‘A Girl As Pieces’ by Devin Overman

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1:

I do not have the words to scream for you, yet I convince myself you can hear. There is a piece of the night inside me, the same night inside you, and it connects us like a string from tin to tin. Has it always been there? Has it changed? Years spent hopping from person to person, desperate to find its twin, hoping if the stars shine brighter, it will be seen.

Maybe fame is a beacon, calling a single last ship to harbor. My boat is broken, many of the large pieces still intact by sheer force of will. I am afloat but only because my pride can’t allow anything less. Perhaps if I could sink, maybe you wouldn’t need to shine for me anymore. Dim your light, conserve your energy, I’ll send you a love letter in a bottle with my blood, seal the note in sweat, and push it away with tears.

My pride is the last thing under.

 

2:

Open your hand and lay it out flat. Do not rush, you must be patient with me. With time, when I’m ready, I will strip my body of the excess — the fears, the certainties, the concerns, the self-inflicted consequences — all pulled away, folded neatly, and set aside. Then I, clothed in nothing but the Moon and my vulnerability, will climb into your palm, and you may hold me.

When I’m there, treat me delicately, but do not coddle. I am not a toy, I am a person, but you already knew that, didn’t you? You already know all of this, somewhere deep inside. Despite what they tell you, listen to that voice. The others have forgotten theirs.

It doesn’t matter how sweet your words, you can’t hold me in the palm of your hand on your own. I must walk there myself.

 

3:

Could you open me up and take a look? I’m afraid it’s not as pretty in there. It’s dark and roiling and much of the mechanics don’t work properly, if at all. So many things desperately need repair, but I can’t see inside so well. I tinker and root around but end up doing more harm than good. Sure, I’ve been jostled and twisted, but most of the disarray can only be blamed on me, you see.

You need not be an expert, but if you could just take a look? Take a look and tell me if anything is salvageable. Tell me if there’s any beautiful thing inside.

 

4:

Wanting to fall in love means wanting to rip yourself apart for another person and have that person rip themselves apart for you. It’s terrifying to allow yourself to be so vulnerable, but it’s equally so to be trusted with that vulnerability.

So when I say I hope we fall in love someday, my greatest hope has little to do with old age. It’s that you won’t run away from me simply for mentioning it.

Devin Overman writes short- and long-form fiction, poetic prose, and screenplays that consider the ways humans around the world love themselves and one another. Her recent screenplay is being contracted by an international production company, and her debut novel and short story collection are forthcoming.

‘Went To See The Gypsy’ by Jackie Jones

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I went to see the Gypsy, again.   I was desperate.   She had moved her “offices” to more glamorous digs near the beach.  Now it looked like a therapist lounge. I wondered if this new location had anything to do with the instructions she gave me.

She told me it was very simple.  On the next blue moon, you will swim around in Ventura Cove with a baby stingray.  You’ll have to bring your goggles to find one.  They like to burrow in the sand, so it might be tricky. And for heaven’s sake do NOT step on them or they’ll sting you.  When you find one, brush your hand against the fin, gently, and then get out of the water.  Then, you must sing, “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle,” from Carmen, in the parking lot.  Beware of Seagulls.  Then, you must dance the Mashed Potato, the Pogo, the Pony, and the Running Man for 40 minutes on the beach, in the sand, without stopping.  Any combination is fine, but you must do them all.  Then, go back into the bay, swim to the buoy, rub the buoy ten times up and down, swim back, and drink this.

Then, she said, he will love you.

I did as I was told, but it took me almost a year and a half before I saw a baby stingray.

I also had to take French lessons and singing lessons for the Carmen bit, as I just couldn’t get it right.

I can’t dance worth shit, so I watched endless YouTube videos and also took a class at the Community College.

Finally, it was happy hour again at the Princess of Whales.  Brian, the sales rep from Dallas, was definitely coming.  I could barely look at him.  He had the most incredible shiny black hair, like a Comic Book hero.  He was an Adonis – I’d lose my breath when he walked into the office. Waves of nauseous lust overcame me every time he was near, and I’d have to excuse myself.   This time, I felt a little bit better as I had gone through all the steps of the Gypsy’s and drank the potion in the bathroom.

But it happened again.  I loved him so much I threw up the moment I saw him.

I went back to see the Gypsy.  She asked me if I swam with the stingray, if I had touched the buoy the correct amount of times, if I truly could sing Carmen.  She asked me to sing for her.   She went down the list.

I said, “Look. It didn’t work. He flew back to Dallas and asked Pam out instead of me.”

