Without You

Contributor: ES Cooper

- -
She could hear him muttering under his breath. Complaining about her clothes on the floor, the cups she left out, and whatever else he could think of.
"If I drive you so crazy, why don't you just leave?" She suggested as she rolled over in the bed.
"It's that easy for you, then?" He asked; his voice clearly pained.
"I'm not saying it's easy, but all you ever do is piss and moan about what I do wrong. What are we doing then?"
"Those are just annoyances," he dismissed her. "I love you in spite of them."
"You sound miserable."
She felt the weight of him as he sat down on the bed with her. "I can't leave. Not yet."
"So, we just have an expiration date then? How romantic."
She fell asleep to the sound of him sighing and murmuring to himself.
#
She awoke to the sound of dishes slamming in the kitchen. It sounded like he was breaking every dish they owned.
"I will clean it eventually!" she yelled at him. She heard the sound of glass breaking. She rubbed her temples. He always had such a temper.
"Okay, break them then. I didn't want to clean them any-freaking-way." She yelled. Still he didn't reply just more slamming cabinets and clanking dishes. She sighed. It was getting to the point that she couldn't really remember the times when they didn't fight. She knew at one point they had been happy, but it seemed so distant now. Now they were just stuck at an impasse. And every day they resented each other a little more.
He didn't want to end it though, and she could admit to herself that she didn't really either. She couldn't remember much about what her life had been like before him. It was scary to think of her life without him, but as the slamming in the kitchen continued, she realized that it was becoming scary to think of her life with him.
#
The next time she woke up she could hear him crying. It was almost too quiet to hear, but she could hear it. She sat up to see his head in his hands and her picture in his lap.
"What is wrong?" she asked him.
"It's over. I know that it's over." He sobbed.
She wrapped her arms around him, "But I still love you."
"It's too hard."
"We can get through this. We can get through anything remember? It's just a phase. I'll do better." She found herself pleading with him.
"Not this," he whispered. He lowered his hands and touched her picture. She realized then that all of her stuff was gone. Nothing that belonged to her was anywhere to be found.
And then she saw boxes and suitcases by the door.
"You're kicking me out?!" she screamed at him.
"I'm so sorry."
She felt the tears welling up in her eyes, but she couldn't fight it anymore. Maybe it really was over. She stood up and walked to the door. She wasn't sure how long she stood in the doorway before she said, "I guess this is goodbye?"
When he didn't say anything she turned and walked out the door with nothing but the clothes on her back. She supposed if she was gonna start a life without him, she was going to start it from scratch. Her heart felt heavy, though.
#
He traced the outline of her face in the picture frame. He tore his eyes from the picture then and looked at the urn beside him. He wanted her to be free, but he hadn't been able to let her go until today.


- - -
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My Mother's Ring

Contributor: Joe Russo

- -
My mother’s ring had two diamonds on the sides and in the middle a bigger diamond. She wore it everyday, even the day she died. She loved it, even more than her own kids. Supposedly.
I was running late to the lawyers office because Rebecca, the girl I wasn’t supposed to be with, wanted to go to breakfast. And because Shelly, the girl I was with, wanted to meet for lunch.
I walked into the lawyer’s office at 1:05, an hour and five minutes late. My sister was sitting, with her brown hair in a tight bun and wearing the tightest black dress I have ever seen, in front of the desk. I didn’t know why she was wearing it, the lawyer was over seventy and trying to impress him wouldn’t work.
“Glad you finally made it,” Joanna said, making that typical sneer face everyone hated.
I sneered back at her and took my seat. The worn leather cushion making a soft puff sound.
“As you know, your mother's will was very extensive and trying to get everyone together was very hard,” the lawyer said, removing papers out of his briefcase. He set them down and took out a pair of glasses. He cleared his throat.
“Half of the estate went to your father, who said he was going to bestow it to his children.”
“What about her ring?” Joanna asked, crossing her legs and putting her hands on the desk.
“Her diamond ring?” I asked.
“Yes her diamond ring, idiot. What else?” Joanna answered.
The lawyer shuffled through the papers. He cleared his throat again.
“It doesn’t say anything about rings in the will. Maybe…”
“Because I should get it. I am the oldest” Joanna said, looking at me.
“But I’m the only boy,” I said. The lawyer shuffled through the papers, stopping and looking every now and then. He brought one piece up to his face.
“And what are you going to do with it? Wear it?” Joanna asked.
“Oh, gee I don’t know maybe give it to my fiancé,” I said.
“Yeah when, and if, you even find one,” Joanna whispered back.
The lawyer looked at us bickering, like a tennis match, his head turning to the left and then to the right. “Ah yes. Here it is ‘my diamond engagement ring, given to me by my husband’-” he said and was soon interrupted.
“Where can I pick it up?” Joanna asked.
I looked at her. The lawyer looked at her, dropping his papers.
“The ring wasn’t given to you, Joanna,” the lawyer said. He looked over at me.
“See I told you she gave it to me,” I said.
The lawyer shook his head again.
“I’m afraid she hasn’t given it to you as well,” the lawyer said.
“Then who did she give it to?” Joanna asked, standing up. The office was quiet as everyone looked at each other. I just wanted the ring to give to Shelly, or whoever I was seeing this week. Joanna wanted it because it made her feel beautiful, which she needed because no one told her that.
“The ring was given to Ellie,” The lawyer finally said, breaking the silence.
Joanna stomped over, taking her place in her chair. I put my fingers against my head.
“Ellie…” Joanna finally whispered.
The lawyer shook his head up and down.
“Our ugly sister?” Joanna asked, starting to tear up.
“Yes, the ugly one idiot,” I said.
“Its okay. I’ll just ask her for it when she comes,” Joanna said, head sticking up in the air. She looked toward the door.
“Ellie already came by and picked it up this morning,” the lawyer said, picking up the papers. Joanna stared at him, her mouth wide.
“Your mother did leave you two something though,” The lawyer said.
We looked at him, our eyes wide like it was Christmas morning. Maybe she left me all her cars. Maybe she left Joanna all her clothes. We crossed our fingers.
“She gave you both three hundred and fifty dollars. And she signed it with ‘Love, mom’” the lawyer said, putting the papers back into his briefcase and taking out an envelope. He dashed out the money and we took it, looking at each other.
“I can’t believe she gave that ring to Ellie,” Joanna said. We left the office together and as we reached the elevator my cell phone beeped. I took it out.
Ellie sent me a picture of her driving, her right hand placed over her mouth, the ring shining in the sunlight. I laughed, silently, to myself and wondered what Rebecca was doing for dinner.


