The Greenskeeper by John Pagliassotti

The sound of my footsteps on the damp, finely manicured fairway is the only sound in the Arroyo this night. Like every other evening, darkness lays a blanket of silence over the course where just a few hours before the echoes of golfers celebrating birdies and bemoaning defeat were heard. I walk these stretches of long green turf, through the gauntlet of sculptured magnificent Oaks every night, and have since the beginning of time, or at least it seems.

I’ve walked these greens in the dead of winter when frost sparkles in the moonlight like millions of diamonds strewn across the ground and thick clouds from the West threaten to powder the foothills with an unexpected snow.

I’ve walked these greens in autumn as the Santa Ana’s blew their warm dry winds through the valley, coaxing the leaves of the great Oaks to quietly applaud my repertoire of lonely old ballads that I whistle as I stroll.

I’ve walked these greens on summer nights when dusk lasts forever and casts its shadows against Baldy’s reaching slopes, a picture that could only be suitably painted with verse or lyric.

I have walked these greens in spring. The sweet sights and sounds of new life are abundant then, as is the smell of nature; conjuring up memories of my childhood when winter coats are stowed away and short pants and t-shirts came out for play.

My nightly journey takes me past the grand rose crested arena built for battles between ferocious bears and brave mythical gladiators. The thunderous fanfare only serves to make the silence of the night more poignant when the great stadium has emptied and is quiet until the next battle is fought.

On my nightly journey I’ve been joined by owls with wings that span wider than I stand, by deer that cautiously accept me into their quiet homes, by gophers and snakes, raccoons and lions; all returning to me, their visitor, the kind respect that I offer to them.

I came here when my first was born and when my father passed; too vulnerable to cry, these greens took my tears.
This place is where I come to pray, without words or crosses or bended knee, for God is all around me here and I fret not His ear. He hears me, of that I’m sure.

I will walk these greens forever and more, just like the ones before. Every night you will find me here. For these are the greens I keep… and these are the greens that keep me.

© Copyright 2011 John Pagliassotti. All rights reserved.

John Pagliassotti born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley, and now lives in Newport Beach, California. He is married and has two sons in their teens. He works in the commercial real estate industry. One of his hobbies is writing short stories.

Pasadena Prince—or Frog? by Beverly Diehl

“I’m a Prince, and I live in a historic Castle.”

It had to be one of the best pickup lines ever, and Cindy Hernandez suckered right in. The guy had even shown his driver’s license to prove it: Michael Prince, Raymond Avenue, Pasadena. A quick glimpse at his DOB showed he was a 36-year-old Gemini (which explained the silver-tongued charm).

With a heart burned to ashes by the betrayal of her previous boyfriend, Cindy decided on a full year of celibacy afterward. Her three BFF’s celebrated Cindy reaching that milestone by treating her to tea at the Huntington Library and Gardens. Cindy adored art and roses, and an evening spent laughing till her stomach hurt at the The Ice House only made a perfect day better.

Especially with a hot guy like Michael at the next table, sending over endless rounds of Electric Love cocktails and flirting shamelessly.

This Prince was sexy, he was interested, and he was even willing to wait while Cindy’s Designated Driver, Mercedes, checked his Facebook profile and Googled him, to verify he wasn’t wanted for axe-murder somewhere.

“Cindy, you’ve got your cell phone, right? Charged? Okay, call or text me if you change your mind, or if you need a ride,” Mercedes ordered.

“Yes, Teacher, I promise to be good – or bad, as the case may be. Thank you for taking such good care of me.” Cindy kissed the frown on Mercy’s forehead and scampered off, giggling, her hand in Prince Charming’s.

She felt happy, nervous, aroused. Michael was just enough taller, just enough older, and he smelled luscious as they bumped into each other, avoiding other pedestrians on the walk back to his place. Stopping into a store for condoms – awkward! But reassuring, too, that Michael was both prepared to be responsible, and did not already have a huge stash of them at his place.

The Castle, oh, the Castle! The wide veranda of historic Castle Green, straight out of a Hollywood movie, the lobby with its sweeping staircase and tile floor; the place was truly enchanting, right down to the open-cage elevator ride to the sixth floor. Cindy fell half in love with Michael just for living in such a fabulous place. The amazing apartment with its elegant fireplace and friendly orange marmalade cat delighted her even before they strolled onto the balcony from the round turret room.

Outside, Michael began from his knees, kissing Cindy’s hand and working his way up to her neck, as she enjoyed the spectacular view of Pasadena’s sparkling city lights. Later, he proved himself True Royalty between the sheets, in front of the fireplace, and in the clawfoot bathtub…

After Michael kissed her and left for a morning jog, Cindy pried her eyes open and went snooping in search of aspirin to place on her blue curacao-stained tongue.

