Prose 2011

If I Didn’t Know You Better I’d Call You a Friend of Mine

by Mercie Metcalf

They Were Called Pack Rats Back Then…

She kept everything. Or at least she tried to. Pictures, chipped plates, magazines, clothes that shouldn’t have even been worn in 1931, broken furniture…everything. It’s all going to be worth something someday. Her mother’s ripped and bug ridden cookbook? Vintage. The pieces of her father’s broken pipe? Keepsakes. Creepy and depressingly naked Cupie Doll? A collector’s item. She was sitting on top of a fortune she just knew it.

He Was No Ol’ Yeller, That’s for Damn Sure…

It was a hunting dog, a hound dog. Her father had been very clear that she and her brothers were not to play with him. They still had to walk him and give him baths, but they couldn’t take him inside and she wasn’t allowed to let him sleep on her bed. With a coat as shiny and red a newly pressed penny, he would sleep outside in the small wooden box her father pieced together. He liked the peanut butter crackers she’d sneak him from her lunchbox. One Thanksgiving he made off with half a turkey while the family slept off their full bellies.  Tiptoed the bird down to the basement and ate it bones, beak, stuffing and all. Somebody stole him.

Brother Job Was Sick So Long, the Flesh Fell From His Bones…

She’s always cooked. Cooking was how she made many of the friends she had today. It was always a curious thing that no one rung her bell or darkened her door until dinnertime. Learning wasn’t a choice for the only girl-child in a house of six. Her grandmother would take her home every weekend and they’d sew and bake teacakes for the entire family. To this very day she can’t get them to taste as good. Her mama showed her how to make hog’s head cheese once, only she didn’t know that the head part wasn’t just a clever name. It wasn’t done until the eye popped out easily with a fork. Remembering how she used to sit in a hot kitchen, listening to her mother and grandmother gossip about all the unmarried, unwed, churchgoin’ girls while watching her food stare back at her still makes her eyes go a little misty.

Eatin’ Peas With Your Hands

Her father was a carpenter. In the many piles of newspaper clips she kept because she was certain someone would find them as interesting as she did, was a  picture of a man with caramel colored skin and huge hands guiding a saw through a piece of wood as easily as any captain could steer his ship through a calm and unbroken sea. She had five brothers that were supposed to follow in his footsteps. Her oldest brother, who once out danced James Brown at one of his own concerts, ended up in Vietnam using war tools instead. The one after him preferred reading romance novels to the pretty white girls he worked with, that is until a dark road and a few police officers reminded him that it was still 1969. The meanest one that liked to take just one sip out of every cup before her tea parties, told the government he could walk on water to avoid his brother’s war and they made him take anti-crazy pills until he believed it. She asked her father to teach her how to use his tools and he told her no girl could. Even though they’ve rusted, she keeps those too.

Rufus King

Feminism didn’t make it passed her front door until college. Her brothers were big and handsome, free to come and go at they saw fit once they reached high school. They were football players that made all the local papers and made her parent’s chests swell with barely contained pride. Always the Rudolph to their reindeer games, they never let her tag along when venturing out after the streetlights came on. She used to listen outside their doors while they talked about dirty things like the girls they had sex with in the lockers of the mostnotorious high school in Milwaukee and she couldn’t wait to taste that kind of freedom. The summer before her freshman year they told her mother she had to go a school across town.

You Wanna Write a Movie?

There were a million things a woman as smart as her could’ve done. She started college with nothing more than a $50 dollar contribution from her parents and confidence that being smart was all it took. When she wasn’t working or studying, she would daydream about her graduation day. Her mouth practically watered with anticipation for becoming a world famous seamstress, whose clothes were worn by the likes of the dearly missed Miss Monroe and the ever elegant Diahann Carol. She out sewed the girls with the better clothes and the better pocketbooks and never let the care packages her mother would send to her younger brother but not her be a distraction. She minored in psychology to better understand why a man as smart as her second oldest brother would jump off the roof and run down the street naked, but her heart was in her clothes. In her junior year she met a man who didn’t know what Rock and Roll was and gave her heart to him. He moved to California and she dropped out nine months into her senior year.

A Real Pity

There had been times when her home was filled top to bottom and she couldn’t get through her front door without a bit of fancy finagling. She buys things to prepare for the mansion on the hill that her children will buy her because they were supposed to. She took care of her mother who forgot her name and how to go to the bathroom and she’d take care of her father if he thought she could. She has a way with words, nurtured by Sunday sermons and long nights with a six-pack or three, that few others could touch. The minutes on her phone are used to regale her youngest with slurred tales of how she could have saved the world. Her voice rises until the tiny speakers start to crack in protest. The thirst for being right has outlasted all of her lovers and talents, leaving her nine sewing machines dusty and the rooms that overflow with fabric, bought with  rent money, untouched.  Nearly six decades old, she’s sure that if she waits long enough, speaks loud enough, and owns just more than enough, the world will hit the reset button she never found. Memories of being a mother, daughter, Black Panther, and savior help the whiskey keep her warm while her children put more miles between her and them. She still hasn’t realized that all memories are the past, every single one.

