Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Pancakes will make you happy.

by Riham Adly 

Breton cider

Ghosts from the future haunt me. I see the genesis of my new fat cells, all glorious and unhindered, going on strong in my belly and thighs. I get those flashes of premonition every time my feet carry me there—where I shouldn’t be.

Time Magazine picked its top One Hundred Influential Women carefully. None had the body shape of apples or even watermelons. They were all pears and peaches ripened to perfection.
I hear little Johnny cry, a hungry wail. He must be wiggling and kicking his little legs, shaking the crib a little. The musical mobile will distract him.   
Cortisol level going down!  My mind screams. You have work to do.
“Mommy needs this. You need it too.”  I close my eyes and whisper, imagining the tight whorl of his baby ears.  

In whiplashed seconds my serotonin-starved brain orders my limbs to barge straight into the, the….the kitchen—where I’m always defeated. At the worktable I line up my gear and all needed ammunition.

 I whip my eggs just like a good mother gently pushes her kid on a swing, increasing momentum till it’s the right amount of swish.
Will I ever be the good mother pushing Johnny on a swing, one day?
I add the milk, never spilling a drop, unlike the tears I let loose down the furrows of my chubby cheeks.
I reach out for the vanilla powder from the cupboard. All I need is a pinch. My fingers rub the magic dust before its release. A little over the top and the magic does no good.
I add in the sugar and salt. Salt likes his sugar and sugar loves her salt leaving the baking powder jealous and always forgotten, but hey, I forget nothing.
I beat in the flour. Too much force−like when a man beats inside a woman against her will− is no good. I imagine flowers, imagine hand-pulling them out, before holding them up like I hold my Johnny. I love flowers, but yanking their roots from the soil is not love. Didn’t they fall off and die anyways? Maybe plucking them out is not so bad? Yes, not so bad at all.
When the batch is all whipped and ready, I pour a dollop on the greased pan and listen to the loud sizzle.
Johnny’s cries are louder than that sizzle.
I watch the edges of the batter curl up.  I flip when it’s just the right shade of gold, like the haze at dusk when I’m drunk on chocolate kisses. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some real kisses?
The nipples of my rock-hard breasts leak into my shirt like the dripping maple syrup I pour on the golden stacks. I bring the plate and rush to Johnny. I hold him with my free arm. I place the plate on the bed and scoop a mouthful. He opens his mouth and shuffles up my painful chest.
“Here you go, little fellow. Pancakes will make you happy.”

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Love’s Eternal Flame

By Paula R C Readman

vodka on the rocks

“Your words are so bold like stolen kisses for the soul,” she said coming up behind him.

He turned away from studying her painting that hung upon the wall in the expensive gallery. “Your work,” he said, taking her face within his hands, his lips a breath apart from hers. “Is a heart racing picture of the mind, a shadowy ship that sails through the night, when love’s lingering touch caresses bare skin, and leaves footprints upon the soul like in wet sand.”

She stepped away from him, threw her head back and laughed,  her hair cascading like a peat-filled stream after a heavy summer downpour around her shoulders. “Oh Peter, it’s over, your silky words don’t wash with me.”

“You my darling dream, my eternal flame, are tearing my world apart.” 

“Such sweetness in your words brings many lovers to your bed, Peter, but I can see through your lies.”

“Okay,” he said, defeated, letting his hands dropped to his side as he turned back to the painting showing a ship, with full sails crashing against the rocks, and a lone figure on a shoreline. “At least, my love for you wasn’t wasted as it has given you fuel for your paintings, Connie.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Crosswords and Clear Skies for a Sunflower

by Maria Zach

Americano, no milk

We bonded over crossword. Do you, by any chance, know the currency of Romania, she asked me. Our relationship escalated to pancakes for brunch. After we exhausted the newspapers on our floor, I went up to the library two floors above and nicked newspapers from there. Before long I was banned from the library. She couldn't walk up two sets of staircases. So we thought up puzzles; designed our own crosswords. When she tired, she mused out loud - I wonder whether the sky is clear. I'd disengage the brakes and wheel her outside and she'd turn her face up and tell me, I feel like a sunflower. Pretty little sunflower, I told her. Perhaps, I should have asked - how does one feel like a sunflower.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Brotherly Love

