Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Hey Cowboy

by Alex de Cruz 

spring water 


After I discovered my hometown fiancee had been cheating on me, I’d been devastated, and grew weary of friends and relatives saying, “I heard your wedding was called off. What the heck happened?” 

I’d mumble something like, “We both agreed; we just weren’t right for each other.” 

I started to avoid people I knew, which was hard to do in a small town like Alamosa, Colorado. I needed a fresh start, so I jumped at a job offer from a big medical software company in Madison, Wisconsin. 

In a university and high-tech town like Madison, a lot of people I met soon asked “Where’d you go to college?” 

My answer, “Trinity Junior College in Alamosa, Colorado,” didn’t impress them. 

Several said, “All you have is a junior college degree, and where the hell is Alamosa,” with a condescending tone in their voices. A few realized how obnoxious they sounded, and then apologized, “Oh, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded”. 

I thought about saying, but never did, Hey, you conceited ass, I was the first one in my family to ever go to college, and learned how to write computer code through online courses and hard work, which I get paid very well doing

Although I’d made some superficial acquaintances in Madison, I couldn’t call any of them real friends. I’d met a couple of women, who’s company I enjoyed, but didn’t foresee any becoming a serious relationship. 

One day I was sitting at Starbucks, when a woman near me remarked, “Excuse me, but I just noticed you’re reading the same book as me.” 

I turned my head to the left and saw a young woman about my age, who had a smile that just radiated warmth. She dressed conservatively, but was so pretty she stood out anyway. We started chatting and really hit it off. 

Her name was Maria and before she left she gave me her phone number. 

The next day I texted Maria about getting together for dinner, and was pleasantly surprised that almost immediately I received her response, “Sounds great.”

We went to Mollie’s Pizzeria for dinner. By the time her vegetarian lasagna and my Margherita pizza arrived, we were feeling very comfortable talking to each other. 

As Maria was telling me more about herself, she confided, “I just moved here from Minneapolis. I’d been living with this guy for two years and we were talking about getting married.” 

“I came home one day and all his stuff was moved out of our apartment. I was really hurt.”

Before I’d even thought about it, I said, “Well, he was a fool. Any guy would be lucky to be with someone so wonderful as you.”  

After I said it, I realized I meant it though.

Maria blushed slightly, and then added, “Maybe his leaving me was for the best; who knows. He was charming and a great guy, as long as he got his way, and also somewhat of a showoff too.”  

I went on to tell her how sorry I was, and then shared my own experience with my fiancee back in Alamosa with her. We obviously had a lot in common.

While I was walking Maria home, she mentioned that she worked at a riding stables while she was in high school, and said, “I’d love to find a good place around Madison to go horseback riding.” 

“Gee, I know a great riding stables about an hour away that this old cowboy-type guy named Charlie owns,” I responded.

“I’ve gone there several times and gotten to know him. He’s got some good horses and there’re nice riding trails,” I added. 

And again, Maria surprised me by right away saying, “Great, let’s go together this weekend.” 

I’d grown up on a small cattle ranch in Southern Colorado near Alamosa and had ridden in junior rodeo for several years as a teenager. My ranch and rodeo history was something I tended to brag about too much and I wanted to avoid doing that with Maria. 

It was getting late and I decided that rather than telling her then, I’d wait and just bring it up casually when we were riding.

When I phoned Charlie to make reservations, mentioning Maria’s riding 
experience, he said in his usual drawl, “Yeh, I remember you, cause you’re a good rider. I get so damn many beginners here, who’re a pain in the ass.  I’ll have a couple of my good horses ready for you on Saturday at ten o’clock, okay.” 

When we arrived at the stables, two horses were saddled for us. Charlie walked over, his ever-present Stetson hat pulled low, looking like the Marlboro man, but one that didn’t smoke. 

He remarked to me, “I’ve got Corky here for you. I ride him myself. The only thing is you’ve gotta make sure he knows you’re the boss. Do you think you can handle him?”  

Corky was a beautiful chestnut-colored stallion and I eagerly replied, “Sure, no problem!”

He said to Maria, “Misty shouldn’t give you any trouble and be a nice ride, young lady.” Yes, Charlie was old fashion and used terms like “young lady.”

Maria reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a carrot she gave to Misty, a nice looking bay-colored mare. I could see they’d get along just fine.

