Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Guest Writer: Bill Lapham

The Churn

                    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
                    To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
                    The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
                    Pro patria mori.
                    - Wilred Owen   Dulce et Decorm est, Pro patria mori

It’s not the sons of the wealthy who smear their boots with the mud of Flanders' Fields. The poor, the wretched of the Earth, American immigrants who came from near here, have come back to fill these trenches. Some know English; the others only know enough to follow orders, or the soldier in front of him. A fine young American soldier peeks over the top, stupidly, and wonders, why are there so many poppies in bloom?
Flanders is flat: Great Plains flat, but lower, muddier. The weather blows in from the North Sea in great sodden clouds turning rich topsoil into a quagmire. The rain this day included artillery shells that churned the ground into a rolling sea of boot-suck mud. The blood, bones and viscera of thousands upon thousands of worn out soldiers mix in the slop. Bomb craters fill with crimson slurry from the imagination of medieval madmen who roamed these fields in the Dark Ages. Poppies only bloom in churned up mud.
The fine young American soldier gazes upon this gruesome scene while he waits with shredded nerves for the attack whistle to blow. He has been at the front for what, an hour, a day? He couldn't tell anymore. His company shipped in to reinforce besieged French and British battalions. It took months of demanding physical training and exhausting troop movements by train and ship and train again to get here. He had never seen so many fine young men gathered in one spot. But with the morning’s first blast and scream, he felt a strange tug in his chest, a yearning to be a baby again suckling at his mother's breast. He wanted to be home, on the family farm, playing with his brothers, helping his dad, anything but standing in this shit pissing his pants.
He was the son of a poor Alabama share-cropper. Who else would march so brazenly into a recruiter's office and volunteer for a piece of immortal glory? Never thought twice about the cost of immortal glory? He hadn’t thought about that deeply when he entered the recruiter’s office. All he thought about then was coming home with medals for gallantry and valor. He didn’t know that he might not be afforded an opportunity to exhibit either, or if called upon, whether he could muster the courage at all. 
I shouldn't be here, he thought. This isn't right. Earth is not supposed to be like this. Where is the warm sunshine, the rows of crops, the trees? Where the hell am I?
Someone yelled, Incoming!
He dove into the mud and buried his face in somebody’s dismembered arm. His nose searched frantically for any small pocket of air as he dug deeper into the mud. The stench took him back to days spent slaughtering hogs in the sweltering southern sun. Y'all pay 'tention to that knife, boy, his father would warn, cut yer fingers clean off.
He vomited without warning but didn’t dare lift his head. Where the hell am I? And how the hell do I get out of here?
He heard machines. Flying machines. Trucks. Machine guns. Those new fangled tanks. And bombs. Big bombs, little bombs. And bullets cracking inches from his ear. A cacophony of sound. The earth shook his intestines, rattled his skeleton. He tried to get lower. All anyone would see of him, if they were crazy enough to walk upright, was his iconic doughboy helmet. Shaking.
How did all these machines get here? Who makes these things? Do they know what they do to our bodies? My rifle looks the same as his; the parts are interchangeable. Hundreds of automated machines manufactured millions of identical bullets and olive-green uniforms and boots and helmets and guns. One airplane looks like any other; all the trucks look like they rolled off the same assembly line. Hell, they look like they were still on the assembly line. The rhythm of the machine guns beat the same tune at the same pitch. Whoever is selling this stuff, he thought, is making big money...sick bastards. How many shareholders profit from this blood? Where do they enjoy their retirement years? Not likely to be the same place I’ll spend mine!
What did I do to deserve this? What sin is still unforgiven? Why are all the goddamn guns shooting at me? Isn't there anybody else out here? God, get me out of here! The questions ran like those ticker tapes he saw at the bank. The thought of running away raged in him, but he didn't dare lift himself up, not even a little bit. The mud was his friend. And there was no place safe to run to anyway. The whole world was exploding!
He prayed. God, why have you forsaken me? Everything the fine young American soldier from Alabama had been taught about God was getting churned in his head like the ground around him. His minister said God was all knowing, all powerful, everywhere, a good and loving God who forgives the most heinous sins. If that was true, then why was this happening? Under his helmet, he doubted God existed, but he knew for sure Satan was here, and he brought Hell with him.
The earth heaved the fine young American soldier into the air with a ferocious roar and a bright flash of heat and light. He screamed. Every bone in his body seemed to crack in mid-air. Every patch of skin, flaming. When he crashed back to the ground he was on his back at the bottom of a new crater. Smoking. His eyes were open, his jaw, unhinged. Breathing. The rain mixed with the blood in his mouth. He gagged. Stone silence. Eardrums gone; inner ear bones, mangled. His scalp burnt black. Helmet, not sure where his helmet was, or his rifle, or his boots, for that matter. He thought, even the insects are gone. 
He tried to take inventory of his body parts but he couldn't get beyond his thoughts. Around the edge of the crater he could make out two fuzzy forms looking down at him. Silhouettes. Their mouths were moving like they were saying something but he couldn't read their lips. They were reaching for him, and he tried reaching for them, but, commanding his arms to move and moving them were disengaged functions. He thought he was asking for help but he couldn't form a sound, couldn’t force air through the right cords. All he could do was think, and what he thought was where the hell am I?
The next shell's blast filled his crater with tons of mud, and left a smoking new crater next to it, destined to become someone else’s grave tomorrow.
War grinds everything into the ground. Everlasting lines of machines, bombs, bullets, fresh freckled faces from home, all fodder for the cannon, churned, mixed into a recipe from hell. New poor kids replace dead poor kids; no rich kids here. Smith and Jones are here, though, or were before they were ground into hamburger. They were friends from the rural parts back home but war does not care about that; it is remorseless. Sorry, y’all, nothing personal you understand.
The sun set over the carnage, and night fell. Cannon flashes cracked the darkness like lightning. On it went throughout the night until tomorrow came. At sunrise, all new poor soldiers, seeking their own immortal glory, filled the trenches worn poor soldiers filled the day before.
And one fine young American soldier peeked over the top, stupidly, and wondered, why are there so many poppies in bloom?

