Angels

August 30th, 2012

Angels
By Gale Acuff
 

In Sunday School today I fell asleep
so Miss Hooker woke me. She’s my teacher.
When I opened my eyes I thought she was
an angel, though she didn’t have wings and
I’m not sure if angels have red hair and
green eyes and freckles. And glasses, the kind
with lenses inside the lenses, I guess
to see into souls. Anyway, she said
Welcome back, Gale, I thought we’d lost you, and
my classmates laughed. If you’re lost you go to
Hell, Miss Hooker says that the Bible says,
but I don’t think that’s what she meant, I hope
not, because I’d rather go to Heaven
if I’ve got to go anywhere at all,
I don’t really want to die, I like life

so far, summer vacations and Christmas
holidays and my dog and baseball and
comic books and checkers and Yahtzee and
farting and bubblegum and Bonanza
and wrestling and Woody Woodpecker. What
am I leaving out? Maybe in Heaven
I could have all these things but I doubt it,
they’re not in the Bible, not that I read
it much. And they’re sure as Hell not in Hell
–ha, that’s funny. Then Miss Hooker said
if I was sure that I’d had enough rest
then we could continue with class but if
I thought I needed more then everyone
would join me. I think that’s called sarcasm
because we really wouldn’t take a nap
together. My classmates laughed again. I
sat up straight and said, No ma’am, I’m ready
and I’m sorry, but I guess the damage
had been done and so I sinned again–and
in church of all places–but if I was
a lawyer I’d point out that Sunday School
isn’t exactly the same as church no
matter that they’re on the same property
and connected to each other but who
would I point that out to? God? Or Jesus?
Maybe to Miss Hooker but she might think
I’m being a smart ass–aleck I mean.
At the end of class she called on me to

lead us all in the Lord’s Prayer, which
I did, without a single mistake save
I peeked at her as we were all praying
just so I could see what she looks like dead
even though she was sitting up pretty
straight and breathing and her lips were moving
and I heard her voice. But her eyes were closed
is what I mean, like dead folks on TV
at least. And then we all hollered Amen
and I was almost free but Miss Hooker
called me back and as I stood before her
stood up and said, Try to get more sleep on
Saturday nights, and then passed her fingers
through my hair, which was alright because I
always comb it before I come to church,
Mother used to do that but she’s dead so
she doesn’t do it nearly as often.
And then I’m damned if she didn’t kiss me

on the forehead, I guess because Mother
is still pretty newly gone. Seven weeks.
Then Miss Hooker said, Say hello to your
father for me. I said, Yes ma’am, I will,
and Please say hello to Mother for me
–it just slipped out, or not even that, I
just said it and hadn’t thought to say it.
I certainly will, Miss Hooker said–she
covered her mouth but too late, the words got
away. I said, Thank you, anyway. Now
I know who she really is. Holy cow.

 

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Gale Acuff has had poetry published in several literary magazines including Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Adirondack Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Worcester Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Arkansas Review, Carolina Quarterly, Poem, South Dakota Review, Santa Barbara Review, Sequential Art Narrative in Education, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008). He has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

This piece of poetry has been picked from a series of poems where Gale Acuff has portrayed a young boy writing about being in love with Miss Hooker, his Sunday School teacher.
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Mature

August 30th, 2012

Mature
By Gale Acuff
 

There’s nobody I love more than God save
Miss Hooker, my Sunday School teacher
and more beautiful than God is handsome,
though it may be a sin to say so but
I’ll risk it because I’ve got nothing to
lose except maybe my soul, of course, since
Miss Hooker’s old, 25 I guess, to
my 10. So even if I marry her
her red hair and green eyes and those freckles,
she’ll die on me. When I’m 16, say, and
mature, she’ll be 31 and if we
want to have babies, which we will, then she’ll
be gone before they ever grow up. I
don’t know where babies come from yet, only

