Backseat

A short story by Mike Lee


We were on the road again, with Kansas nothing flying by on the narrow
Interstate strip, barreling toward Salina, to take the turnoff south through Oklahoma, and to old homeland Texas.

I sat in the back with my daughter, both of us bitching about the cold. Won full custody of her the month before. Child protective services said it was cool to take this trip and not inform the mother of our plans, reminding me that the court removed her parental rights.

Dorrie, my daughter, returned to her book, wrapping herself tight with the blanket Lia gave her. I pulled my black leather motorcycle jacket together, zipping it up.  I looked out through the window staring at some exposed rock on the side of the road.

I felt loose at every inch, thinking of American mermaids I dated that could have been Dorrie’s mother. Instead, I picked the Irish bottle-stashing drunk who I caught choking the kid. Had mom led out in handcuffs, slapped papers on her while she was in rehab and ground her through the family court machine back in New York.

I hated every minute of it. I may have fallen out of love of my estranged wife, but I did marry her, put up with years of bullshit, and let things slide to apocalyptic lows. But I am a man who causes trouble for himself, and at the moment while staring at flat fields of prairie spotted with exposed glacial stone, I committed the guilty sin of dragging the innocent into my bad decisions.

Lia was driving; her glasses slightly askew while her husband read the book lying on his lap. Lia asked him to change the music on the iPod attached to the cigarette lighter.

The music was some Americana band I had a vague affection for, Wilco, and I recognized the song. Dorrie’s ex-mother liked that song. I liked it better. “I’m Always in Love”—that certainly wasn’t the problem for anyone but me because maybe it was not true. Maybe for one, someone whose heart I continue to beat for.

Could have been Lia. I knew her since she was fifteen, but she is married to Tad, and though she bailed me out of this jam, she is glued to the man. I accepted the help, but this still felt weird relying on girlfriends from 30 years ago.

No, it was someone else. She was before Lia, and although she was not the first girl I kissed, she was the one I fell in love with.  This distinction belonged to that American mermaid dream with green eyes who was Texan with each hand gesture and in the tenor of her voice.

While Heaven loves that driver, the one I wanted behind that wheel was that Texas girl; she may still be around once we arrive in Austin. I’d look her up, but she has a boyfriend she told me she liked in an e-mail she sent when troubles formed like thunderstorms on the horizon.

The backseat where this new family sat was getting slightly warmer. The heater kicked in big time by the turnoff toward Oklahoma. It spared that lucky child, Dorrie, who let the blanket drop while silently reading her book.

I thought to ask the woman I loved to please let me in, but knowing she may say no, I shifted my thoughts back to the road ahead. We were looking at twelve hours through Oklahoma, then across the state line and on to a hotel in Georgetown.

Closed my eyes and leaned back in the seat, slumping against the cold glass. I pushed my hat aside to keep my head warm, and fell asleep.

When I woke up it was getting on sunset. I pulled my cell phone out and took a couple of photos of the draining sunlight on the far western horizon.

The faster Lia drove, gunning it up to make Georgetown, the closer to home and green eyes from teenage years I felt.

Maybe I will look that girl up. Won’t tell anyone.  After we check in, I will tell Lia I need some air. Knowing her, she’ll be tired and crash out while Tad goes on his laptop and plays all-night online bridge while lying in the bed next to his wife. Dorrie will be in her room, probably still with her novel, maybe watching television.

I will go out into the Texas cold, flip open my phone and look for her number. I have it written on scrap folded neatly in my wallet.

I did not call her during the hell-time. I did not want to be a bother.

Fumbled for the number. Could not find it. Frustrated, I sighed and walked to the gas station for another pack of cigarettes.

I sat on the curb, smoking nervously, wondering how I could have lost that
number. Felt like I had let that connection become severed, and for no good reason.

Instead, I made up a poem on the spot, reciting the words I knew I would forget before I went to bed. The girl in my memory would hear it, though, as I lost myself to the cadence of my feelings and lit one smoke after another.

In Austin, I will be with Lia and Tad. Dorrie. Lia’s mom had arrived earlier, with her daughter and son-in-law’s children. I will have no time to find the girl I actually really did love.

