Archive for ‘themes’

June 23, 2012

Spot 048: Reading Lips

by Bill Lapham

Newt was a jumpety fidgety feller. Theys didn’t want to kill him since they’d been told more than onct or twice that killing a man ‘shant be countenanced by the Lord’. So whats they did was to tie rope ’round a cinder block in the center of a old canoe, then they set Newt in there crosslegs with the block behind him, see, then they tied his hands to the block. A might uncomfortable position, and tight , too. Like to turn ol’ Newt’s hands purple.

“Whatchy’all gunna do?” Newt asked. “I have a terrible foreboding in my middle belly. Like to pee my pants, y’all.”

“We’s settin’ you free, you sonofabitch. Now holt still.” But he couldn’t holt still on account a bein’ twitchedy an’ all.

Newt figured this was all because he’d got too friendly with theys daughters. A couple a pretty ones, Henrietta and Anna Belle, had got pregnant and theys said it was Newt what forced hisself on ’em. Newt run away for a spell, but the urge to have those girls musta been o’erwhelming, and he had come back fo’ mo’. That’s when the mens got together and put the whuppin’ on ol’ Newt but good.

As the sun went down over Arkansas yonder, a couple a young fellers in a skiff towed Newt’s canoe out into the river and then cuts him loose to driff on his own ways. The canoe come ashore a couple days later down around Vicksburg.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.

by Paul de Denus

Benton sat at his desk, his feet up, a gnawed pencil rotating between his teeth. Near the coffee machine, Carlyle and Gott were nodding, their lips murmuring slowly as if reciting secret prayers, Gott’s head tilting toward Heather the young secretary bending by the copier. Benton watched as Carlyle mouthed: ‘I’d do that in a minute.’ Gott responded in turn, silent lips twitching: ‘Amen brother, Amen.’

In the parking lot outside his window, Benton saw Mr. Sung from the building next door and another man talking. Benton observed them for a while, watched their lips moving in alternate beats trading conversation, their hands gesturing wildly, his own heart suddenly tapping in a quick up-tempo rhythm.

It was at that moment – as the men talked soundlessly – that a bear walked through the parking lot. Benton dropped his feet, sat up.
“Did you see that?”
Heather turned, looked at him.
“A bear… a bear just walked through the parking lot.”
Benton started to say something else but then… the bear was at the door, looking through the glass directly into his eyes, wordless mouth snapping in slow motion. Benton stood, clutched his shirt and arms. He moved his lips but nothing came out, only a vanishing exhaust.
“What is it,” Heather said, her mouth in pantomime, chewing the air. “Mr. Benton, are you alright?”
Benton watched her lips silently enunciate the words and as he fell, saw her soundlessly scream – “Call an ambulance!

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.

by Michael D. Brown

Here in Chiapas, the locals, the ones I associate with, enjoy a certain amount of toilet humor. Example: Curtain goes up, Papa Smurf comes out and moons the audience. What’s the name of the movie? Ver Ano Azul. The uninitiated hears “Blue Summer,” and does not at first see the reason for the laughter.
Not buxom Anabeth, our French teacher, who likes to be called Babette. She accompanies me to the cinema to foreign films. I complain about having to work doubly hard at comprehending the actors speak German, French, Korean, or Italian, with subtitles in Spanish, but she won’t go to American or British movies because I’m too lazy. She knows I won’t read and improve my second language when I can understand what they’re saying. “Those you should rent or buy on DVD and turn off the sound. Read their lips,” she says.
I told her that was one of the rudest things I have ever heard a certain president saying to the American public, and she laughs. Says he was a burro, and we’re well rid of him. That’s when I turn sheepish, looking down, and remind her that I have spent the last twelve years here in Mexico. I left the States before he came to power. Sometimes this saddens her as she recalls watching the fall of los torres gemelos, but sometimes she catches my eyes falling where they should not between friends. “Sur mes lèvres,” she says, “Don’t read the subtitles, s’il te plaît.”

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.

by Sandra Davies

After he had asked again all he’d asked me in his first phone call, this time in the far less bloodied kitchen while I uselessly sipped water to negate the taste of vomit, he asked me to go with him to the police station. I refused, indicating my desire to change my sick- and travel-stained clothes whereupon, still dour and seeming disapproving, he said ‘Within the hour, then, if you would be so good.’
This time a jaded grey-green room, windows too high to admit other than the darkening sky, his questions more circulatory. Several I asked him to repeat, unsure of… not what he wanted, but wondering if there was a direction he was looking to take in his investigation of my parents’ murder.
In a pause my stomach rumbled.
He looked up, startled then embarrassed. ‘I should have asked when you last ate.’
I shook my head, it did not matter. I wasn’t sure that I was hungry.
He checked his watch. ‘Another half an hour should see us out.’
Twenty minutes, then: ‘D.I. Pettinger concluding the interview with Sally-Ann Hopgood at eight thirteen’ and turned off the tape recorder.
‘We’ll go and find somewhere to eat.’
As I said, a man who believes that women were designed to do as they were told. I would have refused, but I’d been watching his mouth for the past hour and was wondering how soon I could get him to put his lips against my skin.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.

Illustrations for Spot 048 subtitled by mdjb.

June 16, 2012

Spot 047: Wandering Around Town

by Bill Lapham

A glint in the eye. A corner of his mouth, the spot where the lips meet. A wisp of hair. A forehead wrinkle, or a crow’s-foot. The edge of a nostril, a reflection in a bead of sweat, dripping. A cochlear ripple, a freckle, a dimple, a wink. Some delicate detail in every human face reminded me of him. And the voices, the sinister chuckles, the venomous tempers. Gesticulations and flinches, strange gestures on exhibit in too familiar ways.
But he was dead. I saw him. They had left his casket open; not so much for us to seek closure, but to reassure us the bastard was really dead.
I saw features of him in every face, like déjà vu, and with each recognition, my heart took another shot of adrenaline, and my stomach soured, contracted, felt like it would eject its contents and make a nuisance of itself. He was everywhere, in everyone, and nowhere, no one.
My anxiety was worse now that he was dead. Before I could make sure I knew where he was at all times. Police departments kept me informed. Now, I felt his presence in every human face. Even in some inhuman ones: Underfed Doberman Guard Dogs on CrazyChains, Teased with Raw Blood-soaked Steak reminded me of him. Or Mike Tyson in his Terrible Twenties, the unleashed years.
Where was I going to find comfort? How was I going to live with the ghost of him everywhere I looked?

