Friday, May 31, 2013

Donal Mahoney


It may have been the devil himself who prompted the kids in my schoolyard back in 1947 to chant "Patsy Foley's roly-poly from eating too much ravioli."

At first, no one could remember who started the chant. Patsy, a sweet and ample child, was in the third grade. As happenstance would have it, I was in that same third grade, infamous already as the only boy wearing spectacles in our class. After I got the glasses, I had three schoolyard fights in three days to prove to Larry Moore, Billy Gallagher and Fred Ham that I hadn't changed a bit. You would think I would have forgotten their names by now. Not a chance. I didn't like being messed with in third grade.

Since the chant would often begin and gather volume during recess, the nuns who ran the school eventually heard it and did their best to put a stop to it. This was a time when nuns, God bless them, were empowered by parents to swat the butts of little miscreants if any of them interrupted the educational process. Despite their voluminous habits, the nuns were adept at administering discipline, let me tell you, as my butt, on more than one occasion, could attest.

Now, 65 years later, when the chant pops into my mind, I begin to wonder what prompted me to say it. Early on, I certainly loved to hear the sound of words bouncing off each other--as if words were pool balls scattered by a cue. Later on I would use words to earn a living. They were the only tools I was any good with.

As I remember it now, the chant started one day after a school practice in church involving Gregorian chant. Some of the other kids later alleged that they had heard me, of all people, on the way back to class, chanting "Patsy Foley's roly-poly from eating too much ravioli."

I probably had some idea of the problem my chant might cause. But I loved the sound of it too much to stop.

If Dick Clark had been on American Bandstand back in 1947, he might have said the chant had "a nice beat" to it, but kids weren't dancing much in 1947. World War II had just ended and school was a serious matter. Even kids who didn't like books usually tried their best.

Since I was only in third grade, one might think that I might have had some emotional or mental problem that caused me to chant that phrase over and over. That could be. If a child did something like that today, he or she might be examined for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Maybe I had something like that. But in my mind the reason I chanted about Patsy Foley is that I liked the sound. It didn't hurt that my father was always saying things at home that had a bit of a turn to them. I remember how I used to enjoy the cadence of what he said and repeating it when he wasn't around. He used words differently than other fathers in the neighborhood and he delivered them in a melodic Irish brogue.

My mother, who was bereft of verbal rhythm, would sometimes ask my father a serious question when he was fresh home from a hard day's work, climbing alley poles as an electrician. Usually her question would pertain to some family matter that she had been fretting about all day. And my father, sitting on a chair in our little kitchen while stripping off his gear, might say in response, "And what would Mary Supple say to that?"

It's a shame that over the years my mother, sister and I never found out who Mary Supple was because her name was frequently invoked. Nor did we ever find out who John Godley was, either, even though my father would sometimes substitute John Godley for Mary Supple in that same response. He never said these things in anger, although he did have a terrific temper. He could erupt at any time and you didn't want to get in the way of the lava.

At other times, when my father was asked a question by my mother at an inconvenient time, he might look her in the eye and say, "Ten thousand Swedes ran through the weeds chased by one Norwegian," a line that did not originate with him but was one that he repeated with a special flair. The words certainly sounded good to me, whatever they meant. We didn't know any Swedes or Norwegians and had no idea if there might be some conflict going on between them. True, World War II had just ended but we didn't think the Swedes and Norwegians had been actively involved.

Sometimes my mother on a Sunday morning would ask my father if he was going to get dressed for church. He might have been taking a sip of his fifth cup of tea at the time. He wouldn't get angry but he sometimes would lean back and sonorously intone one of the many Burma Shave billboard slogans that dotted highways in that era: "Whiskers tough old Adam had 'em. Does your husband have whiskers like Adam, Madam?" I liked the sound of that slogan as well. Today, it still pops into my mind during arid moments. And as my wife will attest, she has heard it frequently over the years.

