the washing machine sang – jane-rebecca cannarella

dollhouse

All of the appliances in Jen’s apartment sang. In her grown-up home with central air and functioning gadgets, she’d asked me to watch her mature cat — mature as in mellow, not aged – while she was away on a trip, like the ones actual adults take. “A mini getaway.”

It was the day after her departure. As the sun changed the sky into soapsuds of color, the washing machine glittered upon start, spin cycle, and finish. A jaunty sweet song like the plastic teeth of a Fisher Price record bleated at the end. Matt and I had been watching a TV show about magicians and were startled out of a static reverie. Matt ran a hand through his long dark hair and said the machine was probably singing the song of its father, which sounded very theatrical.

I’m going to put the songs of washing machine forefathers on a playlist, or at least put the task of making this playlist on my radar– just like how paying my loans is on my radar, and not taking every single emotion so seriously is on my radar, like how getting quarters to take my laundry to the laundromat on 43rd and Chestnut is always on my radar.

While the washing machine sang, I turned the sound up on the TV to drown out the lullaby. I ran my own hand through Matt’s dark hair.

My appliances don’t sing, but I don’t have any modern-ish appliances to begin with–not even a microwave. People always ask how I live without a microwave. I say something cavalier about using the oven, but really I just eat food that is cold or raw. I don’t care – I honestly don’t care – until sometimes I do, like when I’m staying at Jen’s and everything is merry and melodious. Even her microwave twinkled music as I made ready-to-eat chocolate mousse from a power packet I found in her cupboards along with her leftover milk – not even past its expiration date. I marveled at the microwave’s friendliness. My envy is not contained in small ways, it is the flow of the chocolate-y pudding under a silver skin that forms on top after staying out too long.

Throughout my stay, I drank all of the vodka in the freezer. The refrigerator beeped because I kept the door open too long, pouring from the bottle into my mouth, glugging like a fish. In the freezer, there was an ice cube tray she’d bought that didn’t just come with the place. I have never thought to do that. Buy an ice cube tray. Hers was rubber and blue, and the ice popped out easily, and I envied that too.

***

A day earlier, before she left, Jen had bought us cheesesteaks and cheese fries and we’d drank too much. Jen put away the leftovers but chucked the fries because “fries aren’t good reheated.” The next day, with her gone, I lay in her bed in my underwear watching reality TV on my phone. I ate the cheese fries with my snail fingers, having fished them out of the garbage. Matt said he couldn’t show up until later, so I waited. Sometimes I called, “pss-pss-pss” for her cat to come out and join me, but he never did. He never even made a sound.

The only things that make noise in Jen’s home are the robots.

***

Then later, Matt came over, and there was the music of the appliances. And we had pizza, and new fries, and magicians on TV, and really bad sex. We tried our best, but he wasn’t hard, but we attempted to do it anyway with limited success. And when it was all over, I apologized, and he left, and I took out the load of laundry from earlier and replaced it with the soiled sheets. I cleaned the apartment. The washing machine happily launched into a song to announce that the sheets were clean. I thought about Matt’s joke from earlier, about the washing machine’s father’s song and it made me angry. Where do we learn how to commit to pain? It’s pointless to kick a washing machine because it doesn’t get your hurt – it’s too busy making music to feel anything.

***

I wondered who has loved just like this before in Jen’s grownup space. With computers as companions and even a faucet that chimes – are all trysts here mechanical? Or do hers turn out better than mine? Does love look better when you’re an adult who has their shit together?

I pulled the sheets out: a blue piped one, a bird patterned one, the white pillow cases where, earlier, I’d found a long strand of Matt’s dark hair and felt like even that feathering touch made the entire pillow unclean. I assume Jen’s love is more meaningful, made under the watchful eyes of tender electronics. The bodies she invites into her home power down to melodies of automata, consecrated with the sweat of responsibility.

Then, since there was no machine for folding laundry, I became the robot. And since I was the robot, I felt like I should sing. I hummed while collapsing the bedding into pleats, while fitting fresh blue sheets onto the mattress. Jen would be home in a day and then I’d be back in my non-harmonious, appliance-less shithole of an apartment.

I never could find her fucking cat anywhere.

 

cropped-dead-bird-clip-art.jpg

Jane-Rebecca Cannarella is the editor of HOOT Review and  Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit.  She was a genre editor at Lunch Ticket, as well as a contributing writer at SSG music. In her spare time, she is a candy enthusiast and cat fan. 
She received her BA and M.Ed from Arcadia University, her MFA from Antioch University, and attended Goldsmiths: the University of London and Sarah Lawrence College. When not poorly playing the piano, she chronicles the many ways that she embarrasses herself at the website www.youlifeisnotsogreat.com. Her chapbook of flash/prose-poems, Tiny Thoughts for Tiny Feelings, was published by BA Press, 2002 in 2011 – which she concedes is confusing. 

challenger – corwin moore

challenger

In eighth grade I became an addict. I was addicted to masturbating and porno. The addiction really wasn’t in that order, the porno came first, and jerking-off was the cherry on top. I got so good; I was able to jerk-off during my favorite television shows. One time, during an episode of Different Strokes, I beatted-off every commercial break. Before I was addicted to masturbating, I used to wonder if Arnold would get into trouble during the commercial breaks, but during my jerking-off era, I blocked everything out and got down to business.

I had control, Johnson magic, and loved my power. I didn’t need any sex material with me either. I had the ability to look at the porno days before and play back the flick in my mind.

In a porno I watched, there was one white guy that had a special move where he would count down his money shot. Like clockwork, when he got down to 3, 2, 1, 0; he would let the load loose. His move became my move. With this skill I became a master. I could blow loads anywhere at top speed, in my bedroom, in the bathroom, in the basement, even on the roof. I was a like a superhero in disguise, I had great power but I couldn’t tell anyone.

“Craig, you better not be playing with yourself. I ain’t raising no damn whore-mongers.”

“Whore-monger” was some church word my mother heard. The house of the lord told her that sex was bad and then she hit us with the craziness. She was the one with all the kids. She needed to hear the church madness more than me. My mother said the whore-mongering thing all the time but I wasn’t scared. She wasn’t going to get in between me and my superhero powers.

“I ain’t raising no ‘funny boys’! Them ‘boys’ are the only people that be playing with themselves.”