She asked me if I drank the potion.  Yes, of course, I said.  But I did throw up.   Oh, she said.  I’m sorry to hear that. That was the most important part. The rest of the stuff was, frankly, bullshit.

Anyway, you’re all paid in full.  Try online dating, maybe.  Now you can say you’re an Opera Lover!

‘What It Is To Be Empty-Handed’ by L.M. Brown

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I didn’t sleep much because of the article. I couldn’t stop thinking of the bus station with the high ceilings and hard wooden benches and the woman sitting with her baby, only she wasn’t really a woman. She wasn’t much older than I was and that made me feel empty inside. I hated to think about what happened and how everything turned so badly for her and her baby. The woman had three other children since. The article said she lived in Ohio, but I imagined her somewhere warm, Florida or California, with sunshine streaming through the window. She was not in a grey place like Boston with snow on the ground and freezing weather that had a knack of finding you inside.

Her husband held her hand while she was being interviewed and said he didn’t blame her for what happened, though she was stupid and naïve and I couldn’t help hating her a little for it. But I wasn’t really angry until I heard Jean come in. It was starting to get bright when she opened my door.  She whispered my name and I closed my eyes and I was afraid of what I might say if she came any closer. Some nights, she liked to sit on the bed and talk about the customers from the diner. Sometimes one of them would be waiting for her in the living room. Once, I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night and I ran into one of those men. I was in my underwear and he blocked the bathroom door. Jean woke to me crying. Ever since then, she shook me awake if she had company and warned me to put on some clothes if I wanted to go to the bathroom.

I was still getting used to calling her Jean. Days after our last move, she’d decided she didn’t want to be called Mom anymore. The first I heard of it was when she said the boy’s next door introduced themselves to her. She told them her name was Jean and she lived with a roommate. She said there was no reason for them to question her since she looked young and I looked older than my years because of my height and my serious way of looking at the world. It felt as if she was getting smaller and smaller when she was saying this. If I reached out there would be nothing but air.

Continue reading “‘What It Is To Be Empty-Handed’ by L.M. Brown”

‘Small Comfort’ by Copper Rose

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I must have grabbed my purse after I answered the phone. I must have got in the truck and flew over Holy Hill on Laramie Road. I must have been relieved when I saw there was no squad car parked in the bushes at the bottom of the hill as the tires reconnected with the pavement. By the time I skidded to a stop Frank was standing outside. His tired eyes scanned the gravel in the driveway.

“She’s in the bedroom.”

The laces of his boots trailed across the sidewalk like night crawlers headed for the front door. I brushed past him. The front door was locked.

“Side door.”

I hurried in the side door and weaved my way through a part of the house I’d never been in before, somehow heading in the right direction until I found the bedroom. The door was open.

Bernadette was tangled in the sheets, one foot jutting out, arms flung wide, fingers opening and closing. Her breath gurgled in her throat with each inhalation. It took a while for it to whoosh out again. She swung her head in my direction, her eyes following me, the left one sporting a red welt beneath it. I had never seen her with her hair down before, hair like frayed baling twine around her shoulders, prickly strands curling toward her throat.

The last time I saw her we’d had an argument about the oil spill in the gulf. I thought the uppity-ups should be anchored knee deep in the water — let the oil wash over them so they’d know what it was like. Bernadette told me a good Republican would never think like that. She hadn’t spoken to me since.

“Bernadette?”

She looked at the wall.

“Frank called. Said I should come right away.”

“No need.”

I put my hand on her forehead. “You’re burning up. Where’s your thermometer?”

“Bathroom drawer. Middle left.”

I found the old-fashioned thermometer, shook it with a snap of my wrist to reset the mercury and then eased it between her lips. “Under your tongue. Don’t bite down.” I waited. “105.”

I raced through the house searching for Frank. Through the window I saw he was still outside. I unlatched the front door, took the steps two at a time. “You’ve got to call an ambulance.”

He grabbed the front of my shirt. “We don’t do that around here.”

“You’ve got to.”

He yanked me closer. I thought I would smell bourbon on his breath. “We let God handle things like this.”

“Why did you call me?”

“I wanted her to make me a piece of toast.”

My hands smacked against his chest. He staggered back, tripped on the edge of the sidewalk and went down. His head thudded on the cement.

“Frank, I’m sorry…”

His foot shot out, catching my ankle with the toe of his boot. A quick jerk at that vulnerable joint below my shin sent me sprawling. I was on the ground, the old man kneeling over me, his fist drawn back, aimed at my head.

I flailed my arms in front of my face. “I’m the good guy. Be mad at the cancer, not me!”

