom and Louise Forman were well educated, but building that house across from the mudflat wasn’t very smart, if you ask me.”

Heading west on I-90, the town of Wasta seems almost hidden. Entering the town there is a fork in the road that leads either to A Street on the left or up Elm Street on the right. The quietude of Wasta is immediately apparent. It’s a place of modest homes and few businesses. It shows no signs of wanting to be a tourist attraction like it’s nearest neighbor, Wall, which is less than five miles east.

“I’ve lived here my entire life,”  Jenny Tompkins said. Jenny Tompkins runs a beauty parlor out of her house on Pine Street. “The house out by the mudflat was built the same year I was born, forty years ago. Unless you want to see that part of the Cheyenne River, there’s not much reason to go out there.”

She tapped her lit cigarette with the end of her index finger, knocking ashes onto the front stoop of her house. “Mary Forman was the same age as me and we went to elementary school together. As soon as she was old enough, her parents sent her away to some private boarding school. The Formans were wealthy. They had to have been to build a house that size practically in the middle of nowhere.”

About the size of half a football field, the gray, soupy, sticky six foot deep mud of the mudflat borders a shallow, slow moving narrow stretch of the Cheyenne River. Dead trees stick out of the mud at intervals, their bare, broken limbs reaching up as if grasping for a lifeline. On the other side of the river is a ten foot wall of dirt and rock. Cows meander through prairie grass along the plateau above the wall.

“This really isn’t part of Wasta’s town limits,” Breed said. Breed Watkins was Wasta’s mayor. “But we’ve sort of adopted it as ours, mainly because of the Forman house, which as you can see is the only structure along this stretch of highway 1416.” He pushed his blue ball cap back on his head. “It’s the only house ever built along here.”

“The mayor doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Jake Meggers said. “Dan Huffman and his wife had a small house on that exact spot. They sold the property to the Formans. His wife is dead but he’s in a nursing home in Rapid City and though I think he’s going on ninety, I visited him recently and his mind seems clear as a bell, so you can ask him yourself.”

%

The Dakota Care Nursing home is a long, rectangular, one-story red brick building surrounded by well manicured grounds of lush grass and tall cedar pines. Wood benches are placed along a narrow walkway on the southern side of the building.

Even though it was warm, there was a pleasant breeze that carried the scent of pine from the trees.  With the assistance of a male aide and using a walker, Dan Huffman shuffled to the bench and sat down. His face was brown as leather and a topographical map of wrinkles. He had no teeth.

“Sure I can tell you all about the place me and Doris had out there in Wasta,” he said. “That was many years ago though. I had been in the Army and had just come back from serving in Korea and didn’t have much money.  Doris didn’t want to live in town. She never was one for being social. So we bought that bit of land near the river.  I built the place with my own two hands. Building a house is a pretty simple thing to do.” He started to cough and spit out a wad of phlegm onto the walkway. “What was I saying? Oh, building a house. You here to have me teach you how?”  

Inside Jenny Tompkins’ house, Celia Grant was seated beneath a hair dryer and reading a People Magazine while the dryer loudly whirred. Celia was extremely thin, to the point of looking emaciated. Her lips and eyes were surrounded by many small wrinkles.

There was only one station for doing hair and it was set up where a dining room used to be. Everything in the house was pink; the walls, carpets, upholstery on the furniture.

Jenny had her bleach blonde hair tied into a bun on the top of her head. “Sure, I knew Dan and Doris Huffman. They lived over on B Street when I was growing up. That’s the thing about living in a town this size. You get to know everybody. Dan was always friendly, but his wife stayed to herself and didn’t seem interested in talking to anyone. I think she was probably happier when they were living further out.” She took a drag on her cigarette then exhaled a smoke ring. “I wonder if you’re born a anti-social or life makes you that way?”

Celia Grant pushed the dryer up. “I think you have the heat set on too high,” she said. Her voice was high pitched, as if she was on the verge of shrieking.