For a while I thought masturbation had something to do with being gay. If there ever was any person that confused me about sex, my mother was the one.

“When I catch your butt I’m going to beat the black off of you.” Then she would cut out my light and close my bedroom door. She said that every night before I went to sleep. I knew I was getting too big for a bedtime story but I didn’t want to hear threats of physical violence; I had so many nightmares of my mother beating me half to death because she caught me in the act, my mother whaling away, while I was whaling away. She worried me even more because she was talking about knocking me down a couple pegs on the color scale, “beat the black off of me,” I’m dark, so that would have been a lot of hitting; well, that was my thinking back in eighth grade.

Looking back, she had to know I was playing with myself. To tell the truth, I gave myself away sometimes. I was never caught in the act but damn I was jumpy. I would hop out of my skin when someone came into my bedroom, I would act like I drank ten cups of coffee. If I wasn’t watching TV, I was laying in bed, stiff as a board with the blanket lumpy in the middle of my body, right in the penis area. Oh, that poor blanket. I think about how many times I hid my hard-ons’ with that blanket. If that cover could talk, I think, “Get the pee-pee off of me,” would be the words. I would do this three o’clock in the afternoon sometimes. Ma had to figure that if I wasn’t jerking-off, or I was doing something I had no business doing. What kid is in the house, in the bed, before the streetlights came on? But I never got caught; I just looked guilty as all hell.

I had a crew. We formed a posse that was held together by porno.

The crew was the other three coolest dudes in my eighth grade homeroom class and me. We used the hottest slang and dared anyone to try to sound like us. We called each other “Duke, Troop, Money,” and put the word “Big” in front of our first names.

Each of us had a part to play in our porno posse. I was the brains of the operation; I thought up the schemes and stunts. In other words, I did most of the talking and didn’t do too much of anything else. Fritz was in charge of the dirty magazines. We didn’t know where he got them from but he had a private collection that was crazy. He had over a hundred and fifty magazines, and we tried to read them all too. He also looked old, real old. He always got looks when he walked with us down the street. “Why is that adult with those eighth graders?” He was damn near a hundred and sixty pounds and 5’l0 in the eighth grade. Whatever little money we got, we sent him to get the newest magazines.

We had a special spot. We went to this newsstand on the other side of the park, where white people lived, the spot was owned by some old Greek man. He was blind as a bat but a mean son of a bitch. He watched everything like a hawk but he couldn’t catch us. We had Fritz. The old fool was more concerned about blacks stealing than checking I.D. We would wait across the street for him. He was so professional and smooth about picking the dirty magazines. He skimmed through them all and took his time. Watching Big Fritz made me so jealous of size. I was four foot nothing then and seventy-pounds wet. I wanted to be big so bad.

Next was Ricardo, Big Rick to the crew. He spoke Spanish but was dark ‘like me’; well, that’s how I saw it when I was an eight-grader. People swore we were brothers, I didn’t mind when people said that we looked alike, Ricardo was cool. He was in charge of the actual porno tapes. He would get up late at night and record the porno that came on the adult channels, W.H.T, H.B.O. They were called soft porn. That’s where they cut up a real porno flick; they showed the tits, butt, and other private parts but not all at the same time. The soft porn got on our nerves, we were eighth graders, and we wanted all the smut. That was what we had mostly in our stash, soft porn. His family had a VCR and cable television. I used to think Ricardo’s family was so rich. They weren’t, they were on welfare like me but his father lived with them in secret. He worked off the books because he sneaked in the country from Panama. The mother got public assistance and took care of crazy people on the side. They were beating the system and had a little extra. Ricardo told me all this one-day at the pizza shop. It was crazy, two young kids talking about being on welfare, not girls or sports, but poverty.

Last was Maurice, Big Moe, the real leader of our crew. I had a better mouthpiece than him but he had more heart than all of us. Whatever thoughts we had in our heads, the dirty deeds were good as done by Maurice. Steal girls’ telephone numbers out of the attendance book, done. He even didn’t have a problem calling them up and talking dirty; no matter who answered the phone. He reminded me of my brother Malcolm but Maurice was a version of Malcolm that I could stand. He was fearless and didn’t doubt himself one bit. He was all the things I wasn’t. I was afraid to be free.

“You trying to tell me Troop that her cootie-cat is hairy then hers. You straight- bugging Money! You could cornrow her cootie-cat hair if you wanted to.”

“You not looking, this lady with the black hair got a lot more hair on her cootie-cat then any of these chicks, Duke.”

Fritz and Ricardo had the same argument everyday. Who had the biggest tits? Biggest butt and hairiest vaginas, the subject really didn’t matter; Fritz and Ricardo just banged heads when we started reading the dirty magazines. Fritz was usually right.

“I know about hairy cootie-cat.”

“Fritz, how you know about hairy cootie-cat, you got one, Money,” asked Ricardo.

“My mother and my sister got hairy ones.”

That was our lunch breaks at school, eating our food at top speed and then sneaking off to the bathroom and laughing at Fritz. All four of us cramming ourselves in a stall and looking at dirty magazines that Fritz would bring to school, hiding them in his science book.

I asked Fritz, “Why you looking at your moms like that. That momma-cootie-cat watching is crazy, Duke!”

“It’s just my sister, my moms and me in the house. They just be walking around the house in their underwear. I could see that they hairy through those cotton draws they be wearing. And let me tell you Troop, my moms is hairy scary.”

“Like Bush Gardens?” asked Maurice.

“My moms cootie-cat hair be like, ‘I feel like busting loose-busting loose,’ trying to jump out of my moms draws”

“And you just be looking, Troop?” asked Ricardo

“My whole house be late in the morning. My moms be rushing to work. My sister be rushing to school. They don’t even know I be in the house sometimes. They don’t know I be looking.”

Then I asked, “And that’s alright with you?”

“Hell yeah! So I know about hairy cootie-cat, Money.”

We all just shook our heads. He looked like he was telling the God’s honest truth about his mother’s vagina, but what he was saying, we knew, had to be a lie. I think that’s why he was so funny to us; he believed what was coming out his mouth more than anybody else. After laughing at Fritz, what usually happened was a whole bunch of ‘sex-with-ya-mothers’ jokes. ‘Snapping’ on one another closed out our dirty magazine reading.

