Letter from Curly Red

Hello and thank you for stopping by! I’m more than thrilled to offer a platform for our writers that shows off their talent more fully. I’m also excited to be introducing some new activities and changes to the magazine. But first a little history about our publishing hiatus for nearly a year.

Curly Red Stories, originally didn’t intend to be a cyclical magazine. I had focused on design driven prose at Vermont College of Fine Arts and was hooked. I published a few writers in 08′ with the ‘working title’ of Curly Red Stories. However, I was more than a little surprised by the amount of enthusiasm for flash fiction. The word spread quickly. I was getting regular submissions. And people actually liked the title. I went with it and Curly Red Stories took on a life of it’s own, like all stories waiting to happen. However, I began CR Stories on iWeb. iWeb is really not set up for magazine proportions in the long run. In 2010 I maxed out on space. I purchased more. Then I maxed out on the max. So, I was unable to publish any more writers on that platform. All those comments that the writers had more than earned. All that content had to be migrated carefully; responsibly. It was going to take cash and time. CR Stories, then was somber during summer months, so last fall I devised a plan that has now been carried out. I couldn’t have done it without the help of Jess Nunez. She is amazing when it comes to technology. She very carefully migrated all the content and wrote custom code to the tune of my design and creative direction. We are over the moon to share it.

NEWS: 

Beth Bates, marketing maven and talented editor has joined CR Stories. I feel very lucky. She’s sharp with the pen. I’m your typical creative director. I will be making the vision of the showcases come true. While Beth is not only a talented writer of flash fiction but her eye for detail and inquiries into the text as well as skills in marketing are a clear route to more success for our magazine.

Featured interviews: We will rotate interviews regularly on the home page and announce them via social media channels as we do.

More Circulation: Both Beth and Niya will be attending conferences in 2012 as well as guest blogging in relevant media/writing/publishing circles and we will be showing off CR Stories writers every chance we get. We are even going in arms with cool business cards. Maybe even fancy hats! In addition, Niya’s newly published illustrated children’s book, recognizes CR Stories inside the pages and on Amazon. We will announce juicy PR placements as we gain them. In the meantime, we are charged up and ready to spread the word.

Micro-publications + Events: The views of this author is that flash fiction expresses itself in many forms throughout our culture. A letter between two people can tell a compelling story. A one page dialogue in a screenplay, one word each character throughout can leave the audience floored with all that is revealed. A painting can be translated into a wonderful story in 300 words. Therefore we will have mini-calls for submissions and add pages and showcases in between the Spring and Fall main publications. The best way to stay in the loop is to subscribe to our newsletter. You’ll never miss an announcement or ‘sweet article’ — Thanks!

These are many of the highlights. And as we grow, we are a work in progress, so stick around… you might be as surprised as we are of what comes!

Poser by Beth Bates


In a darkened studio, draped in an ill-fitting silk blouse, I sat on a wooden stool and posed. Girl parts aching, I contorted my face into expressions of purity.

“How was your summer?” asked the photographer from behind his giant camera. He clicked away. He didn’t want an answer, but I yearned to give him one. Beneath my petite, dance team girl exterior resided a dumpy, used up chain-smoker in a housecoat. I felt weary and alone.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said. He adjusted the umbrella to light my face and tilted my chin with tobacco-stained fingers.

I needed to unearth the ache, to bring it into the light. A gnawing emptiness yawned, greedy to be filled. I needed help apprehending the adult turmoil that had slithered into my spirit.

I was a baby, and fourteen days earlier I had given away a baby. Per specific instructions intended to reduce emotional trauma, and to minimize proprietary attachment to the child, masked people dressed in scrubs swooped “it” away from my body and rushed “it” out of the room. Fleeting infant song was replaced by the hushed, sober sounds of medical personnel repairing surgical slices.

The blue-eyed Superman anesthesiologist stationed by my side throughout the delivery left to numb another patient. My mother and sister sat in a waiting room somewhere in the hospital, smoking bummed cigarettes, maybe calling the prayer chain.

To distract myself from the stinging needle in my lacerated young vagina, I guided my imagination to the closet of my childhood room and browsed the blouses hanging over rows of stuffed animals. The silk one. I’ll fit in it by senior pictures.

But I did not fit, nor would I, ever. Not in the blouse, not in my own skin.

Change of Plans by Beth Bates


Surrounded by ocean was where I was supposed to spend the sixth grade. On the last day of fifth, my mother confided her plan to move us to Kauai to live with her father. "For gym you’ll kayak," she said, "and after school, we’ll surf!"

She didn’t plan on being murdered or leaving Birdie and me to live with a grandmother we didn’t know, in a Midwestern state we’d never visited.

When Ruth met us at the airport wearing one of her designer tennis dresses, she insisted that we call her by her first name. Something about the single men at the club not wanting to hit balls over her net anymore if they found out she had grandchildren. “Call me Grandma in public and I’ll check you into an orphanage.”

“The only orphanage I’ve ever seen was at the Boulder Dinner Theater in ‘Annie,’” I said. “Birdie played the littlest orphan.”

“Well, then, I’ll ship you to live with your beam-bum-pothead grandfather.”

Beach and grandfather sounded good, but bum and pothead didn’t figure into our mother’s plan.

“And if anyone asks what happened to your mother, you say ‘car accident.’”

“But it wasn’t a car accident.” I seethed.

“Lie,” she said. “Your mother’s manner of death is nobody’s business.”

Birdie chirped from the backseat. “But Mama says not to lie.”

Ruth sweetened her voice. “Trust me, Miss Beatrice. Sometimes it’s okay to lie.” She patted her highlights and said into the rearview mirror, “You don’t want to make Ruth a pariah, do you?”

When I tucked Birdie into bed that night, she asked how telling the truth would turn Ruth into a fish. “Pariah, Bird. Not piranha.” I didn’t know the meaning of pariah but felt certain from Ruth’s tone that it must be bad.

"She’s funny,” Birdie said.

Nothing was funny since Dad killed Mom and her dream to live on an island, thousands of miles of ocean insulating her from love gone wrong. She told him they had grown apart, that they fought too much, that she was going to take us to visit her dad for a while. “Just till things cool.”

In the morning he woke us up, all three in her bed. He shouted in a loud whisper, but only I awoke. I watched him spit obscenities into Mom’s face in a low volume rage. “Like fuck you’re leaving.”

“Vince. The girls.” Mom was whispering.

Birdie stirred.

“Girls. Go get some breakfast.”

In a groggy mumble Birdie said, “I’m sleepy, Daddy.”

“Go,” he said. We went.

Her screams cut into our microwave oatmeal. We ran upstairs and watched those last hideous sounds crawl from her mouth, across the sheets, and into the hallway where we stood, invisible to his rage. He knelt over her and plunged the knife into her lovely chest. “Fifty-five times,” the newsman would say.

Birdie and I hid on the floor of our bedroom closet under a fortress of stuffed animals. An hour—maybe three—we hid. Dad slammed the back door. I parted my green gingham curtains. A trampled path through the weeds behind our house revealed his escape route. I used the furry pink phone my mom gave me for my tenth birthday to make the call.

A blue-eyed detective brought me a bottle of water and tried to coax details out of me, but the details were stuck in my chest. I could not speak. I looked out the window and pointed the finger of accusation that sent my father to prison and us to an island in a sea of cornfields.

Walls of Eden by Cezarija Abartis


“Man, I gotta get out of this place,” Denny says to the bartender who’s writing a novel. “Square root of nothing. Playing and playing in the bar, and all it’s leading to is more playing and playing. Where are the women who were supposed to be chasing me? Where are the chicks? See that brunette at the end of the bar with the red nails and rasta curls? She’s like a bored cat. She blinks her eyes and turns away.”

“Where’s the money and fame? I’d settle for fame. And chicks.” Denny taps a brisk tattoo on the counter.

“You can write that in your book. Page one: Denny’s leaving.”

