Monday, June 20, 2016

#205: "Transit Info" by James Reed

~This story previously appeared in Apalachee Quarterly (1996).

The passenger in back bothers no one.  He is quiet and polite.  “Good evening,” he says as his ticket slides down the chute.  “Thank you,” as the door hisses open.  The driver notices him only because he favors two separate stops some eighteen blocks apart and because often he walks.  She sees him forty or fifty feet from his destination, the steak house corner with the big Cadillacs and Lincolns and the vans unloading families in the lot.  This is a total of thirty-six blocks from his point of origin, undoubtedly his job.  It must take him half or three-quarters of an hour.  She herself would never travel such a distance on foot, but she is portly and given to short breaths after two flights of steps.  A sixteen would fit her except through the hips.  A seamstress friend, whose girl she watches between shifts when the child gets home from school, alters her dresses and is discreet enough to cut out the labels.  She knows the styles the driver likes and buys them on sale and then is reimbursed.  The rest is considered an exchange.
Arlis is a pure-bred genius with a Singer machine, and handwork doesn’t trouble her in the least, but she is unable to curb the driver’s appetite for sweets.  Any bonbon proves irresistible.  It’s not as if she craves candy or schemes for it.  A large refillable of diet lasts the whole day’s driving, and she only nibbles at some fruit or has a small sandwich with Venetia in the afternoons, but let her see a Hershey bar or a Whitman Sampler box, and her money practically flies out of her billfold.  She’ll have part of it unwrapped and in her mouth before she starts the car.  And once opened, it will not last the night.  “Its life expectancy is nil,” she tells Arlis.  Just last night she watched Jimmy Stewart fly across the ocean in some rickety tent-flap plane, and as the screaming Frenchmen carried him away on their shoulders, she wiped her fingers of their last trace of chocolate.  It’s not the wanting it that infects her, but the having it.  That’s why she could not take a job like Candy Boy’s, which is not his real name but what she calls him.  When she sees him the words just appear in her head.  Candy Boy.  They’re there before she can say, “Hello.”
He rides that last run, usually sits behind Manny, and is a touch overweight but hardly so you’d notice.  Really he’s just soft.  Outside his job, she doubts he does much.  She suspects he lives with his mother and is not the type to’ve moved back in despite the grey in his hair she’d bet money his mother cuts.  Every couple of weeks, it just looks lopsided, usually on Wednesdays.  That makes it Tuesday nights that he comes home in his black pants and red knit shirt, both wrinkled, baggy, and ready for the wash, and sits in the chair dead center in the kitchen.  She ties a sheet around his neck and clips and buzzes until her squint through the humid air steaming with pots of boiling cabbage tells her, this will do.  Then she sweeps up the lank curls while he washes for dinner.  And changes.  She cannot abide the stink of sour ball flavorings on his clothes.  And he showers to take it off his skin.  It must be good and hot or she will not serve him at her table.

Monday, June 13, 2016

#204: "Pluma Piluma and the Utopian Turtle Top: A Bedtime Story for Women Writers" by Chauna Craig


~This essay was previously published in Calyx (2003).


Pluma Piluma and the Utopian Turtle Top: A Bedtime Story for Women Writers

based on many true stories

            Once upon a time there was a little girl named Pluma.  Pluma Piluma, a name given her for the pure sound of it.  In those vowels you could hear the purr of a motor, something smooth and sleek readying itself for faster days, liquid fuel like molten lava and not a harsh consonant on the rolling horizon of those letters.  Nothing to signal stop.
            That’s how a little girl’s life should start.  Purring possibility.  Horizons.  The pure sound of it.

            Gertrude Stein in Tender Buttons described sound like this:  “Elephant beaten with candy and little pops and chews all bolts and reckless reckless rats, this is this.”  A sentence I love for how it curls and creeps and cruises from my tongue to my ear.  Sound.  Reckless reckless rats, this is this.