Perhaps just being in Austin will be enough. It is possible I will run into her and finally tell this woman face-to-face how I feel, boyfriend or not. I shall even say it in front of him, if need be.

I finally finished reciting my poem, and bid her good night with a sweet, lingering kiss into the winter night.

I slept through until half past dawn. The best, restful sleep I had in years.

So be it.


Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist and photographer based in New York City. His fiction has been published in West Trade ReviewThe Ampersand Review, Paraphilia, The Airgonaut, Sensitive SkinReservoir, The Avenue, and others. His photography is currently being exhibited at Art Thou Gallery in Berkeley, California and as part of a group show at Darkroom Gallery in Essex Junction, Vermont, curated by Bruce Gilden.

Script Writers

A poem by Ryan Quinn Flanagan


up
in the beak
of the kingfisher

there are no survivors

only a view,
panoramic death glide
with pharmaceuticals

many tiny overturned vials
in the next room
like collapsed buildings

the soot-faced still in shock
tired faulty lungs of
asbestos

and Ornette Coleman for ears,
what a notion –

monies in the couch cushions
like something forgotten
and fossilized

the spines of books broken
so men with pages for hearts
can ink-cry.


Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his other half and mounds of snow. His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Word Riot, In Between Hangovers, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review.

The Christmases That Were Forever

A poem by James Jackson


my own advice: treat every gift
like you’re nine in ninety-seven.
rip the heart out of your parents’
wrapping jobs. don’t notice
the hanging phone calls,
the coils of collection,
the foggy snarls at the door,
the stay-in-bed allure radiating
from big, red boxes hidden
behind the couch for after
we opened all the other presents,
for after we grew up,
got jobs.


James Croal Jackson is the author of The Frayed Edge of Memory. (Writing Knights Press, 2017.) His poetry has appeared in The Bitter Oleander, Rust + Moth, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. He edits The Mantle and is a former winner of the William Redding Memorial Poetry Contest. Find him in Columbus, Ohio or at his website.

Pornoville

A poem by Jim Zola


The only school in town is Catholic,
all girls, taught by nuns with long curved
fingernails and too much mascara.
Sister Brittani is rumored to sport
a tattooed stigmata and a cursive J
on her inner thigh. The boys in town
prop glassbrick walls and swap fish tales.
Barely puffed cigarette butts pile high
like monuments. Every other downtown
shop is for beauty. Grown men
are pool cleaners or muscled executives
in buttonless shirts. They grunt greetings,
scoop dirty water, shuffle papers, wait
for the women who are nurses,
secretaries and maids all laced
in innocence. They hide their sags
and sores until retirement. Then they move
to Jerkwater, where the big summer
event is a softball tournament
against the circus folks from Gibsonton.
Last year the half-girl pitched a perfect game.

Quasars Make the Best Lovers

A poem by Ryan Quinn Flanagan


Escaping the visual cortex
you need help, like a prospective prison break
in search of sympathetic guards
shimmying your way through a matrix of lights out duct work
to a waiting car
leaving your few meager belongings behind,
and that is what I love about chance, the aging breakfast goer
beside you shoving buttered toast into his mouth could
be so much more than crumbs;
Quasars make the best lovers because they are new
and exciting and you know nothing about them,
like trying on a new pair of shoes and walking uneasily
around the store for some moments
while the commission worker with obscenely good teeth
holds the box; and when a woman has searched the stars
and come back to you, it is only for a time,
but you shave and sit up in bed and read to her
so the long nights of this city seem a little
less monstrous.


Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his other half and mounds of snow. His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Word Riot, In Between Hangovers, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review.

This Too

A poem by Jeffrey Zable


I felt very sad, and you said, “This too shall pass. . .”

The door opened and someone entered with a child on a leash.
“He is more than a pet,” the person said, “and if you’d like to pet him
it only costs 50 cents.”

I then remembered the time a teacher embarrassed me in class
by calling on me when I wasn’t ready.
“Child,” she said, “if you sailed north on the Pacific would you eventually
wind up in Japan or Elvis Presley’s house in Memphis?”

With nothing left to lose I said I was leaving
and that I was not only going to find a new school and new parents,
but a new and better way of seeing the world.

I said this to anyone who would listen, but as I looked around the room
I saw that everyone was sucking their thumb and rolling their eyes
as if I’d said the dumbest thing they’d ever heard.