“Here, get me another mojito. I’ve got five minutes before the next set.”

“But this is what I wanted. A life in music. Even when I was a kid, I dreamed about playing riffs and chords and tunes all night. To have music coming out of my fingers and going out to the dancers and out into the universe. What a connection–destroying time and space. I thought it would be paradise. And here I am in paradise.” Denny finishes his drink.

“Now that brunette is smiling at me. She’s tapping those red nails. Sounds like a tango.” A smile flashes across his face in the icy neon light. “Maybe I’ll stay.”

MidLife by Cezarija Abartis


"I’m burning up inside." Harry shivered and coughed into his handkerchief. "But I’m cold." It seemed that all his students were coughing. The weather was changing.

"Put on your jacket. You’ll feel better." Ken almost never caught colds.

Harry closed his eyes and, behind the eyelids, saw flashes. "I was thinking of my mother when she was dying."

"That’s no good. Drink your beer." Ken stared at his own beer. The cosmos was big, he thought, but here it was contracted to one glass. The nearest part of the cosmos was photographed as a velvet night against which flickered pinpoints of light that were eons away. Space was mostly a vacuum and increasing all the time. He’d seen a lot of shows about that on The History Channel and PBS. He raised his glass. "Here’s to us and to friendship."

Harry snorted. "May it get us to the other side." He finished the toast their usual way, though he did not think there was much on the other side. "Why wasn’t I more helpful to my mother? I resented having to drive her to the doctor’s office, waiting while she was fitted with a hearing aid."

"That was three, four years ago. And she made it to eighty-three. I don’t want to be heartless, but you shouldn’t look back."

"I feel I’ve lost my way. I’m middle-aged, but I don’t know where I’m going." Harry rubbed his forehead.

"It’s probably just your cold. Next week you’ll be happy how your students are writing their papers, and I’ll be happy they’re learning algebra." In the background, Elvis was singing "Blue Christmas."

Harry sighed. "Joyce is having a hard time with menopause."

Ken sipped his beer. "Connie too."

Harry shook his head. "I should’ve been more understanding when my mother was going through that. Instead, I was annoyed with her forever talking about hot flashes."

"We all make mistakes. Our parents love us anyway." His own mother never made it to menopause. She said to him, "Kenny, always remember I love you." And then she died.

"There was one time"–Harry’s face gleamed in the warm, brown light–"she was proud of me for making a birthday card for Grandpa." Harry was ten and he had come up with the idea himself. "She called me considerate and polite." He put one hand over his heart and smiled at the patrons in the bar. "She said I deserved all good things–the sun, the moon, a happy life, a friendly hand."
"She was a nice lady." Ken knew her only in old age, and mostly she was a quiet old lady, but she was playful too. He was carrying an armload of packages to her house for Harry’s fortieth birthday party and when she opened the door he said to her, "Give me a hand." She applauded, then covered her mouth laughing, and finally took some packages from his arms. Harry enjoyed his party with all the black balloons and jokes about getting old–that his ears would be hairier than his head, that he would dream about prunes and be proud of his lawnmower.

The neon sign advertising beer blinked and outlined half of Harry’s face. Harry’s eyelids drooped; he was beginning to show his age; Ken supposed he was too.

Harry coughed. "I need to go home. Joyce is waiting. We’re driving to her parents tomorrow. I’m trying to be good to them."

"You’re a good guy." Ken felt pity and affection for Harry, for Connie, for Joyce, for her parents, for the other people in the bar, for all of them.

"Yeah, well." Harry pushed his glass away. Joyce worried about her parents, but they didn’t want to move out of their own home. They had an old dog that Joyce promised to take in if need be. Her mother and father liked their neighborhood, the church they could walk to, the grocery store. Joyce and Harry were driving down to help winterize the house–put up plastic on the big windows, check out the furnace and humidifier. Snow had already fallen once and left a clean powder over everything, soft and silent, a promise of purity and renewal sprinkled over the roofs and yards and bare trees. In a while, the howling wind would be afflicting the runaway cats and wild birds. And then in a while after that, the drip of melting ice and chirping of birds and loosening of spring.

Honey Bee by Niya Christine


I mean really, if I had known!
That being what I am actually meant living in a ‘female only’ tribe all my life…
…that my fuzzy, leathered skin; my sensitive antenna and rickety legs would break so fast, so hard, so easily under a strong dusty wind. 
Wind, that would also have the power to roll me up and suffocate me in it’s treacherous, uncaring weight…
…never mind the trickery of the chlorine pool!

That I’d be working all my life in one job. That every second of every day, every cell in my sexy striped body would not be able to get another job!
That the singular effort of making a jar of the stuff would be equal to me flying around the world 4 times and pollinating 9 million flowers?

But really, honestly, think about it, do you think if I’d known that the boys would be so beautiful, so yummy and tender to my young naked feelings and thoughts, only to be killed on the spot after giving us babies?…

…that I, yes me, me!, in my buzzy feelings would have to watch their mutable, dramatic existence used and squelched over and over like this; only to suffer the longing of a life I will never live with them while in the nunnery of honey?

Do you-really-actually-think that I, me, me, me… a smart, hardworking, and quite beautiful creature —if I do say so myself— would choose a life with millions of other females with the same name?

I think not.

Beth Bates | CR Stories Interview

NS: Two things get under my skin as I read your work. Design and Insight.Your set up, description, the emotional tension, story arc, character intimacy and design of your narratives is excellent! I even want to say, perfect!  “Change of Plans” stayed with me for two days after I read it. This is a sign, for me, of a writer who ‘delivers’. 

My inquiry is about your penchant for intricate psychological prose. Clearly you’ve had some ‘experiences’ in your life. Really, anything you want to say about what you are up to here, I want to hear.

Beth Bates: Oh gosh, perfect is a stretch, but thank you for kind words. Any technical feats you see in these stories I attribute to the rigorous instruction I’ve received in the Butler MFA program (with some effort on my part-see question 5). Working as a psychotherapist for seven years is one source of my tendency to focus on painful internal processes. About experiences, they’re all grist for the mill, right? I do think it helps to put a lot of distance between transformative life events and any serious attempt to produce a meaningful expression from those events. I mean, go ahead and journal, write a draft, but your creation is going to contain more texture and insight if it has time to cure. Like a list I recently wrote about my dad. I’ve tried writing about his death in the past, but this thing seemed to write itself in about an hour in a way that *poof* materialized out of the ether. But it didn’t take an hour. It took one hour and sixteen years to write in a compelling way.

NS: Authors you love who have influenced your work?

Beth Bates: What a fun question. Pinch me.

I’ve had a long-term relationship with emotionally naked literature. When I was ten, my mom gave me Angel Unaware, a memoir by Dale Evans Rogers (don’t judge me). That book and a collection of comic books about (I’m not making this up) Christians imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps for harboring Jews sealed my abiding affection for nonfiction, memoir in particular. Tobias Wolff, Mary Karr, Dave Eggers, and Jennifer Lauck send me. I admire John Robison, the overlooked older brother of Augusten Burroughs, for his breathtaking memoir that nails complex psychological dynamics with minimal exposition and sentimentality. Anne Lamott I adore for her gloves-off personal transparency and spiritual irreverence.

I just realized it’s your question 1 “intricate psychological prose” that connects my favorites, even on the fiction side. Michael Dahlie’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living, Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, even The Road—they all kill with their sticky, lovely layers of subtle psychological complexity. (Wow, I never made that connection till now. You’re like a James Lipton for writers.)

NS: Love your bio, how you weave your dreams into it. I wish more bios read this way. Say more. What plans do you have for your future as a writer and life design to support it. I ask this purely selfishly as I’m working on this aspect myself. And many writers I know are as well.

