Monthly Archives: March 2014

One Sunday at the Beginning

by Alan Beard

 

She was wearing green to match her eyes. Her body slipped in the dress as she moved. They watched reflections in the water by the mill. Window rectangles made circles. Her face rippled with lines of light reflected up from the water. It made it difficult to discern her features.

The little woman with grey precisely parted hair in the dark corner shop tried to give him copper belonging to a previous customer. A gang of sparrows pecked at dust in the car park. Girls leaned against the wheels of parked lorries. One had hair like a sticky lion’s mane. Each railing cast an angled shadow on to grass. He almost threw the matches up to see the red box blink and sound in the air.

She had watched an angler struggle and net a fish she told him. He looked over. The angler now read The Sunday Mirror, a white oblong in the man’s hands who was otherwise like the bush he sat beside.

He handed her the matches. Her hands, cigarette, light flashed in some deep area of his brain. A cavern. The scene – the river, the shop, the sky, her in the rippling light – was there like a cave painting. He tried not to breathe out.

Two collections of stories published: Taking Doreen Out of the Sky (Picador, 1999) and You Don’t Have to Say (Tindal Street Press, 2010). Recipient of the Tom-Gallon Award and longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. Stories/‘flashes’ in many magazines and anthologies including London Magazine, Flash Fiction, and Best British Short Stories 2011. Website: www.alanbeard.net.

 

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Insurance

by Carrie Etter

 

By three that Wednesday, coffee could no longer invigorate me. I looked out my window and saw the least scenic area of Santa Monica, a sprawl of office buildings and warehouses next to the 10 freeway.

Intending to go out to the atrium for a cigarette, I had risen from my desk when Heather, our receptionist, looked in. ‘An old guy named Scott,’ she said. ‘Said he wanted to see a woman-agent.’

‘Sure. Show him in,’ I told her.

Scott looked about sixty, thin and tall with the lightly tanned skin that’s almost unavoidable in southern California. He had a handsome, long face that reminded me of one of my father’s friends, and I suppose that’s what made me warm to him right away. I put out my hand. ‘Marcy Belter,’ I said. ‘Nice to meet you.’

He responded with a surprisingly limp handshake. ‘Scott Thomson; that’s without a P.’ I was about to gesture to one of the chairs in front of my desk when I saw he was already easing into one, shifting a few times to find the most comfortable position. ‘Back problems,’ he said.

‘Sorry to hear it.’ I sat down behind my desk. ‘So, what brings you here today?’

‘I need to get my wife’s auto insurance. It’s about to run out, and I, uh, need to change companies.’

‘And you’d like a quote?’

He looked puzzled for a moment, then answered, ‘No, I don’t need a quote, just the insurance.’

I smiled, took out an application, and began asking for details. Scott replied unhurriedly, seeming to relish telling the facts about his Sara even though he didn’t expound on them with anecdotes as many other husbands did. Once we reached the end of the form, I said, ‘We’ll just need her to sign this – I’ll give you a prepaid envelope to send it back to us. Will you be paying by check or card?’

I had been looking in my desk for the envelopes, which Heather had restocked in a different drawer than I usually put them, so it was a moment before I noticed Scott slowly shaking his head. I wondered whether after all this he didn’t have the money. ‘Is there a problem?’ I asked.

He nodded. ‘She can’t sign it.’

‘What do you mean, she can’t sign it?’ I asked hesitantly. I thought of my aunt’s crippling arthritis and tried to think of the best words to use. ‘Is she physically unable to sign it?’ I said at last, wondering, then, how she’d be able to drive.

He gave a low chuckle. ‘You could say that.’ I waited, setting the envelope in front of him and gently closing my desk drawer. He stared straight at me for the first time since he came in. ‘She’s in a coma.’

I stared back. ‘I’m sorry?’

‘In a coma. At Cedars-Sinai.’

I was quiet for a minute, thinking. ‘We,’ I began, then clarified, ‘insurers do not cover people incapable of driving.’

He didn’t respond immediately, then slowly rose and said, ‘Thank you for your time.’

I felt an impulse to put the application and return envelope in his hands, but I didn’t do it. Though he was already in the doorway, I said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t help you.’ He halted, glanced at me over his shoulder, and turned away. In the next moment he was gone.

That was three weeks ago, and every night since I’ve had trouble falling asleep, smarting with the unreasonable desire to have my own future husband, should he find himself in such a situation, make the same attempt and perhaps succeed, forging my name for the sake of keeping me safe when I can no longer be hurt. How can any man intuit or respond instinctively to such a wish? How will I know?

  

Carrie Etter’s third collection of poems, Imagined Sons, has recently been published by Seren. Her short stories have appeared in New Welsh Review, Jawbreakers: An Anthology of Flash Fictions, and elsewhere. She is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Bath Spa University, where she has taught since 2004.