“Yo bust it-yo bust it, I had sex-with-ya- mother Fritz and when I bust off on her head she tasted the bust-off and said, “I can’t believe it’s not butter.” I usually set the ‘sex-with-ya-mothers’ off.

“Yo I had sex-with-ya-mother Cee and I told her to go to the store to get me two heroes, the Bitch came back with Batman and Superman.”

“Rick’s moms, she put her pussy on her hip because she wanted to make some money on the side.”

The sex with each other’s mothers went on until the bell rang and time to go back to class. I loved spending time telling my best friends how much sex I had with their mothers. Snapping with them was so fun because they were. Where we came from, most kids would fight you if you talked about their mothers. Especially the venom we were spitting. We weren’t like most kids in the hood. We were a crew, friends.

Every once in a while we would get a half-a-day at school. This particular half-a-day was for the space shuttle Challenger. A black guy was going up to space with the NASA crew and our principal wanted to celebrate him, honor the brother’s accomplishment. The year was 1986, January, and Ronald E. McNair was his name. He came to speak to our entire school when I was in sixth grade, two years before that half-a-day. “Whether or not you reach your goals in life depends entirely on how well you prepare for them and how badly you want them. You’re eagles! Stretch your wings and fly to the sky.” Every teacher at the school made us memorize Mr. McNair’s words. I heard my science instructor tell the gym teacher, “This is the thing these little animals need to hear, a guy like them, that’s doing something, telling them to work hard; for once. Their drug addict parents never will.” It was bad what he said about our parents, but what made what he said worse was he didn’t say ‘guy.’ The word sounded like that ‘word,’ the word us blacks say to each other with so much affection-that word that hurt so much flowing from white lips. He called us Niggers. They were white and cocky, they didn’t think I overheard, but I did. After that, I hated those two white teachers and I hated the space program.

This half-a-day I thought of a plan where we skipped the whole day all together and go somewhere and watch some porno. I kicked the idea to my boys and they loved everything I was laying down but we had one problem, ‘where?’ We couldn’t go to my house, my mother wasn’t working, and she was going to be home. Ricardo’s mom was home during the day because that’s where she took care of the crazy people. Fritz lived too damn far. Fritz was always late for school because he had to take two buses and a train to school, seemed like he lived in Queens or something like that.

That left Maurice, Big Moe, the wild child; Ricardo, Fritz and I knew he was our only shot at porno heaven but was afraid to ask. Maurice was crazy, we weren’t too sure about going to his house, alone. Maurice was the one that stole our homeroom teacher’s pocketbook. Her name was Mrs. Tate but we called her Mrs. Titty Tate. She was a black woman from the south and her breast looked like two duffel bags filled with bowling balls. Sometimes she wore these bras that pushed them up and pointed out. She looked like she had two missiles pinned to her chest. I came up with the name and every time I called her that behind her back, my boys died laughing, so I always made sure to say Mrs. Titty Tate at least twice a day. The joke never got old.

Maurice took her pocketbook one day, without her knowing. The lady was looking all over the school for her pocketbook, and we were in the third floor bathroom, ripping through the damn thing. Big Rick, Big Fritz and me were looking for the report cards and the permanent record book but Maurice was eating a bag of grapes she left in there. The grapes were next to Mrs. Titty Tate’s shoes. She always had two pairs of shoes. A pair she walked to school in and a pair she taught in. She had bad feet; she even told the class one day while she was changing them. “These bunions are on fire.” We all laughed and called her nasty. She had a deep southern accent, so she sounded like one of my mother’s relatives. Our classroom was wild like that, fights, funny routines by students, and Mrs. Titty Tate being ‘down-home’ and talking about her foot problems, we were a little school in the ghetto, nobody cared.

When Maurice started eating her grapes, which were next to the ‘Bunion Shoes’, we went crazy.

“What are you doing, Duke? Them grapes was in this smelly bag next to her fungi kicks!”

“I don’t care! I’m crazy!” If that’s what Maurice wanted us to think about him, well, that’s what we thought; one crazy eighth grader, one thing to steal your homeroom teacher’s pocketbook but a whole other thing to eat her grapes that were in her bag with her smelly shoes.

Another problem with going to Maurice’s house was, we didn’t know where he lived. Everyday after school we would play basketball and when we started to go home, Big Moe would make this mad dash around the corner. “Don’t try to follow me.” Maurice sounded like a bad guy in an action flick. The first couple of times we tried to chase him but he was quick. He could run all day; he loved when people chased him. After a while we just all agreed, “That boy is crazy.”

“Meet me in the school yard at 8:15, we going to my house y’all.” We didn’t even ask him, he just told us.

I guess he knew that he was our only and last chance. He had this crazy look in his eyes too. The three of us was nervous. We didn’t know what to expect. Maurice always had scratches and marks on his arms. That scared us. Maurice had us believing there was a wild beast in his house. I didn’t want whatever got him to get me.
Maurice met us right on time in the schoolyard. He was wearing a t-shirt that read, “Don’t squeeze the Charmin.” Soon as we saw the t-shirt we laughed. It was January and all he had under his coat was that t-shirt.

“Ain’t you cold Money?”

He didn’t answer me; Big Moe just started walking. We followed him up Franklin Ave. I thought he was taking us to that crazy block next to the Shuttle train. That was the block ma always told me not to walk down. There were abandoned buildings on that block. She told me that there were junkies that took kids off the street from those buildings. I didn’t want to be taken. I was hoping Big Moe didn’t live in one. I couldn’t enjoy my porno in an abandoned building with junkies all around. I looked over to Ricardo and he seemed like he was nervous too. I had asked him to bring his VCR. The machine was in his book bag, he just held on tight; he was scared that someone was going to rob him in Maurice’s crazy house. Getting the VCR out of his house wasn’t any big deal. His parents didn’t speak English, at all. They only knew America through their children’s eyes, so if he told them that ‘that’s what they did here’, they took his word.

We wanted to ask where we were going but as soon as we could think to ask the nut, he stopped in front of Tiffany Towers. The Tiffany Towers was probably the closet thing to Central Park West in the hood. The towers were like skyscrapers, the tallest in the borough. Tiffany Towers had a tiny city surrounding two tall buildings; well, that’s what I thought. They had a dry cleaners and grocery store in there. All this was closed in with giant concrete walls, to keep us out, the poor people; I guessed. We went into building A and there was a security guard. I never saw that before, someone to protect your building while you were gone.