Beth Bates: For the next year I will sponge as much writing mojo as I can from my MFA program, which may or may not involve developing “Change of Plans” into a novel for my thesis. After that, as my bio suggests, a Curtis Brown agent will snatch me up and incite a bidding war among the Big Publishers, after which Hollywood studios will battle over movie rights. Once all that is settled my husband will retire. We will home school the children and divide our time between modest green-built homes in Telluride, Marin County, and the north shore of Kauai where I will frolic with my family and write more bestsellers and an Oscar-winning screenplay. That’s Plan B.

Plan A is to keep slogging away at my laptop. I will continue to ignore my family, write daily, submit work to obscure literary journals, and piece together a book every four or five years. I’d be grateful to find work ghostwriting, editing, teaching—any scenario that offers enough flexibility and financial stability to support the writing life. Publication would be icing, as would a new MacBook.

NS: A scene from your childhood when you knew you were a writer? Or, you look back on now and it makes sense?

Beth Bates: Hm . . .

All of Dick Gigax’s kids were expected to master the art of well-constructed business correspondence, but a writerly epiphany? I think there was a moment in high school several months after the baby episode. The cool sociology teacher assigned a socialization essay. We were to show a person’s development from birth through adulthood, and I inserted as the subject this kid I’d given up the right to watch grow up. It was healing to write the baby’s life into reality in the context of what for me was a creative nonfiction exercise, and the essay grabbed my teacher’s attention. On one hand it was cathartic, but the real juice came from watching a person respond to a story I wrote. Fireworks. You know the feeling, eliciting an emotional response from a reader, and then you’re hooked. Snap, crackle, when’s my next fix?

NS: On subtlety, precision, insight in your writing. You have it.

How did you get there? You display some real skill in your writing. Lots of practice? Lots of coffee? Love, pain, laughter?

Beth Bates: Ha! Thanks. All of the above, and more. Any evidence of skill is the result of thousands of dollars, brilliant professors in killer workshops with peers I trust and respect, beers with friends, time spent reading, and hours and hours of rewrites.

I hit a hole-in-one on my first round of golf—ever, I kid you not—and my husband says my standard line should be, “Of course I did, it’s where I was aiming!” I’m just aiming for a substantive story that contains conflict, action, and living, breathing characters who sound authentic without producing some saccharin counterfeit that’s embarrassing to read aloud. Occasionally, when the stars align, I hit it.

NS: It’s an honor to have you at CR Stories. Powerful work! Anything more you’d like to share?

Beth Bates: Thank you. It’s an honor to be included, Niya. Writing flash fiction (and non-) has stretched me. “Change of Plans” started as a ten-page short story, and submitting to Curly Red Stories challenged me to slash all but the essence. “Poser” was 1,000 words, and it seems to hold up at 300 (and now I’m never touching it again I am so over it). I appreciate the platform you provide for experimentation. You ask intriguing questions and offer a novel forum for writers and readers in search of refreshment. Nice work.

NS: Oh this is the best thing you could have said. And the most ideal way to conclude the interview. The slash and burn you did, brilliantly I might add, is so difficult. But getting your story to it’s essence was so rewarding to read. And I think your readers will think so too. 

Sugar in a bag is a lot of sugar. But burned down is caramel to creme brulee. Thank you for a delicious dessert!

Niya Sisk, CR stories founder

Little Orange Pills by Harmony Neal


Trapped in cycles, I see the patterns, but can never change them—stop that inevitable barf.

I try to open my mouth and explain what is happening, and how I don’t want it, but it’s all I know. I look for a connection, one sweaty palm thrust out, but the fatherly faces go blank, admonishing,

Fishing for pity, they say, grow up.

What a disconnect from what I intend with my words and how they are perceived in someone else’s ear, and I can’t cross that bridge.

So I slouch back down in my seat, confirming to cold ears what they heard all along that I never said.

I reach down my throat and feel my organs, testing for failure, looking for the malfunctioning parts, an answer, but they are slippery and strangely cold like vomit that comes after drinking too many glasses of water.

I feel I’ve gone the wrong way again.

But then I try to live.

The man at the helm never lets me off. Sometimes he switches tracks and it’s a kiddy ride, slow enough to watch a brown bird pecking popcorn on the lawn, each feather distinct and trembling. But then he spits out a tobacco loogie and gets a glint in his steel eyes and I know what’s coming—I’m back on the loops and dips, not recognizing the scenery, even though it’s mostly the same. I fall over but the bar keeps me in my seat as I fly upside down then right-side up, my lungs in my mouth as I descend a slope, a pitiless falling falling falling, crashing hard at the bottom. I grit my teeth for the long slow chug back up, organs settling on top of each other; I close my eyes and clench my fists until there are little moons lining my palms—steadying myself against threat of flipside—falling farther faster harder, no bottom in sight, everything one vast smear as I try to crack my eyes against the wind. I reach my hands out to the rubberneckers on the sidelines: they watch me tumble and soar while they pluck their manicured beards. One day I might derail this cart for good, like Virginia, but there’s so much I haven’t seen, it all repeats. I grip that greasy chipped rail and wait for the tracks to switch. Every time they do I am all alone, again, fingering the pills in my pocket for some day, some day.

The Nursery by Harmony Neal


The Nursery lured us in, tiny seeds, with honeyed words and promises.  Come in and flourish!  The Drs of Horticulture said.  We will feed and water you and make you bloom.  We will help you perfect yourself.  We only accept the most promising seeds.

I wanted to be the best Willow I could, and the Nursery seemed to offer the right tools and support.  They ushered me into a warm greenhouse with other seeds and saplings.  The Director placed me in a pot of rich dirt and patted me in with soft fingers.  He sprinkled expensive bottled water over me and cooed.  When I sprouted, he praised my progress and angled me so I’d get a little more light.

The Dr. of Form pulled on fraying gloves and plucked out my limbs.  I cried, and he said, No no no, these are weeds, they are not a part of you.

“But it hurts,” I said.

No it doesn’t, it’s good for you.  Here is more fertilizer.

“But I’m already full. I just need a bigger pot.”

No.  You need to sit in that pot and ingest more vitamins until you’re ready.  Look at Dogwood—he is starting to bend at just the right angle.  Form is marrying content.  You could learn much from him.

Concrete bricks hung from Dogwood’s limbs like dull Christmas ornaments.  I thought he might be too bent, his bark straining and bunching, threatening to splinter.

I said, “Dear Dogwood, how are you coming along?  You seem to be in pain.”

He scoffed, “Of course I’m in pain, but it will pay off when this is over and I am the finest Dogwood ever.”

“But don’t you think you could be a beautiful Dogwood without those bricks?  Your white flowers are quite lovely.”

He tried to shake his limbs at me, but they were too heavy with form, “Stupid sapling, you’re too new to know anything.”

I thought he could be right, and anyway, the Dr of Form had taken my limbs, so I sat in my pot and tried to absorb my vitamins.

I grew bigger and almost forgot I’d once had more limbs.  The Dr of Content came in and said I was coming along nicely, but I was too much.  She brought over scissor-action pruners and snipped what was unseemly.

I cried, “No, I need those parts, they are me.”

No.  These ends are unnecessary and detract from your beauty.  They run on too long and touch the floor.  These shaggy bits are not contributing to the overall content, which should compliment your form.

She finished with me and moved on to Mimosa, who batted her away.  The Dr of Content came back with lopping shears and tried to prune from a distance, but Mimosa wouldn’t hold still. The Dr of Content wasn’t making clean cuts.  I was frightened for Mimosa, who was losing fluffy pink blossoms all over the floor and running a risk of lion’s tails.  I wished she’d hold still and wait for it to be over.  One of her blossoms floated into my pot, and I tried to look away.  I thought the Dr of Content must know what was best, and anyway, the Dr of Form had taken my limbs, so I sat in my pot and tried not to feel cold where my ends were trimmed.

I woke that night to Mimosa weeping, “What is wrong, dear Mimosa?”

“My form is all wrong and they’ve stolen my content.”