Once we were mounted up and ready to go, Charlie said to me, “You know the trails and don’t need a guide. Just take it easy on the horses. Misty’s going out with other riders today and I’m riding Corky later.”

The day was perfect for horseback riding, sunny, but not too warm, with a light breeze rustling the vibrant-green spring leaves. The air felt alive with a symphony of chirping birds, although you frequently couldn’t spot them hidden in the new foliage.

Maria enthused at one point, “Isn’t it just gorgeous? Look at that pretty carpet of little purple wildflowers over there. Do you know what they are?” 

“Yeh, I think they’re crocuses,” I replied. I took a deep breath, inhaling the wonderful fresh scents of spring.

We walked or trotted the horses on the trails through the woods and galloped across several open fields, giving Corky and Misty quite a workout. Corky and I were getting along like old friends and Maria seemed to be very happy with Misty. 

As we entered a broad meadow, I lightheartedly challenged Maria, “I’ll race you to that old oak tree on the other side.” Without saying a word, Maria kicked Misty and took off like a flash. I had to really push Corky to catch up. We finished neck and neck; Maria rode very well. 

When we reached Miller’s Creek, which bordered Charlie’s property, I suggested, “How about taking a break here.” 

Mostly we just sat soaking in the moment, feeling the warmth of the spring sun on our skin and listening to the sound of a natural world alive with new life. The horses were standing in the shallow water, noisily lapping it up. 

Maria looked wonderful. She was just glowing.

We were almost across the final pasture and nearing the corrals and barn. You could sense the horses’ anticipation of getting the riders off their back. Maria sighed, “This has been terrific. Too bad it’s over.”

I chimed back, “Let’s have one last gallop across the pasture.” 

Maria frowned and replied, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. The horses need a rest, you know. Remember what Charlie said.” 

I noticed an old oil drum at the far end of the field. Since I still hadn’t told Maria about my ranch and rodeo-riding background, the idea occurred to me to put on a little rodeo-riding show for her. I’d then tell her my story on the drive back to town.  

I told Maria, “Watch this,” and gave Corky a firm tap with my heels and slap with the end of the reins, combined with a couple of loud clicks of my tongue.  

Corky dug in his heels, kicking up some dirt, and we were off like a rocket.

We raced down to the barrel, did a nice tight turn around it, and started galloping back. We were really flying, when Corky decided he’d had enough. 

Without any warning, Corky virtually did a ninety-degree turn in mid-stride. One instant I was sitting on a saddle with a horse under me, and the next I was soaring through the air. 

I hit the ground with a heavy thud.

I was lying flat on my back with the wind knocked out of me, and somewhat dazed. I lay there for more than a ten count, while I caught my breath and tried to figure out how badly hurt I was. 

As I raised my head up, there was Corky standing off to the side.

At least I’d been lucky in my choice of a landing pad. Since it was a pasture, there was a thick mat of grass. The outcome could have been very different, if I’d come down on something hard.

When I finally stood up, I glanced toward the stables. Not only had Maria been watching, but Charlie and a couple of the stable hands had caught the show also. I’d made quite a fool of myself.

I climbed back in the saddle and walked Corky to the stables. 

After getting there and dismounting, Charlie walked over. He didn’t look pleased and snapped, “Hey cowboy, that was quite the stunt. Don’t you recall my saying, take it easy on the horses? The young woman seemed to understand.”

As soon as we got in the car, I turned to Maria and said, “I apologize. I should have listened to you. It was a dumb thing to do.” 

She replied, “I’m really glad you didn’t get hurt, but what you did reminded me of my old boyfriend.”

I didn’t know what to say beyond, “Maria, I’m really sorry.” 

To relieve the silence in the car as we drove back to Madison, I turned on the radio to my favorite classical music station. Maria spent most of the time watching the scenery.

When we got to her apartment, she opened the car door and hopped out before I could get out to open it for her. She leaned her head back in and said, “Thanks very much.” then turned and walked to her front door. 

I’d really screwed up, but hoped she’d get over it.  
   
After a few days, I texted Maria about getting together after work at the same Starbuck’s we’d originally met at. 

I got this text back, “N/A.” She was also “not available” for anything else I invited her to do over the next several days.

When I phoned her, the call went to voicemail and she never called back.

About the author

Alex has had a passion for fiction and writing since reading Hemingway as a teenager. Recently, he's become a devotee of flash fiction, short story, and creative nonfiction writing. Alex has stories in Potato Soup Journal and Down in the Dirt, as well as flash fiction pieces forthcoming in Scarlet Leaf Review and Flash Fiction Magazine. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.