Doris rolled her eyes and got up from her overstuffed pink chair and went over and adjusted the heat setting on the dryer then lowered it on Celia’s head, then came back and sat down again.

“You should talk to Celia sometime. She was friends with Louise Forman,” she said.

At his house on North Elm Street, Jake Meggers sat on his porch swing drinking a large glass of lemonade. After each sip he shook the glass, making the large ice cubes clink against the glass.

“Mary Forman wasn’t the only one in that family who was a bit odd,” he said. “Any time I went out there to do some kind of plumbing repair it was like entering one of those mausoleums. There was so much furniture in every room and heavy drapes on every window that no matter what noise was made, it was muffled. Louise was talkative, but Tom, and Mary if she was around, which wasn’t often, acted as if their mouths had been sewn shut. I’d have lunch with them sometimes and with the exception of talking with Louise, there was almost no conversation.” He clinked the ice against the glass. “When I said I knew the Formans, what I meant was that I knew Louise.”

“The house has been empty for fifteen years,” Mayor Watkins said. “That’s longer than I’ve lived in Wasta. From my understanding the bank in Wall is handling the Forman estate since Tom and Louise’s deaths. Mary Forman lives in Sioux Falls, but from what I’ve heard she wants nothing to do with the house or with Wasta.” He reached beneath his cap and scratched his red hair with his pudgy fingertips. “You didn’t know Mary Forman was still living?” He turned and looked at the house. “I wish I had seen it before it went to ruin.”

The house sat on a leveled-off hill surrounded by tall maple trees. It was a large two story house, three stories if you count the attic, with a wrap around porch and a long set of wood steps that led up to the porch. Only patches of white paint still covered the weather-worn boards and most of the windows were broken. A brick chimney on the right portion of the roof was slightly tilted. A rose trellis at the side of the house had collapsed on itself. The yard had been overtaken by weeds and prairie grass.

“I don’t know why I keep going to Jenny Tompkins to get my hair done,” Celia Grant said. “She always burns my scalp.” She picked up a large tabby cat and sat it in her lap and began stroking its fur. “Yes, Louise and I were good friends. I think I might have been her only friend even though I’m about ten years younger than she was. She was a lovely woman, so full of life and very interesting. She had traveled a great deal and circulated in a wide social circle before meeting and marrying Tom.” She averted her eyes. “Louise never wanted to live out there, in fact she hated it, but it was better than being confronted every day with having a husband who chased after other women, including me.”

Main Street in Wall was lined with vehicles and the walkway in front of the shops and Wall Drug was packed with pedestrians, most of whom were tourists.

Benjamin Curly sat at his desk in the bank with a donut covered in maple icing on a napkin in front of him. “You have to get one of these donuts at Wall Drug before you leave town. They’re like taking a bite of heaven,” he said with a hearty laugh that caused his bulging stomach to shake. “Let’s see now, you wanted to know about the Forman house. Well, the property is still for sale, for very cheap. Since you’ve already seen it, you should know that the mudflat wasn’t always there. I don’t know what made the Cheyenne change course and begin overflowing its bank at that spot, but according to the property records when the Formans bought the property from the Huffman that land was dry.” He picked up the donut and bit into it and closed his eyes and swallowed. He opened his eyes. “I can tell by the look on your face that you thought Tom built the house with a mudflat in front of it. That would be a crazy thing to do, wouldn’t it?”

He took another bite of the donut. “Yes, Mary Forman lives in Sioux Falls, but I’m not sure she’ll talk to you.”

At the nursing home, Dan Huffman said, “My poor Doris never did take to living in Wasta. It wasn’t anyone in Wasta’s fault, they’re fine folks, but Doris liked being apart from people.” He took a sip of water through a straw in a glass of ice water handed to him by the aide. “Strange thing about the river changing course like that so soon after the Formans built that big house. Given what happened, it kind of makes you believe in fate, doesn’t it?”

