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Ryan Morse – Marshall and the Martians

Marshall and the Martians

When we were seven, Marshall and I would play astronauts and Martians. He was always the astronaut, and I was always the monster. By virtue of being 23 minutes older, and somehow much bigger, he always got to be the good guy, but he never let himself be the winner. He was always going down in a hail of laserfire or jumping on an imaginary bomb to save a bunch of imaginary lives.

I wonder whose life he imaged he was saving in the end.

I was the evil, ugly Martian, doomed to die, if I had been playing with anyone else. Not Marshall.  Even though I always won, his incessant martyrdom always made me feel weaker. Already significantly shorter and skinnier, and much less athletic, he found a way to make me feel even more helpless by always being the one to sacrifice himself.

I hated him for that. I got over it eventually, but I think even that was temporary.

That is not to say we weren’t close once. Back then, we also used to convince all our friends and family that we could communicate telepathically. It was all Marshall’s idea. We were, of course, faking it, but I think we sold it fairly well. We started off by agreeing on a bunch of predetermined thoughts. So many, in fact, that I had a hard time remembering them all. Each one had a corresponding hand signal. We’d stare each other down and Marshal would be discretely flashing me signs, like a catcher to a pitcher, a crooked grin stretching his face.  Continue Reading »

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Miles White – More Love Tomorrow

More Love Tomorrow

How much pain can the human heart endure was more than a rhetorical question for Jill at this point – it was more like how much pain could she endure, or continue to endure, because every day she had to endure it, and endure more of it than the day before, or so it seemed. The times when Anne was lucid were becoming less frequent, but Jill lived for those times, when Anne looked up from the bed with those sparkling brown eyes and remembered who she was. How are you, dear?, she would ask, more concerned for Jill than for herself. Are you getting enough to eat? You look thin as a bird, for Chrissakes. I should cook you something.

Jill always smiled at this, one of the few times she smiled anymore, but it quickly became not so funny. Anne had not cooked in years and did not remember she was in a hospice. A few times she actually tried to get out of bed, going Heat up the stove for me. Do we have any flour? I’ll make biscuits and jam. Jill feared these times because then Anne would look around her and realize she was strapped down to the bed and become alarmed, then frightened. She did not understand what was happening to her. Why are you doing this to me, Jill?, she would say, looking up at her with the eyes of an uncomprehending child. Jill would whisper softly to her, trying to keep her own emotions in check. It’s for your own good, she would say. We can’t keep having you walking off in the middle of the night so nobody can find you, now can we? Anne would look at her, puzzled, but the effort of trying to think, to piece things together, was too much for her. Her eyes glazed over and she left again for the other place. Most of the time now, she was in that place. At least there, Jill thought and believed, she was safe, free from all this.

Jill came every day now. She used all her vacation time and then took an unpaid leave of absence. Carl was able to take care of himself and the girls most of the time and keep his plumbing company running but he had to hire on another guy which he was fine with. He had told her to go and be with Anne. He would do the same thing if he were her; it’s not as if she had a choice. Anne was all alone. Sometimes Jill brought photo albums. When Anne had clear moments she sometimes took them out and they went through them and had good laughs. She had not taken the albums out in weeks now. The clear days became a few good moments in the course of a week; Jill never knew when Anne would open her eyes and not know her anymore, and when she didn’t know where she was or who Jill was she started to have panic attacks. She would ask for people. Tell James I want to go home, she said one day all of a sudden. Call James, I said. Tell him to come and get me. She became insistent and Jill tried to calm her down, but she told her the truth. James is dead, Anne. He died a long time ago. Don’t you remember?

Jill brought a CD player. When Anne was lucid she put on Louis Armstrong. One day Anne started singing to What a Wonderful World while Jill held her hand and cried. That was the last time Anne spoke, but Jill still played songs as long as her eyes retained a glint of recognition, until Jill knew Anne was no longer listening. The last time she came she had waited until evening; one of the girls was sick and Carl couldn’t manage alone. Anne had soiled herself and she smelled. The nurses had not changed her all day. Jill screamed at them; she cursed them. When Anne was clean and her bed changed Jill sat beside her stroking her hair. She could see Anne wasn’t coming back from the other place anymore. They were giving her morphine now and the nurses had showed Jill how to program the analgesia infusion pump next to the bed. She quickly reset it, then kissed Anne on the forehead. Goodnight, Mom.  I’ll see you in the morning, she said, squeezing Anne’s hand. It may have just been a reflex but Anne squeezed back. Jill pressed the pump and felt Anne’s hand relax. Then she pressed it one more time.