© Bill Lapham 2010

Bill Lapham is a semi-professional student and retired U.S. Navy submarine veteran. He attends grad school at the University of Michigan – Flint, and he’s been published at Six Sentences and the U.S. Army NCO Journal.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Guest Writer: Jelena Vencl Ohlrogge


Daniel’s pockets were bulging. It was not simple to walk all easy breezy with his pockets full of stones, but Daniel believed he was gliding. Not that anyone noticed that was not the case, not really. Who had time to watch people, even less their pockets these days.
The stones in Daniel’s pockets were far from ordinary, but Margaret kept on referring to them simply as ‘stones’, in spite of their respectable age and origin. Those ‘stones’ were about 4.5 billion years old, as old as the solar system, and they came from above. They were chondrites, stone meteorites.
Although his step seemed light, Daniel was very worried. Doomsday was approaching, and people were not taking it seriously. No one was doing anything about it. Nothing serious, anyway. A lot of lunatics on TV and YouTube and silly articles in newspapers now and then have just diminished the significance of the fact that the world was coming to an end, and humans could not prevent it. Not if they did not start thinking and doing something now. Like – give up on silly wars and cheap entertainment and start solving the real problem. Daniel was talking out loud about his worries for years, but no one would listen. Two years ago he went silent and took action.
Margaret kept on telling Daniel that there was no real evidence to support the doomsday myths about the Mayan calendar that ends on December 21, 2012. She suggested that Mayans were simply wiped out before they could make another calendar. Daniel thought that Margaret herself believed in what she was saying, but that was nevertheless just silly. Anyway, the only subject she really knew a lot about was – shoes.
Margaret owned 84 pairs of shoes and whenever they argued about it, she would say that Imelda Marcos had 2700 pairs of shoes at one point of her life. Daniel did not understand how that mattered, but somehow – it did. Also, Margaret expected him to be happy that her collection count was nowhere close to 2700. Only not yet, he thought, not being happy. No, he was not happy at all.
But, he had his chondrites, and so they lived together, in a 25sqm apartment, with 84 pairs of Margaret’s shoes, a pile of stones under the bed and a few other things as well.
Every day, during lunch hour, Daniel would drop the content of his pockets on people’s heads. He would go to the top of the buildings into which he managed to enter, and drop small meteorites, one by one, on passers-by. The stones were small, but they would hurt upon impact; he saw that most people stopped and felt their heads. Some would even look up, but he was always fast to hide.
Daniel has been meteor-showering people, as he called it, for some time now and he thought that he was quite good at picking his spots and victims. The weapon remained the same, and Daniel would always collect the stones scattered on the pavement after his shower action, trying to stay unnoticed. Daniel had lost a lot of meteorites over the course of time, since he could never find all of them, so he used to purchase new ones monthly, over the Internet.
But, today, Daniel did not have time to do the lunch meteor shower. Margaret called him while he was looking for a suitable building. She wanted them to have a lunch together; she would bring Chinese takeout and meet him in Eastside Park. Daniel was not happy; his lunch breaks were very important to him.
Daniel walked to the central part of the park, and there she was, sitting on a bench. Pretty as a picture, Margaret was framed with an elegant fountain in the background, two takeout boxes in the lap and a plastic bag lying on the bench beside her. Shoes. A new pair of shoes! No… Two pairs of shoes! What was she thinking, were the shoes to be put in the bathtub? Or was he supposed to sleep there, so that she could have all of her beloved shoes in the bed, next to her? There was no free space left in their apartment, no free space at all! Daniel felt that his temperature was rising and his head was about to explode. He saw Margaret moving her lips, but no sound came out.
That was it. He had it. His head exploded and thousands of dark spots spread over his field of vision. For a moment, Daniel thought that those were the pieces of his head, but then he realized that he could not be headless and think at the same time. No, the dark spots came from elsewhere. The sky opened and black rain started pouring on them. His head hurt, and the pressure was coming from the outside this time. He ran and hugged Margaret, protecting her with his body from the small stones falling from above. They ran towards a big tree that could give them shelter. Daniel felt something hit his head. The pain came instantly, just before everything went dark and silent.