by Robin Wrigley

campari and ruby grapefruit juice


On one of the centre aisle tables sits two elderly ladies tucking into a meal as though it might be their last. Their table fortified by various paraphernalia used to enable their perambulations. A blue four-wheeled contraption with handlebars, brakes and a small satchel-bag made to assist the user to remain upright while walking; a pair of metal and plastic crutches for the other lady. There is very little conversation between them, their concentration confined to their eating. As their father taught them as children, ‘we come to the table to eat, not talk’.
     At another table two well dressed women with a young baby in a highchair to one side. The child seems happy and well-fed; its podgy, pink cheeks gives the impression of a kookaburra chick seeking a feed from an attentive mother hen as it takes intermittent sucks on a proffered feeding bottle. After a satisfying gulp, happily pushing the bottle away and attempting a small handclapping exercise that results in a rattle hitting the ground for the ladies to retrieve.
     Gerald sat there looking around as he did on the Friday lunchtime’s he had been coerced into agreeing to meet his sister, Jenny for lunch. She is late as usual. Fortunately, this assignation doesn’t happen too often and after half an hour, she would realise they didn’t really have anything in common and would invent a need to leave early. But at least it put her mind to rest that she was maintaining family ties now that her husband Frank, who passed two years ago, was no longer there to share her daily life.
     Lucky bastard, Gerald thought, especially now he was the listener to all of her ailments, a myriad of minor aches and pains that nobody ever died of. He recalled with a wry smile one of the last times he visited Frank in the general hospital with his sister. Though she was there to visit her dying husband she used the time to recant her own physical ailments. Frank had looked fed up and whispered to Gerald that ‘he wished her tongue was as tired as his ears.’ Caught up in her own laments his remark escaped her.
     Gerald had returned from a lifetime in Africa where at least he’d been happy as a celebrity by virtue of the colour of his skin and his comparative wealth. Also there was the lovely Joyce who joined him most weekends and never took anything for granted. They were the happiest years of his life. Now, as he looked around he wondered why he had bothered to return to this, his homeland.
     He begins to think like a wildebeest, when the grazing area goes deathly quiet because the herd has shifted, unbeknownst to the animal who suddenly finds itself alone and vulnerable. For Gerald though, the maddening silence is instead replaced with ceaseless chatter which proves far more disconcerting than the eerie silence of the veldt.
     He looks over to his left at the next table beyond the elderly ladies, who having finished eating are discussing possible seconds. Beyond them a middle aged couple sits without talking in that air of boredom that surrounds two people whose only common attachment is a band of gold. They are both well dressed for such a time and place; the small feathery headwear on the lady probably indicates they are about to attend a wedding or some such occasion and need to kill some time.
     One table down from them sits another couple acting out a familiar scene of the Spratt family. They are casually dressed and the waitress is just serving their order. The man has a colourful, healthy looking salad plate while the lady is served what appears to be a huge hamburger accompanied by a miniature tin bucket of chunky chips stacked neatly on top. They are big enough to act as wheel chocks for a light aircraft.
     On her return to the counter the waitress approaches Gerald’s table; she stops to say that his wife has just arrived indicating with her eyes the entrance door. He follows her gaze in a dream thinking it might be the ebony features of Joyce but no a tall thin woman dressed in mauve is waving to him, a cool smile under newly coiffured hair.
     ‘Oh that’s just my sister.' He sighs. 'Thankfully, not my wife. She won’t stay long.’

