Archive for March, 2011

Pickle by Lacy Marschalk

Mar 24 2011 Published by under Stories

Her father was the last person she expected to be knocking on her dorm room door at 8:30 on Sunday morning, but there he was, propped against the doorframe, the neck of a Jack Daniels bottle clutched in his left fist, her yellow fleece in his right.

“It’s snowing,” he slurred. “Thought you might be cold, so I brought something to keep you warm.” He held up both the bottle and her fleece and laughed, but it wasn’t a laugh she recognized.

It wasn’t the laugh of the man who had taken her jogging in the park whenever her mother had a migraine, she four-years-old and bouncing on his shoulders, he weaving from side to side on the bike path and making airplane noises while she giggled and grabbed fistfuls of his then-thick brown hair to keep her balance. It wasn’t the laugh of the man who’d taught her to ice skate on the pond in that same park and worked overtime for seven years to keep her in new skates and $800 sequined outfits so she could compete on the junior circuit. Or the laugh of the man who’d told her she could go to any college she wanted if she worked hard enough and threw her a surprise party at Outback Steakhouse when she got into Yale; who’d single-handedly moved all of her boxes, her TV, her suitcases, up to the fourth floor of Trumbull College when she broke her arm and her mother was far too sick to make the forty-five minute trip to New Haven. It wasn’t the laugh of the man who’d sobbed uncontrollably into her shoulder after her mother passed, the years of chemo and catheters and blood-soaked sheets and sleepless nights finally over.

No, this was the laugh of the man who’d shown up ten minutes before her statistics midterm with two non-refundable air tickets to Las Vegas and joked that she should put all that “book-learnin’” to practical use. The man who’d asked her to dinner one Friday night to tell her he had quit his job of twenty-five years at the paper company and decided to take a film directing class at the community center; who’d drunk-dialed her at three a.m. two weeks later and admitted that he hadn’t really quit, he’d been laid off in a company overhaul, but he hadn’t wanted his Pickle to be disappointed in her old man.

This was the man she had gone to for advice for nineteen years, and she had no advice to give him, only to tell him to stop. To stop behaving like a drunken frat guy. To stop trying to be her friend. And before she realized it, she’d said that last part aloud, I don’t want to be your friend, Dad, and she watched lines of confusion wrinkle his forehead as he tried to interpret the what and the why of her words.

The bottle of Jack slipped from his fingers and landed on her bare pinky toe. It didn’t shatter, but it hurt worse than if it had. Her eyes watered instantly, and she wanted to tell him how much pain he had caused her, emotionally and now physically, and that she wouldn’t see him anymore as long as he acted this way. But instead she yanked her yellow fleece from his extended hand, backed inside her room, and shut the door. And only then did she realize that, without opening her mouth, she had said it after all.

Lacy Marschalk is a PhD candidate in English at Auburn University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blue Crow Magazine, The Citron Review, Thoughtsmith, and The Prose-Poem Project. You can find her online at

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A Small Thing by Tommy Dean

Mar 17 2011 Published by under Stories

“You sure you want to do this?” he asked.

She sat her fork on the table. “Get married?”

“No,” he said. “Have the picnic afterward.”

The day after the wedding they had decided to hold a going away party. They’d be moving across the country to North Carolina at the end of the month and didn’t know when they’d be back in Indiana to see everyone.

“We can afford it,” she said. She’d had to convince him along the way to spend the extra dollar here and there. She wondered if this wasn’t really about the chocolate fountain again.

“But all those people in one place…what if I get stuck in a conversation with your Uncle Buck?”

“I’ll come to the rescue,” she said. “I’ll even write it into my vows.” She swatted his butt, while he scrubbed at a greasy pan. She hated doing the dishes, couldn’t stand to touch someone else’s discarded food. Though it took him longer than she would like—he waited until both sinks were full and the smell of souring food wafted around the apartment—she loved that he did it for her.

“The food…” he started.

“You’re the only guy I know,” she said, “who would care about this.”

“Come on. She deserves to eat,” he said. He swished his hand around in the water rattling plates and glasses. He picked up a fork, raked the rag across its tines and tossed it with too much force into the other side of the sink.