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.


by Sandra Davies

Dovercourt, in Essex, where I was born, I saw as tame and modern and was more inclined to claim as a birthplace its cheek-by-jowl neighbour, Harwich, whose shipbuilding history intertwined with Christopher Jones’ ‘Mayfair’ and randy diarist Samuel Pepys, both M.P and Secretary for the Navy. It was a surprise to discover that Dovercourt, once well-known for its brickfields, was in the Domesday book and Harwich not.
While I lived there the most exciting things were the circular boating lake where I learnt to row, the pale green, bench-seat tricycles ridden by visitors to the holiday camp and the semi-circular turreted first-floor corner of the Co-op restaurant from where stop-start traffic at the crossroads could be viewed while consuming ice cream from an aluminium dish. And, of course the beach, with its damp-black wooden groynes, its two pepper-pot-on-stilts lighthouses, the war memorial of spouting dolphins, the bay safe-enclosed by Felixstowe to the left and Clacton’s genteel neighbour Walton-on-the-Naze to the south.
We used to walk down past the football ground (its back lane fencing doubtless the source of my fascination with bill-postered, rusty, graffiti-ed corrugated iron), past the Royal Oak pub whose pungent hop-based smell caused me to ache to be grown up so I could taste what had made it, and to the stationers’ shop which my Grandad managed. There I was allowed, if I behaved, to peep into the sky-lit photographic studio at the rear, its pale, painted backcloth implying lack of colour meant more refined.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.

by Paul de Denus

Opening one eye, Harlan was greeted with a wedge of bright light slicing through the drawn dark curtain.
“I wish someone would turn that damn streetlight out,” he grumbled, rolling onto his back. He could hear hushed voices in the hall, the gentle ring of a phone down by the nurse’s station. Turning onto his side, he saw someone standing in the doorway.
“Dr. Frego?”
“No,” a voice said, “it’s Winston… the night nurse. Jus’ checkin’ you out Mr. Harlan. Everythin’ okay?”
Harlan grunted.
“Think you could go outside and shut that goddamn streetlight off?”

Night nurse… my ass, Harlan thought. It was Doctor Frego. He was always there checking on him, only this time the doctor wore a white t-shirt and white pants. That was nothing new. He constantly changed outfits. It was part of the scam. Appearing as another staff member was another golden billing opportunity. He even wore a nurse’s uniform once. What a joke. The game here: more tests… more blood… more money… up the bill and take everything he had.

Doctor Frego was still standing in the doorway. The hall light behind draped him in shadow.
“What will you be taking now?” Harlan said.
Doctor Frego said nothing. He’d changed his clothing again. The white t-shirt was now black, floor-length with a hood. Something moved behind Doctor Frego’s back, spreading wide. Harlan shifted nervously in his bed, then stiffened. He could have sworn he saw wings.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.

by Michael D. Brown

When Johnny ascertained that he was awake, observing his double shaving, then getting dressed, he asked if he could explain what was happening, Johnny 2 said it was his lucky day. He could spend it however he wished. He could not reckon why he deserved the treat, but lay back in his king-sized bed and read another chapter of Dostoevsky. Unfortunately, The Double left him feeling queasy. Afterwards, he discovered Johnny 2 must have drunk the last of the coffee, and taken his car.
Walking around town, he fared no better. He saw himself entering the cinema, and thought he could not enjoy a film with a lookalike sitting somewhere close. Plus he was upset that both of them had skipped work, so he walked to the office.
In the lobby, he bumped into his supervisor, who said, “Hey, have you done any work on the accounts I gave you thirty minutes ago?” It came to him then there were at least two duplicates, and Johnny 2 had indeed taken his job.
Later, he left and wandered around town for three hours, but grew disconcerted upon spotting five more copies in various places, and so he went home.
He knew he was in hell opening his door, finding six Johnnies arguing over his clothes, and would probably find more doing the same over space in his bed.
On the unluckiest day of his multiple lives, Johnny 1 sat down on the steps, covered his face, and wished he were dead.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.

Illustrations for Spot 047 adapted and HoW.

June 9, 2012

Spot 046: I Know It When I See It


by Paul de Denus

Silence, the air gone from the room.
Mom, can you hear me?
Silence, the air gone from her lungs.

This is not the way I wish to remember her – this horizontal flat-line state as if she were napping, white hands folded across her chest, head propped regally on the white pillow. Dad – if he were here – wouldn’t like it either. “You’re messing up your hair,” he’d say, about the Bardot-style that was always her style.

I whisper for her to get up but this dream is too kind, too intoxicating. The others mill about quietly. Is it to counter the stillness of the scene? Move those legs and tongues and thoughts, those protected smiles! Does the activity assure us we go on? Perhaps for a while.

Mom told me about a dream she had after Dad died. She was relaxed and lucid and painfully honest. “He came to see me,” she said, “sat on my bed. We went for a walk and talked.” I sat crying and she told me through her own tears, it was all right. She said, “Oh it was so real you wouldn’t believe it. It really was.”
One imagines all sorts of truths during surreal times like this. Is it so real to believe now what I see, why I struggle to accept as the top is gently closed?