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Crazy Old Wilbur

                                                                           by James Bates                                                                           

                                                                       English breakfast tea

The two old friends, Becky Johnson and Maggie Jones, were among last ones to stop by Wilbur Smith's estate sale. Dead now for two weeks everyone in the small town of Long Lake had wondered what was to become of the house, or Crazy Old Wilbur's place, as the small stucco home on Lakeview Avenue was referred to.
            Wilbur's wife had died twenty years earlier and she'd been sixty-five. Wilbur, everyone guessed, had been around the same age as she was back then, putting him at eighty-five or so now, this year of his own demise. Anyway, he'd been retired when Edith Smith had passed, that was for certain. What he'd been doing in all those years as a widower was anybody's guess. Becky and Maggie had their opinions, reinforced by what they'd seen wandering through Crazy Old Wilbur's place that bright spring afternoon. The day of the estate sale. The day when everything the old man owned was on display for all to see.
            "No children, I guess," Becky said to Maggie, pawing through a table full of old men's and women's clothes.
            "I heard that they had kids, but they were all dead," Maggie said, picking up and quickly discarding an old bra of Edith's. "Jesus, this thing has to be fifty years old. Didn't that crazy old coot ever get rid of anything?" She took out a handkerchief and diligently wiped off her hands.
            Becky looked around, hands on hips, surveying the tiny living room jammed with boxes of old clothes and tables full of every kind of piece of junk one could imagine being accumulated over one's lifetime: kitchen ware, old lamps, furniture, magazines, newspapers, etcetera, etcetera. And then there were the tools; boxes and boxes of tools, mostly gardening related. Wilbur had been a gardener, that was for sure, and he had the tools to prove it: trowels, hoes, hand held claw shaped things that looked dangerous to the uninformed; all kinds of gardening paraphernalia, hoses, shovels, pitch forks, wheel barrels. Tons of stuff, really.
            The two friends picked through the boxes, more curious than anything, before finally deciding that no, not today, thank you very much. They didn't need any of Crazy Old Wilbur's junk. Not one little bit. In fact, what they really wanted to do was to spend a solid five minutes with some soap and warm water getting cleaned up.
            "Let's get out of here," Maggie said.
            "Lets," Becky responded, "Why don't you come over to my place. After we wash up we can have some tea. Maybe a nice cup of Chamomile?"
            "Sounds wonderful," Maggie said and checked her watch, "It's nearly five. They'll be closing soon, anyway."
            The two old friends made their way through Wilbur's lifetime of debris and went out the front door. It was early May and the sun was low behind the back of the house, bathing the front yard in golden late afternoon light. It was a yard planted from boarder to boarder and meticulously cared for. Right up until his passing, Wilbur had continued to maintain and improve upon the gardens he and Edith had begun planting when they had first moved into the little cottage style home on Lakeview Avenue over fifty years earlier, back in the mid sixties. Even though Wilbur and Edith were reticent by nature, gardening was their passion. Throughout the years they had dug up the lawn and planted flower and vegetable gardens in both the front and back yards. They were gardens that neighbors had not only enjoyed the sights of, but even begun to depend upon, looking forward every year to new displays of gladiolas and hollyhocks and whatever else the quiet couple decided to plant; the same gardens that Wilbur continued to nurture and maintain even after Edith's passing, the old man carrying on their floral tradition in spite of the death of his wife.
            On this day, bright tulips of yellow and orange and mauve and red were blooming in profusion. Mixed in were white narcissus, yellow daffodils and even some tiny blue cilia. Maggie and Becky paused on the front steps to take in the colorful scene.
            "What's going to happen with the gardens?" Becky asked.
            "I heard someone bought the house and they're going to tear it down. Bulldozer it to the ground and build one of those big new ones. I'm assuming the gardens with go, too. I guess it's supposed make everything easier."
            "A brand new house?" Becky looked up and down the street; a quiet, tree lined block of predominately one story bungalows built a hundred years earlier. "It'll look stupid here, won't it? A big, huge house. It'll look out of place."
            "The price of progress, I guess," Maggie said, "Time marches on."
            "Phooey," Becky spit out derisively, "Maybe it marches on, but that doesn't mean that it has to go in the wrong direction."
            Just then Jacob Fry, the man in charge of the sale, stepped outside for a cigarette. He lit up, blew a stream of smoke away from Maggie and Becky and said, "Say ladies, I couldn't help but over hear you talking about Crazy Old Wilbur's house and garden."
            The two friends both made it a point of waving Jacobs cigarette smoke away. Becky said, "Yes, it'll be sad to lose these lovely gardens. They're so pretty."
            Jacob looked at her with interest, "Who said anything about losing the gardens?"
            "Well, that's the rumor, isn't it?" Maggie said.
            Jacob laughed, "It might be the rumor, but it's a rumor that's wrong. Wilbur Smith loved these gardens. He'd never let anything happen to them. In fact," he leaned close, an air of the conspirator about him, "I guess I can tell you," he winked, "You can keep secret, right?" The two old friends nodded and Jacob continued, knowing full well that what he was about to say would be all around town by the next day, if not sooner. He didn't care, in fact, he was counting on it. "Wilbur left his land to the city for green space."
            "What?" Maggie and Becky managed to sputter at the same time. They were both incredulous. "Green space? Crazy Old Wilbur? What the...?"
            Jacob held up a hand to interrupt the two friends and their sputtering, "Yeah. Although he didn't call it green space. He said, 'I want the city to have it. I want people to enjoy the gardens just like Edith and I have. It'd mean a lot to the both of us.' At least that 's the way I heard it from Sam Rickenbacher on the city council."
            "Well, I'll be..." Becky started to say.
            "...damned," Maggie finished her friend's thought.
            "Yeah," Jacob said, "It was a wonderful gesture on his part. At least I think so, anyway."
            Then he stopped talking while he smoked, taking his time while looking out over the pretty front yard, bursting forth in a profusion of springtime color. Becky and Maggie joined him, all three quietly enjoying the peace and serenity of Wilbur and Edith's gardens. They even saw an early arriving bluebird.
            When Jacob was with finished with his cigarette, he bent down and ground it out in some soil and stuck the butt in his coat pocket. Maggie and Becky watched and shook their heads, in complete and shared agreement regarding the filthiness of Jacob's habit. He stood up, looked at the kindly old ladies and said, "He did a good thing, Crazy Old Wilbur did. A real good thing." He smiled and went inside to close down the estate sale.
            Captivated by the magic of the beauty of the front yard, the two friends stayed on the front steps for a while before leaving. It had been a long day and they were both looking forward to that refreshing cup of tea Becky had offered earlier. As they walked past a particularly color clump of daffodils, they both remarked how happy they were that the gardens were not going to be destroyed but would remain into the future for all to enjoy.
            A few hours later, the sun had set low in the west casting long shadows over the gardens, gardens that now and forever would be referred to as the Long Lake Gardens and Green Space. Nobody figured the old couple would mind the name at all. Not on little bit. Not as long as the flowers Wilbur and Edith had planted continued to bloom.
            Besides, that's the way the old couple wanted it.
            The last words Edith, or Edie, as Wilbur had affectionately called his wife - his favorite name for her for the fifty-odd years they'd known each other, starting in grade school and continuing on for all of their married years - the last words she ever spoke to him were, "Take care of the gardens, Will. Please take care of our flowers." Then she was silent for a long moment before softly adding, "Please..." It was the last word that escaped her lips with the last breath she ever took. Will, as Edie had affectionately called him all those years, held his dear wife close for one last time. For many minutes, actually. When he finally stood he looked around the room and wondered how he was going to spend the rest of his life without her. A life he'd be the first to admit, if anyone asked (and no one did), was so much more empty now without the love of his life in it. The love of his beloved Edie.
            So, years later, when the same cancer took over his body that had taken over Edie's, Will didn't protest. He didn't seek treatment, and he didn't try to get better. He reasoned it this way: What was the point? He'd lived long enough. It was time to move on. It was time to be with Edie.
            He knew what he needed to do. He'd figured it out long ago. He went ahead and contacted the Long Lake City Counsel and told them of his plan. After a few weeks of back and forth meetings, Wilber's plan was approved in a closed door session. When he heard the news, he sighed in relief. "Now I can let go," he thought to himself, "Now I can join Edie. Now I won't be alone anymore." Two days later he died at home in his sleep.