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Abra Cadavre

by Melissa Pighin

Picture, if you would, a man. –Or perhaps less of a man, for there was no substantial proof of his actual existence. But this detail aside, he was accepted as real. That is to say, that people knew him (–or rather knew of him). He had managed to make himself the most distinguished man in all of Normandy, yet had done so without saying a word to anyone.

He was a man of deception and illusion. These traits were all too fitting for his career, but one couldn’t help but to wonder how he had found it possible to stay so incredibly under the radar. He was hardly ever mentioned in the tabloids, simply because there was nothing for the paparazzi to say. He never wandered the streets. In fact, no one had ever seen him leave the manor. Not even to perform a show. Yet the general public had reached the understanding that there could be no truth in such an allegation. His talents were displayed on a regular basis around the area and tonight specifically, Martin Merrel was attracting eager viewers at le Paon Majesteux.

It was intermission and a crowd waited anxiously in the lobby, sipping cafés and chattering inaudibly about the tricks they had just witnessed. Impossible happenings involving mirrors, trap doors, and smoke that the eyes and mind could not logically connect. The lights blinked twice and the group gradually receded back into the theatre. Once everyone was comfortably perched in their velvet lined chairs, the show commenced. Monsieur Merrel strolled loftily on stage and, as usual, was greeted by a roaring applaud of approval.

“Merci, merci. You are all too kind.”

A grey box was rolled onto the stage by his assistant. It was normal enough and had a door on the top.

“Pay attention. You might miss something.”

The audience chuckled, for it was very rarely that the mechanics of Merrel’s tricks were understood. The magician opened the door and lent a hand to his assistant as she climbed the footstool and descended gracefully into the wooden box. The door was shut, locked, and Martin Merrel waved his hands grandly:

“Abracadabra!”

A soft pop could be heard. Suddenly, the scene was blurred by a multitude of smoke. When the distraction had cleared, the stage was eerily sparse. No man stood grinning back at his admirers. The box had flapped open and there sat a peculiar puppet on a metal chair. A closer look revealed that it was indeed not a puppet, but a skeleton. The audience let out an exhilarated flood of clapping—expecting the clever man and his assistant to appear to their astonishment in the back of the room or the aisle way. Heads whipped around and smiles were exchanged, as if viewing some absurd party trick.

But the stage remained bleak and giddy grins of delight soon faded. Something was wrong, terribly wrong, and the lights of the house went up to confirm the validity of this concern. A harsh voice came over the intercom:

“Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs, do not panic. I ask that you leave through one of the exits located on either side of the theatre, s’il vous plaît. We are having some technical difficulties and will be unable to present the remainder of tonight’s show. We apologize and humbly ask for your understanding. You can be reimbursed at our box office beginning tomorrow.”

And so, the crowd despondently shuffled out of the building wondering what exactly could have gone wrong to tarnish a man’s otherwise flawless career. Details surrounding the curious act would not be concealed for long though. By Monday morning, the press had printed a relatively lengthy article on the much-speculated event. The assistant had been found unscathed underneath a trapdoor. She had apparently been waiting for the magician’s cue to make her reappearance (–a cue that never came). The whereabouts of Merrel were unknown; a fact that was entirely meaningless and typical of this man.

But the intriguing and somewhat nauseating aspect of the situation, was that the morgue had identified the skeleton as belonging to a real human body and not a stage prop, as originally presumed. The skeleton possessed a distinctive jaw line, an intimidating height, and flat feet that were strikingly similar to none other than: the missing Martin Merrel.

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This Should Be…

by Natasha Haining

*This should be kept in a diary, an excerpt from my unconventional young adult mind.

Sex. Sex. Sex. temptation, my body, self control, envy, anorexia, consistency.

I should revise my obsession, which I formerly stated was Coke. I didn’t think of it at the time when we were assigned the free write. Or maybe I didn’t want to think of it. It’s an odd thing to talk about.

Lingerie
I love it, yet
I have no use for it.
Just adore it. Simple. Easy. That’s that.

In high school there was a girl who had vinyl red Steve Madden pumps. I loved them. I wanted them. She referred to them as her, “come fuck me shoes,”

My cousin envied the same pair of shoes and told me that “If it was acceptable in public she would wear nothing but those pumps and lingerie everyday, everywhere.

And so it began
My love of lingerie
Its lacy
Sexy,
Sensual
Different
Unique
Mysterious
Secret
Hidden

It can be hoochy, elegant, simple, overly jeweled.

A friend of mine, in an attempt to stay abstinent until marriage only had ratty whitey-tightys. Every time I see I her, I remind her, at least you have fancy underwear now. I can’t imagine the immediate relief of slipping into smooth satin as opposed to stiff cotton. Whitey-tightys, no more! Unless, that is, they’re fashionable.