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The Beginning of an Imaginary Autobiography

by J. J. Steinfeld

This is my autobiography, begun today at the crack of dawn, even before I’ve had my first coffee of the morning or felt my first pang of regret, yet it isn’t chronological or especially personal and has an awkward coherency. But it’s not dishonest, even if it may be short on the factual. Basically, fragments bouncing off fragments like an angry chain reaction in a far-off lab. I cannot tell you my name because God may be watching and I do not want to alienate God any more than I already have in my chaotic, jumbled life. I’m also not going to say whether I’m married or not, if I have any political affiliation, my favourite breakfast cereal, even my age, and I’m not going to divulge my religion, or whether I fear dying or not. Before I get too far into my autobiography I should mention that I’m imaginary, and don’t want you getting me mixed up with the author. What an uneasy relationship I have with the author, to say the least. We don’t talk, even over drinks. I like to keep my distance from authors, even the one who has created me. But all this said, or not said, most or all my autobiography is a love song, contradictory as that may sound. Off-key maybe, somewhat strident, but a love song all the same. Yes, a heartfelt love song of existing.

In my autobiography, dreams are important, both waking and sleeping. You know, the dream within a dream within a dream, and then there’s a gargantuan thunderstorm and Zeus thunderbolts wake you but you’re already awake, and you realize by the process of elimination that it’s not a reality-TV show, or a low-budget feature film, or a controversial stage play, or even a dreadfully tedious home movie. It’s one of those disjointed days. Along with the dreams, prominent in this autobiography will be musings and introspection and existential angst and— Whew, let me pause and take a deep metaphysical breath. A life lived, that’s what this fragmentary exploration is all about. How many thoughts does a person have in a lifetime? How many words and regrets and desires and fantasies and apologies? What is the proper measurement for a life? Where is the consciousness odometer? However, I’ll leave the statistical appraisal to the census takers and score keepers and those who have perfected systems of keeping track of the days while incarcerated. Let me continue before I run out of time. That’s one of the dangers about life or writing an imaginary autobiography: running out of damn time…

J. J. Steinfeld is a Canadian fiction writer, poet, and playwright who lives on Prince Edward Island, where he is patiently waiting for Godot’s arrival and a phone call from Kafka. While waiting, he has published fourteen books, including Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Would You Hide Me? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Misshapenness (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions), and A Glass Shard and Memory (Stories, Recliner Books), and over forty of his one-act plays and a handful of full-length plays have been performed in North America.

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Anybody, Antarctica

by Nicole Matos

I brought you, for one thing, a penpal in Antarctica. The covers of those splashy books, ‘101 Things to Do – For Kids – for Free!’ We were certainly interested in anything that could be done for free. But the agencies, the oversight, send your letters in-care-of? It was an idea best taken under independent consideration. It was wise for us to always use a payphone, it was wise to have first called the Post Office for the numbers of more distant Post Offices: we knew so much about succession, the layering of small steps.

‘We-are-calling-for-a-school-project-how-you-send-a-letter-to-the Queen-of-England? The-guy-in-Hawaii-who-sits-at-the-top-of-the-volcano?’ – though our list actually said, ‘Volcanologist,’ always better to play dumb. The Head of Endangered Species, on behalf of underappreciated lichens. The publisher of our social studies textbook, to let them know when they wrote ‘Abraham Lincoln’ we added ‘Towncar’; when they asked, ‘Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?’ we wrote ‘At the bottom’ – that we mocked, in short, their childish récite. Could you address a letter to an astronaut on a satellite? Could you address a letter to not a particular person, but the sort of person you wanted? Could you put, Khoi Tribesman, Kalahari Desert, could you put, A Nice Grandmother, Somewhere in Croatia – would the Post Office sort of help you out like that? We smoothed them out, question by question. We brought them back to postage, and we hung up and called someone else, and put the pieces together.

Of the letters, there is nothing. We sent them all. No return address – they’d have to be opened to ever be returned. What does it count as, that we scribed them out – during school, after school, we had nothing but time – and mailed them, keeping nothing for ourselves. ‘It counts as normal,’ I can hear you snort, say. The writer’s cramp, muscle memory of my numb hand. We were wrong to write them separately, in the same rooms, mostly, but lost in our own heads. Not enough just to mail them together, in piles, that creaking of the mailbox drop a sort of final salute. But anyway, anyway – ‘Anybody, Antarctica,’ was the crown jewel, Best in Show, and that one was mine my throw was the farthest, and the only ball returned, both, and so that gift, at least, I brought to you.

We figured on the slow procession of time, not on the startling gap between the letter written – crystallised in just that moment forever – and the late, late, miscast, far behind the unimagined future, reply. ‘Anybody, Antarctica’ dramatically increased this factor. So when my sister placed our reply in my lap, in all its red and blue army and airmail packaging, we’d long ceased checking the mail. The return address was ‘Matt, Anybody, Antarctica,’ and then a drawn-in smiley face, but the effect was oddly chilling. Too little, too late. We were already that changed. That letter, whatever he returned, I need to tell you, I never thought to keep, or to share.

* View Nicole’s story on Tapestry *

Nicole Matos (http://about.me/nicole_matos) is a Chicago-based writer, professor, and roller derby girl. Her recent writing credits include Salon, The Classical, THE2NDHAND txt, Vine Leaves, Chicago Literati, and others. You can catch her blogging for Medium, publishing tappable stories on Tapestry, and competing on the skater track as Nicomatose #D0A with the Chicago Outfit Roller Derby, too. 

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