Maggie and Becky and their friends and neighbors walk past Wilbur and Edith's gardens every day. It's mid July, the little stucco house is long gone and the spring flowers have long ago faded Now it is glorious summer and the summertime flowers are in bloom: purple and white phlox, terra-cotta coneflower, blue bachelor buttons, yellow sunflowers and a myriad of other plants and colors. "It's a riot of color," neighbors say proudly to anyone who asks. "It's the best garden in the city, if not the entire county," they are quick to add. Whether or not that statement is true or not, it doesn't matter, because for Crazy Old Wilbur's neighbors, they are as proud of the notoriety of the gardens as if they were their own. Which, in a way, they are.
             Though Wilbur has been gone from the world for three months, his and Edith's gardens flourish. The city has provided jobs for kids from the local grade school and middle school and high school, just like Wilbur had requested. Being young, some of the kids (but not many) need proper supervision, and Jacob Fry is just the person to do that. He's firm, but kind. The kids like him. So, yes, the gardens are profiting by the meticulous care the school aged children are giving them. Everyone agrees, they've never looked better.
            Do Wilbur and Edith watch over the city's new green space? Does the reclusive couple know how beautiful their flower gardens continue to look? Maggie and Becky often wonder. They've taken to walking to the Long Lake Gardens and Green Space every day to sit and relax on one of the teak wood benches scattered here and there. Some mornings they even bring along their tea and sip a refreshing cup of chamomile. It's a perfect way to begin the day, nestled among the pretty flowers, twittering song birds and busy bees and butterflies. Of course, they'll never have an answer as to whether or not Wilbur and Edith are watching over the new green space, and they really don't care. What the two friend do know, however, is this: really, when it came right down to it, maybe Crazy Old Wilbur really wasn't so crazy after all.

About the author


I live in Long Lake, Minnesota with my life-partner. I enjoy walking, gardening, bird watching, reading, writing, bicycle riding and playing with my four fantastic grand kids. I'm retired after working many years as a sales and technical development and training instructor. I collect old marbles, vintage dinky toy race cars and YA books from the 1900's and am a passionate yo-yo player. Life is good. I am a fortunate man.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Table for Two

by Rebecca Redshaw

herbal tea

Jill sat at the small round table in the corner of Lois' Cafe as she did every Thursday afternoon from four o'clock to five-fifteen. Since the accident, this hour and fifteen minutes were her only private time. Except for Lois, the owner/waitress/philosopher/and unofficial comedian,  Jill rarely spoke to anyone.

As she removed her tailored cloth coat a man in dark glasses with striking blond hair turned his head towards her. "Getting a little cold out there?"

Space was an unknown commodity at the corner café, so the tables were situated close together.
"Just a bit," Jill turned her face away from the stranger as she sat down and retrieved the library book from her bag.

"Nice to have the afternoon off, don't you think?" The man sipped his espresso and looked out the window.

Jill really didn't have the afternoon “off”, but she ignored his  question because she knew what would happen. He'd ask to join her table and once he saw the scars on her face would, somewhat embarrassingly, make some excuse to leave soon after. If he chose to tough it out for the duration of a casual cup of coffee, he might notice her limp as she walked to the ladies’ room and mercifully he’d be gone by the time she returned.

This scenario was new for Jill. After living a relatively healthy young life with only the usual skinned knees as a kid and acne as a teenager, she learned the accident seemed to bring out the worst in
well-intentioned people.

Jill had always been quiet, a quality often misunderstood as shyness or disinterest.  She didn't date much in college preferring to use her studies as an excuse and upon entering the work force nobody seemed to pay much attention to her. Then she met Jimmy. They dated for two years and she was thrilled with his attentions. He was persistent in discussing commitment and marriage almost from the first night they met.

"Jimmy, I hardly know you. Can't we take things slow for a while?"

But he never did anything slow. He liked fast sports, downhill skiing in the winter and jet skiing in the summer.

 "Come on, Jill you can do this just hold on," Jimmy admonished her when she hesitated getting on the jet ski.

"Be careful, please," she shouted but her words of caution were lost as he revved the motor and they took off across a passing boat's wake. That was the first time he scared her. His eyes glistened with the  thrill of speed and she remembered seeing that same look the night of the accident.
Unfortunately, Jimmy drove like a maniac at every opportunity and her asking him to slow down only made  it worse. Verbally abusive to other drivers he took pleasure in seeing how close he could
tailgate before the offended driver either pulled over out of fear or took Jimmy's challenge in a very dangerous race on the freeway.