With the windows down, the aromas of prairie grass and dry earth filled the car all the way to the outskirts of Sioux Falls. Mary Forman stood on the top step of the stairs leading to her porch with her arms crossed and a dour expression on her face. She looked older than she should have for her age, and although still pretty, her eyes seemed dark and lifeless; like a light inside her had gone out.

“I was in a boarding school in New York or at college in London most of the time my parents had the house in Wasta,” she said, “so I really don’t remember much about the town. I haven’t been there since the accident.” She flicked away an insect from in front of her face with her right hand. “Jenny Tompkins? Sorry, I don’t remember her.” Looking out at the broad expanse of the flower gardens in front of her house as if she has seen something in the distance, she said, “That house was a very unhappy place. My father was a difficult man and had numerous affairs, but the one with my mother’s best friend, Celia Grant, nearly killed her.”

Jake Meggers said, “I thought the mudflat had been there when the house was built, but I guess I was wrong. Time plays tricks on a person’s memory.” He paused, then said, “I guess researching a story about Wasta and the Forman house has been pretty easy for you. Wasta isn’t a very complicated place.” Pointing at a spot in the mud near a tree that had broken in half, he said, “That’s where they found the overturned car the Formans were in. Imagine dying by suffocation from mud and right in front of your own house.”

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Stories

London, by Tom J. Perrin

#realistic

Mark’s morning commute was a pain in the arse, but he had no alternative. Sitting on the full train heading toward the bustling metropolis of London this morning, he rued his show off younger self. Sure, he thought, I have the city job but his bank balance was pitiful, and it would be until he really found his feet at Burke and Bailey. Maybe in a year he could move into the city and never have to take this fucking train again. The forty five minutes weren’t that bad, but when you’re herded into a hunk of moving steel like sheep, pressed up against some other poor schmuck in an expensive looking suit with a briefcase, day after miserable day, it can get pretty annoying. Today he faced a fat balding man who looked just as miserable as he did. Having to run for the train this morning meant he had to stand face to face with this guy all the way into the city. They didn’t even bother with the nicety of small talk, Mark pressed play on his iPod and went into his own world. The fat guy opposite was a little more positive with his morning, and clutched a bent and well-worn paperback in his hand, gripping onto the handrail with the other free hand. How Mark longed to be one of the people in first class, who chose to live outside of London because they could afford to, who commuted through choice rather than financial necessity, and who sat back and watched the world go by and didn’t have to wrinkle their nose against the faint odour of BO floating around one of the three carriages in the Eastern Trainlines 7.47am service into London Euston.
Twelve months max, Mark thought to himself. He’d trade his flat on the outskirts for a flat in the centre. A year of thrifty savings and he’d never had to get this fucking train again. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on the music filling his ears, holding his breath against the stale smell of human sweat drifting into his nostrils.
Sophie had managed to find a seat and sat with her laptop balancing precariously on her knees, nervously looking over her presentation that she due to give that morning. Fenner Pharmaceuticals were on the verge of releasing a new drug into society. This drug would be one of a kind and was designed to help the taker tackle social anxiety. The release of endorphins into the brain as soon as the pill dissolved into the bloodstream created a sense of ease in the brain, a feeling of relaxation would soon overcome the recipient of the drug and all shades of nervousness would be counteracted. They’d tested it on a handful of subjects, and the results had been remarkable, even the shiest of their subjects had been placed in potentially unsettling social situations and excelled.
Sophie was due to pitch to the head of every major chemist in the UK. She was a little nervous but her preparation had been meticulous. She glanced up from her MacBook and noted that the train was crammed full, as it was every morning. She felt for the passengers looking uncomfortable standing but her sympathy only went so far, they should have gotten to the station earlier, and then maybe they would have got a seat, as it was she was backwards facing as the train crept towards Euston.
