Monthly Archives: December 2015

‘Dead Language Central Holding Office’ by Andrew Bradford

If we all happened to see what we cannot see each and every day

On the whole it was never understood how much she loved to see the waters

I fear that man for his grin; looks like a hyena with extensive dental work

Along the way to get to Germany, we stopped and paid a visit to some city you have never seen

Who will move the one who cannot stand still long enough to breathe?

Do you–I say do you–do you think we can comprehend all this sensory lavishness?

The forces of the old far new have gained the upper hand and we must alert all

He entered the room in silence and came to believe he had never left it before

Life has become better; Life has become alive; Life has begun to live

This news is best delivered in a whisper so all will strain to hear the syllables

They read the newspaper slowly, burning the pages as they went

So the story goes so they all say so it must be

Around the same time each night, they would howl like wolves until they dissipated

His friends are still asking him, still inquiring:

When will you perfect each letter in each word?

Copyright 2015 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Broken Note’ by Andrew Bradford

The first time we made love, she told me I had the perfect skin for tattooing.

When we arrived, the man said, shaking his head, it was just glass and smoke…

I loved her smile. Her smile is what I first fell in love with.

Truck was traveling too fast and the driver acts intoxicated…

That trip to Naples, it just made it so clear; knew we’d be in love forever.

Anyone you want to call? Anything we can do for you?…

She told me she was pregnant. God, I have never been that happy in my life!

Single father. Never though that would be me. Never expected my life to turn out like this…

We never got around to actually marrying. Her parents, my parents, were not wild when they found out.

I just need to lay here a few more hours. I just need to try and understand what can never be understood…

Got that nice nesting feeling today. Got everything a man could need. Got it all.

Empty inside. Want to disappear…

Pretty sure I’m the most blessed guy in the world! And it’s all because of her.

I’ll never love anyone again. Why take a chance on something that never works out?…

Look at her! Never really imagined I’d have a child. But there she is: my daughter. I’m excited and at the same time I’m scared to death.

Girls need a mother, don’t they? How can I possibly be a mother and a father when I’m not even sure I know what it means to be a dad? My God, my God, I’m gonna screw it all up. I know I will…

People tell me I’ve never seemed happier. And I almost want to scream, “I have it all. I have it all!

I wake up in the middle of the night and want to scream my fucking lungs out. I feel like the world has exploded and the fragments landed on me…

I’ve heard the word love used to recklessly; heard people say it just so they can say they said it.

Keep wishing I could say it again. Just want to stay here in the dark and disappear. Stay long enough maybe it’ll all change…

Sometimes we come to realize that what was once the center of our lives is now the center of a hole that has opened within our souls. And when we reach that point, we have to try and fill that space with something else. With someone else. With a balm for the wound we can never forget or fully overcome.

This story is for Sandy. Wherever she is and in whatever place her spirit now exists, I know she is smiling. She was always smiling. 

Copyright 2015 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.


‘We Could Probably Do That For You, But We Won’t’ by Nicolas Pulido

“We could probably do that for you, but we won’t.” – That was the only thing he could say when he woke up in the hospital. Nobody even knew when he entered the hospital. He had no name, no family, and no history. He just appeared in a room, and started drawing on the walls. He had no wounds, no brain damage, not even dirtiness. He was almost too perfect. His orange hair was always shining and perfectly combed. His clear, freckled skin was always a perfect tone of white. He had a muscular body even though he never ate or exercised, and he didn’t seem to age. He was a rather handsome boy. But his drawings could have made the least squeamish person sick. Each vignette was full of tribulations: death, crying, famine, grief, suffering, malady, misery, and despair. No one in the hospital could stand being in there for more than a few minutes. They only entered to do requisite tasks. When someone entered the room, he turned his head and just stared at them, as if there was something in his deep blue eyes that could look right through their souls, and he just said the same thing.

“We could probably do that for you, but we won’t.” Everyone delegated any job that had to do with him. They decided they had to take him to an asylum, because apparently they were prepared for this type of situation, but they weren’t. The first night he spent there, an inclement weather invaded the city. Black clouds and lighting storms continued for days, and they kept getting worse. After a week, there was so much lightning that it seemed as the sky was combustible, and it was just burning. There was no difference between day and night, just a flaming sky. They feared him in the asylum as well. There was an aperture in the door of his room, and anyone that looked through it was left with an indelible image in their mind. He was always staring at the opening, so eye contact was unavoidable. And sketched on the walls, the same horrifying drawings were exposed. Just one person ever dared to enter. She never imagined what would happen to her. As soon as she entered, and looked around, avoiding the boy´s gaze, she felt as if she was in the cache of all the evil that ever existed. Her respiratory tract closed. At this point there was no way to rectify her error. She passed out in front of the boy, as he stared at her. A flash of light fulminated around the asylum and the lights turned off. The lightning stopped, there was only darkness left. Then he just looked back to the opening, as if there was no one else there. His eyes had a strange gleam that could somehow be seen in that eerie darkness. It was the only thing anyone could see. The gleam in his eyes seemed to follow everyone´s sight. Everyone that was there claimed to feel that they were being watched, and to see that gleam everywhere they looked. Then, coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time, a whisper was heard.

“We could probably do that for you, but we won’t.” The lights turned on, the girl was breathing again, and the moon started to shine through the clouds. He was gone as mysteriously and suddenly as he had appeared. But the drawings remained. They were a memoir of suffering and pain. The asylums director declared that it was paramount that they were erased. They disappeared from the walls, but never left the minds of anyone that saw them. There was no way of forgetting.