that you shut the bedroom door and turn out
the light and maybe lock it, too, the door
I mean, and put something over the key
-hole so nobody can peek in, then lie
down on the bed and I guess go to sleep
after you shake hands like you mean it and
kiss each other on all your lips and more
than once and all this gets God’s attention
and a few months later after the wife
gets fat and the husband more nervous,bam,

you get a boy or a girl and the wife’s
thin again, and there’s a mystery there
that I’m not old enough to know about.
When I ask my parents they just tell me
to wait a couple of more years. I’d ask
Miss Hooker but she might be afraid that
I’m about to propose and anyway
I don’t want her to turn me down, not yet,
at least not until I’m man enough to
take it. I’ll be shaving and my voice will
sound more like Father’s, or Mother’s when she’s
really angry, and I’ll be driving, and
working if I have to. That’s how you get
money and how you get married, Father
says, but not too happily. But he should
know, he’s a geography teacher. I
can’t marry God anyway–why should I
throw Miss Hooker over for Him? Maybe
I can have both, just love them in different
ways. You have to be pretty wise to do
that. Reverend Horluck’s married and has three
kids to boot. Maybe I’ll ask him why our

God is a jealous God, which was what his
sermon for today was about, only
he jumped and shouted so much I forgot
the words he said in between. And cried, too,
there at the end. I don’t know much about
life but I know guilt when I feel it. Me,
I can wait until I’m dead for God to
make it clear just what He’s been on about.
Until then, I’ll worship Miss Hooker, which
may be a sin but it’s His own damn fault.

 

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Gale Acuff has had poetry published in several literary magazines including Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Adirondack Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Worcester Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Arkansas Review, Carolina Quarterly, Poem, South Dakota Review, Santa Barbara Review, Sequential Art Narrative in Education, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008). He has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

This piece of poetry has been picked from a series of poems where Gale Acuff has portrayed a young boy writing about being in love with Miss Hooker, his Sunday School teacher.
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Singer

August 30th, 2012

Singer
By Gale Acuff
 

I love Miss Hooker more than I love God,
I guess, which, I guess again, is a sin,
but she’s my Sunday School teacher and she
tempts me so I can’t help myself even
though temptation’s not her fault and I’m not
sure it’s even mine so I’ll blame God, He’s
the One Who made us but if I’d made her
I couldn’t improve on His work, red hair
and green eyes and freckles, more than enough
for three more people, maybe even more.
Miss Hooker’s 25 and I’m just 10
so the chances of us ever getting
hitched are pretty slim but that’s what God’s for,
making a miracle if I pray hard
enough, and I could use Miss Hooker’s help
but I doubt that she’s got it bad for me

–she probably likes grown men, guys who shave
and have hairy chests and legs and maybe
backs, and hair in their nostrils and who speak
like Father speaks, or God in the movies,
in a real deep voice and even have jobs,
money helps when you try to get a gal
so you can pay for the hamburgers and
banana splits and movie tickets and
bring her flowers, which aren’t cheap unless you
pick them yourself and then she’ll think you’re poor
or maybe a little crazy although
some gals like a-little-crazy but not
Mother, she’s all business. I brought home my

report card yesterday and made straight-As
–I’m not bragging, I just know the system
–and only one B, in Conduct, and she
yelled at me, I don’t care how smart you are,
young man, but if you can’t shut up in class
good grades don’t mean a pecking thing. Father
had to sign it because she wouldn’t and
he didn’t even see it, the B, just
said, Not too shabby, boy, not bad at all,
and smiled and winked and I told him about
Mother and before he could say something
I told him that I’m sweet on a woman
but I didn’t say who, or is it whom,
just that she was older and he replied,
Well, it might be a good experience,
whatever that means. I think it means that

