Literary as hell.

Category: Writing (Page 2 of 48)

“Avocado,” a flash fiction piece by John Brantingham

You try to steer Cyndi in her Hulk costume away from the house three doors down where the pediatrician lives. He opens the door and pulls an avocado and a toothbrush out of a basket and tosses them into her pillowcase. He says, “Happy Halloween.”

Cyndi thanks him, but you can’t help yourself. You say, “You know it takes a special kind of asshole to give a child a lecture instead of a piece of candy.” You point into his basket overflowing with the Earth’s bounty. “Is that a beet?”

He cocks his head. “What? Did you have a couple before you took your kid out trick or treating?”

Of course, you did, but only because you forgot it was Halloween, and anyway, you thought you’d mouthwashed the smell away. Apparently not. “Yes, madam,” you say, “but tomorrow, I’ll wake up sober, and you’ll still be a shithead.” The quotation is right on the top of your head because you’ve been teaching Churchill in your graduate seminar for the last two weeks. You know you got it wrong and the “madam” probably confused the guy a little, but it feels like a good retort, so you spin on the back heel and catch up with Cyndi who’s sitting on the front lawn.

By now, the guy’s slammed his door, so you say to her, “If you want, we can throw the produce through that fucker’s front window.”

“No, Dad, no. I’m the peaceful Hulk.” This is probably why she drew a Mercedes Benz symbol on the chest of her costume. She brings the avocado up to her nose and inhales and smiles and then lifts it up to you. 

You take it and breathe it in, and it fills you up. “You make a good point, Gumdrop, and besides there’s more loot to be taken on this street.”

She takes it back and smells it once more. “It’s so good,” she says. “It’s just so fucking good.”

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Poetry by Luanne Castle

The Bad Daughter Walk

Four beads on a thread,

we were that close trudging

home, separated only by 

thick coats on this suddenly

spring afternoon amid the last 

puddles of melted slush

and forsythias sprouting buds.

Don’t step on a crack!

We shouted as we long-stepped

sidewalk square to square

in unison as beads shove beads

when you swing the string.

You’ll break your mother’s back!

I flinched, my step floundering

as I forgot to step long in step

with you all, my mind a flurry,

my mother lying still at the foot

of the sofa, then loaded onto 

the stretcher, daddy sobbing 

as the minister spoke, and me

motherless and broken by

slaughtering my mother with

carelessness so of course I stepped

short and landed on the crack,

scattering the beads in the gutter.

 

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Nothing More Than a Visit a poem by R. Nikolas Macioci

Nothing More Than a Visit

I reached out and touched her hand, a simple

gift in a nursing home.  Her old skin was soft

as spring grass.  Others watched with suspicion,

She placed her other hand over mine

as if to forestall my leaving.  I had decided

in an instant when I heard of her change

of habitat to visit this former neighbor

without family.

 

She is a woman with an endless heart.

Once, when I asked her to describe

herself, she answered, “My loneliness

is indestructible.”  

 

The smell of dinner drifted in from the

dining room.  She claimed not to be

hungry except for company.

I asked about her husband. She said

they had had an arrangement which lasted

sixty years.  She had no children, claimed

to be standing on the back porch of life

waiting for death.  I assured her

there would yet be moments of happiness.

Her face remained stolid.  

 

I stood, my signal for departure, walked

across flowered carpet toward the exit,

emerged into the welcome glare of late

sunlight.

 

___

R. Nikolas Macioci earned a PhD from The Ohio State University. OCTELA, the Ohio Council of Teachers of English, named Nik Macioci the best secondary English teacher in the state of Ohio. Nik is the author of two chapbooks: Cafes of Childhood and Greatest Hits, as well as eight books: Why Dance, Necessary Windows, Cafes of Childhood (the original chapbook with additional poems), Mother Goosed, Occasional Heaven, A Human Saloon, Rustle Rustle Thump Thump, and Rough.  Critics and judges called Cafes of Childhood a “beautifully harrowing account of child abuse,” but not “sentimental” or “self-pitying,” an “amazing book,”  and “a single unified whole.”

“Friendly Flames,” a short story by Hugh Cartwright

Gran spreads out her knickers on the baking tray.  

I hardly dare peek: my mother says it’s a crime to stare at undies, especially those of old people. 

But Gran doesn’t care. 

Next, she reaches for the string that loops across the kitchen and tugs my undies off it. Laying them carefully beside her own, she slides the tray into the oven. 

Gran is weird – but a good sort of weird. She bakes bread in a flowerpot, and grows mustard and cress on wet facecloth. At Christmas, she sends me home-made fudge in a used can of chick peas, with a dollar coin taped to the bottom. The label is amended with black pen to Chuck Pea, her pet name for me. I’ve kept all the cans she has ever sent. 

There’s a pop as the gas ignites; Gran beams. “Friendly flames on a freezing morning; what could be better?” As I watch the flames, she stretches across and ruffles my hair. I duck away, though secretly I love the touch of those soft, wrinkled hands.  Continue reading

2021 Halloween contest winner: “My Haunting” by Jamie Orsini

This is what I know to be true about the New Vernon House in Chepachet, Rhode Island. 