Copyright 2015 by Nicolas Pulido. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Temporary Random Habitual Day’ by Andrew Bradford

London Town dawned early that day so we stood around and watched our bodies melt

The most notorious thing a man can ever do is refuse to do anything at all

It was back in Psychedelic Spring, but they swore it was summer

So she always gravitated towards danger

When they reached the City of the Night, all was bright and pristine; it blinded them

My relation to the man you are contending with is not as close as you might pretend it once was

Been getting awfully bored with life as we now perceive it so only a matter of time before I pack a bag and split it all

It was a quick print job, and the work was shoddy as hell; everything was badly misspelledddddd

He’d get drunk and scream he was afire; was a horrible noise that time when he actually spontaneously combusted

Life was miserable back in those days; life now is only horribly distressing on most days

I calculate it will require exactly twenty million more years before all that is said is finally understood

Reported around the world once; now I just sit and stare at my face in a mirror; see the future before I see the past again

Last road down is a dead one; not a dead end, just dead

If he wasn’t so attached to his own pain, he might be able to share it with some other poor fuck

Copyright 2015 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘The Jasmine Ring’ by Nicolas Pulido

He liked to cry in the rain. It made his tears look small. Everyone had already moved on, apparently, but he couldn’t do the same. He looked at his watch. It was only 3 pm., and the sky was so dark and the rain so heavy that it appeared to be night-time already. He had to go. He left the jasmines in front of the grave, read the inscription one more time, shed one last tear, turned around, put his hands in the pockets of his coat, and walked away slowly. He was about to get to the exit but he heard a voice call his name. He turned around and there was no one. But, just as he was going to turn around again, he saw a spark in the flowers, and, as he got closer, they started to burn. He figured it had been a lighting strike or something, but as the wind blew the ashes away, he saw that one snow-white petal was still intact. He tried to grab it, but it was attached to something that was buried in the wet ground. He pulled it out. Attached to it, was a hoop as white as the petal.


-That may be the gayest thing I have ever seen you wear, Con.

I knew it isn’t the most masculine thing to wear, but it somehow makes me feel closer to my dad. It had appeared in his grave for a reason. And I was in a good mood, so I decided to be calm and keep talking to Brett. He is my best friend, after all.

-Ugh, shut up. It means something for me, Brett. Flower-petal-rings don’t appear in my father’s grave every day. What if it has something to do with my father?

– Your death father? The one who died three years ago, Con? He rose up from his grave to burn some flowers and give you a ring? Admit it, you saw it in some store for little girls and you love it as much as you love boys.

-You know, if you weren’t my friend, you wouldn’t get away with making fun of my death father and questioning my sexuality in the same sentence. And just because you are gay doesn’t mean I am. Unless you wanna be my boyfriend? Do you loooooove me?

-Ok, now it’s weird. You made it weird.

I love making Brett feel uncomfortable. He always makes fun of me, so every time I manage to either shut him up or show a bit of appreciation for me, I feel as if I won. But I can only feel it, because I’ll never win against Brett. He’s just better than me at everything. If he hasn’t beaten me at something, it’s because we haven’t competed. He starts talking again after about a second of “awkward” silence.

-I’m kidding. You know I’m kidding, right? I’m always kidding. I just find it odd. Like, the whole storm-lighting-burning-flowers-petal-ring stuff. I want to believe you, Connor, and you know I believe in ghosts after what happened last year, but why a ring? And why that ring? Why the jasmine-petal ring that belongs to Forever 21? Or like, Forever 8?

Brett had a special ability to say eighty thousand words per minute, so it took like 0.02 seconds for him to say storm-lighting-burning-flowers-petal-ring stuff. And he also had a special ability to make fun of absolutely everything I ever owned or did. But I knew what he meant. It was a weird ring. It was a girly and weird and childish ring. Forever 8? Maybe not. But it was definitely girly and childish. I just wanted to wear it because I was convinced it had something to do with my father.

And I hadn’t told Brett about the voice. The voice that called me and made me turn. But why would I? He’d make fun of me anyway. I know Brett is kidding and I know he likes me (as a friend, of course) but he has never lost a parent, or anything for that matter, so he wouldn’t understand. That’s the thing about Brett, he may want to help, but he can’t. He’s a great guy, but he is so privileged and his life is so perfect that he just can’t feel pain or something. He has money, he has friends, he has family, he has health. He even has a boyfriend. He has everything anyone could ask for. And I don’t have money, or a girlfriend, or a complete family, and I have like two friends and one of them is he. At least I’m healthy. Great.


I went to the cemetery every day after school for three years. I went and did my homework sitting on the ground in front of his grave, and then stayed there either wandering around or just looking at the name and inscription in his grave. I know it sounds creepy and stupid and weird but that’s what I did because I couldn’t get over it as everyone else had. I couldn’t forget it. I always did the same thing. I got out of school, walked to the flower stand, bought jasmines, took a bus to the cemetery, stayed there all afternoon after about 8 pm., when things started to get creepy, and then took a bus back home. I did that for three years. But today, I don’t really feel like it. I don’t know why, but as I’m waiting for the bus to the cemetery after buying the flowers, I realize that maybe there’s not a real reason for me to go to the cemetery again. So I don’t. I go to a nearby restaurant, order a coffee, sit in a table besides the window, and decide I was going to stay there until they closed. It was nice there in the restaurant. It was warm and it smelled like coffee. My mom wouldn’t be home until about 9 anyway. After a year of me going to the cemetery everyday, she decided to work until later because she didn’t like staying alone at home. I get it. She missed my father just as much as I did and it sucked to be alone at a house that used to be so full of his energy.

That is also why I didn’t go home. My dad used to pick me up at the bus stop everyday and then we’ll talk or just be with each other until I went to sleep, so I was used to being with my father after school. I couldn’t just stop being with him entirely. I may not be able to talk to him, or see him, or hear him. But I could feel his presence, his energy, when I was near his grave. I am not saying that I can feel his spirit or hear his voice or anything like that, but there was something I liked about being there, even if I couldn’t interact with my father. Except of course for the voice I heard The Day of the Ring.

I named the day I found the ring The Day of the Ring, because I figured it would be something important. That day meant something to me, just as the ring. October 25 was The Day of the Ring. So November 1st, or like the night of October 31, was The Day One Week After The Day of the Ring. I like to name important days in my life. Like, September 11 was The Day I Was Born (Birthday is too common), April 24 was Brett’s Day (long story), and July 16 was The Day He Died (And by “He” I obviously mean my father). I celebrate each of these days. If a day has a name, I celebrate it, so I was obviously going to celebrate The Day One Week After The Day of the Ring. I was hoping Brett would celebrate with me. So I tell him while we were having lunch.

-Really? You want me to go after school with you to the cemetery? What do you want to do there, Connor? You can’t do anything there. You want me to stay there with you, staring at your father’s grave? I never met him Con. I don’t even know what he looks like except for that picture you showed me like four months ago. And it’s not a super-important day. Its one week after an important day.