I’ll never snag her but I didn’t ask
why because he was reading the Sports page
and I respect that. Yes sir, I said. So
I went back to Mother and asked her if
she was still sore. Thread this needle
for me, she ordered, rubbing her eyes as she
rolled her chair away from the Singer. It’s
on wheels, the chair I mean. Ezekiel
is what I thought of and I’m not sure why
but I threaded the needle and before
she could say Thank you, so I don’t know if
she was going to, I said it aloud,
Ezekiel I mean, and she said, Damn,
I pricked my finger, which was the first time
I ever heard her swear but that’s alright,
she was in pain and when I grow up I

want to be a doctor and married to
Miss Hooker and buy her a Cadillac.
We’ve got an old Ford but it’s got four wheels,
too. Father says, It gets us where we want
to go. He has a way with words because
he’s an Assistant File Clerk and sometimes
when he drives off to work in the morning
his hubcaps look like they’re spinning backwards,
the car’s I mean. Ezekiel went up
and saw everything and came back down
but I forget what happens next. I’m sure
Miss Hooker knows. I’ll ask her next week in
Sunday School but if I forget I can
always bring it up on our honeymoon
if I get my miracle. If not, damn.

 

_____________________________________________________________________

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in several literary magazines including Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Adirondack Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Worcester Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Arkansas Review, Carolina Quarterly, Poem, South Dakota Review, Santa Barbara Review, Sequential Art Narrative in Education, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008). He has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

This piece of poetry has been picked from a series of poems where Gale Acuff has portrayed a young boy writing about being in love with Miss Hooker, his Sunday School teacher.
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Poison Pizza Party

August 16th, 2012

Poison Pizza Party
By Lisa Johnson
 

“Yuck.” Tony grimaced as he spit into his napkin. “You’re right, that meatloaf does taste worse than dog food. I’ll bring you a nice juicy meatball sub next Sunday when I visit.”

Without hesitation, Harold replied, “How about pizza? I’d give anything for a cheesy pepperoni pizza. Bring me one of them, will you? That will give me something to look forward to… besides dying, that is, son. Everyone else here is so senile, you can’t carry on a conversation with them, and the nurses are too busy to sit and chat with a broken down old man.”

Tony sighed. “Oh dad, I’m sorry I can’t visit more often. My new boss is a tyrant and she’s been making us work double shifts lately.”

“Well, see you Sunday then, son.”

Tony leaned over, hugged his father, turned and walked out. Lost in dismal thoughts, he didn’t see the woman exiting the elevator and he bumped into her, causing her to drop her vase of flowers.

“Sorry. I’m a klutz,” he blurted out.

Un-phased, the short, stocky, fair skinned woman amicably replied, “Don’t worry about it. I can buy more flowers in the gift shop. Today is my mother’s hundredth birthday.”

Impressed, Tony shook his head. “No kidding, one hundred.”

“Being a centenarian isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. My mother is permanently bedridden from a stroke.”

“That’s a tough break,” he commented.

“It is.”

Tony looked down at the mess of shattered glass and flowers on the floor. “Let’s clean these up and I’ll buy you an even bigger bouquet.”

“Are you visiting a relative here?” The woman inquired.

“Yes, my father.”

“I was just thinking, instead of replacing my flowers, could ask your father to visit my mother? She’s bored and lonely, being confined to bed day after day.”

Tony considered. “Is your mother still lucid?”

“Yes, her mind is as clear as a bell.”

Without thinking it through, Tony replied, “I could mention it. When dad first got here he made some friends, but one by one they died. He hasn’t made any new friends because he can’t find anyone coherent enough to carry on an intelligent conversation. Assuming he agrees, what’s your mother’s name and room number?”

“Her name is Mildred Baker and she’s in room 213.”

Tony extended his hand. “I’m Tony.

“I’m Joanne, a pleasure.” Her handshake was firm.

