The Romantics

‘Never apologise, never explain’: a mantra my mother shared with me frequently, and herself embraced as fiercely as any of her lovers whenever another of her liaisons came to light. Describing herself as ‘a strong woman’, she was, she said, unfettered by petty censure and the expectations of others.

My father’s forbearance appeared limitless, but ‘a strong man’ he was not. The term itself invites ridicule. I picture a fairground performer, attired in leopard-skin tights, sightless eyes, rictus grin, swinging rubber dumbbells above his head.

Why, you might ask, did my mother marry him? Were there boundaries that still needed to be stretched? Freedoms that still needed to be tested? Was my father’s love a provocation? Was his patience a challenge?

He never asked for apologies or explanations. There would, he knew, be none. She was the woman he adored. This was the price he paid.

His solace was poetry. Whatever the season, whatever the weather, he would take his pale, age-stained edition of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury into the garden. Sitting under the protecting arms of the wych-elm, wearing a light cotton jacket in summer, a heavy gaberdine in winter, he would read Byron, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, losing and finding himself in the mists, clouds and clearings of their alchemical words.

Summer and winter, summer and winter. Did his poets start to tire him? Did their high sentiments fail to uplift him? Turning the pages, did the familiar verses begin to weary him? Did they weigh him down?

My father was found hanging from a low branch of the wych-elm. Palgrave, released from his grasp, lay open beneath his feet. Taking it up, I searched its pages for a note or letter, a slip of paper perhaps, something to mark his place. I discovered nothing. No explanation. No apology.

 

Nicolas Ridley

Nicolas Ridley lives in Bath (UK) where he writes fiction, non-fiction, flash fiction, scripts and stage plays under different names. A prize-winner and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his short stories have been widely published in anthologies, literary magazines and journals in the UK, Ireland, Canada and the USA.

Another Chicken Dinner Fundraiser

We didn’t want to go to the homeless non-profit fundraiser, mostly because we were tired, because we already donated money and needed items, and had volunteered to work the shelter, but we were invited and had free tickets. It had been a while since we’d been out in the community even though we were vaccinated, boosted, and still wore masks. Before we committed, however, we pulled a suit and dress that hadn’t been worn in two years and decided they both still fit well enough and likely no one had seen us in them before, or if they had, they wouldn’t remember.

The same caterer who supplied all chicken dinner fundraisers served fried chicken, and by the time we got to the steaming pan, the breasts were gone, and we had to choose between thighs, drumsticks, or wings, not enough protein to keep anyone alive. We spooned some instant mashed potatoes, some green beans from a can, and a store-bought role and shuffled like cattle back to our table to hear a speaker who thought a lot of himself and droned on about motivation from his stint in professional sports. If anyone had checked, he would have discovered plagiarism from a psychology textbook.

The venue was at the city owned Civic Center, a place each non-profit rented because instead of twelve hundred dollars, they got a discounted rate to one thousand dollars. What none of them knew was that the mayor used to charge eight hundred dollars and raised the price to twelve hundred dollars with the idea he could give discounts to a thousand and still make two hundred dollars for each chicken dinner fundraiser. His capitalistic move had worked, and the Civic Center went from a fifty percent occupancy to ninety percent and could have been one hundred, except for the religious college who simply wouldn’t move their events even after twenty percent of their alumni and donors got COVID, since the college hadn’t social distanced them and because they refused to wear masks.

After dinner, a handful of couples danced around their tables to the live music coming from the corner by a three-string band who made a decent living from their fee plus tips even though they didn’t have health care or any other benefit and were one gig away from homelessness. I heard the nonprofit cleared five hundred dollars profit after the rent, the band, and the caterer were paid, and they set a goal for one-thousand-dollar profit for the next chicken dinner fundraiser. We decided we’d give even more, but we weren’t interested in any more chicken dinners.

 

Niles Reddick

Niles Reddick is author of a novel, two collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in over 500 publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader, Forth, Citron Review, Right Hand Pointing, Nunum, and Vestal Review. He is a three-time Pushcart, a two time Best Micro nominee, and a two time Best of the Net nominee. His newest flash collection “If Not for You” has recently been released by Big Table Publishing.

At the End We Begin Again

She was flying in her dream, flying through the sacred sky, when she tumbled through the clouds and landed in a heap of rubble upon the earth. Then she knew she was no longer dreaming because someone trampled on top of her trying to get somewhere else. She tried to move, but her legs were pinned down, her foot twisted in a hideous manner on the other side of a slab. Thunder clapped inside her head. She tried to call out, but her mouth was gasping on the stones next to her and beside that lay her tiny, battered heart shining in the moon’s light. Suddenly it struck her: she was dead. She could see pieces of herself all about.

Yet instead of being horrified by this, she felt a surprising warmth inside. She was flowing. Not down the dusty road and towards the sea, but up towards the heavens where her dream had been. In that very moment she was turning into light, her spirit expanding. She had risen and others had risen too, all of them ascending, weightless. They had begun again.

The village lay scattered far below, the people who had survived were shouting and throwing their hands wildly about, everyone looking for all the things they’d ever loved that had been taken away. She could not see this or even hear it, but she sensed it. All things came back to what they were.

It was market day, but she would never be going again with her mother and sister to buy the apricots and figs or the fresh anchovies from the smiling fishmonger. She would never sip sweet boza sprinkled with bits of shaved cinnamon bark or chase her sister through the silvern almond grove. La-le! La-le! – she could hear someone calling, the syllables of her name hanging crystalline in the icy air.

