From the Editors: We are pleased to deliver our first-ever issue with outstanding fiction from Sarah L. Johnson, Rachel León, our own Lori Hahnel, Hermine Robinson, Kevin Mulligan and Barbara Biles, along with some compelling poetry from John Grey, Addey Vaters, Adam Kelly Morton, Amy Leblanc, Ace Boggess, Erin Vance and Meagan Mealor. We also have a no holds barred interview with the creative geniuses behind the fiercely independent Coffin Hop Press out of Calgary, Alberta.
We hope you enjoy the first issue of Black Dog Review.
Table of Contents
“The Esthetician” by Sarah L. Johnson
“Yet” by Rachel León
“Glory B” by Lori Hahnel
“The Haunting of Edith DeMarco” by Hermine Robinson
“Playground” by Kevin Mulligan
“Chicklet” by Barbara Biles
Five for Fighting with Axel and Rob from Coffin Hop Press
“Change” by Addey Vaters
“A Farmer Discusses Domestication” by John Grey
“Anonymous” by John Grey
Poetry: “Freelance” by Adam Kelly Morton
Poetry: “For Agnes” by Amy Leblanc
“Sickle” by Amy Leblanc
Poetry: “Whippoorwhill” by Ace Boggess
“2 A.M.” by Ace Boggess
Poetry: “To the Widow Writing to the Inmates at Ponoka” by Erin Vance
“Crumbs” By Erin Vance
Poetry: “Cultivation” by Megan Denese Mailor
By Sarah L. Johnson
Rob dawdled over each button on his shirt. Fingertips numb with cold even as his sweaty toes wriggled over one another in his busted-down Salomons. The esthetician came highly recommended on Yelp. A grizzled fellow of indeterminate old age, Lonny worked out of his basement doing bikini waxes for twenty bucks a rug. Odds were higher than average on Lonny being a sex cannibal, but at that price people were willing to overlook the naked light bulb hanging over a floor drain next to a massage table patched with duct tape. Rob figured if nothing else, the old pervert could probably keep a secret.
The last button slipped free and Rob tugged his shirt off. Whump. His scapular appendages unfurled. Feathered sails in a high wind.
“Gunna need more wax,” said Lonny.
Rob knew he’d found his man.
For two hours, the velcro tear of quills from flesh ticked off the basement walls. Rob bore the beastly pain, soothed by the weight of Lonny’s big hand pressed between his shoulder blades.
Lonny ripped the last strip, then led a shaky and delirious Rob to a three-way mirror. Startled at his resemblance to a plucked emu, Rob flexed the slender stalks of bone, stretching the denuded sheets of skin to their full span. Then he folded them, shocked at how compact they were. He could work with this. The problem with his wings had always been the feathers. The sheer bulk of them. Just to get a shirt on, he had to wrap his deformities around his body like a down comforter. It was hot and made him look fat. But this … this was a game changer.
For one week Rob enjoyed his streamlined profile. One week, until complications set in. An ingrown hair is a painful nuisance. Ingrown feathers will burn your fucking life down. Rob had hundreds of them.
“Help,” he said, stumbling down the steps into Lonny’s basement.
The old man led Rob to the table and peeled away the bed sheet he’d had wrapped around his inflamed shoulders before setting out on foot by cover of night.
“Eh,” Lonny grunted, and retrieved a small tool chest from the shelf.
Rob flopped face down on the grungy vinyl, and as Lonny set about extracting the embedded feathers, his silence grew more and more inquisitive.
“I wasn’t born this way,” Rob finally said. “Normal kids hit puberty, they get zits, body hair, and renegade boners. I got wings. And I’ve tried everything, clipping them back, strapping them down, rolling them up.”
“Why not let ‘em hang out? Go full bush.”
Rob winced at a particularly deep probe. “That kind of advice is going to put you out of business, Lonny.”
“Brazilian ain’t for everyone.”
“The worst part is, I can’t even fly. I’m tired of this, tired of hiding. I even went to a sketchy veterinarian once to see if she could amputate, but she wouldn’t go for it. We actually dated a while, but for her it was all about the wings, you know? Like a fetish or something. Made me feel gross. Dirty.”
“No need to be ‘shamed of what God gave ya.”
“So I should slice holes in my shirts and just be the guy with wings? No way. I’ve worked too hard to keep this freakshow under the tent. This is not a gift. And I don’t believe in god.”
“Angels never do,” said Lonny, pulling a final blood streaked feather out of Rob’s back and holding it up to the light.
By Rachel León
You were a one night stand and I wanted to leave as soon as I woke up. I almost made it out the door, too.
I turned and you shuffled through your nightstand. You stood and offered an awkward hug, slipping something in my back pocket. (Did you think I was rude the way I avoided eye contact, gave a stiff nod and bolted?)
On the other side of your door I pulled out the cassette tape. What was this, the nineties?
I studied it on the bus. You’d written the song titles on the little cardboard insert. I didn’t recognize any of them. (Here was my first clue your taste in music was more obscure than mine, so underground and hip.)
I no longer owned a tape deck, so I stopped at the Village Discount on Roscoe where I scored a cheap boom-box. As soon as I got home I played it.
I listened to the entire thing. But it wasn’t romantic. It felt cryptic. A parting gift. My consolation prize for not coming. Did you have a stock pile of these? Something to make you seem nice. Interesting. (I don’t mean you aren’t. I remembered how you held the door for me. The books on your shelfs—Vonnegut and Foucault.)
I remembered the effort involved in making a mixed tape. You had to listen to the entire song and end it at just the right time—with a swift pop. The little spaces between songs! Those patches of mere seconds, they sounded like anticipation. Hope. I couldn’t just hear these things, I could taste them, taste the oil on your fingers hitting the record button. Taste the Carmex on your lips singing along as the music played.
I got to the end of the first side and flipped it over, but—nothing. That empty side drove me crazy. Its incompleteness felt like a statement. What were you trying to say? And why? The question buzzed around my head and I couldn’t let it go.
I wanted an explanation. I needed one.
On the bus back to your place, I began doubting myself. Was it psycho to go see you, demanding answers? (Yes, I realize now. Of course it was.)
I could get off the bus, I thought. I could get ice cream.
But my curiosity was stronger than my mint chocolate chip-craving. Besides, you were just a stranger. I had nothing to lose. And it was a simple question—I just wanted to know why.
You opened the door with a smile. -Back so soon?
-What is this? I held up the cassette.
-A mixed tape.
-But what does it mean? Do you give these to all your one night stands?
-I couldn’t sleep last night.
-So I made it.
-But it’s not romantic.
You smirked. – I barely know you. I’m not in love with you yet.
-So why’d you make it?
You shrugged. – I wanted to share some music I love. See if you do, too.
-But one side is blank.
-Listen, I need to get to work. I just thought if we kept talking, maybe I’d fill the other side someday. I didn’t mean to freak you out.
You patted my shoulders as you walked away and I stood on your doorstep, holding the cassette.
I went home and played it again. Over and over until I knew all the lyrics. Until I could feel the music deep in my belly and knew the guitar changes in my bones. Each pitch. The tiny moans.
It’s just cool music, no hidden meaning, you’d said. I don’t love you yet. But I heard that—you said ‘yet.’
By Lori Hahnel
I kneel in the front yard planting tulip bulbs when my upstairs neighbour Glory comes out the front door, wearing dark glasses and a black coat, a fuchsia feathered and sequined clip that pulls her pink hair into a halo, and a big red purse slung over her shoulder. I hardly ever see her during the day, but I hear her and her friends until very late; sometimes I worry that they’re going to set this old wooden frame house on fire. But this morning she’s quiet, says, “Hi, Ruth,” when she sees me, front teeth smeared with orange lipstick. She doesn’t stop to chat.