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



by Bill Lapham

I don’t care what you call it, I call it war. War goes by other names: police actions, peace-keeping mission, border skirmishes. Lucifer is still Satan. Low intensity conflict is the name for war I like best. Tell the kid who has survived a vicious fire-fight, especially one in which he’s lost a friend, that he was engaged in a ‘low intensity conflict’ and he’s liable to low intensify your ass into the hospital. It’s like the difference between a low yield and a high-yield nuclear bomb. If you are the target of one of them, you won’t be wondering which one ruined your day for long. It just doesn’t matter. Either one will turn you into atomscatter.
The American political elite doesn’t like to refer to war as ‘war’. We learned in high school government class that the Constitution of the United States granted war making powers to the Congress. All those guys want to be President someday, so they want to keep the real ability to wage war in the Oval Office. Besides, if a war goes badly, as they are prone to do, they can all blame the guy who has either one or no elections in his or her future. Therefore, from Korea to Iraq we have called war something other than what it really is.
The kid in the Humvee turret might not be able to define war, but you can bet heavy that he knows it when he fucking sees it.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.



by Sandra Davies

It had taken me thirty years. Had started, circa 1980, with a through-the-post catalogue in which I saw exactly what I wanted. At a time when affording it was beyond me. Not, probably, that it was ridiculously expensive, just that there was not enough money left over from the mortgage and three growing children to afford that sort of expenditure on something I would have little occasion to wear.
Thereafter, and way beyond the availability of that particular multi-coloured jacquard-patterned jacket, the idea sat at the back of my mind. Something exciting, interesting, capable of being worn with jeans to dress them up or with something better to look really good when required. Something to transform me.
All through my ‘smart’ working years, when I had both the money and occasions to wear such a thing, there was nothing that ever appealed (not that I spent my time thinking about it— far too busy, and clothes never had been of compelling interest).
And so on until, in 2010, when I had ceased earning, ceased going to anything requiring ‘dressing up’ (except on a bi-annular occasion, perchance) I saw, on a tempestuously rainy day in New Orleans, the jacket I knew I had to have (although ‘twas black and silver silk!)
Yesterday Julia (who was with me then) accompanied me to York to find a top to wear under it, for my best-loved cousin’s surprise birthday party. She had to listen to the same refrain, again.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

“Oh, hell,” Adam snapped, “What do you know about gamesmanship?”
“I know it when I see it,” Noah said.
“Alphabetically and chronologically I come before you. I deserve the greater recognition.”
“Really? Who was evicted from paradise, and who was advised to move away from corruption? Methinks someone is overrating his own status based on conventions that didn’t even exist in your era. And let’s also not forget about original sin. You were an innovator all right.”
Saint Peter, on a break with only half an eon left before he had to return to Gate duty, interrupted their squabbling, “Hey, you two have been arguing about who shines brighter for forty generations. Give it a break, will you? Neither of you is a saint.”
“No fault of mine,” Adam said.
“Your hands were not bound when offered that apple.” Noah was angry. He never appreciated being reminded of missing out on beatification.
“And yours were during that nakedness-in-the-tent incident? C’mon, you old fart, that was perversion. You brought all the corruption with you.”
“If it wasn’t for your nasty kids, I wouldn’t have had to sail away from home.”
“I didn’t have those kids. My contribution ended with a rib I wasn’t even asked to donate.”
Peter, polishing his saint badge, said he was heading back to work early. “I’m gonna leave you two boys to your bickering. There’s no winning here. You’re both nasty pieces of work. I’d say you’re lucky either of you made it past the entrance.”

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.


Illustrations for Spot 046 derived from various sources.


June 2, 2012

Spot 045: One-Hit Wonders


by Sandra Davies

It must have been that conjunction of teenage self-discovery and that particular song. Not just the lyrics – confusing because overlaid, intertwined, with barely-noticed-at-the-time imagery from some trailer of the film I’d no likelihood of seeing but the dark smudged beauty of the face (I could be like that if only someone loved me enough …) – but also the gut-aching yearning for life not only to begin but to be somehow glamorous (the glamour via oblique association with multi-coloured squares of glass, perchance?)
And of course we had nothing in common. That was the point, someone unattainable to project, to practice my feelings on. We’d not spoken even (I knew not to ruin the dream!). He delivered the milk and a blue-eyed smile and I the self-sacrifice of sitting bikini-clad in the unavoidable shade early one morning just to be noticed.
I don’t remember his name at all, but she, the girl he walked with, down the road past my house every evening, was Pauline. She was dark, a perfect foil for his blonde curls. I practised being heartbroken, not enjoyably (that would have shattered the illusion) and thought I would die an unloved old maid.
But then there was another song, another dream, a theme for another summer, and this one, with its unglamorous appellation to Percy(!) was no one hit wonder.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by Bill Lapham

Brooks could kick a football sixty yards and a mile high. Serious hang time: a punterboy.

I looked up how much punters made in the NFL. Let’s just say I was pleased when he fell in love with my daughter. Subsequently, I fell in love with him. Brooks was a g, attractive, bright, and strong boy, and he was polite. A bonus.

My, they made a lovely couple.

He accepted a scholarship to Oklahoma. Went away to study meteorology and pigskin aerodynamics. The high school relationship couldn’t bear the college distance, though. The kids broke up.

Crestfallen, I continued to follow Brooks’ athletic exploits.

He got homesick after the first football season at OU and transferred to Maryland, became a Terrapin. He kicked the snot out of a football. Well enough to get drafted by the Chicago Bears; not well enough make the main team. Practice squad money paid for an Escalade.

This went on for a couple of years. Then the Bears traded him to the New England Patriots. Again, practice squad.

They say Brooks was never good enough to play on Sundays, or Monday nights, or the occasional Thursday night.

Until the Patriots’ primary punter got hurt. Groin, they said.

Brooks played in one live no shit NFL game, in New England, in the snow. He punted twelve times sending massive, booming, soaring raptors of pigskin elegance sailing into the snowy klieg-lit night.

One night in a year the Patriots won the Super Bowl.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.



by Gita M. Smith

“When the angels ask me to recall
The thrill of them all
I will tell them I remember you.”