 

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Putting on the Slap



by Gill James

champagne

Today was the day. She was going to do it. She caught sight of her reflection as the bus went round the corner. She'd got used now to the scarf that covered her hair. In fact that had become a fashion item in its own right. It was fun, choosing which particular combination of colours and patterns set off her skin or in fact drew the attention away from her and towards her clothing.
Her mother had told her horror stories of what it had been like in the 1960s and 1970s. Young girls making themselves attractive and then wondering why the men wanted to sleep with them, wanted to put grotesque parts of  bodies into their private parts and tried to name it "making love". The short skirts probably didn't help.  Of course they didn't. All those old rockers taken to court in the twenty teenies. 
"What did we expect? We were  a little bit mad really." Her mother sighed. "We should have known better."
"Couldn't it have been just for you?" Why should every wrinkle show? Why must women always look so dull these days? Why  couldn't she look in the mirror and just enjoy what she saw?
"They always thought it was for them."
Perhaps they'd just wanted the attention, or the power or just to prove that they could do it.
Never mind all that. Her time had come now.
The bus stopped in front of the deli. She tried not to run. That lack of decorum might give her secret away. Her fingers trembled as she tried to put her key into the lock. It took her three goes. Her heart thumped as she bounded up the stairs, tearing her headscarf off as she ran.
She rushed straight into the bathroom, pulled off the rest of her clothes and turned on  the shower.  The warm water caressed her. She thought of him and felt a pleasant dampness arrive in the gap between her legs. She couldn't stop her hand straying to that spot ànd that very slight pressure caused a short but intense orgasm, a promise of what might come  later. Of what hopefully would happen. 
She dried herself, moved into the bedroom and selected her underwear: the matching green silk thong and uplift bra. How long would it be before they were revealed again? Now as well the green slinky dress that clung to her and shaped her and rested just above the knee, demure and revealing at the same time. Maybe a promise?
Now she must see to her hair and makeup. This was the hard bit. She envied her mother's generation. They used to do this three or four times a day. They knew exactly how to flick the end of a curl with a toss of the fingers, how to emphasise a cheekbone with a smudge of red and how to draw a straight line to frame an eyelid. It would take her forever.  
Yes, it took her forever to get it right. Or so it seemed. Actually it took exactly the right amount of time. The very moment that she attained the perfection she sought was the exact moment she needed to leave. She gently licked her strawberry glossed lips. Surely he would want to kiss those just as much she wanted them to be kissed?
The bus came at once, thank goodness. She smiled to herself as people looked away. Yes, clearly this was a courting ritual, a prelude to sex, maybe the hope of reproduction. Nature? No, she wasn't interested in children. Not just yet.
"No prizes for guessing what she's up to," the man in the wheelchair mumbled.
"She shouldn't flaunt it like that in public. She should get a taxi." His female companion was  frowning. Jealous, she supposed. Hmm. Well, if she'd paid for a taxi, then she wouldn't have been able to afford the slap. Perhaps he's rich. Perhaps he would marry her.
"My god,  there'll be a few hard-ons if she carries on like that." His hand lightly grazed his crotch.
That bit still worked then.
She wanted to titter. Oh yes, this was her moment,  her butterfly hour, her chance to shine. It was all about her as a woman, as a lover, as a sex object perhaps. But she mustn't titter, nor even put her hand in front of her  mouth, for she must not spoil this perfect image. 
He was already at the restaurant when she arrived. His dark brown eyes looked into hers and a spasm of delight traveled through her whole body.
"So beautiful, so perfect. Oh, I so want you." His lips brushed hers gently. 
Why not cut to the chase? Why not skip the  meal? After all they both knew what this was about.     
But no, like a gentleman, his hand resting lightly of  the small of her back, he showed her to the  table. The ritual must continue. Later for sure they would explore each other,  skin would touch skin, he would come and she would feel that explosion of physical joy deep inside. Perhaps over and over until they were exhausted. There was no ambiguity about what they both wanted.
As the waiter poured the champagne and she savoured what would happen soon, she paused  to feel sorry for the old rockers.

About the author

Gill edits CafeLit. She is a great fan of the short story form and of flash fiction in particular. She loves stories of the near future: Black Mirror, Years and Year, Humans and 21st Century Problems.       

