fiction

Two Stories by Christina Dalcher

Dust

My favorite uncle holds popcorn in one hand and an upside-down witch’s hat of pink spun sugar in the other, asks me if I heard about the big fight last night, the one where two suckers got licked. When he buys a bag of M&Ms, the red ones are missing, but it’s 1970 and the war is still cold and red is a communist color. That’s what he likes to tell me and I believe him because I think my uncle might be God.

It’s always night at Palisades Park and always 1970. The Hootenanny sweats music and the penny arcade pings and pongs. Maybe I’m a Kewpie doll, frozen in the same spot, looking out over the Hudson. The air smells of burnt candy. Mom and Dad are riding something. Or eating something. Or kissing. Everyone is impossibly young.

“Come on over!” the radio blares. We pile into Dad’s Barracuda, the one that will be stolen in Manhattan next year. Everyone smokes with the windows up and no one minds. Then they chew Certs and suck Tic Tacs on the way to the park. Funny how I remember the smoke clouds and the mint breath, but never our destination.

In my dreams, there’s a wrecking ball that swings and stops in mid-air, an earthly death star aimed at an apartment building where none of the tenants has ever uttered the word ‘fun.’ I don’t know whether to be afraid for them or not.

Dad went to Connecticut today, a strange and distant place that doesn’t pronounce all of itself. He brings back Chinese food from Lums and half-sours from a deli barrel. For reasons I will never be able to explain, these things go together. I read somewhere that the restaurant and the deli closed in the same year.

Sometimes I wake up and everyone is dead.

Next time we drive out to Palisades Park we go in the daytime and not in the Barracuda. My favorite uncle is back in college; Mom is in the front seat, crying into her fur collar. When the wrecking ball swings into Fairyland, she looks away. “They’ll put high-rises here,” Dad says.

One thing I know: It’s always night at Palisades Park and always 1970. The Hootenanny sweats music and the penny arcade pings and pongs. I’m a Kewpie doll, frozen in the same spot, looking out over the Hudson. The air smells of burnt candy, not dust. Mom and Dad are riding something. Or eating something. Or kissing.

Everyone is impossibly young.


Carrom

Flick. Hit. Pocket. Cover. The rules of our game are simple: Mom flicks a sideways glance at Dad, ducks the words that fly in response like they’re going to hit her square on. I stuff my hands in my pockets to keep them obedient. My brother runs for cover. We play this once a week.

We used to have real Carrom nights with the lacquered board, the tiny wooden men, the single red queen, the powder that made you sneeze. Flick the striker, hit the queen into a pocket, cover her with a man. Flick, hit, pocket, cover. Aunt Sara said I was the best. I always covered my queen on the same turn.

Aunt Sara wore red lipstick that made her look like she ate kittens for dinner. Or children. Aunt Sara would smile at our father, sometimes let him win.

Once, I found an extra disk, painted it with cherry varnish, and tried to play with two queens. Mom said there could only be one. Aunt Sara agreed.

The only part of Aunt Sara we see anymore is a smear of red lipstick on Dad’s collar (cheek, earlobe) when he comes to pick us up on Saturday morning. We still play the game, still follow the old rules of flick, hit, pocket, cover. But I miss the board with its shiny-smooth inlay, the talc that slides you from corner to corner like you’re on an ice sheet, the single red queen nested in the center of her men.

I read on Wikipedia that Carrom is a competitive social game. It is commonly played by families, including the children.


Christina Dalcher is a theoretical linguist living in the American South. Recognitions include Bath Flash Award’s Short List, nominations for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions, and second place in Bartleby Snopes’ 2016 Dialogue-Only Contest. Laura Bradford represents Christina’s novels, which feature a sassy and stubborn phonetician with anger management issues. When she’s not writing, Christina teaches flash fiction at The Muse Writer’s Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Find her on Twitter @CVDalcher or read additional short work at www.christinadalcher.com.
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Three Poems by Robert Vaughan

Gauze, A Medical Dressing, A Scrim

Gauze

When they converted the basement into his room, Billy was too young to know any differently. He just wanted his own space, didn’t want to share it with his five older siblings anymore. Then when he was around ten, he stopped eating dinner with the rest of the family. His mother placed his dinner plate on the top stair every night. In exchange he only communicated by notes he’d send or receive by pulley-pails through the laundry drop.