- - -
A current writing student. When I'm not writing, I'm blogging. When I'm not blogging, I'm watching Netflix. When I'm not watching Netflix, well... that's a problem.
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Margaret Mary Kelly, 82, Wants to Marry Paddy Regan, 84

Contributor: Donal Mahoney

- -
Father Brennan had been pastor of St. Ignatius Church for 20 years, a long time for any one priest to remain at one parish. Usually the archbishop would transfer a pastor after he had served seven years. By that time, parishioners might have needed a fresh face and fresher homilies and the pastor, truth be told, might like to see a few new faces himself in the pews every Sunday morning.

That wasn't the case with Father Brennan, however. St. Ignatius was a parish in decline in terms of parishioners and he loved those who were still there, the ones who hadn't moved or passed away. There were only about 60 people left now, most of them widows and widowers as well as one nice elderly maiden who had never married, Margaret Mary Kelly, who studied early in life to become a nun but ultimately decided that life as a nun was not for her. She moved back home to care for her aging parents and did a fine job. Her father died at 84 and her mother at 81.

Margaret Mary herself now was 82. That's why Father Brennan was surprised to hear--word travels like a rabbit in a small parish--that Margaret Mary was thinking of marrying a widower older than she was, a man named Paddy Regan, 84, who lived in another parish a few miles away. She had never in her life shown any interest in marriage. Nor did she ever have to fight any men off. She was a fine woman not known for her comeliness as much as for her wit and her holiness.

Father Brennan didn't know what to think.

"Well," he said to himself over a cup of tea, "if Margaret Mary wants to get married, we'll do our best for her. I just hope the groom-to-be is in fine health. The two of them may not realize that in the Catholic Church a couple must be able to engage in sexual intercourse or the marriage would be null and void. I know they have all these medications now to give a man a boost but at 84 a man might need a rocket to get the job done."

Sure enough, two weeks later, Margaret Mary rang the rectory door bell and asked to see Father Brennan. He was about to eat lunch but asked her to come right into his small library where they could sit and talk.

"I'm planning on marrying Paddy Regan, Father, a widower one parish over," Margaret Mary began, "and I thought I should come see you to make the arrangements. At our age, Paddy and I would like to get married as soon as we can. Even though we have no serious health problems, God might call either one of us any day now. So we'd like to take our vows and, as they say, start living happily ever after, however long that might be."

Father Brennan didn't know how to begin to approach the potential problem of the couple's physical readiness to engage in the conjugal act, the Church's official term for sexual intercourse within a marriage. Even if Margaret Mary had brought Paddy Regan with her, it wouldn't have been any easier to approach the subject of Mr. Regan's potency or lack thereof. Father Brennan figured Margaret Mary might be marrying for companionship as might Mr. Regan. Every once in awhile, however, another Hugh Hefner pops up but that had happened only once before at St. Ignatius parish and the man, a legend in the neighborhood, died on his honeymoon, blissful, Father Brennan hoped, at age 87.