“I don’t want to see you running in the garage today Mr. North.”

That was Maurice’s last name but I never heard his name like that, with mister in front.
“I be having all the security guards in Tiffany Towers chasing me.”

Fritz asked, “What you be doing, Troop?”

He just gave us a devilish grin and said, “I be doing stuff.” We didn’t ask any more than that because ‘I be doing stuff’ could have meant anything with Maurice.

His house was on the fourteenth floor. I never rode up an elevator that high before. “The elevator has a two person bench;” I never saw anything like that, taking a seat while you go up. Tiffany Towers was the richest place in the world to me. When we walked in his house the place had orange and black carpet everywhere. His house didn’t have carpet that was hard and made noise when you dragged your feet. They had soft carpet, like you were walking on a mattress.

The three of us walked in his house hesitantly, we were looking for the dog, the dog that scratched Maurice, giving him the bruises on his arms, the bruises that we saw everyday.

“Yo, you put that dog away, Money?” asked Fritz.

“No, it’s right behind you!”

As soon as Maurice yelled ‘you’, the three of us jumped out of our clothes. We turned around and nothing was there.

“Yo, you ain’t got no dog, Troop!”

“I never told you I did, dummy!” And Maurice was right when said that; he never did tell us he did. We just assumed.

There were framed pictures of Maurice everywhere, pictures at church, at school, when he was a baby. Maurice was the only child, so all the walls were dedicated to him. All the furniture was leather, no plastic, like the couch at my house. Big Moe’s couch was soft and brown.

“If y’all want something to eat, just go for yours, Money.”

I never heard that when I went to somebody’s house. They usually made you a plate or gave you something to drink. They didn’t want you to take all that they had, so they gave you how much they could afford to give.

“Where we watching this Duke?”

“In my room.”

“You got a TV in your room?”

“Yeah,” he said, ‘but of course’ was more how the words came off.

“Word! That’s where mines is in my house.” I was lying.

“Ricardo, why you got a VCR?” asked Maurice.

“To watch the tapes.” Ricardo replied.

“I got a VCR and better tapes, Money.”

I thought to myself, ‘luxury building, sweet elevator, and a badass crib. Who in the hell is Maurice North?’

We got to his room and his area was spotless. The bed was made up and every thing was put in perfect place. My mother would have loved Maurice.

“Wait here y’all.”

“Where you going, Troop?” I asked Maurice.

“To my moms and pops room.”When he went to his parent’s room Fritz, Ricardo and me just looked at each other. We didn’t say anything but if we did, ‘Damn’ would have been the word. Maurice came back to the room with a bottle of Absolute Vodka, some cigarettes and six VHS tapes.

“What’s on the tapes?” asked Ricardo.

“Porno, stupid!”

Fritz said, “In your moms and pops room?”

“Yeah, she don’t think I be knowing but I be knowing.”

We all laughed.

“Where they keep’em at?” I said to him.

“Under the bed, the vodka be out. Fritz go to the kitchen and get some cups.”

Then I asked, “Your pops gonna kill you if he find out.”

“He ain’t here, well, he don’t stay here. He ain’t stay with me and my moms in a long while. The crazy illness be, my moms still be acting like he here or like he coming back.”

I wanted to say how sometimes my mother did the same thing with my father but Fritz came back with the cups. And like that, we were smoking cigarettes, drinking vodka and watching porno owned by the mother of a wild child. My chest was burning from the vodka and my nose was stuffy from the smoke but I was having the greatest time of my life. Maurice’s mother had the hot stuff. She had movies with Black people in them. The Black women had big dark nipples; one lady’s nipples were so long, they looked like Tootsie Rolls. Every time a hairy, nappy, vagina hit the screen Fritz would yell out, “That’s how my moms and my sister be looking, Troop!” he really was funny that day. Taking puffs on Newports and watching hardcore money shots, that was our dream and we were living it.

After every movie we rewound each tape to exactly where Maurice’s mother left off. While rewinding, Fritz wanted to turn to cable TV, he wanted to see if “Back to the Future” was on H.B.O. Fritz and me didn’t have cable; our families couldn’t afford that luxury. So getting to watch cable television and porno was a double treat. He couldn’t find the movie. Something was wrong with Maurice’s channels. Every station had the same thing on.

“What wrong with your TV, Duke? Every channel got weather.”

Each station showed the sky with long white clouds but we didn’t care, we had porno to get to.

“How many movies we got left?” I said.

Maurice answered, “Two more Troop.”

He had his cigarette cocked to the right side of his mouth with his right eye closed, to avoid the smoke. He looked cool. Then he looked at me and gave that devilish Maurice grin. When he did that, I pushed him in the head. Not hard, just a slight push.

“You crazy, Money.”

What I really wanted to say was, “I love you Maurice, you’re my friend” but that would have been too much for us in eighth grade.

Ricardo grabbed his bookbag and said, “You heard that?”

Fritz turned the TV down and we all put up our antennas.

“Yo! That’s your front door, Money!”

“My moms came home early, damn!”

If any people in this world panicked, we were them. As soon as Maurice said “early” all four of us did a mad dash nowhere. All we did was run around in circles. Fritz and Ricardo ran right into each other they were so nervous. Ricardo bumped his forehead into Fritz’s chin. They fell right on their backs. I wanted to laugh but we had to hide. Maurice was running around looking for the cap for the vodka. I passed him the tapes, along with the cap that was under my foot. I helped Ricardo off the floor and Fritz got up on his own. As soon as Fritz got up, he stepped on Ricardo’s bookbag and fell again.

“My VCR Fritz! Got to be broke now, aaah!”

“Be quiet!” said Maurice. “Hide! Don’t come out no matter what.”

Ricardo grabbed his bookbag and hid under the bed. Fritz and me went into the closet. That sweatbox was so tight because Fritz was so big and Maurice had so many clothes.

“Maurice got some nice clothes. I wonder why he don’t wear this.”

“Be quiet Fritz.”