One day a few months earlier, on a Saturday afternoon after I got home from work, Glory had come downstairs to introduce herself, screw top bottle of rosé wine in her hand. The wine, I couldn’t help noticing, was almost the same pinky colour as her hair.
“Glory’s just my stage name,” she’d said after I told her a little about my job at a bookstore a few blocks away. “My real name’s Jean Bettelheim. Glory B’s got a nicer ring to it, don’t you think?”
After our laughter subsided, I asked her, “You have a stage name? Are you an actress?”
She refilled both our glasses. “Nope. Not yet. Right now I’m a dancer.”
“A dancer? Ballet?”
“No. I’m an exotic dancer.”
“Oh. That must be interesting.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I wondered what she’d told Dorothy, our landlady, about her job. I’m sure Dorothy wouldn’t have rented the apartment to an exotic dancer.
Glory laughed again. “That’s a good word for it, kid. Interesting. Although you’d be surprised at how routine the whole thing can get. I guess it’s like any other job: some things about it you love. Some things bring you to tears. It’s a living.”
The next morning, I was really tired. Not so much from hanging around with Glory in the afternoon; we’d drunk the bottle of wine and she’d left. It was much later that things went bad. I’d gone to bed about 11:00. A banging on my bedroom window woke me up at 2:46. I heard a man’s deep, raspy voice outside.
“Glory! Goddammit! I know you’re in there! Open the door!”
I was about to open the window and tell him he had the wrong apartment, Glory lived upstairs, but by the time I got out of bed he’d run to the front door. I stood in the dark hallway with my hand on the phone and watched him, backlit by a street light through the sheer curtains on the front door. He was a big man. A big, angry man. Cursing and pounding on my door and windows. Sooner or later he’d break one of them, and then who knew what would happen? I picked up the phone and punched in ‘9’. Just as I was about to punch in ‘1-1’, Glory opened the door to her apartment. I hung up the phone and went back to bed, my heart almost beating out of my chest.
I was afraid of what this man might do to Glory. I heard some shuffling, the creaking sounds of feet on the wooden floor above my head. Then music, talking, laughter. It didn’t sound like she was in danger, or not anymore, anyway. Just as it started to get light, I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning – well, closer to afternoon – Glory was at my front door. “Ruth, I’m sorry about last night. Sorry about Garry.”
“Garry? That’s who was banging on my windows in the middle of the night?”
“Yeah. He’s an old flame. But we lost our passion a long time ago. We met when I was dancing in Tuktoyaktuk.”
“That must have been cold.”
“Well, I was dancing inside a bar. Anyway, I didn’t think he’d ever find me here. But he did. Sorry, it won’t happen again.”
All day I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened the night before with Garry and Glory. What was that kind of hot-blooded love like? Exhilarating, terrifying? Was it true that love made the world go around? Thinking about my own sorry non-existent love life was truly depressing now, if it hadn’t been so before.
That night Glory sat on the front steps when I came back from getting some groceries. She wore sunglasses, even though the sun had already gone down.
“Hey, Ruth. I was wondering if you’d want to come up and hang out for a while after I get back from work tonight. I feel so bad about keeping you up last night.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. I’m pretty tired. What time do you get home?”
“Usually between 1:30 and 2:00. Why don’t you have a little rest for a few hours and then come on up? I’ll bring some wine from work.”
“Between 1:30 and 2:00? I’ll be asleep.”
“But what if you have a nap now?”
“Glory, I have a job. I have to get up in the morning. And I don’t appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night.”
“Maybe another time. But tonight I need to get some sleep.”
“Sure, Ruth, I understand. And I’m sorry.”
I felt a sharp twinge as I watched Glory walk down the front sidewalk. I liked her, and I didn’t want her to think that I didn’t. But she needed to know that this kind of thing could not continue. She needed to know that she couldn’t just walk into my life and mess it up.
Later I sat on the couch trying to read an anthology of earnest Canadian short stories, but I kept nodding off. When I gave up trying to read I fell asleep right away, and soon I dreamt that I was in the club where Glory worked, the lone woman in the audience. I waited and waited for her to come on stage, and drank big fishbowl glasses of blue and green and orange strange and sweet drinks while the other dancers went through their acts glassy-eyed and dull. Finally, Glory strutted onto the stage in a red sequinned leotard with little red horns in her teased pink hair, a long red tail and a sparkly red pitchfork. The slinky curtain behind her was a wall of orange lamé flames.
“Good evening,” she purred over the slick recorded dance music, scanning the audience with a gleam in her eye. “My name is Glory B. And I see my neighbour, Ruth, is in the audience tonight. How about coming up here and giving me a hand with the act, Ruthy?”
The audience clapped and stomped and whistled, but I was rooted to the spot. I wanted to speak but could not make a sound.
“Got a little stage fright, kid? That’s okay. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. The bouncer will help you up onto the stage. Garry, a little help here?”
Next thing I knew, I was sitting straight up on the couch in my dark living room, covered in sweat, heart pounding.
A week after the last time I saw Glory our landlady knocked on my door. When I opened it I could see she was upset; her face was white and her hands shook as she fidgeted with her keys.
“Is something wrong, Dorothy?”
“Do you know what happened to that librarian from upstairs?”
“Librarian? You mean Glory? I haven’t seen her since last week.”
“She told me her name was Jean. Come and see her apartment.”
We climbed the stairs together and I peered in the open door. The middle of the living room floor was black and scorched, the cold wind blowing through the broken window still smelled of burn, even though the fire was long out. The furniture was mostly grey with smoke residue, and Glory’s stuff looked to be all gone.
“Oh, my God,” I whispered.
“I’ll have to call the police. And the insurance,” Dorothy said, shaking her head. “Some people.”
Later I found a single fuchsia feather with purple sequins glued to it on the stairs and stuck it to my fridge with a magnet. Once in a while when I see it I walk to the wine store and buy a bottle of rosé. But just once in a while.
The Haunting of Edith DeMarco
By Hermine Robinson
The first time Edith DeMarco took the Grey Line to Burbank, it was with her friend, Margot, who hurried over on a Saturday morning, waving a pair of tickets in the air. “Look what I won! Come with me next week to see a live taping of Truth or Consequences,” she said. “The host, Bob Barker, is adorable.”
“I don’t know,” replied Edith. “Shouldn’t you go with Bernie?” She glanced at Margot’s husband, who was busy polishing his Chevy Impala parked across the street.
“Bernie can’t go and told me to ask you instead,” said Margot. “Please, Edie. The prize also includes a lunch and a tour of the studios. We’ll make a day of it. I don’t want to go by myself and you deserve to get out and do something fun.”
“Fun.” Edith glanced back at the dimness of her living room bathed in the ghostly flicker of a black and white Zenith. Her husband, Frank, spent all his free time watching news about the Vietnam War. “I don’t know, Margot. It seems wrong to be having fun at a time like this.”
“No, it’s not,” replied Margot. She grabbed Edith’s hands to stop her from worrying them raw. “Your Tony is fine. I promise.”
“How can you promise that?” asked Edith. “Vietnam is full of mud and mosquitos and worse. You’ve seen the footage of soldiers getting zipped up in body bags. Our boys are dying over there every day. How can I do something as frivolous as going to a game show when my son is risking his life?”