He came by to pick me up after school in a long black Chrysler. It smelled of his Canoe aftershave mixed with new leather. The AM radio was tuned to the top 40 hit parade station, and Frank Ifield was singing “I Remember You,” with a funny yodel in his voice.
The boy didn’t want to be seen with me because he was engaged to a girl named Cindy, although why a 19-year-old was already engaged I do not know. I was his “other woman” at the ridiculously tender age of 15. I had never been in love before, really really in love, I mean, with all the madness and compulsion and sincerity that comes with a teenage crush. He was my first “older man,” and this was our joint first illicit affair.
We drove around, listening to the songs of the moment, our thighs touching on the bench seat, radiating atomic-level heat.
That song always started a catch in my throat. Ifield went on to record songs that were hits in the UK, but this was his only big seller in the USA.
I don’t know where that boy is, today; I would highly doubt he remembers me. And he is not important, anyway. What is important is that once upon a time, I could feel with that much intensity and not spontaneously combust.

See Authors page for Gita’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

By March 1974 I had been living on my own for three months, and would soon turn 21. Coming home each night to an empty apartment was more pleasant than finding my mother snoring, slumped in her chair with the television blaring.
When I announced I was moving to a studio on the Parkway, after drying tears, she said she might have cancer, and wanted my promise to call once a day, which I did from work each afternoon, to ascertain if she needed anything, or I could head to my fortress of solitude. Most days she was fine, occasionally complaining of little aches and pains, but she never mentioned cancer again.
Those months, I believed it was a fabrication to lay guilt on me for deserting, but visiting every Saturday, I soon noticed her weight loss.
Convincing myself she had not lied, no longer able to sleep comfortably at night, I suggested moving back, but told her she would have to cut down on the booze, as it bothered me so to see her that way. She said she had already.
“I don’t want you to break your lease,” she said, “but I would feel better if you were here more often.”
So for the next four months, it was three nights here, four nights there, then five and two, until one night in July. I realized I had returned to the nest.
And after she was gone, five years passed before I enjoyed another season in the sun.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.



by Paul de Denus

The Venezuelan was on the ropes. Kelly’s corner man was shouting, “he’s nothin’… nothin’! Put him down!”

Kelly laid a left into the Venezuelan’s right side, the skinny legs quivering in a wobbly little dance. The guy had his arms up, elbows together, hands bent above his beaten face like a swollen praying mantis. Kelly pounded another left to the ribs and followed it with a right to the ear. “Come on Eileen… I swear I’m not mean…” sang through his head and he let out an airless chuckle.

He was thinking of a music video from the eighties by an inbred British hillbilly band that wore overalls and sang on a street corner. It was about a girl named Eileen, the same name as Kelly’s wayward ex-wife.

With each blow, the rage sank deeper. “Come on Eileen… I swear I’m not mean…” her face swimming and connecting to the altered lyrics and precise punches.

“He’s nothin’ Kelly… put him out!”

The distant voice reminded him the fight was just a setup, an easy primer leading to the looming big bout in Chicago. The Venezuelan was nothing, a punching bag to make a statement… a slap to the head to get attention, a right-hook so she understood who was boss. She was nothing… the Venezuelan too… until the upper cut from his forgotten right arm lifted Kelly off his feet, sending him into total darkness.

“Come on Eileen… I swear I’m not mean…” fading… his corner man singing, screaming… COME ON KELLY… COME ON… GET UP!

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.


Illustrations for Spot 045 supplied by ?


May 26, 2012

Spot 044: Don’t Get Me Wrong



by Sandra Davies

Gaspar, the maître d’ at Giuliano’s, was well-versed in discretion and the number and variety of women Ed Hetherington brought to his restaurant inevitably amused him, as did their pleasure at being in his company. He had a lot of admiration for such a man, for his taste and for his ability to draw to him and keep happy such ladies – all with far more than looks to recommend them.
But this one … he was not sure. The equal of any of the others in her possession of that indefinable something extra; possessed of the same natural attractiveness, something more than could be applied externally, but he had seen her once before and had wondered then …
Two weeks ago, the first time. She’d come with Ed, and had looked even less happy than she did today. She had made Ed late (he had phoned to warn which had made him smile) but when he arrived it clearly hadn’t been that that had made him late; he did not look at all satisfied, not like he usually did. And she had obviously been crying a lot.
Today she had arrived early, and alone. A little more controlled but still filled with sadness and confirming his suspicions from last time: definitely with child. With four daughters and three sons, all married, he knew the signs. And this one, unlike so many of the others, did not wear a wedding ring.
Gaspar assumed Ed knew, presumably that had caused his dissatisfaction.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.


by Bill Lapham

In the sea of people populating the planet, we had never met. Our fleeting glances collided in the smoke and locked-on in the dim and boisterous tavern, people packed drinking getting tighter and tighter. She was in no hurry but neither did she disengage the glance, and I was afraid to. I looked down for barely an instant, watched golden bubbles fire from the sides of my mug to join the others at the head. When I looked up she had moved closer, still staring. She moved in the in-between spaces, where poles either attract or repel, repelled, permitting her passage. Her feet didn’t seem to touch the floor, her strides seemed to require neither immaterial thought nor physical function; she just moved in her own space, all the time staring at me and never blinking her dark moist eyes, never wasting a single motion. I blinked and she placed her pint on the tabletop, wrapped her hand over mine. She breathed and her diamond solitaire responded. Her lip gloss reflected my nervousness back at me, reminded me how powerless I was, how weakened, how weak. She said something, but I couldn’t hear it, cocked my head like confused people do. She came around to my side of the table, leaned over and whispered in my ear: “Don’t get me wrong if you say “hello” and I take a ride upon a sea where the mystic moon is playing havoc with the tide.” I felt her breath, and I was gone.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.


by Paul de Denus

At times I don’t mind being so alone. It’s eye opening, this break from the world, from the rat race and responsibility that accompanies it. I certainly don’t miss the humdrum of work, the noise and pace, the treadmill routine. In some ways, I find it a blessing.

