Tag Archives: Relationships

KNOWING ALWAYS COMES TOO LATE by Michael Radon

It was a bright sunny day, the day of Roxanne’s burial. From across the road I could hear children laughing, playing even. Just another slight I’d take the Creator to task for when I got a chance. The sight of that box going in that dirt hole was enough to wear me down. Knowing something is a lot different than seeing something, and the sight of that killed a big part of me.

I used to fawn over her and tell her how perfect she was, which certainly was not true. Every time she broke my heart without batting an eye, or made me cross with rage by some comment crafted just so to pierce right through my resolve, it was like I was plucking those flower petals to get to “she loves me not,” and when I got there I packed my things and left. I know that wasn’t the gentlemanly thing to do, especially considering that meant leaving her to keep raising Melinda on her own, but know that flower metaphor had an awful lot of petals.

Word came to me through one of her old friends, who I kept in touch with through the odd holiday letter. I’d ask about her, and Melinda, and didn’t feel like such a monster then, and for my diligence, I’d get some kind of report about Roxanne as a footnote. I guess the sickness came fast, because it had only been five months since the last letter, and there wasn’t any news of it in there.

She told me Roxanne had passed and I had to stop reading for the night. She asked me to attend the services, said it was the honorable thing to do by her, and to hell with what anybody might say to me. She assured me that it wasn’t a ploy to take Melinda on, she’d gone to stay with Roxanne’s mother, and even if I wanted to make an effort to get her from there, I doubt the respectful Mrs. Stevens would have even let me on the property without calling for my head. I spent a long time thinking about what to do with that. I wrote back and said I wouldn’t be able to make it, but I arranged to send some flowers for the thought.

That only made me feel worse.

Tried drinking it away, tried to forget it and just move on. Death just happens. No sense in making a fuss over it. But that made me feel more the asshole. Finally, I resolved to go in secret, pay my respects, and leave town again. That would just be a chapter in my life I’d finally have to turn my back on completely, and live out my days treating that history like a war – significant, but better not dwelt on daily. I owed her a lot more than an apology, but that was all I could focus on without blubbering.

It got me to thinking that I hoped that when you die, you get to take in the knowledge of everything. Everything people thought about you, and think about you, and what all transpires. You get to take it all in like a sudden eureka and process it without any of the fuss of having to be alive to deal with it. The thought of that gave me a little peace, that maybe she knew I was sorry for giving up and leaving.

All was said and done very quietly and somberly. I saw her friends, her family, I saw Mrs. Stevens crying, and I know she didn’t see me or she would have stopped to give me an earful at best. I lingered around in the shade of an oak tree a good ways off from Roxanne’s grave in the hopes that maybe I could get a few moments alone with her to put it all to rest. I sat against the tree, lit a cigarette, and smoked it in sighs.

It was getting dark, and the last few cicadas of the season were stubbornly begging for more summer. There wasn’t much wind, and if the kids hadn’t gone home already, I wouldn’t have heard them playing over the tires kicking up gravel as all the cars were leaving. A few more minutes and I’d say my goodbyes.

“Annie told me you weren’t coming.”

Surprised, I turned my head quick and saw Melinda, her face looking a lot more composed and strong than mine. I guess after everything she’d been through, her mother dying was just another drop in the bucket for her. Then I noticed she was holding a sleeping toddler in her arms.

“Shit, Melinda. I’m a grand dad?”

“No, just a father of two.”

I flicked the cigarette away to the side. “Can’t say that provides me any more peace of mind.”

“You piece of shit.” Melinda whispered. “So what, you sneak in through the window to get your kicks with mom and not have to see me?” She looked ready to hit me.

“Don’t go makin’ it dramatic, Melinda. Show some respect for your mother.”

“Respect? Did you respect her by walking out and leaving her to raise me by herself? Did you respect her when you got her pregnant again without even being a big enough part of her life to know between now and then? Tell me, dad, when exactly did you respect any of us?”

“What do you want me to do? Take you both in, take care of you? ‘Be a dad?’”

“No.” Her voice started to shake. “Never.” She clenched her open fist and looked right in my eyes. “I just want you to go away.”

I stood up, brushing the dirt off the back of my pants and looking for the right thing to say, the fatherly thing to tell my daughter, but the words didn’t come and I don’t think she wanted to hear them. “Okay.” I took a last look at my young son and then walked away.

Melinda stood still. Didn’t run after me, didn’t want the last word, just wanted to make sure I was gone for good. I try not to entertain thoughts of her ever forgiving me, because that day may never come. I think about it a lot, though, the same way I saw Roxanne clearly when she fought with me; that’s the way I like to imagine Melinda as the years go by. Independent, fierce, her mother’s daughter.

Maybe when my card is pulled, I’ll know if she really hates me as much as she said.

MICHAEL RADON‘s lifelong obsession with digital media makes him an ideal addition to your local pub trivia team. His latest project is growing a beard in an attempt to make people believe him when he says he writes for a living. His irrelevant observations are recorded daily through his blog and twitter.

WRITER’S BLOCK by Jack Bristow

Dallas Grady, thirty-eight, good looking in spite of a life of hard drinking, pill eating, and two divorces, lay on the motel room bed, cigarette in right hand, fumbling through The Yellow Pages with the other. He was working on his magnum opus, his novel, his written testament to counter the notion that his life had been a waste.