“Enjoying life isn’t frivolous,” Margot replied. “And the show isn’t just about contestants running around with butterfly nets catching Ping-Pong balls for prizes either. The producers are huge supporters of charity.” She called back over her shoulder to her husband. “Bernie, come tell Edie about how Truth or Consequences has raised millions of dollars for the military.”
Edith caught a whiff of minty freshness on the breeze as Bernie walked over carrying his polishing cloth and a tube of toothpaste. “Well, maybe not millions of dollars,” he said.
“It most surely is,” said Margot. “And you know how they’re always having those lovely reunions where they sneak family members into the audience or bring a boy back from overseas to surprise his parents. I cry every time.”
Bernie wrapped an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “It’s true, Margot’s a real sucker for those reunions. Do me a favour and go with her, Edie. You ladies can blubber together.”
“I’ll have to ask Frank,” said Edith. Margot and Bernie waited on the step while she went to the living room. Frank surprised her by saying yes right away, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for her to go gallivanting off to a television studio to see a game show while the war flashed across the screen of their television.
Margot clapped her hands in delight when Edith told them she could go.
“Perfect. You ladies will have a great time.” Bernie uncapped his tube of Colgate and dabbed some toothpaste on his polishing cloth before heading back to his Impala, leaving more mint scent wafting in his wake.
Edith laughed. “Is he polishing his car with toothpaste?”
“Just the chrome,” said Margot. “Now let’s go figure out what you’re going to wear to the show.” It was Margot who insisted that Edith wear her pearl necklace, the one Frank had given her when Tony was born. “That way Tony will be with you in spirit.”
The morning of the taping, Edith kissed Frank goodbye before Bernie drove her and Margot to the pick-up zone for the Grey Line. A hint of mint still lingered in the car and the scent of toothpaste clung to the handkerchiefs Bernie gave each of them to tuck into their purses.
Edith felt a flutter in the pit of her stomach as she boarded the bus and spotted a couple of infantrymen seated at the very back. One of them stared out the window with dead eyes, while the other hung his head and picked at something on his sleeve. She remembered how proud and confident Tony had looked in his uniform, but these boys were pale and hollow-cheeked like so many soldiers coming back from Vietnam. Edith imagined that what she and Frank watched on the news was nothing compared to the horrors of the real thing. As she sat down, she wondered if Tony would come back to her broken and haunted by the horrors he had seen. When the bus arrived at their destination Edith scanned the crowd of tourists, searching for the infantrymen, but the boys were gone. “Where did they go?” she asked.
“Who?” asked Margot.
“The soldiers sitting at the back of the bus,” said Edith. “I wanted to tell them how much we appreciate their sacrifice.”
“Were there soldiers on the bus? I didn’t notice them,” said Margot. “Are you sure?”
Edith hesitated. Was she sure? Maybe all her worrying about Tony had her seeing things. She let Margot take her by the arm as they were steered toward the lineup for VIP ticket holders. It would seem that her friend had won some very good tickets to see the show. Edith gasped as a strange and wonderful thought came to her. VIP treatment. Why would they be getting VIP treatment?
“What’s the matter?” asked Margot.
“Nothing,” whispered Edith. She took a deep breath to calm the jitter-bugging in her chest. It wouldn’t do to spoil things by letting Margot know that she had guessed what was going on, but in that instant everything became clear. This was a reunion show. She would see Tony today! It made perfect sense – Margot coming up with free tickets, Bernie insisting that she go in his stead, even Frank’s approval – it was all part of the plan to surprise her. As the studio audience settled into their seats, Edith noted her seat was right on the aisle. Perfect. Beside her, Margot babbled on about the stage and how different it all looked in real life. Edith refrained from looking around, afraid to ruin the moment if Tony was waiting somewhere nearby. She fiddled with her pearls until the music and the announcer came on and cameras panned the audience. Edith applauded and enjoyed the show while anticipating the grand finale.
A couple of ladies about Edith’s age were chosen at random from the audience and sent back stage. When Bob Barker, sotto voce, began the closing segment she felt a moment of disquiet. Shouldn’t she be with those women, sequestered somewhere off stage?
A couple of marines wearing outlandish dance outfits were introduced first. They donned their masks and the charade began. No sign of Tony. Edith sat in stunned silence as the two lucky women were brought out dressed in bonnets and hoop skirts to participate in a sham competition. As a part of the ruse, the costumed boys danced a lively jig with their unsuspecting mothers before revealing themselves. The audience cheered and applauded. Margot pulled out her handkerchief to dab at a tear.
Edith felt numb. Of course there was no Tony. How could she have been so foolish? No Tony. Until, miraculously, a third man in costume appeared on stage and danced his way to Edith. He held out his hand and after a brief waltz in the aisle he too removed his mask. It exposed a ruined face of oozing blood and splintered bone. What was left of his lips mouthed the words, I love you Mom.
Edith screamed and fainted. She was revived by Margot dabbing at her brow with one of Bernie’s mint scented handkerchiefs while she also tried to explain her friend’s strange behaviour to the people around them. “It must be the emotion of seeing the reunion. Her son is still in Vietnam.”
“No,” Edith whispered. “Tony was here, dancing with me. But now he’s gone. Dead.”
“Don’t say such a thing,” Margot protested. “Tony’s fine.” She dabbed a little harder with the handkerchief, as if trying to blot away Edith’s painful words.
Official notification of Anthony Francis DeMarco’s death came a few days later. By then the footage of a strange lady dancing by herself in the aisle during a taping of Truth or Consequences had been edited out of the broadcast.
On the anniversary of Tony’s death, Edith put on her pearls and her finest outfit. She tucked a tube of Colgate into her purse along with a handkerchief and she kissed Frank goodbye before taking the Grey Line to Burbank. There, Edith waited outside the studio, hoping to see Tony again. She needed to tell him that she had not meant to scream. She had been glad to see him and wished they had danced a little longer that one last time.
By Kevin Mulligan
Joyce was out of uniform before her last customer was out of the store. She couldn’t leave yet, not before gathering up the usual supply of chips, pizza and cola. Picked up a bagged salad along the way. If a girl can’t treat herself, what’s the point of working?
Joyce lived by routine, always had. When she married Bucky, the routine was good. He was a fighter back then, handsome and strong. Had a great record, never lost until he suffered his first knock out. That fight ended it, Bucky never won again.
Before he got scrambled, wasn’t it a ride? All the girls wanted to be with Bucky and why not? He was handsome then, yes, he was. Not handsome now, no. Joyce wished one of those girls would come back and steal him from her, but none of them came to her rescue. He was hers until the final bell.
She walked home from Jackson’s Groceteria just like she always did. Had a car but walking was slower. Told Bucky she left it at home for him, just in case he wanted to go out for anything. Bucky never wanted to go out. Couldn’t go out was more like it; couldn’t fit in the car, couldn’t make it out the front door. As long as Bucky stayed inside, safe in front of the television, no one would see the burden she bore. No one except for Raymond, who lived downstairs.
Raymond was their tenant. He was a good guy. Paid his rent on time and didn’t make a lot of noise, except when he was with Joyce. Oh yeah, he made noise then. But so did she. They had a thing, they were an item. Love, not so much, but freedom for both of them, oh, yes.
Raymond was a real gentleman. He would tell her how nice she looked before asking about her day. He would make snacks for both of them and then sit with her in front of his television until they fell asleep watching Netflix.