– Miles White

Author’s NoteThe Canvas Sextet is a collection of six volumes of provocative flash fiction – 300 stories altogether – consisting of mostly realism that crosses a range of genres. My “canvas” is one blank sheet of paper, 12 point, Times Roman, single spaced, around 800 words. The stories must be contained within that space, just as a painter is bound by a single canvas to convey a complex story through visual imagery. “More Love Tomorrow” is the title story from Volume Four, due in 2015.

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Cassia Gaden Gilmartin – So Damn Warm

So Damn Warm

Under the blankets she shivers like she’s out in the snowstorm, not curled safe in our bed with the lights out. I close the door behind me, but I don’t move to warm her. She’s piled those blankets so high tonight, so high and so heavy. The heat’s turned way up in here. Outside, the snow falls for real, thick sheets of it tumbling from clouds that block the moonlight. A few stars shine through, though. Just enough light to see her by.

“Allie?” The pillow turns her voice to a bare murmur, like the voice she uses when I’m there beside her, our hands and hair twined together, one blanket sheltering us both. Like the voice I spoke with when I started school, mumbling at my shoes, before her kindness opened me up. She blinks at the half-open curtains. “There’s snow.”

There’s snow.  I’ve just come in the door but I want to roll around in it, bunch it in my fists, let it soak through my coat. God, I haven’t even taken off my coat. “They said there would be. The forecast after the news.”

She sits up to stare at me. As she rises the sleeve of her T-shirt slips down, baring one white shoulder. I can hardly see her face, but I see the freckle on that shoulder – a little black hole drinking in the light. I’ve loved her for that more than anything. Even my Mom used to love that freckle. Kat had hers on her left shoulder; mine was on my right, its mirror image, and we pretended we were sisters. We thought we were only sisters, for a time.

“You’ve been home a while.” The pillow’s gone, but her voice stays low. “I heard the front door open.”

“I’m sorry.” Suddenly, there’s shame. I blush, and mean the words even though I never meant to say them. “It’s the first time I’ve seen her since – you know. Since Mom died.” Aunt Linda was quiet when I visited her house tonight, the sleeve of her woollen jumper unravelled. There were shadows beneath her eyes. She smiled at me, the way Mom never did since I told them about Kat. We didn’t talk about the funeral (Kat and I came together, wearing matching silver rings), or about the house, though I know she’s sold it now. We didn’t mention the tabby cat who used to come for food, or ask whether anyone still fed him. Continue Reading »

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Jaryck P. Bezak – The Hillside

The Hillside

A warm wind blowing in from the west made the exposed hairs of my legs and forearms sway and move. High in the sky the sun’s heat caused me to stir and slowly wake. My eyes opened and carefully focused on some blades of grass as I followed a small ladybug until she flew away. I was awake now, and fully aware of where I was. I was on top of my favorite hillside, overlooking a stream that ran to a lake a few miles north.  What I was not aware of, was who was with me.

I was laying on my side, my left arm being used as a pillow for a girl I didn’t know, my right arm wrapped around her slender figure. Her hair blew softly with the wind and tickled my nose, bringing with it a beautiful smell I had never experienced. I frantically tried to remember who she was… I walked up here alone from my small apartment to read, and the sun had made me lazy and I drifted to sleep. That much I knew. I really didn’t want to question it though; for I felt at peace and that she was somehow important. I was feeling happy in my confusion, believing that this was a dream, I started to drift back to sleep.

She stirred for a second, turning herself over to face me, and in her half sleep state, she pulled herself closer. I opened my eyes and lost my breath. She was stunning. A rare beauty was staring back at me with eyes that reminded me of an overcast day. She didn’t turn away from my stare, and I couldn’t look away from hers. Continue Reading »

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Hannah E. Phinney – The Living Doll

The Living Doll

My father was an old man. Seventy-seven years he had lived on this planet. One day he complained to me of a headache. It seemed mild at first, but toward nightfall he was massaging his temples, his face wreathed in discomfort. By the next day it had morphed into a meaty migraine, and he told me he heard rustlings in his ears. Clinkings and tinklings. In the evening my poor old pops spoke of whisperings. He said they came from inside his head, and that the voice was a young girl’s.

On the third day, my father was unable to get out of bed. Every time he tried to stand, he fell to the floor, head-first – as if something in there was too heavy, was pulling him down. I took him to the hospital.

The strangest part was that I knew instinctively what ailed him, but I didn’t know how I knew.

In the car, my father began to talk about a bizarre distortion in his visual perception. He said it felt like he was seeing, not double, but doubly: like he was looking at the world with his own two eyes, but also with those of someone much smaller and younger – someone who sat behind his eyes and peered through them like windows. He was perplexed and frightened. I didn’t know what to say to him, so we drove on in silence.