She found aspirin, all right, but she also found several prescription bottles for a Rebecca Slick.

The name sounded oddly familiar. Followed by the cat, she went to living room’s built in bookcases. There were a row of books by…Rebecca Slick. Juicy. Slippery. Dripping. Wetness. Rebecca was one of Cindy’s favorite authors, a woman in her fifties with a predilection in her erotic romances for cougar love.

Michael must be her unfaithful boy-toy. Cindy felt suddenly unclean, but didn’t want to further abuse Rebecca’s unwitting hospitality by re-polluting the woman’s bathtub or shower.

The cat sat and stared at her. She stared back at the cat. “Manny, what should I do?”


“I’m taking that means, I don’t give a rat’s hat for your problems, feed me.”

An empty enamel dish on the kitchen floor was labeled ‘Manuscript.’ “Manny, is this your bowl?”

“M-Row!” He vocalized louder and rubbed against her ankles as she opened cupboards in search of his food. Might as well feed the poor creature before embarking on the Walk of Shame, Cindy reasoned, pouring a bowl of kibbles, to Manny’s obvious satisfaction.

She’d noticed countless coffee shops on Colorado, she could hole up in one of those and text Mercy to come pick her up, please. Back in the bedroom, she sniffed her panties, deciding to stuff them in her purse and go commando. She’d stepped into her skirt and shoes and was pulling her shirt on when Michael returned. His skin, damp with sweat from his run, smelled enticingly male, and the brown paper bag he carried smelled enticingly warm and breakfast-y.

Damn him for his deliciousness!

“Going somewhere?” he asked, looking hurt. “I thought we could enjoy breakfast in bed.”

How dare he look like that? He was the one who… “I thought I’d spare us from getting in trouble with your… wife? Girlfriend?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play dumb. I know about Rebecca.”

Michael burst out laughing. “You don’t know what you think you know.”

“I know this is her apartment, not yours.”

“True ‘dat.”

“Aren’t you the least bit ashamed?”

“Ashamed of bringing you to my aunt’s apartment instead of mine? I suppose it is slightly false pretenses, but her view is better, and I promised to stay here to feed and play with Manny, while she’s away at a writers’ conference.”

His aunt?! Cindy opened and closed her mouth a couple times, finally managing. “You live here, too?”

Michael laughed again, leading her into the kitchen where he turned on the coffeemaker and began slicing the bagels he’d brought. “I lived here first. My apartment is on the third floor, though mine doesn’t have a turret, sorry. Aunt Becky liked The Castle so much that when this apartment became available, she snapped it up.”


“‘Zat all you have to say?” he teased.

Cindy kissed him, then walked towards the bedroom, kicking off her shoes and pulling her shirt back over her head. “Feed and play with me, please.”

© Copyright 2011 Beverly Diehl. All rights reserved.

Beverly Diehl discarded most early efforts because they weren’t good enough. “I thought the words were supposed to drip from my pen as perfect golden pearls,” she says. “Then I discovered rewriting.” In addition to erotica, Beverly writes short stories, newsletters, and of course, a blog(or two.)Born in Wisconsin, plus years in Pennsylvania, Beverly lives in Los Angeles with numerous UFO’s (UnFinished craft & writing Objects) and beloved fat cat, Metaphor (aka Stinky.)

Are You There, Wall? It’s Me, Kerri by Kelly I. Hitchcock

Kerri Lindsey had never been good at math.

She stared blankly at the half-sheet of blue paper in front of her, covered in random clusters of numbers grouped into corners in no logical order, hoping if she looked at it long enough, it’d start to make sense, and she could answer the question she’d asked herself for the last hour.

If there are 9.85 laps in one mile, and I was able to run 24 laps out of 40, and my average lap is 1:12, then how long will it take me to do 26.2 miles?

She’d tried cross-multiplying, one of few mathematical operations she both understood and liked. The more she tried, the less logical the answers seemed. At one point, her math told her she could finish the Pasadena Marathon in forty-three minutes; at another, seventeen hours. Frustrated, she picked up the half-sheet of number-scrawled paper and wadded it into the tiniest ball her swollen hands would make. Didn’t matter how many times she tried to figure out if and how she’d finish the marathon, she knew her numbers wouldn’t scale to twenty-six miles. Of the four she’d ran that day, most of the running was at the front end. The farther she went, the more she had to walk. She knew that at the rate she was going, she’d be restricted to walking after the first seven, because her stupid knee wouldn’t cooperate.