"Well, Margaret Mary," Father Brennan said, "you say you and Paddy are both in good health. Does he get out and about or sit around all day watching TV?"

Margaret Mary didn't know what to say except that Paddy Regan had struck her as being in fine shape, no matter the fact that he was into his eighties. After all, he had been a widower for three years so he must know what he wanted to do. Besides, he had been married twice before and both wives had died of natural causes. The first one had given him six children and the second one had given him another five. All of the children, well into adulthood now, were married, had good jobs and were a joy to Paddy. Besides, he didn't drink or smoke and could dance much younger women to the point of being too tired to continue. Light on his feet, Paddy was.

Father Brennan's reluctance in getting down to business had a lot to do with knowing Margaret Mary had once studied to be a nun and had spent the rest of her life taking care of her aging parents. She was a very spiritual woman. When possible, she used to bring her parents to daily Mass until they got too sick to come. After both had died, she herself attended daily Mass at 6:30 a.m. and had been doing that for at least 15 years. He doubted Margaret Mary knew much about sex, never mind the Church's requirement that any man seeking to marry had to be capable of having sexual intercourse. There would be no pass for Paddy Regan if he couldn't deliver the goods, as Father Brennan liked to think of it. God bless Paddy if he's up to it, Father thought, and then chastised himself for the unintended pun.

"Well, Margaret Mary, I know that you and Paddy won't be having a family but tell me are you sure he's looking for a wife and not a housekeeper?"

This comment did not sit too well with Margaret Mary, who rustled in her seat.

"Father, I told Paddy Regan there would be no messing around till I had a ring on my finger and we had said our vows. I told him I was a virgin and I would remain a virgin if we didn't get married. The man has had two wives, Father, and 11 children. I don't think he's looking for a housekeeper. He has a daughter who comes over twice a week to clean his house and she does a fine job of it. No, he's looking for a wife, I can tell you that. We have only kissed and hugged but he doesn't kiss me the way he might kiss his sister who, God bless her, is still going strong at 90, having been widowed twice herself. If I had a brother, I'd introduce him to her. A very nice woman."

Father Brennan decided he probably had to get to the point.

"Margaret Mary, your intended has had sex for most of his adult life and this will be something new for you. I imagine you have some idea what to expect if Paddy is still able to make love. Some men at his age aren't capable of doing that any more. You are probably aware of the physical aspects of marriage, I'm sure, and what will be expected of Paddy in the marital embrace." Marital embrace was another term the clergy used when discussing sexual intercourse.

Margaret Mary took a deep breath, uncrossed her legs and looked Father Brennan right in the eye.

"Father, all we have done is kiss and hug but on his birthday Paddy asked me to sit on his lap and give him a big kiss. Well, if he's not healthy enough to have sex, Father, I wish he had taken that crowbar out of his pocket. Scared the dickens out of me. I almost jumped off his lap. Can we get down to business now and set the date. Paddy and I aren't getting any younger."

Father Brennan coughed, looked at his desk calendar and said "How about four weeks from now? That will give us time to announce the bans of marriage in church and do everything right. And, of course, I'd like to meet Paddy Regan myself so I'll recognize him at the ceremony. I'd hate to make a mistake and marry you off to the best man."

Margaret Mary Kelly left the rectory that day happy to have the date for her wedding set.

That night, Father Brennan called another priest a few parishes over and told him about the upcoming wedding without mentioning any names.

They both had a bit of a chuckle and marveled at how hope springs eternal in the people of God, whatever their age.

Then the other priest, before hanging up, said he'd bet the flower girl will be at least 65.


- - -
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
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Extra-Dry

Contributor: Joe Dinnen

- -
It plunged deeper and deeper until it lightly settled among the uneven surface. It hit rock bottom. Leaving a trail of tiny bubbles to the surface. From the outside it looked graceful – the round object plummeting down through the semi-toxic liquid, distorted by the transparent encasing.

Whatever, Ron thought as he eagerly gulped the remaining gin from the glass.

His plump fingers reached down to grasp the green olive he so intently watched. One finger in particular, marked by drastic tan-line, drove Ron to polish off the three martinis he consumed that night. His late father’s voice echoed in his head…

“Martinis are like tits – three are too many, one isn’t enough…”

At this point, Ron had no desire to deal with, think about, look at, touch, caress…tits. Nope.

Drinking alone in the lobby of a Residence Inn is the last place Ron figured he’d be thinking about tits, let alone his late father’s words regarding them. Banal walls surrounding cheaply tufted chairs that could collapse under Ron’s potbelly at any moment.