“Why do you even have a thong?” The question my mother’s friend asked her before throwing the inappropriate snippit of fabric into the trash. Obvious reason: no underwear line. Sex (her mother thought): NO just for the feeling of feeling pretty.

It’s a secret.
No one knows.
You know.

You know that you feel just a little bit more elegant, sexy, sophisticated, naughty because of whatever it is that you have hiding under a too short skirt that you wear to a club or a bland jumpsuit used for changing oil.
When looking at a pair of lacy underwear my cousin, 18, said, “I know what those are for, when you’re married.”

Her older sister and I tried with no success to convince her otherwise. She insisted that they were gross and unnecessary. Such a naïve existence, such sheltered thoughts.

Is it odd to sit in your room and revel in how comfortable you are in the newest Victoria’s secret bra? Or that when I was on Bourbon Street one goal my friends and I made was to get lingerie (from that specific street) before departing. Is it odd that the only thing I bought on the walk of the stars in Hollywood was a few new pairs of underwear from Fredrick’s of Hollywood? The last souvenir I would purchase during my sojourn around the country? *in regards to the trip…everything in the states is secure, we found no evidence of aliens or anything stranger than Bikini Barista stands.

Someday. I’ll get married, I’ll have a use for lingerie. Some day it will bring pleasure to someone else who isn’t me, and for however short amount of time I’ll actually wear it. For now, I’m content to keep it secret, and just mine but, some day it will find a place. Somewhere outside the confines of my dark washed jeans.

I swear. Naked chefs are missing out all over the place. One day, one week, I vow.

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Memories of Dreams

by Aaron Sebenius

I’m running from something. I never know what, but it’s always there. Sometimes I look back with the intent of figuring it out, but back that way, the sky darkens with the unwanted unknown. I do know the feel of the marshy ground as my bare feet squish through the mud, the feel of the reeds scratching my legs as I cross the shallow stream. The water is cold, refreshing with the sun beating down on my neck. I have to get away, so I run for a long time. By the time I reach the other side, the sun rides low on the horizon, but its beams have only intensified, as they often do. My pace slows, not from exhaustion, but with the knowledge that what’s chasing me will also stop for the night. I meander my way through a meadow, enjoying the smell of the grass, moving towards a gentle downward slope. As I reach the crest, I see an old manor by a cluster of evergreens.

I approach the manor cautiously at first, but it has a safe feeling to it. I know this place, but from where, I can’t remember. I take the first step, leading up to the wide porch, and my eyes are assaulted with double images. I see the manor before me, old and abandoned. The porch hangs limply, paint peeling or gone altogether, overgrown with moss and ivy. But I also see the porch as it was, a ghostly image overlain on the present, a pristine version of the same porch, well swept, hanging herbs dangling along the rail. I catch a faint whiff of lavender as I make my way up the crooked steps. I’m never sure if it’s real, or just a memory. I stumble slightly upon reaching the top step, and reach out to steady myself on a post. I feel the rough flakes of paint crumble beneath the pressure, and the smooth paint from long ago. As I make my way to the door, the boards creak beneath my feet. The feeling of nostalgia is almost palpable. I know this place, but I cannot place it. I press lightly on the door, and it swings open silently, on rusted, brand-new hinges. I’m glad it’s dry here, there’s no smell of rot, and it looks like the place is mostly intact. To my left are the stairs, leading to the upper level. I look around the rest, but it’s all vague. Not decrepit or decaying, just in disrepair, but also perfect conditions. I blink a lot; the double images are confusing.

As I take the first step of the stairs, my vision blurs slightly. I remember, and can’t help but smile. A little orange kitten bounds down the stairs, chasing an unraveling ball of yarn. I lean back and watch him play for a few moments before blinking away the image and continuing my climb. I reach the middle of the stairs, a small platform missing boards, but they don’t hinder my step too much. I shake my head as I hear a low yowl from the top of the stairs. I think it’s part of the memory at first, but it happens again, and I look up. An orange tom looks down the stairs at me, green eyes intent. Sitting beside him and staring just as intently, is Her.

“You came back!”

All of the sudden, she’s in my arms, nearly tackling me with her forceful hug. She looks up at me, the smile so evident in her blue-gold eyes. My mind is torn asunder, memories flashing in front of my eyes faster than I can keep up. I know her, but I have no idea who she is. She retreats a step.

“I knew you’d keep your promise. We can finally be together.”

I gaze back at her for a few moments, and then it all clicks into place. She’s older now, than the memories suggest, but so am I, I guess. It’s been a long time. I remember everything, all at once. The life we had, why I had to leave, why I still can’t stay.

We talk for what feels like days, wandering through the house, the tom always nearby. She tries to convince me to stay with her, and never understands that there’s nothing I would like more than to be by her side. I do so wish I could stay.

