Archive for December, 2012

Strangers and Blueberry Muffins by Kip Hanson

Dec 20 2012 Published by under Stories

Many people struggle with small talk, especially on a city bus. To Mark Hallman, the bus was like a family reunion where you can’t remember the name of your gap-toothed cousin, or that of the drunk uncle in the Chicago Bears jersey. Every weekday he left the quiet of the Lynwood Mall Park ‘n Ride and, with the apprehension of a visit to the proctologist, climbed into the echoing anonymity of the 13E. From there he rode twenty-five minutes to his job at the credit union, silent and uncomfortable among familiar strangers. Today, Mark would change all that.

To his left sat the young man with the sailor tattoo—Mark called him Popeye (never to his face, of course). Three seats back, the noisy couple who stepped off every day at Murdock Street argued again about who would cook dinner that night. In the very rear of the bus was a plump but not unattractive girl in a tartan knee-length dress and thick Harry Potter glasses. She was staring at him, again. And two seats before Mark was the woman he would someday marry.

She didn’t know it yet. Except for the time he’d accidentally bumped her elbow with his battered briefcase, she’d never looked at him. But the scent of her perfume, mixed as it was among the complex reek of diesel fumes and sweaty human beings, intoxicated Mark. The sunlight through her wheaten hair, the delicate tracery of her ears; these were things of beauty. He would make her his wife, if only he could screw up the courage to talk to her.

Her name was Melanie. M-E-L-A-N-I-E Stellwick—he’d overheard her once on her cell phone, arguing with the bank about an overdraft fee. Mark had a lot in common with Melanie (whose name he’d secretly shortened to Mel). Even though he worked for one, he too disliked banks, and frequently suffered overdrafts. In addition, he and Mel each wore brown shoes. And obviously, they shared the same mode of transportation. Judging by the book in her hands, he knew they both loved famous authors. He started their first conversation with that.

“Ms. Stellwick?” His voice was a whisper above the rumble of the engine. She licked her index finger, then turned the page. His heart pounding, he spoke louder. “I just finished McTeague last month.”

She turned her head and stared at Mark. “What did you say?”

“Your book? I just love Frank Norris.”

She lifted the paperback like a shield. “This is Kathleen Norris. Not Frank. And I hate McTeague.”

“Oh…oh,” he laughed nervously. “I’m sorry, Mel—”

She turned her page, then abruptly rounded on him. “What did you call me?” she said. “How do you know my name?”

“I…nothing.” His face burned. “Never mind. I’m sorry.” The bus slowed—it was Melanie’s stop. Mark bowed his head—someone had dropped a blueberry muffin into the aisle. He watched silently as it tumbled towards her. As she got to her feet, she crushed it beneath the heel of her Easy Spirits. Blue crumbs flew everywhere. “You stay away from me,” she hissed. “Creep.”

Mark pressed his forehead to the window as the love of his life joined a handsome man at a sidewalk café. He’d lost her.

“Fucking women, am I right?” said Popeye with a grin.

Mark nodded. Blueberry footprints smeared the aisle. He stood and moved towards the door—he would get off at the next stop and walk to work.

“Mark?” It was the Harry Potter girl from the back of the bus. She proffered his briefcase. “You forgot this.”

“Thank you.” He was near tears.

She smiled, raising her eyebrows. “Getting off early today?”

“Yes,” he said glumly. “I’m going to walk.” Bits of blueberry still clung to the girl’s loafers.

“I’m Sarah,” she said, and stuck out a hand. “Want some company?”

Kip lives in sunny Phoenix, where he chronicles the life of an exiled Nordic Warrior King. You can find him at Bartleby Snopes, Absinthe Revival, Foundling Review, Every Day Fiction, Waterhouse Review, and a few other places. He writes to keep the flying monkeys away.

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Asylum by Colleen Fullin

Dec 06 2012 Published by under Stories

Do you remember the night we went out to the old asylum? We were sixteen; it was September. The leaves crunched with the gravel under our Keds as we used Maglites to chase shadows off the gray windowpanes of the dormitories. The asylum had been shut down years ago and left abandoned. Everyone said it was haunted. Skitting between the white buildings that crumbled asbestos, trampling through overwrought weeds, we were ghost hunting. When you see one, you told me, just say, “Boogey, be gone,” as if these really were the ghosts of our sad childhoods, harmless spirits that could be dispelled with a bit of courage and disbelief.

That was the same year you swallowed pills, though they weren’t enough to get you to the other side. You always looked like you didn’t quite believe in it: yourself, the world, me. You put two fingers to your jugular when you thought no one was looking, testing the pulses. It was few years later that you finally did make it over, having choked down the bitter capsules of your sadness.

But before that, at the asylum we shone our flashlights into the dark night and watched our breaths take shape in the brisk air. You told me you had lived eight years with a father and now eight years without. It was seeming to you like a long time. It was seeming to you like an emptiness that wouldn’t be filled. I asked if you had ever seen one, a ghost. “No,” you said. Then through gritted teeth: “Not once.”

I was away when you finally did it. I didn’t hear until later. My mother told me over breakfast, the day after Thanksgiving when I was home. I just nodded and poked at my eggs with the edge of my knife. What else was there? We’d grown apart. It had been a long time.

But what I remember most about the night at the old asylum was that you wandered off. Probably, you just wanted to have a cigarette where my condescending eyes couldn’t find you. Our friendship was already fading. But that’s when I saw one, a ghost. Walking steadily toward me, looking sallow and pale and so hollow.

And I stood there, helpless, alone, whispering your stupid magic words and trembling because, deep down, I knew they wouldn’t work.

Colleen Fullin is a student in the MFA program at Emerson College. Her work has appeared in Northwind, 10,000 Tons of Black Ink, Mouse Tales Press, and Bellow Literary Journal. She lives in Boston, where she teaches in Emerson’s First-Year Writing Program.

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