A New Deal by Mary Finnegan

So here’s the deal, if you are reading this, don’t tell anyone about it if you value your life. If you tell anyone about this, I will probably murder you in your sleep no matter who or where you are.

Okay. I should probably explain who I am. My name is Ebony Black. I live in Ireland with Minion, my servant, and my two cats Tornado and Whirlwind. I am 16 years old with dark eyes, long black hair, pale complexion, and I dress in all black, including shoes and socks.

My story starts six months ago, on June 13, the day my parents died. The day started out pretty normal. I was walking to the bakery to pick up my cupcakes. I guess I should explain about the cupcake thing. I love cupcakes. I love them more than anything in the whole entire world, and the cupcakes I was picking up were my favorite kind. They were vanilla cupcakes with swirled pink raspberry frosting and little dots of white lemon icing. So, okay, back to the story: As I was walking, I heard a loud bang, like an explosion, behind me. As I turned I saw the bank, now rubble, where my parents and everyone else inside was killed.

I can’t say I was sad, but I can’t say I was happy either. I was just mildly annoyed that the shock wave had ruffled my hair. I kept walking as if nothing had happened. I got my cupcakes from Noelle, the baker’s 10-year-old daughter, then hailed a taxi to take me back to my parent’s estate that was now mine.

Minion greeted me coldly at the door asking, “What was that noise? It sounded like an explosion.”

“It was the bank exploding. They’re dead. My plan worked,” I replied, and with that I turned and entered the house. Of course, house isn’t really the best word to describe it because it is a five story stone castle with turrets and moat, and it’s situated on 10 acres.

I walked up the stone steps past marble busts of my long forgotten ancestors and vowed to take them down the first chance I got. I walked into my study/lab. It was a round room about the size of a small house. It was dimly lit by Tiffany lamps and across from the door stood a sturdy mahogany desk with a running computer on top of it. I walked over to the desk and sat down in the cushioned armchair, sorted through my files, and then checked my computer.

Sure enough, someone was waiting for me on Skype. I had been expecting a Skype from the police department explaining what had happened at the bank, but this Skype was from Tony and Miranda Jackenson, the two people in the world that I hated most. Tony and Miranda lived in Pasadena under a wine bar and were wanted in seven countries and public enemies #1 in two other countries. They killed my baby brother five years ago. I opened my web cam, and I saw them both grinning stupidly at me.

“How’s it going, Ebony?” cackled Tony.

“Have you thought about our offer yet?” said Miranda, her voice was filled with hate, probably because the last time they’d seen me I’d set my cat Whirlwind on her. She still had the claw marks marring her pretty face.

“No,” I told her. “But I can tell you this: I will never join you. I will never ever work with you on anything, and if you ever come back to Ireland, I will give you a horribly painful death after I set my cats on you and bury you both up to your necks in cockroaches for two weeks.”

Miranda scowled and turned off the web cam.

Two weeks later, I was sitting in the garden eating cupcakes, checking my blog and petting Tornado and Whirlwind when a piece of paper floated down to me from the branch of a nearby apple tree. The paper was wet from the morning dew so the words on it were smudged, but I could make out what it said:

Killcummin Pier
At midnight tonight
See you there, Ebony.
Yours truly t and m

I know you’re thinking I must be really stupid if I was actually going to meet them at the pier, but I have a cat that would claw your eyes out so I suggest that you stay quiet. Let me tell you, I am not the kind of person who backs out of things.

That night, I walked to the pier with both of my cats for extra protection and so they could claw off Miranda’s ugly face. When I got to the pier, it was deserted. They weren’t there yet. I told my cats to stand guard, and then I walked to the edge of the pier and stared down at the black swirling water. I heard a high-pitched scream behind me and saw my cats chasing two people about my age.

The girl, however, was not Miranda. She looked nothing like her. While Miranda had waist length white blond hair, this girl had shoulder length curly red hair and bangs that covered her bright green eyes. The boy was tall and stocky, also with curly red hair, but his eyes were a dark blue, almost black.

The girl walked up to me looking very annoyed. “That cat could’ve killed me. What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you call it off?”

“I thought you were someone else. What’s your name, anyway?” I replied.

“My name is Timothy and that’s my twin sister Margaret, and I assume that you’re Ebony,” said the boy. “We want to make you a deal.”

He leaned forward and whispered something in my ear, and, after a few moments, I replied, “Yes. I’ll do it.”
© Copyright 2011 Mary Finnegan. All rights reserved

Mary Finnegan attends seventh grade in Pasadena. She has never been to Ireland, but would like to go.  This is her first published story.

Healing by William Wren

As Canadians celebrated their centennial she drifted south from British Columbia through the western United States to eventually find herself swirling through California and, finally, coming to a rest in Pasadena where she remained. It was 1967.

All of that is gone now.

• • •

After returning from the police station, she went into the study (which wasn’t a study at all but a corner of the basement with a desk surrounded by piles of laundry). With a rubber-tipped pencil she began erasing the world.

She started with the Bible. It took a great deal of time because it was large and had many translations. When finished, she moved on to dictionaries. All of them. They took almost fifteen years, the Complete Oxford consuming more than four. From dictionaries she moved on to phone books. After, she thought of newspapers but because she had erased them from every dictionary, they had already ceased to be.

It took her forty-three years, ten months, eleven days and a good four hours of the last day’s morning, 7:30 to 11:30 a.m.. But then she was finished. She was seventy-one years old. History had been erased. Religion had been erased. Sexuality, in all its manifestations, had vanished. Gender was gone.

The Parliament of Canada had been removed to a place of non-existence where it remained with the United States Congress. Cars were no more. Children no longer gathered in gangs at street corners, clubs or anywhere else. There was no anywhere else.

There were no children.

Even her beloved Pasadena parrots were gone though she didn’t notice their absence because she no longer had any idea that such birds had been.

There was only a seventy-one-year-old woman with nothing left to erase. Even her memories were gone.

She no longer knew why she had begun erasing. The man who had violated her had vanished. The act had vanished. So had the soft sadness she would have felt had she not erased the realization that it had taken forty-three years, ten months, eleven days and four hours of this last morning to reach the point of only soft sadness remaining.

• • •

Everything was gone. What would she do now?

She turned her pencil around. Having erased age and death, she had time in abundance. (She had erased all time except her own.) She would enjoy herself. She would act and feel with the easiness of children before they’re absorbed by gangs and street corners.

With her pencil, she began re-writing the world. Her first words read, “Sky. Water. Earth. Voices. Laughter. Love. Song.”

Pausing a moment, she thought, then wrote, “A boy named Tim with hair that hides his eyes.”

© Copyright 2011 William Wren. All rights reserved

William Wren is a writer-editor in New Brunswick, Canada. He has been writing for more years than he can count. Recently has been gathering some of his older fiction and making it available online as free ebooks (in PDF). He hasn’t decided whether this is a good idea or not. He also wrote “I’ve Never Been to Pasadena” for this blog.

Please Be Advised by Scott Alumbaugh

John Laughlin sat in his 43rd floor office, staring at the blinking cursor on his computer screen. He had started a memo and had typed, “Please be advised, my last day with the firm will be…”

But he only got that far. He was a fourth-year associate hard on the partnership track at a corporate law firm. He could see his future and didn’t like what he saw. It was pointless to work, he thought, defending corporations. At the same time, he worried that might just be an excuse, a way of not admitting that he just wasn’t tough enough to succeed. This wasn’t the first time he’d started this memo.

He was interrupted by a knock on his door. He put his computer to sleep as Patrick Gillis, a first-year associate, slipped inside without a word or even a glance in his direction. Gillis immediately turned around and pressed the door closed behind him. In one hand he clutched some documents so tightly that they had become creased. After the door was shut he turned to John.