When the chaos of flowers was cleaned up, they walked down the white corridors, side by side, dodging residents parked in wheelchairs. Joanne stopped abruptly, turned to Tony, and said, “You know, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to introduce your father to my mother.” Joanne stiffened. “Mildred’s miserable. She constantly tells me she wishes her time was up and prays every night that she’ll die in her sleep. It breaks my heart.” Joanne broke out in tears.

Tony put a hand on the small of her back and guided her to the nearest bench where they sat.

Joanne pulled snug her gray shawl. She sniffled and said, “I’m sorry to burden you. We just met.”

Tony looked at her with sympathy.

“I don’t have anyone else to talk to about this. Mildred has been a wonderful mother and I love her dearly, but it upsets me to see her suffering. It’s not fair. I just want it to end.” Fresh tears poured out.

Tony contemplated her words while stroking his moustache. He looked around cautiously, and when he was satisfied nobody was in earshot he whispered, “Joanne…” He had her attention, but faltered.

Their eyes met. “What is it, Tony?” she encouraged.

“Let’s go somewhere else to talk. Do you have a minute to grab a cup of coffee? There’s a Starbucks just around the corner.”

“I have all afternoon,” she answered.

On the elevator, they chitchatted about the bitter cold weather. While they navigated the treacherous icy streets, the winter wind whipped. After situating themselves at a booth far from other customers, Joanne removed her scarf and hat. She ordered a latte, Tony an espresso, which he immediately managed to spill on the table. He mopped it up with a handful of napkins.

After more small talk about Joanne’s former career as a school teacher including anecdotes of tasteless practical jokes that her students played on her, Joanne cut to the chase. “Tony, I’m dying of curiosity. What did you want to discuss?”

Warmed by the coffee and feeling more at ease, Tony confided, “After hearing about your mother’s situation, I think you’ll understand– I’m bringing pizza for my dad next Sunday. We had an agreement that when he asked for pizza it was code that he is ready to go. I’m a chemist, and I have the means. It wouldn’t be traceable in the blood, but I’m not sure I should go through with it.”

Joanne raised her eyebrows. Inwardly, Tony chastised himself for confiding in this stranger, who probably thought he was a perverse monster.

Her face lit up and she whispered, “You could be the answer to my mother’s prayers.”

“What do you mean?” Tony asked.

“If mother lived in Switzerland where euthanasia is legal, she‘d have been spared months of suffering. She dreads the possibility of being stuck in bed for years.” Joanne pressed her hands together. “Let’s throw a pizza party for both of them next Sunday. Order an extra-large pizza. It would be the best birthday present I could give my mother.”

“Are you sure, Joanne?”

“I’m absolutely sure.” Joanne shook her head emphatically.

“Okay, then I’ll honor my father’s wishes. I’ll convince him to introduce himself to Mildred. Meet me next Sunday at noon in room 213,” Tony soberly replied.

One Week Later

Pizza box in hand, Tony entered room 213 where he found Harold and Mildred chatting. Joanne was absent. Tony felt a sensation of panic. His palms began to sweat and he felt light-headed.

Tony sat down. “Mildred, isn’t your daughter coming?”

“Yes, Joanne called to say she’s on her way.”

Tony’s phone rang. He checked his caller ID and frowned in annoyance. “Can you believe it, it’s my boss. Some nerve she has calling me on Sunday, but I’d better take it. I’ll be right back.” He placed the pizza on his chair and stepped into the hall for privacy. It took him ten minutes to extricate himself from the call.

Back in room 213, Tony took a seat. Mildred, whose blouse was stained with tomato sauce, was nibbling on crust. The pizza box was half empty. Harold licked his fingers and exclaimed, “Son, this is the best pepperoni pizza I’ve ever eaten. Beaming, he went on, “Thanks for introducing me to Mildred. We’ve really hit it off. She’s a terrific conversationalist and a wily Scrabble player, but I can outmaneuver her at chess. For the first time in years, I can actually say I’m glad to be alive.”

Tony gagged on his meatball sub.

“Tony, you look pale. What’s the matter, son?”