Saturday, 22 June 2019

How to be a Trusty Parachute When your Parents are Pledged Nihilists

by Hiya Mukherjee

tiger juice

             It’s better being a trusty parachute than a lily moth. But try telling that to the nihilists most of whom are entomologists by profession. It’s not surprising since the average life expectancy of a usual habitat of Phylum Arthropoda will range from three days to fifty years at max. What better way to explore the void and the meaninglessness of everything than studying these minuscule perennials? Her parents were such. They were obsessed with the lily moth, aka Polytela Gloriosae, an exotic species with an average lifespan of five years found mostly in the Indian Subcontinent. The walls were overrun with innumerable taxidermy display boxes and in each box, carefully chosen samples of lily moths with their signature black wings and yellow-orange specks. They were their prized possessions. She often spotted her parents holding hands and watching the frames in an apparent dreamlike trance, yet not a trace of emotion on their faces, quite like Victorian marble statues. Maybe that was just a nihilist thing. Contrary to popular belief not all nihilists wear black and smoke like chimneys. They are extremely committed to their craft. Her father preferred his corduroy pants and occasionally smoked pipes. Her mother always opted for a peculiar shade of violet, which matched the color of her cheeks and drank an awful amount of Bombay Sapphire. The house was neat. The child well fed. But like all nihilist households, it lacked a certain warmth. She was not neglected or abused. She wasn’t dyslexic. She didn’t have issues with her father. But somehow she was always struggling to avoid a certain spectre that lurked in shadows of the cabinets. She always worried that she had contracted some chronic disease, a terrible virus. Her parents didn’t entertain such thoughts. After all, they were not absurdists. They just sat on the sofa, father with his pipe, mother with her gin and talked about the lily moth. They dreamed of taking a long journey following the footsteps of Johan Christian Fabricius, the Danish zoologist who discovered the lily moth on the terrains of Indonesia and planned to write a book on it. Nobody asked her what she wanted to be. She didn’t want to be a nihilist or an entomologist and especially not a lily moth. Though she sensed her parents would’ve loved a lily moth daughter. At night, she imagined a ruby red caterpillar crawling out of her mother’s womb. She imagined her parents delighted. Secretly, she wished to become a parachute. One that saves the lives of men when they jump off the planes to fight a different man’s war on a different country. One that makes the process of breathing and living impossible to ignore. One that promises that there will be something meaningful to live for even after the fall….a solitary ray of sunshine, an unexpected touch of empathy, a sign, a gesture, a bowl of strawberry ice-cream…anything, anything at all. She was done fighting her parents’ war against everything that lived for more than five years. She was about to turn ten and she sensed an invisible shade of malice on her mother’s cheek, making them more violet than ever. Obviously, it was all in her head. Her parents loved her very much. But they loved the lily moth even more. So would it be surprising if she, a broken little girl going on ten, falls for the first paratrooper she gets the chance to meet? It was weird since the last war was over even before she was born and she didn’t even have the chance to glance on a real paratrooper in pictures since a nihilist household does not carry picture books. But nonetheless, she recognized the battered man by instinct when he crept into her bedroom on a certain moonlit night. The man wore khaki and had an envious stubble on his cheeks. He looked perplexed when he found her stark awake on the bed. But she smiled. The gratified smile of a wanderer in the desert who has just found an oasis. And after a trifling pause, the man smiled back. And that was that. 

About the author 

Hiya Mukherjee was born and brought up in Kolkata, India. She writes mostly in Bengali, her mother tongue. She has published a chapbook of her Bengali Poems. She co-edits a bilingual bimonthly blogzine called 'Agony Opera'. She is currently pursuing her PhD in theoretical physics.


 


Friday, 21 June 2019

Escape

by David Gower

a half of mild and bitter

The room was warm and bright but sterile.

Ted lay in the bed feeling tired and weaker than he had ever felt in his life. He could not understand why he was here, or for that matter where ‘here’ was. Where were Mick and Geoff his mates who he had seen last as they dodged the search party? The last he recalled was a bang and then falling into a bottomless blackness.

Now he found himself in what seemed to be a hospital bed yet the things in the room seemed different in some way. The bedclothes like nothing he had at home – how long ago home seemed to be – or in the barracks. The lights seemed brighter and harsher than he had known before. This was not a military hospital, neither was it like any British hospital he had seen. Where was he? His head seemed less like cotton wool than earlier. His thinking had been confused and it seemed that people had come in and out of his awareness. Friendly faces but strangers. Talking about things that had never happened as though they were real. The rumours might be true about those experiments and psychological torture.