I think it's pretty easy to see, then, why I, as a third-grader, instead of concentrating on multiplication and division, preferred to chant "Patsy Foley's roly-poly from eating too much ravioli." I am glad, however, that the nuns took it upon themselves to discipline me and did not call my parents instead. After all, my father was paying tuition to send me to that fine school to get a good education. He did not send me there to engage in tom-foolery, a pursuit that he, of course, would have known nothing about even if his legacy among relatives said otherwise.

Besides, in my mind, no nun, no matter how mountainous she may have been, was a match for my father. He had been a boxer after he had emigrated to America from Ireland, a relocation occasioned by the British army after they had imprisoned him as a young man for activities in the Irish Republican Army. My mother said he loved boxing and had won eight straight matches before "some big black guy" broke his nose. After that, he never boxed again, she said, because he "didn't want to lose his good looks." He was a handsome man indeed, despite a nose that looked as though at any moment it might call geese to fly lower.

Years later, some neighbor ladies at a block party made some nice comments to my mother about my father's appearance. When she came home, she told my sister what they had said and forewarned her that "handsome is as handsome does." In many ways, that's quite true, even though that line didn't originate with my mother. Come to think of it, though, I like the sound of that line as well and might have chanted it more than once had I heard it in third grade.

© Donal Mahoney 2013

Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, Donal Mahoney has had poetry and fiction appear in various publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his work can be found at Eye on Life Magazine.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Harris Tobias


After the three bears caught Goldilocks trespassing, they reverted to type and tore her apart. They ate what they could and scattered what was left of her into the woods. They then went on about their bearish business.

Several hours later, a family of buzzards, sensing carrion, landed on her decomposing corpse. Father vulture dipped his bald head deep into Goldilocks’s chest cavity and pulled out her lungs. After eating a few bites he announced, “These lungs are too fresh.” He then flew into the nearest tree and waited.

Mother vulture tore out an eyeball and swallowed it down. She hesitated for a moment before tearing out the other one. She licked her beak and declared, “These eyeballs are too old.” She then flew into the same tree and waited.

Baby vulture ripped into the rotting remains and tore off a sizeable strip of flesh. He gulped it down and ripped off another. “Mmmm mmm,” he said at last, “I think this carrion is just right.”

Mother and father vulture, unwilling to leave the entire feast to their offspring, reconsidered their hasty opinions and joined him in the meal. After a while the vulture family flew off leaving behind nothing but a young girl’s bones.

