Archive for February, 2012

February 25, 2012

Spot 031: Peripatetic Parallelism


by Sandra Davies

As far as physical distance was concerned, it was no distance at all – I could see her house from my bedroom window. (What was her house – she committed suicide in 1989.) What I’d hoped to find in going there was that I had travelled, had learnt some social skills, some understanding of the language, the mores of such civilisations in my half a dozen years of going out and partying.
But despite a moment when I held the floor – when midway through the occasion she received a heavy-breathing-then-suggestive phone call, similar to one I’d had a couple days previously, and I could reassure and explain that laughter effectively dissuaded (which I’d done accidentally, thinking it a friend of my husband, playing a trick) – I discovered nothing had changed. I was as tongue-tied, incapable of both thought and speech and as bored and claustrophobic as ever. Without a shared interest, a reason to be there, such as the demonstration of the (excellent) children’s books I sold via party plan, I was incapable of functioning at a purely social, neighbourly coffee morning.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by Paul de Denus

Luckily for Crissetti, the bank was on the outskirts of town; nobody chased his dust. Peeling away, he passed the gas station next to the bank. He saw Stupid Sloan standing by the empty pumps eyeballing him. No problem. The retard – a kid from high school – wouldn’t remember seeing anything.
Crissetti sped north on I- 80, the First National telescoping down his rearview mirror. Two bags with overflow cash rustled next to him. The bank had been virtually empty, an easy knock-off. He licked his lips, fired up a blunt and eased off the gas. Stay cool. No time to draw attention.
He’d spent his whole life in Loomis; the bank job now paid his way out. Though he loved the dreamy comfort of California, there were more worlds waiting. For the next several miles of open stretch, Crissetti absorbed his surroundings, passing through California’s dry yellow hills, clusters of pine, eucalyptus and juniper and a heavy patch of tule fog that rolled over the highway. Exiting it, he viewed the trees, road and sky again, imagined the exact same scenery anywhere in America. Could be in Pennsylvania or Tennessee, he mused. A smile zigzagged his face as he crossed into Nevada.
The mile marker indicated the town of Sparks up ahead. He saw a gas station and started to pull in. Stupid Sloan stood at the pump, a finger pointing at him. Just beyond, sat the bank. Anywhere in America, Crissetti thought as police cars wailed. Behind him too.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



by Bill Lapham

I woke not knowing where I was or how I had gotten there. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open, it was so dark. Gravity was the only way I could tell I was laying on my back, otherwise I could have been in the void of invisible space.
I straightened my arm in front of my face and touched something solid, wooden. I pressed against it and it didn’t move. I felt a surge of adrenaline and tried to resist the onset of panic. I relaxed my arm and set it down by my side. I was breathing very fast. Too fast, I decided, and tried to slow it down, tried to relax, like when somebody is taking my blood pressure.
I could feel the various parts of my body, wriggled my fingers and toes, turned my head from side to side. I was thinking, therefore Descartes could have been right. I was pretty sure I was alive.
I lifted my arm again and this time pushed as hard as I could against the solidness above me. It moved, fractionally, and a ray of light entered the box. Encouraged, I continued to push the lid open and as quickly as the panic had set in, it vanished, leaving me relieved, relaxed and pleased. I climbed out of my friend’s cargo trailer and went inside his house.
“Where the hell have you been?” he asked.
“Out getting a second chance,” I said.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.