In the doctor’s office, a medic shined light into my father’s eyes and ears.

“Hmm. Quite peculiar. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything like this. We must operate immediately.”

My father looked at me, worry stretched in wrinkled bars across his brow. “Harvey! I’m afraid, Harvey.”

“Don’t be afraid, pops. The docs’ll fix you. It’ll be okay.”

So he went under the knife. The surgeons had to unhinge my father’s face. They made incisions along the top of his forehead, the bottom of his chin, and the left side of his cheek, so they could open his face like a door. Then they stood, mouths agape at what was inside.  

My father’s brain was mostly hollowed out, and in the space previously occupied by that vital grey matter sat a tiny living doll. She had a tiny head crowned by dark brown bangs, and tiny ruby lips. She wore a pale blue dress. She held a miniature teacup. The living doll blinked her exaggerated eyelashes at the doctors in bewilderment.

The first surgeon to snap out of his shock shook his finger at her and said, “Alright, missy. Play time is over. We need to get you out of there.” Continue Reading »

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Mitch Grabois – Painter

Painter

When I graduated high school I figured I’d spent enough time sitting at a desk. I thought about everything I’d learned in school and out, and figured that my most salable skill was painting houses. I was living in L.A., which made house painting possible year-round, unlike Michigan, where one of my cousins lived, where winter shuts down the world.  

I got a truck, a ladder, brushes, got cards printed, gave them to my friends’ parents. Word- of-mouth took care of the rest. Some friends came back for holidays and said: You’re smart. You could have made something of yourself. But every day I renew the world. I take old surfaces and refresh them, put gladness in the hearts of homeowners and neighbors and even people just driving down the street. I don’t trouble myself with ideas. At lunch I sit against an unpainted wall and chew the sandwiches my wife puts together. I scribble notes to myself like this one and sometimes on the ladder, I wonder why I do it.

But then, I forgot my language. Tanks rolled over it. It cannot raise itself like a cartoon character squashed flat. It cannot blow itself back up with a cartoon bicycle pump. I am as mute as if I’ve had a stroke. I am split in two, like my country, for the sake of others’ greed . My country is green and flat and poor. We drink more booze than any people on Earth. We sell our organs for bread.

We killed most of the Jews. The rest of them ran away, the ones who could have helped us. There was one Jew who defeated polio. He lived somewhere in Europe, or maybe in the United States. Jews can do miraculous things, but we killed most of the ones we had,  and caused the rest to flee. We killed off a national treasure, and now we are poor and drunk and civil war looms. And I have lost my language, as if I’ve had a stroke.

– Mitch Grabois

 

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Thom Mahoney – Queen of the Night

Queen of the Night

She lived in the third floor apartment of a very tall and narrow brownstone at the south end of the District. A spindly tree of indeterminable age sprawled skyward and cast a dark and cool shadow across the building, its branches and leaves reflected in her window, looking so much cooler than the summer night sky it was mirroring.

A long and wide cement staircase tumbled down from double white doors, curving for the last five steps that widened as they reached the sidewalk. A cast iron railing provided guidance and comfort and a feeling of security.

He had been out for a walk that first July evening, clearing his head from something he’d been trying to write, failing miserably, the sickness of the silence digging deeper into him than ever before. The sun had set, the day’s humidity still hung in the air, and he heard her voice long before he could locate her.

He slowed as he approached her building, looking up through the branches of the tree, aware of how suspicious he must appear, his head tipped back, his eyes searching the windows of the apartment building. And when he located her open window, the source of the magic, he backed against the wall created by the tumbling staircase and listened in the darkness of the shade-tree and the stillness of the night.

And when she was finished with the aria, he stood there a long time, hoping, waiting, eager for more. But there was no more.

So he returned the following night, and the night after that, and all of the nights for the remainder of the summer and into the fall, tucked with his back against the staircase wall, as she sang spirituals and show tunes, pop and jazz and scat, waiting for her to sing once again the aria he first heard. But she sang one tune each night, and no more.

He wanted to meet her. During his days, he devised plans to be standing at the base of those stairs to greet her, to introduce himself, to learn her name, to explain how she had cured him, saved him, the magic regality of her voice, of her.

Even as the cold rains of winter chased closed all the windows of every building on her street and all those around the District, he stood with his back against the wall created by the tumbling concrete staircase until he, too, was chased away.

And when the New Year and the wet spring had passed, finally, he returned to find her window closed, and he stood with his back to the stairway wall and listened as the night gave way to thumping stereos and roaring motorcycles and lonely cats crying in the alley.

– Thom Mahoney

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