Malcolm was bloody miserable. He hated these horrible morning shifts when he would ferry the rich into the city, and then steer the empty train back to the outskirts, repeating until 2.30pm when he could go home for the evening. This service wasn’t bad, as people were mainly fine, heading into the city with time to kill. It was the one after this train that would be the pain in the arse, as he’d ferry the stragglers into the city. He hated dealing with those who’d slept through their alarms and would be panicking that they’d be late. There was always one rich cocksucker in a suit who would complain to him as they pulled into Euston just before 9am.
“I’m late now, fuck” they’d always complain. Like Malcolm gave a toss. He’d shrug and close the window to Mr Rolex and his briefcase. One nagging question prodded at Malcolm each and every morning that he was down on the rota for the morning stretch between Grafton and Euston, via the pleasant village of Frampley. How had he ended up here?
The radio crackled in front of him, he picked up the receiver and held it to his ear.
“Mal…Malc…Malcolm, are you there?” A female voiced came through the radio
“Loud and clear Sue, what’s up?”
Sue was at the control box at Euston, directing trains and controlling the flow of traffic in and out of the station. She was a frumpy woman with knockout tits. She and Malcom had gone out once for a date, which had ended back up at her Isleworth apartment. Relations had cooled somewhat between them as word got around of her promiscuity with other train drivers. She was what was known in the train driver’s circles as a smash and dash.
“I… I don’t know… there’s something wrong with the city. Malcom, park up half a mile away from the tunnel, will you?”
He sighed to himself “Ah, fuck, Sue. What am I supposed to tell them?”
“Signalling, until we know more…please”
He noticed the panic in her voice “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Nobody knows yet; just pull up will you… I’ll keep in touch”
The connection was ended with a short crackle of static. Malcolm sighed deeply and picked up the radio that let him communicate with the train. He paused a moment and he started to slow the train on the approach to Euston, the yellowish tint to the city that had first looked mesmerising now looked sinister to him.
“Ladies and Gentleman, this is your driver speaking, I am afraid…”
###
The vast crowds milling around London’s plush streets were all frozen to the spot and looking up at the sky. They stared stunned at the ever expanding spectre of darkness overcoming the translucent morning sky. Some were confused, some expressed fear in hushed tones as if talking to themselves and some conferred with others when normally they would walk straight on by.
For those already in the expansive offices that made up Canary Wharf, they all stood transfixed at the open windows, looking at the clouds as they rolled in. It was a mist drifting in off of the Thames that caught their attention. Only it seemed like it was engulfing everything in its path. Not only was in slow rolling in off of the water, it was approaching airborne from all directions, slowly but surely. The glass façade of Canary Wharf was slowly filled with blinking faces looking out over the metropolis.
Traffic was at a standstill. Only a handful of disconcerted people carried on with their daily routine and pushed through the crowds. Some even took advantage of the standstill traffic and navigated through the stationary cars. The lone cyclist going about his business was cycling frantically, as if he were outrunning something.
If you were unlucky enough to be on the tube that morning, you wouldn’t have known what was going on above ground. You would have been totally in the dark as to why the city above had come to a standstill. All the services were halted across the city, wherever they were, the darkness that engulfed morning commuters created an eerie sense of confusion in the steel tube trains. The electricity still hummed all around them, but nothing moved and nobody spoke. The tannoy announcement had spoken of signalling problems, and promised constant updates on the situation.
It had been a smokescreen of course; there were no updates to give, because nobody knew what was happening to the city.
London stood still, watching, waiting, and wondering.
###
The clouds that were rolling towards the city centre had enveloped Brentford and the outer districts of London when the Boeing 747 made its final approach towards Heathrow. The pilot saw the clouds from a far and radioed into air traffic control, but got no response. He radioed into the control centre again, and the same static crackling that had greeted him minutes ago met him again. It was time to put his training into action, and bring this bird down safely on the ground. The coordinates were locked. His co-pilot looked worried, he was new to the job and together so far they’d only flown in perfect conditions.
“Hey” Captain Rogers put his hand on Blake’s shoulder “It’s only a bit of cloud, buddy, don’t worry”

Those were the last words they ever spoke between them.