“Dad, you asked for pizza. That was our code.”

Harold interjected, “You did a brave thing, and I’m proud of you. Mildred and I enjoyed our final days together, but it’s our time. I love you, son.”

Mildred regarded the remains of the pizza and said, “Destroy the evidence and high-tail it out of here. We called Joanne to tell her not to come so she won’t be incriminated. Go in peace, Tony.” She smiled serenely.

Tony hugged his father one last time, grabbed the pizza, and closed the door behind him.

 

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Lisa Johnson’s short stories and articles have recently been published in a variety of magazines and newspapers including Presidio Sentinel, Phoenix Rising and Foliate Oak Magazine. She resides in San Diego, California with her husband. The author writes to stay sane and to entertain.

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Marking Time

July 14th, 2012

Marking Time
By Ryan Molinero
 

Day seven; God’s not resting. God doesn’t live here anymore. If ever He did. I will not rest. I cannot rest. For now, asleep is no better than awake, when at least the horrors are not imagined.

Another spray-painted tally mark, the red line shocking against the granitic pall of the new world. I move to the next car, methodically spray a line next to the six adorning the tire already. All my own; their uniformity a droplet of order in an ocean of chaos.

I back off. Remove my surgical mask and replace it with a fresh one from an inside pocket in my jacket that contains several more.

Finding a cleanish piece of sleeve to wipe my brow, I try to remember what the air felt like before the ash and the fear and despair and the hurt and the loss.

I can’t. The stench that suppresses my nose and my throat and my pores seems to mute every shard of recollection.

I count the cars. 81. Same as yesterday. Same as the day before that. Seven empty bays. Cars claimed in the chaos of the first two days – not by survivors – but by ash-clad specters searching for something to cling to, something to hope for. Something.

The carpet of ash muffles the footsteps behind me.

“Can you help me?” hopefully.

I curse and apologise.

“Can you help me?” hopelessly.

I turn to look at her, scarf fashioned across her nose and mouth to keep the world at bay. The absurdity almost makes me laugh. Eyes pleading.

“Please help me.”

“I’ll try,” and I do.

I ask her which car; she says it’s black. They’re grey, I tell her. She’s not listening. Can’t listen.

“What kind of car is it?” I ask her.

“My husband’s,” her voice disintegrating.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Why?”

I don’t answer. I can’t answer. But my eyes answer.

“Why are you saying sorry to me?” her voice grows, her fear grows. “Don’t say sorry to me. He might be alright; he might come back. Don’t say sorry to me!”

“I’m sorry,” I offer. “What kind of car is it?”

“It’s a Toyota,” her eyes scan the lot, praying not to find what she is looking for.

But she does. She crumbles. Clutches at the ash for something to hold on to. I try to help her up, soothe her. She resists.

“He might come back. The roads…closed. Networks are down. Hospital…” already it’s a lament. “He might come back.”

“He’s not coming back,” the gravity of my words lost in the tainted air.

She looks up at me. Through me. Her sobs preclude her spitting grief at me. Her eyes glisten incongruously, sucking a little more life out of the new world.

“No-one’s come back,” I take a knee beside her. “Seven like you. But no-one who was there.”

“But he might –“ she can’t even finish. Does not have to.

I help her up. Walk her towards the car, faltering steps of the convicted. Life without life.

She stops. Eyes fixed on the marked tires.

“Why are you marking the cars?”

“I don’t know.” My turn to look away.

“Do you work here?” A concoction of anger and confusion coat her words.

“I did.”

“Why are you still here? Why do you mark the tires?”

I don’t answer. Take another step towards the Toyota. Hoping she’ll follow. She follows.

“Why do you mark the tires?” her curiosity deflecting her grief. Delaying the need to deal with it. For now.

“Someone has to,” I tell her. Her silence implores me to continue. “At some point, these cars will be taken away, life will start again. Whoever does this should know how long the cars have been here. To help with records. To help.”