He had told the voice on the other end to bring him over a date with blonde hair and brown eyes—she had to have brown eyes, he instructed, more than once. The voice on the other end had been very accommodating. Dallas swore the man was from the east coast originally—something about the voice. He hung up the phone after giving directions to the room and took a swig from the Southern Comfort bottle, walked over to the typewriter and unwound.

The story was only twenty-five pages so far. It was about a war hero whose wife kicked him out after him having returned home from the war. The woman had blamed the man’s drinking on their divorce but the man had known better. His father had always told him, “Dall. You can’t change the past—so don’t you ever try.” The woman he had married—the naive, brown-eyed cheerleader from Detroit—no longer existed when he returned home from Iraq. In her place was this well-read and independent woman, who had gone to too many political rallies, anti-war, and met a lot of people. A lot of men.

Dallas cringed at the thought. Another veteran. Another goddamn veteran of the same goddamn war who had thrown all his decorations over the fence and onto the White House lawn. And Debbie thought that was just great. Wonderful.

And when he got home she’d wanted him to do the same thing. Bullshit. For what? For who? He had earned his medals—they were the only thank-you the man would probably ever receive for putting his life on the line. Why get rid of them—why throw them out on some silly, unfounded whim?

“Shit.” He yanked page thirty-six from out of the Selectric, red-faced huffing and puffing. That was the thing about us Irish, Dallas had thought miserably. We can’t ever hide anything.

He has having tremendous difficulty merging reality with art. But, goddamn it, he would finish the novel. He just needed some human contact. Some intimacy.

He smirked as he looked into the mirrored wall. His face was so different. No longer rosey and filled with life. Sallow. Rings under his pale grey eyes so dark it had almost looked like he was wearing mascara.

The man in the story had made a lot of friends. Chuck McAnderson. Sergeant Darren Thomas and Curtis de Wade. He had wanted to call them, to really tell another human being something but they, too, were in the past. The brave men he had served with no longer existed. Other men bearing those names were with their families now….

He’d hoped to God they’d at least had families who would miss them, that would be able to tell they weren’t the same people they’d left as. That was the thing about war—not wars, because all wars were the same—but war would keep you more in the past than anything.

He had been gone only two years. One tour. But it had seemed like a lifetime.

Knock knock knock on the door. Dallas hobbled off the chair and unlatched the four-chain locks and deadbolt. A grinning man stood in the doorway with a blonde dressed in cheap ivory colored spandex and fake fur. He had recognized the man’s voice from the telephone.

“Hi there. I am Clayton and this is Luicna. Your date.” And then he had told Dallas the rules. “You can do anything with her you like. I don’t care. She don’t care, neither. Back-door. Missionary. Go downtown. It don’t matter. Just no hitting, no punching. Absolutely no cutting and/or strangulation.”

Dallas nodded solmenly, as if this fine, upstanding gentleman were her father, and Dallas some acne-faced geek escorting her to the prom.

“Another thing. And this is mandantory,” the pimp explained. “I’ll be waiting out here for forty-minutes, but I’ll need some collateral first—something to know who you are, just in case you breach our agreement.”

“No problem.” Dallas handed the man his driver’s license. Expired. The face inside it had seemed a little more colorful and vibrant. But this man standing in front of him was Dallas Grady. There was no mistaking that.

***

Dallas looked into those eyes as he went to work on her. Brown. His body kept going up and down coolly, confidently until there was that unmistakable intense feeling, and then it was all over with.

Brother, he thought. Twenty-nine years old and you still make it like you were seventeen.

Luicna looked at her Mickey Mouse wristwatch— the only thing she was wearing. “That was only twenty minutes. You still have another twenty. You paid for it. Just wait and regroup. Most guys your age, it only takes ‘em what? Five, ten minutes? That’ll give us another ten minutes.”

Dallas grinned evilly. A considerate whore. Now he had seen it all. But he knew when she had grabbed his tricep consideration had had nothing to do with it. She had liked him. And only one of them had gotten their cookies.

“No thanks. Sweetheart. Busy night.”

He saw a mild sadness in the whore’s face. This had made him feel important. Wanted.

“Don’t worry, precious. We’ll have other dates.” He pinched her cheek.

***

At the Selectric now, pounding the keys furiously. His fingers barely able to keep pace with his mind. This was the way to do it—the only way you could write about Debbie without going crazy.

JACK BRISTOW has written for several zines, including Inwood Indiana, The New Flesh, Hobopancakes, and Indigio Rising.

WITHOUT US by Tyler Bigney

Outside it’s raining
or snowing,
I can’t tell which.
You’re carving the bark
off a pineapple.
I am on my fifth whiskey,
soon to be sixth,
unable to remember
the last time
we spent this amount
of time together.
You cut the pineapple
into pieces, offering
me a bite from the tip
of the blade. I smile,
not caring that the
pineapple juice has dripped
from my chin
onto my shirt.
You laugh. I laugh.
I pour my sixth.
You take a bite.
And the world
spins on without us.