They were sitting under the tree, Margaret sobbing, Daniel resting in her arms. Daniel opened his eyes and touched his head. It still seemed to be in one piece, painful and swollen here and there, but nothing serious. Around them people were lying, crawling, walking over the piles of stones; some were crying. Scratches, a bit of blood and ripped clothes, but no bigger damage was to be seen.
Daniel was something of an expert on meteorites, after all his time of studying and using them. Not so many people had his kind of experience with meteorites; first-hand experience, so to say. He looked around, his eyes trying to absorb as much of the view as possible, his brain trying to understand what did not feel right in this meteorite-painted picture.
No, he was not surprised that the sky had opened and the meteorites came down; of all people, he was the one who knew this would happen one day; he had tried to raise the awareness; he knew this was just a beginning and that doomsday had been knocking on Earth’s door for some time now.
But, something felt wrong. Was it the shape; was it the texture; was it the grouping of the stones? Was it the whole setup? What in the picture before his eyes was not quite right? His head hurt. He did not know if the pain was caused by the stone shower or by the tension from trying to understand what felt wrong.
And then millions of small stones opened as upon command. Miniature insect-like creatures started pouring out of them, from their small meteorite-shaped space ships; the first ones to come and put their little insect feet on our Earth. Daniel closed his eyes. This was the most amazing lunch hour ever.

© Jelena Vencl Ohlrogge 2010

Jelena lives in Sweden, with her husband and their cats. She is perceived by some as a programmer, engineer and mathematician. In fact, she is an alien. In her spare time she writes and paints.
Jelena's fiction has appeared in Pulp Metal Magazine, disenthralled, Negative Suck, Boston Literary Magazine, Blink|Ink, At The Bijou and 6S. Some of it you can read here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Guest Writer: Gita Smith

Tale of a Salamander

“Not drinking has added an element of uncertainty to my life,” Nicki laughs. “I used to know how I’d die.”
She wraps long, elegant fingers around an iced tea glass and gives it a practiced shake, her old bourbon-and-soda gesture.

Nicki lived in Savannah with Joe above his used furniture store during her drinking days. Mornings, she’d awaken to the sound of sofas and chairs being scraped out to the sidewalk in front, to the thud of crates landing on concrete. She would test the air on her face and mouth before opening her eyes. If the salt air was gently moist, she would chance it and ease up gingerly.

There was a space between the Nicki of the early morning hours and the self she would be by noon. In bed alone, with the window open and a sea breeze stirring the sheer curtains, she relished being clear, flying solo. By noon the feeling was replaced by a whiskey thirst that reached to her knees.