Mary Baggerly lived a stone’s throw from the major landing path for the new T5 terminal. She, along with other residents, protested vehemently against it, but eventually she got squashed like the insignificant little bug she felt up against the government. She heard the plane approaching from the north east, and craned her neck for a look out of her front window.
That morning she couldn’t the plane as it descended into the strange low hanging clouds. As soon as it hit the clouds, the noise dwindled down, and as the back end of the plane entered the cloud, the noise stopped all together. The plane disappeared into the cloud, but never came out, it… it… simply disappeared into the smog and never came back out. She cranked up her hearing aids in her ears, and instantly turned them back down, as she craned a well-tuned ear to the clouds, expecting engine roar, she heard screams, screams which pierced her to her very soul. She ran out of the house and out into the clouds.
She dropped dead on her front step.
###
“It’s been forty-five fucking minutes, what is going on?” An angry voiced called out over the hush of the carriage Sophie found herself sat in that Monday morning. A wall of silence met the voice, who, clearly annoyed that nobody had joined the chorus, continued. “I was meant to be in a fucking meeting ten minutes ago, fuuuuck. Let me through, I’m going to talk to the driver.” He started to push through the stationary crowd crammed inside the carriage that stood still on the tracks. People were content to let him through rather than point out that they were all late, that they were all stuck, and that they were all annoyed, they just weren’t being an obnoxious moron about it.
Sophie looked out of her window, staring into the concrete jungle that stood on the approach into London. Backwards facing, she couldn’t see the city, she could only make out its reflection in the guy’s glasses who sat in front of her, eyes fixed on the city. She was just as annoyed as the guy who was no doubt banging on the driver’s door and f’ing and blinding for no reason. She’d called her boss, who, in a confused state had told her that some kind of rolling fog was slowly engulfing the city, and that it had brought the usual bustling streets to a complete standstill. As it happened, the heads of the companies she would be presenting to were also stuck in traffic. So really, there was nothing to worry about. They were all up the same shit filled creek with the same paddle.
“What can you see?” She asked specs in the seat opposite
“I… I… don’t know” The sweat seeping through is shirt meant that he was either worried, or didn’t talk to women very often. He shuffled backwards into his seat, lifting his legs up into his chest “Have a look yourself”
Sophie did. She didn’t like what she saw.
###
The mist had fully enveloped London now. As it rolled in the people who were on the streets dove for open shop windows, they crowded down into subway stations, and generally took every single bit of evasive action that they possibly could to get out of the way. One pre-adolescent on his way to college decided to jump into the Thames to get away from the fog, but he never made it to the water. The mist spat out an arm and caught him. Anyone else who had the misfortune to be taken by the fog did so with their hands firmly clamped over their ears, trying to stifle the screaming sounds coming from the vapour.
Then it started to rain.
It instantly began to dissolve everything that it fell on, tops of buildings, cars, and the pavement below, and human flesh. The unwitting cyclist who had weaved through the traffic made it as far as Tower Bridge before the rain got him, ripping through his flesh. Until it reached his legs, he cycled on, his top half slowly dissolving, becoming a grinning spectacle of half man, half skeleton. As he splashed through a puddle the front tire gave out and he crashed down into the quickly forming puddles of rain, and he slowly dissolved away, bringing the nose wrinkling smell of rotting corpse to the air.

The rain ate through pavements, cars falling into the sewers below. The underground network was exposed like roots of a tooth after years of slow decay; cars fell onto the stationary trains, bringing with them splashes of acid that instantly tore through the roofs of the trains, rendering the people inside dead instantly, if not from the crush then from the rain soaking them. Buses ran over cars in a panic, pulverising those inside. Building were dissolving, crumbling and starting to decay.
The rain fell like an incessant monsoon for the next few minutes, eating through everything in its path. Then it stopped. Sophie had swapped seats with the guy in glasses and now sat looking into the dark nebula of the fog, imagining the rain reducing London to a slippery mess. She’d not brought her umbrella today.

Then the clouds exploded.