TYLER BIGNEY was born in 1984. He lives, and writes in Nova Scotia, Canada. He writes short stories, travelogues, and poetry. He is currently working on a novel.

THE ALIEN by Thom Young

There’s this alien in my room. The other night we were playing cards. “You son of a bitch, try that shit again and I’ll kill your ass.” The alien didn’t like cheaters much less me as a roommate. I came home one day and she was on the couch. I was startled at first, but she warmed up to me. It seemed strange the alien didn’t look like you see in movies. The alien looked human. Huge aliens tits and tight alien pussy. The first few days were great. We talked about her planet. She lived on Venus. It was hot as fuck she said. I told her about my day. “I usually get up about six and make coffee. Put on my tie and go to work. I sit at my desk and stare at a computer.” The alien laughed. “You get paid for that shit? You’d be unemployed on Venus.” I guess the alien had a point. My job was stupid. The alien ate me out of house and home. “Bring some more of those cheese things.” “You mean Cheetos?” “I don’t give a fuck what they are, just get them.”

I barely had time for myself. Not that I did much. I usually just ate a TV dinner and watched Johnny Carson. Then I jacked off and went to bed. The alien liked to stay up all night. She watched sappy romantic comedies. The damn television stayed on. “Listen, I gotta go to work. Do you mind turning that down?” “Shut the fuck up Larry. Go get me some more cheese things and beer. Don’t buy the cheap shit either.”

The next few weeks were hell. I didn’t get a wink of sleep. I had to have a talk with the alien. “Listen, we need to talk.” The alien laughed and wiped cheese dust on the sofa. “You want to talk now? You son of a bitch.” “Yes.”

The alien and I sat down one night after her movie. “Look, you’re great and all but I just need break.” “A break?” The alien laughed and slammed a beer. “If you don’t shut the fuck up Larry, I’ll murder your ass.” I saw no point in reasoning with her. The alien had news for me though. “You know that night you got drunk with your buddies?” “I don’t remember.” The alien grabbed her stomach. “Now I’m carrying your baby.” “What?” “You don’t recall fucking the shit out of my pussy?” “No.” “You were drunk as shit and stuck it in. Now we got a baby.”

“Larry, go get me more Cheetos and dill pickles. I got a craving. You did this to me.” I left and got in my car. It was a strange night. The clouds hung low. A fog that surrounded everything.

I pulled the Ford over. I lit a cigarette and stared out the window.

THOM YOUNG is a writer from Texas. His work has been in 3am magazine, Word Riot, Thieves Jargon, The Legendary, and other sundry places. He enjoys fine tobacco and women.

DATE NIGHT by J. Bradley

“Why did you knock on the door instead of burst through one of the walls of my apartment?”

“I only do that to houses and only when making commercials. The ad men said that invading apartments is too depressing. People who live in apartments normally can only afford Flavor Aid, so the folks in marketing tell me.”

I remembered the way the djinni that came from Pavement’s vinyl album cover sleeve of Wowie Zowie looked at me when I wished to take the Kool-Aid Man out on a date.

“Are you sure you want this? You can have anything you want, money, cars, superpowers, anything.” I nodded my head.

At the tapas restaurant, the Kool-Aid Man and I share stuffed grape leaves, a cheese plate, bell peppers stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese and sweetened chorizo. I try not to watch the digested food disappear into his cherry food colored plasma. “That was delicious”, he rasps. “Can we step away for a moment? I need a cigarette.”

Outside, we lean against the restaurant. He digs a pack of Lucky Strikes and a black Bic lighter out of his blue swim trunks. He grabs a cigarette out of the pack using only his mouth, then lights it. “I’m not allowed to drink booze or pop pills. It’s in my contract. This helps calm my nerves down after spending hours and hours with child actors, bitter adults working for scale. I’m having a good time, by the way. I forgot what it was like to have dinner with a decent person.”

“I figured you needed a nice night out. I’ve always wanted to meet you, find out what you would be like away from the cameras, children, and animation. I’m having a good time, too.”

“Anything else you’d want to find out,” his right eyebrow forms a come-hither arch.

Fifteen minutes later, we’re back at my place. He tries pinning me against the wall to kiss me; I look like an insect on his windshield. We then try fooling around on the couch, his glass mouth lukewarm against my neck. I don’t reach into his shorts. I already know what he doesn’t have.

“Kool-Aid, sweetheart, this isn’t working. Our bodies are just too different. I hope you aren’t disappointed.”

“You’re just like the others.” He picks his yellow Hawaiian shirt off the floor, puts it on, then walks out the door. Even in his anger and frustration, he still walked out the door instead of burst through a wall. I might call him tomorrow and see if we can go out again.

J. BRADLEY is the author of Dodging Traffic (Ampersand Books, 2009) and The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You is a Robot (Safety Third Enterprises, 2010). He is the Interview Editor of PANK Magazine and lives at iheartfailure.net.

RIDING OUT by T.R. Healy

Steering his lampblack Lincoln Navigator with the heel of his left hand, Wicker picked up his cell phone and called his lieutenant for this evening.

“What’s up, Brad?’ Pigott asked, answering after one ring.

“Where are you now, Stan?”

“Just crossed Hazeltine Street.”