And it had all happened because of that evening years ago when the contractors had made their hidden agreement: more sand than cement. Who would even know? They exchanged incredulous looks as they imagined a new car, gold watches, trips to the resort by the sea. What was so wrong with wanting such things? What would ever happen? Nothing, not for a thousand years.

 

For the children of Turkey.

 

Donna Obeid

Donna Obeid’s work appears most recently in The Baltimore Review, Carve, Flash Fiction Magazine, Hawai`i Pacific Review, South 85 Journal, and Waterwheel Review; she was a finalist for the Julia Peterkin Literary Award and Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Read more at: www.donnaobeid.com.

Smoke Signals

Whenever Steve smoked on the patio, his son Robin would sit on the back doorstep and talk. The cutest Pokémon, the weirdest YouTuber, how he’d like to fly south for the winter like a bird, how he liked art but was rubbish at it. Robin’s thoughts chugged out of him every day. Steve scratched his long beard and listened, not expecting to respond.

Robin had started joining Steve for his smokes since Helen had left them for Spain with Dave from her office. She’d told Robin she would come back for him. Steve knew she wouldn’t. He didn’t know how he felt about that. Parenting Robin hadn’t produced the Hallmark card bond he’d anticipated. It was busier and louder, and Robin didn’t always seem to hear him. His teacher had mentioned some red flags to Helen, but Steve didn’t remember the terminology and acronyms, and the teacher had avoided Steve since Helen had left.

Steve soon realised he hadn’t emptied the ashtray in months, but there were no butts. Polishing his glasses on the bottom of his shirt, he wondered whether birds had eaten them, but Google said birds didn’t eat fag ends. Then he noticed the smell in Robin’s room. Steve planned what he would say. I’m not angry you smoked, just disappointed. It’s bad for your health. I’ve not set a good example. I’ll quit.

Steve sat on Robin’s bed, the mattress chirruping as Robin bounced. After Steve had said his piece, Robin reached under his bed. Stuck to a sheet of A3 card was Pikachu, butts cut to points for ears. YouTube was spelled out in yellowed ends. White shreds of cigarette paper were torn into feathery wings, a fresh orange butt for a beak.

‘All the things you love,’ Steve said.

In the corner, he spotted a man’s face drawn in biro, large specs around bulbous eyes. Ashy tips formed his long beard around an open smile.

 

Rebecca Klassen

Rebecca Klassen is an editor from the Cotswolds. Her work has been featured in publications including Mslexia Best Short Fiction, The Phare, Popshot, Superlative, and The Wild Word. She has won the London Independent Story Prize for flash and was shortlisted for the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize. Rebecca has performed her work at Stroud Book Festival and Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Pockets Full

Her wish came true.

From then on, she always had in her pocket the exact amount of money she wanted. She bought a house, an SUV, thousands of computers for underprivileged girls, a guided tour around the world, a private jet, a horse, alexandrite.

Until that fateful day. Her dress had no pockets.

 

Kaisha A. Girard

Kaisha A. Girard is a graduate of Saint Leo University pursuing her Master’s in English & Creative Writing through SNHU. Her publication credits include, among others, Sandhill Review, Dots Publications, and Ember Chasm Review where her work was nominated for 2021 Best of the Net. A native Rhode Islander and proofreader for Wild Roof Journal, Kaisha hopes that her love of editing the world will someday blossom into a proofreading career.

When the Butterflies Dance

“Momma, where’s Mamaw?”

“I think she’s out in the yard somewhere.”

Regina Woody opened the back screen door and called out, “Mamaw!  Mamaw are you out here?  Then she spotted the old lady down along the fence standing very quiet and still.  She was watching something.  Regina Woody walked down past the peach trees to where her grandmother stood.  “What you doing?” she whispered.

“Look Honey,” said the old lady.

“What?”

“It’s the Little Yellows.  See?  The Little Yellows are out.”  She pointed to the honeysuckle growing along the fence.  There were eight or ten small yellow butterflies fluttering above the green leaves in the morning sun.  See how the dance,” said the old lady, “Like darting yellow petals.  They are another of the Lords simple gifts.”

The small yellow insects flittered like tiny dancing marionettes in the bright sunshine.  It was as if they moved in time to some sweet melody that only they could hear.  But the old lady must have heard it too.

“They’re beautiful,” said Regina Woody standing very still beside of her grandmother.

“When I was a little girl just about your age my momma made me a Sunday dress out of material with Little Yellows on it.  Oh, how I loved that dress.  Momma told me that they were a reminder of God’s love for us.  They’re only here a short time.  Then they’re gone again for another year.”

As Regina Woody watched the tiny butterflies it seemed to her that the world opened up around her, the clear blue sky, the distant green hills and the sweet smell of the honeysuckle there before her.  It felt as if she and her grandmother were standing at the very center of the universe with the colors and shapes spinning slowly around them.  Is that the gift of God, she wondered?  Is that why the butterflies dance?”

 

James William Gardner

Author of, “DEEP AUGUST: Short Stories from the American South,” and “THE HEALING GROUND,” James William Gardner writes extensively about the contemporary southland. The writer explores aspects of southern culture often overlooked: the downtrodden, the impoverished and those marginalized by society. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.  Gardner is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and lives in Roanoke, Virginia. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Deep South Magazine, Newfound Journal and The Virginia Literary Journal.

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