Something rustled in the corn field. A cow bawled in the barn. Storm clouds threatened overhead. The curve of his chest. The veins in his forearm. His eyes, blue, rimmed with red.

His fist connected with such force it would have put a dent in the baler. The impact must have caused my knee to jerk into the soft spot between his legs.

“Unf,” he moaned, clutching the area south of his zipper.

I rolled over, pushed up from my knees and brushed away bits of gravel. I staggered into the house. Through the window I saw Frank ease onto his elbows, and then to a sitting position. He tucked his head between his knees. He glanced toward the window and then pretended to fuss with his boot laces.

I hurried to the bedroom. “Bernadette, you need to see a doctor.”

“I’m sorry. We don’t do that here.”

I stared at her and then fetched a cool cloth to press against her forehead, under her eye, on her shoulders. All the while I kept thinking, “I am not God.”

Copper Rose perforates the edges of the page while writing unusual stories from the heart of Wisconsin. Her story “Buried in a Book” first appeared in FlashPoint: Inner Circle Writers’ Group Flash Fiction Anthology 2018. Her work has appeared in Night Garden Journal, Spillwords and other online webzines. She also understands there really is something about pie.

‘All the Songs Are Trapped Inside’ by Patrick Macke

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I spend a fair amount of time thinking about music, about the arrangements, the interplay between instruments and the human voice, the melodic genius that makes a song classic. I think about the dozens of individual performances and the vision of the songwriters that need to be magically synchronized in order to complete what used to be known as a long player. I wonder about the pictures on the cover and the liner notes and the storytelling that was intended in the naming of the songs and the thought that went into ordering the eleven tracks. And as I consider the ways in which music can enrich life and how one killer rock show can change the world, I think mostly about the reasons why there’s a clandestine conspiracy to prevent me from hearing the songs on the CD.

I still purchase a lot of music. I buy CDs. I have way over a thousand of them sitting alphabetically on a shelf where I can see them. There’s comfort in knowing they’re there. Music is a sonic trip but you also need to be able to touch something, so my CDs wait patiently, they all know that at any time they may be called upon to spin-up and provide the supernatural elixir that soothes man’s soul. Some days I hold themed concerts so that a bunch of my CDs get the chance to participate. So it’s a great day to come home to a new package that contains a new CD or two, if only I could get at the music.

Human beings typically like to work and solve problems with their hands, without the use of some special tool and without having to get up out of the chair in search of assistance … no, no I can get it! So here you sit with the box that has arrived containing your new CDs. The box can usually be opened without having to resort to a pocket knife, but the CDs themselves present an “opening” problem that can only be solved with a degree in mechanical engineering from Dartmouth. The entire CD is wrapped in plastic and it’s as tight as that high school skirt ladies try to squeeze into for their ten-year reunion. It’s hermetically sealed, not a molecule of air between the tight plastic covering and the hard plastic CD case. If you have fingernails, the first thing to try is to run that nail along the hard edge hoping to puncture the plastic coating, therefore gaining a toehold that will allow you to peel back the plastic. You run your nail along this hard edge with increasing vigor and the friction starts to cause heat and you could swear that you see a little plume of smoke the way you do when a Cub Scout rubs two sticks together. When at last you are able to puncture the plastic, you’ll find that you have a little cut under your fingernail that will produce not a drop of blood but will sting for the next seventy-five days.

You now have the super-bionic shrinkwrap off and you’ve kinda worked up a body sweat and now the real work begins. There’s tape across the entire top rail of the CD that extends down about a quarter of an inch onto the front and the back of the CD. This is military-grade tape and should you ever get it off, the CD surface it was on will remain sticky for the rest of time. I pulled out Frampton Comes Alive last week, a disc I bought when I was twelve, and moths flying by are sticking to the plastic surface where the tape was removed during the Carter administration. Anyway, I’ve opened thousands of CDs and every time I have to open a new one it’s like being handed a completely unsolvable puzzle. Where do you start? I pick it up, flip it around, examine it from every possible angle. I pick up a knife, then a hammer, a blowtorch. Finally, you begin picking at the edges with your fingernail, but you can’t really see the edges because the tape is clear and the CD case is clear. You start holding it up to the light, you get out a flashlight, you walk out into the sun, you start tilting your head at weird angles like a Beagle that hears a siren no one else can hear … no, no I can get it! Your scratching and picking finally produce a microscopic upturn in the tape and you start to roll it back and pull it and then it rips at an impossible angle and you’re left holding an inch-long sliver of the stickiest tape in the world. You can’t get the tape off your finger and when you do it just sticks to the other finger, and when you walk into the house people say, “Is that tape on your ass?”