Was this martini glass even that? Indeed glass? Nope – it was plastic.

Staring at his jarring tan-line along his ring finger, Ron’s phone buzzed. Slowly he diverted his gaze to the email on the screen. It was his lawyer – papers were signed and it was official.

“Shit man. Shit.” Ron muttered to himself through his gin and olive breath.

“So uncouth…” A sultry voice added.

“Excuse me?” Ron said, slowly looking up out of contained rage.

He was pleasantly surprised. While he found her words among the last that he could stand in his current state, he was met with the seductive eyes of another middle-age lone rider.

Trade in the martini glass for a champagne flute and the dick for a – well, she was a female – and Ron felt he may have found someone equally pathetic and in equally dire straits.

He needed a rebound.

“I said, ‘So uncouth.’ Did I stutter?” she replied.

At this point, the booze sloshed in Ron’s belly and memories and thoughts sloshed in Ron’s brain. Anyone who has experienced this sensation can only attest to the struggle.

“Name?” Ron managed to articulate.

“My my, sounds like someone has had one too many?” She said with a wink. “You can call me Cheryl.”

Ron thought long and hard about his next move. Aside from the fact that his motor skills were nearly depleted, Cheryl was his wife’s name. Well, now ex-wife’s name. To move forward or to call it a night, Ron struggled.

“Staying here…Cheryl?” Ron stammered with a snarl.

“Checked in tonight. I’m not familiar with the area…” Cheryl replied.

“Okay. I do. I’ll show you.” Ron slurred, stumbling to his feet.

“Well, it’s rather late tonight…don’t you think?”

Ron could barely decipher his credit card from his ID, let alone whether Cheryl was willing to be his rebound. What do I have to lose?

“You’re right.” He complied.

“I think…I’ll stay in.” Cheryl whispered, slowly walking by Ron and leaving her room key slyly in front of him.

As she sauntered into the distance of the hotel’s banal décor, Ron dug his hand into his pocket, almost frantically searching for his card to pay for the drinks he guzzled.

Standing up, he wiggled his pudgy hands into his pocket to grab his wallet. Slamming both his ID and credit card on the counter, he figured he’d cut his losses on which is which – he surely did not know.

And at that moment he realized that three cards now sat in front of him – his ID, his credit card and Cheryl’s room key. And at that moment he also realized that if his drunken perception could not tell between his ID and credit card – it certainly would not be able to distinguish a room key in the group.

Feeling defeated, Ron sat down on the cheaply tufted chair he had spent the entire night on. Wobbling beneath his mass, it collapsed to the ground.

Now, he had hit rock bottom.


- - -
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Shutdown

Contributor: Kathy Coman

- -
It’s been eight agonizing hours and now the moment has finally arrived. All I can think of is getting home to my plush bed that my body has been crying for since the moment my alarm went off at 6:30 in the morning. My hand begins to shake with excitement as my pointer finger reaches for the mouse. With no direction needed to its location, the mouse quickly moves towards the shut down button on my computer screen. I feel energy gaining with each passing second, and then suddenly, “Your computer is unable to shut down at the moment, please wait for all of the programs to close.”

What?

I scan the screen trying to zero in on the target I need to annihilate so that I may relieve myself from this toxic environment called work. But when I look around my brain is coming back, “Target not in sight.”

More eager than before, my hand forces the mouse back over to the shut down button. My leg begins to shake as my eyes quickly glance to the time, 4:02 P.M., I could’ve been down to the first floor by this time, well that’s if I didn’t have to stop at any of the floors in between. Even if I did, I could’ve at least been on the elevator.
My mind wanders back to the shut down button and I click it.

Deep breaths and high hopes.

“Your computer is unable to shut down at the moment, please wait for all of the programs to close.”

“Oh my gosh!” my mind screams with anger.

Focus is what I tell myself as I scan the screen for any open programs. Not trusting my eyes completely, I use my finger to point my eyes from the top of the screen to the bottom.

“I don’t get it. Why are you doing this to me?”

I take deep, calming breaths and close my eyes. Trying to find an inner peace to get me to the point where I can officially windup my workday. Ignoring the clock I begin to try again.

Negative.

And again.

Negative.

Calm breaths are leaving as 4:15 approaches, anger erupts inside of me, as I did not agree to work overtime. I should’ve gone with my first notion of calling off this morning due to sickness, which is a lie. I spent last night flipping through memories with an old college friend. What should have been a night of dinner turned into a night of wine and laughter leaving me with only a hour and half of sleep. Now my body is crying with pains of tiredness.

I should’ve been on Main Street about to board I-90 but no, I’m stuck with a computer who believes that a non-existent program is keeping it awake. Well I don’t have time to rock it to sleep any longer. It is time to rock my body to sleep; time for me to be snuggled up under my plush mattress, holding my favorite pillow and easing myself into a deep sleep, the one that I neglected last night.