© Harris Tobias 2013

Friday, May 17, 2013

A. J. Kirby


Every morning, Mark Nipple was up before the alarm. A quick shower and then a hurried breakfast. A tall glass of juice. A couple slices of dry toast. He no longer took an egg, fried or otherwise. Cholesterol.
Before he left, he’d shout up to his son, Aubrey, and he wouldn’t step out the door until Aube responded. Aube was nineteen: pretty much a vampire. Mark had an irresistible urge to force the kid to encounter daylight. Which was some kind of ironic because it was exactly what Mark’s dad had wanted for him, when Mark was the nineteen year old with dreams of making it as a musician, burning the candle low at one end in the low-rent bars and back-street clubs of Maine. Only, his dad hadn’t made do with a simple shout. No, he’d thundered up to Mark’s room and physically dragged him out his pit.
Why he cut loose from Maine in the end.
These days Mark was always on the road in time to hear the headlines at six. And he always reached the city before any of the rush hour traffic snarled-up the roads. He always called for a Starbucks on Rowlands, and he always eyed the cakes hungrily, but settled for a cap and a copy of the Tribune-Review from the news-stand. Then back to the Chevy.
It was now Mark’s course deviated. The way the seasons were in Pittsburgh pretty much dictated what he did next. A few weeks back, he’d have driven to PNC Park. Slugged down his cap and then taken a constitutional. Maybe picked a bench, a book, and whiled away the morning reading. Now the city was entering its usual downhill spiral into winter. He’d have the ice scraper out for the windshield in a few days. He’d whack on the winter tyres in a couple weeks. He just hoped it would never get as bad as ’93, and the Blizzard of. Because if they got weather like that, he’d literally have nowhere to go.
Today, he headed in the general direction of the Monongahela river. Yesterday, he’d found a nice, quiet spot he could sit and contemplate the way his hair was rapidly being deforested – an area the size of Allegany State Park receding away on a daily basis – in the rear-view mirror. There was a picnic area – at the car park, not on his head – and public conveniences. A little trail he could take if he could brave the cold.
Mark’s hair was, he’d decided, symbolic. At n-n-n-nineteen, he’d been complacent with his thick, luscious locks. Never bothered washing it; head-banged it into submission on a nightly basis. Then, when he’d given up on his rock star dreams, he’d shorn those locks, like some latterday Samson, in order to prove he was up to the job – what job? Any job. And in his forties, when, amazingly, the job Anita had for so long sneered at, had become serious, when graphic artistry had finally threatened to do more than just pay the bills, but actually provide them with a little nest egg, he’d allowed it to grow over his collar once more, just a tad, because artists were a law unto themselves. They weren’t just white-collar drones. Now he used three different bottles hair potion during his quick morning shower; some forlorn ritual, he knew.
Book he was reading last week seemed to contain a lot of stuff about hair, and it had posited the theory that people reach a certain stage in their lives when they settle on their coffin-cut. They just go in the barbers and slam their cards, their youth, on the counter, and say, I don’t care what I look like any more. In women, this phenomenon is more pronounced. Men go bald, after all. But still, yesterday, Mark had realised, with that same horror he’d had when he was nineteen and he’d crammed his fingers into his nostrils, and cocked his head in the mirror until he could see his own skull, that his own mortality stalked him. He would look like this when he died.
Yesterday, he’d been thinking of that old Rod Stewart number went I wish that I knew what I knew now, when I was younger. And hell, Mark did wish that. He wished he’d have got out his goddamn pit and seized the day. And hell, the fact he was even prepared to reference Rod Stewart now showed how different he was. Back in the day, he’d sworn by the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks.
Another book he’d read told him pretty much every cell in his body would have died and been replaced since he was nineteen so maybe he was a different person. Maybe the nineteen year old Mark Nipple who made a brand – at least on the low-grade punk scene in Maine – out of his name had already died.
The Nipple runneth dry.
Mark parked up by the sludgy brown drag of the river, between two skeletal trees, and felt like he was already dead. When he was younger he’d thought the government made people get jobs to keep them off the streets so they couldn’t kick up fuss and rail against how the world was. Now he saw people were complicit in this too. Because without a job how did one while away the hours which yawned ahead of him; the crashing boredom of weekday mornings; the monotony of the afternoons. His dad had died soon as the ink was dry on his retirement papers. Old, stubborn bastard had probably made his own heart go bang because he couldn’t stand the thought of the alternative.
But Mark’s dad had been sixty-five. Had worked a hard, menial job. Mark was still, just, right side of fifty, and yet all his days had in store for him was the reality of trying to hold back on eating the sandwiches Anita had made for him until reasonable lunch time, and then, maybe, reclining the seat and having a snooze in the afternoon. Those few moments of brain-taxing enjoyment when he attempted the Tribune crossword. Those few moments after he’d scrawled two, maybe three answers into the white squares, and he understood his brain was numb, constricted by his coffin cut and by these days of tedium, so that he’d forgotten everything he once held true.
Mark sat, watching the clock on the dash and rationing switching on the heaters. Ducking down when the occasional passerby passed by. Pretending like he was on an important call when a couple joggers wearing lumpen Duquesne University hoodies rolled past, as though he feared they’d rap on the window and ask him what he was doing there. Wondering whether he had it in him – and already deciding he didn’t – to tell them he was a private dick on a secret spying mission. When you already had your coffin cut, the creativity to lie convincingly deserted you.
But still, his one true lie, the one he told to Anita and Aube every morning when he left for work, held firm. He hadn’t worked now for six long months, ever since the cutbacks. And though he’d applied for hundreds of jobs, he’d not even scored a single interview. Despite the fact he’d now cut the photo of himself, as well as his DOB, out his CV.
Still, he wasn’t sure how long he could keep it up. The mortgage payments were okay for now, as were the repayments on the Chevy. His daughter Samantha though. She seemed to think she deserved a monthly living allowance which would practically allow her to streak past the Kardashians, never mind keep up with them. She was a student at UCLA, majoring in living the West Coast high life. Only rarely letting her Pittsburgh roots show through, with minor slips of the tongue like, in her most recent text message: “Send money pls. The car needs washed.”
And then there was Aube. Nineteen and a wannabe musician now. What happened when he realised nineteen was already too old and that he needed college, qualifications just to buy his way into a life like everybody else. Mark’d be expected to pay his son’s way too.
Ten fifteen and Mark was already removing his sandwiches from the bag Anita had packed them in. Ten twenty and Mark had tossed the only-nibbled sandwiches out the window. He’d eaten bread, in some form, every day of his life, he realised, and he was sick of it.
What would it be like to simply drive off? Simply head on down to ol’ Mehico, like he’d once dreamed of doing after the band bit dust. Leave all this behind: cut loose, make a new life like he’d done when he left Maine.
He caught his own eye in the rear-view and saw he could not even fool himself he was the same person now. Too many cells had died. Too much hair lost.
In the car, it was cold as a coffin.