###
“What the…?” Sophie muttered to herself, she put her hand out of the window to catch some of the colourful rain that had just started to fall onto the train; she quickly withdrew hare hand back into the carriage, her eyes widened at the sight of the flesh disappearing rapidly, showing bone in seconds.
“CLOSE THE FUCKING WINDOWS” someone shouted, and clambered over her, knocking her unconscious as their knee connected with the side of her bowed head.
The rain fell on the train, and then quickly blew in through the open windows, dissolving flesh, creating widespread panic as people tried to flee. Some naively tried to shelter themselves with briefcases, newspapers. Some desperate people even grabbed fellow commuters and tried to use them as shields.
The screams reverberated around the train, as the engine started up and the train was quickly thrown into reverse.
The screams were now joined by the dull roar of the engine, the rain hadn’t reached the undercarriage just yet, but the screams had reached the driver, who stared transfixed at the spectre of doom befalling the city he called home.
And those screams, he could hear them in his soul.
###
London imploded.
Buildings collapsed on their foundations, shop windows blew out, taking the people inside with them, throwing out a shower of glass and bodies into the fog.
The Thames burst its barriers, creating a tsunami effect in all directions, the rapidly gushing water engulfing rubble, cars, bodies and absolutely everything else in its path.
The resulting mushroom cloud that stood over London was pulsing, like a beating heart working overtime to pump blood around the body.

It exploded again, shooting arms of vapours out in all directions; it was fast, and it spread rapidly outside of the city itself, shooting off into the countryside, out over the sea towards France and up the motorways towards the rest of the country.

The train was hurtling now, going in reverse as fast as it could.
Malcolm still clutched his one ear that hadn’t been dissolved off, trying to drown out the screams.

The fog was chasing the train
It was chasing him,
And it was screaming.
Malcolm crouched down underneath the control panel, the train growling uncontrollably into the countryside.
Malcolm prayed, but it was no use.
He knew the fog was faster.

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Stories

John Lennon by Deana Morton

#john lennon #new york #realistic

“John Lennon is out cold,” Gabe said, pointing to table three with a cappuccino in his right hand.

“I hope he fucking dies.” He paused and then added, “I guess I don’t really mean that.”

The cafe was packed with the lunch rush. It seemed like everyone inside the place was trying to catch a glimpse of John Lennon who was sitting upright in his chair with his eyes closed and his head tilted forward, his chin almost touching his chest. I walked over to his table and saw a couple of fresh track marks up the side of his right arm that were unseen by those inside of the cafe.

“Should I call an ambulance?” someone shouted from the other side of the room.

%

At the time, I was working French cafe in Chelsea living as a struggling writer in Brooklyn. My creativity had fallen by the wayside, replaced with anger, frustration and self-pity as I waited tables, serving New York City’s elite. The cafe was a meetup for actors, famous artists, fashion editors and literary heavy hitters.

On Wednesdays, I worked the breakfast/lunch shift with Gabe who had moved to New York City from Alabama with high hopes of being a playwright. We bonded over our self-loathing, lack of success and hatred of each customer that walked into the cafe.

That particular Wednesday, I arrived forty minutes before the cafe opened to find Hank Williams blasting over the speakers of the dimly lit cafe. The green and white armless bistro chairs were still stacked on the tables and the place felt cold and empty. I knew that Gabe was in the back room squeezing lemons for our famous “fresh squeezed lemonade.” The wait staff took the lemon juice, mixed it with tap water, added a piece of mint and charged patrons $4.50.

When I heard Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonkin,” I knew that Gabe was either hung over, in a terrible mood or both. I dropped my coat by the cash register and opened the door to the tiny back room. Gabe stood wedged between four cases of tomatoes and a stack of frozen chocolate mousses. He looked like a giant amongst the towers of food hunched over, gritting his teeth as he placed the lemons in the juicer.

“Morning.”

Gabe looked up with a split lip. “Hey.”

“Rough night?”

“Ain’t it always rough in the city in February?”

