Monday, March 23, 2015

#163: "Madrid A to Z" by Kathleen Wheaton

~This story was previously published in Artisan, a Journal of Craft (2005).              

            Alice, who one cold February day abandoned her career as a Kelly Girl, sublet her small, bad-smelling apartment on Broadway and 107th Street and flew away to live in Spain, began to realize on the airport bus entering Madrid that the line between spontaneity and insanity was finer that she’d thought.  
            Brushing away doubt as though it were a spider, she hailed a taxi at the Plaza de Colon bus terminal, gave the address of the Pension Rosa – selected for the admittedly corny reason that it faced the Palace Hotel recommended by Hemingway – and insisted, politely but firmly, upon being allowed to inspect the room she’d reserved before taking it. 
            “Como mi casa en Nueva York,” she murmured, meaning that the room on offer was as dark and smelly as the Upper West Side studio, though the landlady accepted the perceived compliment with a faint relaxation of her scowl.
            Days later, reflecting on the pass her life had come to, Alice would recall that this had been the only occasion when anyone in all of Madrid had come even close to smiling at her.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

#162: "South Ozone Park" by Abdul Ali

~This poem was previously published in Fledgling Rag (2015).

South Ozone Park

                         in the inner city
                         or like we call it
                                  —Lucille Clifton


They walk in packs
sweet talking
baby ooo & ahh
can I get yo phone number?
Don’t be that way
pretty thang
& when they give a smile
gold plates flash
ring to chain,
gold fronts
toothy smiles
beaming from
chest to chest
a pinball game
until the night lights up
like Times Square
& the hood ain’t so scary
until patrol cars change
the colors of the sky
from black & gold
to red & blue.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

#161: "The Big Chicken" by Kerry Madden-Lunsford

~This story was first published in Shenandoah (1999).

Cat-Sue sings over the telephone into Jean’s ear, “We would just love to see the girls, and I’ve got a darling teenager to babysit, so we can all go out and party after the Saint Paddy’s parade.”
“Really,” Jean replies, slicing off a wedge of lemon meringue pie and eating it with her fingers before reaching under her sweatshirt to trace the lump in her right breast she’d found in the shower that morning.
“Plus,” Cat-Sue’s pitch rises. “I found a dance place where they play big band music in Underground Atlanta. You’ll love it. They’ve got a piano bar and they’ve even let me get up and sing!” She hums a few bars of “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.
Henry-Lee gets on, roaring, “So, Jean, are you and Silas teaching those folks any English? Gotta speak English if they plan on enjoying the good life in this country! Something’s gotta be done.”
“Like what, Daddy?” she carves out a larger piece of lemon pie, inhaling it in one gulp, waiting for his latest C-SPAN soundbite.
“El Paso has the right idea if you ask me, putting up that big wall. They out to do the same thing out in California with high voltage electricity across the top! One jolt and their ass would be back in T.J. before you could say, ‘Tortilla flat!’”
“Have you ever thought about how fascist you sound?” Jean asks, licking meringue off the knife.
“Fascist, my ass! Got any better ideas? It’s the whole bastion of liberalization bullshit that’s got us into trouble in the first place. I’m talking about accountability.”
“I’m not getting into this with you, Daddy.”
“Into what?” he chuckles. “Now, wait just a goddamned minute, how are the children? Your Mama really wants to see y’all. I can throw some shark and state on the grill, and … hold on a minute … Christ almighty, Cat-Sue, the Béarnaise sauce just burned. I’ve got a great recipe going, and it just boiled over! So Jean, are we on for Friday night?”
Before Jean can answer, Cat-Sue gets back on the line. “His sauce is fine! You know Daddy! Stomachs first! Anyway, darling, we’ll go to the parade on Peachtree Saturday, and Sunday, after mass, we can take the dogs and kids to the Chattahoochee River and let ‘em run wild. Y’all don’t forget to bring some green!”

Monday, March 2, 2015

#160: "Pierced" by William O'Sullivan

~This essay was previously published in the North American Review (2003) and was cited as a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2004.

            In Germany in 1981, miniature studs and thin gold hoops sparkled on young men’s ears like the white lights decorating the Christkindlmarkt in December. These same men wore gauzy Indian-print scarves wrapped loosely around their necks and clogs on their feet—a distinctly European, somewhat hippyish look that I didn’t have the nerve to try. The androgyny of these fashions—folds of flower against bristled neck, callused skin exposed through open heel—bypassed language but sank deep into the ground of my body. It was the pierced ear I was most fascinated by: unarticulated symbol, small glitter against flesh, subtle enough to be mistaken for a bead of sweat.
            A year in a foreign country, removed from the expectations of family and the reactions of friends, might have been the perfect time to make such a change in appearance—undoubtedly more remarkable in 1981 than today, but still relatively minor. Other American college students I knew did it: the artists, the pot smokers, the ones who listened to Modern English and the Clash, not Michael Jackson and Kim Carnes. I fell somewhere in between, hanging out with cheerleaders one night, New Wave weedheads the next.
            No one in my family had pierced ears at the time. As I imagined it, the unspoken rule among my mother and sisters had something to do with the pain, the body alteration, neither of which was desirable. (It never occurred to me that no rule prevailed, simply personal taste.) Even as I dreamed of having an earring—a hoop, always a hoop, I knew that right away—I understood I wouldn’t do it. It was, when you got right down to it, barbaric to punch a hole in the skin, to deliberately cause yourself pain.
            Then, a day or a month or a year later, a man would walk by—shirt open to the sternum and tucked loosely into jeans, sleeves rolled to the elbow to reveal forearms muscled like braided bread, a sliver of gold haloing his lobe.