Don’t get me wrong. I do miss you and the kids. How could I not? I do wish to be home but honestly, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by the beautiful solitude of my surroundings. I find it’s all I need. Not that I don’t miss the comforts – the hot meals, warm showers, and our bed, even with the kids bouncing about. I hope you are all okay and not too worried.

I’ll admit it can be boring, but each day I find something useful to do. I need to be prepared. I’ve been working out. I’ve lost about fifteen pounds. That beer gut you used to tease me about is gone. Oh, but what I wouldn’t do for a cold one right now.

I send out messages every day, scribbles on scraps of paper from several travel magazines that washed ashore. I stuff them in empty water bottles I salvaged from the plane before it went down. Maybe a passing freighter will find them, figure out where I am and find this beautiful dot in the Arafura Sea. Until then I’m a regular Robinson Crusoe, thinking of home and pondering my future.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.


by Michael D. Brown

After listening to each of your, quote reasons unquote, for joining this group, I’m convinced that separately or together you cannot help me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure all of you feel your stories are valid, and that for you these represent the biggest problems in your world, but my wife has tried to kill me, and that’s no lie. For many years we lived a meager existence, and I paid for our meals and the furniture, and transportation to our jobs before and after her car broke down. She won’t let me in the new one, since I’ve been out of work for the last two years. Now that we reside in the house her father paid for, she calls me a piker and says I’m living off the fat of the land. Oh, how quickly we forget yesterday’s sacrifices! If I mention the turnabout, or try to explain how I need time to finish my book, she says I had little to do with anything good in our lives, that eighteen months is a long time to have come up with only three chapters. She doesn’t appreciate perfection, and they are good. She’s a merciless Philistine, and it’s not true that I hide her things. Sure, she’s paying for these sessions because she wants me legally declared having failed to do me in with slow poison. In short, you’ve all come with problems of your own making whereas I was forced because someone else has greater issues.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.


by Gita M. Smith

Have you been listening to a word I’ve been saying?
Yes. There’s nothing wrong with my hearing.
Then answer me.
I didn’t hear an actual question. All I heard were declarative statements.
Okay, then how’s this: Are we going on vacation this year and if so, what did you have in mind?
I plan to go to Kansas in July to a writers’ gathering. I do not care what you do.
So you’re just going gallivanting off to Kansas with God knows who from the internet?
That’s about the size of it, yes.
And I am supposed to do what in the meantime?
Whatever you like. Feel free as the wind.
Then I am coming with you!
Madge, dear, don’t get me wrong. Going to this workshop means a lot to me. I don’t want to hurt you. But if you insist on tagging along, you will be quite sorry.
What’s that supposed to mean? Are you threatening me?
When you put it that way, I guess I am.
Oh yeah? What do you think you’re going to do?
Any number of quite ugly things.
You wouldn’t.
I would.
Well….how long will you be gone?
Five days give or take.
Will women be there?
Yes, several. All homely librarian types.
Men too?
Oh yes, all pudgy and professor-ish.
I suppose I could go to my sister’s in Cleveland.
Sounds like a ripping good time.
See Authors page for Gita’s bio.


Illustrations for Spot 044 derived from various sources.


May 19, 2012

Spot 043: Reasonable Doubt


by Sandra Davies

‘You mentioned ‘damage’. Is that … I didn’t think you would ever damage her.’

‘Who the hell else would I be damaging? Apart from you?’

‘But, Christ, man, you can’t expect to hold on to her by hitting her – she’ll not stand for that!’

‘No? No, next time, she might not be left standing, her blood will be on your hands too.’

It was too soon to say whether the damage and the hurt had been mended by what came after. Better to have the one without the other, the mending without the damage, but in all their previous coming-togethers they’d never had a night like that, and to do so after, what? six years of marriage had been … invigorating, if that was the right word. He could only hope that it was enough, for her, could only be even halfway sure. Because this had been the third time she had … not talked him round exactly, but had sought to lay enough blame for him to forgive her, although he had done a better job of deflecting, disguising the fact that he knew what she was up to this time. Could he do it for a fourth time? Without compromising himself, his own principles? Jesus, he sincerely hoped so, because he knew his life would not be worth living without her. Just as he knew there was a limit beyond which he would not tolerate her behaviour. He just had to make sure she never reached that limit.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by Paul de Denus

I, the accused, have come to my own verdict. What I’ve told is the truth though I had to convince myself to really believe it. The way I see it, I never harmed anyone, just did what I was told. It was a good thing… is a good thing. I’m not guilty by any means. But oh I suffered for it. I did my best, took the stand and stood by my convictions, convinced those who’d listen with my words and actions.

Still, there remains one holdout. He hasn’t decided yet. He’s having doubts about my story. I understand. I will show him, just as I was shown. Tomorrow I will pull Thomas aside and reveal the lance wound, let him prod the nail marks in my hands, let him physically feel and if he still has reasonable doubt, well then… there is nothing more to do.

This is not an easy thing to accept, to believe. Even though something incredible has happened to me, I still wonder.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

I doubted I could write without telling the stories of my family and having everyone angry with me for giving away secrets.
I doubted I could succeed at something satisfying and retire at an early age. I would be working a hum-drum job until I dropped from exhaustion. They would carry me away from an unstoppable conveyor belt or assembly line and that would be my ignominious end.
I doubted my parents respected me as an adult, or as a child for that matter.
Twice I took a hiatus and did temporary work while attempting to write the Great American Novel. Reams of typewritten sheets sit in drawers and I understand why consistent achievers do not respect me.
I doubted my doctor advising me to exercise; I was sedentary; my cholesterol was high, and the ophthalmologist saying I was developing glaucoma. I figured he was in league with the optometrist who wanted to sell glasses. Strange, how I started using them for reading and now have to wear them watching movies.
Lately, I am having doubts about my doubting, using reverse psychology on myself. If I question something, that’s a good thing, but if I think it is good, the doctor will say it isn’t, and past transgressions have led me to the ornery position I am currently in.
I live alone and write most evenings, still trying to complete that novel, but doubt I will. All I’ve read says write what you know, but nothing ever happens to me.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.