“I guess,” I huffed, grabbing a couple gallons of milk out of the back fridge.

I retreated to the front of the cafe, put the milk in a large tray that Gabe had already filled with ice, counted the cash, stocked the napkins and made myself a shot of espresso. Gabe opened the door to the back room with gusto. “The lemon juice is done. I wonder if the customers would notice if I added some piss to it.”

I was unsure if he was serious or not so I continued what I was doing. He handed me the large plastic container filled with juice and started to take the chairs off the table.

“Fleetwood Mac?” I asked, flipping through the list of my once beloved albums on my iPod that had all been tainted by their association with the cafe.

“Tom Waits’ Closing Time. On repeat. The whole shift,” he insisted.

I clicked on the album as Waits’ piano rang through the speakers.

“Here we go,” I said, opening the front door as Gabe cracked his knuckles. The storm of regulars entered the cafe, simultaneously removing their jackets and hats.

Thirty minutes later, the place was packed. Two old ladies complained about the music. “It’s too loud!” one cried, pointing to the speaker above them. I shrugged my shoulders with a half-assed apology and lied, “The speakers are broken. There’s only one volume level.”

“Can I speak to the owner?” The other lady yelled looking over my shoulder at Gabe. I hadn’t seen the owner of the cafe in months, which was one of the best things about working there. We were our own bosses.

I sauntered over to Gabe. “Go pretend you’re the owner at table eight.”

He squinted his eyes and nodded his head. “No problem.”

After talking to Gabe, the ladies got up and walked out the front door without ordering.

“What a bunch of angry old hags,” Gabe uttered, joining me at the espresso machine. I knew without asking that he too had refused to turn down the music.

Two hours later, another regular strolled in. He was the one we all called John Lennon because he once wore the iconic navy and white ring tee with the words NEW YORK CITY on the front and a pair of wire framed glasses with tinted lenses. John Lennon was about my age and lived in a huge loft in the neighborhood where he made leather pants for celebrities like Madonna, Lenny Kravitz and Sheryl Crow.

John Lennon had curly black hair, square chin, high cheekbones and pouty lips. He was always wearing leather pants, a ratty t-shirt and black prayer beads around both wrists and today was no exception. He sat down at table three and placed his feet on the chair in front of him and leaned back like he was sitting poolside on a chaise lounge.

“I’ll take this asshole,” Gabe snarled.

“I think I can handle it,” I spoke, regretting my words as soon as they flew out of my mouth.

I walked over to his table and stood in front of John Lennon with my hands on my hips. “What’ll it be today?”

He smelled like cigarettes and Nag Champa and he was picking at his right thumb. He looked up at me like I was interrupting something important. “I want the soup du jour and it has to be hot. I mean really hot, okay?” He smiled at me with a piece of tobacco wedged between his front teeth. I started to walk away from him as he yelled, “And a cappuccino. Skim milk. Extra foam!”

I sulked over to the espresso machine. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of his cappuccino,” Gabe said, as if making his drink would break me.

After serving a German lesbian couple with matching red glasses, Gabe pulled me over to the cash register. “John Lennon is out cold,” he said.

%

I took John Lennon’s brown fur coat on the chair beside him and draped it over his chest like a blanket. It was the most maternal thing I had done since I arrived in New York. I raised my arms and turned around to face the customers and made an announcement. “He told me he might take a nap,” I lied.

This reassurance caused everyone to go back to what they were doing. People asked for the check, the German lesbian couple waved their arms to get my attention and two crepes appeared in the kitchen window waiting to be served.

Gabe leaned against the cash register sipping John Lennon’s cappuccino. “I made this with heavy cream instead of skim milk,” he stated flatly. “I want to throw it in his face.”

“I think he nodded off,” I whispered to Gabe, tapping a vein on the inner crook of my elbow. He shrugged his shoulders, grabbed an almond croissant covered in powdered sugar out of the display case and shoved it into his mouth. He then took a small bottle of Kahlua out of his back pocket, poured it into the cappuccino and finished the drink.