Index finger pointed to the sky as I smile at with evil intent. I forcefully push what IT refers to as the “sacred button” and the sweetest sound plays on my eardrums.

The melodic chords of a computer fading to black.


- - -
I received a Bachelor’s of English from the University of Toledo in 2008. My poetry has appeared in: A&U Magazine, Carty’s Poetry Journal, Blinking Cursor Literary Magazine, and others.
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The Dusk ‘til Dawn Motel

Contributor: R. Jill Fink

- -
The ancient window unit air conditioner shuddered, growling out a low-pitched protest while the woman smiled up at the stained popcorn ceiling. She reveled in the peaceful, four-minute window after each weekly session of fantastic, frantic sex, but in about forty seconds it would be time to get up and go back to life outside of Room #21.

Someone had actually been paid to decorate the motel in orange, brick red, and yellow in the seventies, but no one had been hired to refurbish since that time. Warm colors made her ill. It didn't much matter; she kept her eyes closed the majority of the time she was in here for two reasons: One was to keep her mind off of the putrid decor, and the second was so she could escape to places like Jamaica, Paraguay, or Fiji while she pretended she was younger, more desirable, and without a care in the world. He gave her this escape, and she made the most of it.

Splashing noises coming from the tiny bathroom interrupted the staring contest she was now having with a speck on the wall above the dead television. He always took a quick, cold shower after their urgent and steamy interlude.

She’d always had a weakness for a man who flirted with danger, and Sheriff Eric Mandy was particularly attracted to married women. It was a perfect match. It might be forty minutes or three hours, but the time spent being this dirty was worth the thrill of it.

Married. She was a Pastor’s wife. The thought of it rolled around in her head. It was meaningless, but then it meant everything. There was no substance and certainly no longer any love, if there ever had been; he’d grown cold when he found out she’d cheated the first time. It had been a momentary lapse of brain function. Mistakes had been made, and promises to God had been broken. Life had to go on.

She sat up and swung her feet over the edge of the too-soft mattress, slipping them into her bright red espadrilles. There was no way she’d let her bare skin touch the filthy carpet. God only knew what manner of things lurked there in the matted, pumpkin-colored fibers. As a matter of fact, her shoes were always the last item of clothing she’d remove for Eric, but they were the first she’d put back on.

He had been particularly quiet today, but, when she thought about it, she realized that there were never many words shared between them. It was only about animalistic desire, and it was about doing what people do best: Getting what they needed to survive.

She was dressed and outside within another twenty seconds, checking the horizon for travelers coming from either direction on Highway 90. It was such a desolate area, but then again, you never knew. This far from town, there was only the occasional semi-truck or lost tourist in this God-forsaken part of northeastern Alabama.

As she opened her car door, she knew he’d be stepping out of the shower. He would grab the only towel on the shelf above the toilet and move out into the motel room, doing a half-assed job of drying himself with the tiny rag. He’d then scrub it over his dark crew cut before dropping it on the floor.

Over the past few months of their clandestine meet-ups at the Dusk ‘til Dawn, she’d noticed how he couldn’t resist stopping to look at himself in the mirror of the thirty-some-year-old dresser. He’d stand there, naked, and mock a muscle-mag pose. It was a habit of his; he loved to admire his broad shoulders and fairly decent biceps. He had the look of a serious, tough cop complete with a nice, square jaw and a thick mustache. His blue eyes were the color of deep water, and his wide, hairy chest lead down to a large-ish gut. He didn't care enough to go to the gym, though, because, according to him, he was “still popular with the ladies.” She took this to mean he slept with others, but she didn’t care to think about that sort of thing.

As she drove across the gravel lot of the motel, the sound of her car tires crunching on the rocks reminded her of hard cereal, specifically Grape-Nuts. She was almost out of her husband’s favorite, as a matter of fact, and he would throw a fit tomorrow if she tried to feed him grits and eggs instead of a breakfast food that didn't really have a damn thing to do with either grapes or nuts. She made a mental note to pick up some on the way home, along with some 2% milk.

She rolled down her window and floored the gas pedal, barking the tires up onto the hot, black pavement. The powerful roar of the boat-like Buick’s engine temporarily put the thoughts of the Sheriff, cereal and her flabby husband completely out of her mind.

Mandy listened to the car peel out of the lot and shrugged. He didn't know about her, but it was always worth the trip for him. He snatched his uniform shirt from the back of a wooden chair by the dresser and thought of the only two other things on the top of his list of desires besides sex. There was having money, which was always good, but more importantly, he wanted to put something in his growling belly.