“Perhaps it’s just this intermediate stage that is hard.  If you give it time, you may find you’re better than you imagined you could be.”  I was trying to be helpful, but she didn’t answer, so I went back to sleep.  In the morning she was gone.

After three years I had become everything they had promised.  They pulled me from the greenhouse and put me outside with the other trees.  The air was colder than I remembered and the sun was too yellow.  My contemporaries were quite beautiful, their forms impeccable.  We carried ribbons and waited to be snatched up by the highest bidder.

Dogwood bent over gilded crutches, his flowers a little wilted where the bricks had been strung, almost imperceptibly so.  His woundwood seeped where limbs had been removed and the callus tissue wasn’t healed quite right.  He saw me examining him and crimped a branch to show off his blue ribbon, “I told you so.”  I thought he might collapse from the effort, so I looked down in embarrassment, and saw my own tendrils falling into my blue-ribboned pot.

Broken Dreams at the Clover Leaf Hotel by Libby Cudmore


I sit on the broken concrete steps of the Clover Leaf hotel and light a cigarette. I know I should quit, they cost too much money and they’re probably killing me, but it’s the only thing I have that belongs to me, the tired smoke from my sticky lungs is my own and no one else’s. Waiting tables always means I belong to someone else, the cooks, the customers, Mary’s coked-out son who took over the place after she died, Hi, fine, what’ll it be? Millie, get your saggy ass over here and pick up your order! You got customers waiting, this is no time for a smoke! The Clover Leaf burned down years ago, but no one ever tore it down, what’s the point, it isn’t worth the money Warrensburg would spend when another dive will just burn down in it’s place.
Jimmy used to live in room 405. The room was condemned, an old forgotten crime scene, blocked off and haunted. No lights or TV, just a bed and a toilet they couldn’t flush at night for fear of waking someone who’d find them out. Didn’t matter anyhow, Jimmy’s dad pissed out the window when he was drunk, which was always, and the only people who stayed at the Clover Leaf were fellow drunks and junkies too deep in artificial sleep to hear the morning garbage rounds, let alone a midnight toilet.
I’d visit Jimmy after school; he’d bring me back when his dad was working or drinking, didn’t matter, he was gone and we’d play robbers up and down the hall. His neighbor was a tranny hooker named Dinah who said we were just too precious, his exact words, just too precious. When he wasn’t expecting customers, he invited us to his room to watch game shows on TV and drink cocoa he made on the hot plate in the bathroom. Sometimes he’d let me try on his electric wigs and glitter shoes, tacky beautiful things my Gram wouldn’t buy me, tell me how beautiful I looked and how I was sure to be a movie star when I got older, little doll face like mine. I’m only twenty-six now and my doll face has aged twice that, the cigarettes aren’t helping. Even without them I’d still be old. This city ages a girl three years for every passing birthday.
The night manager found them when Tony called Dinah a pervert, stay away from my boy and Dinah said someone’s gotta raise him right, show him a little respect. Tony punched out Dinah and the night watch found them brawling in the hallway and called the police. Tony went to jail and Jimmy went to foster care and Dinah moved business to another hot-sheet. He’s probably dead now of some street disease and Tony’s long gone, but Jimmy’s still waiting up for me to come home with a six-pack and cigarettes and a TV dinner. He’ll have to wait a little longer. I want to sit and finish my smoke.
I like to pretend Jimmy died young of some pretty disease, leukemia or tuberculosis like the silver women on Gram’s teacup stories. It’s better that way instead of him being useless, drinking in front of the lines on the TV until a job comes along, maybe once every two months for two weeks, hauling tomatoes or lumber across the country. Until then it’s how was work, baby and a tired kiss and no silver dreams, not for us. Unpaid bills, cold water showers, a double shift if I can get it.
I like to imagine he hits me, throws me against the wall and calls me a tramp, slaps me across the face and tells me not to ever, ever disrespect the man of the house. Then I imagine he slams the door and I pick myself up and pack my suitcase, catch a bus and run away from this life. If he hit me, I’d have a reason to leave, but weariness and dead dreams are no reason to walk out when he needs me. Millie, baby, he says at night when he’s half a beer from sleep, Millie, baby, you’re all I got and without you I’m nothing, baby, as long as we got each other we’re sumthin’.
So I sling plates and pour coffee six days a week at Mary’s, it beats what I could have been, a stripper or a pink-pants girl. I know I’ll never be a movie star, it’s a hope long since gone, one more dream broken like the steps of the Clover Leaf hotel. I stamp out my cigarette and stand. The late-night grocery on Euclid’s is still open.

End of The Line by Randall Brown


He reaches for the bottle of Wild Turkey. The cancer in his liver bites at his insides. He’s offshore, a developer of sonic flares, those flames on the oil rigs, his design preventing the flame lick that burns everything up. It’s the last oil rig in the rising waters of a world going under. He swallows the last belt of whiskey. The bird circles overhead. He hikes up his pants, spits something red into the water, pisses between the iron rails, waits for the whirlybird to take him home.

Mostly Wondering if She Left Her Phone On by Randall Brown


I tell her I can’t sit in the front row, that I have this fear I’ll jump on the stage. She makes a Mad Magazine sound—swizap—and sits front middle. I sit behind her.  She turns around as the lights dim, says, “It’s the actors, you know, who should be scared.” I whisper back, “Scared of me.” That unseats her, makes her restless as if she believes I might go up there. Imagine my whispering to her throughout until she has to stand up and shout Stop it!—and everything would have to. That would be irony. Can you yell irony in a crowded theatre? They’re putting on Mexican masks. What compels some thoughts into action, others not? Fear or sense? Stay in character. How many times must they tell themselves such a thing each act—ten—a hundred? Oh, another night ruined.  If I could see inside her mind, what might be on it?

Harmony Neal | CR Stories Interview

NS: Your work intrigues me.
You tackle the hard stuff in a visceral way while leaving me awed by the beauty of our humanity. What leads your hand as you take us into difficulties like being misunderstood, mute, derailed, shaking through it all, and noting everything beautiful along the way?

HN: Um, wow. Errrr.

First of all, you have to notice the beauty or you might as well shoot yourself now. As for the rest, I try to capture experience in my genre bending work like “Little Orange Pills,” which is why it necessarily ends up as hybrid work. It’s not a poem or an essay or a story, but it draws from all of those. I guess it’s most like a poem, except I’m too long winded to be a poet. I don’t want to boil it all down: I want to expand it out while using images and cadences that reflect the experience.

I suppose I do it by being honest, as honest as I possibly can be with my words.

NS: I personally fall madly in love with poetic prose. It never ages. And your work has it droves. Can you say a bit about your poetic voice, especially in “Littel Orange Pills”?

HN: I started writing genre bending work like “Little Orange Pills” while in graduate school, and the poets declared I was one of their own. I laughed, but it’s probably true. My prose used to be flat and lifeless. I could not write a good sentence. I especially failed at description of any sort. During my second semester in graduate school, I started writing flash fiction as a way to focus on the small details.

Honestly, I surprised myself with my poetic voice. Once I started writing pieces I wanted to write in the way I wanted to write them, without worrying about genre and what’s been done before that has already been declared acceptable, the poetic voice appeared.

My genre bending work is generally more poetic that my fiction and creative nonfiction. The words present themselves to me in a different way when I’m not worried about traditional elements of plot. Ideas flow differently. The writing is more like how I actually sense and interpret the world and think without the filter we have to use in daily interactions. I guess I’d call it “raw,” though I do craft those pieces. I am a very passionate person, but I typically display a put-together and tough façade. The poetic pieces are me without my armor.

NS: Your work intimately conveys the human body again and again. Sometimes graphic but mostly just apt. Did you study medicine at one point in your life or is it an innate ability?

HN: I am not comfortable having a body. I could never practice medicine. Bodies upset me a great deal of the time. I was single for a long time because the idea of a stranger touching me would make me throw up in my mouth.