He did have some nice stuff but I didn’t want Fritz talking too loud and getting us caught. Maurice had that kind of closet with two doors with blinds. We watched Maurice run around and open his bedroom window to let all the smoke out. Still holding the tapes he ran out of the room.

“What you doing home! And in my Goddamn room!”

We heard Maurice’s mom from the hallway of the apartment. I was so scared I wanted to pee. I wanted to pee in that closet in front of Fritz and Maurice’s nice Polo shirts. Then we heard a loud smack and what sounded like the tapes falling on the floor.

“Oh God!” said Fritz.

“Come on man! Be quiet.”

I saw Ricardo under the bed, stiff as hell. He looked like a dead body. Then he started to mumble something out of his mouth and shook his head. At first I thought, “Who in the hell Ricardo is talking to.” Then I realized he was praying.

Maurice came back peddling into his room, with his mother walking in front of him.

“You was looking at my tapes! You’s a nasty little boy, ain’t you? Take off all your clothes.”
Fritz looked at me. I didn’t turn to him but I just knew he was looking at me.

“No ma, please. I’m sorry.”

“You going to be sorry in a minute. You’re touching things that don’t belong to you. I got to do this to you all the time, for your Black ass to learn.”

She started taking off Maurice’s belt.

“Take off those damn clothes.”

He did what he was told. As he took off his shirt and pulled of his pants she would let the belt fly and hit his body. By the time he got completely naked she already hit him about five or six times. When he got naked we saw that he already had a bunch of black and blue marks on his chest.

“Everyday I got to whoop you. Everyday-with you!”

I felt bad for Maurice. He was naked in front of his friends and was getting beat by his mother. She didn’t’ stop, she kept on hitting him with that belt. Then she but the belt down and beat him with her fists. I never saw a mother punch like a man, but she did. I kind of wanted her to go back to the belt; the belt seemed less ruthless compared to the fists. She beat him for over an hour. Well, that’s how long his beating felt like. She really beat him for fifteen minutes. I would look over at the clock on the VCR. I didn’t think fifteen minutes could be so long. I think that’s what made the beating so long to me; every hit-every swing hurt just so much. You could just see that blows were hurting Maurice inside and out. She was so ruthless to me. The blows did so much to him and nothing to her. Well, that’s what the sight seemed like to me, in the closet, scared.

The beating got to a point that he didn’t even cry, or yell. Maurice was on the floor, on his side, and he took the beating, and he took the pain. I seen beatings before, I been beat but this was different, this one was more than a whipping, this was more like hate. My mother got on my case and gave me hell but she never seemed like she didn’t like me. The way she was hitting him I thought she didn’t like Maurice. While I was in the closet there was several times I just wanted to step out and say, “Stop hitting him like that.”

Fear was what kept me in that closet. I think that was the same thing that kept Ricardo and Fritz still but what was Maurice’s excuse? Was fear the thing Maurice was scared of, making him the way he was, a bad eighth grader that would steal his homeroom teacher’s pocketbook? For fifteen minutes she punched and whipped, and his closest friends hid and watched.

After she finished she made him take a bath and do his homework. We knew he didn’t have any homework but Maurice sure looked like he had some. He opened up every schoolbook we had. He was flipping through every page.

“My stomach hurt.”

“Be quiet Fritz.”

“We ain’t going to ever get out of this closet!”

“Be quiet Fritz.”

“We been in here for hours!”

“It’s only been forty minutes.”

Then Fritz burped and his breath smelt like that vodka we were drinking.

“I think I’m sick.”

Before I could turn around, Fritz started to throw-up. We both flew out the closet, but way too late. Fritz threw-up all over my back and Maurice’s floor. Then he grabbed one of Maurice’s nice Polo shirts and tried to clean off my neck.

“What you doing Fritz? That’s my shirt,” said Maurice.

“I’m sorry; I needed something to clean this up. You got a sponge or something?”

“Come on, man. You killing me Fritz!”

Then from the other room we heard Maurice’s mom, “Who in the hell are these kids?”

Fritz was so loud Maurice’s mother came back into his room. With a back and neck soaked with vomit, she looked at me. She poked her head under the bed and saw Ricardo sleeping.

“This Nigga is in here sleep! Get the hell from under that bed, boy!”

Once Ricardo saw us he said, “Oh god, that’s nasty. Is that vomit?”

“Anybody else in this damn house,” Maurice shook his head no.

“You got two minutes to get the hell on out of my house before I give you some of the whipping I’m going to give Maurice.”

Then she punched him in his neck. He went down to his knees. His eyes were about to pop out of his head. He looked like he couldn’t see. She hit him really hard that time. The three of us rushed out of the bedroom but I stopped for a second to see his mother cock back her fist again. Before I could see her land the punch, Fritz grabbed me and dragged me to the door. “Let’s go, Craig!” I didn’t see the second punch, but I heard the damage the blow did.

We got outside and everyone was pointing and staring at me. I smelt bad. I smelt like vodka, cigarettes and everything Fritz ate for breakfast. I had too much vomit on me to put on my coat. So I carried my coat in my hand and had Maurice’s nice shirt around my neck. I smelt like vomit and I was freezing, I thought I was going to die. Ricardo started crying, his mother didn’t know English but she knew what broke VCR meant.

When I got home ma wanted to yell but she didn’t. I had vomit all over me and she didn’t believe my story of a wild dog jumping on my back and throwing-up all over me. My story was weak but the smell of Fritz’s vomit was so strong my mother went along with my lie. She cleaned me up and gave me my dinner. I just stretched out in my bed and tried to understand how a person could not like Maurice, I liked Maurice, and I thought he was funny. I couldn’t understand why his mother couldn’t see that too. Then I thought about if my father liked me or if my mother liked me. I didn’t want to not be liked by them, like how Maurice’s mother didn’t seem to like him.

“Watch them crazy dogs and them crazy people in the street. You hear me.” ma said.

“Yes.” I replied.

“ ‘Cause this world is going to end, wild dogs throwing-up on people. Them people dying in that spaceship today.”

“Huh.”

“Child! Where you been. That space…”

“…Space Shuttle Challenger.”

“Yeah, blew up in the sky. Been on the news all day.”

What we thought was the weather report was the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding in the sky seconds after blast off. Seven people died while my friends and I cut school and watched porno.