by Gita M. Smith

We had stopped for a bathroom break, Sal and I, at a low cinderblock roadhouse that smelled of gin and Dr. Pepper (please God don’t let that be an actual drink).
The jukebox was set on soft, but I could still hear the words of a long-ago and far-away song: “The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol when they do the Bristol Stomp.”
Next to me, a slouch of a drinker mumbled, “Far out song.”
A sidelong glance showed me shaggy hair and bell-bottoms.
“Help you?” the bartender asked.
“A Cosmopolitan, please” Sal said, lighting a Doral 100.
“Wow, never seen that brand before,” Slouchy said.
The bartender told Sal he’d never heard of a Cosmo.
We ordered two Buds instead, but something had started nagging at me.
The cash register was the old-fashioned, non-computer type. The two beers had cost $1.
“How much to play the jukebox?” I asked.
“Nickel gets you one, a quarter buys six,” barkeep replied, still perusing his guidebook for Cosmos.
Sal and I exchanged an electric look, the kind that couples sometimes share.
She approached the jukebox as if it were a hot stove. A small scream escaped her lips. All her high school favorites were there: “Poetry in Motion,” “Palisades Park,” and “You’re Sixteen.”
I knew the answer, but still had to ask, “Bartender, who’s the vice president nowadays?”
“Lyndon Johnson!” he said disdainfully.
That’s when Sal grabbed me and we ran to our car – the only one in the parking lot without a carburetor.

See Authors page for Gita’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

He recalled early morning dew glistening on Mrs. Mooreheart’s Crimson Beauties and the distant calliope of a Good Humor van almost drowned out by the nine boys and a girl choosing sides for an impromptu game by chanting, “One potato, two potato…”
The stout, elderly woman, smiling at Everett on his way to the curb, did not seem to think it odd he was not taking the Chevy. She could not have known he was not on his way to work, nor that it was possibly the last time their eyes would meet, though she might have intuited he would not be returning for Round Two in the evening. She must have overheard most of the shenanigans occurring with increasing frequency those days inside 2513, but kept her own counsel and made the most of a morning’s greeting.
Now, Everett went about mostly on foot, uncomfortable dickering in high school Spanish with taxi drivers, unconscionably excessive in overtipping according to his past norms, and ineluctably excluded from newfound neighbors.
Standing in his garden late one afternoon, Señor Cal y Mayor appeared to be contemplating some unpardonable misstep, as the water delivery truck dragged chains and pieces of bent steel clanging down the road, and five girls sang out a choosing song, familiar only to themselves, while one tiny urchin dressed in tatters, barefooted, clutched a weathered doll to her chest and stared longingly, shifting her gaze between the man among the roses and the laughing children, never looking at Everett.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.



Are there illustrations for Spot 031?


February 18, 2012

Spot 030: The Big Picture


WAR IS HELL in Two Parts: Part II
by Bill Lapham

[Note: Read Part I here.]

“You ain’t quite got the big picture, do you, shitbird?” the chief said. He didn’t need a bullhorn, he had a megaphone mouth. “You weren’t sent out here for no pleasure cruise. Now git yer ass down to the galley and report to the galley watch captain for assignment as a mess cook.” Then he paused and looked out to sea like I was and yelled, “Move!”

It took me two hours to find the mess decks, another hour to work up the nerve to find the galley watch captain. By that time it was time to serve supper. The galley watch captain assigned me to a kid named Panagiotis Potaskevopoulos, the lead mess cook in the scullery. We just called him Pans’n’Pots. He put me on pots and pans, which had been piled in a sink so high I couldn’t reach the faucets.

But I got to work and sometime around midnight, I got done. Pans’n’Pots showed me to my rack. Four hours later, he woke me up again, and twenty hours after that, he showed me to my rack again. This went on for three months before my chief rescued me.

When we got back to the hangar bay, the chief asked me some questions about my time on the mess decks and what I’d like to do now that I was out. I was all “Yes, chief; no, chief; whatever you say, chief.”

I was ready to fight a war. Kill people and shit.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.



by Sandra Davies

I usually say ‘no thanks’ when they offer me the box, but these were ordered for delivery and arrived well-stuffed and protected with loads of screwed-up tissue paper. Ankle-high black boots, not exactly what I wanted but the others didn’t fit. And perforce I read the label and saw the name this style had been given.
A long, long time ago I worked one summer in a shoe shop, back and forth from the narrow-aisled and ladder high-shelved stockroom, becoming familiar with the order and the fancy names the different styles went by.
From longer still before then my father had a last – triple-legged, three different sizes, heavy and portently fascinating to a child. And I know shoes of the sort I buy are factory-made, never saw a last (and are sometimes barely made to either) and I found myself thinking that these days it’s likely that whoever made the names up for the styles is probably considered more important than the factory workers, although how coming up with ‘Barely edible’ for bog standard boots equates to the skill of a master cobbler I will never know.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by Paul de Denus

The little girl fidgets; it’s boring waiting in line but it is what her patient mother wants them to do; she sees the value of it. It’s not until they are in the gallery and entered the room that the little girl understands.