NS: Does your dog help you? ; )

HN: Yes. Milkshake has given me a lot of purpose and stability. I was always a very suicidal person, but then my mother had another child when I was 24, so I ended up removing suicide from my list of possible life choices. After that, I had to figure out how to live my life and have it be better than miserable. I got a dog so I’d have an external obligation that would force me to get out of bed. Since getting Milkshake, I have consistently gotten up early in the morning, gotten more exercise, and been forced to talk to strangers. My writing productivity has been higher than I thought possible, and I’ve been publishing like crazy. He is also very loving and cuddly, so I don’t feel a strong need for a girlfriend or boyfriend, which helps keep my time my own.

NS: How does place influence your writing? Detroit or other places?

HN: Place haunts and intrigues me. I’ve lived across the country. I’d like to have a home, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. During my final semester at UIUC, I started working on a novel set in a generic town. I didn’t work on it for a few years. While it sat, I kept hearing about Detroit, the artists moving in and the opportunities. I realized my novel should take place in Detroit, then I started working on it again. I went to Detroit and fell in love with the city. I scrapped what I had already written and started over. I am now in love with my own novel, which I think is pretty necessary for taking on such a terrible task. Seriously. Writing a novel is awful, but it feels a little good, so I keep doing it.

NS: Are you studying creative writing now? What are you working on?

HN: I have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I graduated in 2007. My focus was fiction, though my thesis was a mix of fiction and nonfiction. A year after graduating, I went into another MFA program for Creative Nonfiction, but I was no longer in student mode, so I left. I currently teach Creative Writing through a local community center, or I will if anyone enrolls. I’m working on essays, always, like six of them. I’m also writing the Detroit novel. I tend to juggle a dozen or so projects at once. I’m just that way.

NS: Hopes and dreams? Film or fiction or both? Or something else?

HN: My middle name is Hope. My name used to be Cocaine Comfort Neal, but when I was 8, my parents changed it to Harmony Hope Neal. My sister is Rose Love. I pushed for Rose Redemption or Rose Revival, something with the alliteration, but those were kind of lame, so I said, fine, “Love” is fine.

I don’t really believe in hopes and dreams. Any old schmo can dream of being a princess or President. Anyone can hope for true love. I believe in serious work. I have goals and aspirations: an essay collection, the novel, a professorship.

I do words. Film is outside my purview. Two of my flash fictions are being made into short films, but that is all on someone else’s end. “Sarubobo” is going to be freaking amazing when it’s done. I’ve seen the rough cut and thought it was great, so great that I forgot I wrote the original story. The films being great have little to do with me and everything to do with the skill and vision of Kyle Broom and Alexandra Spector and the wonderful actors and actresses they hire. I simply hand over my stories and tell Kyle to go for it.

NS: Thank you Harmony. Happy to have your work here. It’s alive, true and fresh. An honor indeed.

Matt Stauffer | CR Stories Interview

NS:
There is a timelessness to your writing. You span age in human beings in a way that mirrors nature. In ‘Bandon, Oregon’ for example, “His arthritic fingers manipulated the old fish head…”. And you go on and break my heart here, “whose eye stared back at us, as if asking for one last story before bedtime.” Can you talk a little bit about your relationship to nature and aging?

Matt:
Aging is one of nature’s cruelest tricks. Growing old allows us to become so wealthy, both materially and intellectually, but every day we grow older is one fewer day we have to spend that wealth. One really needs to find some perspective to balance those competing desires: nobody wants to live poor, but we don’t want to die rich, either. I think the solution that comes out of “Bandon, Oregon” is recognizing the value of our elders. They have a huge transfer payment of wisdom to give us, and since they can’t take it with them, we may as well take it so it isn’t lost forever when they go.

NS:
Are you a bit of a cowboy poet? Your prose, especially in ‘Discovery Bay’ extends itself from the present to history and back again to excruciating detail about life, nature, death. Quite zen; peaceful. What themes do you find yourself naturally exploring? And do you have any sense of why?

Matt:
I like to write about stuff that people know but that they don’t necessarily think about consciously. That’s the essence of great stand-up comedy–the ability to make your audience say, “Oh yeah, I know exactly what he’s talking about!” I try to create that effect in my writing as well. Obviously I approach my writing from a male perspective, so I tend toward male issues or interests: the outdoors, male relationships (father/son, brothers, best friends, etc.), death. They don’t always make for great stand-up, but they are issues that are relatable, which I think is an important element of good writing.

NS:
When did you begin writing? What did you write about? And, how did you write? Handwriting in a blank book? Or, typing or computer? Talk a bit about your practice.

Matt:
My biggest problem is I’ll get these great ideas, and I’ll spend about two weeks just thinking about what a great idea it is. Then when I actually sit down to write it, I realize there’s no way it can ever live up to what I’ve built up in my head, so I’ll get discouraged and put that idea on the shelf where it usually stays. If I can convince myself that first drafts are never good, then I’ll put an outline down on paper, which is easier to mark up than on a computer, and from there I can type out a first draft. This whole process means I’m not a very prolific writer when it comes to actually putting things down on paper, but my mind is always churning. I’m constantly taking notes throughout the day; if I’m really on my game I’ll have my Moleskine notebook handy, which helps me channel Hemingway without the alcoholism or the violent streak.

NS:
What impassions your writing today? What genre, form? Where are you taking it next? What excites you today?

Matt:
One of my heroes is Gordon Parks. He was such a talent across a range of media–journalism, poetry, stage, screen, novels, photography–and I really admire that flexibility. I’d like to be like Gordon Parks one day. I’ll never be black, but the writing talent is something I aspire to, so I write across a range of genres and media as well: poetry, short fiction, expository essays. I find it also helps my writing process to switch back and forth between projects. If I’m stuck on a poem I’ll switch to an essay, and when that gets stuck I’ll work on a short story. It keeps me from getting burned out on any one thing. I’m polishing up a screenplay right now which will hopefully make it to production some day, and shopping some other projects, but if all I do is write a letter to a friend I consider that a good day.

NS:
Thank you for your brilliant work. What made you choose CR Stories to showcase your work?

Matt:
It sounded like a lot of fun. It’s such a challenge to tell a story in flash fiction style. You really learn to appreciate the luxury of unlimited words.

NS:
Anything else you’d like to add about your work or about writing in general?

Matt:
I had an English professor once say, “Writers hate writing, but love having written.” I’ve found that to be true more than I’d like it to be. There are definitely times in the middle of a piece that I just feel lost at sea, unable to see land in any direction, but once you find it, you realize how far you’ve come.

Discovery Bay by Matt Stauffer

Mornings on Discovery Bay, three hours northwest of the din of Seattle, tucked away under the mouth of Puget Sound as it kisses the lapping waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, are peaceful, gentle affairs.  As the sun rises through the damp, chilly Washington air, a groggy bald eagle wakes, ruffling its feathers in the rays of sun speckled by the canopy of pines huddled together, surveying the curious and hungry fawns below.  The eagle cranes its neck over the rim of its meticulously crafted nest, watching as a twig falls carelessly to the soft brown earth.  Without pause, a fawn continues to rummage lazily, poking its friendly nose through the leaves of low-lying shrubs, surely waking a squirrel or hare from the night’s rest.

As the sun blankets the bay, cutting pockets into the morning fog, the eagle stretches its talons as it prepares to break the fast of the night before.  Opening her wings, she glides along a thermal convection current into the capacious bay.  Her radar-eyes scan the icy waters that once ushered George Vancouver into the state.  The Discovery was the first of what would be a steadily growing number of vessels to make Discovery Bay their point of entry, leading many to believe it would be the largest shipping port on the west coast, until the Depression sucked the life out of the growing economy so quickly the rows of Victorian homes lining the shore did not have time to be torn down, leaving them frozen for several decades until a paper-fueled renaissance stirred the local economy again with the business of milling the very redwoods now surrounding the waters.