Joe had been a seafaring man for most of his life. And, like a sailor’s chest, he had seemed sturdy and safe in the beginning when she first wandered into his store, looking for lamps. But now, good solid Joe was a highway to nowhere, and Nicki saw herself as only a dotted line on their map. Day by day, she felt herself fading, felt like she soon might disappear.

Nights, they would sit at Joe’s scarred formica kitchen table and drink. Now and then a pal of Joe’s would wander in with half a bottle. Sometimes Joe would go downstairs and meander through the store, sitting in every chair, “so no one feels left out,” he said.
Then she’d hear him bellowing his sailor’s songs.

Farewell to Nova Scotia, the sea-bound coast
Tho’ your mountains dark and dreary be.
When I’m far, far away on the briny ocean deep
Will ye ever heave a sigh and a wish for me?”

Or, Joe would lean across the table and take Nicki’s hands. His words seemed to come from far away although he was right in front of her.
“Baby,” he’d say, “I want to give you everything. Someday we’ll have it all: Louis Quatorze and Frank Lloyd chairs and Baccarat crystal. Lalique. The works.”

He would gaze at the long, cool length of her and get lost in her olive-green eyes. Nicki would regard his broad, pale forehead and half-shut lids. “I know,” she’d say. On some nights Joe would scoop Nicki up and carry her on a looping walk around the store. Inevitably, the bourbon overtook him and he’d stumble and drop her. The next day they would pretend not to see the bruises.

The day Nicki stopped drinking, she did it without Joe. She awoke with eyelids blue as plums and just as swollen. She looked in the mirror and looked away. There had been a new chip in a tooth, she’d noticed; some capillaries showed in the flesh of her nose.

Nicki started keeping a journal and hid it in her douche kit. She wrote down her dreams and poems and feelings. She looked up AA in the phone book and slipped away to meetings at hours when Joe was delivering furniture. She met Alana and Katya at an all-woman’s meeting, and she hung around with them in coffee shops.

Alana was Nicki’s sponsor. She had graying hair and amethyst eyes that gazed levelly at the world. One time, after a meeting, high on a coffee buzz and fellowship, Nicki said, “You know how they always say a woman is like a flower? Like her parts down there are like an orchid, and all?”
Her new friends were attentive now.

“Yeah,” Alana took up the thread, “like the romance novels always say ‘her petals opened,’ and all that crap?”
They were laughing harder.
“Well mine is nothing like a flower,” Nicki said. “Flowers need a gardener to move them around. Mine is like a salamander -- it’s moist and alive!”
Katya shrieked.

Nicki was down to pleading. She hid bottles and, in the process, found other bottles Joe had hidden, who knows when? She tried to drag him out for walks, for booze-free outings to Cumberland Island where they could camp on the beach and watch shorebirds.
Joe was unmoved, unimpressed, un-sober.
She mocked him. She begged.
She called their life “the days of wine and roses,” and Joe laughed. “What’s wrong with roses?”
He called her a dramatist.
“A drahh-ma-teest, a DRAMA-TEST.”
He brought her a rose and pulled the petals off, soaked them in wine and pasted them with small slaps onto her belly, in concentric circles. Each one stayed in place until the wine dried. Nicki said nothing. She felt weightless now. She felt like she would blow away with the next coastal storm.

The afternoon that Nicki walked out on Joe, she’d been sober seven weeks. Joe was helping a customer load a camel-backed sofa onto a flatbed truck when a taxi pulled up. Joe took in the scene – Nicki stepping carefully down the cracked pavement with luggage, her blue-white grip on the handles, the taxi trunk ajar -- and felt an icy fear. The words welled up, “You CAN’T!”
He plunged towards the curb.
His mouth was an O full of “NO!” and “DON’T!”
But that taxi was already gone, bearing his Nicki away like a flower on somebody else’s lapel.

© Gita Smith 2010

Gita Smith is a career journalist, whose work has appeared on The Sphere, Fictionaut, Pen10, Not From Here Are You (The NOT), and her reporting on the South appears at, a news site.