“Do you have a minute?” Gillis stood with his neck stretched forward and his tortoise-shell glasses perched on the end of his nose. Over the last six months he had lost ten pounds due to stress. His forehead was as creased as the documents. Suspenders held his loose pants. John used to feel sorry for Gillis; he had since come to see him as just a big pain in the ass.

John shook his head. “I’ve got—”

“This will only take a second.” Gillis drilled John with an intense, beseeching stare. “What do you know about real estate?”

John sighed. “Nothing.”

Gillis thrust the documents forward. “What do you think about this?”

“What am I looking at?” John asked.

“A trust deed and title insurance policy.”

“Okay. Why am I looking at them?”

“The title.”

“The what?”

“The title. To the property.”

“What about it?”

“How is it held?”

John read the front page of the deed. It listed the owners as “Daniel and Anna Guercio, joint tenants as to a one-half interest and Mark and Catherine Blodget, joint tenants as to a one-half interest.”

John shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Gillis moved around John’s desk and peered over his shoulder.

“It’s the ‘and.’ Don’t you agree?”

John re-read the title declaration. “There are three ‘ands’.”

Gillis leaned over him and jabbed at the documents. “This one. Here. The one between ‘interest’ and ‘Mark.’ There’s no comma in front of it. That makes it ambiguous. Doesn’t it?”

John nodded.

“So do they hold the property collectively as joint tenants, or in couples as joint tenants and collectively as tenants in common?”

“Beats me.”

“That’s because it’s ambiguous. Right?”


“That’s what I thought, too.” Gillis looked as if he was relieved to find someone, anyone, who agreed with him. “But you know Barrett. This is for one of his clients. We have to clear a cloud on this title. The property is in Pasadena, but two of these people are missing, Daniel and Anna. They divorced eight years ago. No one knows where either of them live now. I’m not sure who’s entitled to notice. What if the undivided one-half interest went to one of the spouses in the divorce settlement? What if they’re dead? If it’s a tenancy in common, I have to find their heirs. But if it’s a joint tenancy, it passes to the others by right of survivorship. At least I think it does. I’m not sure what I should do.”


“I should find both of them, right? And their heirs. And send notice to all of them just to make sure.”


“That’s what I thought.” Gillis stared at the documents again. He was still crowding over John’s shoulder, so John stood up. Gillis backed out to the other side of the desk.

“But that might be a waste of the client’s money,” Gillis continued.

“What case is this for?”

“It’s a favor Barrett’s doing for a client he’s sucking up to.”

“Maybe you should just put everything in a memo to Barrett and let him decide,” John said.

“I did. He refused to read it. It came to twenty-three pages. He said it can’t be that complicated. He even told me to write off the time it took to draft it. Can you believe that?”

“Yeah,” John said, nodding.

“But I can’t do that, because then my hours will be too low this month.”

John’s phone beeped. The liquid crystal floated the name of the caller. Barrett Landry.

“Speak of the devil.”

“Who is it?” Gillis asked.

John picked up the phone. “Hello?” He heard noise coming through the other end, the shuffling of papers, and in the background, a voice giving instructions.

“Hello?” John repeated, a little louder.

“Hold on,” Barrett ordered. He finished giving his directions and John heard the noise of his door shutting.



“Do you have a minute?”


The phone went silent. John hung up.

“What did he want?”

“To have a meeting, I guess.” John grabbed a legal pad and his pen. Gillis moved in front of him, blocking the door.

“Wait. Before you go. Don’t tell him I asked you about this. Okay?”


Gillis didn’t budge. “And have you heard anything about layoffs?” he asked. “I heard there were going to be layoffs. Do you know who? My wife and I just bought a house. I can’t get laid off. Do you think I’ll be laid off?”

“I don’t know,” John said. But he did know that Patrick Gillis had partner written all over him, once he learned to handle the stress. John put the thought aside. “Look,” he said, “I’ve got to talk to Barrett.”

Gillis backed away, nodding. “Thanks, John.”


John watched him leave, then stepped back into his office and shut the door. He had a memo to finish.

© Copyright 2010 Scott Alumbaugh. All rights reserved.

Scott Alumbaugh is a web/graphics/print designer. A sailor and an avid cyclist, he has written extended articles online about his experiences in the Gold Rush Randonnée (a 750-mile, 90-hour event) and other ultra-distance events. Scott lives in Davis, California with his wife, Lisa, and their son, Kazu.

From Kingergarten, with Love by Ronni Gordon

Carly Weisman was a New Yorker through and through. She knew where to get her bagels and lox, where to find the perfect Reuben and how to grab the best parking places. She disliked winter, but the change of seasons made up for it.

How, then, had she ended up in Pasadena, and why had she stayed so long?

It all began in kindergarten at the 92nd Street Y, where the rooftop playground overlooked busy Lexington Avenue. She always chose Mikey Miller first for her teams, and he always chose her.

They were in love. She was a pretty little girl with a pear-shaped face, deep brown eyes and a head of dark curly hair. He was a cute little boy with short bangs, striking green eyes and a dimple in his right cheek.

They sat side by side in the toy closet, their knobby knees touching, and made a pact that they would someday marry.

They lost touch when they went their separate ways in first grade. But there he was again in college, calling her name in an elevator. “Carly Weisman, is that you?” he said. “You look just the same as in kindergarten.”

The spark was re-ignited. They dated for a while, but again, they went their separate ways. She settled on the upper east side of New York, got a job teaching high school and married an advertising executive. They had two children, a boy and a girl. Their marriage was bumpy, and when the kids went to college, they called it quits.

After she had tried and failed at the dating game, she got a Facebook friend request asking, “Are you the Carly Weisman from the 92nd Street Y?” She wrote that indeed she was. “Remember me, Mikey? I’m a little ticked off. You and I had a pact that we made in the Y closets,” he wrote.

He lived in Pasadena, writing screenplays. “You should come visit. I have plenty of free time,” he said.

It was winter break, and before she knew it, she was on a plane taking her to the other side of the continent.

Mikey, now Mike and on the way to getting divorced, met her at the airport carrying a rose, the city’s official flower. They hugged and then took a good look at each other. When he smiled, she remembered the cute dimple.

“You look the same!” he said. They both laughed.

He had arranged for her to stay at the apartment of a friend who was out of town. After they brought her bags over, they had dinner in Old Pasadena at DISH, where they updated each other over Oysters Deanna and Lobster Ravioli. She told him that she was afraid to trust again. He told her that although he was not divorced yet, “I’m never going back to her.”

“We’re meant to be together,” he said, putting his hand on top of hers. “You can trust me.”

They discovered that each had developed a passion for tennis, so on the second day he gave her one of his extra racquets and they went the Rose Bowl Tennis Center. He brought two bottles of Gatorade, and when they went up to the net to get a drink, they kissed, a gentle kiss that held the promise of more to come.

He called her every morning, and they made plans to see the sights. Their wanderings included Devil’s Gate Dam and Hahamongna Watershed Park, where they walked hand-in-hand.

One night after they had seen a performance of the Pasadena Dance Theatre, they kissed long and harder in the parking lot. “I think I’m falling in love with you…all over again,” he said.

That night she stayed at his place.

She went “home” in the morning so he could write for a few hours, and their days continued pleasantly, with the promise of more to come.

But about half way through her visit, she noticed that he was calling her later and later in the day. She called him and got his voice mail. “Wonder where you are,” she said. She called again. He didn’t pick up.

When he surfaced, he apologized. “I had a deadline, and then my son called with a problem, and I just couldn’t get away. How about I pick you up for tennis?”

He had brought only one Gatorade, and it wasn’t for her.

One day he didn’t call at all.

His friend had left a car, so she drove to Jameson Brown, got a dark roast coffee and spread out the Los Angeles Times. But her head was spinning, and it was hard to read.