-Yeah, but…

He interrupts me and starts talking faster than he usually does. I know that means he was going to start to talk without thinking. He does this when he is too passionate about something, or when he is over-excited, or when he just wants to fight. So I prepare myself to hear him.

-And really Con, get over it. He died three years ago. THREE YEARS. You can’t cry forever. I understand that it hurts. But it’s so annoying, you keep crying and feeling sorry for yourself, and going to his grave and leaving him flowers and you just have to get over it. GET OVER IT CONNOR. He’s dead, there’s nothing you or I can do. It happens Connor. PEOPLE DIE SOMETIMES. And it sucks but you can’t keep crying forever. And that ring won’t bring him back. I don’t wanna go to the cemetery to look at a grave. It is LITERALLY the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard. It’s not even a special day, its one week after the day. If it was like his birthday, or like the anniversary of that stupid ring day, I’ll consider it. But this is too much, Con. It’s dumb and it won’t help anyone.

And that was when he realizes that he spoke too much. Maybe because he runs out of breath, or maybe because he sees the tear forming in my eye. Either way, he stops talking. The tear runs down my cheek. He stares at it while it falls. And then he tries to fix it.

-I’m sorry. I mean, I’ll do it for you, if you really want me to. I’m sorry. I was talking without thinking. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry. I’ll go with you. I’m sorry Con.

But if he said it, he meant it. Yes, he was talking without thinking, but when he did that he never lied. He doesn’t want to go with me, and he would hate every second of being alone with me in the cemetery. I just thought he would support me, being my friend and all. But anyway, I just say:

-Forget it.

He blinks twice and nods, then stares at nothing. He seems to be in a trance for like three seconds and then looks at me, smiles, and continues eating.

-Really Brett? You choose this moment to finally shut up.

-There’s nothing to talk about. Or like there was nothing to talk about.

And he takes a huge breath and is just about to start talking again, but I interrupt him.

-About the celebration in the cemetery… Nothing to say about that?

He stares at me, as if he was trying to figure out what I was talking about.

-Ummmmm…. No? What celebration? What are you talking about?

So I just (sarcastically) say:

-You’re such a great friend. Forget about all of this.

And then stand up and walk away. I don’t even look at him in the last classes of he day, even though he says I’m sorry like eight hundred times more.


I go out of school directly to the restaurant I had been the day before. I wanted to buy flowers, but I don’t see the point now. When I get to the restaurant I see a girl sitting in the table besides the window. She is holding a bouquet of orange lilies and smiles at me as I walk in. I’ve never seen her before, but she is pretty. I mean, not like prettiest-girl-in-the-world pretty, but like, pretty. She has long brown hair and really blue eyes. I have no idea why but I smile back. And I have no idea why but I sit in the same table, in front of her. With an interesting accent, she says:

-You left your flowers here yesterday. I was going to keep them for you, but I don’t really like jasmines, or the colour white. So I bought you these. They’re less boring. I still have your flowers if you don’t like these. I mean, these are prettier, but whatever.

She then giggles and her giggle makes me smile. I grab the flowers and stare at them for a second. I can smell their scent. I don’t know why I’ve never bought a different kind of flower. These are really beautiful. She keeps looking at me smiling and I realize I have to say something.

-These are beautiful. Thank you… ummm…


What a nice name. April. It’s the month of Brett’s Day. But I don’t care about Brett anymore. I mean, I do. I just don’t want to think about him at the moment. I smile.

-Thank you, April. I like these. I’m Connor. You can call me Con if you want to.

I have no idea why I just said that. Only my mother and Brett call me Con. For everyone else I am just Connor. Or Thompson, my last name. But I obviously am not going to make her call me Thompson. I regret it for a second but then she says:

-Nice to meet you Con.

I stop regretting saying it as soon as I hear her say it. It sounds so pretty when she says it. I kind of want to make her say it again. So I smile and say:

-Why did you do this April? Like, I appreciate it, but I don’t get why someone would do this.

She smiles. Adorable.

-Well, Con, there’s something interesting about a boy with a petal ring that carries flowers around.

-Oh… the ring… I don’t wear it that much… I… I mean… I found it like yesterday. I mean, like the day before yesterday… and like, the flowers… my father. It was my father’s ring… Like, I don’t know… My… My father died. And… the lighting… the ring… the flowers… and the ring… And I mean…

She laughs and looks at me as if she was looking at a puppy.

-It’s ok, Con. I like it. You don’t have to explain. Unless you want to, of course. But like, if you’re so nervous about it…

-No, I’m sorry. I panicked a bit. Don’t know why.

I obviously knew why. The ring wasn’t the most masculine thing to wear, after all. And like, I have no problem with gay people, but I clearly didn’t wanted April to think I as gay. Anyway, I continue talking.

-I will tell you the story. But I’m going to need a coffee for this. Want something?

-Sure, can you bring me a cupcake and a hot chocolate please?

She begins to take money out of her pocket but I, being a gentleman, tell her I’ll pay and go to buy the stuff. I tell the clerk what I wanted and as he is handing me the order he tells me the price.

-It’ll be $ 5.75

Apparently, April decided to ask for the most expensive things she could. I touch my pocket and realize I only have one bill. A $5 bill.

-I’m sorry, I don’t have enough money. Just forget about coffee.

He blinks twice and nods, then stares at nothing. He seems to be in a trance for like three seconds and then looks at me, smiles, and says:

– A hot chocolate, and a cupcake, It’ll be $4.75.

I pay and go back to the table. April doesn’t seem to notice I bought nothing for myself. I start telling her everything about the ring, and how I found it, and it’s day, and the voice, and Brett, and everything. She pays attention to me and asks questions and seems to be really interested I the story. I finish talking and she realizes I have nothing to eat.

-Weren’t you buying a coffee or something?

-I was but… ummm… I don’t have enough money. This is embarrassing.

-Don’t worry, I’ll pay for it. You want a coffee right?

I am extremely embarrassed, but I nod anyway. She stands up and goes to buy the coffee. She comes back like three minutes later without coffee, but with a lot to say.