Since the accident, her Thursday afternoons at the café were not really "time off" as the stranger assumed but time waiting for trains between appointments. She remembered the day she went back to work. "You see, Mr. Harrington, my physical therapist needs to see me for at least two hours, twice a
week and if it's alright with you, I can maintain my routine every Thursday and Saturday afternoon from one to three..."

"Enough, enough already," Mr. Harrington cleared his throat huskily, shuffling papers and never looking at the once pretty, young woman. "As long as the work gets done but you know I really can't give you any more special treatment from now on."

"No, sir, Mr. Harrington. My PT told me that I have six more months of  rehab and then, whatever else can be done to improve my walk, I'll be on  my own."

Jill knew he hated looking at her since the car accident ten months ago. Once her hair grew back in and she could restyle it to cover the scars, the only visible affectation of that night would be her
noticeable limp. As she closed the door leaving behind her flustered boss, she sighed in disbelief. "My God, what would he do if he knew that after I left the fitness clinic I waited for the next train to go uptown to see my shrink."

This afternoon Jill had walked hesitantly through the crowded café. She'd been coming to this same place for six weeks now and Lois saved her a small table in the corner and brought herbal tea and a slice of lemon cake without Jill even having to order.

"How are you today, Lois? Read any good books?" That's how their friendship had gotten started. Jill always had a library book with her and read to pass the time. It took away the
awkwardness of eating or drinking alone which she hated.

"No, sweetie, those teenagers of mine had me down at the station house last week. Prank stuff, ya know?  I grounded them for two weeks and believe you me," she bent over the table as she straightened the salt and pepper shakers, "the punishment's all mine."

Jill smiled as she dipped her tea bag repeatedly in the metal pot. Lois  was the only person she had met that never once asked her about the scars or the limp and she loved her for that. Jimmy had left her before she was released from the hospital, the jerk. At the thought of Jimmy, Jill shuddered a little and pulled her sweater tightly around her shoulders.

"You catchin’ a cold, honey?" Lois refilled the hot water container. "I can tell Bernie to turn up the heat or ..."

"No, please don't bother. I'm fine."

"Maybe you'd like to change seats?" the stranger scooted his chair back as if to get up.

"No, no, that's not necessary," Jill said a little too loudly.

Lois stood between the two tables her large form blocking their view.  "Say, have you two met yet? You should you know. You both like books. There're too few of us in-tell-ec-tu-als left!" She exaggerated each syllable and tilted her nose to the ceiling evoking laughter from both customers.

"Samuel, Jill. Jill, Samuel." The two customers smiled at one another. "Com'on. The owner will spring for another espresso and another pot of tea. On the house." Lois headed towards the kitchen.

 "Thanks, anyway, Lois but It's time for my train. Nice meeting you, Samuel." Jill buttoned her coat, gathered her book bag and walked towards the front door knowing he was watching her walk and wishing Lois had never introduced them.

Because of her physical therapy plus working on Saturdays, the week flew by for Jill. Thursday, as she walked into Lois', dripping from the rainstorm outside, she was surprised to see Samuel as she had the week before, sitting at the same table staring out the window. Knowing Lois, Jill was sure she had told him she stopped in every Thursday. She was also certain, even if Samuel hadn't seen her scarred face as she left the week before, he had surely seen her limp. Why was he here? Her therapist had told her not to be self-conscious about her appearance and to try and make new friends, date even, 'because in time things would get better.'

“Things,” thought Jill as she left the woman's office. “What does  anyone know about
'things' and how people treat you when you look different.”But there sat Samuel. Lois with her own bustling style was walking towards Jill's table with tea and cake in hand.

"Let me put that wet coat and umbrella by the door, sweetie. No one will bother them, I'll see to that. You remember Samuel, don't you? Sam, it’s Jill. You met her last week."

"Of course," he started to get up from his chair as she passed. "I'd recognize that perfume anywhere. 'Obsession,' isn't it?"

"Pretty smooth, this one." Lois patted him on the back and he grabbed her hand.

"Marry me, woman, and we'll runaway to some exotic island, what do ya' say?"

"What and leave the good life at Lois' Cafe? Not a chance, buster. Just 'cause you're handsome and charming and probably, available," Lois winked at Jill, "doesn't mean you can have your way with me."

Their repartée brought a smile to Jill's face.

"Let me go now so I can tend to the customers who actually tip when they leave this joint."

Jill turned her face away and sipped her tea. Her thoughts raced about Sam. Part of her wanted to talk to him, to get to know him better. The sound of his voice startled her.

"Why don't you join me?" Samuel pushed the empty chair at his table gently with his foot. "You can bet Lois will not rest until we at least pretend to do as  she says."

His voice was gentle and soft and he spoke ever so slowly. And Jill knew that he was right. For whatever reason Lois had made their meeting her personal  challenge. Leaving her books and handbag at her table, Jill placed the untouched lemon cake and tea cup beside Samuel.

"Lois tells me you're a reader, too," Samuel stared out the window. "I read everything I can get my hands on."