“That’s about what I figured,” he said, maneuvering past a vagrant pushing a packed grocery cart.  “I’ll be entering the Old City in a couple more blocks so you should be reaching it in about seven or eight minutes.”

“About that, yeah.”

“I just wanted to remind you that things can get a little dicey when we drive through there.”

“You don’t have to tell me, Brad.  The last time I was down there someone threw a garbage can lid at my back window.”

“Yeah, I remember,” he replied.  “I just want you to pass the word along to the others.  And remind them what we agreed to, Stan:  no matter what happens no one is stopping.  I don’t care if someone throws a garbage can at you, we’re going straight through.  Things’ll only get worse if we stop and, besides, we don’t want to be late for the vigil.”

“I know, Brad.”

“Just make sure the others know too.”

Wicker and Pigott belonged to an S.U.V. club known as “The Long Riders,” which comprised nearly forty members.  Every couple of months the club organized convoys to the beach to play blackjack at the Indian casinos.  Other weekends they rode to carnivals and fairs to show off their decked out rigs.  They also did what they could to help out in their community.  Just last spring they adopted a shelter for battered women that they helped to support through various fund raising events.  Tonight, at the suggestion of a club member, they were attending a vigil for a nine-year-old boy who was reported missing by his parents almost a week ago.  They hoped their drive through town would make many more people aware of the youngster’s disappearance.

Members took turns serving as road captain on the ride-outs, and tonight it was Wicker’s turn.  He had done it a few times before and always he asked Pigott to be his lieutenant because he knew he would do what he said.  So far, they had made a pretty good team, managing to herd the convoy to its destination without any major interruption.

“Son of a bitch!” Wicker cursed, suddenly, when something banged against the side of his Navigator.

A bottle he assumed, maybe a rock.  He started to look in the side mirror when something else struck the hood.

“Son of a bitch!”

He was tempted to pull over and see what damage, if any, was done but remembered what he told Pigott earlier and continued on through the grimy streets of the Old City.  Besides, it was so dark out, he doubted if he could make out any dings.  And whoever threw the objects at his rig might start throwing at him.  All you want to do when you enter the Old City, he reminded himself, is get the hell out.

Up ahead, a white neon cross glowed on top of a charity house and in front of the house a fire burned in a trash can.  Around it huddled three figures, their hands poised above the flames.  Slowly he drove past the fire and the cross, past other figures huddled in doorways.  Then, just as he was about to approach a burnt-out convenience store, something else clanged against the back of his rig.

At once, he reached for his cell phone.  “The natives are restless tonight,” he reported to Pigott.

“You get hit?”

“Yeah, three times, so far.”

“That’s par for the course.”

“Remember, now, don’t stop if you get hit.”

“I won’t, captain.”

“You stop, you’ll never get out of here in time to make the vigil.”

*

Thirty-five minutes later, the last rig in the convoy arrived at the small eastside park where the vigil was being held.  Wicker was pleased.  The convoy was there almost five minutes ahead of schedule.

“You did a top notch job,” Iverson, one of the older club members, said after Wicker handed him a candle.  “Maybe you should be road captain on every ride-out.”

He chuckled.  “Oh, I don’t know about that.”

“You really have to concentrate when you’re captain,” Pigott chimed in as he lit his candle, “and you were as focused as I’ve ever seen you tonight.”

“Yeah, sometimes you can do that when you don’t want to think about other things.”

“Something bothering you, Brad?”

He shrugged.  “Oh, you know, things happen almost every day that can knock you off stride if you let them.  But I don’t intend to let them.”

“That’s why you were such an effective captain tonight,” Iverson declared.

He nodded and lit his candle, half wishing another convoy was scheduled tomorrow that he could captain.

*

Wicker was twenty-five and had never lived with a woman until three months ago when he moved in with a receptionist at the real estate agency where he worked for an uncle.  Gwen was a couple of years older but looked quite a bit younger with her spiky blond hair and oodles of bracelets and rings.  Because his apartment was so small he had to move into hers, which was fine with him except that he didn’t always know where to find some of the most ordinary things.  Just the other day, after searching everywhere for a pair of tweezers, he finally found one in the bottom drawer of the storage bench in her bedroom closet.  Beneath it, he noticed, was a plain postcard with an upstate return address and out of curiosity he turned it over and read the brief note.

“Thinking of you always,” it said, “and always appreciate what you do.”  It was signed, “With all my love, Ray.”

He assumed the card was from some relative or friend of hers he hadn’t met and started to put it away when he noticed a bundle of postcards tucked in the back of the drawer.  He thumbed through a couple of them and was surprised by their intimacy then put them back in the back of the drawer.  This Ray person talked about Gwen’s eyes as if he had looked deeply into them, about the softness of her lips as someone who had kissed them.  Who was this guy? he wondered.  An old boyfriend perhaps, or maybe even a not so old one?  He figured he’d ask her when she got home from work but then decided against it because he didn’t want her to think he was snooping through her drawers.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, he wondered why she had never mentioned this person to him.  They were not suppose to keep secrets from one another, that’s what she asked him to promise when he moved in with her.  One of the cards he looked at was sent more than a year ago but another was postmarked only a few days ago.  So whoever Ray was he was still in contact with her.