“You got to watch yourself out in these streets. You got people dying in the sky.”
Then she kissed me, turned out my bedroom light and closed the door. That was the first time in a while that she kissed me good night. Felt good when she did that. For a second I thought if Maurice mother ever kissed him goodnight, she gave him everything else, why not a kiss good night. I didn’t think on Maurice too long. I thought more about my kiss good night, then those people in the sky. Then I fell asleep.

 

When I woke up in the morning Maurice’s shirt was cleaned, ironed, and folded, neatly on top of my book bag.

“Ma, Maurice’s shirt?”

“I washed the thing in the tub. Didn’t take me long either, I put the shirt right on that broken-down fan, dried a couple of hours ago.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was happy.

“Now, you could give that nice shirt back to that boy. Boy, you got a good friend to give you a nice shirt like that when you got dog throw-up all over you.”

I wasn’t surprised that my mother cleaned the shirt. I was glad she did. I felt like Maurice needed something and I wanted to be the one that gave him that something. I owed him that. I felt guilty.

I couldn’t wait until Maurice came to class. I had his shirt, Mrs. Titty Tate and ‘sex-with-ya-mother’ jokes all ready for him when he walked through the door. While we waited, Ricardo talked our heads off.

“Yo, my moms and pops yelled all night. I can’t look at TV or cable for a while. They was cussing so fast in Spanish; I didn’t know what they was saying.”

“You just knew your butt was done.” Fritz added.

“I thought you speak Spanish?” I asked.

“Not the Spanish my moms was saying. Even my father didn’t know what she was saying and he from Panama too. That VCR was what I recorded all her Spanish Soap operas on; she was pissed-off, Duke.”

I laughed as Ricardo talked about his parents but from time to time I would look over at the clock-then at Maurice’s chair-and then at the door. My laughter was with Fritz and Ricardo but my mind was on Maurice. After a while we started to repeat ourselves. The stories were already told and the laughs were all belted out, still no Maurice. School had started and the teachers demanded our attention, so we had to start the day without him. Maurice didn’t come to school that day or the next. He missed ten straight days of school and his empty chair killed us. Nothing was the same. By the third day we gave up our ‘sex-with-ya-mother’ routines. By the fourth day we gave up dirty magazines in the bathroom. We were too afraid to call or go by his house. We knew how his mother could be. He was gone and there was nothing our porno crew could do.

On the fifth day Mrs. Titty Tate started to walk by our table. She knew we were bothered by him being gone, so she would put her hand on our shoulders like we were her children,

“I’m going to call his mother tonight. He’ll be in school soon.”

Then she would smile, but her great grin didn’t help, we still felt bad without him. I guess we felt that way because we saw how he lived and what he had to live with. I carried his shirt with me everyday to school while he was gone. Each day I tried really hard to not let the shirt get dirty or messed up. I wanted what was his to be perfect, for when he did finally come to class.

The tenth day, Maurice still didn’t show but his mother did. She walked in the classroom looking like a robot. She had her hair perfectly pinned back in a bun. She was wearing a business suit, so she was either going to work or coming from work. She had no wrinkles in her suit. Seemed like she didn’t sit down all day. From the back my boys and I watched, as she spoke with Mrs. Titty Tate.

Ricardo pointed and said, “Yo, Duke ain’t that Maurice’s moms.”

“Yeah, you think she came to beat us too, Troop?”

“I don’t know Fritz,” I really didn’t know.

“Crazy nut, I hate that lady.” Fritz started to get mad.

“Yo Money, I think she came to get us in trouble because we messed up her house and watched her porno,” Ricardo looked like he wanted to run under the table and hide when he said that.

“Oh my god, why did I throw-up everywhere?”

Fritz started to get nervous as well. Things got intense when Maurice’s mom and Mrs. Titty Tate started walking towards us, in the back.

“Just be cool y’all,” I damn sure didn’t mean what I said. I was scared too. I couldn’t take my eyes off Mrs. North.

“Boys, this is Maurice’s mother, Mrs. North. Mrs. North, these are the boys your son spends most of his time with, while he’s here at school.”

“Hi boys it’s so nice to meet you.”

“She wanted to know if Maurice left anything back here?”

We all three looked at each other. We were confused. She did meet us. At her house, while she beat the hell out of her son.

We all said, “no.” Mrs. North looked inside his desk anyway.

“And Mrs. Tate you said I can get his transcript through the mail.”

“I believe so, yes.”

I thought, ‘transcript’? What’s that?

“You want me to give you the homework Maurice missed, Mrs. North?” I asked.

“No, that’s alright. Maurice is going to go to a new school. We’re moving.”

My heart just sank when she said that.

“I’m surprised that my son never brought you over to the house. You boys are so well-behaved.”

She was getting on my nerves with the not remembering who we were stuff. Then she patted me on my head. Her smile was big but fake, like grinning was her job. Then I recognized a smell coming from Mrs. North. The funk that came out of her was the same smell when Fritz burped in the closet, the vodka without the throw-up. She was drunk; I just knew that she was; one Christmas I remember my Aunt Sallie being drunk, acting all nice and polite. Mrs. North reminded me of my Aunt Sallie that day, drunk with a smile. That was probably why she couldn’t remember who we were.

“Thank you.”

She was taking away our best boy and I hated her for that. Just like before we ever went to his house, we went back to wondering where he lived and how he lived. I was more in the dark at that moment than I was before. As she walked out of the classroom, I looked and remembered that I had Maurice’s shirt in my bag. I grabbed the shirt quick and said nothing, I stood-up holding the shirt, the last of Maurice for me. For some odd reason, Mrs. North turned and looked my way. Then she walked back to us.

“Did I forget something?” she asked me, looking at Maurice’s shirt in my hand. “Is that my Baby’s shirt.”

“I was in the closet.”

“Excuse me, Darling?”

“Fritz and me was in that closet.”

“I don’t know what you talking about, Boy. What are you talking about?”

I didn’t answer her. I stood strong. I was scared but I didn’t care. She could have hit me if she wanted. I wanted to fight. I was ready to go. If she slapped me, I just would have taken the blow. I told myself that I wouldn’t let her see me tear. Fear was what kept me in that closet for such a long time. And it was love for my friend that made me stand. I wanted to be like Maurice, free and not afraid.