"Maybe you'd like to read this one. I've just finished it." Jill reached for the book behind her and set it between them on the table.

"Thanks, but I don't think..." Samuel started to explain but Jill  interrupted. "Oh, please don't feel obligated out of pity. I can always go back to my own table and..."

Sam reached for her hand, "Whoa, whoa, tiger. Where did that all come from? Don't you know the reason I'm not sure?"

"Please don't make me say what we both know to be true. I know I don't look like other girls you may date, that's fairly obvious."

"Jill, Jill, how would I know? We have a misunderstanding here that I want to clear up right away before either of us says anything we'll regret later."

"Later? Regret?" Jill's voice cracked. "I don't see what you're talking about."

"Precisely, Jill. I don't see. When I said I read anything I can get my hands on I meant it quite literally. Don't you know I'm blind?" Samuel  turned his head towards her and she
looked at her reflection of astonishment in his dark glasses. After a few moments of awkward silence, Jill blew her nose unceremoniously into the paper napkin.

He clapped his hands together once and laughed. "I think it's swell that you thought I was being a jerk. Usually, I reserve that right since people pre-judge me all the time because I'm different. But you wouldn't know about that, would you?"

Jill's eyes widened in amazement. Samuel had no idea about her scars or her limp. He liked her!
Just then Lois arrived at the table and placed the check in Samuel's hand. "Sorry to tell you kids this but a certain someone's train leaves in five minutes. Time to pay the piper."

"I guess I better get going," Jill started to take the check, but Sam held tight and placed his other hand on top of hers."I have a better idea. Stay and have dinner with me. Word on the street is that Lois makes a killer chili especially good on rainy nights."

Jill hesitated, wondering what her shrink would say if she canceled her appointment for a date.

Sam leaned forward and whispered, "If you'd rather not..."

"No, please, I mean, yes. It's just that I'm surprised." She felt a bit giddy. "Let me make on phone call."

Walking towards the pay phone in the back Jill saw Lois waiting with open arms to give her a hug.
"See, honey, Lois knows a lot more than waitin' tables. She knows beautiful people when she sees 'em."

Jill kissed the rosy cheek of the plump woman and turned to call her therapist.  She hesitated and turned to Lois.."Thanks for opening my eyes to what's really important, Lois."

"Don't be silly, sweetie. I'm just tryin' to open up another station at my busy time. I don't want you two hoggin' up two prime tables."

Jill glanced toward the front of the cafe where Samuel waited patiently, "Lois, my friend, I have a feeling it will be a table for two  for some time to come."


About the author:

Rebecca Redshaw is a published author and playwright who lives in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to extensive articles and short stories published in national newspapers and magazines. Her play, A Conversation with Hattie McDaniel was commissioned by the Clallam County League of Women Voters and has been produced successfully at numerous venues.
Rebecca was awarded First Prize in the 2009 Lakeview Literary Review for her short story, Somebody Special and her short story, “Mrs. C” won 2nd place in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition. Currently, she is at work on her fourth novel, The Girls Go Fishing and eighth play, Into the Wind.

"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be
doing something else."