Just for fun, he decided to shake down a shady pawn shop owner for some spare cash on the way back into town, but if he’d hurry, he could also score a hunk of free cake at the diner on Philips Avenue. Stella, the sassy redhead who ran the place, had a sweet pair of jugs and made an even sweeter three-layer Devil’s Food. The power of the badge was a wonderful thing.


- - -
The author has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Media Design and has been published in The Dark Hoard, a horror anthology. She writes from central Florida and is attending Full Sail University for her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.
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A Suitable Man of the People

Contributor: Peter McMillan

- -
The Suit Shoppe was an institution. Generations of men and boys had been measured, fitted and suited there. Over the years, the store and its owners had figured in many newspaper accounts that promoted the business and the legend of the master tailors who fled their homeland.

Joe, the elder, and Harry, his son, created a phenomenal success story, and every four years, TV-savvy people came through to have their pictures taken with these immigrant entrepreneur stars. Between the papers and the parties and traditional word of mouth, advertising was free. Nevertheless, Harry, unlike his father and more like his great grandpa back home, was a showman as well as a tailor and businessman, and he believed in radio saturation.

Yet despite having the means and status to move uptown, Harry kept the neighborhood store opened by his grandpa. Since then, of course, the store had expanded horizontally and vertically—substantially in both cases—smoothly transitioned with the help of good friends in the right places.

Harry made a point of greeting and talking to everyone making them feel welcome, special, and, not incidentally, inclined to buy a suit or three. Harry never missed a day, though he wasn't always in the store. He had a multitude of obligations—weddings, funerals, christenings, communions, bar and bat mitzvahs, grand openings, opening ceremonies, and so on and so forth. Wherever a suit was called for, one was likely to be his.

At Trisha's wedding, I remember that Harry gushed over the appearance of the groom and his father, the three younger brothers, the best man, and the ushers. Ruth and I felt strangely pleased that Trisha was our daughter … and only child.

There wasn't a funeral in the neighborhood that Harry didn't attend. It didn't matter whether the deceased was the postman or a councilman, Harry went out of his way to express his condolences to the family. Instinctively, he would ruminate on how gratified the deceased would be to have such well-attired gentlemen in attendance.

Harry still lived in the old neighborhood, and we saw him now and again, always impeccably dressed in a fine suit, shopping or just visiting in the stores, going for walks with his dachshund, Tommy, or flying kites in the park with his grand kids. He was one of those fellows who always had time for people. And he was at home anywhere, stopping to chat with neighbors in their front yard or popping into a social club for a card game. He often gave his neighbors, the Wisniewski's, Father Francis' most faithful parishioners, a ride to church. Once he even took Harvey's cat in to be put down. Harvey, the store's longest-serving tailor going back to Harry's father, couldn't bear to do it.

In the neighborhood, there was a story—probably embellished over the years—about how Harry had long ago prevented a robbery. Two guys were holding up Mr. Kim's convenience store. Actually, I think it was before Mr. Kim—maybe it was Srini or O'Malley before him.. Anyway, Harry was in the store having personally delivered Mr. Kim's (or whoever's) new suit. When he saw the gun, Harry jumped right in. He told the older guy with the gun that he'd never get anywhere or amount to anything unless he learned to show more respect for himself by dressing better. And he added that he owed it to the kid to set a better example. Harry became the target, but just for a moment. Mr. Kim (or whoever) pulled out a baseball bat from under the counter and smashed the wrist holding the gun. Water sprayed all over Harry's suit. Luckily, it was a water pistol. Harry reportedly told the police that it was a good thing he was wearing a spectacular water-resistant suit—just arrived.

Harry is a fixture of my daily commute. Two-three times on the way in to the office and two-four more times on the way home, depending on traffic. Don't know what I'd do if I had to take the subway. Guess I'd have to poke those micro speakers into my brain so I could hear the radio properly. Here's Harry's latest radio ad. It's classic Harry.

"Five days and five days only at the airport convention center, we're having a fantastic—our largest ever—the city's most gigantic ever—suit sale. Six tractor trailers filled with an unbelievable collection of stunning suits—suits for every man, boy, and child—are arriving now, even as I speak. The selection is fabulous, the prices rock-bottom, and the quality—Harry's. But don't wait, 'cause even though there are thousands and thousands of beautiful suits—gorgeous suits—they're gonna go like hotcakes. They're gonna go like nobody's business."

Can't miss Harry's ads. They're on every station. And they're almost too easy to remember. Stopped at a red light, I sometimes catch myself keeping up with Harry.

I decided I'd better get out there—to the convention center. I needed a new dark suit, and I always got my suits from Harry. Fabulous selection and rock-bottom prices—trademark Harry. Quality? Well, occasionally an alteration or two was in order to make both sleeves 42 Long, but Harry had the best tailors in town and alterations never came to more than 10 percent. Besides, Harry was such a nice fellow. EVERYBODY said so.