In 1835, the Vernon family home burnt to the ground, claiming the lives of Constance Vernon, 38, and Matthew Vernon, 7. Thomas Vernon, 45, and his surviving sons, George, 16, and John, 13, buried their loved ones on the property before rebuilding what is now known as the New Vernon House. Upon his father’s death in 1849, George Vernon sold the property, reportedly saying “it was a fine home . . . but haunted to me.” These facts are not in dispute: the tragedy was covered at length in the New-England Telegraph, and digitized articles are now accessible through the Library of Congress. George never again publicly commented on the home, leaving locals and historians to wonder what he meant by the word “haunted.” Did he experience something supernatural there? Or was the house just a painful reminder of the loss of his beloved mother and brother?

Over the years, the New Vernon House has been the subject of speculation and gossip, as well as the scene of several reported ghost sightings and paranormal occurrences. Some say the house smells faintly of smoke, even today. Others swear they’ve seen a woman in black walking the property at night, clutching her chest and calling for help. Separating fact from fiction, rumor from reality has proven difficult. But I’m trying, and here’s why: there’s something else I know to be true about the New Vernon House. It’s the last place my daughter was reportedly seen alive.


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2021 Halloween contest finalist: “A Trick and a Treat” by Carl Herstedt

The small graveyard, tucked in, almost hidden, past the hills and meadows is nearly empty. I stop my car in the square of pebbles in front, take the plastic bag lying in the passenger seat and step out into the howling wind. 

The gate shuts on its own behind me with a thick thud. I make my way across the tombs that are spaced out seemingly haphazardly, and in a variety of sizes. For a moment, there are dim lights and laughter in the distance, then it’s gone just as quickly. Trick-or-treaters, perhaps, hunting for bounty in the residential are nearby.

Tilde brushes against my calf, sniffing into the wind at nothing. I can just barely see her tail wagging. I forgot to bring a lantern, so I use the screen of my phone to light my path forwards. The grass in here could use a trim. Long straws, still wet from the rain earlier today, sticks in chunks on my boots, but Tilde doesn’t mind it. Finally, I reach the tombstone I was searching, and pull the bouquet out of my plastic bag and place it in front of the stone.

“There,” I tell Tilde, “now we can play.”

The word ‘play’ seems to instantly switch on something in her mind, and she jumps around my feet as I dig in my jacket-pocket after a stick I picked up earlier before getting in the car. Playing with Tilde I lose all track of time – I exhaust myself physically, but mentally I’m in a pleasant, soothing lull of sorts. Tilde’s a bundle of energy, same as always. A man walks by, just a shadow against the fence and the trees, I don’t know if he even notices Tilde but he says nothing, just nods to me before strolling further into the graveyard.

I lay my plastic bag flat in the grass and sit down, and Tilde comes to rest by my lap. I scratch behind her ears and move my hand along her nape and back, and so we sit in silence until my wrist is tired and it’s time to part. 

“Sit,” I say and she winces, knowing it means our time is up, but looks a bit more eager when I put my hand in my pocket. She sits, and I put the bone-shaped little nugget in my hand on top of her tombstone. 

“Until next year,” I say and stand up, ready to rush back to my car, because I still can’t stand being left here alone. So when she turns around, I do, too. Much better to say good-bye like this, with a trick and a treat.

Three Poems by Martina Reisz Newberry

A LITTLE GLINT, A SLASH OF COLOR 

The apartment is so still just now. 

It is cool and gray outside. The news 

speaks of spring, but that seems like a lie

as so many things do these gray days. 

 

The cats, 8 paws touching, are asleep

on our bed. They release everything 

when they sleep. The city is awake 

but quiet. Lawns and dandelions 

 

are the same, concrete and asphalt are the

same, glass doors and windows are the

same. I will pretend that the cells of 

my body are sunlight making the 

 

dishwater sky show a little glint, 

a slash of color. The truth is a 

rebuke because, in truth, my body 

is a box emptied of secrets and 

 

emptied of the slim, crescent moons of my

dreams. That said, I have always loved

pretending. The cells of my body 

will have to ignore the realness 

 

of another year about to pass, 

the dreary fear of what comes after, 

the mirror image that is not, can 

not be right. I’ve learned so much less than 

 

I thought I would, garnered less respect

than I hoped for. My underground is 

rising to the surface. I defer to 

what I have become and admire all 

 

that I am not. I’ve been given a 

quiet day; I will give up “what ifs,” 

I will give up what I know is true, 

pretend color and music then—shine.

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Learning to Wipe by Christopher Luis-Jorge

Mother said big kids didn’t ask their teachers to wipe them and that if I didn’t learn how to do it for myself before I started kindergarten, I’d be walking around all day with poo-crusted cheeks. I now realize that this was likely a lie. Missy Vee, it turned out, was a very kind and uncommonly patient teacher. You have to be for kindergarten. Most likely, my parents were just tired of doing the deed for me. In retrospect, I don’t blame them. But, at the time, the idea of wiping myself offended me. So, began my journey into manhood.

I didn’t feel qualified. But Mom said it was easy, just a two-step process: first, you wipe until there’s no more poop on the paper, then you flush. See? Easy.  And so, armed only with two-ply and willpower, I skipped to my loo and allowed my movement to pass.

I wiped.

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“Ode, Node, Anode” by Alan Cohen

The fall, drop, break
of peach white froth
sparkling translucent curtain
screening out sun
14 stories, three seconds
from bed to bed
from yesterday
deep into an unlabelled narrow chasm of the past
hypnotizes five visiting on-, through-, and over-
lookers
who, passing under the fall’s lip
behind the water
perpendicular
put out hands to touch
fondly recalling personal crises

Two taboo white birds skim the surface
Floating back upstream

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