“Money can buy you an apartment in Chelsea but it can’t buy you a bed to nod off in.” Gabe shook his head almost taken back by his new found wisdom.

“I’m too tired to deal with this,” I said.

“Me too,” Gabe said pouring red wine into a coffee cup that he would keep next to the cash register. He held up the bottle and raised his eyebrows in a gesture to pour me a glass.

I shook my head.

Several customers started to come up to us asking us about John Lennon passed out at his table. Gabe and I took turns making up lies ranging from sleep to a new meditation trend to performance art. We said the last one to most of the art enthused tourists that had stopped in for coffee between galleries. I even took a picture of two Japanese college girls who held up peace signs while squatting on either side of him.

Thirty minutes before our shift ended, the restaurant was practically empty. I found myself studying John Lennon, who was still slumped over in his chair. I noticed the scuff marks on the tip of his black cowboy boots, how the zipper of his black leather pants was almost halfway down and the inch long scar on his right cheekbone. He seemed almost angelical with the sun gleaming off of his face and all I could think of is that even as a drug addict, John Lennon would be more successful than I ever would be. I went over to the table and took his fur coat and lifted it up over him again as his cell phone fell onto the floor with a crash. I froze, waiting for him to wake up. He stirred but continued to sleep.

I grabbed the phone and ran back to the cash register. There were several missed texts and phone calls on the screen. I clicked on the first text from someone named Patrick. dude where r u? got the dopest shit ever. u got to try.

Gabe glanced over my shoulder with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

I typed, fuck off and leave me alone, and pressed send. Gabe grabbed his stomach and started to roar with laughter. I chuckled uncomfortably thinking about the time I vandalized the side of a school with a sharpie marker when I was twelve. I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway. “Maybe Patrick’s his drug dealer,” I remarked, trying to rationalize my actions. “Telling him to fuck off might save John Lennon’s life.”

I clicked on another set of texts from someone named Mandy. Keith Richards is in the city and wants to meet with you today. You need to call me back ASAP!

“Gimme.” Gabe reached for the phone, placing the cigarette behind his right ear.

I watched him type, tell keith he can blow me, and press send.

“Ok, I think that’s enough.”

I took the phone and placed it in my apron.

Gabe started to pour more wine into his coffee cup. “I’m takin’ a smoke break.”

Someone entered the cafe and ordered an English Breakfast tea to go as Tom Waits began to sing, “Lonely. Lonely. Lonely.” I placed my left hand on the phone in my apron and rubbed my thumb over the screen.

Another waitress walked into the cafe brushing snowflakes off of her hair signalling the end of my shift. “What’s up with John Lennon?” she asked, taking off her black pea coat.

All of a sudden, John Lennon opened his eyes and sheepishly looked around the empty restaurant, touching his right thumb on the corner of his mouth. He put his arms through the sleeves of his fur coat with a little shiver. I took a deep breath and walked over to his table. He looked directly into my eyes and tucked his curly hair behind his ear as his cell phone buzzed against my thigh.

Folding his arms over his chest, he yelled, “Where’s my soup?”

That night I sat alone on my unmade bed in my studio apartment listening to Reggaeton seeping through the walls from my neighbor’s apartment. I watched texts and phone calls file into John Lennon’s phone one by one. I went through his contacts recognizing names of people I only read about in the New York Times and Rolling Stone Magazine. There were even two texts and a voice message from him stating that he needed his phone back offering a $800 reward, “No questions asked.”

At around 10pm, I shoved his phone into the pocket of my coat and retreated down the stairs to go for a walk. Two blocks away from my apartment, a homeless man in a threadbare sweatshirt asked me for “some kindness.” I placed John Lennon’s phone in his calloused palm and gestured for him to take it. He began to thank me profusely, spit flying out of his mouth and onto my shoulder. Pulling my hood over my head, I continued down the snow covered avenue trying to convince myself that I was still a good person.

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