“I’m not making special considerations for one person. It doesn’t make sense,” she said.

“She’s my friend,” he said, his voice low over the sound of colliding dishes.

“I’m telling you, she’ll eat before she even gets there,” she said, moving over to the table and sitting down. She played with the solitaire that had sat on her hand since March, the weight now becoming familiar as it crept closer and closer to the end of summer.

“If this was Emily or Rachel, you’d already be bent over backwards,” he said.

“My friends are different and you know it,” she said.

“How?” He turned his back on the dishes and faced her, putting his soapy hands on his hips.

“You know why.”

“No, I don’t think I do. Come on, let’s get this out in the open,” he said.

“Listen, baby,” she said. Neither of them understood why people used that word as an endearment. “She’ll just have to take care of herself, she really will.”

“But she shouldn’t have to. My only friend and we can’t even do this small thing,” he said, turning back to the dishes.

“She’ll make do, because you promised you wouldn’t invite her.”

“Jesus,” he said. “I thought you were past that. It was two years ago.”

“Two years ago or not, I’d rather not have to compete with her on my wedding day.”

“I can’t just not invite a friend,” he said.

“No you could, but you won’t and the worst part is you don’t see anything wrong with it,” she said.

“One kiss,” he said, and stopped, the silence hanging between like the first time he’d told her, except now they weren’t holding hands, weren’t half drunk on that red wine that came from the box.

“It was a small thing,” he said.

“Not as small as this.”

Bio: Tommy Dean is a supplanted Mid-Westerner living in the heart of North Carolina. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published in Pens on Fire, Tuesday Shorts, Apollo’s Lyre, and Pindeldyboz.

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The Tragedy of Autism by John Bruce

Mar 11 2011 Published by under Stories

I’d just gone through the security rigamarole – only half an hour in line that afternoon – and was sitting in the bar near the departure gate having a couple of stiff ones. The guy next to me looked like he had to fly a lot, too. He glanced at me and shook his head. “It isn’t really new,” he said.

“No,” I agreed. The body scans and pat-downs were just the latest, and if you wanted to make your flight – which is to say, if you didn’t want to get fired for not showing up at the client on time – you went along. And it wasn’t just security. You went along with everything, from the airline, too.

“Once I almost got thrown off a flight ,” I told him, “because, in the check-in line, I complained that the flight was obviously going to be hours late, and the crew didn’t seem to care. One of the gate people pulled me out of line and told me to shut up.”

“Or ComfortJet,” said the other guy. “Their gate attendants can decide you’re too fat to fly. It has nothing to do with security. They seem to think they have a mission to put everyone on a diet.”

“Oh, god, yes. I knew a guy – he had a few extra pounds, but then 60 percent of us have a few extra pounds. He said something the person checking his bag didn’t like, and all of a sudden she decided he was too fat to fly. He asked for the supervisor; showed the supe his frequent-flyer card, explained he flew on ComfortJet all the time, and nobody’d ever said he was too fat before. She backed the agent up. He had to buy another seat to get on the plane. No appeal. The agent had full discretion.”

“Well,” the guy said, “earlier this week I was on a flight. It was almost full. Right behind me there was a family, the parents and a bunch of kids. They took up that row, and also the one across the aisle. The kids were some of the worst screamers I’d ever seen.

“And the parents were the enlightened kind, the ones who won’t tell the kids what to do – instead, they negotiate. The little bastards wouldn’t sit down and fasten their seat belts, so the mother called a flight attendant.

“‘Would you please explain to my children why they need to sit down and fasten their seat belts?’ she asked. She wouldn’t even take the responsibility to tell them that.

“So the little girl behind me, once she finally sat down, started kicking the back of my seat. I turned around and looked at her hard; then I looked at her mother. Nothing. Then I spoke up. ‘Do you think you could ask your daughter to stop kicking the back of my seat?’ I asked.

“‘Jennifer,’ she said, ‘try to stop kicking the back of that man’s seat.’