-You will not believe what happened, Con. I ordered a coffee and the guy had no idea what that was. He literally didn’t know what coffee meant. He seemed so confused. Like, if you’re going to work in a Café you should at least know what coffee is. Wanna go somewhere else? I mean, somewhere else you can get coffee? I want you to get your coffee, and the guy that magically forgot what coffee is but still works here somehow won’t really help.

I look at my watch. It’s already 8 pm. Time really flies when you’re doing something you like. I apologize and say I have to go.

-Its ok, Con. We can get your coffee tomorrow, if you want too.

I smile at her.

-Sure. Same hour, same place tomorrow.

She kisses me on the cheek and I feel my heart exploding into a million pieces.

-We’ll meet here, but we’ll go somewhere else, where they actually know what coffee is.

I smile. She smiles. She kisses me again. I feel each one of the million pieces of my heart explode into a million more pieces. There are now 1,000,000,000,000 pieces of my heart wandering around my chest.


The next day I only talk to Joshua, my other “friend” in school. I am still not ready to talk to Brett. I don’t tell him anything about the ring, or April. He is really not my friend. He is just a guy that I talk to sometimes. I go directly to Café after school. April is already there, at the door, but not inside. She smiles at me and I can feel my face turning red. I (obviously) smile back. I get closer and she looks excited to see me and starts talking.

-Hello Con! I have something to tell you.

She then kisses my cheek again. I can help but smile.

-I… Ummm… About what?

-About your ring. I was pretty engaged in your story, and I decided to do some research on jasmines and stuff.

It seems weird to me that she would do that for a boy that she just met. But it makes me happy because that means she cared about me for some reason. So I let her continue.

-Well it turns out white jasmines are related to sensuality…

-Sensuality? My father gave my a sensuality ring?

-Let me finish. Sensuality and attachment. Attachment, Con. He gave you an attachment ring.

-Wait… you actually believe my father gave me the ring?

-Well that’s what you said. And I believe you.

-But why would he give an attachment ring? Why not an un-attachment ring?

-I don’t know. But I know I promised you coffee yesterday. And we’re gonna go get coffee at the place where the make the best coffee: my house.

-Your house? You want me to go to your house? You met me yesterday, what if I was some kind of sick rapist that wanted to steal everything you own?

-Sick rapists don’t carry flowers around. And sick rapists don’t blush when I kiss them.

She kisses me again and giggles. Her kiss makes me smile and her giggle makes me laugh.

-Lets go.

I get to her house. It is really beautiful. It smells like a bakery. It appears that there is no one else in there. She guides me to her room and I am amazed by how pretty and organized it is. She says she’ll go for the promised coffee. But I don’t really want coffee right now. So I tell her.

-Forget about the coffee.

She blinks twice and nods, then stares at nothing. She seems to be in a trance for like three seconds and then looks at me, smiles, and says she’ll go to the bathroom and leaves the room.

I start looking around her room. I like the vase with white jasmines in her table, but I don’t really know why. Its like I’ve seen them before, but I can’t identify when or why. I look at my hand and I have a ring. The ring has a petal of a white jasmine. That’s where I’ve seen it before. I don’t even know why I have such a girly ring on. I take it off and suddenly I remember. I found this ring after the flowers burned in my father’s grave three days ago. This Sunday was The Day One Week After The Day of the Ring. I had to celebrate.

April comes back and says:

-Sorry I forgot about your coffee, it’ll be done in a second.

-Forget about the coffee.

-No, I promised you coffee and I’m gonna give you coffee.

She leaves before I can say anything else. And in that moment, my phone starts ringing. It’s Brett. I don’t answer, but I kinda hope he’ll leave a voice message. I check my phone and discovered he actually left a message.

April comes back with the coffee and I tell her what just happened. I tell her the ring is actually an un-attachment ring. It makes you forget. She believes me. And I also tell her about The Day One Week After The Day of the Ring. She says she’ll celebrate with me. I then tell her about Brett. She says I should hear the message. So I press play and we both start listening.

-Connor. Con. Please forgive me. I’m sorry. I am a horrible person. I shouldn’t have done that. But I just realized what I did until now. I don’t know what happened to me, Con. Stress or something, I don’t know. Just forgive me please. I’ll go to The Day One Week After The Day of the Ring, even if you don’t want me to. I’m sorry. Can we please talk in person? I love you Connor I’ll never hurt you that way. I am honestly so confused about what happened. Please forgive me. And please call me or meet me or something.

We hear the entire message in like 2 seconds. He was talking so much faster than usual, and faster than two days ago. He was telling the truth. And it was me who made him forget. It was me and then I got mad about it. I kinda hate myself at this moment. But, luckily, April is there.

-It isn’t your fault, Con. You didn’t know. It’s ok. Just explain him and it’ll be ok. He is you friend. He’ll forgive you.

A tear starts to form in my eye. She wipes it with her hand, smiles at me, and kisses me. Not my cheek. She kisses me and I kiss her and we are kissing and it is wonderful. I still want to cry but she just made me so much happier. In three days, April had become prettiest-girl-in-the-world pretty. I hug her and we basically spend the whole day cuddled together. I had never been so happy. I don’t notice I don’t have the ring in my hand when I leave.


After three days of waiting, The Day One Week After The Day of the Ring is finally here. And I couldn’t be more excited. I put on special clothes and all. But I don’t have my ring. I figure April will take it to the celebration. I go to the cemetery and April is already there, with Brett. They are apparently bonding. We start talking and I notice the ring in April’s finger.

-You can give me my ring now, April.

I don’t want to sound to aggressive but I end up sounding aggressive. She smiles and says:

-No. Forget about it. Forget about your dad. Forget about Brett. Forget about me.

The blue-eyed girl in front of me pauses for a second and finally says:

-Forget everything.

Copyright 2015 by Nicolas Pulido. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘The Broken Candelabrum’ by Robert L. Franklin

I have seen mankind fall on their swords for less
than the established retail value of swallowed pride,
trading their hearts for dollars
and their minds for neckties
with which they can lynch their former selves
among the crabgrass and ragweed
of the twenty-fourth floor sociopathic
Tetris hedge-fund maze labyrinth
for the enjoyment of
a mob of staplers, monitors, computer towers,
and posters of cats offering sound advice
about “hanging in there”
just moments before they plummet to their deaths.