A Medical Dressing

One time when Ethyl, the family dachshund, accidentally ventured downstairs, she was never seen again. Same for one sister, Darla, who thought she’d left a sweater atop the laundry machine. Disappeared. Eventually Billy was indistinguishable from any basement dweller, resembling the spider realm. Webs. Gossamer silver. Detecting vibrations, lurking toward eventual prey.

The family nearly forgot he existed.

A Scrim

Then one day while folding laundry, his mother noticed a note and she decided to read it aloud to the rest of the children at dinner that night: Here is your stormy day, the one with pressing clouds and chilling breeze. Here is your way you fall in step, synchronize laughs and moderate beliefs, acclimatize moods and medications. Here, then your last vestige of blue sky and fortitude. A mélange of mercurial designations. Bastion of sailboats emptying out horizons.

They all craned their necks toward the basement.


When He Left it all to Me

He had to leave he said
though we’d met only days prior
and like with any men
breaking boundaries we’d lain
together despite barbed wire
fences, pools with fathomless bottoms.

The morning he split, he thrust
his blue down coat into
my arms, said I won’t need
this, but it was a bitter
cold day that December I
found the tape in its pocket.

Eva Cassidy sang Fields of
Gold and I can’t forgive
her for dying so young. Where
did you go? Still can’t listen
to more than the first half;
no, less than a quarter of that song.


Ten Notes to the Guy Studying Jujitsu

1. A smile when you read Brave New World, a sort of smirk, like you’re getting away with reading literature that was once banned. Like this is better than Japanese ever was. Except one time when you dreamed that Yoko Ono walked all over your back and ass. This doesn’t come close to that.

2. You took up whistling, jingles from television commercials. Samsonite, Sony, tampon and yogurt ads. It was almost as bad as my ex, Tony, who whistled “If I Only Had a Brain” until I accidentally called him a moron.

3. One morning I woke up thinking, I can’t remember the last time you used the L word. And then I can’t remember the last time you went down on me. Then I recall they used to be linked together.

4.The first time we hooked up was in the back of your truck. It was a hot summer night in the Haight, mosquitoes, scant moon with flutter clouds. It was rough and fast, and you pinned me at one point so I couldn’t move. My neck hurt for a week. And nothing has compared to it since.

5. When you started seeing Brandy, and I’d run into you, you seemed so happy. So alive, when I just wanted to crawl into a hole for a year. I remember thinking what’s she got that I don’t? I mean, besides the obvious. And when I found out she was knocked up , I knew.

6. All that dog shit I shoveled out of the back yard. And it was your dog. Not mine. My yard. But your dog. Yours.

7. My sister would call on Sundays. You’d mouth “not here” and point at yourself. Which clearly was a sign of your inability to commit. Or mine. I’m not sure which.

8. I’d left the gym and saw you that day sitting on a sofa in a coffee shop. Really close to that girl, Tracey, who used to sell us pot. You were laughing in a way that I knew. And for a split second I was thrilled that you were cheating on Brandy. When I got home I drank a six-pack in less than an hour.

9. The weekend before you moved out, you farted in my sister’s elevator and other people got on and you said my name and fanned the air. I pretended it was funny. By then you farted so many times I honestly thought it was me.

10. Seems like someone’s always missing someone. My sister told me that she doesn’t have time for missing anyone- let alone loser ex-boyfriends. Thing is, I don’t really consider you a loser. A little gassy, perhaps. Something always takes the place of missing pieces.


Acknowledgements

Gauze, A Medical Dressing, A Scrim originally appeared in Flash Fiction Chronicles and won second place in the 2013 String-of-Ten Five Flash Fiction Contest. It also appeared in Vaughan’s Addicts & Basements (CCM). 

When He Left It All to Me and Ten Notes to the Guy Studying Jujitsu also appeared in Vaughan’s Addicts & Basements.


Robert Vaughan teaches workshops in hybrid writing, poetry, fiction at locations like UWM, Red Oak Writing, The Clearing, Synergia Ranch and Mabel Dodge Luhan House. He leads roundtables in Milwaukee, WI. He was a finalist for the Gertrude Stein Award for Fiction (2013, 2014). He was the head judge for the Bath International Flash Fiction Awards, 2016. His short fiction, ‘A Box’ was selected for Best Small Fictions 2016 (Queen’s Ferry Press). Vaughan is the author of five books: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps); Addicts & Basements (CCM), RIFT, co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press) and FUNHOUSE (Unknown Press). His blog: http://www.robert-vaughan.com.