Two women wandered over. Mary, a professor at Caltech, and Rebecca, a freelance writer, asked if they could join her.

She felt like they were old friends, and the story poured out of her. “I feel like I’m being hung out to dry,” she said, her eyes filling up.

“You should ask him what’s going on,” Mary said.

So that night she emailed him.

“I trusted you to be up front with me,” she wrote. “I will not go crazy if you changed your mind. I just need to know.”

The next morning, silence.

She dialed her new friends, who met her at the café. Carly’s stomach ached, and her head hurt.

“I wonder if he went back to his wife,” she said. “I wonder if I said something. I wonder if he hated my backhand. How can someone just disappear?”

“It’s nothing personal,” Rebecca said. “There’s a book called ‘He’s Just Not That Into You.’ You should read it.”

Carly was leaving in three days. The three friends linked arms and went for a long walk, the warm breeze soothing her. She had lost a chance at love, but she had gained two friends.

“I’m sure he’ll show up again,” Carly said. “Next time I’m going to hit him over the head with a tennis racquet.”

They laughed until they cried.

© Copyright 2010 Ronni Gordon. All rights reserved.

Ronni Gordon is a freelance journalist living in Western Massachusetts. She spent most of her career writing arts and features for The Republican, a regional daily in Springfield, Mass. She is also published in the New York Times magazine and on the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s website. She is the proud mother of three children and owner of a Labrador retriever, Maddie, short for Madison, as in Madison Ave., in honor of her hometown, New York City.

Ten Things I Hate About Thanksgiving by Margaret Finnegan

1. Turkey.
I am a vegetarian, Brian. You knew that when you met me. Deal.

2. Travel.
Pasadena, California? That is at least twelve screaming, stinking babies from Miami. I’d rather shoot myself.

3. Your mother.
Evil, Evil, Evil.

4. Football. 
You know how this will play out as well as I do, Brian. You’ll spend all day watching football with your dad and the two moose-like brothers who used to lock you in the closet just so they could watch “Dukes of Hazard” instead of babysit you.

In the meantime, I will be relegated to kitchen patrol and have to face down your evil mother while she literally tries to pry my jaws open and stuff my mouth with the damn turkey that she has even given a name to. (Don’t think I’ve forgotten the stuffing incident of ’07. There were giblets, Brian. Giblets!)

5. Alcohol.
There is none of it. None. See #3.

6. Leftovers.
I am not checking a bag full of dark meat, sausage stuffing, and bacon biscuits hoisted upon me by your mother. First of all: it will drive those drug-sniffing dogs crazy, which will totally slow us down and maybe even put us on the no-fly list.

Second of all: Like I’m really going to cart around some salmonella-poisoned carcass that I won’t eat and that would kill you.

Third—and most importantly—checked luggage. CHECKED! LUGGAGE!

7. Last time, your mother called me a “FAT, booze-hounding cow” and lit my hair on fire.
Don’t tell me those birthday candles were an accident. I know.

8. I will not be called FAT.

9. Did I mention your brothers?
Your dad’s OK.

10. Who the hell cares?
I won’t go, Brian. No way. Not in a million years. Not if she was on her deathbed and said I was as thin as Angelina Jolie. And if you love me at all, you will just drop this whole idea and go buy a damn lentil loaf from Whole Foods so we can give thanks like real Americans: alienated from our crappy families and proud of it.

© Copyright 2010 Margaret Finnegan. All rights reserved.

Margaret Finnegan is a frequent contributor to The Rose City Sisters. Her story, “Sweet Revenge,” was voted the 2009 Story of the Year by fellow contributors to this blog. She blogs at Finnegan Begin Again. To read an excerpt of her novel, “The Goddess Lounge,” visit her website.

Some Thoughts of a Non-custodial Parent While Sitting on the John, 20 Years Later by Dianne Patrizzi

Ants crawl out from the ornate metal overflow drain-hole up to the marble edge out of the sink. They travel down its antique pedestal across the plank floor, and form a single file line from pedestal to muddy gardening shoe laying just a few feet away.

In 1892, the floor was built in this house for one of the twenty Quaker families that had migrated to Pasadena from Pennsylvania. Friends meetings were sometimes held here before they constructed the Meeting House up the street. Human voices quieted. Nothing to be heard but the soft brushing of worn leather soles against wood. Friends seeking the light within, sat on benches at these communal gatherings. I sit on a single seat.

This old oak floor had provided a platform for the ants to journey, year after year. An ant had to exercise extreme caution by keeping in line along the thick baseboards to avoid being stepped on by the crowd. On this Sunday, the only worshipper these ants need fear is me. While I sit on the john contemplating my garden shoes. 

It stopped raining after three days, a perfect time to get the seeds into the ground. There’s no time to change clothes. I’ve got to plant while the planting is good.

My gardening shoes were not gardening shoes. These were shoes that had fallen from grace. The muddy heap of shredded black and brown were once shiny black leather pumps injected with confidence. My work shoes, foundations for springing into action. They had taken me places.

The day after I lost my job, I began thinking of my unemployment as the wonderful opportunity my co-workers told me it would be. For the first time in twenty years, I’d be able to do the things that I rarely had time to do; spend time with my children, write the novel, grow my own tomatoes. Here was my chance to fulfill the need to explore my inner self and the world outside of corporate slavery.

I watch the ants march past the gardening shoes, up the stack of newspapers by the tub. Carefully and with great solemnity, the ants climb each stair of print as if ascending the Spanish Steps on a first trip to Rome. Will the first sight of expanse of tub give them pause? Will they be as awestruck as I would be upon seeing the Colliseum? Will the ants be as silently exuberant as the Quaker Friends were when they gazed out at the beautiful  Rancho San Pasqual from the front porch of this house on Galena Street?

© Copyright 2010 Dianne Patrizzi. All rights reserved.

Dianne Patrizzi aka Patrizzi Intergalactica, aka Miss Havisham, aka Havisham Patrizzi has been a blogger since early 2002. She has had many incarnations. After losing her entire portfolio in a wildfire in 2003, she has been on the road to recovery, bit by bit. She lives in Pasadena, California with her kittten Inigo Montoya Frederico Garcia Lorca. She hopes to be able to find her rightful place in this world after much trial and tribulation. Her oil paintings are somewhat psychedelic. Her fashion design and construction is quite retro 1930s. She loves to write plays and produce podcasts and is always happy to jump in to any production or performance.

San Andreas Fault by Scott Alumbaugh

“Look, it’s San Andreas Fault. It runs right under the highway and out through the bay.”

Tania Cho was speeding down the Shoreline Highway, pointing right, across the dashboard, toward Tomales Bay. The top was down in her convertible, so she raised her voice to be heard.

Her boyfriend, John Laughlin, looked over to where she was pointing. He didn’t see anything that looked like a quake fault. He saw bushes that mostly blocked his view of the bay. A few eucalyptus trees. Salt marsh. Things you see all over California.

But as he looked he tried to think of how he should respond. He didn’t like having to yell or strain to hear. He didn’t have much interest in talking at all. But he knew he had to say something.

“It’s not San Andreas’ fault,” he said at last. “It’s nobody’s fault.”

“What?” Tania yelled back. “Nobody’s what?” She was smiling, enjoying the drive.

He instantly regretted saying it. Now he’d have to explain. He too often had to explain himself to her.

“Oh,” she said, getting it. “Nobody’s fault? Silly! San Andreas didn’t discover it. Andrew Lawson did. He named it after a sag pond off the 280.”

John nodded, clenching his teeth. He was born in California. He knew earthquakes, and he sure as hell knew about the San Andreas fault.