He looked at his hands, they too were different. Not his hands but those of someone else, smaller, creased, blotchy – he had never seen this except on old men – what had these people done to him? Was this one of the hospitals in the special camps that the briefing officer had said were used to experiment on prisoners? He knew modern drugs could change thinking but could these doctors change one’s very body and why would they? What could they gain by it?

Moving the covers to one side he went to get up. His legs felt weak as he steadied himself against the bedside locker. Who were the people in the photograph frame on the locker? The window was locked and seemed to be made of a strange material unlike anything he had seen before. Was it the secret material produced in the factory that had been their target?

A man’s voice called from outside the door, “Eric, make sure that all the doors are secure and our guests are comfortable for the night.”  

The reply from the unseen Eric came immediately. The door handle twisted but no one entered.  “This last one is secure”.

If Ted was a prisoner in this place he was still under orders. Perhaps Mick and Geoff were here too. It could not be long before the questions would come. What was their mission? Where had they come from? Who had planned their intrusion into the enemy stronghold? 

Ted was cold and logical in his thinking. A trained soldier on special service not expected to show mercy or receive it from an enemy. Now, somehow, he was a prisoner and his body had been subjected to some devilish process by unknown hands. He could only be sure of one fact, things would not get better. He was on his own and his duty was to complete the mission or get back to his own lines. 

What to do? Get out of this room? Cell? Hospital from Hell? Whatever this place was he must find his mates, get out of the building and make his way back to safety. Completing the original mission was out of the question – how could he if he did not even know where he was now? Just now getting outside was the ‘mission’, nothing else.

Eric had worked on the unit for 6 months. His accent was strong but he found that he could be understood easily enough by the inmates. Sometimes they would speak easily without seeming to realise the purpose of his questions. His training had enabled him to make an easy relationship with those he interviewed, at least most of them. They were confused, the medication weakened their thought processes and where could they go to in their physical state. It was shame that they had found themselves here. It was a sad thing that Eric would go over the same ground time and time again with them.
Some days were better than others and when he got a breakthrough, even if it was only a sliver of information or some recognition by the inmate of their position, it gave him a professional satisfaction. The moments were unpredictable but he had watched his colleagues use a mixture of drugs, talking, photographs, constant repetition and returning to established incontrovertible facts to carry out their duties and report on progress. He had never recognised the importance of this work until seeing how those breakthroughs were used. Now he was a convert to these methods and would defend their use to anyone outside the unit. He filled in the duty sheets in the quietness of the night as his coffee cooled beside him.

Ted looked for some means of escape and a weapon. No sign of his own clothing anywhere in the room, nothing sharp in any drawers, nothing to make a fire, no poker, not a thing that seemed to offer itself as a silent killing device.

If Eric or one of his mates came how could they be overcome quietly? Hospital staff would be unlikely to be armed and might provide a change of clothing to get out of the building. Could he find Mick or Geoff or should he just get out and make a run for home? What was in the room that he could use? He would only get one chance.

The telephone jangled in the office. Eric picked up the receiver. The weather had closed in and the relief officer could not get to the unit as had been scheduled. Eric and the team were to remain on duty until someone could get through. Nothing else for it but to continue the shift into the night.
Working with the men was difficult. They were often resistant.  They seemed to want freedom whilst seeming to lose motivation and independence of thought. Was it the drugs or the conditioning that made them like this? Eric thought about this often and worried that he might react in the same way should he ever become a ‘guest’ of such a unit. It was not beyond the realms of possibility.

Ted had a plan, not a minute by minute, finely honed set piece but a ‘use what there is as best you can’ plan. What did the Sergeant say? “When a plan goes out of the window never jump after it!”
Well, this plan to get out of this strange place was a bread and butter, plain cooking, home-made one. The next time someone came to the door on their own it would be a tap on the head with the small table. The thought of the word ‘tap’ brought a smile to Ted. No one ever ‘tapped’ in his unit, it was kill and have no hesitation or you might be killed. The training of the special unit had changed him into someone able to focus on the task in hand and put to the back of their mind ideas of fair play.
Do it hard, fast and make it final. Now it would be a waiting game for whoever came to the door and it would be their unlucky day. If Ted could overcome his foe quietly and change clothes perhaps he could make it to the outside. His thoughts blurred again, what had they done to him? Why did this phases come and go, would they ever stop?