*

“You remember when we promised not to keep secrets from one another?” Wicker asked Gwen that evening at dinner.

“I do.”

“Why was that so important to you?”

“Oh, I just figured two people who are living together should know all they can about one another.”

“You think you know all about me?”

She took a sip of wine.  “Yeah, pretty much.”

“You’re sure?”

“Don’t tell me you’re a cat burglar or something?” she laughed.

He shook his head, spooning some more Brussels sprouts onto his plate.

“So why are you asking me about this now?”

This was his chance to bring up Ray, but he couldn’t and lamely said, “I want to tell you something so it doesn’t become a secret.”

She leaned over her plate.  “What’s that, dear?”

“There’s a ride-out scheduled into the high country on the weekend after next.”

“I know.  You told me already.”

“Yeah, well, I wanted to let you know I might stay over an extra day.”

“Why’s that?”

“Iverson invited me to go fly fishing with a friend of his who lives up there,” he lied.

“Maybe you can catch dinner for us.”

“I wouldn’t count on it, babe.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not that lucky.”

“Better to be good than lucky.”

“I’m not that, either.”

*

Wicker was asked to serve again as road captain on the ride-out to a car show at Crimson Falls but declined.  The logging town where Ray lived was only a half hour drive from the upstate Indian casino and he intended to pay him a visit so he would be unable to return with the convoy.  He really hadn’t planned to go on this ride-out until he came across the postcards and realized how close the logging town was to the casino.  He was curious to see this person who had sent Gwen all the cards so he figured he might as well take advantage of the opportunity.

“Now or never,” he told himself after he made his decision.

Late Sunday morning he drove from the casino to the logging town, which was so small he suspected everyone knew everyone there.  The house where Ray lived was not hard to find since it was only a block north of the one business street in town.  A modest clapboard place badly in need of painting, it looked pretty much like the other houses on the block except for the huge elm tree in the middle of the front yard.  From one of the limbs hung a white-walled tire that he assumed was a child’s swing.

Not sure what he wanted to do now that he was there, he drove around the block and parked across the street on the corner.  He had brought along the most recent card sent to Gwen, thinking he might use it as a ruse to meet Ray.  His plan was to knock on the door and say that he found the card lying in the street and wanted to return it.  But the card was already postmarked so he doubted if his story would sound credible.  So he sat in his Navigator, wondering if he even had the nerve to knock on the door.  Maybe if he waited long enough, he thought, Ray would come out and then he wouldn’t have to talk to him because all he really wanted was to get a look at him.

Moments later, startled when someone rapped a knuckle against his window, he spun around as if slapped across the face.  A scrawny man with a blue bandana tied around his sun-creased neck motioned for him to roll down the window.

“You having car trouble, mister?”

“No.”

“I thought maybe you were when I noticed you parked outside my house.”

Casually he shook his head, trying to think of a satisfactory explanation.  “I was wondering which house belonged to some guy named Ray,” he said hurriedly.  “I found a postcard sent by him in the street and thought I’d return it but all I can make out on the return address is the street.”

“Ray, you say?”

He nodded, fidgeting with the ring of keys hanging from the ignition.

“Well, mister, the only Ray I know on this street is a four-year-old boy,” he said, with a slight grin.  “He lives in that house with the tire swing in front of it.”

“Oh.”

“Gracious, I doubt if the youngster can even write his name yet so he’s probably not the Ray you’re looking for.”

“Probably not.”

Nodding, the man turned and headed back to his garage while Wicker rolled up his window, smiling so hard his cheeks ached.  He was stunned by the revelation, so relieved he felt like pressing his hand down on the car horn.  Just a minute ago, he was almost positive Ray was someone Gwen was seeing, someone he was going to confront this morning.  Now he assumed the boy was probably a nephew or a friend, the postcards sent by his grateful mother.  He was so happy and excited that all he wanted to do was leave the logging town as quickly as possible and immediately started the engine.  He figured if he drove fast enough he might be able to catch up with the convoy and blazed down the shaded macadam street without even glancing at the house with the tire swing.

*

Wicker considered mentioning to Gwen his visit to the logging town but again he didn’t want her to think he was spying on her so he kept quiet.  Now, as far as he was concerned, Ray was all but forgotten.  Or so he thought until a few weeks later when he found another postcard wedged in the back of the mailbox.  This, he realized, was his opportunity to bring up the subject to her, and, after going back and forth on whether or not he should, he handed her the card at dinner.

“I found this stuck in the mailbox.”

Scarcely looking at the card, she set it beside her salad plate.

“Who’s Ray?”

“You read it?” she asked, sounding annoyed.

“It was hard not to, babe.  There’s only a couple of lines.”

“I don’t read your mail.”

“Maybe because no one sends me postcards.”

Her shoulders tightening, she picked up a cucumber slice from the relish tray and set it on the edge of her dinner plate.

“So who is he?”

“Not anyone you know,” she answered dismissively.

“I know, babe.  That’s why I asked.”

She didn’t reply and sprinkled some chives on her baked potato.

Suddenly he became annoyed by her silence, realizing she didn’t intend to answer him, and said, “You’ve received other cards from him.  I saw them in the drawer in the storage bench.”