Tania stopped smiling, sensing his mood. She wanted to talk geology; show him how Point Reyes Peninsula, right across the bay from where they were driving, has traveled hundreds of miles north over millions of years because it sits on a different plate from the one they were driving on. Instead she focused on the road. The silence worked on John’s nerves. Finally, he couldn’t take the tension anymore.

“Look, I was trying to make a joke. San Andreas’ fault; possessive, not nominative.”

“Adjectival,” Tania said. Then she added, “Is that it?”

He nodded. “Ya, it was just a bad joke.”


John rubbed his hands on his thighs, scratched his forehead. Four hundred miles to go before they got back to Pasadena. Bad time to start a fight. But she was a prosecutor. He knew she wouldn’t let it go.

He started quietly. “I meant it as a pun. But now that I think about it, it’s actually a good analogy. Two plates touch each other here at the fault, right? One’s moving north. Most of the time it moves along with no problem, but occasionally there’s a hang up, then an earthquake, and all hell breaks loose. It’s not the fault’s fault, so to speak.”

She stayed quiet, so he continued.

“It’s like us. We’re going in different directions. It’s not anyone’s fault, per se, but occasionally it causes problems. Like this.”

Tania’s jaw dropped.

“People are not rocks, John. Relationships are not ruled by plate tectonics. You decide and you act, or cause a result by choosing not to act.”

He sighed. “I just think our relationship should flow more easily.”

Tania paused, angry, but not wanting to drive him too far into himself. “Nothing flows, John. Everything takes work. You’re burned out. You’re taking a break from your career, and that’s good. But don’t confuse me with jour job.”

She looked over and saw he was listening.

“You think things flow because they do for you. You walked into your old firm in a suit and tie and fit right in from day one. You get invited to the Jonathan Club by your managing partner. I get asked out for sushi.”

Her mention of sushi made John think about when they met. His law firm represented a bank against one of its customers, a businessman who it turned out was running a Ponzi scheme. When he defaulted on a loan, the bank sued him; but the state was prosecuting him first. The partner John worked under sent him over to talk to the prosecutor, a Ms. Tania Cho, to learn what he could about her case.

From the start she was all business. He liked that about her. As he was leaving, he said, “You’re a straight shooter, Tania.”

She said, “I don’t have time to play games, Mr. Laughlin.”

He made an excuse to meet again. After, he invited her out for sushi. He smiled now at his own awkwardness. He wondered how many other ways he sold her short, how little effort he put into finding out who she really was.

He looked over at her now and realized he hadn’t really looked directly at her all day. Realizing he was blocking her out. Realizing that was stupid.

He reached over and placed his hand on top of hers. She turned hers over and their fingers intertwined. She smiled at him.

He looked past Tania to the hills.

“What are those called again? The outcroppings?”

“Bluechist Knockers.”


“Yes, really.”

“Shouldn’t they come in pairs?”

“They’re part of the Franciscan Complex.”

“Sounds like a Catholic sex disorder.”

“And Point Reyes is all granite,” she said, nodding to the right. “Salinian Block.”

“I’m sure there’s a salacious pun in there somewhere.”

“And we haven’t even talked about subduction yet. Or the Cascadia Megathrust.”

“Wow, geological porn. Who knew?”

“Is it getting you hard?”

He rolled his eyes.

They slowed as they entered Point Reyes Station.

“You really love this stuff, don’t you?” he said.

“I think it’s fascinating. I thought I would be a geologist when I grew up.”

“Why did you change your mind?”

“Because people are a lot more interesting than rocks.”

“A lot more difficult.”

“Yes. But people can change, grow.”

Tania pulled over in front of a bakery and stopped. She turned off the car and looked straight into John’s eyes, smiling now.

“Even you.”

© Copyright 2010 Scott Alumbaugh All rights reserved.

Scott Alumbaugh is a web/graphics/print designer. A sailor and an avid cyclist, he formerly wrote a monthly feature (“Sailing Adventures”) for Bay Crossings, and has written extended articles online about his experiences in the Gold Rush Randonnée (a 750-mile, 90-hour event) and other ultra-distance events. Scott lives in Davis, California with his wife, Lisa, and their son, Kazu.

Manifesto of a Neglected Chipmunk by Kelly I. Hitchcock

I got played with more when I was on the shelf at Target. Toddlers would pick me up and whack me against the other toys until their mommies forcibly extracted me from their tiny vice grip fingers. They’d say “that’s not for babies” and then smear more Germ-X on their miniature hands. Those were the good old days, “the before-time”, as I like to call it. Then I got stuck with you. When we first met, you didn’t even give me the sniff test or the slobbery-tongued lick test you enjoying giving to finer objects like the laundry room floor and the concrete slab on the back patio. No, you just cocked your scruffy head at me, trying to be all cute and then looked at your owners—no, I’m sorry, I forgot we’re all PC now and you call them “human companions”—like what is this rubbish? and pranced away with your shiny black nose up in the air and your long prissy tail fur all fanned out, swaying meticulously with each calculated stride.

As undignified as it is, my life’s purpose is to be covered with your nasty droolies, get batted around like a kitten’s ball of string, and be shaken until my stuffing brains burst through their flimsy seams. It is not to lie unplayed with in the same spot, day after day, until it’s time to vacuum. They bought me to help you deal with your sissypants separation anxiety. I was supposed to be the friend you got to play with while mommy and daddy were at work all day. After they finally accepted that you weren’t interested, they didn’t even bother to put me up on the fridge, where the view is better and the air cooler, when they came home. From up there, I could see you in the backyard whenever one of the real life versions of me decided to cheat death and cut through the lawn to the Bellefontaine Nursery across the street, where they have all the unshelved 20-pound sacks of birdseed stacked up in the parking lot.

I don’t blame the real chipmunks. It’s like taking candy from a baby, and it’s not like they can’t outrun you, fatty. Yeah, I know all about the eight pounds you gained last year. Eight more and you’re in the pricier tier of pet meds. That’s why they want you in the back yard where you can get some exercise chasing the real me’s. It’s like someone puts speed in your kibble. And yet, just because I don’t have the inner architecture for locomoting through the house, you won’t even give me the time of day. Hello? We have the same tail, the same stripes, the same beautiful snowy white belly. Who needs motion when you’ve got a squeaker?

Oh, that’s right. You probably didn’t even remember that I had a squeaker. You spend too much time playing with your other friend, that filthy, ratty old penguin Mr. Tuxedo. He’s told me his side of the story. He was the twelfth stuffed animal penguin Christmas gift from your Grandhuman, given to you so she’d get the hint that your mommy didn’t want penguin paraphernalia as gifts anymore. How come he gets the cool name, and I get stuck with the unimaginative moniker “Chip Monk”? He certainly doesn’t have a squeaker. I am an American Kennel Club 100% polyester faux fur canine companion. My label even reads perfect for dogs. Harrumph. Perfect for normal dogs.

Then again, you’re the dog who didn’t even like the Kong. Oh yeah. Mr. Tuxedo told me all about it. When you don’t like the toy Dr. Mears recommends to all pet owners—sorry, human companions—there’s something objectively wrong with you. You’re like a kid that doesn’t like candy, a man that doesn’t like beer, a hardwood floor that doesn’t like Murphy’s Oil Soap. Ahem. Forgive my specificity on that last menu item. The living room floor and I have been spending a lot of time together. We really hit it off that first day your human companions left you home with me and Mr. Tuxedo, the day after you tried to eat your way through the door of your room and peed on the floor during that horrible thunderstorm. Yeah, Mr. Tuxedo told me about that, too. The floor got to look at my clean alabaster tummy all day long, because I was in the same all-fours position they put me in when they left for the day: poised for chasing, alert, ready to take on the world. You were supposed to love me.