Bucky didn’t have a clue. He was happy to just exist, being enabled by whatever it was that made Joyce stay with him. Most nights he went to sleep in his recliner. It was easier to fire himself out of the chair by sitting up real quick than it was to get out of bed. That was a consideration in the middle of the night when you had to go for a piss.
Inertia worked against Bucky and that kept him more or less stationary. Stationary objects are easily navigated, and that’s what Joyce and Raymond did with Bucky. They sailed around him on a love boat made of convenience, or at least they did until a few weeks ago. Raymond got a little more serious than Joyce was ready for and she called a time out.
The cessation of love yoga was on Joyce’s mind as she went through her routine that night. She served up Bucky’s first supper shortly after walking in the door, handing him a three pack of submarine sandwiches like you might hand a dog a biscuit. She made sure his side cooler was full of beer and asked for parting requests before retreating to a small table on her side of the apartment. It sat under a window that looked out to the street. From that table she could see a playground and if she got home early enough, she would see children playing.
On the sill of the window was a Hawaiian dancer. Not a real one, of course, but one of those springy dashboard versions. Joyce flicked it with her finger, watched it gyrate. Good times, she thought.
Joyce liked watching the playground change. It had a pattern, a double life. Sun and promise during the day, dark and underground when stars tried to come out. Joyce waited for the in-between part, when day held on and night stood back waiting for the inevitable. She liked that time best, not because of what came next, but because that’s when she could see his face clearly.
After the last kid went home for the day, he would show up and wait to carry out his business in the park. It was during those few minutes of dusk that Joyce saw the good in him. Often he would pull out a text book and read it while sitting on one of the benches placed for watchful parents. Once, she saw him comfort a child who fell and scraped his knee. Another time, she watched him help an old lady cross the street.
He wasn’t a typical drug dealer. Joyce imagined herself uncovering him one piece at a time, discovering whatever mystery awaited the right person.
Bucky pulled her back into reality. “Hey Babe. Got any of that salami left? Those sandwiches didn’t quite do it for me.”
“Yeah, Bucky, hold on. I’ll get it for you.”
She cracked open the fridge, looked at her wages represented in food. Bucky got a monthly payment from the government after his back gave out but it wasn’t much. On a slow week, it might keep him fed until Saturday. After that, Joyce made up the rest.
She pulled out a ring of sausage and considered cutting it in half, but only for a moment. She wanted to sit at the window for a while, uninterrupted. She threw it on a plate and took it to the man that sat in front of her television. Hers, sure it was, credit card said so. As she got closer, Bucky twisted as far as he could without expending too much energy.
“Thanks, Babe. You’re good to me. Come on, how about a kiss?” He puckered up.
Joyce obliged, didn’t even flinch when Bucky’s face sweat smeared past her lips and onto her nose and chin. He smelled like garlic. “Here ya go, Buck. Don’t eat it all at once. Call me if you need anything, okay?”
“Sure Babe.” He grabbed for her hand as she walked away and she stopped for a moment, let him give it a squeeze. Then she was back at the window, waiting for her mystery man.
He showed up a few minutes later, waited across the street until the last few kids were finished playing. She respected that. He only dealt with customers above the age of majority.
She watched him pull out a textbook. She smiled, schoolbooks felt like promise. He read it under a streetlight until it got dark and quiet enough for his first customer to arrive. The other man sat beside him on the bench. She figured that bench was his office. He would have a real one someday. She turned that thought in her head until Bucky broke the spell. He was rocking the recliner.
“Hey, Babe. Can you help me get outta the chair? Can’t quite make it.”
“Hang on, I’ll be right there.”
She touched her lips, blew a kiss at the window. As she did, she saw her reflection. Her face was a dark outline, her hair shone with a golden ring where brightness from the kitchen lightbulb went through it. She imagined the rest of her looked like that, hoped it did. Hoped it did for the man in the park, as young as he was. She had just turned toward Bucky when a knock came at the door.
“Tell ‘em we’re not interested.”
“I will Bucky. Just hang on.” Joyce opened the door and found herself looking directly at Raymond. Despite being on the short side, he filled the doorway with his presence. He wore black, and his shirt was open one button too many. When she looked into his eyes, they seemed filled with questions, and determination. She felt the colour drain from her, instantly replaced with a cool clamminess that did not foretell pleasant outcomes.
“Raymond. Well, this is a surprise. What can I do for you?”
“You know what you can do for me. Can I come in?” The question was more a formality than a true request. No sooner had Raymond finished asking than he was in the door.
Bucky called back from the living room, “Raymond. What are you doing up here? Something broken in your apartment? You know I don’t fix shit any more. Call that number Joyce gave you.”
“No, I don’t think so, Bucky.” Raymond started walking toward Bucky, Bucky started the slow process of turning his head. “Don’t bother, I’ll come around front so you don’t have to strain yourself.”
“I’m not sure I like your tone.” Bucky stared Raymond down, watched as he came around and stood in front of him.
“I don’t give a fuck what you think, you fat bastard!” Raymond planted himself in front of the television, locked eyes with Bucky.
“Raymond, I want you to leave!” Joyce tried to pull him away, steer him to the door. He brushed her off and took his place again.
“Bucky, I’m here for Joyce. You don’t deserve her, and she sure as hell doesn’t deserve you.” Raymond had the words down but his face told a different story. A line of sweat had broken out on his top lip. Raymond wiped his mouth.
“What the fuck are you talking about, you little twerp?” Bucky had his hands on the recliner’s arms. Joyce knew what came next, he was in launch position.
“Raymond, you better go!” She tried to pull him away again, he pushed back harder this time.
“That’s my wife you’re pushing around! Get the fuck out before I throw you out!”
“Why don’t you try, you fuckin hippo.”
Raymond would regret that challenge. Bucky pushed himself back, then pulled on the leather launch arms, sending himself headlong into Raymond. This caught his tormenter off guard and Bucky had his hands around Raymond’s neck before he could escape.
“I beat the crap outta bigger guys than you!” Bucky lifted Raymond off the ground. The eyes of both men were bulging for different reasons.
“Let him go Bucky, you’re going to kill him!” Joyce was frantic, started to look around for something to distract her raging husband.
“And why do you care? Why don’t you tell me what he’s talking about?” Bucky turned just enough to look at Joyce. Raymond struggled, feet off the ground. Bucky didn’t wait for an answer, instead looked back at Raymond and pulled him in close, letting his feet touch the ground. “What was that you were saying about my wife?”
Raymond didn’t say anything. Instead, he watched as Joyce ran to a bookcase at the far end of the room. She pulled out an encyclopedia and ran toward Bucky. When she stood at his back, she let go with a swing and nailed him in the head. He dropped Raymond and turned around to look at her. Raymond fell to the floor, gasping and holding his neck. Joyce thought Bucky was going to come at her but instead he just stared. His mouth opened as if he was about to speak and then his eyes rolled up into his head, looking for thoughts no longer there. He fell backwards, landing square on top of Raymond. The hula dancer bid aloha from the windowsill.
For the size of him, Bucky made precious little noise as he experienced his final KO. Maybe it was Raymond that softened the fall, maybe it was the layers of well-earned fat. Joyce stood and stared at the scene in front of her, volume ‘C’ of the Encyclopedia Britannica still clutched in her hands. She dropped it and walked up to Bucky, gave him a little kick in the leg. He stayed still. She looked for a sign of Raymond and saw one foot sticking out from under Bucky’s ass. It wasn’t moving. For a moment, she considered trying to push Bucky off, decided against it. Unsafe. And she was much too small to move him anyway. Instead, she ran over to the kitchen window and checked to see if her park man was still sitting on his bench. He was.