It dominates a plain wall, six feet high and forty feet long. The bright continuous panels remind her of the graffiti covered subway cars she saw on the way to the museum. It is a painting- Monet’s Reflections of Clouds on the Water-lily Pond. The colors speak to her and she will remember.

These days, she’s walled in with canvas. On a plain white surface behind her desk sits a row of clear glass. Each glass contains groupings of colored pencils, each in its specific color group. When she looks at them, she finds they please her in the simplest of ways, calmly creating highlights and undertones to her day. A smile draws across her face as she fidgets with a blank canvas. The color takes on a shape and the little girl sees.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

The mural on the wall displaying the growing of corn and reflection of sunlight off glass explains the mission succinctly in a way even the indigenous, ostensibly unsophisticated parents from outside the city limits, who have never had the wherewithal to fully understand the overarching ways the children of privilege have had developed for them, would comprehend. This school forms leaders. There are no indigenous at tonight’s meeting. They cannot afford the tuition. But there is an annex, a quadrangle of adobe huts, sans the great murals, where dark-skinned, barefooted women in wraparound skirts can learn to sew on machines left over from the last century, and will be given coupons for bags of corn and other grains if they will participate in the birth control program, and that is tuition-free. The discussion underway this evening revolves around ways to make the program more widely known, and there are coffee and cookies, baked by the staff, allowed to linger so they may hear the decisions and bring the news home to their dusky hardworking wives who are trying to make do in these grainless times. Humberto, the head chef, who trained in Mexico City, and still single, nudges Julio Cesar, who has a wife and five children, and whispers, “What do you think of that blond sitting alone at the big table?” forgetting that Julio has trouble with Spanish as he was raised by parents who only spoke pure Nahuatl until he brought home a few words from elementary school.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.



by Gita M. Smith

Pipefitters Local 212 occupied a squat cinderblock rectangle on Broad Street. Daytime business was conducted in small beige offices. By night, the spacious banquet hall was used for social events.
Occasionally, pipefitters got in the mood for something a little offbeat. I was asked to teach Tuesday Night Art For Beginners.

First, I showed slides of American landscapes and European Impressionists. We discussed the use of light and shadow, of certain colors or effects. Finally, I clicked to Van Houte’s Dutch modernist painting of a boy in a middy-blouse with neckerchief and jaunty blue cap.

The energy in the room shifted from polite interest to vivid focus.

“How come he has no face?” asked Pete Vanelli. “Did the painter forget the face?”

“Shit, that looks exactly like a picture my Ma has of my kid brother,” said Johnny DeFalco. “He had a suit just like that. You remember our Petey?” he asked the man beside him.

“Sure,” the man said, “he’s the one died in Vietnam.”

Pain made a crooked stick of Johnny’s mouth.

“Hey,” said a man with a wad of Copenhagen in his cheek, I had that same red kerchief.”

“So how come he has no face?” Vanelli repeated. “What kind of painter paints a little kid with no face?”

I wanted to say that good art has universal meaning, that the facelessness was exactly what allowed them to relate to the painting, each man imprinting his own beloved boy on the canvas. But all I could bring myself to say right then was, “Hey, that’s modern art for you.”

Note: Another version of this story appeared on Thinking Ten: A Writer’s Playground. See Authors page for Gita’s bio.



Illustrations for Spot 030 supplied by Sandra Davies and Gita M. Smith.