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Creme Brulee

by Kat Seidemann

Awareness, a bubble rising through the sweet thick cream of slumber to burst upon the burnt sugar brittleness of morning. Yet I do not open my eyes. Each day I wish, I hope, to descend back into the warm custard comfort of dreams. The clock casts its malicious green stare about the room. I evade its antifreeze intentions, which attempt to ooze past my guardian lashes and under my heavy lids. Like a child, I trust that if I cannot see its face then I am hidden from its view, but I know I cannot resist its siren song for much longer.
Another green-eyed glower creeps upon me. How does he always know? Surely, it is not the simple shallowing of my waking breath. My heart trails a conga-line from its proper place and dances madly in my throat. Perhaps it is this relocation, this movement that catches his feline attention. To him my heart is simply limping prey to be turned into another plaything. I should move before those velvet gloves, which hide swift crystal scimitars, find my vulnerable flesh once again, but these blankets hold my curves like flowering meadow grasses hug fertile sunlit ground. How difficult it is each morning to pluck away these night-scented blooms to pave space for the day’s highway.
I become aware that the silkworms of sleep have been busy. I recognize the feel of their handiwork at the corners of my mouth, on my teeth, over my tongue. After such industriousness, they have gone to rest in the bellows-caverns of my lungs, but one sigh, heavy with morning-acceptance, will drive them out. Only their grimy cocoons will remain, clinging, until I can brush them away.
As they do every morning, it is my limbs betray me with their battle cry against gravity. They twitch and tingle with the daily urge to rise up and defeat this epic foe. I am thus induced to succumb to morning. I can only hope that verticality will quiet my wayward heart and send it back to its proper place. I blink and with my usual shudder, stretch, and sigh I throw off body-warm blankets. I am awake.

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Heads Up

by Aaron Sebenius

I didn’t name the cat, my dad did. But somehow she became my cat. She slept on my bed every night, curled up somewhere random, near my head or my feet. I slept on the top bunk, so I felt special that she made the effort to get up there. Her name was Meow Meow. Called such for the way we found her. She was a feral cat, living under a pile of construction debris outside my dad’s shop. Eventually, after hearing her pitiful cries, he managed to coax her inside and feed her. From then on, she was still a feral cat, but as close to domesticated as you could get her. Curled up, she felt so warm. A little too warm, really. Somehow, she got pregnant. Some other feral cat in the area, we guessed, but we had no real idea. But still, she would come up and sleep on my bed. Even when her stomach bulged with kittens, she would still do it. Something about my bed was a comforting place for her. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to something slightly wet near my feet.

I scrambled out of bed, being extremely careful while I found the ladder, and went into my parent’s room to get them up. The kittens were here, but I didn’t remember hearing them moving or anything. I attributed it to me being tired and having just woken up. “They shouldn’t be born yet, let’s go take a look.” That sentence will forever be burned into my memory. We went back into my room and woke my brother up as we climbed up the side of the bed to look at the kittens. But it’s not actually kittens that we find. Just Meow Meow and three small heads. Later, I discovered that cats eat the bodies of prematurely born kittens, for the nutrition. Still, I cannot forget my revulsion when I pulled back those covers. I think we burned those sheets. Had I my way, I likely would have burned the entire bed.

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I Let Her Leave

by Peter Freeman

I remember the day my mother told us she had breast cancer. I was 19 years old. I was busy watching something on TV, and didn’t pay her much attention. She tried to explain the seriousness of what was happening, and I ignored her. I was too busy watching what was on the TV. She started crying. I didn’t change. I knew that she’d be alright. I didn’t have to worry. She’d be around for years to come. She cried. I felt little. She left the room, and I didn’t follow. I didn’t feel sorry, I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t feel urgency. I let her leave the room.

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Letter to a Texas Lady : After Julio Cortazar

By Mercie Metcalf

Dear Mommy,

How’s the garden? Are you still trying to find a way to kill squirrels with peppers? You’ve always had such an impulsive and ambitious nature. Not much follow-through though. I think at this point it’s more endearing than anything. Anyways, college life continues to trudge along as the world ends. You’d think an impending apocalypse would inspire lighter workloads but there’s more ever. I was just thinking earlier about how untidy it all is. Not that I’m a particularly neat individual. You of all people know of the affection that grew in me for the invading vermin of my childhood room, but that’s neither here nor there. What I mean is that if this impending doom business turns out to be nothing more than a steaming pile of mass hysteria, we’ll all go separately.

By the way, I heard that old woman that managed to get you struck down by a moving vehicle finally made her way out of this world after a little more than a century. I don’t know whether to send condolences or congrats. The few times I saw her she smelled like death and looked like horror but I know that you were content to listen to the moaning as she looked through the window to watch for the reaper’s arrival, so sorry, I suppose. You told me you wanted to write a book about her. It’ll never happen because of the follow-through thing but I thought that was a sweet gesture to contemplate making. I wonder who is going to be responsible for her personal effects. You told me that she didn’t have much in the way of family. Do you think she lost many people before she became one of the lost? One hundred years is a long time so I’d bet quite a huge sum that there were many a memorial for her to attend.