© Andrew J. Kirby 2013

The only time AJ Kirby speaks in the third person is in biographies. He's the award-winning author of five published novels (Sharkways, 2012; Paint this Town Red, 2012; Perfect World, 2011; Bully, 2009; The Magpie Trap, 2008), two collections of short stories (The Art of Ventriloquism, a collection of crime shorts, which was released August 2012, and Mix Tape 2010), three novellas (The Haunting of Annie Nicol, 2012; The Black Book, 2011; Call of the Sea, 2010), and over fifty published short stories, which can be found widely in print anthologies, magazines and journals and across the web in zines, writing sites and more.

Twitter - @ajkirbyauthor
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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Best Short Story on the Web

The winner of the 2013 Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web is...


Congratulations winner! You deserve it more than anyone I know.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Donal Mahoney

Mike Fitzgibbons and His Morning Paper

For 35 years, Mike Fitzgibbons had never missed a day driving off at 4 a.m. to buy the newspaper at his local convenience store. Snow, sleet, hail or rain couldn't stop him. There was only one paper being published in St. Louis at the time but Mike was addicted to newspapers. He had spent his early years reading four papers a day in Chicago--two in the morning and two in the evening. He worked for one of them and enjoyed every minute of it. However, an opportunity to earn more money as an editor for a defense contractor required his large family's relocation to St. Louis. Mike needed more money to feed a wife and seven children.

"Words are words," Mike said at the time. "Being paid more money to arrange words for someone else seems like the right thing to do."

Writing and editing were the two things in life Mike could do well enough to draw a salary. It broke his heart to retire many years later at the age of 68 but it seemed like the best thing to do. His doctor had told him he might have early Alzheimer's disease and that he should prepare for the future since the disease would only grow worse. Mike never told his wife or any of the children about the problem. His wife was the excitable type, and all of the children had grown up and moved away, many of them back to Chicago where all of them had been born. Each of them had acquired a college degree or two and had found a good job. Most of them were married. Mike and his wife now had 12 grandchildren and were looking forward to more.

"You can never have too many heirs," he told his wife one time. "Whatever we leave, it will give them something to argue about after we're gone. They won't forget us."