I felt very sad, and you said, “This too shall pass. . .”


Jeffrey Zable is a teacher and conga drummer who plays Afro-Cuban folkloric music for dance classes and rumbas around the San Francisco Bay Area. His poetry, fiction, and non-fiction have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and anthologies. His poetry, fiction, and non-fiction  have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and anthologies. Some of his recent writings have appeared in Serving House Journal, Mocking Heart ReviewKairos, Third WednesdayFutures Trading, Tower Journal, Jokes Review, and Fear of Monkeys, among others.

Coming to Terms

A poem by Jim Zola


At night, once-dark windows flicker yellow light,
forcing me to imagine lives sadder than my own.

She wears pink fuzzy slippers. A dog bowl lost
in the corner. She believes in radio

romance. Her husband is dust gingerly moved
between crystal angels. She wonders why

I conjure her instead of a hootchie mama
in a snug slip eating buttered crackers,

dancing to the rhythm of her own sweet sway.
She imagines me across the mud shaven field,

the rabbit loved emptiness, this doom that connects us.

Internal Insurance

A poem by R. Gerry Fabian


She has an invisible amulet—
perhaps her soft smile
or her white teeth—
perhaps her gentle hands.
It could be
the disarming quality
of her voice.
Whatever the magic
she is so far beyond harm
that Lloyd’s of London
send representatives
to study her.


R. Gerry Fabian is a retired English instructor. He has been publishing poetry since 1972 in various poetry magazines. He is the editor of Raw Dog Press. His novels, Memphis Masquerade and Getting Lucky (The Story), and published poetry book, Parallels, are available on Smashwords and in all other e-book stores.

The Result

A poem by Jeffrey Zable


When I checked into my room on the 32nd floor I had a view
of the city and what looked like bugs crawling around in search
of food. I stood there on the balcony and masturbated until my semen
went over the edge and landed on the bald head of a woman who had
shaved it in protest of housewives not receiving a living wage for
watching game shows during the day and preparing peanut butter
and jelly sandwiches at night. Unfortunately, when she spotted me,
she took out her one-shot derringer and carefully aimed for my head,
which luckily I had time to cover with the wine bucket at my feet.
But when the bullet hit the metal, it must have ricocheted left and hit
the man on the balcony next to me for when I removed the bucket,
I saw him falling over the edge and land in the hotel swimming pool,
killing three others as a result. . .


Jeffrey Zable is a teacher and conga drummer who plays Afro-Cuban folkloric music for dance classes and rumbas around the San Francisco Bay Area. His poetry, fiction, and non-fiction have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and anthologies. His poetry, fiction, and non-fiction  have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and anthologies. Some of his recent writings have appeared in Serving House Journal, Mocking Heart ReviewKairos, Third WednesdayFutures Trading, Tower Journal, Jokes Review, and Fear of Monkeys, among others.

Hide Out

A poem by Karen Wolf

(Previously published in Street Light Press.)


She longs to be backyard sequestered,
far away from front yard manicured
perfection of the clipped, trimmed,
plucked, swept, and planted discomfort
like sleeping in her shoes,
on pointe, on display, tightened,
so comments bounce up like
sleet on frozen ground, then melt
seeping into her fragile skinned
confidence-lacking psyche.

Through the back door she pushes
bare toes into warm pond sand,
deep enough to turn off
the judgmental switch and gather
elusive droplets of joy emanating
from rabbits playing leap frog,
deer slipping into prairie brush,
and clouds wiping clean the day’s slate.


Karen Wolf has an undergraduate degree in education from the University of Toledo and a Master of Arts degree from Bowling Green State University. She has retired from a 30-year teaching career and is semi-retired from her own pet-sitting company. She has been published in Smokey Blue Literary and Art Magazine, Dime Store Review, TreeHouse: An Exhibition of the Arts, The Wagon Magazine, Oasis Journal, Artificium: The Journal, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Lit.Cat, Sobotka Literary Magazine, The Bookends Review, The Drunken Llama, Blynkt, Communicators League, Borfski Press, Raw Dog Press, among others. She says that poetry “soothes the savage beast” and opens her eyes to the beauty that abounds within the world.