Ghosts of ships past dot the water, their heavy cloth sails unfurled, flapping in the breeze.  On the deck, the chatter of boots echoes against the cliffs as sailors discuss their months at sea, the wives they will return to, the women they intend to meet on shore, who might be buying the crates of tobacco they’re dropping off or the lumber they’re picking up, the newly established Freedmen’s Bureau in the South and how business might boom thanks to former slaves’ newly found buying power, and what a booming town this might one day be once the Northern Pacific Railroad connects.

The eagle circles the waters from above, her wings brushing away the faded hopes of old sea dogs, while a curious baby blue whale ambles through the breaks, startling a school of Pacific cod angling its way through the morning in search of food.  Hovering above the school, the eagle, talons extended, walks onto the surface of the bay, sending plumes of golden water straight up on either side.  She emerges from the mist clutching a fish, the bay’s sacrificial offering to its regal overseer.  She holds it firm as she sails to the shore, landing on a wide, flat rock lodged into the sand.  With a few final quivers, the fish struggles to wrestle itself free of the clutch of the bird, while the rest of the bay moves on.

Bandon, Oregon by Matt Stauffer

When I was thirteen years old

my grandparents drove me to Oregon:

Bandon by the bay.

I remember picking fresh blueberries in a field.

I’ve had blueberries on my cereal for years.

I remember undocking the boat,

kicking off into the cold Pacific waters,

my grandfather, Cal, and his friend Jack regaling me with their sea shanties

of a life long gone by: the days when people wore suits to fly on an airplane.

Jack told us about his home in Tucson—

how it’s too hot to go outside during the day,

but it’s perfect for sitting in your garage until dinner building rocking horses for your grandkids.

There is a cactus in their backyard,

a great saguaro, standing honorably in the sun.

A heady woodpecker made love to it, boring a hole right through the skin.

For weeks Jack and his wife Faye cursed the intruder and his vandalism of their beloved monument to the Old West.

Every morning Jack would stand on his back porch, coffee in hand,

while the woodpecker burrowed, ignorant of his presence.

And Jack would shake his head.

One day the bird moved out,

leaving an emptiness of character and a 12-foot cyclops standing in their yard,

staring vacantly into their past,

from sunrise to sunset.

Jack and Faye lamented the graffito left by the ruby-browed stranger,

which droned a drowsy, syncopated tune as the nighttime wind whipped across the desert, carrying the dissipated memories of cattle drives

and a river that used to flow here,

until one day an owl moved in,

illuminating the yard with her yellow halo-rimmed eyes.

Her bow-legs folded as she stood on the balcony of her new home, bowing to her hosts,

and then they sat out on the porch every night drinking wine

and remembering the years they spent in Saudi,

while the owl played her ballad to the stars.

“Let’s drop it here,” Pop said.

His arthritic fingers manipulated the old fish head,

whose eye stared back at us, as if asking for one

last story before bedtime.

It dangled from a treble hook in the center of the steel cage,

like some macabre chandelier at a party gone awry.

Then he chucked the pot over the side,

letting the rope slide through his steady,

calloused hands, as our fish drifted to the bottom to play his final song.

Refractory by David Backer

The story we usually hear about Sir Isaac Newton is that one day, by chance, an apple fell and hit him on the head and inspired the theory of gravity.

But it wasn’t chance that caused the apple to fall.

On that fine sunny day, he was leaning against the trunk of a tree playing with a glass prism. Newton caught a ray of sunlight in the prism and, just as the spectrum of colors spread out before him, a genie wearing a tweed jacket and a powdered wig arose out of the light.

"Hello!" it declared, "I am the Occidental genie!"

Newton was horrified. The possibility of a genie contained within the properties of light was inexplicable to his scientific mind. But Newton, assuring himself that there is a natural explanation for any observable phenomenon, regained his composure.

"Okay," he said, remembering something, "isn’t the man that frees a genie entitled to wishes?"

"Wishes?" asked the Occidental genie.

"Yes."

"For you?"

"Yes, for me."

The Occidental genie waited, rubbed his transparent chin, and said,

"Absolutely not."

"Why?" demanded Newton.

"Because I’m not that type of genie."

"Then what type of genie are you?"

"One that is nobody’s slave! I do indeed have wishes to give but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s inappropriate to just give people what they want whenever they ask for it. I like guessing what they want and then giving it to them."

"Can’t you make an exception?" Newton asked.

"Absolutely not," said the genie.

Newton paused, considering the situation.

"So what do I want?" he asked.

The Occidental genie floated close to Newton’s face and said, smiling,

"You want very badly to be hit in the head."

"I can honestly say I don’t want that," Newton responded.

"Yes you do," the genie insisted.

"No I don’t."

"Oh yes you do, believe me."

"Not a genie at all, really," Newton said Britishly, under his breath.

"Yes I am," the genie said.

Newton became annoyed.

"No, you’re certainly not," he said.

"Oh yes, I am," the genie persisted.

"No!"

"Yes."

"What kind of genie tells a man that he wants to be hit in the head?"

"One that’s nobody’s slave!" the Occidental genie chanted like an ancient song.

And with this the genie vanished upward into the center of the sun, becoming one with the rays of pure light streaming through the branches of the apple tree.

Frustrated with this encounter, Newton leaned back heavily against the trunk of the tree. When he did this, his back hit the trunk with just enough force to cause a ripe apple to fall from its branch and hit him on the head.

Summer Vacation by Anne B Wright

Daytime summers in southern New Mexico are brutal. Hot. A filmy layer of gritty dust settled on the tiled floor but I laid down on it anyway, just to feel something cooler than the air. This way I could see the spider webs in the corners where the walls met the ceiling. Even they were coated with bits of dust.

I looked forward to the evening when I could sit outside, under the roofed patio and watch the rain move across the desert, throwing up billows of dust in its path, flashes of lightning streaking the pastel violet sky.

Once I sat on the patio in the rain and I saw a dog walk toward me on long skinny legs. His paws were oversized and his eyes shone amber, or was it the setting sun reflecting sparks of yellow light? The dog plodded across the yard and sat in front of me, his long red tongue drooping from between white teeth, and sat his skinny haunches not ten feet from me.

I’d been drinking a beer from a glass and the sight of this dog froze me, my elbow bent, my lips wet with the sour beer taste. I thought I heard him say something but he was a dog, or was he a coyote, and I was a person, and I didn’t understand it. He lowered his head, and licked his paw, and I could see a spot of bright red blood between his toes.

I set my glass on the table and got up from my lounge, and a step at a time approached him. He let me come near and as I bent down, my hand outstretched, palm down to stroke him under his chin, he settled with a plop on his side and showed me his belly. Oh poor boy you have a thorn. I smoothed his paw in mine and picked with my nails until the sharp cactus spike fell onto the ground. The rain closed in on us, pellets of heavy water everywhere, and I watched him walk away until I could only see the white tip of his tail, disappearing into the dark.

Lion and Leopard by Anne B Wright

She used to think of him as a lion, with his great bushy head of blonde hair, and his massive chest, and the large paws that were soft and cushiony when he held her head in them. The friendly lion, who loved to eat barbecued ribs slathered in sauce, ripping the meat from the fragile bones, then licking his fingers with a long pink tongue.

Sometimes he licked her neck with that tongue, and it sent shivers along her body and she would grab him with both legs around his slim hips, and lay him on his back on the floor. Then he would smile at her, and his teeth, almost invisible in their sharp whiteness, would flash and he would play at biting her neck, just enough to tease.

She knew he loved her, but she knew he wasn’t the one. She liked the slender black leopard man who lived on the next block. His hair was slick and combed back shiny. He was dangerous in the way he moved, quiet and unassuming, quick and deadly.