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The author is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers. He has published two anthologies of his reprinted stories: Flash! Fiction and Flash! Fiction 2.
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Coming Home at Midnight to the Farm

Contributor: Donal Mahoney

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Driving down the hill I see the same bend in the road the school bus took me around for years. I can see in the headlights the wildflowers ringing the curve like a necklace--goldenrod, cornflower, Queen Anne's Lace, God's gift to country roads in the fall. You don't see anything like that in the city but I'm getting used to living there.

I see the house ahead, one light on, upstairs. It's midnight and my father's dead and my mother's in that room praying and maybe crying, waiting for me to pull in. She knows it's a six-hour drive from the city.

The wake will be tomorrow night at Egan's mortuary. There will be 15 decades of the rosary to say and I still have trouble getting through five. Then there will be three hours of listening to my mother's friends console her, ancient ladies all, many of them widowed long before her.

Many times my mother has been in their place so she knows what they will say but she will find some comfort in it anyway. The old farmers still alive will simply say "sorry for your troubles" which serves as both a condolence and a prayer.

Mass will be at 10 in the morning with Father Murphy in the pulpit sounding like Bishop Sheen. My dad told me long ago that when he finally died Father Murphy would confer sainthood on him at the funeral, no need for any miracles. Father Murphy has a long history of canonizing every farmer who dies unless he committed one of the seven deadly sins in public. My father said he hoped Father Murphy would talk loud enough for God to hear.

After the procession to the graveyard and the consignment of the casket, everyone will drive back to the church hall for the funeral meal--wonderful food prepared by good women and arranged in a long buffet.

The farmers will assure my mother they will be out to her place tomorrow and the next day to put up the hay. After the hay is taken care of, they will take turns coming to feed the cattle and they'll go to town to pick up whatever she needs. Things will work out, they will tell her. Not to worry.

After everyone has eaten, the ladies, one by one, will rise and bow to my mother and tell her to go home now and get some rest.

The men will shake hands with me and ask how long before I have to go back to the city. I'll say I have a week, maybe two, uncertain as to what night I'll have to leave. I know it will be around midnight. And the same light will be on, upstairs.


- - -
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
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Sooner Rather Than Later

Contributor: Khia Stone

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James watches the news report on the vintage wood- encased floor model TV his father had given to him and his recently deceased wife, Amy. He looks around the home they were building together. Their wedding photo hangs over the marble mantel of the fireplace. The color swatches are still on the walls that have yet to be painted. Their honeymoon photo album is on the mahogany coffee table where he rests his feet. This house is filled with memories of the life he wanted to build with Amy.
“A storm is brewing in the Gulf of Mexico with wind speeds close to one hundred miles per hour. At the rate this storm is progressing, it could be considered a category three or four hurricane by landfall and the storm surge alone could cripple the city if the levees don’t hold,” said the meteorologist on WDSU.
“We are recommending that everyone evacuate the city as soon as possible, or seek shelter at any of the available storm shelters around the city. The storm is scheduled to make landfall soon and local parishes are reporting flooding,” said the meteorologist.
James doesn’t want to leave the only piece of Amy he has left. He resolves that if he dies, then at least he will get to see the love of his life sooner rather than later.
James hears the limbs of the old majestic oak trees crashing around his home. He hears the sound of the gale force winds rustling the leaves and branches hitting the roof. The rain is beating the storm shutters and the floodwaters begin to rise. It is a beautiful symphony of nature that is lulling him to sleep.
He awakens to the chill of cold water splashing at his heels. The vintage TV is beginning to spark and James knows he’s dangerously close to being electrocuted. He hurriedly looks around to survey the damage and decides to grab the only keepsake he can, their honeymoon album. With the album, in hand James retreats upstairs.
The water rises fast and James tries to find a way out. He peers through the hall window and notices his neighbors are on the roof trying to flag down the rescue helicopter. He pulls the cord to the attic stairs and rushes up the steps. James is frantically searching for something, anything that will allow him to puncture the roof. He finally finds an old rusty red axe left by the previous owners amidst the pink insulation.
With all his strength, James plunges the old axe into the roof. Repeatedly, he slings the axe until a single ray of moonlight peers through the opening he creates. He punches his way through the hole. The rainwater begins to rush in and splash James in the face. He screams at the top of his lungs, “Help!”
James makes his way to the rooftop. His vantage point is much different than before. He sees the unearthed oak trees, flooded cars and damaged power lines flickering in the water below. Nothing looks the same as before. Nothing will ever be the same again.
James sits on his rooftop thumbing through the pages of the album. He reminisces about the first time he saw Amy. She had been standing across the street from him, and he could not take his eyes off of her. She had the most striking green eyes. Her eyes were the reason he bought her an emerald engagement ring.
He remembers their wedding day and how beautiful Amy looked in her ivory gown. James was so happy that day. He loved Amy beyond reason. His heart aches as he thinks about the day Amy died of a ruptured brain aneurysm. She had been complaining about a headache for weeks but dismissed it as stress. James insisted they go to the hospital, but it was too late. Tears begin to fall as he thinks about the last time he gazed into Amy’s green eyes.
The rescue helicopter hovers over his home. James reluctantly looks up and sees the safety harness descending. He wipes away the tears and grabs the harness. He secures himself and is lifted to safety. James looks down and sees the album on the rooftop. He wants to jump out of the helicopter. He wants to tell the pilot to take him back to the rooftop but he decides to just let go. He takes one last look at the album and whispers, “goodbye, my love.”