Friday, July 9, 2010

These Shoes (I Dare You Challenge)

This week Jo Prescott’s I Dare You challenge at her site JM Prescott - A Reader's World came in the form of clothing..."Clothing can set the scene as certainly as a wedding dress, predict plot like a ski mask and laytex gloves, or reveal character like chaps and spurs."
Herewith, my response to the challenge:

These Shoes

These shoes have walked all over London. They have traversed Bermuda and the Bahamas. They have climbed to the caldera in the Azores and stood atop Gibraltar. They have walked all through the worst parts of Lisbon until they made my feet ache, and some of the best parts of Hamburg, where again my feet were hurting at day’s end. In Barcelona, they walked a good part of las Ramblas. They have stood on the tarmac at the little airport a short distance from the edge of the Pyrenees and taken me through olive groves and parks where flamingoes danced and balanced on one leg. They, these shoes, not the flamingoes, helped me walk all around Las Vegas to take in everything there was to see and do for free, and because my feet were sore, I credit them with keeping me from losing more than $40.US in those oh-so prevalent slots. I did pick up another pair in Denver, but they’re really the same shoes, and at the end of the month they will take me back to Costa Rica.

These shoes have walked the decks of many ships and the aisles of dozens of airplanes. They have gotten me to airports early and to church late. They have guided me through shopping malls and into cinemas and across the streets of New York City against the light. They have walked me from the Battery to Harlem, from Sutton Place to the Chelsea Piers, from somewhere to no place. These shoes have walked me from childhood to my maturity.

These shoes are my guide. They are brogues. They are sandals, boots and loafers. I have walked a mile in another man’s moccasins and returned home in these shoes. They wait under my bed to greet me in the morning and take me to new places and the same old places. They can get there without a map. They have marked the mileage and taken into account my weariness. These shoes will never fail me. They are ruby slippers and if I click the heels together three times and wish solemnly for something, well, you know where that will get me. I have not yet been to Kansas, but I understand we all wind up there one day.

I have never drunk champagne from a woman’s shoe nor has any drunk from mine but the possibility is not ruled out.

Every so often, I remove these shoes and flex my toes on a sandy beach or swim in a pool or bathe, but for more hours of the day than I have them off, I have them on. The natural condition of my feet, it would seem, is to be inside these shoes. Sometimes I wonder why we have made the earth so hard and dangerous a place to walk barefoot that these shoes are more a necessity than a whim.

I am attached to these shoes, and have contributed to the fortunes amassed by men like Thom McAn and Mr. Florsheim, if there was such a person, and if there was, he must have been very attached to his shoes. Why else dedicate his life to providing them for so many others. He had not much work convincing people they needed their shoes. Everybody takes this for granted here in the first and second worlds. We are working on those in the third world, getting them to see the necessity of shoes.

Someday, everybody in the world will admit how much they are attached to shoes. Then, we will work on hats.

© Michael D. Brown 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Guest Writer: Harris Tobias