Joyce ran downstairs, outside, and across the street toward her man who watched, interested and unmoving.
“Can you help me?” she asked him.
“Sure, lady. What’s wrong?” The man set down his book.
“It’s my husband. He’s dead!”
“What? Dead? How?” He stood. “What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know. Help, I guess.” Joyce looked at him. “Can you?”
“I’m studying organic medicine. Sure, I can help.” He touched Joyce on the shoulder, and it sent a shiver through her. “He might not be dead. Let’s go have a look.”
They ran up the stairs together. When they got into the apartment, the man walked over to take a look. Before he could say anything, Joyce spoke up, “The downstairs neighbour. He’s dead too.”
“What? Where…” The man turned around in a quick circle, looking for the other person. “I don’t see anybody. Is he downstairs?”
Joyce walked closer to Bucky, pointed to where Raymond’s foot could just be seen. “No, he’s here.”
“Jesus, lady. What the hell happened here?”
“Joyce. My name is Joyce.”
“Okay, Joyce. What happened?” He was more careful saying it this time.
“Your name?” Joyce waited.
“Tyler. My name is Tyler. I think you might be in shock ,Joyce. Why don’t you sit down for a minute?” He tried to point her to the recliner, but she refused.
“That’s Bucky’s chair. I’m okay to stand right here,” she said, and smiled.
“All right then. Let me look.” Tyler did a quick once over on Bucky, tried to push him off Raymond but didn’t have the strength. Unable to do a closer examination, he pulled off Raymond’s shoe and checked for a pulse on his ankle.
“They’re both gone, Joyce. You need to call the police.”
“I will Tyler, but first, I think you need to go. I watch you from the window. I know what your part-time job is.”
Tyler flushed, remembered what was in his pockets. “Uh… thanks, Joyce. That’s a good idea.” He started to back out of the room, looked to the door. “If they ask, I wasn’t here, right?”
“Of course you weren’t.” Joyce followed him, reached out and touched him on the sleeve, “You have school to finish. You’ll be a doctor someday.”
“I suppose I will be, yes.” Tyler touched back, smiled at Joyce, “Thanks, be careful,” he took his hand away. “Maybe see you in the park sometime…”
“You never know.” Joyce waited until he was almost at the door, “Apartment downstairs is vacant, if you want a place closer to work.”
Tyler stopped, “Maybe, never know. Let me think about it.” And he was gone.
Joyce smiled to herself and picked up the phone. She dialed 911.
By Barbara Biles
I stuck with my summer job until my father collided with a rolling thousand pound bale of hay. He was driving along a pasture road in his white Ford sedan. It was a scorcher day and it was reported that the sun’s reflection off the mirrors and chrome created a beacon, drawing attention for anyone driving parallel on Highway 21.
There were two witnesses to his death, though both from a distance. I couldn’t believe my eyes, it happened in a flash, just tumbled and smashed, they said.
One of those humongous bales had slid off a stack that was built on the rise directly above the lower pasture. My father, who was meeting Hal Jones to negotiate a tractor trade, was probably whistling a tune as he liked to do on his rural drives while estimating the value of the year’s crops. Without warning his car was smashed and he was crushed within it.
As a kid I sometimes went along on these trips. Drives, we called them. I had no knowledge or interest in farm life but I adored my father and I went along to spend time with him, just the two of us. I sometimes try to remember the tunes he whistled but I probably never knew what they were. In fact The Troggs always come to mind when I think of Dad. Whenever Wild Thing played on the radio I had to sing along and when I got the fatal call I was in the middle of doing just that. It’s a tongue-in-cheek song and you might think it weird that I connect such a song with the death of my father. In a funny sort of way it makes sense because in my sorrow I began to identify with Wild Thing and if someone held me tight perhaps they loved me too.
It happened the summer I scrubbed pots and pans and loaded dishes onto a conveyer dishwasher. It was my summer job at the meat packing plant cafeteria, chosen over cushy student jobs because of the high union pay scale, moderated by the high union dues that I had not anticipated. I was ignorant about economics and unions, and physical hard work for that matter, but I knew my tuition would be covered for the following year. So I persevered until the middle of August when the ton of hay ended my father’s life.
I was in shock which must have translated into sluggish work habits. I moved in a daze. I was further shocked to discover, from work mates, that my boss wanted to fire me. We spoke up for you, she’s such a bitch, no empathy for the bereaved, they all said. That’s when I quit, though I had only a couple of weeks left before classes started and before my social life would take its perennial Fall boost and I would tearfully explain to people that my father had died under a bale of hay. And it was only months later that I had to explain the demise of Frances.
My dates were at first incredulous when I told them of my father’s death but then became dismissive with the spiel that a hot chick, such as myself, had everything to look forward to in life. In other words, get over it. That’s when my Wild Thing would kick in. A little booze, a hand on my breast, a wipe of my tears conjoined into an odd mix of mourning and sexual desire. It was The Summer of Love, according to Californian lore, and you could say that both guys and girls conspired to promote the sexual revolution but usually with different motives. I can attest to that.
She took me to the field where her father was crushed by a bale of hay. Sounds crazy, right? Another crazy chick? I felt uneasy trespassing on private property but Sheryl assured me that no one would mind. They were used to her visiting the spot. The odd car went by on the adjacent highway which made me feel exposed and there weren’t any bales in sight so I had to imagine the accident without the bale of hay.
This all started because my parents had just financed my new Datsun and I wanted to take it for a good spin out of the city. I stopped at Larry’s figuring he’d go along but he was headed to a job interview. Sheryl was just hanging out and though I don’t usually feel so bold I asked her to go instead since she didn’t seem to have anything else going on. I usually felt nervous around her but for some reason this seemed a natural thing to do. Larry, who already said that he had laid her, and he wasn’t the first, didn’t seem to care. By the way, I got around twenty-five miles to the gallon which was pretty good back then.
When Kev rolled into my life, starting out as a friend of a friend, I shared my sorrows with none of my Wild Thing in motion. He was not on my love radar. He was awkward and smart, a bit of a nerd, and eventually the change that my so-called instincts thought I needed. Do you believe in karma or free will? I would say I subscribed to a bit of both which would be consistent with my indecisive nature.
I had no intention of having sex with Kev but I felt sorry for him with his tentative approach. I could tell I wasn’t his first but I must have been pretty close. When I think about it now his lack of experience conned me into thinking that he honored my feelings of loss and bereavement over and above getting into my pants.
People can grow on you especially when you are vulnerable. Kev and I grew on each other and he began to call me Chicklet as proof of his affection, as proof that I was not just one of the anonymous chicks that were talked about in male circles. Calling young women chicks probably surged in the sixties but it started way before that when William Shakespeare referred to his Ariel chicke. You might think the name Chicklet suggested someone younger or smaller or even less important but I took it as a more intimate expression, one of those private nicknames that couples can enjoy. Perhaps, as the song goes, I did make everything groovy for a while. Until Frances came along.
Kev and I had something in common, I thought at the time. We were outsiders, each in our own way. Kev was not a chick magnet and I was not much of a jerk detector. Together we seemed innocent. When you first connect with someone you grab onto those things that you have in common. When the connection begins to wane you more easily notice dissonance. Nowadays this is when relationship experts catch your attention. How do you keep the positive vibes going? There’s a whole industry for that.