            I used to drive.  All-American pasttime.  In Montana the roads are infinity signs stretched , long, sloping to the endless horizon, empty like the beginning and the end.  Once upon a time, speed on those roads was limited only by words:  “reasonable and prudent.”  I liked the sound of it.  And then, as always happens, someone realized that words carried meaning and meanings carried people and people carried themselves way too fast.  So stop.  Replace the sounds.  Follow the numbers. 
I used to drive.  I sometimes still do.
* * *

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

#203: "The Other Side of the Line" by Mandy Campbell Moore

~This story was originally published in CALYX, A Journal of Art and Literature by Women (2006), under the name Mandy Farrington.

~Selected by Assistant Editor Kenneth A. Fleming

            My first morning on the job, I’m melting. The cafeteria floats in my tears. White-aproned reflections swim across the stainless surfaces—counters, sinks, cabinets, doors. Vegetables I’m fixing to slice sweat odors that seem a bit personal.
            The woman at the station next to mine—Frances—must be seven feet tall and four hundred pounds. A hair net clutches her skull. If it had leg openings, I could wear it as a tutu. She speaks with determination about killing her daughter. “I’ll slit her throat,” she says. “Wash her blood down that drain.” She tilts her massive head toward the hole beneath my heel. “Norbert can put out her carcass with the rest of the pigses.”
            Norbert, with his mane of white hair, looks like God dealing judgment. His pink eyes flicker at Frances, then refocus on the meat slicer.
            “Frances, you’ll do no such thing. All teenagers talk back.” That lady’s name is Elsie, at the station opposite mine. Her voice pipes up and down a scale.
            “I’m the one brought her into this world. I’ma be the one takes her out.” Frances peels boiled eggs with a single motion per shell. She’d peel her daughter’s limbs the same way. Where I come from, a crime is toilet papering somebody’s trees. Maybe I am overreacting. Sweat makes it hard to grip the knife. When I melt, they can rinse me down the drain as well.
            “Shhh,” Elsie hisses and lowers her eyes. Her skin is the color of weak chocolate milk, peppered with dark freckles. She smiled when I was introduced.
            “Pick up the pace,” I hear behind me. It’s Kitty, the manager and only white person here besides me. Perhaps she heard Frances and will call the police or something. Steadying my hand, I chop carrots.
            I have a scholarship. This job is for fun money. Ridiculous not only because the job is plain deadly, but also because I don’t have any friends here to have fun with. They all went to different schools.
            Breathe through the mouth so you won’t cry. You have made a serious mistake.

Monday, May 23, 2016

#202: "Lot's Wife" by Lois Marie Harrod

~This poem was first published in Slant (2000).

Lot's Wife

Even the woman
who was never beautiful
is grateful when

after chemotherapy
her hair returns,
spiky little flames.

For a month or two
she spins,
French waif

catching herself
in the sun’s eye,
who was she?

So why do we blame
the salt woman
who wanted to see

not where she had been
but what?

Everything lies
in the season
we do not understand.

These are the pictures
of what we were,
lovelier than we imagined.

Even our children are amazed.


Monday, May 9, 2016

#201: "Chamber Music" by Vic Sizemore

~This story was first published in Southern Humanities Review (2013).
~Selected by Assistant Editor Kenneth A. Fleming