She’d been seriously rocking it before her knee decided to be an asshole. It was a beautiful early summer day, just after a light rain and just before dusk the week she was scheduled to complete a long run of ten miles, the farthest she’d ever attempted. She’d gone all the way from her house at Walnut five miles straight down Los Robles right before I-10, had turned around at the halfway point, and stopped at Valley Boulevard to wait for the light to change. She was feeling good – really good. Then the light changed, she took off across the street, and felt like a shark bit her right in the side of her leg (what she surmised a shark bite would feel like, anyway). She’d tried to shake it off and keep running, but the harder she tried not to focus on it, the more it refused to be ignored. This wasn’t a stitch, or a cramp, or something else she could walk off. There was something seriously wrong.

Ever since then, her ability to run was sketchy. Some days, she could run four or five miles with no trouble. Other days, she couldn’t even run one lap around the track without feeling like a railroadman was driving a spike through the side of her knee. She kept trying to ignore the pain, just like she’d done before ten-mile Sunday, but after limping home five miles with no water and no cell phone, the pain wouldn’t be ignored. She’d told the story of ten-mile Sunday to three different doctors already, all of whom said she should be seeing some improvement by now. She was doing everything they told her to do: taking the Naproxen, taking breaks from running, taking time to stretch really well, warming up and cooling down. Nothing was helping.

She figured people were probably tired of hearing about it. It wasn’t their fault; they just didn’t understand. The marathon entry fee had been paid. The hotel was paid for. She’d requested the time off work. She’d bought new Cumulus 12s. She couldn’t look back now. She had to finish the marathon, even if she had to walk the whole damn thing, which was looking more and more likely every day. It didn’t happen to one of them; it happened to her, and it wasn’t fair. Why did it have to happen right before her training plan kicked into high gear?

As she tossed the rumpled ball of paper, a long run playlist song came on the radio in the bedroom. She closed her eyes and thought of how it felt to jog in a zigzag down a slow downhill slope with a cool breeze in her face, and felt her heart turn to lead and sink down into the pit of her stomach. She leaned into the wall and sank down to the cold tile floor, where she rested her head on her knees to sob comfortably – the fourth breakdown she’d had this week.

She didn’t even wanna go to the gym anymore. She’d see women in ill-fitting sports bras and worn-out shoes they’d mowed their lawns in jogging haphazardly around the track, and her lungs burned with jealousy. It wasn’t fair that they could run and she couldn’t. They weren’t training for a marathon that was seven weeks away. They were taking their ability to run for granted. They weren’t even enjoying it. She wanted to walk up and punch them all in the face, but instead, she walked with her head down so she didn’t have to see them and they couldn’t see the tears on her burning cheeks.

This was supposed to be her fourteen mile day, and she knew she couldn’t do it. Summer was getting hotter and more humid, and her marathon buddies were getting up at 4:30 AM to do their long runs. Even if she got up at 4:30, she wouldn’t be done until most of 9:00 – what was the point? She knew she wouldn’t be able to run more than a handful of the fourteen miles. Like the doctors said, she was supposed to be seeing improvement by now. The only improvement she saw was with her ability to hide her emotions in front of her friends, to tell the story of ten-mile Sunday with increasing accuracy and detail, to stomach anti-inflammatories with fewer carbs.

She wiped her eyes with her bare arm and rose from the floor. She ripped another day off the calendar on the kitchen counter, a page that read “58 days ‘til marathon,” followed by five exclamation points.
© Copyright 2011 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. She also wrote “Manifesto of a Neglected Chipmunk” and “Ad Hominem” for this blog. 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.

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.

Daisy’s Masterpiece by Paula Johnson

Daisy was obsessed with Christmas. She loved everything about the holiday—the fragrant tree, shiny ornaments, twinkling lights, candy canes, the works. Just last week, her mother heard the seven-year-old belting out “Jingle Bell Rock” to an audience of dolls.

It was cute. It would have been adorable, but it was August in Pasadena. And the Blums were Jewish.

“Maybe she’ll grow out of it,” Jessica Blum said to her husband as they sipped their morning coffee.

“I blame myself,” said David. When Daisy was a baby, he hung a extra-strength pine air freshener near her changing table in an unsuccessful attempt to mask the eye-watering reek of dirty diapers.

“It could’ve been worse. If you had picked the Piña Colada fragrance, we’d have the only second-grader in A.A.,” she said. Both David and Jessica were only children. Neither had babysat as teenagers, so raising a child was an often-baffling undertaking.