My mother died ten years ago, having outlived my father by thirty years. She never remarried. I don’t think she was ever called a chick but she used to say she was no spring chicken, another phrase that began a couple of centuries ago. My parents would have benefited from some sort of relationship therapy but in those days your average couple just muddled along, for better or for worse. My father’s death was a solution, of sorts, for their unhappy union. I would say they left me with poor relationship skills and, in the end, drastic problem-solving solutions. There’s no excuse for us to replicate our parents’ relationships, I do know that. But sometimes life seems overwhelming and we can do things that we later regret. I guess this is where Frances really comes into mind.
Sheryl was a sweetheart after all and smarter than I had anticipated but it was when we were driving back to the city and Procol Harum came on the radio that something big came over me. I can still conjure it up and I was feeling kind of seasick as we listened, for the first time, to A Whiter Shade of Pale. I can hear the organ playing and Gary Brooker singing about a ghostly face. It still haunts me. Believe me, it’s not only because of Sheryl.
I swear Sheryl’s face did turn pale when the song came on and she ranted right away, saying what the hell are they talking about? Vestal virgins leaving for the coast? I don’t know what they had to do with anything either. Do vestal virgins even exist anymore? She hooked me right then and there, and forget the lyrics, the music was inspiring. As were her breasts, bulging in her skimpy top. By the time we got to her apartment I had built up the courage to make a move, along with, I admit, the joint that she shared. We were fluid and magical and it hasn’t been replicated to this day. I guess some things were meant to stay that way.
Here’s the truth though and I wrote about it. I couldn’t stop thinking that she was used goods. Even in the magic. Just the same I eventually moved into her apartment. Larry kept shaking his head. I don’t get it, he would say, you just don’t seem a match. My parents were a match. Straight-laced to be sure though I think it was my mother who kept them on the same page. I did not tell them about my new roommate and since they lived five hours away I really didn’t have to.
Kev and I moved in together. This, you understand, was fairly new in those days. We formed a bond and enjoyed sexual freedom without innuendo and game-playing. We were a team and, I thought, different from our parents. Because, what the hell, we chose to live together.
I’ve never told this to anyone before but I even thought I was in love and it was so sensible. Kev seemed sensible. He had a habit of organizing his thoughts on paper. He was a good writer, telling his true stories, from his limited perspective of course. It was one of his true stories that changed our lives forever.
We lasted a whole year. I even took her to meet my parents. As far as they were concerned she was pretty and polite which they deemed appropriate for their son. I do admit I held onto certain stereotypes that go with the small town girl image, one being that she would have a less complicated soul. Believe me that was not Sheryl. One of her favourite questions was did I believe in karma or free will? I’m a free will kind of guy. I think you make your choices and you live your actions and you accept the consequences. We were on a high, temporarily. I called her Chicklet because I was fond of her. Very fond of her. I wrote about her. About us. And I did it out of my truthfulness. Yes, I also wrote about Frances. Sheryl would call that karma too.
I hadn’t been tobogganing since high school when we used wooden toboggans and plastic flying saucers and even the cardboard from appliance shipping boxes. There was a wire fence at the foot of Tellerman’s Hill and beyond that a busy road but we always managed to avoid collision with wire or metal. I’d say I was an experienced tobogganer and I assumed the same about Kevin but maybe not Larry or his latest pursuit, Frances.
Larry had a habit of sizing women up before even knowing them. By that I mean the size of their breasts or booty and their potential in the sack. He bragged that Frances could be his ultimate lay and Kev and I snorted in a ludicrous sort of way. I did know from experience that Larry wasn’t that stud that he liked to portray. Frances was smart, smarter than Larry, and funny, funnier than all of us. She was a gem who shined beyond our expectations. Apparently she was also a virgin.
It was on the day trip to my home town and to Tellerman’s Hill that Larry and Kevin seemed to fall into a heady competition. I was their unwilling witness. Frances remained as cool as ever you could possibly be but perhaps in the midst of, and because of, our awkwardness she decided to jump onto the head of the toboggan. You have to know we were all giddy, laughing and crowing, when Larry and Kev, like two stooges, bumped into each other as they scrambled to snug up behind her. I stayed off-side, feeling confused in the moment. Then in a flash of elucidation I shoved them off, all of them, with their arms flailing all the way down the hill.
I think Frances and I had a lot of potential but of course I will never know. She was self-assured, smart and funny, and she got my sense of humour. I wanted to get to her first, in front of Larry, and I did manage to edge him out at the top of the hill. I know I once called Sheryl smart and funny but she was a wild card too. When I think about it Chicklet really did suit her. You should know that I have fond memories of our time together. In the end I had my standards but I never got to test Frances out. Larry and I rolled off just in time, before she hit the wire. And she really was a whiter shade of pale. I know that sounds cruel. And lame.
My grandson, Jeff, is into zorbing. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I until he talked me into taking him to an event. It’s hill rolling inside a soft plastic bubble. There’s one ball inside another with a shock absorber in between. You can walk around from inside the orb or be tossed around, willy nilly, or you can just roll down a hill, preferably a gentle hill. There are even entries in The Guiness Book of World Records for both distance and speed. Jeff is in it for the fun and I can relate to that. I get a kick out of watching him but don’t get me wrong, I am aware of potential accidents. You can get creamed. Believe me, I know about accidents.
I was out with my granddaughters yesterday, celebrating the first day of Spring. I wanted them to learn about the equinox. I wanted them to get a feel for how Spring really begins here unlike what books would have them believe with the pictures of fanciful and secret gardens, with bursts of colorful butterflies and birds and tropical flowers. I wanted them to appreciate their real world.
It was a sunny day for sure, but the newly-flowing river still had snow at its edges, the grass was still brown and the only birds that we noticed fluttering in and out of nearby bushes were black-capped chickadees. A raven caused a ruckus from the top of a telephone pole as we climbed the hill going back up to the parking lot. I was the straggler as the girls bounded ahead but I felt their energy in my own vicarious way. They reached the top so I hollered for them to wait lest they head straight across the busy parking lot to the car. Suddenly they laid themselves down and began their journey back down the hill, rolling like tight round bales, small bales, laughing bales, squealing bales, precious bales. Loved ones! Some day I will tell them about my father.
Five for Fighting – A five 1uestion Interview is with the dynamic duo (the real one, not those other posers) of Rob Bose and Axel Howerton of Coffin Hop Press – purveyors of new crime, new weird, new pulp!
1/ Tell us about Coffin Hop Presses foundation. At what point did Coffin Hop Press go from an idea to an up-and-running indie publisher?
Axel: I started CHP in 2012, as an offshoot of the “Coffin Hop” online event, which was basically a huge, orgiastic blog-hop for indie horror authors that began around 2011 with 20 or 30 participants, and ballooned to the hundreds by 2014 when I pulled the plug. In 2012, many of the initial members of the Coffin Hop group wanted to put together a book and, being the guy who started the event, I was nominated as the guy to coordinate the book. With some help from the crew at Sirens Call Publications, we put together DEATH BY DRIVE-IN, a collection of 22 drive-in and b-movie inspired horror stories by some of the best writers in the biz. Once I’d put out that book, I was left with the infrastructure and nothing to do with it. It took a couple of years, but eventually I put together a collection of weird western stories (TALL TALES OF THE WEIRD WEST) and a collection of my local crime-writing compeers (AB NEGATIVE), which happened to feature an early story by Rob Bose. We got to talking about working together on another collection of weird Christmas crime stories, and Rob mentioned his own short story collection – which I loved – and I convinced him to let me publish it (FISHING WITH THE DEVIL and other fiendish tales). Working with Rob on that book, he had a lot of great ideas about what we could be doing with Coffin Hop Press, a lot of ideas that I had previously shied away from because I was working by myself. So we restructured the company and became partners and the rest is recent history. We’ve gone from publishing three books in five years to publishing seven in the last nine months.