Monday, February 23, 2015

#159: "True Confessions of a Bread Baker" by Wendi Kaufman

This story was first published in the journal Literal Latté. It is included in Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories, published by Stillhouse Press (, copyright 2014, and reproduced here through permission of the publisher.

When I am nine years old I find the yellowed newspaper clippings. They are all of well publicized divorce trials featuring mob men and showgirls. The men—with nicknames like Leo the Leech or Benny the Bull—are pictured full-faced; the women, with their 48-hour figures spilling out of 24-hour undergarments, are shown to their best advantage, in profile. The divorce lawyer, always mentioned in the first paragraph, is my father. Some of the papers that chronicle these trials no longer exist: the New York Globe and Daily Mirror. The clippings are from before my birth.

These articles spark the idea of writing my own stories, tales of a nine-year-old girl with a lawyer father and scandalous clients. Nancy Drew, eat your heart out: This is no milquetoast lawyer dad like Carson Drew, but rather my lurid retelling of public scandal, sensationalist angles, and sex—or what passes for sex when you’re nine.

I proudly show these stories to my father, who, when he reads them, shakes his head and tells me: “You’re funny, kid, but don’t write what you know.” I realize this means he doesn’t want me to write about him.

Monday, February 9, 2015

#158: Three Poems by Rose Solari

~This poem was previously published in Gargoyle (2014).

Another Country

How you would swing me up onto
your shoulders, my big big brother,
making us two-in-one, sky-slung,
a four-armed creature singing
about the country we’d never seen,
except in pictures. Che bella cosa
è na giornata e sole. My knees the wings

of your shoulders, Mom at the piano,
her voice — the highest of high
sopranos — weaving over us. No one
can say we didn’t love each other
then, that we weren’t happy. Now,
you’re two years gone, and nobody
dances on anyone’s shoulders

in that earth-dark place where I think
what’s left of you must swim. Adio,
del passato. And that country? I went
at last last year — all the gold-wine light
of history, and songs cheap on the streets.
Your face was everywhere.

Monday, February 2, 2015

#157: "Minor Offenses" by Paula Whyman

~This story was previously published in The Delmarva Review (2008).

I heard them as if through cotton, the short nurse whose wide bottom was turned toward me and the black man who filled the doorway.  He was asking if I could talk now, saying it was important that he talk to me, and the nurse was nodding, the hairs on the back of her neck pulled so tightly into her cap that I thought if she nodded again I’d hear the twang of them all breaking loose, and maybe even a tiny dot of blood would appear on her white skin where a follicle was torn clean out.  I could turn my head, now that they’d taken that thing off, what did they call it?  A halo.  I didn’t need it after all.
They said I was lucky, because my head didn’t go into the steering wheel.  The air bag opened like it was supposed to, cracked a few of my ribs, chucked me on the chin, broke my nose somehow.  It was the angle of the seat that determined it, in relation to the height and tilt of the steering column.  I was positioned a little too low behind the wheel.  I’d finally get that nose job I always wanted.  The worst part, according to the doctor, was my leg; part of my left leg was crushed on impact.  They put pins in it, metal pins that stuck out the sides of my tibia.  Every few days, they said, they would tighten the screws.  I couldn’t wait for that.  I was a big voodoo doll.
Was he from the insurance company?  I’d already talked to them, hadn’t I?  Everything was dreamy.  They told me the morphine would do that.  I was completely out of it the first day.  The police couldn’t even get my statement.  Ah, that’s who the guy was, a policeman.  He showed me his badge, as if I’d know a fake one. 
Officer Towns, he said.  Call me Leonard. 
Plainclothes.  I liked that better.  The first guy they sent, the traffic cop with the shaved and waxed head and Mountie hat and glossy boots, he looked like something out of a movie.  Get down and give me twenty.  I could imagine him saying that. 
Officer Towns pulled up a chair and sat by my bed.  “Let’s talk about what happened.”  That was the same thing the woman from psych said to me a few hours earlier.  To her, I said, “Okay.  What happened?” 
After a few minutes of that, she’d smiled at me sympathetically and said, “I’ll come back tomorrow.”  Then she whispered to the doctor, “Maybe tomorrow she’ll feel like sharing.”  I really heard her use that word, “sharing.”  Didn’t they know there was nothing wrong with my ears?  Did they think I was catatonic?
Actually, Officer Towns said, “Can you tell me what happened on Monday?” 
The blonde nurse pursed her pudgy lips and checked my blood pressure.  She wasn’t about to leave and miss the good part.