Daisy shuffled into the kitchen barefoot and yawning. Her Dora the Explorer nightgown was creased from sleep and her wavy brown hair looked like it had been styled with a weed-whacker. She pulled a stool up to the kitchen counter and poured some cereal into her favorite bowl—a chipped piece of Christmas Spode purchased at a yard sale for a quarter.

Jessica poured the milk on her daughter’s cereal, admiring (and not for the first time) the way her engagement ring sparkled in the morning sun. It was not the ring she expected when David proposed nine years ago. They were both paying off student loans and dealing with necessary expenses like dependable cars and business attire.

She assumed that when the time came, they’d find a small, affordable ring at J.C. Penney and joke that a snack at Cinnabon was just as good as breakfast at Tiffany’s.

But David’s grandmother had other plans. She wanted her only grandson to have her engagement ring. “It was my mother’s. Let’s keep it in the family,” she’d said. That’s how Jessica wound up wearing a platinum filigree Edwardian solitaire that was very likely worth more than her car.

“What’s on your agenda today?” David asked his wife. He had to spend his Saturday at his company’s annual strategy meeting.

“Just quality time with the other men in my life,” she said with a grin. Her list included Bill (shoe repair), Mr. Tran (dry cleaner), Wyatt (bagels) and the nameless guy at Jiffy Lube with the Celtic tattoo and bedroom eyes.

“Momma, don’t forget the art store!,” yelped Daisy through a mouthful of Lucky Charms. The little girl’s reward for a day of errands was some new markers or colored pencils from Blick. Daisy worked cheap.

It was after four o’clock when the pair returned home with their boxes, bags, and library books. Jessica settled Daisy at the dining room table with her pink tackle box of art supplies, and went into the kitchen to put away the groceries.

She was thinking about dinner when suddenly the air left her lungs and the room started spinning. Her diamond. Her husband’s grandmother’s—no, great-grandmother’s—diamond was gone. The gaping hole in the ring was horrific, like a missing eyeball or a gunshot wound.

She thought about all the places she had been and tried to remember when she had last seen the diamond sparkle. Jessica must have made some sort of noise, because Daisy looked up from her work.

“What’s the matter, momma?”

“Nothing, baby. Just wishing Daddy was home.”

“Can we have Tater Tots?”

“Sure, sweetheart. Lots of tots.” Daisy grinned at her mother’s rhyme and returned to her drawing.

Knowing it was futile, Jessica walked through the house, looking into corners, shaking out towels, pawing through the laundry basket. Losing the diamond was bad enough, but the idea that it might be in a trash can at McDonald’s or kicked into a gutter was even worse.

When David walked in just before six o’clock, Jessica led him into their bedroom, explained what happened, and let herself cry for a few minutes.

“It was just an old rock,” said David when she stopped sobbing and blew her nose. “A big, pretty rock, but a rock all the same.”

“I know, but I feel like I let your grandmother down.”

“The only way you could have let her down was by not wearing it. We’ll get a new stone for your ring.”

“Yeah, if we start saving now, we might able to afford a diamond by the time Daisy is ready to get married,” said Jessica.

“That’s only if she skips college. Education is so overrated, anyway,” said David with a small smile.

The heat hadn’t let up, so Jessica ordered a pizza, David microwaved a side of Tator Tots, and the family sat down to eat. Daisy’s picture was posted on the refrigerator to keep it safe from tomato sauce and cheese grease.

After a little TV and some ice cream, Daisy was ready for bed. Forty minutes into a bad movie, David and Jessica decided to call it a day.

They made their usual small talk as they got ready for bed, but Jessica was just going through the motions. After she brushed her teeth, she checked every inch of the bathroom in case the diamond had fallen and bounced on the tile floor. She sighed, put her ring in her jewelry box, and flopped down next to David. He was already asleep.

After an hour of fidgeting, Jessica got out of bed and headed to the kitchen for a cold drink—and maybe some cold pizza. The light from the refrigerator illuminated Daisy’s latest masterpiece which was secured to the freezer door with two Hello Kitty magnets.

It was another Christmas tree, of course. This one had branches in three shades of green with silver glitter tinsel and crayon-colored lights. At the very top of the tree, partially covered in glue, was a nearly flawless 2 carat European-cut diamond.
© Copyright 2010 Paula Johnson. All rights reserved.

Paula Johnson is a copywriter and graphic designer who also writes and performs stand-up comedy and maintains The Rose City Sisters Flash Fiction Anthology. This is her fourth flash fiction story. Others are “Good with Names,” an account of life with a very modest superpower; “Better Late Than Never,” a soap opera love story; and “Lotion” a tale that could only happen in New Orleans.

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 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.”