Thursday, 19 April 2018

Maddie and Zaid

By Eliza Master

butterfly tea 

            “We both got the Butterfly Tea,” he says in an accent Maddie can’t identify.
            She looks over her laptop and sees that he is handsome. She focuses on his downy beard so as to avoid eye contact.
            “Can I join you?” he says. There aren’t any empty tables left, and hers is a big one that seats four normally.
            “Sure, of course.” She nods at the chair that is diagonal from her.
            “I’m Zaid,” he says, reaching a hand out.
            “Maddie,” she says, shaking it awkwardly. She returns her gaze to her screen, but the assignment on eco architecture doesn’t hold her attention. Instead she sneaks glances at Zaid. She watches him settle in and open his laptop. His dark eyes stare at his own screen.
            “Homework?” asks Maddie.
            “Yep. Psychology. You?” says Zaid.
            “Urban planning,” replies Maddie. She sips her Butterfly Tea, now room temperature. The clock on the wall is ticking loudly. She wants him to like her. Her attention is drawn to Zaid’s hair. It’s sandy brown. She wonders what it would feel like to run her fingers through it.
            “Hey,” says Zaid. He meets her gaze as if he was waiting for it. “Are you free for dinner tonight?” Maddie’s cheeks flush.
            She bites her lip, and says, “I am,” with as much confidence as she can muster.
            “Can I have your number?” Zaid takes his phone out of his pocket and offers it to her. It is warm from his body heat. The case has an anime rabbit jumping toward a star. Maddie taps in her number. “See you soon,” says Zaid. He downs the last of the Butterfly Tea and packs away his laptop.
            Just as Maddie settles back into homework, her phone bings. It’s Zaid; 6- at the YouKai Sushi?
            She has passed the restaurant several times. It’s a few blocks from campus, next to a dry-cleaning shop. Ok see you then J,  she texts back.
            It’s already dark when Maddie arrives at YouKai Sushi. The entrance to the restaurant is down a grimy hallway and through another door. There are just five tables, all of them empty except for one where Zaid sits.
            He stands, and pulls out the chair opposite him saying, “Maddie.” Somehow this makes her blush. She is glad the place is dark. Zaid orders warm sake, which tastes like cleaning fluid to her, but relaxes Maddie’s brain. She tells him a brief history of her nineteen years in just a few sentences. Zaid says that he was born and raised in Morocco, and that he got a scholarship to university.
            No one else shows up for dinner. They drink miso soup and eat sashimi. Maddie is happily surprised that she likes the raw fish.
            “This is awkward.” Zaid clears his throat. She thinks he is going to say something important. Maddie tries to look at both of his eyes at once but ends up focusing on a small crease between his eyebrows. “Well, you see. I’m a Lagomorph.”
            “Huh?” He must be joking, thinks Maddie. She knows that Lagomorphs are animals. Had she heard there is one in a zoo somewhere, or that they are extinct? She can’t remember. “Are you serious?” she asks.
            “Yeah, I’m serious.” Zaid looks deep into her eyes. Now she gazes at each eye in turn. Maddie sees herself reflected in his dark pupils. “Are you ok with that?” Zaid interrupts.
            Maddie runs her tongue around the top of her mouth in a circle. Zaid’s lips are pursed waiting for a response. “What do you mean by Lagomorph?” she asks quietly.
            “I’ll show you.” Zaid turns around in his chair and lifts his shirt. “I have a tail.” On his back she sees a ball of fur the same sandy color as his hair.
            “Oh weird,” Maddie says without thinking. Zaid turns back and picks up the bill, “I’m sorry.” He puts on his jacket.
            “No, your fine. Really,” says Maddie. She stands and impulsively presses a kiss onto his lips. He presses back. She likes the taste of him and decides to not think about the weird tail.
            The following evening Maddie goes to Zaid’s apartment. He has a camera on the ceiling. It’s strapped and anchored by metal hooks.
            “You film bed stuff?” she asks.
            “Yeah, that way I can watch myself sleep. It’s for studying insomnia. I’m writing a paper on it.
            He lights a candle and shuts off the lights.
            “Condom?” she asks.
            “I’m clean, and neither of us can get pregnant from each other,” says Zaid. “Only another male Lagomorph could knock me up.” He smiles and pats his belly. Maddie notices that it has a feminine curve.
            She frowns into the darkness and a sigh escapes. Maddie has an IUD, so pregnancy doesn’t worry her, but diseases do.
            “Have you been tested?” It is her rule to ask first. Unfortunately, the question is always a buzzkill. Her romantic feelings are dissipating, and she’s worried they won’t return.
            “Look,” Zaid whispers. He pulls out a sheet of paper from the night table. It’s from the student health center. The top reads; Patient, Zaid Alami. The results are from three days ago. Maddie’s gaze roves down the column of diseases, she notes that everything is marked negative.
             Zaid leans in and places his forehead against hers. Maddie’s heart swells. She breaths into his chest as he encloses her in his arms. Then she wraps her legs around him and lets herself get lost in his response. She feels like she is flying. Is she falling in love? she asks herself. Afterwards she sleeps soundly against his back, with the soft tail between them.
            The next day Maddie stops by YouKai sushi and gets some miso soup for Zaid. She knocks politely on his door but turns the knob without waiting. The door opens, and she sees that Zaid is at his laptop with the camera plugged in to it.
            “Hi, I brought soup.” Maddie prances across the room toward him. He closes his computer as she approaches. Zaid’s eyebrow hairs are standing on end, but smooth down right away.
            “Oh, hi,” says Zaid tiredly. He doesn’t get up, so Maddie stops on the other side of the desk.
            “Whatcha up to?” She asks.
            “Homework. Kind of busy actually.” She holds out the soup. “Not hungry right now, but thanks,” says Zaid.
            Maddie is frozen, and then she gets it. Last night was a hook up. Her chest contracts but she manages to say, “Totally,” as if he doesn’t matter to her either. She rushes out the door and back to her apartment. Immediately she looks Zaid up on her computer. She should have stalked him the minute he left the coffee shop, she thinks angrily.