I have seen the youth
cross out the eyes of their ambitions,
watching their heroes become idols
for their antagonists,
burning their records and magazines
while chanting incomplete criticisms
of conformity and structured living,
suspending their knowledge of
necessary social evolution
for their perceived hedonistic utopias,
where cornflower blue nooses affixed to starched
and pressed and polished garments exist
only as a bonfire accelerant
and quips like “responsibility” and “normalcy”
and “establishment” are considered profane
instead of commonly-attributed curses
like fuck, shit, ass, cunt,
and every variation thereof.

I have seen the rebellious lawful
and conformists lawless,
each forsaking themselves to count the spiders
burrowing into their cavities,
trading comforts for change,
sex for impotence,
and wealth for poverty
to fill their veins with liquid orgasms
in dingy motel rooms
still adorned with chalk outlines,
their noses with the sweetest sugars available
on sale in back alley checkouts,
and their livers
with multiple varieties of ethanol bliss,
while filling
the throats of meth-addled streetwalkers,
the pussies of wined-and-dined Park Avenue dolls,
and the assholes of the occasional randomized,
submissive female creature with low self-esteem
whose contractual obligation began
with a swipe to the right.

I have seen the will of the people
fade into obscurity,
efficiently replaced
by substantive machines of precedent,
the life fading from their eyes
as the chips and codes merge with the biology,
making mankind indistinguishable from his creation
and his creation indistinguishable from mankind,
a degree of slavery of which humanity
has never previously bore witness,
for it is imperative
to the enslaved to remain enslaved,
as their emails, retweets, comments, and likes
will not be acknowledged themselves
and their identification
must be renewed every two years
to avoid becoming obsolete.

I have seen the fairer sex
become a battleground of ideals,
with offensives executed in their wombs,
occupations upon their breasts,
and collars savagely tightened around their necks,
for as some would argue the role of the bitch
is to stay spread on a 500-thread count
Egyptian cotton prison floor
answering only “yes”
to the matrimonial corrections officer
supervising her gendered incarceration,
while others would elevate her
to a status akin to God,
or bestowing upon her Lockean natural rights
of personal accountability,
in spite of what the diseased dick may object.

I have seen the faith of mankind rattled
into bondage and submission,
the logic of the parishioners
of establishment codes and ethics
reduced to stuttered phrasing
and broken candelabrums
while they juxtapose
their indoctrinated beliefs
with the heresy they have long opposed
in considering that perhaps the divine truth
is that there is no divine truth
and that life is merely
an inconsequential existence
on an inconsequential planet
at an inconsequential point in time,
that there are no miracles or signs
or testaments of any metaphysical value,
that their lives are pointless
in the grander sense,
devoid of any everlasting purpose,
and that upon
the drawing of their final breaths,
they will only rot, entombed in an oaken box
six-feet deep in the dominion of worms.

Copyright 2015 by Robert L. Franklin. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Pictures Never Seen’ by Andrew Bradford

So when they finally got all the bad stuff outta my head and put me back together again I felt pretty good I guess. The docs said I was gonna be fine, and I wanna know that to be true, but sometimes I gotta wonder. Docs said, Gonna be fine. You’ll see. All over now.
Step on out into the cold and the door closes behind me. Guess I knew it was cold. You lose track of that stuff in there. Like the docs said it had been three years and I started tryin’ to remember three years. Lotta blurry shit there now. Probably the meds and the other stuff the docs did, but I needed them to get me back where I am.

Pull my coat up around me and try to figure where I wanna go. Got a jillion places I could go, but where to first? Feelin’ that wiggle in my stomach so I guess it’s a good time to eat.

They got the heat up too high in the diner, but the food smells good when I go inside the place. Order a big double burger and onion rings. Love onion rings! Lady brings the rings and I start in like I ain’t had no food in years. Burger is good and the cheese is all melty the way I like. Eat and sip my glass of water. Been a long time since I been all regular like this. Think I’m suppose to take some pill, but I don’t wanna have to dig that pill bottle outta my pants so I say, Wait and eat. Damn this food is good!

When I’m all done eatin’ I stand up, pay my bill, and head on back out into the cold. The wind is really strong now. But it feels good to smell the air and get that freedom feel all over. Been a long time and I need to feel it all.

Down Crandall Street some guys are throwin’ dice against a wall and puttin’ money on the ground when they throw. I walk on by and they don’t even pay me no mind.
A block on down an old man is sittin’ outside next to a cart with fruit on it. I think about buyin’ an apple but I ain’t really hungry so I walk on.

Outta nowhere I think about Ma and Dad, and of course little Danny. Damn I miss them! Docs said not to live in the time gone by. And hey, I know ya can’t, but still I kinda wish it was all the way it was back then. Or at least most of it.

The docs told me all the time, It ain’t gonna be easy. You gotta adjust to a new you and a new everything else.

And hell, they’re right. ‘Course they are. But I just gotta keep walkin.’ Gotta  keep movin’ on.

I maybe walk another few blocks before I hear the music from this big red brick building. The lights are on and it sounds like people are singin’. I look up at this really pointy roof and see that cross on it. I say, Church and start to cross the street to the other side but I change my mind and walk in.

I get inside and this guy hands me a piece of paper even though I really don’t want it. I sit down on one of the benches in back and the singin’ stops a few minutes later. This man in a big heavy robe stands up in front of the place and starts to talk, sayin’ It’s such a blessing to be in the house of the Lord. A couple of folks mumble amen and I watch as the guy starts to put on a pair of glasses and read from a big book he has in his hand. He says: The Lord is my shepherd….

So this guy you put on all this big deal for tonight is a shepherd? I think I know what he’s talking about, but I only been in a church like two times my whole life, and the more I sit there I start to know why.

I start feeling like I can’t breathe and it ain’t cause it’s too hot in there. It’s just…it’s like I know I don’t belong and all the people know it, too, and they’re all thinkin’ What is he doin’ here? Why did he show up?

Look back up at the man in the robe with the book and he’s sayin’ all these fancy words but the only one I feel deep in me is when he says, Damned. He looks at me when he says it so I nod, stand up, and go to leave.