They want to sell me the music but they don’t seem to want me to listen to it.

The same problem I have in the music room I have in the bathroom. I have a sore throat and a sinus headache. I grab something like Mucinex. In the box is an aluminum and plastic sheet holding little encapsulated pods of two, it’s like Noah’s Arc for pills. There seems to be a perforated dotted line running between the pill pods so that you can conveniently tear off just the two you need. Samson couldn’t tear these pills apart. You look for scissors but you’re in the bathroom, you grab a towel, maybe a better grip will help. You decide against separating your pills from the sheet and now you just try to push your two pills out the back of the packaging. It looks like that’s what you’re supposed to do, but they don’t push out. There’s a trick but only the pill maker knows what it is. You start poking at the packaging with your toothbrush, maybe you can make a hole in the Teflon surface and liberate the pills. Now the pills are all broken into pieces, oh well, if you ever get the pills out you can snort them.

Screw it, I’ll get a shave instead and get on with my day. Holy crap! I just bought new razor blades! They’re in a clamshell plastic package. It’s impregnable. What tools could there possibly be in the bathroom to get at the razor blades? The makers of the blades have to know that the only way the customer will ever encounter their product will be upstairs in their underwear, but to get the packaging open he will need to go downstairs and use a drill press. To get a close shave you need a sharp blade and to get the sharp blade you need a sharp blade. There will surely be bloodshed here today.

When they found me I was asleep on the couch, unshaven, three partially open CDs on the carpet and eight red pills in mutilated plastic bubbles in my hand. It looks like he tried to take his life, Fred.

Patrick Macke has been employed as a writer for over thirty years, mostly writing corporate and advertising propaganda. He recently wrote a memoir about writing in this obscure and funny alternate universe and has a blog at thewritemacke.com.

‘Classmates’ by Mike Lee

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At times, I have difficulty fully letting go of my past. For example, every several years I go on Internet searches and get on former classmate websites to check in on who I used to know.

The classmate websites are general knowledge, depending on who participates. Those who do are those I only recognize because I have a knack of recalling whoever sat in the third row of home room in fifth grade. Invariably, I don’t think I ever exchanged more than a few words with those people the entire time we were in school together.

They had their friends, and I had mine.

My friends were never on those sites. They, for their own personal reasons, are nonexistent by senior year of high school. In fact, they all seem to disappear by junior year. It’s as if they all vanished in a group after I moved from the area after my freshman year.

I only returned twice at a time where I could re-engage them. I chose not to, though at a Denny’s I spoke with a friend of a girl I had a crush on. She told me she was having her second baby.

We were seventeen, then. I never asked about anyone again.

*

When I was nineteen, my aunt sent me a news clipping of a classmate I was friends with since second grade. He killed himself.

In retrospect, I blame myself. A month after I moved to the new city, I wrote a long, extensive letter to a girl who had given me her address on the last day of school. Her name was Pam. She had light brown hair, wavy cut in bangs, had bad acne and wore multicolored jeans, with patches and tank tops. She smoked a lot of pot, and we got stoned at a KISS concert and made out. Pam said she liked me. So I wrote her a letter.

Before I had the chance to mail it, Mom found the letter. When she read it, she flew into a rage and grounded me for the rest of the summer. Scared me enough to not write again.

What was in the letter? A short story I wrote. I don’t remember the details but it involved the friends I had as characters. We were bad kids, or indifferent emotionally. I don’t know which were worse, or which group I fell into. I wasn’t that bad, at least I don’t remember.

But Mom freaked out about what I wrote. I won’t forget the red-faced rage, the expression of that curling smile which meant she was on the edge of psychosis and how her hands shook as she held the pages I wrote to Pam.

That shut me down for a while. School started, and a new life began. My one chance at maintaining a connection snipped off and lost.

It didn’t matter, anyway. Life got good. Dated girls. Made friends for a lifetime. The course of my life changed for the better, though it took a while for me to recognize it.

Out of curiosity I began looking for them. What struck me is they were all gone by senior year. It was not as if I was looking for a small number. This was a couple of dozen teenagers, from three different high schools—from the high school I attended, and the high school that my junior high was the feeder school for.

All gone, vanished, as if they never existed and were nothing but a fantasy gang I created from daydreams.

I thought I had gone crazy, but finally I found my freshman yearbook. They were there.

The Carver brothers, twins, disappeared by junior year. Dave Biggers wasn’t in the sophomore yearbook. Pam was the only one who made it to junior year. While staring at her black and white photo, she was still Pam, but no sign of her in senior year. I did an internet check to see what she was up to now. Couldn’t find a thing, though. Did find the other girl, the one with babies at seventeen. She was an accountant in another county. Despite everything, she made it. Was awfully proud of her.