They’re after me. I haven’t much time to write but I’d like to get my story down before I’m caught, strapped to a table, and forced to surrender my precious fat.
Ever since passage of the Liposuction Act of 2012, it’s no longer safe to be a fat man in America. If you’re even 20 lbs overweight you must pay the fat tax. This is not a tax you pay with money, rather it’s forcible liposuction. Our fat is sucked from our bodies then turned into a bio fuel and sold back to us at the pump. Our government has marketed this unjust law to the people as a virtuous act. As if trampling on the rights of fat people was the right thing to do. Talk about spin. I have to admit, it is a win win situation for the state, it solves two of their big problems—obesity and our dependence on fossil fuels.
No one ever asked us fatties how we feel about it. Well I’ll tell you how I feel about it: it’s a violation of my civil rights not to mention a damn inconvenience. If you’re fat in America these days, you can be marched against your will to a suction station and your weight reduced by ten percent. For a guy my size, that’s thirty pounds. Sure, maybe I look better to you skinnies, but who gives a damn what you think? For months after, nothing fits right. Let’s face it; it’s a pain in the butt, literally.
Well they’re not getting any more of my fat. Not this time, not if I can help it. They caught me twice before. They got their pound of flesh and I don’t intend for them to get anymore. The suction reduced my waist size by several inches and a lot of skinny people remarked that I was "looking good”. Their idea of looking good looks like anorexia to me. What they don’t seem to realize is that I like the way I look. It takes me months to put the weight back on and feel myself again. You want to look undernourished, that’s your choice. Me, I like the well upholstered look, big. round, meaty. Another thing no one talks about is that liposuction hurts, and that sound, it sounds like fifty teenagers sucking up the last of their milk shakes from the bottoms of their glasses.
I’ve heard all the arguments about lipo-fuels being the patriotic thing to do; about it being for the common good, in the nation’s best interest and, as they’re only too happy to point out, in my best interest too. Well, the national interest be damned. What about a man’s right to look the way he wants to look? It’s my blubber and I intend to keep it. I’m not a national resource. I’m a thinking, feeling human being for God’s sake not some stinking oil well.
After the fat riots in 2013, things simmered down some. The National Fat People’s Alliance (NAFPA) succeeded in winning a few protections. The much heralded Fat Person’s Bill of Rights guarantees that fat folks cannot be subjected to more than two lipos a year and that no more than ten percent of body weight can be extracted. Even with these restrictions, 25% of the nation’s fuel comes from its fat citizens. I’m secretly proud of that fact despite my public statements to the contrary.
Our lipo-fuels program has become a model for other countries. I recently read that Brazilians have changed their national diet from rice and beans to Doritos and cookies. It’s estimated that America has the largest fat reserves on the planet and it’s a renewable resource. Most of the world envies us. Those skinny Arabs are eating their hearts out. They simply don’t have the long cultural tradition of unhealthy eating and sedentary living that we do, not to mention the poor snack infra-structure in much of the undeveloped world.

My girlfriend Shirley and I are on our way to seek asylum in Mexico. We’ll miss the thousand calorie bacon burgers, but we value our freedom more. Besides, the easily available tacos, gringas, huaraches, and so forth provide plenty of high fat, high salt snacks and there are plenty of fat Mexicans who are free to live their lives as they see fit and are not forced to surrender their precious blubber to some misguided notion of public health and fuel economy.
It’s a long drive. We’re taking back roads to avoid roadblock weigh-ins. They’re another humiliation we fatties are forced to endure. They make us get out of our cars and get on a scale. If your weight doesn’t match their chart, you get a summons to report to a lipo center. If you don’t show up, they come and get you. It’s worse than a speeding ticket—it not only slows you down, it ruins your appetite for the entire day.
The trouble with taking back roads, though, is the limited eating choices they offer. But we are managing. We picnic often and eat at small restaurants only. The bigger places, especially the all-you-can-eat places are always watched by the fat-baggers, that’s what we call the lipo-cops. You can always tell a fat-bagger, they’re invariably thin with a wolfish look, like food was a personal affront rather than the pleasure it is.
My name, by the way, is Oliver Hardy, the same as the silent film star. Unfortunately, that’s where the resemblance ends as I weigh 308 pounds and stand fife feet five inches tall. Shirley is built the same. We’re both fat but it’s not our fault. I have a gland condition and Shirley was abused as a child. I love Shirley. I love her roundness, her acres of flesh and her unending plumpness. And I’m sure that she loves me. She calls me her ‘rolly polly’ and I call her ‘quivers’. All we want is to be left alone, preferably with a double cheeseburger and a large fries. It used to be that a man could be as fat as he wanted but those days, it seems, are gone for good. A man’s fat is his castle and no government should be able to take it from him. Revolutions have been fought for less reason.
Shirley has been driving while I write. She has one hand on the wheel and the other deep in a bag of potato chips. She points a greasy hand at the road ahead and sprays the windshield with soggy crumbs. Her arms are the size of Virginia Hams, I can see flecks of salt on her lips. It makes me hungry just to look at her. Shirley sees a Dairy Queen up ahead and wants to make a pit stop and maybe get a bite to eat. I think that’s a good idea and she pulls into the parking lot. I decide to wait in the car and write. The car along side of us is filled with skinny teenagers. I hear them hoot and jeer as Shirley makes her way toward the counter. “Hey, fatty, how about a fill up,” one of them yells. Rude and nasty skinnies. Don’t they realize that their hurtful remarks only add to Shirley's insecurity? If they mock us in Mexico, at least we won’t be able to understand them.
Shirley returns with a double cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake for each of us. It feels good to eat. It’s stressful being on the lam. I pull in to a filling station and get out to fill the tank with bio-fuel. I chew my burger and sip my shake while the gas pump ticks off the gallons. I wonder if I’ll like Mexico. I wonder if Shirley is going to finish her fries. I wonder what will happen at the border. It may cost me thirty pounds of lovely fat to be free. I snitch a couple of fries from Shirley's pack. She slaps my hand away and pulls out into traffic.