I don’t belong here. I don’t belong in a place like this. Probably don’t belong anywhere except back with the docs and the nurses. But I can’t go back there. I can hear one of the docs telling me, Don’t get caught up in the past. Start over. Not just anyone gets a second chance.

And then I’m back on the street and thinkin’ I need cigarette, but I can’t even remember if I ever smoked before.

Just the other side of Baker Street I see her. She’s wearin’ this short skirt and a really thin shirt that shows off what makes her special. So she looks me over and says, You wanna party?

I know what she’s talkin’ about. All the meds the world could never burn away that feeling in me I get when I see a really pretty one. I may be just gettin’ back from that time with the docs, I but I ain’t forgot what matters.

So she leans in and whispers the price in my ear, says she has a place not too far where we can go. I pull out my money and hand it to her. She takes my arm and we start down the street with her tellin’ me, It’s gonna be better than you ever had.

Her place is just a one-room walkup that needs more heat. Place is fuckin’ freezin,’ but I didn’t come all this way to walk out now.

I watch as she starts to take off her clothes and say some really nasty things about all she’s gonna do to me. It all sounds so good I don’t even know where to start so I figure I’ll let her decide.

Then we’re on the bed and she’s takin’ off my pants, then my shorts, and she whispers, Lemme take care of everything. Lemme take care of it.

I close my eyes and can see those lights flashin’ real crazy like just behind where I can see when I open them. Like seein’ pictures on a screen but then you look closer and the screen’s still blank. Strange, man. Real strange.

I hear the door open on the far end of the room and see him walkin’ in, sayin’ he’s gonna make her pay: You fuckin’ bitch, you gonna pay me every dime you owe me!

And me all the time thinkin’ real sharp, bad thoughts that make red rise up all over me like a lightnin’ storm or somethin’ lots worse.

I see Dad standin’ over Mom, hittin’ her again and again, calling her a whore, tellin’ her she’s useless and how he never shoulda trusted her ever ever again. Not gonna make that mistake again.

Suddenly I’m standin’ in the doorway and I feel the metal in my hand, heavy and so cold. I raise up the gun and I shout, No, Dad. No! Not anymore. Not again! Dammit, not ever again!

And you know what the bastard does? He fuckin’ laughs at me! Tells me I’m a waste of sperm and that he shoulda smothered me in my crib. He stinks of booze, cigarettes, bile. He smells like what you figure the dead smell like a week after you bury them.

All of it, all the bad, it just comes rushin’ out of me like a flood and then all I hear is my heart beatin’ in my ears and the click click click of the hammer on the gun. Click click click it says to me. I close my eyes and it says, Click click click…who’s next?

I know it ain’t me, almost like I’m seein’ it outside of who I am, liftin’ the gun again and more clicks as I start to scream. I can feel my teeth grindin’ in my mouth and taste metal back in my throat. I wanna be sick, but nothin’ comes out but my screams.

When the screamin’ stops I hear that click click click again and that’s when I rush down the hall to Danny’s room.

Danny’s under the bed cryin’ and I wanna take him in my arms and tell him it’s all gonna be OK again. Danny, it’s gonna be OK! It’s all OK, just like the docs said it was gonna be. The docs made all the bad go away, Danny. All but the headaches, but lotsa folks gotta live with worse. That’s what the docs said. They said, Be thankful for what you got. Some got nothin’ when they leave. Nothin’ at all. Makes me almost wanna laugh when I think of it now.

So Danny crawls out from under the bed, and when he starts to walk to me I hear that clickin’ again. That same sick click click click and that bad taste in my throat that must be what it tastes like when you wanna do one thing but see yourself doin’ somethin’ else.

Click click click.

Voice in my head says, How could you do it? How could you do it?

I’m beatin’ the walls now with my fists. So mad, so scared, so full of nothin’ but darkness. I don’t even know what the girl means, but I hear her say, I’m callin’ the fuckin’ cops!

Little while later the guys in uniforms are takin’ me by the arms and tellin’ me it’s fine, it’s totally cool, it’s no big deal. They can take me back to the docs and I can tell them what it was all about.

But what can bring back Mom or Danny? What can bring it all back?

I’m cryin’, wailin’ like a fuckin’ baby as they lead me outta the room and to the car. How could I do it?

It’s gonna be fine pretty soon. Sit down with the docs and we’ll have a big laugh over it all.

Wish I could have Mom and Danny come visit, but they’re gone and it’s all my fault.

But it can’t be! I loved them.

In the back of the car when they turn on the siren I start to feel really cold deep in me. But it’s all just a dream—gotta be—just some bad things I gotta try and forget and all the pictures I ain’t never seen.

Copyright 2015 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Tony’ by Gloria Christie

Brownie only had three legs. He belonged to Aunt Avis, Mom’s older sister. I never knew why he lived with us, but he stayed for several years. I did know why Brownie had three legs. He lost one of them by getting too close to a machine with gnashing horizontal teeth attached to Dad’s tractor, a machine that cut the purple flowered, sweet-smelling crop alfalfa, and cut Brownie’s leg off. That is why you never get close to the tractor.

Then Aunt Frances, another Mom sister, said a neighbor had puppies; and after a suitable amount of begging, my parents said we could have a dog. I picked one of the squirming bundles of puppy pleasures and named him Tony. Dad said he belonged to all of us, my two sisters, too. Of course, I knew he was my dog…knew as in a feeling that washed down from my shoulders and settled deeply behind my stomach.

We returned Brownie, and I turned to my dog. The splash of brown and white across the upper portion of Tony’s body told us what we already knew – he was a collie with German shepherd coloring. After I saw Timmy grooming Lassie on TV, I decided to brush Tony’s long, sleek hair. By then, my dog was a year old.

The daylight hurt my eyes and the sidewalk’s concrete bit into my little knobby knees, but I was determined. The trees gave us shade then took it away, the dust fluffed into bursts as the invisible wind shifted past us. Ours was a working dairy farm in rural eastern Kansas and filled with all sorts of adventures for an ultra-curious me on other days.

I still associate the day I groomed Tony with malted milk filled to the top of a glass and carried carefully in my sticky six-year-old hands from the kitchen to the outside. As I brushed Tony, I found something that little girls didn’t have, a penis! What pleasant surprise that was, Tony made different, but mostly the same.