“You going through my drawers, Brad?”

“I was looking for some tweezers and came across them.”

Angrily she stabbed her fork into the center of the potato.

“I didn’t think we were going to keep secrets from one another.”

She glared at him.  “He’s my son.  There, are you happy now that you know?”

He was stunned, never for an instant had he considered the possibility.

Sobbing uncontrollably, she told him she had the child shortly after she got out of high school.  The father, a Marine she met through a girlfriend, promised to marry her but after he shipped out to Okinawa she never saw him again.  Unable to take care of the child herself, she agreed to let her half sister raise him and sent some money to her at the first of the month when she could.

Wicker, pleased she had confided in him finally, wished now he never saw the postcards in the drawer.  And deep in a corner of his heart he wondered if she really had told him the complete truth.  Maybe there wasn’t any Marine, maybe the father was still in town.  The right thing, he knew, was to believe her and, Lord knows, he tried but the presence of Ray continued to trouble him, as well as his concern that she might be keeping other secrets from him.

Another ride-out was scheduled at the end of the month, back up in the high country, and after packing all his belongings, he went on it and did not return to the apartment.  He thought maybe he would stay away for a couple of days but then the days stretched into a couple of weeks then months.

T.R. HEALY was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.  His stories have appeared in such publications as Full of Crow, Lily, Limestone, Stymie, and Superstition Review.

TREE by Kenneth Radu

She thought of  murder, the more horrendous option than a simple separation, if ending fifteen years together could be simple. Perhaps inclement weather had unsettled her nerves. The windstorm last night had ripped the tin roof off their shed, exposing the insides to the rain. Panels of metal lay bent or twisted on the sodden lawn, one floating in their  neighbour’s pool which they most definitely would have to retrieve. The pool water had turned green. Past Labour Day and her neighbours took their sweet time closing it down for the winter. Adrian had not emerged from the house yet. She wondered if he’d delay their departure for the college or choose to gather the tin sheets after they returned home.

***

Tariq, a youth from Lebanon whose family had fled the wars, stopped by her office almost every morning for a quick kiss before classes began. Well, not quite a quick kiss because Tariq’s tongue probed as far as it could reach. She almost choked on its sensitive tip at the back of her throat. Yesterday morning, breaking free, she held Tariq’s face in her hands.

“Stop it, my darling. We can’t, we shouldn’t do this.”

“We should do it all the time. In class all I can think of is fucking my favourite teacher.”

“It’s a good thing you’re not taking my class this semester. Now leave, I have to get my notes together.”

She had not feared discovery because she arrived in her office before other colleagues appeared, Tariq always shut the door, and she never let him stay longer than an intimate kiss.  It began during the summer when she had found herself only one of three adults in the community pool. An elderly couple side-stroked slowly up and down two lanes. She swam a fast crawl for thirty laps before stretching out on her back, floating, letting the sun dry her face. She paddled with her hands to direct her body and sensed it move towards the lifeguard’s stand shaded by a giant maple tree behind the fence.

“You are a great swimmer Madame Gautier.”

“Tariq! I hadn’t noticed. You’re a life guard here?”

“I have been fortunate. I was just hired, m’am. Yesterday was my first day. You visit this pool often?”

“Four times a week, if I can manage it, during the adult hour when the pool is more or less free. Not many adults take advantage of it.”

“I think many of them have day jobs in the summer. They are not teachers like you.”

Swinging off the seat and clambering down the side ladder, slender body, long legs, muscular back, the elegant physique of a swimmer without ludicrous muscular bulk, the natural bronze and olives hues of skin deepened by a summer’s tan, the boy scintillated in the sun like a bar of newly washed gold. How unlike Justin. He wore a black Speedo bathing suit, his stomach flat. The elderly couple were helping each other out of the pool. Tariq sat down, keeping his somewhat hairy legs separated. She didn’t think he had deliberately chosen to be provocative. Checking to see that the elderly couple had negotiated the slippery pool steps successfully, he gripped the edge of the pool and hunched forward, his dark eyes darker in the shade of the tree. She needed to make a decision: resume laps, get out of the pool and say good-bye, or flirt with her student and sit next to his almost naked body. He had done quite well in her biology class last semester.

Only once before had she ever indulged her fantasies for boys, especially of the slender and taut frames. That affair had lasted one semester, the student had been vigorous and grateful, then graduated and disappeared from her life. Since then, professional ethics, although weak, had not prevented dalliance so much as time-eating duties, responsibilities and, of course, Justin. Treading water, she regretted lost opportunities and became fiercely aware of time and yearning. Tariq kept staring at her and she could so easily touch his perfect feet. Then she rose, raised her arms above her head, curved, dove to the bottom and swam underwater to the other side of the pool.

***

Justin came out of the house and cursed when he saw the shed.

“I had better get the damn thing out of the pool. Put my brief case in the car.”

He disappeared around the house. Moments later she saw him reaching for the panel with the life-saving pole and dragging it towards land. The scummy water soaked his clothes when he lifted the sheet and he would have to change. Already they were late and she’d probably miss Tariq this morning. He always wanted to text message or phone on her cell, but she absolutely forbade it and, despite his lustiness and penchant for dirty sex talk, he refrained. Growing up in a household of many rules, regulations and correct speech, with her he burst into the testosterone-driven raciness and garrulity of randy youth.