- - -
I am a New Orleans Native who currently resides in Atlanta, GA. I consider myself a poet, but have a love for words.
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Rekindling

Contributor: Aaron Michael Parker

- -
As they enter the room, Mark barks out a laugh. There are two small beds instead of one big one, the carpet is ugly and looks like something that would be used in a porno. Heather gives Mark a dirty look.
“This is supposed to be a romantic getaway. Why are you laughing at this?” Heather asks.
“I’m sorry honey, it’s just I think I’ve seen this carpet before.”
Heather turns away from Mark and puts her suitcase in the corner. She walks from one end of the room to the other in just two strides. She huffs and then turns back to Mark.
“Well, you can forget about any acting out. I’ve seen this carpet, too.”
Heather pulls out the one chair from the desk/table in the room and turns it so she doesn’t have to see the stupid grin on Mark’ face. Mark shrugs and puts his suitcase beside hers. He looks up and sees the patio.
“Hey, look at that.”
Mark walks to the door and pulls it open. He steps out onto the patio and walks around.
“It’s not much bigger than the room, but it’s nice out here. There’s a table and everything.”
Mark walks back inside and grabs Heather by the hand. He pulls her to her feet and walks backward, leading her out the door.
“It’ not perfect, but it’ll do until they get the room mix-up fixed.”
Heather turns and puts her back up against him. She looks up at the sky and smiles, not the goofy grin he has, but the smile of a person who could be happy.
“Fine, we can sit out here and talk, but no funny business until we get into the bigger room.”
Mark steps out from behind her and pulls out her chair. He gestures, gallantly, for her to sit down.
“Deal.” He says as he sits in the chair facing her.
They talk for about an hour before Heater gets up to use the bathroom. While she is inside Mark dashes over to the phone.
“Room service.” Answers a bored woman after the second ring.
“I’d like a bottle of wine sent up to my room, please.”
“Yes sir. Would you like to charge that to your credit card on file?”
“Yes, and could you have it delivered in about fifteen minutes?”
“Yes sir. Fifteen minutes.” The woman replies.
Mark hangs up and turns to walk back out to the patio just as Heather is coming out of the bathroom. He gives her another goofy grin.
“Who was that?” She asks.
“Just checking on the room.”
“Well?” Heather puts her hand on her hip.
“Uh, no change.”
The two go back out to the patio and sit down.
“So,” Mark says, “how’s school going this year? Any weird kids?”
“Not as weird as you.” Heather laughs. She scrunches up her face for a moment, before adding, “There is this one kid.”
Mark, still sitting, puts his hands on his hip and says in a female voice, “Well?”
Heather laughs again and playfully slaps his knee. “He’s almost sixteen and this kid still eats paste.”
“Does he have a medical condition?” Mark asks.
“No, in fact he’s the most intelligent kid I’ve ever met. He’s just weird.” Heather scrunches up her face again. “But the other kids don’t pick on him. I guess that makes all of them weird.”
“He probably does their homework.”
The conversation changes to what Mark did at work and when his next promotion might be.
“I should be a vice president soon.”
There is a knock at the door. Mark asks Heather to get it and walks to his suitcase. He grabs his hygiene kit and ducks into the bathroom. Heather answers the door and is surprised by the wine.
“Mark, did you order some wine?”
Heather turns to see Mark down on one knee. He has a ring box in his hand and a bigger, goofier grin on his face.
“Heather, you have made me the happiest man in the world for the last ten years. Will you marry me again?”
Heather bursts out crying and tosses the wine on the closest bed. She hugs Mark as he stands up.
“Yes!”


- - -
Aaron Michael Parker is a thirteen year US Army veteran. He is currently a student at Full Sail University. He is also a writer and assistant editor for Rocketblast comics.
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