Her name was Maria. She wrote me a poem, which I kept in my wallet for decades until it was stolen in an ATM in lower Manhattan several years ago.

Joey, Megan, Rose, Teena, Danny—the list was long and they all either left by the end of sophomore or junior year. They would not have transferred. They probably all dropped out, or disappeared into a void.

I knew Steve Casey was not going to be there. On the last day of school, I remember standing in the smoking area and spotted him at the awning by the curb.

Steve wore a gray suit and tie. Looking at him, I recalled he went as Elvis for Halloween. In retrospect, I found that ironic. The king goes to the counting house.

I walked over and he turned to shake my hand. “Hey man, I’m going to court today. I don’t know if you’ll see me again.”

I didn’t believe him. He was only fifteen, but yes, I never saw him after that.

*

Not too long ago I had a dream of the old gang hanging out in the woods behind the trailer park where I had lived. It was dark, and we started a fire, sitting around the comforting flames, getting fucked up.

I had my old Norelco tape deck, playing Black Sabbath Vol. 4. Joints were passed around. We drank Annie Green Springs and Georgia peach wine. Pam was ignoring me, angry for some reason.

Maria sat directly across from me, staring appraisingly, silent.

I was curious. “What’s up?”

She paused, closed her eyes.

Upon reopening, she said. “I see who you will be when you are older.”

Around her, the figures faded into nonexistence. Maria, however, remained.

The embers crackled as I awakened.

Mike Lee is a writer, editor, labor journalist and photographer living in New York City. His fiction is published in Ghost Parachute, Reservoir, Homestead Review, Alexandria Quarterly, The Airgonaut and others. He also writes for the photography website Focus on the Story. Website is www.mleephotoart.com.

‘Lotus’ by Embe Charpentier

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The lotus whispered to Anna with the lilt of a lover filled with longing. The pond where the lotus floated lay in the softest, greenest clearing in the grove. Vines, loosed veins, hung from the leafy tears of weeping locusts.  The verdant sweetness called to Anna, mistress and nanny of Brookhaven. The grand estate of the Burghers flaunted its formal gardens, but Anna was drawn to the near-silence of the remote lotus garden.

Mercedes broke the lotus’ spell. She pulled at the seam on Anna’s sleeve. “Miss Anna, it’s time for tea now.” Her white sugar sweetness. Her rose smile.

The breeze ruffled the foliage as Louis, who called himself The XIX, The King of the World, hollered, “I wanted a scone with clotted cream… ten minutes ago.”

“I’m coming, Nineteen,” Anna called, kissing Mercedes atop her sandy blonde hair. Taking Mercedes’ hand, she stepped gingerly through the damp moss that fringed the pond and made her way toward Louis, who stood on the edge of the great lawn.

***

Jakub’s angry gaze shattered Anna’s composure. “You are indiscreet.” He rolled off his side of the mattress, wrapping the blue velvet blanket around his thick waist.

“No one knows, I swear it. Least of all the children.” Anna felt the tears well as she stammered. “I am so sorry.”

She approached him, but he waved her off. He parted the brocade drapes and peered out the window into the new moon night. “Jean is due back soon. Go upstairs.”

No kiss goodbye. Anna tiptoed past Mercedes’ door and up the back stairs to her room, which abutted the maid’s quarters. Her books, her violin, her trunk filled with high-collared white shirts and long skirts that covered the tops of her short boots – was it time to pack once again? Talented, intelligent, poor – a rich man’s shameless mistake.

She reflected on yet another defeat. She would seek another position after saying goodbye to the children and receiving severance pay.

***

Mercedes shuddered as she stared at the shimmering pond. “You belong here, Miss Anna.” Mercedes held Anna’s leg, hobbling her. “Even Mother likes you.”

Guilt pierced her. “Your mother will find another nanny for you and Louis.”

“Blast it!” Louis flung a stone into the water. His hard throw ripped his loose ring from his finger. It plopped into the pond. “That’s a real ruby!” he cried. “Father will be furious!”

Anna knelt by the side of the pond, seeking a sparkle amongst the lily pads. Her knees slid on the slippery moss and she slumped into the dark mud. The mire sucked her down, knees first as Anna strained with all her strength against the pull.

Anna flailed helplessly, sliding toward the center of the pond and deeper into the mud. Louis and Mercedes screamed as Anna’s head was lost among the lily pads.

Abruptly, nine new lily pads jostled with the old. The nine roots bore huge, shiny palettes, and each was graced with an outsized pink lotus flower.