2/What other publishers / magazines / journals do you admire? Who are your heroes?
Axel: Hard Case Crime, for sure. I love what Charles Ardai has done for noir and hardboiled crime, reintroducing a new generation to classics like Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, Charles Williams, and Mickey Spillane, but also showcasing new masters of the genre like Christa Faust and Madison Smartt Bell. I’m also a big fan of things like McSweeney’s.
Rob: I’m a big fan of the old style pulp magazines. Black Mask, Amazing Stories, Weird Tales. I do love Dark Horse Books for their Hellboy stories and I’ve been reading more and crime comics from Hard Case Crime and Image.
3/ Coffin Hop has a lot of promotional things available to your fans / readers – things like coffee mugs, t-shirts etc. How important is it for an indie press like Coffin Hop to think outside the box in terms of marketing?
Axel: I think it’s important, both from a branding standpoint, and a diversification standpoint. We’ve had plenty of people that didn’t seem terribly interested in books buy a t-shirt because the logo is so distinctive. They may not be reading the books, but they’re still getting our name and our face out there. I also think it helps engender a sense of community under the umbrella of our brand
Rob: While we haven’t hit ‘Space Balls, the Lunch Box’ level of swag yet, having a distinctive logo really helps get our brand out there and recognized
4/ How does a project make it from idea to “we’re accepting submissions” to “publication day” at Coffin Hop?
Axel: Send us a query and find out! For anthologies, it’s usually just something that strikes one of us and then we bat it around for a while. The anthologies are what we do for fun. They cost a lot, and they almost never make money, but we love doing books that we think will be fun. Once we’ve decided on our one or two anthologies for the year, we put together a wish list of authors we want to have involved and send out invitations. If we get some decent response, we’ll put the book into the works and put out a submission call
Once we find the few gems that may well fit with the initial idea, we slot those in with the established invitees, and try to craft us a real book. All the boring book business stuff, like contracts and proof copies and formatting templates, finding chapter heading artwork, pagination… repagination… re-re-pagination… and then at some point, we have a magnificent new baby to add to our Angelina Jolie scale collection of book children.
Rob: We also spend a fair amount of time trying to make sure our books look great. The Noirvella line is case in point. We wanted a design that flowed from book to book, using bold colours and distinctive cover imagery. Covers are important. They really help sell the book and we’ve scored the legendary Tom Bagley to do brilliant covers for Tall Tales of the Weird West, Weird Winter Wonderland, and the upcoming Knucklehead Noir.
I can’t emphasize enough that submitter’s should read the god damn submission guidelines. While we might overlook odd formatting or unconventional fonts, if the story isn’t at least nominally related to the book theme, you’re just wasting our time and we remember who wastes our time.
5/What are you looking for from Coffin Hop authors?
Axel: People who enjoy writing, and understand writing in a literary style, not just wham-bam-saw-this-in-a-movie. We want to be excited and riveted and surprised by how different your work is. We want to see pulp, like pulp was in the early days, the weird, wonderful, outlandish stuff that inspired the movies that informed the TV shows that presaged the things you’re watching now.
Rob: We want to publish books and stories that ‘we’ love to read. And we love the insanity of John Carpenter movies, the dialog of Elmore Leonard, the darkness of Jim Thompson. We don’t want those exact stories, though; we want to feel their spirit in new, exciting ways. Also, novellas. novellas. novellas. Sure, 130k word novels are grand, but we have a soft spot in our hearts for nice, tight, little crime and pulp novellas like our recently released Rocket Ryder and Little Putt-Putt go down Swinging.
You can find Coffin Hop and their full line of books, swag, and submission information at www.coffinhop.com. Tell ‘em the Black Dog Review sent you!
By Addey Vaters
The cells that once were giving you life
decided to devour you.
Your strong voice now a tilted whisper,
hardly able to stand up straight.
Cold air permeated that sunny day.
I wore a sweater to keep out the biting
wind and settle the nerves flying around in my gut.
A million layers couldn’t keep
away the frigid hold of your end.
Little specks of gold and red fall
from the boughs of trees. Beautiful
crunchy death litters the streets.
Time passes in a slow, strange way –
growing darker and darker like the days.
White bits of icy confetti fall and coat
the earth – a consolation
prize for mother nature’s sleepy soul.
You were gone, there were tears,
there was growth in spite of the frozen earth.
Dormant blooms spring to life,
reaching their cold, tired hands towards the sky.
The sunflowers turn their golden faces
towards the light –
a reminder that you are always near.
A Farmer Discusses Domestication
By John Grey
The Brahman doesn’t understand
that the daylight hours are shorter for a reason.
It reckons that time spent in the swamp thicket,
away from the searching dogs,
is a kind of freedom.
The hairs on the caribou
stand on end.
Timber wolves mark out
that will soon enough fill with snow.
She’s always been a little crazy.
But her madness involves
standing perfectly still,
believing that she blends in like a faun.
Of course, she’d die out here
She’d be pickings for a menagerie
come down from a foodless forest.
Lucky for her,
the mutts have tracked the animal,
bark and snarl her out of hiding.
Time for the pen
for the sheltered, easy life
while weather blitzes the fields.
Fool cow’s been going
with her instincts once again.
That’s another name for foolishness
Soon enough she’ll be sent by rail for slaughter.
That’s another name for domestication.
By John Grey
She says there’s been more
of these anonymous calls,
always late at night
when she’s half asleep,
answers the phone
with hand and ear
on automatic pilot.
Hello, she drones,
but there’s just silence,
then some heavy breathing,
exaggerated, because surely
no one, not even in the heat
of passion, makes noise like that.
She wonders why she
listens for as long as she does,
and why eventually she curses…
damn you, damn you,
Her friends say,
hang up on the bastard.
But she’d rather make
this kind of blistering contact,
take her revenge,
a verbal punch-up
with no opponent but
that guttural blasphemy
In fact, she swings away
until the other end cries mercy
with a click,
sends in a dial tone second.
She wins the round
but the next night,
Mister Anonymous calls again.
She figures that’s the way it is with losers.
They can’t lose often enough
for her liking.
By Adam Kelly Morton
At age forty-five
I now know folks in
and many other meaningful professions;
whenever I tell said folks that I’m freelance
they always ask the same thing:
You make any money doing that?
Then I walk in the rain on a Monday, mid-morning,
and I close the pub on a Tuesday night
and on Friday and Saturday when everyone’s about
I sit in my little apartment and I
By Amy LeBlanc
When Bridget Cleary
sipped on foxgloves,
her fingertips flamed and
the sticks in her belly burned.
With the pale beneath her
and the sickle above,
she vomited plumes and clocks,
stopped at mid-afternoon.
With the last cup
of cow’s milk in her stomach,
she covered the mirror
with soot from her hands
and rolled her eyes inward.
By Amy Leblanc
The mother reaches her fingers
into the baby’s mouth
and finds his teeth
barbed with harebell.
While the colicky child cries,
she places a stone
underneath her tongue
and spins thread
around birds’ beaks.
When the stone cracks,
she can no longer speak
to the raven on her stoop.
The colic long since passed,
she spins in silence.
By Ace Boggess
Wake sick at 2 a.m., tasting rancid tomatoes at the tongue root.
I strain from bed, lumber out to smoke,
change the flavor,
settle my nerves.