The night was quiet. Outside the landscape had an unreal appearance. White and ghostly yet silent as snow fell as if a child’s snow globe had been shaken and the contents were beginning to settle. The unit was quiet too. Dosing these people with medication was a reliable – though potentially dangerous - way of ensuring a peaceful night. The warmth of Eric’s office contrasted against the frigid world outside. An uneventful night. No problems with the inmates and the dawn brought with it the sharp light of a winter day. Soon the relief would arrive Eric would hand over to the next shift to continue their interaction with the inmates. It could only ever end in the deaths of the latter.  

For Ted the dawn brought a tingle of fear mixed with agitation. He knew and recognised the adrenalin surge before any contact with the enemy from previous missions but this was different. More of those lapses of reality as ghostly images came and went whilst he watched the blackness of night slip through shades of grey into the stark white of a winter morning. The time for waiting was almost over and the moment of action loomed relentless. 

It must be now, no second chance would come if his mind continued to play these tricks. If he could get home to base or at least a message to his commander about this place and their fiendish medicines perhaps he could get back to some sense of normality. If only his head would clear so he could think straight. The periods of confusion seemed to have been going on forever but how could this be when his clearest memory was the moments before the mission going awry?  It defied logic. 

He had a crystal clear recollection of him and his mates crawling to the lines of the enemy. The graveyard humour before insertion into the enemy’s backyard. The wirecutters gripped in his hand as they prepared to cut the wire between them and their target. All as if it were yesterday. 

Yesterday? Last week? Last month? How long had he been here? Who were the faces who loomed into his life and claimed he knew them? How sophisticated these new techniques were to trap him into admitting who he was and giving away his mates and unit. Name, rank, number. Nothing more would he give. He had been prepared for beatings, for hunger, for sleep deprivation but not their technique of talking the relentless playacting of his interrogators insisting on some madcap invented  history of his life.  He must get out here and make a ‘home run’. If not that then kill one of these jailers, find his mates and try to destroy this nest of mental destruction.
Cooking smells eased through the door. Funny how a solid obstacle like Ted’s door which would defy a grown man with a set of lock picks failed to stop the smell of food permeating through the slightest crack. Ted thought that a poison gas could take the same route if this war had taken a different course. The odour of breakfast seemed strangely homely in this prison. Odd how no matter where you were these basic elements of life remained the same. A pity he would miss a meal as would whoever was unlucky enough to cross his path when that door opened.

Breakfast ready and Eric would have his before handing over to the next shift. Time to get the guests out of their rooms and start another day for them. His thoughts turned to pity as he thought of their fate. No one could avoid death but was he prolonging the process which Nature might have shortened naturally with all these drugs? He would take Ted his breakfast and hope that the war hero would spend today in the 21st century free from his dementia that played such cruel tricks on him and his family.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Freewheeling

by Sarah Leavesley

bitter lemon

Trish feels the sun on her bare shoulders as she steps out of the front door and gets onto the cycle she’s not ridden for months. Why? Just as she’s questioning her own intent, she realizes she’s forgotten her helmet. Returning with her helmet, she remembers that it’s almost as uncomfortable as being squashed in the marriage counselor’s pokey office with her husband Raoul, both nodding sagely in agreement with each other even though they still know each other well enough to sense the lies in every statement.
She tries to remember the sun on the Las Vegas strip seven months ago, the music and fountains, the flashy neon and glitz nothing to the sparkling in their eyes and their long afternoon siestas. What she actually re-lives is blinding sunlight, her day-long migraine and the fatigue of the unrelenting heat. She knows she should accept that some things are best forgotten; that things do happen without a reason, and no reason not to stay together isn’t enough to smooth over the lackluster nature of their love now where once there was fizz and wonder. She knows this but she cannot quite feel it.
Freewheeling downhill now, Trish finds the pedals spinning happily without her. But she’ll have to stop at some point. Or start pedaling fast again. She wonders what it would have been like if she’d met Raoul at Niagara Falls instead of Vegas…it’s all about what they’re used to, their expectations from the start. If they’d taken things slower, not married so soon. She’s been here before though. Or if not exactly here, similar. With Mark it was a year after Vegas. With Craig, she managed 4 months. The worst was Pete, three weeks. Love has always been a head-rush; she doesn’t need a counselor to tell her she’s addicted to the thrill and risk of both Vegas and marriage, though she feels her chances should have improved with practice, the odds tipped in her favor. In their favor. Now it’s looking too late, she tastes lust on her tongue as she recalls an image of Raoul in his tuxedo, a hint of muscle rippling beneath his shirt. If she could just get him to drink less, to talk about more than his mates, and enjoy binge-watching Dexter.
 This hill is steeper than most, though the slope should be evening out. Instead of letting muscle memory take up the slack, Trish forces her feet off the pedals. She needs to brake before she reaches the bottom, hold her arms braced ready, legs out to the side, almost like wings. Then her front tire hits the inevitable pothole and she finds herself flying,
                                               until suddenly it feels like falling.