After the doctor had mentioned the strong possibility that he had Alzheimer's disease, Mike decided to have the daily paper delivered to the house instead of driving to the store every morning to buy one. And on most days that seemed like a good decision. But not on the infrequent days when the deliveryman soared by Mike's house without tossing a paper on the lawn.

The first time it happened Mike called the circulation department and received a credit on his bill. He did the same thing the second time, managing to keep his temper under control. But the third time occurred on the morning after the Super Bowl. For Mike this was the last straw. Three times he told the kind old lady in the circulation department to tell the driver Mike was from Chicago originally and in that fine city errors of this magnitude did not go unanswered. A credit on Mike's bill, while necessary, would not suffice.

When his wife Dolly got up, he asked her, "How the hell can I check the stats on the game without my newspaper?" She was only half awake. Mike was a very early riser and Dolly, according to Mike, was a "sack hound."

A kind woman, Dolly had always tried to be helpful throughout the many years of their marriage, so Mike understood why she eventually suggested he drive to the QuikTrip and buy a paper. Then he could read about the game and check the stats, she said.

"That's not the point, Dolly," Mike said. "I have a verbal contract with that paper for delivery and they are not keeping their side of the bargain. A credit on my bill is not adequate recompense." Mike loved the sound of that last sentence as it rolled off his tongue. He always loved the sound of words whether they were floating in the air alone or jailed in a sentence or paragraph.

What made matters worse, Mike told Dolly, is that without his newspaper he would have no way to check on the obituaries of the day. The obituaries were Mike's favorite part of the paper. Back in his old ethnic neighborhood in Chicago, the obituaries were known as the Irishman's Racing Form.

Back then, many retired Irish immigrants would spend the day reviewing the obituaries in the city's four different newspapers. Finding a good obituary primed them for conversation at the local tap after supper. The tap was run by the legendary Rosie McCarthy, a humongous widow who did not suffer any nonsense in her establishment. But she did offer free hard-boiled eggs to customers who ordered at least three foaming steins of Guinness. Eggs were cheap in those days. It was rumored that Rosie had to buy 10 dozen eggs a week just to keep her customers happy.

"Rosie knows how to hard boil an egg, Dolly," Mike had told his wife many times over the years. And his wife always wondered what secret Rosie could possibly have when it came to boiling eggs.

One reason the obituaries were of such great interest in Mike's old neighborhood involved the retirees wanting to see if any of their old bosses had finally died. Some of those bosses had been nasty men, so petulant and abrasive they'd have given even a good worker a rash. There was also the possibility that over in Ireland, the Irish Republican Army might finally blow up a bridge with the Queen of England on it. The IRA had been trying to do that for years. Many bridges had been blown to smithereens but not one of them had "Herself" on it.

"The IRA keeps blowing up bridges, Dolly," Mike would remind his wife. "You would think one of these times they'd get it right. They know what she looks like."

In addition to reading four newspapers a day as a young man, Mike had had other hobbies during his long and tumultuous life. He had bred rare Australian finches for decades and had won prizes with them at bird shows. However, after his last son had graduated from college and moved away, Mike sold more than 200 finches and 40 cages because he no longer had a son available to clean the cages. Five sons had earned allowances over the years cleaning the cages at least once a week. All of them ended up hating anything with wings. One son had even bought a BB gun and would sit out in the yard all day while Mike was at work. That boy was a pretty good shot. No one knows how many woodpeckers and chickadees he managed to pick off.

After Mike sold his birds, he took the considerable proceeds and plowed all of the money into rare coins. For the next ten years he collected many rare coins but when he retired he figured he may as well sell them because none of his children had any numismatic interest. Not only that, none of them would have known the value of the coins if Mike died. Some of them were very valuable--the 1943 Irish Florin, for example, in Extra Fine condition would have brought more than $15,000 at the right auction. Mike loved that coin and kept it, along with all the others, in a large safe in the basement. Guarding the safe was a large if somewhat addled and ancient bloodhound. Mike had bought the dog from a fellow bird breeder when it was a pup. The bloodhound wasn't toothless but he may as well have been. He wouldn't bite anyone no matter how menacing a robber might be.