It’s a good thing they leave the TV on for you because of your shelter dog separation anxiety. It gives me something to do while you play with Mr. Tuxedo in plain sight to make me jealous. I’m not jealous. Mr. Tuxedo thinks that maybe it’s my bad attitude that makes you less likely to play with me. I think Mr. Tuxedo got dropped on his head on that trip from the sweatshop to the Wal-Mart clearance aisle one too many times. That or his bow tie is cutting off circulation to his brain. Besides, I like watching that Jerry Springer. His final thoughts are really insightful. And I’m convinced that one of these days Brooke will remember that she and Ridge are soul mates and figure out that Taylor gave her amnesia and that Whit is not her real son. Yes, I know you’re more of a Y&R fan, you overgrown fleabag.
© Copyright 2010 Kelly I. Hitchcock. All rights reserved.

Kelly I. Hitchcock is a novelist, poet, and blogger from a poor stretch of the Ozarks in Southwest Missouri. A graduate of the creative writing program at Missouri State University, Kelly’s poems have been featured in Clackamas Literary Review and Foliate Oak Literary Journal. Her last story for this blog was “Ad Hominem.” She lives in Kansas City and is an avid volunteer and fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Learn more about the author and her work by visiting her website and following her on Twitter.

One Moonlit Night by Lynn Nicholas

A chill shimmied up Elizabeth’s spine, causing her shoulders to contract in a tremulous shudder. She felt oddly disoriented. Massaging gently, careful not to stain her white evening gloves with makeup, she worked her fingertips across her forehead to her temples. If she could relieve the tightness, maybe she could stave-off the damn headache hovering just behind her eyes.

Sighing with impatience at herself, Elizabeth squared her delicate jaw with determination. She tucked a straying ringlet back into place and tugged on the low-cut bodice of her Victorian-era costume: a peacock-blue, silk ball gown. Elizabeth Stanley could barely contain her exasperation at feeling so out-of-sorts, tonight of all nights. The Victorian Grand Summer Ball was her baby. She’d been the heart, soul, and sometimes drill sergeant of event planning for the Pasadena Social Daunce Irregulars for the past fifteen years. This event was the shining star in her personal firmament. This night was hers, if only she could clear her head enough to enjoy it.

Partially hidden in the shadow by the huge stone fireplace, Elizabeth studied the room. It was the ideal vantage point to chart her path across the dance floor. Gathering up the edge of her tiered skirt, she lifted her head, adjusted her posture, and began her sweep of the ballroom. Eyes lighting on no one in particular but watchful for admiring gazes, she circled the floor, each step calculated to show off her costume.

The lighting in the room was soft and flattering. Someone had dimmed the chandeliers and opened the heavy burgundy drapes to allow silvered moonlight to spill across the hall. The gold and brown grain of the polished wood floor gleamed. The swirl of color as the dancers assembled was almost dizzying: gowns of every hue, tiaras catching the light and reflecting rainbows back, men in period costumes ranging from brocade jackets to full tuxedos. Elizabeth caught sight of a classic polonaise gown, circa 1876, in the deepest of emerald greens with a white overskirt, and there was Daniel Taft in full Civil War military regalia. Bruce Anderson was, of course, sporting kilt.

The band members had begun to seat themselves; the scraping of their wooden chairs rose above the buzz of voices. The Band of the California Battalion was playing tonight, in full uniform, authentic down to their period instruments. Light reflected in starry bursts from their brass instruments and medaled chests. Someone new was on second chair cornet. Odd. She knew everyone. Elizabeth nodded towards the musicians but, too absorbed in her own thoughts, failed to notice that her greeting was not returned. The strangest sensation of déjà vu had swept over her. Maybe it’s a past-life memory. She smiled at herself. She’d been living in California for too long. It must be the historical ambiance of old War Memorial Building Elizabeth silently congratulated herself on her event-planning skills.

As she moved through the crowd, Elizabeth’s disquiet grew. Was it her imagination or was she actually being ignored? Had she been a bit too heavy handed at the last meeting? She could swear two of the committee members had looked right through her. Poise shaken, Elizabeth’s cheeks flushed with momentary embarrassment. No. If they had decided to slight her, she was damned if she would acknowledge the snub. She calmly redirected her gaze across the room, discreetly searching the crowd for Peter. Had he told her he would be late? Now she couldn’t remember why she had arrived alone. There was something just at the edge of memory that she was missing tonight. She hoped a migraine wasn’t coming on. Where was Peter, anyway?. Once she found him, everything would be alright. For now, she would pick up her dance card at the reception table and—

“Booking this hall was Elizabeth’s brainstorm. It’s the perfect setting, so we didn’t change.”

Elizabeth paused. Lydia Mercer and some woman she didn’t know were deep in conversation at the reception table. Could they be so engrossed in their gossiping that they didn’t notice her approaching? Elizabeth lowered her eyes and turned slightly away, pretending absorption in adjusting her evening gloves. She leaned closer, just within earshot.

“It was a year ago tonight.” Lydia wasn’t making much of an effort to keep her voice down. “I know you never met her, but you’ll hear about it sooner or later anyway.”

The tiny woman in the pink flounced gown was all ears and eyes, leaning closer to Lydia. “So, what happened exactly?” she said.

Lydia stopped fiddling with the dance cards and focused all her attention on her friend. “Rumor has it that she and Peter—her long-time dance partner—had a terrible fight on the way over. He jumped out of the car, and she drove the last two miles herself. Evidently both she and Peter had been drinking. They say she wasn’t wearing her seat belt, so when she rammed the car into that large oak tree behind the hall, she was thrown thirty feet down the rocky drive.

Elizabeth turned slowly, raising her eyes to the ornate wall mirror just in front of Lydia and the smaller woman. She could see their faces clearly, their voracious expressions.

Lydia continued, breathless with excitement, “She managed to stagger up to the back entrance and collapsed just inside, over there by the fireplace. She died before the paramedics got here. Horrible. Peter never forgave himself. He moved to New Mexico a few months after the funeral.”

Their reflections. Elizabeth saw their reflections. Her head pounded. For the first time she noticed the dirty grass stains on her lovely white gloves, the ruined skirt. Her disquiet became terror. The room spun.

“What was her name again?”

“Elizabeth.” Lydia replied. “Elizabeth Stanley.”

© Copyright 2010 Lynn Nicholas. All rights reserved. 

Lynn Nicholas, a LiveJournal blogger, is also active on FanStory.com as “allinmyhead,”where she posts work for critique and reviews other writers’ submissions. She is the author of “Jumping the Tracks” and “Round One: The Cookie” which appeared on this blog. An experienced technical editor, she is now enjoying honing her writing skills, specializing in humorous commentary. Lynn’s fiction and poetry are inspired by real-life experience. Motto: when life throws you curves, find a way to use it in your writing. She lives in Tucson, AZ.

An Original Sleight

An Original Sleight
by David Groves

Thirsty Jones was some kind of street masterpiece. His acid tongue, his East End disdain, his angle-proof sleights, inspired me. Old Town audiences hung on his every obscene inflection, relished every stamp of his footprint across their smiling mugs.
“Here’s a space helmet, kid,” Jones said to one 7-year-old, tossing him a plastic grocery bag, and the audience roared.
Four months later, Thirsty was in Melbourne. I was in the process of losing something. My cubicle job, for one thing. I took a deck of Aviators, a thumbtip, and three silks to the street. I was Thirsty’s progeny. After six hours, though, I pulled only $6 and a black button out of my hat. But three months later, I was pulling $120 a night. I was paying my rent in ones. I felt earthbound by all the ballast I had accumulated over the years—manners, the ability to color inside the lines, the tendency to recoil from pain—and hurling it all over the side was what I was now all about.
I was sitting on a red curb between shows listening to Sexton, the unintelligible Nigerian illegal with no legs who cleaned up doing trick handstands on his hypertrophied arms, when it struck me: a method for transforming one coin into two with a toss and a Tenkai retrieval. I searched the literature; it was original. I went insomniac just thinking about where it might take me. I could become Jay Sankey’s BFF. Don Casino Productions would book me. I could procure an invitation to the Fechter’s Convention.
Thirsty, I heard, was in Switzerland.
By September, Jimmy Whinesalot was working as a plant in my audience.