            Courtney parks her Prius at the top of Matt’s driveway because Brandon’s blue Mongoose bicycle is sprawled across it. The blazing yellow forsythia at the edge of the drive runs down and is starting to swallow the corner of his house. It’s pretty, just out of control, needs a little tending. A lot of tending. The smell of cut grass wafts from the neighbor’s yard, where a fat man without a shirt on is riding a slow roaring mower.
She grabs her plastic tub of bruschetta—she made it with organic onions and heirloom tomatoes from the co-op, and her own fresh basil—and her grocery bag with baguette and knife and garlic from beside her on the seat and gets out. She closes the door with her hip and picks her way through scattered toys and sidewalk chalk in the carport. The kids’ bodies are traced on the drive in chalk, like victims’ outlines in crime shows. And there is Matt’s outline. Some child has filled him in, drawn him with big round green eyes and jagged blue monster teeth. Matt’s a gentle man, a gentle father. Almost passive. It makes things easy between him and Courtney. The ex-wife, not so much.
The wooden rail at the door is half stripped of its peeling white paint. One whole side is draped in beach towels, turquoise and blue with fish on one, one black with bright pink butterflies, another with blue and yellow flowers. At the back of the carport a blue tarp is balled up like a giant sheet of discarded paper. Beside it are three nylon camping chairs, and a faded bottle of OFF! Clean Feel bug spray. Beside the kitchen door leans a gray snow shovel. The sticker is still on the wooden handle. It says Ames: Our Tools Built America.
Matt gave Courtney a key to his place only yesterday, before leaving for his conference. So she could meet the kids after school. Also yesterday he asked her to consider marrying him. When she didn’t respond with immediate glee—things between the two of them are great, it’s not that; everything is just easy—he backed off a little. “Don’t answer now,” he said. “We’ll discuss it when I get home.”
The little black cylinder thing that should pull the screen door hissing back is broken and jabs out at her leg as the white aluminum door drifts and hangs open like a broken wing. It’s ridiculous to be nervous. Courtney has been a Shreveport Wideman semifinalist. She’s concertized, performed Stravinsky Petrushka, Shoenberg. Berg Sonata. She was with management, soloed with the Honolulu Orchestra right before it folded.  This is just three little kids.

Monday, April 25, 2016

#200: Two Hundred Posts! Let's Celebrate!!

Today we reach a milestone of two hundred posts! That’s two hundred excellent stories, essays, and poems that have been published in print journals but that have not been made available to the wider world of an online audience…until Redux printed them!

Among these 200 posts are examples of a very first publication, pieces that suffered in the print publication process, pieces that didn’t fit into story collections, poems that are now in books, and, of course, pieces that will make you laugh and that will make you cry. It is a joy and an honor to have founded this space with its simple mission of seeking out previously published work that deserves online exposure. Along the way, I’ve “met” (on social media) and met (in real life) so many new writers, watching my own world widen and grow.

Thanks to those who have helped Redux along the way, generously donating their advice and time: Deborah Ager, Marlin Barton, Sandra Beasley, Steve Ello, Kenneth A. Fleming, Rachel Hall, Anna Leahy, Joseph M. Schuster, Bill Skillern, and Susan Tekulve.

And thank you to all the writers who have contributed their work. Your words have enriched my life.

For your reading pleasure:

The 10 most popular pieces in Redux’s first 200 posts, presented in alphabetical order:

12 additional pieces, selected by me from the 50 most popular posts, presented in alphabetical order (oh, but it was SO hard to choose!!):

On to the next 200! 

~~Leslie Pietrzyk, Editor & Founder of Redux

Monday, April 18, 2016

#199: Two Poems by Derek Mong

~This poem previously appeared in from American Literary Review (2012).

Midnight at the School of Cosmetology

     and the mannequins, vacant
as Caesars in their hall of mirrors,

enthrall a night watchman.
His fingers trace their root holes’

perfect rows. This Styrofoam,
bald as the gibbous moon, outlives

the follicles of a thousand women
thinking. Last week the imported hair

shone fulgent as polygraph ink
and delicate as relics.

He still recalls its boxed arrival—
bangs, pigtails, wigs—whirlpools

of third world beauty
cut to train beauticians of tomorrow.

And though he doesn’t fetishize
its climate or cuisine—pelmeni

in mayonnaise, rain sieved
from a tin roof’s runoff—he’s breathed

that hair before the students
kerosened it scentless.  

There is a world pressed between
a harvest and its dreaming. 

There is a hallway he taps his night-
stick back through, luminous

as the one he entered. All night
hairdos never to travel back overseas

dissolve in the field behind
the building. When his shift ends

he walks home and clicks the TV on.
He turns to stone till morning.