Literary as hell.

Tag: writing (Page 1 of 36)

“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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“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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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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Dogeared by Mark Niedzwiedz

I am well worn, thumbed through, creased at the edges
Always stuck on the same page, always mid-sentence
I can neither avert my eyes, turn thoughts, nor paper
For it is my life’ s work, knowing something of what’s gone before
But no clarity as to what comes next
I live in the now of uncertainty
No future, beyond skittish dreams
My imprint is not a doer, but a fence sitter
Who cannot jump till all the jumbled pieces are boxed
But life is liquid, ebbing and flowing
Formless, seamless, perhaps meaningless
Favouring the page turners who run blindly to the next staging post
Whilst visionaries awaiting the grand vision
Are left wanting – wanting to know
Does God give us patterns?
Glimpses of the eternal to send us on our merry way
Or are we just sleepwalking into nothingness?
Weighty questions, light on answers I fear
For the doomed among us, the poor dogeared

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Flash Fiction by Ivan Jenson

“Park Avenue Paradise” by Ivan Jenson

 The suicide’s body landed only a foot away from where Jake and his old friend Eton stood. They had just stepped away from that very spot after lighting up their cigarettes.  Neither of them really smoked back then in the summer of 1998.  They were just messing around.  When they heard the thud, at first they didn’t know what it was until they saw him–a pale geeky-looking man in his thirties dressed in black slacks and a white button-down shirt, just laying there with his legs and arms splayed in a zig  zag position.  He had the bemused yet hopeless expression of a man who had truly run out of options. He lay half on the grass, half on the city sidewalk.  Jake looked up to the roof from where the man had jumped to his death.  It was approximately twelve-stories high.  Jake had a friend who lived in the building.  She was a Ford model who he had spent two years hanging out with until he broke it off because he wanted to be more than just platonic friends.  It was a building that represented heartbreak to Jake.

 A few people gathered on the sidewalk.  Somebody must have called the police because two cops arrived on the scene within minutes.

  Jake and Eton kept walking because they were headed for a party at a loft on 14th Street and Avenue A.  They were speechless about what they had just witnessed.  And the only way they expressed their shock was with nervous laughter.

 The vast loft was owned by a famous artist who was in his 70s and his raw, expressionist paintings were hanging in museums and worth tens of thousands of dollars. Yet the artist did not seem to mind that a bunch of strangers were getting trashed in his living space and art studio.

  Jake ended up in a conversation with the artist’s alluring daughter.  She lived with her father.  She was not an artist; rather, she worked on Wall Street in a sensible job and she had plans to leave the city as soon as she saved up enough money.

  “Where do you want to go?” Jake asked, already feeling abandoned.

 “I want to live in Alaska near my brother who’s a fisherman.”

  “Isn’t it really cold there?”

  “Not as cold as this city.  And I’m not talking about temperature.”

  Jake knew then she was a New York City hater.  You either loved or hated it–there was very little middle ground.  

 The artist’s daughter soon lost interest in Jake. Before she wandered off she said, “Sorry, I feel like a social butterfly tonight.”

 Eton had copped some cocaine and was busy talking with a small group who looked equally hyped-up and wide-eyed.

  “I’m going to get going,” Jake said to Eton.  Once his friend started doing blow, he was beyond reason, and Jake was not in the mood for chemical stimulants.

  “Are you sure? Think of the connections you could make here.  Shit, man. Stick around.”

  “Naw, I gotta go.”

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“End Times in the Produce Aisle” By Gene Twaronite

As I reached for the organic cucumber, a woman wearing 

a polka dot dress over pajama bottoms and bunny slippers 

grabbed for the same one. 

With our hands clutching opposite ends of the vegetable

as if it meant the difference between survival

and a slow wasting death, 

we locked eyes in a grim battle 

of foraging supremacy. 

 

“Go ahead, take it,” she said, shaking her head. 

“What does it matter? Who needs a cucumber? 

Haven’t you heard? It’s the end times.”

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