“That coin flip really fried my butt,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, handing him his cut.
“So fly, man.”
Thirsty, they said, was playing Key West.
But late one Sunday, I spotted him in The Aw Come Inn with Ice Mike, the breakdancer who had just been paroled. My stomach fluttered. I had to tell him. I sat down at their table unbidden and introduced myself. They went silent and cold. I told Thirsty he had inspired me to quit my nowhere job at the rental agency. Thirsty just stared. I wanted to tell him all about what I had lost—the drowning feeling, everything—but it seemed I would have to purchase admission. I took out my only currency, a Franklin half, tossed it into the air, and when it hit my palm, it had become two.
“It’s my own,” I said.
Thirsty’s face didn’t crack. He just looked down.
“That is by far the most obvious, most ill executed, most execrable trick I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I don’t know how you can even call yourself a magician, performing such vile, derivative garbage. And by the way, did you even notice that we were having a conversation?”
I skulked away, my scalp sweating. For three days, I walked around town aimlessly. I had lost something else now. I felt I knew nothing. The landscape before me was burnt. When I discovered I could no longer perform for strangers, I took a job at a yogurt shop.
Ten months later, back in another cubicle, leafing surreptitiously behind a training notebook through the august pages of Penumbra, I saw Jones’ byline. I had to catch my breath. The editor claimed Jones had pioneered a significant advance in the literature. The longer I read, the more it fuzzed up. There were photographs of Jones’ hands performing each step of the sleight. The longer I looked, the more they looked like claws.
© Copyright 2010 David Groves. All rights reserved.

David Groves is a full-time professional magician and author of the book, Be a Street Magician!: A How-To Guide (Aha! Press, 1998). He performs stage magic and mentalism at corporate events, motivational events, and private parties, and his closeup magic at three Westside restaurants per week. He has published over 500 articles in a variety of publications, from Esquire to Harper’s Bazaar to North American Review and many others.

June is a Farmer’s Wife

June is a Farmer’s Wife
by Tace Halliday

“My Love,” she says. “What it is like to spread your hands over the land and bless it? Bless it green.”
Through the dining room window I see my fields as the sun falls to the earth and blades light across the green canopy that grows more skyward everyday.   

I think about what she is saying, and for a moment, I can’t help picturing myself dressed in long robes droning out incantations and blessings over the fields. I almost smile at this but quickly come back to her world where everything is heavy. I tell her, “It’s not like that…”
“It must be. You keep doing it. You never leave it.”
“I could say the same of you. The children, our home…”
Her sigh escapes slowly, the cavity holding her discontent tipping out its reserves. My comprehension has been found wanting.

With dinner over, we have been watching our children, a son and a daughter, as they play outside the window with the pinwheels I brought back from town after a day at the market. Together they run with their toys held high, sometimes stopping to let the wind gust and bate, let each draft of energy spin the plastic wings to father flashes of color and light.

June now pushes the dirtied plates and the emptied serving dishes out of her way. She lays her hands across our table, her palms before me as if she’s asking for a blessing. 

“What I do…it’s nothing,” she says.

I’ve heard this before. She’s weary of the outdoors that always finds its way to rest on her kitchen floor. Or the laundry that must be hung out to dry, a chore that she says grows and grows and never dies. I see it all, this ordinary life, and these same things that need doing again and again.

For now I pass over her hands to skim the tender flesh at the crook of one arm. At my touch she closes her eyes and eases away from this day’s light, her head now cushioned on one outstretched arm, and for that moment she rests as my beloved.
Finally, I do take her hands in mine. To me they are like the pinwheels, each bringing joy and comfort in their steady spinning, always spinning, unless… Sometimes the earth isn’t strong enough to assemble the wind to keep the blades going. That’s when I’ll spin them for her. Or let them rest, until the vents open up again, blasting the air in its circuits to find her, (always she must be found and blessed), sustaining her against days so perfect and ordered until in some future, I pray, she will know that the beauty is in the doing.
© Copyright 2010 Stacey Smith. All rights reserved.

Tace Halliday lives in South Texas with her husband and three sons. She maintains the blog Entropified. Her last story for the Rose City Sisters was “Jelly Jar.”

Peep Me Out by Stephen R. Wolcott

“Hmm, the dog walker’s havin’ fits with Buster again,” Jesse said, peering intently out the dining room window that faced the street.“Watch. He’ll break free. See!”

A compact, big-boned blonde in a pink jumpsuit wrestled with a tangled mass of rope hooked to three Rottweilers. A fourth frothy beast veered off from the pack, untethered.

“And Becky will dive on him as if she were ropin’ a steer,” Jesse continued, bemused. Sure enough, the woman skillfully nabbed her elusive prey.
“How do you know her name?” I asked.

Jesse, riveted to the neighborhood scene, didn’t hear me or didn’t want to answer. I shifted in my chair uncomfortably, sitting across from him, my wife Lynda, and her 95-year old grandmother, who needed constant supervision as of late. Various family members had agreed to take turns watching this feisty matriarch, who vowed to live at the Pasadena ranch home built by her late husband some 60 years ago. This week, her son Jesse served as nursemaid, paying a rare visit from Arkansas. We made the trek from Torrance to cook dinner for them. Lynda never talked much about her uncle, except that he was a Vietnam Vet and hunted anything that moved, including squirrel. I had no idea what he did for a living.

“5:15. That hot Asian masseuse gonna pull up right…about…now,” Jesse announced, snapping his fingers. Sure enough, a silver Celica stopped just shy of the house with an attractive black-haired woman behind the wheel.
“Just come from Drummond’s house,” Jesse said, smirking. “He calls her a ‘physical therapist.’ Uh-huh.”

“Pete Drummond. On Washington near the library,” Iris muttered, her memory as shaky as the finger pointing toward a house on the corner. “Fell off the…the…”

“The roof. I remember that,” Lynda chimed in. “Gosh, how long ago was that? Thirty years? But he didn’t seem so bad off at the time. You’d think by now…”

Jesse hushed us.

“Now I figure she done stop to pull herself together,” he assessed. “Crosses herself, takes a deep swig off a plain wrapped container. Pounds the dashboard. Big deep breath, then takes off.”

As the Celica sped away, I shifted uncomfortably again, trying to figure out what was more odd: the mysterious driver or Jesse’s acute observations. At 60-something Jesse looked rugged and fit. Clean-shaven. Short dark hair with only a hint of gray. Oozing with Southern hospitality. Had all his teeth. Maybe if I knew more about his background…

Iris suddenly coughed violently. Lynda instinctively jumped to her side.

“You okay, Grandma?” she said with alarm.

She coughed again, her frail frame ready to break apart like brittle candy.

“I’ll get some water,” I said, bolting for the kitchen.

“She’ll be fine,” said Jesse calmly. “Happens a couple times a day.”

When I returned, Iris was sipping a juicebox. I must have missed that.

“Got it covered, but thanks anyway, Brad,” Jesse said.

“Oh,” was all I could muster, staring dumbly as he dabbed Iris’s mouth with a napkin. She sniffed the air suspiciously.

“What’s that smell?”

“I brought your favorite, Grandma,” Lynda said, leaning into her. “Roast turkey and dumplings.”

“Oh, aren’t you the sweetest,” Iris said.

“Much better than what Josie’s been carting home,” Jesse said, pointing to the house directly across the street.

“Josie?” I asked.