She had to teach him discretion, no easy matter for a boy. In compensation she encouraged him to say whatever he wanted, even adopt a proprietarily attitude towards her when they were alone together in the apartment of a trustworthy Québécois friend who lived only a fifteen minute walk from the college and obligingly vanished at Tariq’s request. They had agreed to go out for lunch today. He insisted on skipping his two afternoon classes, meeting her by her car, then driving to a cozy bistro in east end Montreal, not frequented by any one they knew, a half hour from the college.

So involved with research and labs for the entire day in a part of the campus several buildings away from her classes, Justin would not be looking for his car until six or so. He had promised to call her office then. After lunch, Tariq wanted to take her in every sense of the word on Mount Royal rising above the city, for he knew the paths intimately.

“Against a tree,” he had said in a serious tone as if he were ordering an execution. She thought of her silk blouse, of abrasion on her back. In her a satchel full of lab reports she had stuffed a sweat shirt to put on during sex against that tree. Justin was hidden behind the panel as he carried it to the shed.

“The rest will have to wait. Shit, I don’t have time to change, my pants are sopping, but they’ll dry soon enough. Let’s go.”

Lately he had acquired a peremptory tone in his voice, no less commanding than Tariq’s. When she had appeared to favour a student in class, Tariq sulked in her office and to humour him she agreed to his command that she not look at other boys. His bossiness charmed her still. What she forgave in the boy, she resented in the man. Oh, yes, fantasies of murder she fully understood arose out of the decay of love and desire. Still, as long as she remained with Justin, Tariq could only insist upon so much and no more.

***

For the rest of August she tried to swim laps every weekday during the Adult Swim hour and Tariq successfully got lifeguarding duty at that time. Another guard fiddled about the cabin with schedules for games and competitions. She knew Tariq fancied older women, older in her case being thirty-nine which fit in her newly purchased bikini with only a modest roll of flesh around her waist. Tariq focused on her breasts and legs, all of which the bikini displayed to excellent advantage.

One day, the weather being unseasonably cool and overcast, he wore a blue jacket on the stand while she swam forty laps. The other guard busy with paperwork in the cabin, Tariq extended a hand on the steps and helped her out. He did not budge when she faced him dripping wet.

“I’m wet.”

“I believe you are.”

She could have laughed over the obvious innuendo, but was charmed by the breathy earnestness and utter lack of irony in his voice, charmed too by his youthful vigour and beauty, charmed by his accent, charmed by the desire burning in his black Lebanese eyes. She could see he wanted to kiss her, but had realized how risky the move at the moment. To his instant amazement and reaction, she deftly placed a hand over his Speedo. He did not step back.

“I need to change.”

Then, winding the towel around her waist, she scurried into the Ladies room.

“Walk,” he had laughingly shouted after her, “no running on deck.”

***

The swiftness by which the affair began did not astonish as much as fantasies of killing Justin. He had grown wearying, chronically bothered with one minor ailment or another, and sex had become both rare and indifferent. Whenever Justin touched her, she hungered for Tariq. Now it was the ulcer again; last year bronchial pneumonia which had rendered him homebound and tedious for weeks. His love of tennis led to tendonitis. Over his breakfast he also mentioned a sudden dizzy spell in the shower and a heaviness about the chest. Spreading freezer marmalade over her toast, she envisaged herself becoming a full time nurse for a man old before his time, which made her feel even older.

She had wanted children, he did not, but for the past few months he had been loudly fantasizing about paternity. He had changed his mind. “It would be good thing for us to have children,” he said. She, however, had also changed hers. What she had not experienced, she longer desired. Sitting in the car next to her partner who drove without talking, she still considered leaving, but she lacked the energy to make a decision and go through the motions. She didn’t want to enter into discussions over a division of the spoils, investments, goods and chattels.

The other morning Tariq had kissed, then whispered that she belonged to him and no one else, fate had so decreed, conveniently forgetting Justin of whom he never wished to hear. She had found his possessiveness, once sexy, just a bit presumptuous, but put it down to tumescent euphoria. If she were entirely free, perhaps Tariq  would insist upon more than she wished to give. True, in the proverbial throes of passion she sometimes cried out like a heroine in a cheap erotic romance that she’d die without him.

Really, ending a common-law relationship lacked the compelling interest of murder, at least imagining how to achieve murder on a strictly theoretical basis. Only a fanciful thought because in the end she would have to come to terms with her very great fear of growing old and undesirable alone. Moreover, aware of subterranean currents in Tariq, an undertow that could drag her down, perhaps Justin could serve as a lifeline, should the need arise. Ah, the boy confirmed her desirability, but for how long? “Run away with me,” he had several times whispered during and after sex. Where, she thought of asking, to what purpose? Lovers only ran away in the movies.

Caressing his beautiful body and murmuring her craving to be overwhelmed distracted him from the future, and he rolled over to delight in the present again. She had taught him to take his time, how to please her body to make it yearn for his touch. He had at first been too rushed, fucking as if racing and reaching the finish line in an explosion of expletives. Now he paced himself according to her response, as she rejoiced in the luxurious smoothness of his torso like steel sheathed in silk.