Illustrations for Spot 043 are reasonably doubtful.


May 12, 2012

Spot 042: With Foresight


by Bill Floyd

The day was rainy and cold. You lived down the hall with your boyfriend, who worked nights, so you wanted to get out and let him sleep a while. I had the game on TV, muted, with Jim O’Rourke’s “The Visitor” on the stereo. Music like treebranches, each branch terminating in a unique leaf, sun-kissed or rain-dappled or windswept. We got a little high and talked about the things that were important to us, things that wouldn’t have made sense to anyone else. Nothing physical happened, yet it felt intimate. Yes it did. Then came the night with its strong drink and its regrets, but I never regretted the smoky blues of our rainy afternoon.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.



by Paul de Denus

We lean against the wooden slats like bored inmates killing time and take in the shape of the city. Fred casually pops a cigarette into his mouth, sets fire against a northern chill and brumes me in a delicious cloud.
“Did you hear about the barber down the alley?”

Fred is missing a few teeth that he exposes when he laughs, a wheezing sound that comes whistling up out of some deep vent.
His forearm slides through the gate, flicks orange spark out into the cold air.
“The fag he lived with?” Fred coughs. “Fuckin’ barber cut the guy’s head off.”

Fred doesn’t give away much. His face is a carved totem, like one of those dime store types you’d see down in Arizona. I count the seconds, wait for him to crack a calculating smile. It doesn’t come. I peer down the alleyway. On the corner, the quiet barbershop sits buried dead in snow, its drawn yellow-curtained windows now accessorized with yellow Police tape.

“You’re kidding.”
“Nope. That’s what I heard. Cut the head clean off.”
I didn’t know the barber, though I’d contemplated several times going in for a quick trim having passed his door a million times. The place never felt right, the building off-putting, sealed in dated stucco. I imagined the barber standing deathly still behind his seated partner, light conversation and electric trimmer buzzing the air, the smell of talc, the pulling of the razor, the benign, “take a little more off the top, love?”

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



by Sandra Davies

Never wittingly a namesake – how could it be since I knew nothing of her existence? – merely coincidence because I had named my daughter for the month that she was due, with the smallest nod towards a school-friend whose straightforward confidence I admired and knew I lacked. (Not that I believed such qualities will transfer simply by naming!)
Eventually the other one appeared, first in a census maybe, daughter of a shopkeeper named David, then at the wedding of my grandmother, tall and splendid in an ostrich-feather hat. And eventually, at forty-five, she married and then, later, died, bequeathing her engagement ring to my father’s sister, who married later still, at sixty.
Before my father’s sister died she gave the ring to me, asking that I give it to my daughter ‘Since they shared a name, it seems but fitting.’
The ring, tiny as rings from the past always seem to be, had diamonds and, I think, some opals, and when I related its provenance to my determinedly-single daughter she laughed and estimated she could expect to wed when she was seventy-five.
But I doubt I’ll be around to see if it comes true.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

Every afternoon she sat in the same seat, or if taken when she stepped on, she would stand over the passenger in the otherwise empty car until he or she either reached their destination or removed themselves, perhaps with a huff, so she could sit as she made it so obvious that was what she wished to do. She would then reach into her tattersall bag and pull out her Modern Library Finnegans Wake and pretend to read another page. I could see where this was going long before it came about. Completing Joyce’s most impenetrable opus was not her main goal.
The other regular, obviously moneyed, who did not express a preference for any particular seat, but did ride the same compartment, always traveled in dark clothing of blue, or gray, or brown, sometimes a business suit, but more often casual wear, would wait until her book appeared before he extracted his own hardcover copy of Gaddis’ JR from his attaché.
I often wondered why these two chose such heavy tomes to flirt with and why it took them so long to connect. We shared the ride for well into three months.
After a week of traveling solo, I read about his body being found in a dumpster. The police had no clues about his assailant, and though I could have offered them a hint or two, I would not. We had all worked so hard at not being noticed, I figured such a perfect situation should remain unresolved.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.


Illustrations for Spot 042 by mdjb


May 5, 2012

Spot 041: In Hindsight


by Paul de Denus

I should not have gone to the emergency room. Looking back, I should have sucked it up and moaned through the weekend somehow, without taking any drastic measures. Drastic. That’s the word. It’s easy to say that now, now that I feel much back to normal. It’s a fine line between discomfort and pain, between scared and panic, between stable and overwhelmed.

The past is a muffled muddled memory. With it sits guilt, sadness, loss of control and a certain weakness. The after effects continue. Physically, I learned some things. Emotionally? That’s a different toll, a separate cost. There’s the bill from the hospital, from the radiologist, from the tests and pills. Three hours for the uninsured – without seeing a doctor – …over eight grand. Maybe it’s a good thing a doctor never peered in at me. I probably saved myself another thousand or two.

Over the years, I’ve spent the money for personal health insurance elsewhere, took my chances on staying healthy. I don’t know how people do it. We are one disaster from being destroyed. The rich don’t see it. The healthy don’t either.