Grandma Bixby's Teeth

Everyone loved Grandma Bixby. You could tell by the big crowd at her funeral. There must have been a hundred mourners passing by her coffin. My Mom knew her and dragged me there and I have to say, the old bat never looked better. The funeral home did a swell job with the clothes and the makeup. I hardly recognized her as the line of mourners shuffled closer to the coffin. Her hair was neat and her teeth were polished. You never saw the old lady actually wearing her dentures. She always kept them soaking in a glass of water next to her bed.
The reason I know about the glass with the teeth in it is because I saw them first hand. She wasn't wearing them the last time I saw her, at least not so I noticed. She was walking down the street looking just as feisty and messy and old as always. She walked pretty good for an old lady. Sure she used a cane but she moved right along. I was standing on the corner drinking 40s with my man Shooter. We were just passing the bag back and forth when Shooter stopped her.
"Hey Grandma, where you goin'?" said Shooter. "You like a hit?" offering her the bag.
Grandma stopped and fixed us in a steely gaze and pointed her cane at me and said, "Norman Jefferson and Marcus James, why ain't you boys in school? Standin' on this corner, drinkin' and wastin' your life away. I knew both your daddy's and they was hard workin', god fearin' men. You boys get yourselves to school now, hear? Don't you want to amount to something?"
Me 'n Shooter just laughed and Grandma cast us an evil eye and walked off muttering to herself. I don't think she had her teeth in then, she hardly ever wore them but I really don't remember. But I do remember Shooter takin 'a good pull off the 40 and sayin', "I bet she's goin' to the bank to cash her social security check. I hear she takes that money home and hides it away. I bet she's got a shit load of money sittin' in a drawer somewhere."
Well. maybe it was the beer, but before we knew it we was climbin' the fire escape to Grandma's apartment not fifteen minutes later. I swear, it was a piece of cake. Shooter knew just where she lived on account of her being his momma's aunt and all. Her window wasn't open but it didn't take all that much to get inside. The place looked like it was a hundred years old which was probably not too far from the truth. Old black and white photographs in old fashioned frames hung on the walls. The furniture was old, the linoleum was old, even the refrigerator looked like it came from an antique store. Anyway, Shooter got right to work lookin' for the money. He was dumpin' stuff out of drawers and closets and makin' a tremendous mess. All he found was old lady hats and old lady underpants and funny shit that nobody wears anymore. But there was no damn money. Shooter was gettin;' angrier by the minute.
I was lookin' under Grandma's bed and checking out the mattress when I noticed the glass with Grandma's teeth in it. It gave me the creeps because those teeth were following Shooter around the room like they were watchin' him. I tore off Grandma's bedding while old Shooter began dumping out the kitchen out of pure meanness.
Just then, the door opened and Grandma walked in. She looked from Shooter to me and just shook her head from side to side. She never got to say a word before Shooter grabbed her cane and began beating her over the head with it. It was a good solid cane and it didn't take too many blows to drive the life right out of the old lady.
The whole time, the teeth in the glass fixed their gaze on Shooter and when he delivered the fifth or sixth blow, the teeth began to chatter. That's when I ran from the room and down the fire escape all the way home. I never saw what happened to Shooter. I heard they found his body in the alley. They say he must have been attacked by a pack of dogs, he was so chewed up. I don't know. I never saw any dogs when I was running home.
The line moves so slowly. Lots of people from the neighborhood crying and saying goodbye. The funeral people did a good job on her. You can't see her bloody head. She looks peaceful. A lot of people are putting flowers on the coffin. My mother is just ahead of me. She lays a rose on the wooden box. Now it's my turn. I put my rose on the coffin. I don't want to look at her face. I'm sorry for what I done. I try to say I'm sorry to Grandma but before I can open my mouth I see that grandma has opened hers. Her teeth look at me and chatter.

© Harris Tobias 2010

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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