February 11, 2012

Spot 029: The Fine Print


BINDING CONTRACT (The Malefic Bureaucrat)
by Bill Floyd

You’ll say I’m in the details, like it’s my fault, or the details’ fault. If you people paid the least bit of attention, exercised even minimal diligence, I couldn’t get away with any of it, could I?

It’s right there in black-and-white when you click ACCEPT.

You surrendered your right to a fair trail when you signed on so you could access the service, and if said service turned out not only to be not quite what you thought you were getting but something altogether shoddier and more disposable, well, blame yourselves.

It was right there in black-and-white when you signed the line.

(But you could taste it, you couldn’t wait. I barely had to sweeten the deal, barely had to touch it up with the airbrush.)

Now your only recourse is to an arbitrator, one who gets paid by me and decides in my favor 99% of the time. (And believe you me, he gets an earful about that 1%.) This was clearly stated in Section I44b, “Allowances and Restrictions, Cont.”, line 4,779.

I used to walk in the sun, among the angels. But I got shorted, deprived of the attention I deserved, and I guess I kind of pitched a fit. Cast down from the beatific realms, my name cursed by the human units of our currency, the ones whose value gives a clue to our true nature.

Now I’m just another bloody lawyer.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.



WAR IS HELL in Two Parts: Part I
by Bill Lapham

The fine print said the government would assign me to a branch of service and a theater of operations according to its needs; God and the chief petty officers would do the rest. I thought, “Geez, that’s swell, whatever I can do to help.”

I signed on the dotted line. The sergeant said, “You look like a swabbie to me, son.”

“Swabbie,” I learned, is slang for a sailor in the Navy. Shoot, I ain’t never seen more water than could fit in a bath tub.

I went to boot camp at Great Lakes. Never been colder in my life. Then advanced shipboard training in San Diego. Up and forward on the starboard side; down and aft on the port side; General Quarters and man battle stations; bend over and kiss your ass good-bye. All that shit.

When I finally got my orders, it was to this behemoth fucking aircraft carrier. Hell, the only thing I knew could fly was a baseball and some birds. When I saw the ship for the first time, I thought, “Hell, yeah, I can get lost in that thing for a couple of years, ain’t nobody gonna find me.”

That was wrong. I got this chief who figured my ass was made to shine his boot. He was always gittin in my shit. First time I ever got underway on that ship I was leaning on the lifelines looking out at all that water when boom—up the ass with his boot.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.



by Sandra Davies

some print’s too fine to read
some prints so fine and only feel will do
some prince – but that’s for the blind to hear
sum prints, thumb prints, one on one prints
finger on skin prints
yours on mine, prince
finger whorls shadow as the sun goes down
delight whirls damp as your hand slips down
your imprint in mine forever known
some prints are fine

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by bolton carley

“So did you call the doctor or the drug company?”
“Company. I was so furious. Probably more with myself than them by the time I got done. I was on the phone with them for two hours. I finally just asked the customer service rep to pass me on to the manager who went rounds with me like it was a boxing match. Perhaps I was a giant fool to believe that over the course of six weeks, a pill with the magical powers of a genie could grant me a stomach plain instead the rolling hills of flab I possessed. Guess it was wishful thinking on my part. But damn those companies with their detailed messages hidden on the bottom of the box in writing as foreign as Sanskrit! I swear it’s like they’re muttering under their breath, ‘Duh, U Missed Big Awful Secret Side-effects!’
So then I wondered to myself, ‘What was I smokin’ that I didn’t look at the fine print? No wonder I’m looking like Santa Claus on steroids!’ I’m tellin’ you though, Rick, dumbass or not, they still took advantage of me!”

See Authors page for bolton’s bio.



by Paul de Denus

The guy was a genius. Marlon Fine, I mean. You know, the renowned artist. My God, have you looked closely at those brush strokes? He applied the paint in such believable layers one could almost feel the movement of the fabric. Like the famous portrait, ‘Major D’Abernville’; the uniform glows in hues of dazzling white and gray. And the intimate ‘Mrs. Cowen’, the drape and folds of her yellow gown… utterly radiant. As for ‘The Wellsley Children Seated in the Garden’… well what can one say other than, ‘completely masterful’. It’s agreed; color was important. I heard he studied and mixed his own pigments using techniques the Old Masters employed. But to my mind, it was his attention to detail that paid off.