I brushed until his coat shone in blue-black glints. My dog was every bit as magnificent as Lassie, and she had her own TV show! My mother thought otherwise, since I used her good hair brush. And no one wanted to make Mom mad; her anger was thunderous. I didn’t understand why she would care though; their hair was almost the same color.

Tony lived with us for maybe five years. Dad wouldn’t let us have animals in the house, so ours was an outdoors dog. One morning, I went out and called for Tony. He didn’t come. Dad said that he was gone, a cougar might have got him, but I called for my dog all day. Night came, but Tony did not.

Living on a farm teaches a person about the stages of life and the harsh edges of death. Tony would have come back to me if he could, so I knew he was dead. I cried without sound. It would upset the sisters the grownups said, and they couldn’t understand. So grief bit at my heart, and loneliness weighed down my throat. Tears leaked across my cheeks; I dashed my hand at them, angry at myself for crying. And yet they still come.

Copyright by Gloria Christie, November 19, 2015. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Madame’ by Joseph Szewczyk

She spoke in time to the clang of the kitchen waitress’s movements. Her blonde hair hung like smoke off her face. “The one I was named for, she hated me.” Her line floated in the air of the busy Paris diner. A little boy eating an ice cream carried it with him on the wind.

I couldn’t decide if the twist in her voice as intentional to display the level of hate or if it was something a bit more subconscious; something brought up by the very memory of her own name. She took a bite of her horse before continuing. I played with my fries trying to decide if it was polite to use my fingers or not.

Her eyes, mirrors of my own turquoise, glanced over my finger as it made contact with my fry. I pretended not to notice either gaze or digit. “When I was a young teen, my grandfather died. I was working and I got a call to visit her.” She took a fry of her own–with her fingers–and dipped it into a sauce that was too pink for mayonnaise. You know, to see how she was doing. My grandfather wasn’t sick so it was a bit of a shock to us. I visited her after work. “Madame, I am so sorry to hear about your loss…”

I paused the story in my mind. I remember being a polite child, maybe painfully so, her use of ‘Madame’ stood out to me. There was respect in that word, but a weight attached to it; a weight of longing for an acceptance that hadn’t come.

She looked at me and said, “Thank you. I need to go to the doctor, as I am in a terrible melancholy.” she said this to me without a tear on her face. I told her I would take her to the hospital so she can see her doctor. She asked me why her favorite grandchild, and she used that very word, “favorite,” couldn’t take her instead.

“Meghan can’t come right now because she is busy.” I said as I already knew whom my grandmother was talking about. She made no qualms on who her favorite was.’

Desiree sat in front of her plate. The redness of the horse meat made me wonder about if it were raw, much like the egg on top, or not. My companion smiled–a teasing smile–one that I would get to know better soon enough. It’s the smile that pulls lightly against the lips. A raspberry smile that promises the future and stays in your eyes encased in amber.

She chopped her horse up with clinical precision and changed the tempo of her story. No longer was the waitress’s beat line good enough to follow. ‘I was shit and Meghan was everything I wasn’t. Except Meghan wasn’t there. I don’t really know if she was busy or not. I said it because I didn’t want to hurt my grandmother’s feelings. You know.’

I did know. Although I never met Meghan or the grandmother, I could see a bit of myself in that story. Always reaching. Always grasping. Yet never quite feeling complete or good enough. I nodded my head. The waiter took that as a sign to come to our table. With a flick of the hand, I waved him away.

“I drive her and she’s quiet. Not a word. Not even a…” she chomped her teeth together to indicate a sound. “When we get to the doctor’s she is still quiet, that is until we get her into the waiting room. She starts to sob and shake. Oh, my poor Phillip! Why did he have to die so! I can’t live without him!” She would keep this up until the nurse went for the doctor. At this point, she snapped her fingers, no more tears. My grandmother just sat there looking at the wall art and then,’ another snap ‘as soon as she saw the nurse come back with the doctor she started up again. Double so like she had to make up for lost moaning.’

We looked at each other. I liked her smile. She liked my nose. She drank a bit of my soda and winked.

“She gets the pills she wanted to get from the doctor and continues to cry as he walks us the car. Mind you, she never once cried before in her life. Not a single time that I could recall. Here she was crying.” This is where she rubbed her eyes and twisted her lips into a faux pout, “like a little baby. It was embarrassing. The doctor turns to me and says, ‘You must be Meghan, I heard so much about you’ but I correct him and say, “Meghan is my cousin. My name is Desiree.” The doctor looks at me and holds my hands like this. She stops her story to take my hands into hers. There is a soft jazz song coming from outside. There is a reggae beat to match it. “He goes, ‘my dear child, I thought you were dead.’ Just like that! My grandmother has been telling people I didn’t exist for the last 15 years.”

That did seem a bit extreme for a grandmother. My own grandmother would joke with people about needing an oxygen tank and having strangers help her put groceries into a car that wasn’t hers. One time, she even got a kind gentleman to help a car open that she locked herself out of. The owner found her in the passenger side humming an old Doors tune.

“Then, once we were in the car and waived the doctor off, she stopped,” another snap, “just like that.” She turned to me and said, “I want to buy some cheese. Stop over at Prancisco’s Shoppe. You know, what really makes me weird is that I truly started to believe she was sorry and those tears were repressed energy coming out finally. At last!” She accentuated the “at last!” with a dip of her fork into one of my fries. The turn-coat fry made its way from my plate to her mouth via the fork.

I offered the best solution I could come up with, “I see what you mean.” I tried to go for one of her fries but they seemed stunningly out of reach. I aborted the attempt somewhere around the salad dressing. It was a vinegar mix based with fresh herbs. The smell stung the nose with the first bite. It wasn’t unpleasant; it was strong with a hint of citrus. Lemon, I think.

She smiled, put her hand on her fry bowl and pulled it closer to her; her nod meant “not yet.” She took another one from my plate and continued, “The cheese maker had a plate of fresh croissants and I teased that he should give me one for free–just for small talk–and he said that his costs money but the ones down the street might be free. It was not matter as my grandmother, once again over her loss–until she saw a neighbor of hers and then she really started bawling. The neighbor cried with her, picked up a wheel of mild cheddar, and exited, taking her cheese and my grandmother’s tears with. On the way out, my grandmother came over to me and said, ‘Those look great! What a treat they would make for a special someone helping me out through tough times!’ To my surprise, she bought two croissants.”