“Take-out, every night I been here,” Jesse explained. “Mostly Church’s fried chicken. And guessing by her slim figure, she don’t eat it. Just her husband, who shuffles in come ten, eleven from working at Target. Pulling in the driveway now, check it out.”

I stared at Lynda, whose look of concern was now matching my own. What’s with this guy? His Peeping Tom antics were starting to creep me out.

“Now she’ll get out of the car, but won’t go in the house,” he continued. “Not until she goes to the truck, grabs the sunshade for the dash. Never mind that it’s overcast.”

Lynda tried to change the subject. “Hey, Jesse, have you heard from your wife since you been here?” she asked, but he ignored her. He relished playing puppeteer to all the action in the neighborhood.

“Now here’s the sad part,” Jesse said. “Frank Beecham next door sees Josie and walks over to say hello. But she’ll completely ignore him and make a beeline for the house. Some bad blood there.”

We all were caught up in this voyeuristic scene. I couldn’t help feeling like James Stewart in Rear Window. Jesse continued making keen observations about everything in view—from the hair growing out 16-year old Billy’s birthmark to the psychological analysis of Ginger, a chain-smoking single mom with implants.

“She took a second on the house to help pay for the pair of ‘em,” he said, matter-of-factly.

I finally had to chime in.

“Excuse me for asking, Jesse,” I said. “But I’m curious why you know so much about…” I faltered, but Lynda quickly jumped in.

“Um, Jesse, I think Brad’s just wondering how you know so much about the neighbors,” she said gingerly. “After being here only a few days.”

Jesse chuckled. “Well, I guess it comes with the territory.”

I didn’t catch his drift.

“Since Mom’s asleep most of the day,” he said. “I got plenty of time to canvas the area, get a good read on things.”

Please tell me this guy isn’t a perv. Lynda, however, came to a realization.

“Are you saying, that it’s kind of like instinct?” she asked. “Based on what you used to do, day in, day out?”

“Right,” Jesse said matter of factly. “The training never leaves you. And a sheriff never ever really retires.”

I slumped back in my chair, befuddled.

“Well, not much action for a couple of hours,” Jesse whispered, leaning into me. “Until that cross-dresser rolls in. Who’s hungry?”

© Copyright 2010 Stephen R. Wolcott. All rights reserved.

Stephen R. Wolcott is an award-winning writer/producer with over 100 television, behind-the-scenes “making of’ and documentary projects to his credit. In addition, he’s interviewed a wide range of celebrities and notable figures, including William Shatner, Richard Gere, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Gary Sinise, Robert Wagner, JPL/NASA scientists, Whoopi Goldberg, and almost every cast member from the Star Trek films and television series. In print, his work as appeared in Emmy Magazine, Now Playing and The Pasadena Weekly. He also enjoys traveling cerebrally to of his former Craftsman home in Pasadena’s Bungalow Heaven.

Conclusion by Windi Padia

“I swear myself away, which is what I do every time I come to you, and what you want me to do because you also are an addict of impossible relationships and theatrical scenes.”
—John Le Carré   

Amanda proposed to Sam when they both were fifty-one years old, under the desert stars, the same old song playing. He stood behind her and held her waist, and kissed her ear and said yes. It felt to her that marriage had become the only conclusion.The church was tiny, white reflective stone in the glare of the desert heat, although its stark beauty was tempered by surrounding yellow cactus flowers and blooming sage bushes. Like all the buildings on the street, stone steps led up to the entrance. The town hugged the afternoon shade of a large mesa, as if the buildings themselves were climbing out of the baked clay and making their way toward the flash flood-carved canyons of tall rock in the distance.

Warm light poured in from the stained glass window to blend with the pink in Amanda’s dress and the auburn rust of her hair, forming a visual cacophony of color that wanted to be red. She was nodding at the priest by her side, one flip-flopped foot balanced on her big toe. She yelled to an old man taking bets in the corner, “Oliver, what are we up to now?” and gave a thumbs up to his answer of three hundred twenty dollars. In the daylight when the songs weren’t playing and the stars weren’t out, it all seemed rather ridiculous.

Her dress was beginning to get sticky under the arms and she was tired of standing on her feet in front of everyone. It should never have gotten this far. Their love was supposed to be untested; that’s the only way it held any magic over her. The disappointments that came over and over again always held hope, but this was the biggest disappointment of them all. The number one way a guy could reject a woman, his lover, his friend. Not show up to the church on time. Not show up to the church at all. It was surely, definitively, over. There was no more at the end of this.

It was more than that. Always she had known that it was love. It wasn’t love that could make it through times of contentment, or stability, but love that could thrive only when they both were seeking. Seeking change, seeking uncertainty, seeking to upset their worlds just so that something interesting would happen. A marriage contract added a foundation to this love, and thus nullified it. He knew that, which is why he didn’t show.

She knew it now.

All that was left for them was to seek contentment separately, and come back together when their lives demanded it of them. Finding men for her was easy. Maybe she would find one she could tolerate for a long time and who would forgive her impulsive emotions. Was it hope to also know that Sam would appear in her life again, and then disappear, and leave a void for a short while that would burn and twist its way through her body? Would the short times with him—like that hotel in Pasadena a couple of years ago—be worth their twisted escapes from each other? Was it hope or just knowledge of her addiction?

She stepped onto the platform by the altar and raised her hands sticky with sweat. “He’s not coming,” she said. And then louder, “He’s not coming. Let’s eat.”

And everyone tucked into their food like it was what they’d been expecting all along, and then after the food, the bets were settled and everyone went home. In the tiny bathroom off the church kitchen, Amanda took off her wedding dress and changed into jeans, alone. The sadness didn’t come right away, like she’d expected. She went home that night, and turned the fans on, and dreamed about her sister. Not Sam, like she’d expected.

The sadness never set in heavy and pressing like it always had before. She’d think of him at times and there would be a halting moment where she forgot what she was doing. But that was it.

© Copyright 2010 Windi Padia. All rights reserved.

Windi Padia grew up wanting to be a biologist and is now in the Human Resources section of a state wildlife agency, where humans make much more fascinating subjects. She is currently writing human-interest articles for Colorado Outdoors Magazine. Her blog, Crazy Coppertop, is the diary of a crazy redhead.

Weekend Warriors by Mark Barkawitz

It was 6:15 Sunday morning when I picked up Sammy, an old grade school buddy, from the converted garage in which he lived behind my mom’s house. We were headed for Pacific Palisades, where a half-finished paint job awaited us. I had another job to start Monday morning, so I was trying to stay on schedule. Sammy? He was late with this month’s rent.

“Want some coffee?” With one hand I poured myself a cup from the thermos; with the other I steered my pick-up over the Pasadena streets still wet from last night’s rain. The dark skies over the mountains and surrounding areas looked foreboding.

Sammy shook his head. He didn’t look well, slumped down in the seat, his black, walrus mustache, two-day-old beard, and droopy, bloodshot eyes peeking out from the hood of his paint-splattered sweatshirt.

“You okay?”

“No.” He sniffed. “I god a co’d and I’m gonna miss the Raiders’ game. Why do you always hab to work on the weekends?” He rested his head back against the head rest.

“There’s aspirin in the glove compartment.”

I got on the 210 freeway and headed west to the 134. Even without traffic, we had a forty-five minute drive, so I was speeding a little, checking the rearview mirror for CHPs. “What’s the spread on today’s game?” I sipped the steamy coffee.

“Raiders plus six-and-a-hapf.” Sammy coughed. “Oh-h. My troad is killing me.”

I gave him a cough drop from the box in my jacket pocket. I was getting over a cold myself. “The Raiders stink. They won’t even beat the spread.” The rain-soaked sod of the Oakland/Alameda Coliseum would offer no home field advantage today.

“How much?” Sammy loved to gamble, even if he had no money.