I studied too. I learned to copy his work and must say – no pun intended – I did a fine job. I followed every detail and stroke, even chemically aged both canvas and frame. It was very lucrative; there were plenty of happy art dealers willing to cough up big money to get their hands on one. Everybody was happy… until I was caught.

I’ve been charged with a treasonable act. Here in Mr. Fine’s country of birth, he is revered; it seems the authorities are overly protective. The offense carries a life sentence. I have been going over the details of the court transcripts and the laws regarding forgeries. I need to fool the judge. The key is in the fine print.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

Marvin took up popular causes. He contributed spare change to whoever stuck a collection box in front of him, and when someone told him they wanted to form a union to increase their hourly wage, he signed the petition. He did not really feel they had a chance in hell (his words at an extended liquid lunch with his boss at The Angler) of getting anywhere with their plans, but he liked Angela, who never quite finished her business degree as every cent went to her parents, and she was usually sent to approach him for his input. Marvin had his own fish to fry. He was in line for a promotion, and if it took getting bombed twice a week while listening to his manager’s marriage problems, he would. He liked the Angler’s seafood platter, but it was murder with gin. After three months’ of wicked weekend hangovers, he was finally promoted. His first thought was to celebrate by asking Angela out, but that Thursday, Othmar called him into his office. Curiously sober, he laid out Marvin’s contract telling him to look over the fine print. He pointed to one particular paragraph. “So, as you see,” he said when Marvin looked up, “Management cannot participate in the forming of unions. As a matter of fact, the first order of business is I want you to find some way to get rid of Bill Stefanofsky, that goddamn insurrectionist, and your girlfriend, too, what’s her name, the bleeding heart in Accounting.”

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.



February 4, 2012

Spot 028: Dropping a Dime


Dropping a Dime
by Amy Hale Auker

I know there are miracles happening all around and that questions rock and answers are suspect : I knew it when I rode out on the dawn.
I know that I am a writer, even when there are days when the ink dries in the nib.
I know that I would dry up like a morel in August if I had to live in the city, and I would have to find a small piece of nature to soak in so as not to lose my flavor: I knew it in San Antonio in 2004.
I know that wrong turns happen, that early mornings warm and mid-afternoons cool, that daylight fades and it is better if you can be out of doors when it does, that the ground is hard and forests are messy.
I know that love is the thing : I knew it when you showed me.
I know several poems by heart, how to make you weak with kissing, how to make good bread, and that I am one of those people who has to let idea-mud squish up between her toes.
I know how to skinny dip and go barefoot during a full moon.
I learned most of this the first time I squeezed lemon over a platter of raw oysters. I was drinking cold beer.
I know that I must show up at the page and wet the ink with my tongue and hope it dribbles onto the page before it comes in a flood.

See Authors page for Amy’s bio.



The Epistemology of Smart
by Bill Lapham

In the town of Saffron a man named Smart claimed to know nothing but that one thing.

When appearing lost one day, the town constable asked Smart where he lived and how to get there. Smart said he didn’t know. The constable took him into protective custody. Unable to hold Smart against his will for more than a day, the constable hauled him before the judge on charges of vagrancy so he could hold him until the authorities could locate his home and return him safely to it. The judge ordered it so and the constable escorted the ‘prisoner’ back to jail.

Smart was quiet and content in his new surroundings: he was dry, had a bed, and three meals a day. As time passed, the jailers forgot about him and the constable retired without ever finding the Smart residence.

One day a lawyer was visiting his client in the slammer when he noticed Smart, by then an old man, sitting quietly in the corner of the common area looking at a book. The lawyer went over to him and asked what he was reading.

Smart looked up and said, “Oh, I don’t know.”

“Can I see the book?” the lawyer asked. Smart handed it over.