Tariq ordered their meal in his precise French, but they ate in silence. His cologne or aftershave was too strong although she liked the fragrance, a hint of lemon. He seemed glum, some family trouble perhaps on his mind, visibly upset when she refused to let him pay the bill, arguing with her on the way to the mountain that she should not have paid for the meal.

“I am not your little boy that you should pay for me.”

Well, he was a student after all. She didn’t think he had excess cash to splurge on expensive luncheons, although his family had money. He was prone to moodiness, she had noted, tinged with anger, which she always attributed to late adolescent impatience, brain wave turmoil and sexual jitters. Perhaps he also evinced some kind of middle-eastern temperament, a history of violence to which she was not privy.

She found a parking spot near a well-trod mountain path up which he led her. They veered off that and entered the forest where he knew one clearing or another, obviously having come here often. She and Justin used to picnic near the famous illuminated cross. Tariq grabbed her hand and pulled as if she were reluctant to follow. Given her choice of heels, hiking upwards and over rough terrain presented difficulties.

At last, there it was, suddenly before her, “our special tree,” he called it, against which he wanted to take her well out of the purview of the police on horses who patrolled the mountain. She guessed it was  a red oak, indigenous to the area. In the distance she heard faint sounds of the city below and the sky was somewhat obscured by the interlocking branches, the leaves already turning.

“I want to fuck you now,” breathing heavily, he pressed her against the trunk before she had a chance to change into her sweat shirt. His hand quickly found its way up her skirt, which she had been careful to select this morning because he had told her not to wear slacks. He roughly inserted his fingers. She cried out.

“Shut up, say you love me, say you belong to me, say you want Tariq to fuck you, say it, you love Tariq, you will never leave your Tariq.”

“I love you, I love you, fuck me, Tariq, I will never leave you.”

No more than the evanescent truth of the moment, and no more truthful than all such words spoken in sex, than all fantasies of murder. When he lowered his pants, raised her leg, held it under a knee and around his waist, adjusted position and thrust hard, lifting her off the ground, her shoulders and back rubbing against the bark, she could not stifle the groan.

“Say you need it, you need Tariq’s cock.”

“Yes, yes, I need it!”

He wanted to please only himself this time. She burned, hurt, lusted and panicked. Tariq possessed a force she not previously encountered, and he would always take her as he desired. He drove thoughts of Justin from her mind, he drove away all reason and qualms like meek cattle to the slaughterhouse until she became a vacant field.

Tariq insisted on driving her car back to the college, the first time he had done so. He spoke about his studies, graduating, engineering at McGill university, finding his own place to which he would give her the key, spreading his fingers over her thigh, she belonged to him now and no other. He had been wanting to tell her this at lunch, but could not until after he had taken her to the tree, he said, now she would always be his woman. Pulling into a secluded spot a fair walk from her academic building, he leaned over and kissed her, held her face in his hands, his own face glowing even as she felt chilled.

“You love me, you will see me tomorrow morning in your office, do not be late again for I will become angry. I love you so much I will kill you, then myself, if you do not love me back, you belong to me now. The tree has proven it.” His voice was gentle, good-humoured, announcing an inexorable fact like a law of physics.

He walked away, looked back and waved. She waited until he disappeared, still impressed by his beauty. Emerging from a daze, she began thinking, ordering her choices to see them clearly. With Tariq gone, she was not distracted. Meeting no colleagues, by the time she reached her office and sat down, her back sore, her body smelling faintly of sex and Tariq’s cologne, it was past three and she tried marking papers, her mind lapsing into reverie, when the phone rang.

“Camille?”

“Yes.”

The dean’s voice surprised her. Justin had been rushed to hospital earlier around noon. They had been trying to reach her for the past couple of hours and she remembered having turned off her cell phone in the car. Some sort of heart seizure, a mild attack, he was certain. If she needed anything, maybe cancel a class or two tomorrow, let him know and he’d arrange matters. Thanking the dean for his consideration, she didn’t know how she felt, but arranging matters now seemed futile like the notion of fate, a pointless attempt to explain the irrational and arbitrary.

It was anyone’s guess how long Justin would stay in the hospital, or how ill he was. What care at home would be required? Who would gather the sheets of roofing and recover the shed? She could ask Tariq, but wondered if that would give him the wrong signal. Hiring a handyman would solve the immediate problem of debris in her yard if she did not hoist up the roofing herself. Tariq must be made to understand that she could not desert a sick man in his many hours of need. Then she noticed a small torn leaf from the red oak tree stuck to the left upper arm of her blouse. She would cancel classes for the rest of the week and not see Tariq in the mornings. Of that much Camille was absolutely certain. The leaf, once removed, left a stain on her white silk.

KENNETH RADU’S fiction has appeared or is forthcoming online in Spilt Milk, The Medulla Review, Danse Macabre, The Tower, Lacuna, Whisper&Scream and elsewhere. A collection of his stories entitled Sex in Russia: New & Selected Stories will be published this year by DC Books of Montreal. He considers himself a reincarnation of a ninetheenth-century writer of letters, maybe Flaubert, but faster and without the fetish for exactitude.