The biggest pain sits by itself. I cannot fix this one; I can only listen and wait it out. Watching her face and the overtaking sadness is enough to kill me. I know too, this will pass.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



by Sandra Davies

In hindsight, and the eyes of the media, it would have been the parents who were held up as criminal, criminally guilty of too much trust, of optimism, of wishful thinking. Fingers would have been pointed and accusations made, if anyone had known enough to accuse, if the details had got out. The truth.
But for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that the father of one of the victims was in the local CID, the details had been suppressed. The known details. Some had never even been suspected. Which was how the two guilty of perhaps the most officially heinous crime – for all it could be considered justified – went completely unsuspected. And thus uninvestigated and unreported. Unaccused.
The parents did, of course, feel guilt after the event, as did the victims. The two who carried out the crime felt guilty, naturally. But the strengths that had enabled them to do the deed also enabled them to conceal it. To cope and to keep the secret.
The man responsible never felt a thing.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

They say all things come to those who wait. I’ve had experience with that—small epiphanies when that thing I’ve long desired finally arrives. It still occurs, but not often enough to suit my tastes these days.
They say never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. God, I hate those people who say these things—so efficient, so righteous, never satisfied to sit and wait. Things come eventually. I’ve had experience.
They say never put all your eggs in one basket. This one I guess is good advice. You keep it all together, and you lose it all at once. It comes back. Yes, I can see that now, but it hurts for a while during the time you have to do without.
They say a stitch in time saves nine. That’s patchwork, and it never holds up. When you see the signs that something is going, believe it’s already gone. It is. It’s guaranteed to stop working when you’re really counting on it. Peter’s Principle—not just a clever turn of phrase. But, what goes around…
They say you’ll get your reward in the afterlife. Like the man who needed a parachute, what good is getting something after it’s no longer beneficial?
I say keep reading Vico, and recall that “verifiable truth and human concern share only a slight overlap, yet reasoning is required in both spheres.” You cannot live your life by listening to what “they” say alone. Be pragmatic, but don’t lose yourself waiting.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.



by Gita M. Smith

He gave me his cell phone number, but not the one to his land line at home. I told myself, “Hey, lots of people give up their land lines and only use mobiles, nowadays. No biggie.”
He told me his job involved a lot of travel but never gave the name of the company where he worked.
“Laptops with Skype, and smart phones have replaced bricks-and-mortar offices,” I told myself. “Seems reasonable.”
He liked to come over to my place, said it was more comfortable and “artistic” than his new unfurnished apartment with its too-small bed and stand-up shower. There would be time for us to spend weekends at his place once he’d decorated it.
“Seems reasonable,” I told myself. I fantasized about the day when we’d go shopping for a bed and I would buy him sheets – the good ones, at least 400 count.
He also never introduced me to his friends. Not once. So no one even knew that I existed. It’s like we lived in a snow globe, just the two of us.
Of course, looking back I should have seen the signs. Even an amateur would have seen the signs. Of course he was married and never planned to buy a bed with me. That’s when I decided I had been reasonable long enough.
I saw it in his eyes, that perfect moment on the cusp of death before the light goes out – that 20/20 rearview mirror look that says, “Ooops. I fucked up.”
Just between us, I quite enjoyed it

See Authors page for Gita’s bio.



Illustrations for Spot 041 supplied by Sandra Davies

April 28, 2012

Spot 040: In the Waiting Room


by Gita M. Smith

The damn clipboard. And its damn pen dangling on a chain, as if anyone would steal a cheap plastic Bic. Five sheets of paper to fill out, front and back if you please, and return them to the front desk when you’re through. And, oh, did I bring my medications with me?
No I did not. They don’t allow wheelbarrows on city buses.
First page: name, address, employer, employer’s address, who to call in case of emergency?
Well, sure as hell better not be my employer.
Is my illness related to a work accident? That depends. Is stupidity contagious?
Page two: Medical History. Now, that one’s interesting. The entire catalogue of defeated body parts and organ failures among my parents and siblings, laid end-to-end, would stretch from Manhattan to the North Carolina Outer Banks.
My own terrifying history, counting the minor degrading diseases like crabs and gonorrhea, would keep you up nights with the bedroom door barricaded and a gun under your pillow.
Third page: Consent to treatment. What do they think? That sick people come to their door to refuse treatment? Fucktwits.
Page four: Financial responsibility for payment. Am I the responsible party? I neatly print the name D-o-n-a-l-d T-r-u-m-p and the address of Trump Towers, New York City
Page five: What is your reason for coming today?
I hurt everywhere, I bleed from places that should not bleed. I have no hope for my future. I am scarlet with fever. I am pocked with smallness.

See Authors page for Gita’s bio.



by Paul de Denus

The room where our mother dies is on the sixth floor in the palliative care unit of a hospital. The room is shared with a French Canadian woman in her early nineties. We don’t know why she is on this floor. She is recovering from a minor foot problem. Her stay is short term also but she will go home soon.

“What’s wrong with her?” the woman asks.
“She has cancer,” I reply.
The woman sports a toothless maw and softly pulls at her short gray hair.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she looks at me with pained, mothering eyes.
“That’s not good. Can you help me find my comb?”

While we wait, we periodically assist the French woman, helping her to bed, to a chair. She has the orderlies hopping, working the call button with concerned requests for lunch, medication and bathroom aid. She waits by the door, calling out to every passing person she sees.
“I need to see the doctor please! These pills aren’t working. Nothing works.”
At one point, a priest comes in to administer Communion and she is excited to partake in the prayers recited in French. On the wall above her head, hangs an upside down crucifix. I wonder if someone did that purposely. I expect the walls to crack, the ceiling to crumble and an ungodly loud voice to announce–
“So sorry! There’s been an unfortunate mistake! We only deal with the feet here!”

Defeat. Yes, that much feels true.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



by Sandra Davies

The day began in a caravan near Arrochar, Loch Long and had been long and strange enough already. Woken by a crying and miserable child, in pain, initially we sought to reassure – children get pains enough that pass away. Eventually, no reason emerging we took him to a local surgery where, having seen him vomit copiously into a flower bed, the sympathetic patients in the day’s first waiting room made us go first.
Strongly suspected appendicitis and sent us down the narrow-roaded length of Loch Lomond, against the Friday never-ending current of weekend traffic. Arrived in splendid-sounding Alexandria to be dealt with kindness and with care and while the other offspring were taken off for much belated fish and chips, I waited beside the bed to reassure.
When they finally wheeled him into theatre my tight-held control relaxed and bowels to instant water – so poetic, but such pain! – and then the final waiting room, wherein I read a biography of Dirk Bogarde who, poor man, remained forever after associated with that night.