“‘Not try,’ I told her. ‘Just stop.’ But it was a long flight, Logan to SFO, and those kids wouldn’t stay quiet or sit still. And the parents just didn’t care. They were plugged into their earphones. I was trying to get some sleep, but it was no good. The kids were zooming up and down the aisle, knocking into me and everyone else, grabbing my arm as they went by.

“Finally I’d had it. I turned around again, looked over the back of my seat, and caught the attention of both the parents. ‘I just want to say,’ I told them, ‘how much I admire you and sympathize with your struggles in dealing with the tragedy of autism.’

“You wouldn’t believe how shocked they were. All of a sudden, they started shushing their kids. It was probably the first time they’d been shushed in their miserable little lives. The mother actually made the kids sit down, covered them with blankets, and told them to go to sleep. You could see how embarrassed she was. But even more than embarrassed, she was mad.

“She got up, went to the back of the plane, and started talking to a flight attendant. She was waving her arms and pointing back at me. Then the flight attendant came my way. She was very stern. ‘Sir,’ she said. ‘We have an extra seat in the back of the plane if you’d care to move.’ It was plain that I’d done something unspeakable. If she could have, she’d have declared me too fat to fly or something.

“‘What?’ I asked her. ‘I just told these parents how much I admired them. What’s the problem?’

“‘The problem doesn’t seem to be with them,’ she said. ‘The problem seems to be with you. You seem to be having a difficulty with being seated near that family. If you’ll come with me, I’ll place you in a different seat.’

The lady had gone and tattle-taled to mommy, of course. The hell if I was going to let mommy order me around because I’d actually found a way to deal with the screaming kids. ‘You know,’ I said, ‘it seems to me that this admirable couple has found a way to minimize any difficulties that may exist.’ The kids were, in fact, finally asleep. ‘I’m not sure why I should move if there’s no real problem here.’ The flight attendant didn’t like that, but she couldn’t push it at that point. I stayed where I was for the rest of the flight, and the parents kept their damn kids quiet.

“‘Daddy needs a latte,’ the father said to his wife on the way out of the plane at SFO. ‘Daddy needs a cigarette and a latte.’”

John Bruce’s writing has appeared in numerous literary zines, and he’s received a Pushcart nomination. He has degrees in English from Dartmouth College and USC and lives in Los Angeles.

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Dinner Reservation by Bruce Harris

Mar 03 2011 Published by under Stories

My grandfather’s hands were still thick from his days delivering ice. He taught me math. There was a number tattooed on his arm and we did all kinds of math problems with it.

“May I check your hat?” The coat-check girl was young.

My grandfather liked to sit in his chair and worry.  That’s what he did. He wore a newsboy cap to keep warm. I never saw him without it. A bottle of Slivovitz on the table next to his chair also provided armor against the cold and the shivers. His skin was wrinkled and cracked. So was the chair’s leather. He chained smoked Chesterfields while he sat and worried. I’d see cigarette butts at all angles, their tops twisted and black forming a mound in the stand-up silver ashtray. It was as if the ashtray and the worry chair were one. I’d stare at the design that reminded me of plastic palm trees. The ashtray had a place for a lighter near one of the drooping branches. He didn’t use the lighter much. He preferred lighting a new cigarette with the one he had just finished. He was systematic. He’d lower his hand, his index finger acted as a noose, and with a quick back and forth twist of his wrist crushed out the doomed Chesterfield’s 4-minute life against the silver stand. The cigarette butts eventually disappeared. I loved that magic, until I once saw him push down on the bulbous sterling knob and the butts tumbled into a newly created abyss in the ashtray and I knew the secret. It reminded me of the coins on a bus that piled up until the bus driver decided it was time to depress a lever and the coins spun and fell into oblivion, all the while making a strange whirring metallic sound that played over and over. My grandfather liked watching wrestling. One of the wrestlers wore black trunks and was completely bald. My grandfather worried about them, including the bad ones. He wouldn’t believe it was faked. He even thought the blood was real.

“How many have gone unclaimed?”

Bruce Harris is the author of SHERLOCK HOLMES AND DOCTOR WATSON: ABOUT TYPE, published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box (

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