“I drop her off at her place. I think, finally, my grandmother appreciates and loves me! She will surely give me, the person helping her out, one of those croissants. We will talk about all the times past and how she has meant so much to me. She’ll call me her favorite. I parked the car and let her out. We walked up to her house and she opened her front door. She took the cheese and the croissants from me and told me, ‘Tell Meghan that I miss her.’ That was it. She shut the door on me and I was standing there with my mouth open.” Her eyes twinkled when she said it and her mouth became agape in demonstration. I could see her tongue laughing at me.

I leaned over the table to kiss her. She tasted like hollandaise sauce but smelled of a light vanilla. The mixture was intoxicating. “So, your grandmother gave the croissant to Meghan?” I asked.

She leaned back from the kiss, ran her tongue across her teeth and said, “No. I saw my grandmother and my mother with that special croissant on Instagram. It appears that Meghan was too busy for the treat.”

I made a mad dash for my own french fries. I grasped two small ones and put them into the bin of reddened sauce that hung around my plate. I wasn’t exactly sure what the sauce was before–and after–tasting it. If cranberry and ketchup had a baby, then that baby surely would hang out in a Paris diner. I think I ate that baby that night.

She looked at me. Her tongue traced the ridges of her teeth; the ridges where my own tongue traced moments before. “A few weeks go by and I run errands for my grandmother. She would give me grocery lists and things from around the town she needed picking up. Most people were amazed that I wasn’t the Meghan they heard so much about…”

“And were you still dead for some?” I asked.

She nodded. “It was easier to eventually say I was Meghan than to keep correcting everyone that I wasn’t dead. So, that is what I did. I told everyone I was Meghan and that I was just joking to be this Desiree girl. They took ‘the joke’ very well. Some even said that they knew I was joking all along since Meghan was always doing things for the madame. One day that week, I had to take the madame back to the doctor. This time she didn’t fake cry. This time she said her stomach hurt. She hadn’t pooped in three days.”

I nodded in sympathy as I knew how that felt. I, myself, was already on day four.

“They kept her overnight and I got worried. She was never sick before in my life and I didn’t know what to do so I called my dad, who is her child. He was worried to. He told my mom and she called the other grandchildren. We all started to come down to the hospital to visit her. Meghan showed up and went to my grandmother’s room. The doctor said she had a bad stomach cancer. I asked how long she had and he said he didn’t know. ‘It could be years or maybe less,’ he lied. I knew he was lying but he did so to calm the nerves of the family. Do you know of this? When people lie to make others feel better?” She had directed the last question at the bus boy taking away our dinner plates.

He turned and walked away. The redness of his face was the only indication that he had heard at all. “I think it’s easier to love when we expose ourselves raw,”  I said. Desiree beamed at this proclamation. Her hands found mine under the table for a frozen moment. Our fingers entwined. Her fingers were slender–impossibly long–and contrasted my sausage links of a set of digits. Her fingers were perfect from the sheened nails to the last smooth knuckle. My middle knuckles all seemed like a drunken hobo with sunken eyes.

“Did she last long?” I asked. I regretted the question. It seemed out of time and focus. Desiree pulled her hands back and smiled a bit. This time her lips pulled towards her teeth. It made her seem like sex.

“I bought her the best flowers the next day. 50 euros, at least. Here I was, this happy girl walking down with flowers in her hand to her grandmother’s room. I put the flowers down and my grandmother was stiff as a board.” She put her own legs and arms out to duplicate that look her grandmother gave her. I let out a small misplaced laugh.

“She was like this, you know.” Desiree’s British accent–something hard won–came to a rise with the “know” part of the phrase. She was French, but her English came with a Downton price. “She screamed at me, ‘Desiree! You are not supposed to see me like this!’ I told her I had flowers for her and that I loved her. She pointed to the table for the flowers and then the door for me.”

The dessert tray came. She picked a deep fried Snickers bar while I mulled over a cheesecake topped with cookie dough and chocolate sauce. The chocolate sauce thickened where it kissed the cookie dough. The result was a chocolate waterfall frozen in mid-stream. I saw a chocolate water fall before, it was in Las Vegas and it spanned three stories. My memory recalled a colony of flies stuck in stillbirth, trapped between the chocolate their mother laid them in and the glass the workers put around the waterfall. This dessert sized waterfall didn’t have that fly problem, but it was invaded by a metal spoon. The spoon swept into the chocolate like a fire helicopter scooping water from a lake. It poured its load unto her fried Snickers bar.

“I went home. Tears just came down my face.” She pointed to where the drops of water had sprung from her eyes in the years passed. “I told my mother about this and she told me my grandmother had called for me tonight. I called her back, ‘Yes, madame, it is me, Desiree.’ and she told me, ‘Desiree, I want you to promise me that if I die while you are working you do not take time off to see me. It is very important, do you promise me this?’ I told her that I promised.”

She bit into the fried Snickers bar and my cheesecake soon became a second topping for the Snickers. Part of the cookie dough clung to the side of her fork. She served it into my mouth before I could protest. The action made my mouth moist and she took that as a sign of my infatuation with her. And it was.

“She got better. She came home and all I could hear about how her granddaughter bought her these wonderful flowers. It was all the nurses and visitors could talk about. It finally made a difference to her. She knew I loved her and I knew she loved me.” Her eyes became wet. It wasn’t a tear but a mist. That same mist got into my eyes too.

“So, you finally reached her? That’s wonderful. I’m sorry it had to come so close to death though,” I said as I decided cookie dough definitely belongs with cheesecake.

“Yes, she came home for the day then died. I didn’t go to the funeral because I had to work–and I made that promise–but my mom said all anyone could talk about was how great her granddaughter, Meghan, was for running her errands and bringing her those flowers.”

The cookie dough slid down the rest of the Snickers bar. A bit of chocolate leaked out. My tongue flicked the corner of her mouth.

Copyright 2015 by Joseph Szewczyk.  All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.