“That shirt looks like my son’s.”

She reached for the shirt. I squeezed the shirt tighter and pulled away. She wasn’t getting that shirt. She took enough from me. She did a lot of hurt. She was getting nothing that day.

“That’s not my boy’s shirt,” she said

“This is mines,” I said.

I could feel Fritz and Ricardo looking at me. They must have thought I lost my mind but I didn’t. I just had enough. I wished I could have seen my own face. So if I ever saw Maurice again. I could do the face for him on cue, like the Mrs. Titty Tate jokes. Her smile got musty, stiff and old; she lost our standoff. That day in class, she got beat.

I let her leave without her having what I had; what was really his. I didn’t think she deserved a son like Maurice or a shirt that would be worn by him. Nobody ever wore that shirt. I took the shirt home and put it in a milk crate, in the bottom of my closet. And that’s where Maurice stayed, for a long time.

ghost january

Corwin Moore was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.  Being the youngest of five, Corwin quickly realized that comedy was his best way to receive attention in his large family.  Corwin first got his taste of the stage by enrolling in a stand-up comedy class in High School.  The top five students were elected to perform at a real comedy club; Corwin was not one of those students.  Still wanting to support his fellow classmates, he went to the comedy club anyway.  Once a real paid comedian failed to show up, Corwin got a chance to perform and shine, which he did, receiving a standing ovation.  Corwin got a manager and agent the very next week.  Corwin later honed his stand-up skills at comedy clubs such as Comic Strip, Improv and Stand-up New York.

He has been featured on “Showtime at the Apollo (Guest performer),” “Family Matters” and a cast member of the sketch variety show, “Uptown Comedy Club.”  Corwin also has film work consisting of “Race,” starring Paul Rodriguez and “Juice,” starring Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur.

But what makes Corwin a true triple threat is his writing.  Corwin is an Emmy nominated writer, working for such shows as Saturday Night Live, The Tracy Morgan Show (pilot) and VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors.

Corwin currently is an Assistant Professor of English as well as, shooting his project, ‘Brothers on The Phone.’

Photo: Ajeet Mestry

eyes – dave owens

x9apT

Two sour faced guards escorted teenager Daniel Warren into the interview cell, shackled him to the metal grommets bolted to the table, and pushed him down into a chair. The boy’s orange prisoner suit did not fit, but someone, perhaps one of the guards, rolled the cuffs and sleeves up so he wouldn’t trip and fall. The lock clattered after the door slammed shut.

To the state appointed psychologist Raoul Hadras, the young man who sat in silence across from him at the table appeared not unlike many of the other troubled youths of this generation – thin, only a few weeks past his fifteenth birthday, a dozen pimples on his face, and expressive brown eyes. A shock of blond hair completed the image.
Daniel murdered his father and mother if the police report proved true. After his arrest, he demanded the death penalty from the court appointed attorney, and created quite a scene in the courtroom when the attorney plead not guilty on his behalf. The judge also thought the demand strange and questioned the boy’s sanity.

Most other youths Raoul evaluated often claimed insanity, and enacted performances that would make movie stars jealous – anything to avoid justice.

Daniel sat with yes turned down, and did not speak.

“May I call you Dan?” The doctor made a note in the evaluation folder.

“Sure. Why not? You wanna find out why I killed my old man.” The boy fidgeted in the chair, but did not try to escape the restraints. “I wanna die.”

“I must determine if you are fit to stand trial.”

“Yeah.” The voice came slow and sullen.

“So. May I call you Dan?” Raoul’s question, fashioned to create a familiar, less formal atmosphere, dated back to the time of Freud. The ploy worked sometimes, but sometimes it did not.

No answer. Raoul tried again with a gentle tone in his voice. “May I call you Dan?”

“I don’t care what you call me. Send me back to my cell,” he snapped back.

“Sometimes circumstances cause us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Would you please tell me about what happened?”

“He deserved it. Am I done?”

“Not quite. Why do you say he deserved it?” His question probed for anything to free the boy from his defensive shell.

“He beat me and my mother up all the time. When I was a little kid, he’d jerk me up by my arm and whip me with that leather belt of his. I hated the belt. I got whipped even if I didn’t do nothin’.”

“Your mother too?” Situations like the boy described usually meant the abuse affected other family members. Raoul understood the answer.

“Yeah, she got it bad. If she tried to protect me, he’d beat her with his fists. She didn’t tell people what he did, but behind her back everyone talked about her black eyes and the bruises all over her arms, and face. I got into fights with kids who said things about her.”

“Many fights?” The question sought to let deep emotions rise. He made another note in the folder.

Dan avoided the question. “My mother. I loved her. I didn’t kill her like the police said. I didn’t do it.”

“But you did kill your father?”

“Yeah.” His head rolled back and he stared at the ceiling. “Like I said. He had it comin’.”
Trigger point. The father. Raoul wondered what other triggers might provoke Dan to continue his story. “So you blame your father for your crime?”

Dan kept his gaze focused on the ceiling. “Everyone hated him.”

“Everyone?”

His head fell forward and his eyes locked onto Raoul’s face. “Everyone.”

“Please explain.”

The face softened for a moment. “His eyes frightened everyone. One of my friends, Jimmy, came to the house one night after school.” Dad screamed at him to get out.”

“That’s all your father said?”

“Uh, huh. He stared at Jimmy with those cold blue eyes – they could see right through you. When I try to sleep I see them. They’re always in my dreams. I didn’t like to sleep. Neighbors avoided him. They’d go to the other side of the street when they saw him comin’.”

“It’s called post traumatic stress, Dan. He frightened you the night you killed him?”

“I came home from school late. I heard him telling from the street. When I went inside the house everything was broken. Smashed chairs, curtains ripped off the windows. I went into the kitchen. Dad grabbed the refrigerator and threw it on the floor. He swung at Mom and missed, but his second punch hit her in the stomach. She fell down. I went over to her and tried to help, but he grabbed me by the shirt and threw me into the counter by the sink. Then he turned back to Mom. I knew he was gonna hurt her more.”

His eyes smoldered with tears and his head dropped to his chest.

“Relax for a minute, Dan. I understand why you are frightened. I want to help.”