Again, back to how messy that is. You’re there and I’m here and the first one is there but not and the second one is all the way over here. Our little family of four is so isolated now, which is a shame. It seems really unfair for one of us to leave the other three to cleaning up and tidying the loose ends. Even worse would be three of us leaving one of us behind. And what of our things? The first, second, and myself don’t really have a great deal so I suppose it wouldn’t be that much of an imposition, but you, like the old woman, have nearly a century’s worth of odds and ends that fill that fire hazardous shack of yours to the brim. By the way, I should mention that I was watching TV the other night and have concluded that you’re a hoarder so you might want to get that looked at. Anyway, none of us would be capable of keeping even half of what you acquired. Which leads me to the conclusion that we all should just go together. I’d be much more comfortable being unfair to a bunch of strangers.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy living, when not dealing with the hereditary depression (thanks for that), and would avoid any disruption of it for all of us permanently if I could. But of course there’s the world ending and your hypertension and my allergy to nuts and the first one’s future battle with type 2 diabetes and the second one’s determination to drive her husband to murder-suicide. The odds of us going when they go or them going when we go are very slim, really. Still, it would be nice to be united in this, especially since we’ve grown apart. I suppose this letter has gone above and beyond morbid, but I’m not suggesting we dig a mass grave and pass around the same cup of Kool-Aid, or green tea preferably since I’m on a health kick, in order to bond as a family. I guess college life, the end of days, and the new multivitamins I’m taking have me longing for our final hours to be less messy together than our lives have been while we’re apart, so…yeah. Anyway, take care and I’m sure you’ll outsmart those squirrels soon.

Love you,

Evangeline

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Closure

by Jasleena Grewal

D-

As a hypersensitive Pisces, I have my crazy emotional spells from time to time. But, when I consult the astrological rules of the universe via a trusty Google search, I realize that your charming social tendencies as a Libra conflict with my need for quiet intimacy. There is no denying the accuracy of our stars when I think about how terrified I was sitting in your basement with your deadbeat bohemian friends, blazed and sexed-up out of their minds, watching deadbeat bohemian comedies that I never found funny. I wonder why we never went on a proper date. Don’t Libras romance their partners with dinner and wine? The Pisces in me became desperate. I’m sorry that my parents walked in on us that time when I secretly invited you over to watch cheesy Indian soap operas with me. I thought we were having our first real date, until they crashed it.

Maybe always missing the birdie in fifth period was cute. Maybe it was endearing how I always remained in the lowest ranked court, no matter how much I tried to improve my hand-eye coordination. Endearing, how you purposely lost your matches to hang out at the bottom. Top-court jester wooing the peasant princess. I power trip when I remember that your tiny ex-girlfriend said my hips were “so big!” during swim practice; but, once upon a time, you chose mine over hers. And you supported my wildly boring and uncool dream of becoming a botanist. Beast gifted Belle a giant library; and you would lead me to the glass doors of a giant greenhouse.

Rankled with indecision to send the letters I’ve written, torn-up, and twisted, I scour Yahoo Answers to find that you should never write closure letters to your ex. “Ex” defined loosely, because we were never in a relationship. Rather, you were the first boy who took a committed chance on me. You stood up for me when your friends scoffed at the shy brown girl who stumbled into your circle of progressive hipster geniuses. When my self-loathing was at its peak during embarrassing teenage years, you let me know that I wasn’t as lame as I thought I was. It was like wearing a secret, sacred amulet that empowered me to survive the school days and hallways. If people knew about us, hysteria would’ve ensued. But, we flew under social hierarchy’s radar. For a cute and popular hipster geek, you were really nice to me. Except for the time you called me Sasquatch. Size 8 is the most common shoe size that women wear, FYI.

Signed, stowed, not delivered,
J

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Miss Big and That Nigga’ Down the Street

by Mercie Metcalf

Somewhere down south, where the sun got higher and the education funds got lower, sits a grubby little project called The Ward. The streets weren’t paved in gold, no sir, in fact, they looked greasy and the sidewalks were warped, cracked, and neglected. The trees were a sadder sight with their droopy leaves and pitifully thin trunks. Even the grass couldn’t muster up enough energy to be anything brighter than a dry brownish green.
The people in The Ward all lived in tiny boxed houses placed close together like Legos, each equipped with rusty window unit air conditioners that futilely tried to blow away the heat that was trying to melt every one away. Each little box had a screen door that snapped closed as the dwellers tried to figure out if it was hotter inside or out, and there was always dust in the air. But just because The Ward wasn’t much to look at didn’t mean that the people were unhappy. It just that The Ward was a certain type of place for a certain type of person. From the drunks that liked to preach at the corner stores to the mangy, panting dogs that sought shade underneath the parked cars to the women and children who gossiped and giggled the days away, the people weren’t too happy or too sad. They just were.