We bumped knuckles, just as a camouflage-painted SUV sped by us on the left, doing about seventy-five. The four-wheel-drive Jeep Cherokee sprayed water from the wet concrete onto my windshield.

“Whad’s their rush?” Sammy complained.

I flipped on the wipers. On back of the Jeep, a bumper sticker read: “Army Reserve.”

“Weekend warriors. Formerly. Now probably headed for Iraq or Afghanistan. Bummer.”

Sammy took out a piece of toilet paper from the pocket of his overalls and blew his nose. “I god this from you, ya know.” He sat back and closed his heavy eyelids.

“It’s flu season.” It started to rain lightly, so I left on the wipers. “Just your turn, bro.” I turned on the radio to an old Nirvana jam—“Teen Spirit”—and turned it up.

Sammy reached over and turned it down. “Do you mind? I’m trying to sleeb.” He shoved his hands defiantly into the pouch of his sweatshirt and closed his eyes again.

“Hey, what’s that?” I pointed over the steering wheel.

Up ahead, a smoke-like mist rose from the wet freeway and brake lights flashed red from the few slowing cars. I slowed, too, and turned off the radio. In the far left lane, a black Camaro with a large dent in its fender was stopped sideways. A teenage guy got out of the driver’s side. On the right, the camouflage Jeep was upside down on its roof, having spun to a stop against the freeway guardrail. It was impossible to see its occupants through the fogged windows, so I pulled over to the right.

“Hey! What are you stobbing for?” Sammy asked.

I got out of my truck and ran back through the light rain. Traffic had already started to back up, with everyone wanting to see what had happened as they cruised slowly past the crash scene. When I reached the Jeep, a crew-cut young man in Army fatigues was already crawling out the broken back window. Blood ran down his face. I got down on my knees to help him. As he crawled out, I could see another soldier upside down in the passenger seat, trying to undo the seatbelt that harnessed him to what was now the ceiling. I climbed in over the shattered safety glass. But before I could reach him, he got the seatbelt unfastened and fell on the roof, which was now the floor. I grabbed his arm and pulled him, backing over the shattered glass and out through the back window. A siren grew louder. I leaned him against the upside down Jeep. There was no blood on his face or Desert Camouflage Uniform, but he sure looked dazed.

Sammy walked up behind me. “Is he okay?”

“I don’t know.”

An ambulance with flashing lights stopped behind the Jeep. Two paramedics jumped out. One ran to the bleeding driver, who sat against the concrete wall that had prevented the Jeep from sliding off the freeway and onto the on-ramp below. The other, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and carrying an Emergency medical bag, ran toward us. He already had on rubber gloves.

“Get back,” he told me. “Let him breath.” He took hold of the soldier’s arm and checked his eyes. “Any headache? Nausea?”

Sammy grabbed my arm. “Led’s ged outta here before the cobs show up.”

He was right. We could already hear their sirens distantly approaching. I didn’t have time for the million-and-one questions the police would ask—we had our own job to do—so we headed back to the truck and both fastened our seatbelts before I drove back onto the freeway for Pacific Palisades.

Sammy coughed again, then shook his head. “Wow. ‘Dat was weird. 

“Yeah.” I turned the radio back on. The palm of my hand was sore from leaning on the shattered safety glass, so I rubbed it on my damp Levis.

Sammy took the crumpled toilet paper from the pocket of his overalls and blew his nose again. “I hade it when you dribe fast.”

Outside, the light rain continued to fall, as the wipers—back and forth—slapped the raindrops off my windshield. Hell, I was only doing sixty. But Sammy was right again—because it suddenly felt much faster.
© Copyright 2010 Mark Barkawitz. All rights reserved

 Mark Barkawitz has earned local and national awards for his fiction, poetry, essay, and screenwriting. His work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, anthologies, underground ‘zines, and is posted on numerous websites. He wrote the screenplay for the feature film, “Turn of the Blade” (NorthStar Ent., ’95) and has taught creative writing classes at the community college level. He coaches a championship track team of student/athletes and ran the 2001 L.A. Marathon in 3:44:42. He lives with his wife, has two kids, and breeds golden retrievers (Woof Goldens) in his backyard in Pasadena, CA.

Round One: The Cookie by Lynn Nicholas

Susan surveyed the wreckage. The ceramic floor tile shone from the patina of spilled sugar crystals. Nearly empty tubes of frosting oozed colored gel, staining the festive paper tablecloths. Susan grasped a cloth at one corner, expertly enfolding decorating paraphernalia and gooey mess all in one deft movement. The crumbled bundle landed neatly in the trash bin. The rest could wait until morning. She was bone-aching tired but deeply satisfied with the evening.

Closing her eyes to the shambles, Susan inhaled the lingering aroma of baked cookies. The holiday cookie-decorating party had been a great idea—current disarray aside. Her friends even asked her to host another one next year. They were all so lighthearted this eveningz; rolling out dough and sharing favorite cookie cutters, joking as they passed bowls of colorful Royal Icing between tables. The finished cookies were gorgeous. Everyone filled tins to take home.

Even Paul’s grown-up daughters had shown up. Notorious holiday cynics, their enthusiastic participation surprised Susan. Their enjoyment in decorating the cookies seemed to be genuine. Heads almost touching, Julie’s blond hair entangled with Anna’s dark, they carefully shielded their handiwork from copycats. The artistic detail on their finished cookies was impressive. Her stepdaughters actually hugged her before they left. Susan smiled to herself. Finally, their coolness towards her was melting. She even heard them giggling as they got into their car. She stretched happily, contentment filling every pore.

Susan kicked her off her shoes and happy-danced towards the bedroom. It had been the perfect party. She had to admit to herself that she’d been eager for her stepdaughters to see her through her friends’ eyes, as someone generous and kind and warm. She was loved by her friends, adored by Paul, and wanted her stepdaughters to, at least, like her. Including them tonight with her friends was a public declaration that they were a family. She took the girls’ participation as their unspoken accord.

Loosening an earring one-handed, Susan reached towards her jewelry box. She froze, eyes widening with bewildered disbelief. The earring bounced off the carpet as her hands rose involuntarily to her mouth. She gasped for breath: gut-punched and nauseous. Embarrassment at her own naivety and stupid optimism flooded her face with hot color. Tears of humiliation blurred her vision. If this was the girls’ idea of a joke, it was cruel and cowardly. She envisioned them sniggering spitefully all the way home, imagining her reaction.

It was a cookie, hand-decorated especially for her and artfully placed where only she would find it, on top of the leather jewelry case. They must have used the Mrs. Claus cookie cutter. No attention to detail had been spared, from the softly curled hairdo and the naked breasts adorned with raisin nipples, down to the vulgar chocolate-frosting mat of pubic hair, enhanced with silver sugar crystals. This was more than a cynical mockery of her holiday celebration; it was a judgment.

Susan took a deep, shaking breath and sank into the bedroom chair. She leaned forward, her right arm protectively hugging her middle; her chin supported on the back of her left hand. She glanced pensively at her husband’s slumbering form. He was everything to her.

Newly resolute, Susan stood up and squared her shoulders. Okay. Now she understood the rules of the game, and she had the home court advantage. The girls were about to learn that she would not crumble as easily as this Christmas cookie. Neither was she as sweet. They had only won Round One.

© Copyright 2010 Lynn Nicholas. All rights reserved.

Lynn Nicholas, a LiveJournal blogger, is also active on FanStory.com as “allinmyhead,”where she posts work for critique and reviews other writers’ submissions. She is the author of “Jumping the Tracks,” which appeared on this blog in June 2009. An experienced technical editor, she is now enjoying honing her writing skills, specializing in humorous commentary. Lynn’s fiction and poetry are inspired by real-life experience. Motto: when life throws you curves, find a way to use it in your writing. She lives in Tucson, AZ.