The attorney read the title: What You Never Knew You Didn’t Know.

“What have you learned?” asked the lawyer.

“Oh, well,” Smart said, clearing his throat. “I don’t know—”

“Really?” the lawyer interrupted, “nothing, ever?”

“Just that one thing, I guess,” Smart said.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.



So ‘Fifties
by Michael D. Brown

“I thought I was getting away with something, but that jimope dropped a dime on me, and now they wanna bring me up on charges of embezzlement.”
“How can you watch that show? It’s so ‘fifties.”
“So am I. Did you ask German about the rice paper lampshade?”
“I’m reluctant. He’s likely to be protective of his family, and his son-in-law’s the most likely suspect.”
“So you think he took it without intent, or damaged it and got rid of the evidence?”
“Something like that. It’s just a mystery how it completely disappeared from the house.”
“I always thought he was a bit sinister. Perhaps he’s a kleptomaniac.
“…keys were in the sugarbowl. They couldn’t have known that. Unless they think like me.”
“That may be, but I don’t like unexplained disappearances, especially with something so obvious. I mean as soon as you walk into the kitchen, you notice it’s gone.”
“…with Ol’ Blue Eyes playing on the hi-fi night and day, it’s easy to see where your head is at.”
“Will you turn off that freakin’ TV and pay attention?”
“Sorry. My, but we’re touchy today.”
“I thought we left all that behind on Fourteenth Street. I never expected things to go missing in this place.”
“And you never counted on simple-minded workers, or their thieving ways. German did a great job on the patio, but I never trusted the son-in-law.”
” You never really liked that lampshade either, did you?”
“Are you tryna pin this rap on me?”

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.



A Ramble, Not a Justification
by Sandra Davies

Dropping a dime: when did I know it? This phrase? Never before today, but having Googled it, the quick and easy, and over-glib reply is ’just now’, the use of ‘dime’ pointing up its non-Britishness.

And in Britain, not telling on someone is ingrained from childhood – all those repetitions of ‘tell-tale tit, your tongue will split’ made sure of that.

I didn’t tell tales when for weeks Hazel persecuted me, made my life a misery with constantly poking me, hard-fingered, into my back from the desk behind, (not until I put her into a novel that is, describing her ‘boot-button black with anger’ eyes, her skin ‘so densely freckled as to suggest that she’d been liberally sprinkled with grated nutshells’ and making sure she was rejected by the hero.)

Instead I ran away from school, put the headmaster into a state of apoplexy, so that he came after me, and shouted and banged on the windows of my house until I emerged, scared and crying. I still didn’t tell on her so he put the entire school into ten minutes silence, hands on heads – including me – and was bad-tempered for the rest of the day.

I DID go and knock on the village constable’s door once, specifically to tell tales on someone, but I can’t remember who, what or why, only that he later came round to our house to commend me.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by Paul de Denus

I knew I was in trouble when Grandma called me upstairs to her room tucked neatly at the end of the hall. Damn, it was only a couple of nickels and quarters! Well maybe more like fifteen but who was counting?

She had a little jar on top of her bureau; it was half full with loose change. She never used it as far as I could see. It was spare change I reasoned, dreading each step as I ascended up the stairway.

She sat on the side of the bed and motioned me in. There was a cross with an impaled Jesus hanging over her thin bed. She didn’t yell, only said she knew I’d taken the money. I asked how she knew. “My house has sensitive eyes,” she said. Her house was creepy, old and spacious with a basement I never went near. “We see many things and you need to also.”

I found out later it was my sister Kath who’d squealed, dropped the dime while I was out spending the money on a new Superman comic I’d wanted, the one featuring Super Girl. Kath was mad because I kept insinuating she was adopted from the asylum on the edge of town. Geez, I was just kidding!

She was in her room goofing with her dolls. She was getting too old for that. I didn’t say anything about Grandma. Casually I skirted her bed and dropped the comic next to her. “It’s cool,” I said.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



If there are any illustrations for Spot 028, they have not arrived yet.