If the leopard held her head in his paws, she knew his razor claws would leave marks on her cheeks. His yellow eyes lured her into his den and when he wrestled her down, and she wouldn’t move, even to breathe. She’d wait for him to close his eyes and drift asleep and then edge away. Still, she was never sure if he was really asleep.

She loved them both, lion man and leopard man. She ran away only because what stalked her began to burn.

All Writing is Confession by Anonymous


All writing is confession.
Masked and revealed in the voices and faces of our characters.
All is hunger.
The longing to be known fully and still loved. The admission of our own inherent vulnerability, our weakness, our tenderness of skin, fragility of heart.
Our overwhelming desire to be relieved of the burden of ourselves in the body of another — to be forgiven of our ultimate aloneness in the warm body of god or the common work of revolution.
These are human considerations that the best of writers presses her finger upon. The wound ruptures…

and heals.

………………….Note from the editor…………………….
Though this piece does not fall into the traditional definition of short fiction, it is an offering, an interruption of services so to speak in support of writers. And it is beautiful, no?
–Curly Red.

Zachary Fishel | CR Stories Interview


NS: You have this way of encapsulating the world through the eye of the writing (vs. author), which is quite something to pull off. There is a great book called The Object Stares Back where the author considers how the world changes as you give your attention to it. You do this very well in both of your pieces. It’s true flash fiction. Unselfconscious and true to form. Can you let us in on how you see the world, what inspires you to write in such a densely narrative fashion that transforms the reader?

Zach: I try to see the world in its subtleties, the ones that stare us in the face most often. I find myself more and more jotting down the way bubbles look in the first cup of coffee after a hangover, rather than focusing on the headache. Those are the things I try to target in my writing. There is always a metaphor, but I think that if as writers we can twist it an extra turn, it will stand alone and we won’t need to support it with extra lines. Specificity is the key or at least what I shoot for. I like to think I key in on things people miss sometimes.

NS: How much does writing drive you in your life? How do you incorporate it?

Zach: I write every day. Sometimes I manage to sit down and write three or four poems or maybe a short piece from my day, a lot like keeping a journal. When I’m busy, which seems to be more often than not, I write down things when I see them, and then later try to find them in my books or the back of my hand and compile them into a folder that I use as fodder for piecing things together. So writing is my thing, and I get quite anxious sometimes if I can’t get anything on a page. It’s a priority to everyday living for me.

NS: When did you first know you were a writer? What quirky things do you want to share about what inspires you to write?

Zach: I realized that I had a love for writing as a junior in high school, but I wouldn’t say that I felt like a writer until my sophomore year of college. I wrote poetry and performed it with a slam group on campus, and when I started getting approached the day after shows and thanked for saying something important it really hit me. That’s a major compliment to hear from a stranger, so I took it serious from then on. I find inspiration from two of my friends more often than not. They are just great people and we take road trips or hangout with a couple of six packs and talk about how life would be if we were in the fifties with the beats. I get a lot of inspiration from thinking about what other people see, so I people watch a lot, but I’m not a weirdo. I just place myself in their shoes and let it take me for a walk.

NS: What are your hopes and dreams of writing? 

Zach: I’m split between two major goals. One is to earn my PhD and work with a creative writing program teaching creative writing. The other is to own my own press or journal and publish writers and take them out on the road to tour and sell books. I think living on the road touring would be such an awesome and enlightening experience, which would surely fuel more to write about and prove that poetry isn’t dead.

NS: What compelled you to submit to CR Stories?

Zach: I was prompted to look CR up by a professor and mentor of mine, Laurie Cannady. After reading the winter and spring issues, I wanted to send in because the people who have written left something in my mind, and I wanted to be part of something that leaves that mental footprint. That is powerful writing, and thank you very much for including me in such a great caliber of writers. There is a certain simplicity in CR that sticks out and refreshes you I think, and that’s an awesome feeling.

NS: Authors you love and why?

Zach: My first poetry love was Charles Bukowski, I think he was strong as I began to develop as a writer. He is easy for anyone, even nonreaders to get into and he talks about real life situations. Jack Kerouac is my favorite novelist. They are both tattooed on me actually. My favorite present day poet is Derrick Brown, that guy is incredible and the way he writes makes me want to dance.

NS: Your writing pulls me in the way Henry Miller’s writing does. It has a pithy texture and a healthy strong heart. Anything you want to say about that?

Zach: There is nothing without heart. And I will be reading more Henry Miller now, thanks.

NS: Anything else you want to add?

Zach: Thank you so much for everything, I am really humbled and honored to be part of CR. I cant wait to see where the road takes me next. I plan on touring through the year while preparing for applications to Grad school. Other than that I just want to enjoy each day as it comes.

The Old Guy Who Used to Drink My Coffee by Zachary Fishel


Flat rimmed glasses rested on the crescent moon of a nose he had plastered on his face. He smoked three packs a day and rarely read anything other than hunting magazines, but he sat here in the library for hours in the steady hum of fluorescent lights and bleached floors. I often looked at the old man from the tops of the spines of Kerouac, Keats, and Twain because there was a mystery about him, like he was expelled from college for being too brilliant. His voice was raspy like Tom Waits if he drank sandpaper martinis, and he never checked anything out just read it in the library minding to return it to its proper place like a crooked necktie after the final page was turned.

Sometimes I could hear him muttering curses at the outdoor writers, like a 1970’s cynic pissed off about the latest critique of Howl. I brought the old man coffee, even though I never got a thanks. Most days I felt like a secretary bringing it to him, just doing what was needed done.

That old man died one day walking home with all of his bags. He was hit by a pickup full of returning college students. The write up in the paper said he was homeless, and that there was nobody to notify of his death. I called the morgue and volunteered to write his eulogy.

 

“Readers never forget that the worms always win, but they can’t touch the soul.”

Sometimes There Just Aren’t Enough Rocks by Zachary Fishel


I just wanted to know how she could hate me so much when all I ever wanted was to hold her like a magician in the inky nights of a January, unforgettable. I wasn’t a sweet reliable machine, but a broken mess like cigarette filters turned over in cans outside of courtrooms.

“I loved you, you know?” She said this in between sips of hot chocolate at a Starbucks across town, I walked through fifteen blocks to see her kick me in the face with those perfect Pointe toes. I loved her, more than any neo-theologian loved their self-made God, more than candy on Halloween and I just wanted to figure out how such a delicate flower could wield teeth like barbed-wire fences at Auschwitz, where snagging skin was the only love making available.

Nothing really happened so I told her that I hoped she had a good life, sorry things didn’t work, and drive safe. That last part was a lie, I wanted her to wreck into a train or something because I hated her for lying. I took her engagement ring back, All 900 dollars of it, and bought a mandolin, some books by Kerouac, and a bottle of rye whiskey that’s still unopened in the freezer. The end of the day went fine. I learned good poetry leads to bad breakups and sometimes you can’t give enough heart to someone with a concrete body.

Love Your Endowments by Stacey Dennick


Emily lifted up her t-shirt.  “Go ahead,” she said.  “Take a look.”

Where her breasts should have been, used to be, were twin scars, slanted like closed eyes.

“Can I touch?”  I asked.

“Sure”

I brushed a fingertip against the taut skin, my throat tightening with tears.  Another woman in the hallway stopped to see what we were doing.  Soon, she and several others from this retreat for women with cancer were exposing their chests, comparing, witnessing.

“Now let’s see yours,” Emily said.

I unhooked my bra and lifted my shirt.  A five-inch scar ran the length of my right breast, puckering the skin.   Once again, I was embarrassed by my extravagant endowment.  Some of these women had nothing, and here I was worrying about a scar.

“This is a scar,” Eva said.  She pulled her shirt up and her pants down to reveal a fat scar that split her belly in two, from just under the sternum to the top of her pubic bone.  She’d had colon cancer.

But the size of the scar wasn’t the point. I would rather have scars all over me than lose a breast.  A scar says accident, or surgical intervention.  A missing breast means you can never be naked again without screaming, “I had cancer!”  It scares people, and it’s not at all sexy.