Tucked furthest to left of the least dirty street was the house that belonged to one little Miss Big, well her family anyway. Miss Big was the cutest thing in hand me down jeans, with fussy brown hair that was combed and brushed and oiled into two fuzzy puffs that looked like Mickey Mouse ears. Her legs were long and her knees were ashy, but Miss Big was the shortest tall child in The Ward. Some of the older girls who wore their skirts short and popped their gum loud, would tell her that she was too little when Miss Big would ask to play hopscotch or jump rope. And Miss Big would just dust off her knobby knees and puff out her flat chest and say, “I’m Big.” Pretty soon the whole neighborhood would hear her little proclamation and the people would shout back.

“You too big for me!”

One day Big Mama sent Miss Big out to play while she put Big Baby down for his nap. The little girl was hopping her scotch, jumping her rope, and minding her very own business when a man came skulking up to her mama’s screen door. His hair was braided and he had tattoos of women in their underthings on each arm. His pants were saggy like one of Big Baby’s diapers. He had skin the color the mud turned when the white dust of the graveled driveways started to blend in; he smelled like hot onions and sour milk. Miss Big didn’t like him not one bit.
She ran and stood in front of her door and puffed her chest out before his crusty hand with its dirty nails could touch the latch.

“Who are you and what ‘chu want?” she asked with a glare.

He looked down at her, then smiled with teeth stained with a thousand cigarettes and laughed with breath hot as a thousand of The Wards meanest suns. Miss Big was short and he was tall, tall enough to cast a shadow over the whole front door. The shade felt warmer than the sunlight.

“My name is Sincere and I’ve come to see Big Mama, little one,” he said smirking. “I’m gonna make her my queen.”

“I’m big and you ain’t no king,” she responded.

Sincere laughed again and reached into one of his drooping back pockets, the movement causing his muscle shirt to lift up over his rounded gut so that Miss Big could see his boxers. They were black with little red dancing devils, naked as the day they were born. After digging for a bit, his hand came back with a crumpled and smashed pack of cigarettes and a solid gold lighter. He lit one up.

“How you know I ain’t a king? Have you ever seen a king befo’ little one?”

The lighter glinted as he took in a great lungful.

“I’m big and there ain’t no castles ‘round here for no king to live. You. Ain’t. No. King,” said Miss Big.

The man started to look a little angry. He glared down at Miss Big as he released the smoke through his chapped lips. Miss Big glared right back, folding her skinny arms in front of her puffed out chest. Sincere must have found something funny about her sweet, but glaring face because he smirked again and brought the cancer stick back to his lips. After a few inhales, he bent down so that the two were face to face and exhaled those fumes and his funky breath right into her big brown eyes.
Miss Big didn’t even blink.

“Let’s strike a bargain, little one,” he began with a whisper. “I’ll give you three tries to prove I ain’t a king and if you do it, I’ll give you this here lighter.” Sincere held it up to her nose. It was the shiniest thing she had ever seen.

“I’m big. And what if I cain’t proof it?” she asked.

Her eyes darted from the lighter to his eyes and back. “Well if you cain’t prove it, then that means I’ma king and I’m gonna make Big Mama my queen.”

Miss Big had a dilemma on her ashy little hands. Something was telling her that, king or not, this Sincere meant her big little family no good. He was nobody’s king and she was all Big Mama and Big Baby needed. She knew telling him to go away wouldn’t work ‘cause even though she was big she wasn’t as big as him. But it seamed that Sincere was as wealthy in brains as he was in hot water, or else he’d have known the moment he laid eyes on her that she was no fool. She looked down at his worn out sneakers.

“It’s a saaad and sorry king that gotta walk everywhere he go.”

Sincere stood up abruptly and his smirk melted away like an ice cream cone on the sidewalk. He flicked the cigarette to the pavement and ground it beneath his heal. “Shit, that don’t mean nothin’. I got a hundred horses on the corner, too tired to take another step ‘cause of all this heat. I’m just lettin’em rest while I come get my queen, little one.”

Miss Big looked at the holes in his pants and the stains on his shirt.

“I’m big and I wouln’t go ‘round callin’ myself no king with clothes as nasty as yours. You get that dirty from the corner to here?”

The man looked down at his clothes. An offended expression covered his face. He rubbed at his nasty shirt and pulled up his pants a little, looking at Miss Big with eyes that seemed to turn black with hate and anger.

“That don’t mean shit, either little one. You keep talkin’ ‘bout how I look but that don’t mean SHIT!”

Sincere dropped down again, except this time his movements were jerky and he was a little closer than he was before. So close they were breathing the same breath and Miss Big wanted to upchuck. He held up his gold lighter once again and shook it in front of her eyes as he spoke.

“You so smart, you explain this. This here lighter, belongs to a king and that gold is as real as you and me.” He tapped the metal with his index finger and let yet another smile spread across his face, but this time it was triumphant…and a little feral. “Tell me how I got a lighter fit to belong to a king if a king I ain’t, little one?”

The little girl pursed her lips, and appeared to be thinking deep on Sincere’s words. There was no doubt that any king would be proud to own a lighter as fine as the one the man held in his grubby hands. Sincere smiled wider at the girl’s silence.
“That lighter sure is pretty,” she stated and tapped it with her little pointer finger just as he had, “and there prolly ain’t one finer. That lighter belongs to a king.”
Sincere’s yellow teeth parted as he began to laugh, rising to reach for the door’s latch.