Dan disregarded Raoul’s comment and continued. “I got up and took one of the broken chair’s legs and swung it as hard as I could. I hit him on the back of his head. He turned and started to get up, but I hit him again. I hit him two more times before he fell. I went to Mom. She said ‘Run Danny, run. He’ll kill you for sure if he catches you. Please run. I love you.’ Last time I heard Mom’s voice.” He jerked his head to the side and shook it. His wet cheeks glistened in the light of the single bulb that swung from a wire above his head.

Raoul took a handkerchief from his pocket and went to the other side of the table to wipe the boy’s tears. “Calm, calm. Nobody will hurt you while you’re with me.” Genuine sadness gripped the doctor and he felt his own eyes water. He thought to leave the handkerchief with Dan, but remembered the restraints and realized the pointlessness of such an act. He returned to his seat, sat in silence, while he made a few more notes in the folder.

Dan’s chin fell back onto his chest. His voice lowered and he mumbled, “Found the gun – Dad’s nine millimeter, in the stand by the bed where he kept it, made sure it was loaded, tucked it into my pants, and ran. I went across the street to Mrs. Thompson’s house. Her lights were off. She wasn’t home, so I ran around to the back, jumped the fence and hid under some cucumber vines. I tried to hold my breath, but was breathing too hard.” He swallowed, and waited a moment before he continued. “I thought he might hear my breathing so I crawled over the back fence and ran down the alley. There’s an old wooden shed there. I went in and hid behind some boxes.”

“And . . .” Raoul’s voice faded into a whisper.

“I heard his crazy screams. He was trying to find me. I kept as quiet as I could because I was scared more than ever before. I heard his shoes crunchin’ in the alley gravel. When I peeked through a crack in the wall I saw him standin’ outside the shed, I held my breath and hoped he wouldn’t hear me. I hoped he’d go away. He didn’t. He pushed through the broken door and came into the shed yelling ‘little bastard! I’ll break your neck and piss on you. Come on out coward!’”

The doctor’s voice became sympathetic for the first time since the interview began. “Now I understand.”

“After I made sure a round was in the chamber.” The boy continued as if he could not hold back the story. Tormented words gushed from his lips at a frantic pace. “I crawled out from behind the crates and held the gun where he couldn’t see it. He moved, and I shot him in the chest, but he wasn’t dead.” His voice quieted when he remembered the moment. “I shot him in the head two times, but he’s here with me. I have to die to get rid of him. I want to die! It’s the only way I can escape.”

The softness of the boy’s voice surprised Raoul. “You’ve no need to fear your father. I think you acted in self-defense and I’ll inform the authorities. I see a full life in front of you.” Raoul wrote another note in the folder. “Your father’s gone and he can’t hurt you anymore.” He raised his head and noticed the change in Dan’s eyes.

Cold, ice blue eyes glared at the doctor. “I’m not dead.”

sbgs cowskull

David Alan Owens’ stories and non-fiction works have been published internationally. From Alien Dimensions magazine, the High Strange Horror Anthology, and other periodicals, his audiences are as varied as his stories. He prefers to write science fiction, but sometimes a story of a different genre asks to be written. He lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee with his wife Ann and his Boston Terrier, Mayla.

Photo: @sweetdangerzack

the shadows we make – evan james sheldon

JellyfishB&W2 (1 of 1)

The girl was on her way to Walgreens to pick up her mother’s medication when she found the dead jellyfish on the street corner under that one lamppost that always worked. It wasn’t just one jellyfish, but twenty, thirty, maybe more. They lay in small iridescent globules, some strewn on the sidewalk, others slopped carelessly onto the edge of the sewer grate.

As she watched, wisps like smoke rose from the dead jellyfish and hung several feet about concrete, bobbing up and down like they were submerged in stormy waters. The girl thought the wisps must be the ghosts of all the jellyfish and she wondered when her mother died if she would be able to see her ghost rise and hover.

The girl had heard that jellyfish were biologically immortal, that they would naturally live forever, and she wondered if these dead before her had known it was coming, if they had planned their last days accordingly, or if they had been torn from a life everlasting like slaughtered angels.

The jellyfish ghosts cast morphing shadows on the dirty ground beneath the ever-steady lamplight, moving into and through one another, bringing out strange images from the cacophony of movement like unintentional shadow puppets. The girl pulled out strange, fantastical shapes as if she was laying on her back watching the clouds.

When she was healthy several years ago, the girl’s mother used to make shadow puppets with her hands on the wall of their apartment. She would turn off the lights and use a candle as backlight, so the images flickered and grew and danced on the wall with the slightest extra breath or movement in the air. A dove could become a dragon, a shark a leviathan, a butterfly a huge bird of prey, all if she laughed too near the candle. She learned to hold in the laughter, so the air would be still, so the shadows could be what her mother intended. Now, her mother’s hands have twisted into tough claws, slow moving and incapable of making anything like they used to.

The girl stood transfixed for a long time, watching the ghosts of the jellyfish paint in shadows on the concrete. If the ghosts of the jellyfish, continued only to bob foolishly, they’d be there forever. The thought made her angry and she screamed at the jellyfish to leave, to go, to get the hell out. They didn’t leave. They wouldn’t leave. She was crying soon and yelling unintelligibly—a deep throaty yell rising in pitch until it was more of a screech than anything. She balled her fists, she stomped her feet, knowing she was too old for a tantrum but unable to stop it erupting from her.

Why wouldn’t they leave? Didn’t they know they could go? Are they all so stupid just to bob there under the lamppost?

Her voice gave out and she rushed forward swatting at the ghosts and immediately pulled back her hand, stung. It wasn’t a sharp pain, or piercing, or electrifying like it might have been if the jellyfish had been alive, but rather a down-to-the-bone pain, like slow pressure on a deep bruise.

The girl left them there then, running off and forgetting her errand. Later when she was home, she remembered reading, though she couldn’t recall where, that a group of jellyfish was called a bloom or a smack. The text hadn’t specified if there was any difference between the application of the names.

Image result for jellyfish clip art black and white

Evan James Sheldon’s work has appeared in CHEAP POP, Ghost City Review, and Pithead Chapel, among others. He is an Assistant Editor for F(r)iction and an Outreach Assistant for Brink Literacy Project.

photo: @__varinia__

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