About the author 

Sarah Leavesley is a poet, fiction writer and journalist, who loves people-watching and daydreaming. Flash publications include pieces in EllipsisJellyfish ReviewThe Fiction PoolFictive Dream, Spelk and Litro Online. She’s also author of two companion pocket novellas: Kaleidoscope and Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press).

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Music On The Wind

by James Bates

Hot Black Coffee

George and Ida Ferguson, my great grandparents, were second generation cattle ranchers in eastern Montana. Mom kept a framed picture of them on the fireplace mantel when I was a kid. It was taken in their parlor and you can just make out a piano behind Ida with a vase of cut wild flowers on it. They were dressed for the occasion, she in a calico dress, her long auburn hair wrapped around her head in a twirled braid, he in a white, snap button shirt, vest and gray Stetson hat. The flat prairie land of the Yellowstone River valley can just barely be glimpsed through the billowing curtains of a window in the background.
            I spent countless hours as a kid imagining what their life in nineteenth century cattle country would have been like: herding longhorns, busting broncos and mending fences. My tastes back then ran toward cowboys and Indians, so their romantic love was certainly not on my radar, but the true fact of the matter was that their love for each other was known far and wide.       
            "That's right, Stevie," Mom used to tell me.  "They were hard workers and humble, salt of the earth people, busy with chores from dawn to dusk. But in the evenings they made time for making music. Ida played piano and sang while Frank accompanied her on fiddle. I'm told that their songs brought joy to even the crustiest cowhand's heart."
            As a kid, that kind of talk was embarrassing hear and often turned my ears red. But as I grew older, I started to imagine a different scenario, one in which they not only lived the hard life of cattle ranchers on the western frontier, but also found it within themselves to love deeply while creating beauty and harmony through their music in juxtaposition to that rugged land.
            Years later I meet Janie and we fell in love. While we were dating, I talked often about George and Ida. Did I idealize them? Maybe. But Janie told me she thought it was sweet they loved each other the way they did and that was good enough for me. It got me thinking that maybe she and I were kindred spirits, like my great grandparents were.
            The summer after we married, Janie and I took a driving trip west to the great plains to see firsthand the land of my great grandparents. We ended up parking our car outside the small town of Willow Creek, Montana, and spent the day hiking rolling pastureland amid pungent sage, prickly cactus and golden fields of wildflowers, kept company by prairie dogs, meadowlarks and a small herd of pronghorn sheep.
            By sundown we had made our way to the top of Buffalo Butte, the highest point of land in Stillwater County, and the overlook where George and Ida's ashes had been scattered. The sun was low in the west, the sky exploding in a fiery orange from the last light of day, the land stretching out to the horizon where we could just barely make out the shadowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains.         
            The peace and quiet was immense, so quiet I swear I could hear both of our hearts beating. I said to Janie, my voice a whisper, "Legend has it that you can still hear my great grandparent's music if wind is right."
            Janie turned from viewing the scene spread out before us and took in a deep breath of fragrant prairie air. Then she took my hand, her smile as wide as the big sky above us, and said, "I'm so happy you brought me, Steve. I love you. I love being here with you." Then she leaned in and kissed me.
            "I love you, too, Janie," I told her. "Forever and all time." And we embraced, holding each other tight, our bodies molding into one.
            Then, out of nowhere, we heard it. Faint strains from a piano, a fiddle and then a soft voice singing. We stood together, our love growing stronger with every note we heard, listening to the heartfelt music played by my great grandparents, songs of love I somehow knew Janie and I would carry with us for the rest of our lives. Songs from my great grandparents brought to us from them on that gentle prairie wind.

About the author 

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Mused - The BellaOnline Literary Review, Ariel Chart and Potato Soup Journal. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.