“But…you ain’t no king and I’m big.”

Miss Big watched Sincere’s face go slack before it morphed into an ugly(er) mask of rage. He seemed to grow bigger and his shadow became blacker. His milky, muddy skin suddenly had a red glow and even the house began to sweat as the heat took a sharp climb up. Sincere took a great big breath, as if to let out the loudest roar he could, and his lips pulled back– turning his smile into a vicious, yellow snarl. His fist wrapped around the lighter, rose into air, blocking out The Ward’s sun like an eclipse.

She watched the wannabe king’s body tremble and his knuckles whiten. She watched him take breathe in and out like a wounded dragon. She watched him watch her and she didn’t blink. And just as quickly as his anger swelled him into the monster before her, Sincere deflated like an untied balloon. His fist opened and the lighter fell to the ground.

“All right, all right.” He was nodded his head and held his palms up in surrender. Then backed up slowly. “You too big for me,” he said and turned around to walk back down the road that brought him.

“I told you I was big.”

“Yeah, well get yo’ big behind inside and wash up for lunch,” said the voice of Big Mama behind her. Miss Big spun around as her mother finished tucking something into her apron.

“Aw mama…”

_______________________________________________________________

The Way Things End

by Harrison Pierce

In a simpler time Alex, Shawn, and Trevor would fish. It was something the three boys thoroughly enjoyed and it was something they all held skill in. Trevor was the oldest of the three and wisest at the sport, yet never seemed to out fish the younger two.
They were neighbors in a small town in Arizona you could hardly find on a map. In fact, their town was so close-knit it seemed as though everyone knew of any event within it. As such the boys, Alex and Shawn, were shocked to learn that Trevor enlisted in the army.
Two and a half years later Trevor was home and his two best friends drove from their high school to congratulate him on his return.
Shawn drove. He always drove. And Shawn always drove his cherry ’87 Mustang. He bought it after working all summer once Trevor left. Shawn worked all summer, six days a week, seven hours a day, bagging groceries. He knew what car he would buy and who he’d buy it from since the day he took the job. Shawn had to work into late September to fully reach the desired price of the owner, but he managed to accumulate the funds, paid for the car outright, and drove it home three days before October.
He quit his job the following day.
Alex never drove. Shawn wasn’t even sure if Alex had his license or even if he knew how to drive, though Shawn never gave him much of an opportunity to drive anywhere. He always assumed he would drive and that was always how it was, ever since that third day from October two years ago.
“Damn it’s hot out,” Shawn stated. He glanced over at Alex who simply nodded in agreement. Shawn was never one for conversations, or at the very least he was never sure how to start them. “How long do you think he’s going to stay for?”
Alex shrugged, “Six months, maybe nine if he’s lucky.”
“What did he do again? Disarm bombs?”
“He was an interpreter,” Alex corrected him.
“Oh.”
Their drives were never too talkative and as such Shawn always kept the radio on, even if ads ran. He could never stand that sort of silence; it set him off guard and made it impossible for him to anticipate whatever news his friend might bring. It reminded him of the night Alex told him Trevor had enlisted. He was quiet then as well; not simply as if he had nothing to say, but more so that some urgent matter held the forefront of his mind.
The same matter was why Trevor was never the best fisherman of the three young men. His mind would wander and dwell on matters at home, with some girl he dated, or of his studies. Shawn was the best because he knew what he wanted and strove to gain it.
No one else seemed to be out on the roads even though it was three in the afternoon. The absence of others bothered Shawn as well, as it only reminded him of how desolate it was there. He wanted nothing more than to leave his home town and Arizona in the dust as soon as he graduated.
The air conditioner in his ’87 Mustang was never enough to keep them cool and as such the windows were rolled down and a warm breeze washed over them.
“Are you worried about exams?”
“No,” Alex murmured.
“I am,” he lied. “The advanced chemistry final’s going to rob me of sleep.”
Both boys knew it wasn’t true.
The cherry ’87 Mustang slowed to a stop at a four way intersection and waited for the light. No one else waited and at the same instant no one passed by. They simply sat at the edge of the water and waited for the signal to reel in.
“Do you think he’ll have souvenirs for us?” Shawn joked.
“That isn’t funny.”
“Sure it is.”
“He’s probably just glad to be home.”
“Who wouldn’t be?”
They waited for the sign, yet it remained elusive.
“Do you think he’ll stay?”
“No.”
“Not now, but after his next tour.”
“I don’t know,” Alex sighed, “It all depends on how long the war continues.”
Shawn hadn’t taken the war into consideration. He couldn’t recall what spurred it in the first place, though he vaguely remembered September eleventh as he was hardly nine years old when it happened. From there it seemed as though they’d always been at war. And no matter what Shawn read in the papers or heard he never believed it would end. It’d raged on for nearly a decade and all Shawn saw in it was a lost cause.