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

Sitting where they left me after changing into a hospital johnnie, ready to take part in some experiment no one’s explained yet. Wait here, they said, but I’ve been waiting, what, three or four hours? No clock here.
Getting hungry—probably near dinner time already…must’ve dozed off, recalling past events—things I forgot I knew…waiting and waiting. I should push that red button to call someone. Let them know I’m starting to feel a little anxious. Don’t know where any of those doors lead, but hesitate to show my exasperation. Might be disqualified.
Told me the experiment required someone with great patience; good money in it if all goes well, but four and a half hours is a long frigging time to wait just to get started. I can put up with a lot of things, probably this too, if I knew what it was all about. I did hear what looked like two orderlies snickering. Could’ve been sharing a private joke. I shouldn’t let it get to me. I really need the dough. I could…
Nah, hell, can’t take this anymore. I’m no sucker. Must be another way to make some money—maybe give blood or something. Got to call someone and get out of here. I’m pressing the button!

One of the doors opens.
An attendant comes in, looking at a stopwatch, and says, “Hmmm, seventy-seven minutes. Not so long as some, but longer than most,” then adds, “Come with me, sir, and we’ll get you your check.”

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.


Illustrations for Spot 040 supplied by Gita Smith and by Sandra Davies.


April 21, 2012

Spot 039: Time Shifting


by Gita M. Smith

Cicada sleeps for seven years, a curled and brittle pupa in the soil.
He stirs and digs his way toward the light.
All those years, he thinks, for just one chance to fuck.
I hope she’s pretty.

He climbs a tree and lures a female with his song. Reeee-ee! Reee-ee!
Later, the two engage in pillow talk.
“Why can’t we be like crickets or mosquitoes? Why such a long gestation? It’s not efficient.”
They sit a while, clinging to bark or branch.
He rubs his legs against his abdomen, hoping for one more hump before his time is up.

She busies herself, laying her eggs in holes around the tree.
Poor kids, she thinks. Our kind are most unfortunate. We never get to meet our mom and dad. If only we could speed the process up.
And then she dies.

The gods are busy, but they hear her prayers. Even the small cicada’s hopes get noticed.
“What do you think, do we change the schedule?” asks Jehovah.
Shiva and Zeus convene a focus group.
“It wouldn’t work,” the panel votes. “Those leaf eaters would strip the trees and crops if we let them come back every year.”
“That’s true,” Jehovah reasons. “Remember that plague of locusts I sent down?”
“Are locusts the same as cicadas?” asks a minor deity from Burma.
“Yeah, a while back someone changed the name. Same difference.”
“Okay, well, then I guess it’s settled. No shift in policy. They’ll have to serve their time.”

See Authors page for Gita’s bio.



by Paul de Denus

My old man was a veteran from the school of hard knocks. He never missed an opportunity to teach me what that was all about… how it felt… how it stung… how I’d remember. Once, a punch to the neck left me half paralyzed on the carpet. The old man trailed a heavy foot, dragging it over my head as he sauntered to the fridge for another refill of fun. That kind of fun got him down the road for serious jail time. I guess I took that same broken path.

My bed used to feel comfortable, fluffed and entangled with caverned blankets and heady pillows. The sheets here are thin as tissue paper and rash my skin. I could have sworn they just changed them. The pillows encourage no dreams. I’m comforted sleeping on the floor. I’ve been there before. My thoughts bounce around a bit, circle up to the vertical bars and return. I’ll straighten it out once I take care of this.

He’s coming down the hall now carrying a tray of medicinal drinks and pills. His face shifts to that of a black man… disguised as an orderly like he’s here to help calm things. The dude makes the same clopping sound as the old man, not quite as heavy but still dangerous. He don’t fool me. I’ve been this way before. I know who he is. This time I’m ready for him. His key in the cell door, my shiv awaits.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

The cosmologist said, “An egg can become an omelet, but you can’t unmake an omelet,” and felt he had explained entropy for those of us too slow to grasp the technical terms.
Concurrent with his explanation, Jan was talking about how we had fallen into a static trap. We were going nowhere in our relationship.
I guess I had the television on to drown out her voice, and my responsive thoughts, but I could still make out bits of both.
“Without aging or metabolism or anything like that, it’s just random fluctuations.”
“Will you pay attention to what I’m saying? Am I just a blip on your radar?”
I was thinking, yes, when you start speaking in clichés, I don’t hear anything progressing.
The erstwhile commentator announced a station break, and it crossed my mind that a program such as this one should have been broadcast on public television. Jan must have seized upon my look of disinterest because she suddenly remarked, “And you paid that gardener seventy dollars. It doesn’t look as if this grass is growing at all.”
I had a wicked premonition it would green and thrive if her corpse were feeding it from underneath. It was momentary, but cruel even for me. I anticipated the cosmologist’s return, and perhaps a solution to our own problems. I think he was onto something when he stated after leaving a room of neatly stacked paper, a mess would not shock, but the other way round would freak us out.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.



by Sandra Davies

With the arrival of the main course, helping themselves to rice and nan bread, flicking fingers to dissipate heat, they talked of other things, and each found much to like in the other once they moved away from topics where they were unavoidably opposed. Afterwards, and after some minor wrangling over the bill, Luke insisting so that, as he said, ‘we can do this again when it’s your turn to pay,’ Luke asked Ed ‘Will you be seeing Baz again? ‘
‘I certainly intend to keep in touch with him, with both of them. Not to sound too … interfering or big-headed, I want to see if I can get them together again, sooner rather than later. Someone has to act as go-between and I’m willing to try.’
‘Then will you tell him I said ‘What about Susannah’? Make sure he knows that I’m not in any way intending that as a reason, an excuse or means of revenge because it isn’t. That wasn’t at all why it happened, such a thing never entered my mind, and the only reason I mention it is because it might help him get things in perspective.’
‘’What about Susannah?’ Okay, I’ll do that, and will let you know what he says, if anything.’
‘If you think it … helpful, tell him I am sorry … but I doubt it will be.’
‘It won’t.’

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.


Illustrations for Spot 039 supplied by Sandra Davies.