"I love that dog, Dolly," Mike would tell his wife every time she suggested that euthanasia might be the best thing. "That dog, Dolly, is as Catholic as we are and Catholics don't abort or euthanize anything," Mike said.

When Mike finally sold all of his coins, he had a great deal of money that he viewed as disposable income. Dolly, however, viewed it as an insurance policy in case Mike died first. Mike had a couple of pensions but he had never made Dolly a co-beneficiary. In fact he convinced her to sign waivers so the payout to him would be larger. Dolly didn't want to do it but signing was easier than reasoning with Mike. His temper seldom surfaced but when it did, things weren't good for weeks around the house.

"I get mad once in awhile, Dolly, but I always apologize," Mike would remind her.

Mike finally decided to put the coin money into guns--big guns--although he had never shot a gun in his life. He refused to go hunting because he saw no sense in killing animals when meat was available at the butcher store. The kids used to joke that maybe deer and pheasant were Catholic, too.

Some of the guns Mike bought were the kind you would see in action movies. Mike always liked action movies. The more the gore, the happier Mike was. But he had to go to action movies alone because his wife hated gore but she liked musicals. No musicals for Mike, although he would always dig into his pocket to give her the money for admission, complaining occasionally that the cost of seeing musicals kept going up.

"I don't want to spend good money to see a bunch of people in costumes and wigs singing songs together when Frank Sinatra, all by himself, sings better than any of them." Sinatra had a good voice, the kids thought, and it probably didn't hurt that he was Catholic. One of them once suggested to Mike that it might be nice if they played a recording of Sinatra's "Moonlight in Vermont" at church. Mike didn't agree or disagree because he thought some sacrilege might be involved.

Mike remembered his gun collection on the day the deliveryman had failed to throw his newspaper on the lawn. He decided that the next morning he would sit out on his front porch at 3 a.m. with a big mug of coffee and the biggest rifle he owned. When the delivery van drove down his street, he planned to walk out to the curb, rifle in hand, to make sure he got his paper and to advise the driver of the inconvenience his mistake of the previous day had caused.

"There's no way this guy's a Catholic," Mike said to himself. "Three times now he has skipped my house with my paper."

The next morning things went exactly as planned--at the start. Mike was out on his porch with his rifle and coffee at 3 a.m. when the van came rolling down the street. Mike got up and strolled down the walk toward the van, his rifle resting like a child in his arms. Mike couldn't have known, however, that the van driver had been robbed several times over the years and that he carried a pistol in case someone decide to rob him again. When he saw Mike coming toward him down the middle of the street carrying a rifle, the driver decided to take no chances. He rolled down the window and put a bullet in Mike's forehead.

One shot, dead center, was all it took, and Mike, still a big strapping man, fell like a tree.

The next day the story about the death of Mike Fitzgibbons made the front page of his beloved paper and Mike himself was listed in the obituary section. The obit advised that friends of the family could come to the wake at Eagan's Funeral Home on Friday. It also pointed out that a Solemn High Funeral Mass would be said for Mike on Saturday at St. Aloysius Church, where Mike had been a faithful member and stalwart usher for decades.

Two days after the funeral, a neighbor was shoveling snow for Mike's widow. He happened to look up and saw the missing newspaper stuck in the branch of one of Mike's Weeping Willow trees. Mike had an interest in Weeping Willows and had planted a number of them over the years, too many some of the neighbors thought for the size of his property. This was the first time a newspaper had gotten stuck in one of the trees, his wife said. And it would be the last time because she had canceled the subscription to the paper the day Mike died. Like her husband, Dolly was a woman of principle and she thought canceling the paper was the least she could do in his memory. She had never read the damn thing anyway.

© Donal Mahoney 2013

Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, Donal Mahoney has had work published in MudJob and various publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his work can be found at

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