Where I sought stillness, I discover clatter:
crickets bouncing on their mattress springs,
Coyote stutters on the next hill—arr-arr-arr-woo-woo-woo—
parts werewolf & third Stooge Curly Joe.
I know as I listen
I won’t find my way
back into sleep, my head riddled with discord—
not the coyote’s fault, but lost perspective
on flavors &
sounds of dreams.
I bend into my calming breath & want my chaos best.
By Ace Boggess
How long has it been since you heard one?
says Lawrence. I go back thirty years
to hollows of night—
life full wading in the creek,
kicking up dirt skirting leaf-covered graves.
As dark brewed inky tea:
off-stage, birds sang their names—
booze-crazed rockers desperate
not to be forgotten, yet are,
like that singer for The Grass Roots
who died last week.
I saw his band in concert once,
another age ago, but can’t recall a melody,
his faith in words,
not even the title to one lonely song.
To the Widow Writing to the Inmates at Ponoka
By Erin Vance
Your glasses break. Lie to the winter, the snow.
My dear; Though you grind the spiders and drink them,
the wind still blows.
In dignity, chant your signature and kiss the paper with your wrinkled lip.
A black hole opens in the vaulted brick ceiling of his cell
each time he reads your letters;
he uses the crumpled paper,
to make makeshift ear plugs.
He isn’t listening, my dear.
When you sent a clipping of your hair, taped to the wood pulp
he dropped it down between the spiral stairs
walking to the showers;
he collected his own from the drain to make poppets with.
None of the poppets was a vision of you.
Proud, you recycle your tears and watercolour the paper
blue, you are running and wasted; don’t try to visit, please.
My dear, you are already dead.
At night the drip behind the refrigerator keeps you up.
You love a man but you are just a ball of paper
to keep out the wails of the next door cell.
My dear, your letters live in hell and you
are no more beautiful than a mug of cool water
You are a clock, ticking down the hall.
In dignity, chant your signature and kiss the paper with your wrinkled lip.
by Erin Vance
I ate the bagel you were saving for breakfast
when I couldn’t sleep, so I left you a note:
take some money from my purse and buy yourself
a latte and a pastry, but you never woke up
to not eat the bagel, or to eat the pastry.
I wasted a good notecard on the exchange
that would turn out to be only between me
and the milk carton. I wondered who would eat
the leftovers now. I hate the smell of day-old roast.
I wondered who would pull the hair up
from the black recesses of our drains. Who
would blow out the candles when I go to bed
and forget them? Who would wake me up on days
when I refused to open the blinds?
I ate your ice cream, next, even though
the peanut butter cups made my tongue swell,
and then I ate the stash of Mars bars in your underwear drawer.
I ate until all that was left in the house
was a box of cereal we agreed tasted like cement
and a jar of pickles we were saving for sometime
when we would make our own and could replicate
By Megan Denese Mailor
whistle me a songbird
graphical leitmotif glaze
pulsing with shopworn spinets
mandocellos in its fainting bones
boast me a battlefield
debonair disintegrating duelists
untitled rag-tags mapping hazel rods
belligerent butternuts in sweetbriar
utter me a heartbreak
well-timed wind chime timbres
weary juke joint moonshine muss
field holler bluegrass grit and glue
fashion me a lighthouse
dovetailed octagonal Orion
lording hangdog handwoven warhorses
falconine flames bridling harlequin reefs
bleed me an aftershock
rupturing root cellars, railbirds, rakehells
eidolon earthquakes hatching hinterlands
larval landslips bulldozing bloodroots
Amy LeBlanc holds an BA (Hons.) in English Literature and creative writing at the University of Calgary where she is Editor-in-Chief of NōD Magazine. Her work has appeared in Prairie Fire, (Parenthetical), the Antigonish Review, and Canthius among others and she won the 2018 BrainStorm Poetry Contest. Amy also has work forthcoming in Room, Contemporary Verse 2, and Event. Her chapbook, Collective Nouns for Birds was published by Loft on Eighth Press in December 2017.
Erin Emily Ann Vance’s work has appeared in numerous journals, including Contemporary Verse 2 and filling station. She was a 2017 recipient of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Young Artist Prize and a 2018 Finalist for the Alberta Magazine Awards in Fiction. She has work forthcoming in The Occulum, Revue Post, and The Warren Review. Find her at www.erinvance.ca and @erinemilyann on Instagram and Twitter.
Ace Boggess is author of three books of poetry, most recently Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road, 2017), and the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea, 2016). He is an ex-con, ex-reporter, ex-husband, and exhausted by all the things he isn’t anymore. His poetry has appeared in Harvard Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Rattle, River Styx, and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.
Adam Kelly Morton is a Montreal-based husband, father (four kids, all under-five), acting teacher, board gamer, and writer. He has been published in Open Pen, Talking Soup, Danforth Review, and Urban Graffiti, among others. He has an upcoming piece in A Wild and Precious Life, an addiction anthology to be published this year in London, UK. He is the editor-in-chief of the Bloody Key Society Periodical literary magazine.
Addey Vaters is a writer from Colorado. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs in English Literature. Addey’s work has been published in riverrun Literary and Arts Journal, Sleet Magazine, Miss Milennia Magazine, Viewfinder Magazine, and Odyssey, where she was not only a contributor but an editor. She is currently the poetry editor of borrowed solace and works in higher education. She loves anything and everything related to cats and/or folk music, and is a proponent of the Oxford Comma.
Hermine Robinson loves all things short fiction and refuses to be the place where perfectly good stories come to die. In 2012 she went from scribbling to submitting and since then her work has appeared in numerous print and on-line publications. Hermine is married with two children, and most people know her by the nickname Minkee.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Nebo, Euphony and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.
Sarah L. Johnson lives in Calgary where she reads a lot, runs a lot, and masters the art of the writerly side hustle – teaching, editing, and wrangling literary events at an indie bookstore. Her short fiction has appeared in Room Magazine, Plenitude Magazine, and Shock Totem. She is the author of two books, Suicide Stitch: Eleven Tales (EMP Publishing, 2016) and her debut novel Infractus was released in April 2018 by Coffin Hop Press.
Rachel León is a fiction writer, book reviewer, and fiction editor for Arcturus. Her work has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, New Beginnings, and other publications. She is currently working on a novel.
Megan Denese Mailor’s work has been featured widely in numerous journals, most recently Really System, The Opiate, Fowl Feathered Review, Maudlin House, Harbinger Asylum, and Firefly. She has also been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Her debut poetry collection, Bipolar Lexicon, is forthcoming in October 2018 from Unsolicited Press. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her teens, her main mission is to inspire others stigmatized for their mental health. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her partner, son, and two cats.
Barbara Biles lives in Calgary, Alberta. Her stories have appeared in both print and online magazines including FreeFall, The Nashwaak Review, The Broken City and Turk’s Head Review. Her short story collection, Dear Hearts, will be available through Inanna Publications in Spring 2019.
Kevin Mulligan has stories or poems published in J.J. Outré Review, The Literary Hatchet, and Unbroken Journal. When he’s not working at his writing, he likes to delve into some other form of art, be it music or sculpting.
Lori Hahnel is the author of two novels, Love Minus Zero (Oberon, 2008) and After You’ve Gone (Thistledown, 2014), as well as a story collection, Nothing Sacred (Thistledown, 2009), which shortlisted for an Alberta Literary Award. Her work has been published in over forty journals in North America, Australia and the U.K.; her credits include CBC Radio, The Fiddlehead, Joyland and The Saturday Evening Post.