It was as if they tried to reel in leviathan and refused to cut the line.
“It’s useless isn’t it?”
“What is?”
“The war.”
“How can you say that?” Alex snapped.
“Well it is isn’t it? We’ve been there for so long yet nothing’s changed.”
“We’re capturing terrorists.”
“But what does that do for us?” He looked at Alex, “We catch one and ten others surface afterward. It doesn’t end.”
Alex frowned and said he was going to enlist.
The light changed yet nothing moved. Shawn couldn’t look away from his friend. “What are you talking about?”
“In July,” he stated, “I’m joining the military.”
“Why? What would you gain from it?”
“I want to help.”
“Help what?”
Alex stopped. He watched as the streetlight turned and turned again. It remained on that pale red for what could have been forever before he confessed, “You know I’ve written Trevor since he left, right?”
“No.”
“Well I have.” He looked cross at Shawn and asked, “Why didn’t you?”
He looked ahead, “He wouldn’t have cared.”
“He would have.”
“Oh don’t tell me that,” Shawn spat. “What good could it have done anyway?”
“Well what are you going to say once we’ve arrived?”
Shawn failed to answer. The light turned green and he drove once more.
He felt as if he’d lost another friend. Alex sat not two feet away from him yet already seemed beyond the ocean. Shawn remembered when he saw Trevor off, how he looked, what he said and failed to say, and that as Trevor left he believed he’d lost his friend for good.
He’d read all about a soldier who died because of friendly fire and how all it took was one misstep or one small twitch of the wrist and the soldier was gone. It’d happened before and it would happen again too; it wouldn’t end.
“Are you mad?”
“Why the hell would I be?”
“Because you think I’m throwing my life away.”
“You are aren’t you?”
“Damn it Shawn, not everyone knows what they’re going to do in life,” Alex told him. “They need help so I’m answering the call. What are you doing?”
Shawn looked right on ahead and muttered, “I’m living as long as I can. Going there’s nothing beyond suicide at this point.”
“Oh grow up Shawn.”
He remembered the last fishing trip they took together. The three of them drove out to the coast of California and fished off docks for a week. They fished, met girls, ate hearty American food, and camped under the stars.
That was two years ago.
“You could enlist too.”
“Oh shut up Alex.”
“You don’t want to fight for your–”
“I don’t want to fight a losing battle,” he barked. “I’m not as senseless as you two.”
Alex glared at him and asked, “Remember that last trip we took? Out to the coast? Who dug that hook out of your leg after you fell on it?”
Trevor had.
“What about when your car died on the trip home? Who walked the three miles to get gasoline and water for your car?”
Trevor had.
“And how about that fight you got yourself into outside of that restaurant in Nevada? Who stepped up and pummeled those jerks?”
Trevor.
“How the hell can you say he’s senseless?” Alex then admitted, “I’m joining because I want to be as strong, courageous, and kind as he is.”
Alex was already gone and both of them knew it. Shawn knew that whoever they’d meet at Trevor’s house wouldn’t be the friend they saw off, it wouldn’t be their old fishing pal. And as soon as Alex left it’d be the death of one more good soul. Shawn knew what the war did to people. His grandfather served in Vietnam and from what he’d learned from his father the war changed him. It broke his grandfather. It would break them all in one way of another, Shawn knew it.
“I’m not joining,” he mumbled.
“I never said you had to.”
“Well I’m not,” Shawn told him.
“Are you afraid?”
“No.”
“I think you are.”
“I’m not a coward,” Shawn snapped, “I only know that if I left I wouldn’t return.”
“You’re not going to die Shawn,” Alex said as he rolled his eyes.
He shook his head, “Part of me would.”
Shawn slowly approached Trevor’s home and rolled to a stop outside. He set his Mustang in park and looked at the white house with the well watered green lawn. He remembered playing with water guns when they were all kids with some of the other neighborhood children. Their team was always the strongest, the fastest, the most tactful, and almost always won.
He didn’t feel that way anymore.
Alex unbuckled and started out of the car before he looked back and noticed that Shawn hadn’t killed the engine. “Aren’t you coming in?”
Shawn remembered the last thing he said to Trevor before he left. He said he’d look forward to his return. Now Trevor was right there, but Shawn didn’t believe it.
He shook his head, put his car in drive and said, “I’ll see you around.”
“Wait, Shawn, come on.”
“No,” he barked as his eyes shot to Alex, “You’re leaving and I don’t want to be the one who waits to hear about that final bullet.” He grit his teeth and shook his head. “I’m sorry. Just tell Trevor I’m happy he’s back and that I’ll see him some other time.”
Alex shut the car door and Shawn sped away.
Shawn and Alex would graduate together and would see Trevor once more. Beyond that moment Shawn would leave west while Alex and Trevor would end up leaving around the same time in mid November. At that point Shawn would have found a job in California as a janitor at a high school while he worked his way through college.
The three boys would never talk again.

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