Her glare softens to a gaze. Despite herself, she looks almost sorry for me.

“Do you have a key?” I ask. We’re standing behind the Toyota.

She doesn’t answer. Her breaths become shallow as she fishes in her pocket for the key. She finds it. Removes it from her pocket. Offers it to me.

I look at her. Want to cry for her. Want to cry with her. I don’t take the key.

I look away. Survey the sight of the parking lot’s inhabitants, dormant but for the seven red lines on each tire. Like convicts counting down the days to their
release.

“I can’t –,” she says, forcing the key into my hand and my eyes back to hers. “Please.”

I click the button to unlock. Nothing. Nothing works anymore. I look at the redundant key. I look back. I don’t see a person. I see sinews – threads of hope, despair, life and death – masquerading as a woman.

“I can smash the window?”

An almost imperceptible nod. I pick up a chunk of rubble. Shards of glass dance briefly in the air before the enveloping dust claims them on the ground.

I hand her back the key and retreat. No words shared. None needed. None matter.

She climbs into the car and across to the driver’s seat. Turns the key. The engine’s bronchial riposte shatters the oppressive silence of the parking lot and the flurry of the wiper blades creates a brief phalanx of ash silhouettes around the car.

I perch on the bonnet of an old Caddy. The open window of the Toyota betrays the intensifying grief from inside the car as it crawls from its bay. The woman turns on the lights in a forlorn bid to guide her through the gloom. A column of thick dust mocks the pale beams with a harrowing dance.

I watch the car and its trail leave the lot. I try desperately to hold the image of the woman’s face in my mind but already it is fading. The fleeting exchange of shared silence, of hope, of despair, of implicit understanding will become part of the old world. They already have.

I stare at the empty bay. 80 cars. Eight empty bays. I try to stop myself but I can’t.

My eyes fill. Knowing. I turn my head and see my car. Our car. Silent tears welcomed by the ground.

I wish the bay were empty. Wish I wasn’t here. Wish she were.

I gather myself. Pick up my spray can and walk outside.

Nobody comes back. Not now.

I’ll come back tomorrow.

 

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Ryan Molinero is a 31-year-old former journalist who now teaches English Literature at a secondary school in Scotland. His background is in sports writing but he has recently turned his hand to writing fiction, with “Marking Time” being his debut short story.

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On the Barren Path

July 14th, 2012

On the Barren Path
By Martin Gibbs
 

Oh, how she dances across the desolate road!
No dust clings to her perfect form;
winds do not muss her flowing locks,
and thunderheads buckle and burst at her splendor.

My love she skips across the barren, bleak highway,
a road of greed and strife and gold.
Swift feet fly over pebbles and gravel,
sloth and agony, and past hopeless habitude.

Along this barren road she is in solitude,
no one would dare break her splendor;
the slime and muck of earthly filth
does part and bend and leave her free.

Racing, racing across the forsaken passage,
she sprints to climes of calm splendor,
to vistas high and valleys rich;
far beyond the bleak and barren pathway of pills.

My love, she dreams, to pass beyond this darkened shore,
to leave behind the battered lane,
to vacate the pain of this earth;
to at last cease the racking, blinding pain, she craves…

To the light of release she springs, she sprints, she soars!
Her flawless gown, her crimson hair,
ivory skin glows in the sun…
allure marred only by blood, seeping into sand.

 

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Martin Gibbs writes fantasy, flash fiction, and poetry. He enjoys cross-country skiing, biking, and cooking. During the day, he supports enterprise information systems and writes dry, boring drivel in the form of academic research. Fantasy and poetry are his way out of a world full of ones and zeroes. He has published the first installment of a fantasy trilogy, called The Spaces Between, and will have the full series done in late 2012. Martin lives in the snow-covered paradise of Minnesota, USA.

Website: http://drunkardsjourney.blogspot.com

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