            Zaid’s Facebook profile is on the top of the search, but there isn’t much there. Further down the search are other Zaid Alamis, mostly men from the Middle East. Maddie is surprised the name is so common. Halfway down is video called Zaid Gets Laid.
            Of course, she clicks on it. But the video is on a site called RealPorn. It’s $19.95 to join. They want her credit card and verification that she is over 21, which she isn’t. Impulsively she types in her information and clicks the Over 21 bar.
            She is surprised to see that it’s her Zaid talking from the screen. He says, “Do you think rabbits are sexy? Take a look at my tail, it’s real.” The camera moves behind him and Maddie sees Zaid tugging at his tail for the audience. “And this is the rest of me.” The view shows him from the front and Maddie recognizes his manhood from the night before. The introduction runs right into the action.
            There is a guy with an elaborate tattoo on his back, screwing Zaid from behind. The camera zooms in and Maddie can see a scar on the man’s back in same spot as Zaid’s tail. He is slapping Zaid’s legs while he gets off. The camera stays away from both faces, but she sees Zaid’s thigh flinch at every spank.
            Maddie watches the video twice more, remembering the camera above his bed. She makes fists above the keyboard. Her heartbeat pounds in her ears. Does he have her on video too?
            She texts; Did you film us last night???  Zaid doesn’t respond, so she texts again; Answer me! But still, there is no response.
            Maddie marches back to his place and pounds on the door. It’s quiet inside, but she yells, “Open the door!” Nothing happens. Pulling out her phone, she texts; I am not for public viewing! and then; You are a f**king liar- I HATE YOU!
            Weeks pass, and still there is no word from Zaid. His apartment stays quiet. Did he leave town, she wonders?  Maddie checks RealPorn and there is nothing new. She studies hard and does better on finals than she expects. Then it’s summer break, which ends way too quickly.
            When she returns to school, Maddie checks Zaid’s apartment again. Junk mail litters the floor in front of the door, and there is a For Rent sign in the window. Her eyes smart with tears, but a deep breath soothes them. From her room she checks RealPorn again, but all traces of Zaid and his video are gone.
            On the first day of class, she gets a text from him:
            Maddie, I’m so sorry L about everything and that you saw the porn vid. I made that to pay for school, the scholarship wasn’t real. I deleted the film of us, but I have not forgotten how you made me feel. I really like you. I need some help, could you please reply?
            Maddie’s heart softens, but she doesn’t respond. She makes a pledge to herself to stay away from men, especially him. That night she lies awake in bed worrying, and gives in.
            What’s wrong? She texts Zaid.
            Could you come over? Zaid texts an address that is only a few blocks away.
            OK. See you soon, Maddie texts back.
            She throws on a sweatshirt and jeans and drives over. Zaid looks much heavier than he did when they met.
            “Yeah, I’m pregnant,” he says, before Maddie says anything.
            “Ugh,” says Maddie, sucking air between her lips.
            “Thanks for coming by,” says Zaid. Tears are running down his cheeks. He throws his arms around Maddie. At first, she stiffens, but then hugs back. “I really don’t know what to do,” Zaid pleads.
            “What about your family?”
            “There’s no one,” he says, weeping.
            “You could get an abortion,” suggests Maddie.
            “But I’m a Lagomorph; we're not people.”
Maddie mulls over his statement.
“Think I have to barf,” says Zaid, running to the bathroom. Maddie hears him gag, and it sounds like he is panting.
            “Are you ok?” Maddie pushes open the door. Zaid is sitting on the floor naked. There’s blood on the tiles. “Crap!” shouts Maddie. Then she sees something furry beneath his thigh. It is the same sandy color as Zaid’s hair.
            Zaid gazes up at Maddie without reserve. His eyes are teary, and his nose is twitching. Part of his beard is compressed like matted wool.
            “Take her.” Zaid hands the birth to Maddie and forces himself up. The baby is covered with short fur and has long rabbit ears. It’s umbilical cord dangles from in between Zaid’s legs. Suddenly, the placenta shoots out and splats at on the floor. It looks like a murdered octopus. Maddie watches Zaid bite the cord. Her stomach turns as its bloody mucus stains his lips. He tosses the offal into the trashcan unceremoniously. “Got to shower,” he says, disappearing behind the curtain.
            Maddie wraps the bunny in a clean towel and sits on Zaid’s bed. She rocks the infant as if  it is a human baby. Her onyx eyes stare at Maddie intently.
             “Hi,” says Maddie. Then again, “Hi baby.” The bunny is twitching her nose just as Zaid did. She squeaks softly, puckering her lips like she wants to nurse. “You hungry, baby?” Maddie coos.
            “Hey,” says Zaid marching out of the bathroom. He puts on a clean T-shirt and boxers.
            “You had the baby!” Maddie announces. Her words hit the wall and bounce away.
            “Guess I did.” Zaid lays on the bed facing the wall and pulls up the covers.
            “She yours, your daughter,” says Maddie tapping him on the shoulder, but Zaid ignores her. Gently she places the baby under his arm and tucks the blanket around them.  
            “I’ll be right back. She needs food,” she tells Zaid. Maddie drives to a convenience store and buys baby bottles and formula.
            When she returns Zaid is snoring heavily, despite the baby wriggling and squeaking. Carefully she fishes out the child and puts the bottle in her mouth. Her brown lips sip greedily, sucking the formula down. The baby sends affectionate glances at Maddie. Then she burps and closes her eyes.
            Maddie crawls into the bed with the newborn next to her. It smells like rich soil. She strokes the soft fur and the child sighs in her sleep. Zaid flips over, and peeks at Maddie.
            He moves in and brings his daughter close. She squeaks but doesn’t awaken. With a stretch her ears straighten and relax onto Zaid’s cheek. Maddie sees that he has fallen asleep. She lets her eyes close.

About the author 

Eliza Master is a fiction author and a member of Wordos Workshop. Several magazines have published her stories and Wayzgoose Press will publish her three novels; The Scarlet Cord, The Twisted Rope and The Shibari Knot in 2018.
       Eliza is also a potter and builds stoves in Guatemala. When she is home she enjoys long walks in the Oregon rain with her Labradoodle, Samantha