I wasn’t one of those girls who anticipated the arrival of her chest, who couldn’t wait to be grown up.  One day a saleslady told me I needed a bra for Junior High and I wondered why.  The next, I filled a C cup.

“How did you get those scars?” my best friend said, indicating the cleavage popping out of my hot pink bikini.  She refused to believe the lines were stretch marks.

The agony and ecstasy of having big melons had begun.

At school, a boy that I had previously liked stared down my shirt and whispered to his friend in demeaning tones.  Grown men clicked their tongues and whistled.  Did they think I was a parrot?  By the time I was eighteen I filled a D cup.  I longed for perky, cupcake breasts, the kind that look great without a bra. No halter tops or strapless dresses for me, and forget about jogging.

Fibrocystic breast disease came later.   Painful mammograms turned to scary mammograms and then terrifying surgery.  I’d never been so glad to see leftie and rightie as when I woke up and felt them huddled together under the recovery room blanket.  When rightie healed enough for me to shower, I saw the scar that branded me as a “cancer survivor,” with its’ implied postscript of “For how long?”  How long until it returns, and an entire breast is removed?  How long until it spreads to my organs?  How long until I die like my mother did?

In the hallway at Harmony Hill Retreat Center, touching the spots where Emily’s breasts used to be, I wanted to cry for her, and for all the women who’d been mutilated, who like me, lived with fear and inadequate treatments.   Emily was stoic.  I hoped if I had to have a mastectomy, I would be too.

Ten years later my lumpectomy scar has faded until it’s barely visible amongst the stretch marks on my big, saggy, wonderful breasts.

I’ve learned breasts are like parents.  You don’t get to choose which ones you get.  You spend most of your life embarrassed by them, criticizing them and taking them for granted. They’re all imperfect, and some are deeply flawed, but when you almost lose one you really appreciate what you’ve got.

PEACE NOW by Anthony Christiansen


PEACE NOW the bumper sticker on her ’68 green Impala said in red, white, and blue.  Me and my hound Bobo were walking in the woods and came upon that mess of cars down by the Carmichael hay barn where the creek runs east.  Would’ve recognized it about anywhere, I figure.

The day Flower came by to pick up Bobby she’d just come back from that fancy girls’ college her daddy sent her to up North. Had to sneak over to our place when she came home at Christmas, too, because of what her daddy thought of Bobby. Looked all different with her tie-dyed shirt and blue jeans and moccasins and all. Tell the truth, I hardly recognized her. Bobby said she’d become a hippy up North. Standing there on the front porch, breeze dancing in her long blonde hair, throwing it in her face. Just smiled at Bobby, jingled her car keys at him.

Said I could come if I sat quiet in the back seat. Flower was driving and Bobby had a jar of that corn liquor from the Johnson still flickering like a diamond in the sunlight. He and Flower were sharing it and listening to Janis Something on the 8-track. Stopped down the river under the bridge going to Tuckersville. Smoking cigarettes and something else too. Smelled funny like when Daddy burns the fields.

Told me to stay in the car and listen to the music. They walked off a little way. I still remember them kissing while they took off their clothes. If I stretched over the seat I could see them squirming in the grass, naked and white as the clouds reflecting in the slow brown river. Looked like they were wrestling, but hell, what did I know? Was only six.

I never even saw them drive up, they were so hushed. Heard the shots and saw Flower’s daddy and her brother standing over the other side of the river. I stayed still and got myself real close to the floor. Just fired and turned around, got back into their red truck as quiet as they’d come. Never knew I was there.  All I remember is how quiet it got after those shotguns cracked through the woods,  Even the cicadas stopped their buzzing.  I knew I’d be okay if I could crawl up into that quiet and stay there.

Sat there about an hour that afternoon. Yep, same old car with the PEACE NOW sticker peeling off.  Here’s the ashtray with the cigarette butts. 8-track with the tape still sticking in it. Janis Joplin. Pearl. Smells the same too. Gasoline and red vinyl. All the same but for this moss growing on the dashboard and the rust on the hood out the cloudy windshield. Murky and heavy like my dreams when I get myself real tired. Oh, and look here, Bobo, here’s that old jar.

Walked home that afternoon when I realized Bobby and Flower weren’t getting up any more. Sheriff never knew what happened and they never even knew I was there, not even Momma and Daddy. Never dawned on them it could’ve been Flower’s daddy and brother. Momma and Daddy never knew why I’d stopped talking that day, just thought it was from missing my big brother, Bobby. Never spoke a word since. Never knew the car was over here.

Sometimes I see Flower’s daddy and brother over the Piggly Wiggly when I’m spending my food stamps. Just put my head down and keep on walking, crawling a little bit further up into the quiet. PEACE NOW.

Debra Gordon Zaslow | CR Stories Interview

NS: 57 Chevy. Something that fascinates and draws me into your prose is the feeling of being in a richly textured world with hilarious, straight talking characters. Can you say a little about your use of language; visual detail in contrast to the story your characters tell in blunt tones?

Debra: I couldn’t have created a more fitting name for our tract subdivision than “Storybook Lane.” I think the details of glossy chrome fins and repetitive floorplans reflect the air of unreality that we breathed every day in that whitewashed “utopia.”  But the sun couldn’t wash out the truth of the families in the houses.  Going back as a writer, though, the memories take on a heightened quality. I wanted to contrast my grandma’s negativity with our updated lives, so the scene with Bonnie on the porch was born. I wish I could say that I plan every detail to create an effect, but I think it’s like painting, you go in with an open mind and what wants to come out, emerges. Oh, look—this is turning out to be a picture of me stuck in the middle of two worlds.  I had to shorten the piece for your word limit, which ultimately made the piece stronger. When you take out extra words, the visual details and dialogue emerge more sharply, and then they tell the story themselves.

NS: Please tell us a bit about when you connected to ‘story’ as a part of your life and what that means to you now. I feel a deep culture of family and connectedness as I read your work. I want to hear a bit more about those roots.

Debra: Before becoming a writer, I was, and still am, a professional storyteller– telling oral stories to audiences. I started with folktales, progressed to stories of strong women, and have ended up telling Jewish spiritual stories, often blended with my personal stories. I can’t seem to avoid mixing the archetypal with the personal  in both my storytelling performances and in my writing . They seem to want to jump out and embrace each other, so I just let them.

Writing memoir became a way to further discover the ancestral stories that live in my bones.  No matter what I sit down to write about, the stories of my family that have shaped me, still want to be explored.  I can sit and meditate for hours until the voices  and stories in my head are quiet, but when I sit down at the keyboard, they come up for a heyday. Since my memoir, Bringing Bubbe Home, is about taking care of my 103 year-old grandma in the months before her death, I’ve had to take a close look at the roots of my family, especially the way the toxins and gifts have flowed down through the women. A warning about writing memoir, though: It can be very uncomfortable when you re-imagine family stories in detail. Ouch! Hopefully the result is that you make it into art, and that transforms how you feel about it.

NS: Richfield. This one has a nice surly tone to it. Again a sense of grit and another mention of the San Fernando Valley. I almost feel though that you grew up in some marginal desert town. Can you say a bit about the way your work touches upon the banality of various character? You get very close to these people in your image detail. I’m fascinated.

Debra: Well, how about a marginal orchard town? When we moved to the valley in ’56 it was just after the orange groves were bulldozed to make room for the suburbs. So there was sun and warmth with a palpable sense of agriculture lurking under the dichondra lawns.  The spray-glow patina barely coated the humans, though– just  rub gently, and there were those characters. I was drawn to the people  on the periphery of our world, who lived in their bodies and had sweat and sex. There was a sense of class differentiation that we couldn’t talk about, but I looked at our gardeners and mechanics, and it seemed like they were having more fun than we were.

NS: Your favorite authors and why, what touches you specifically?

Debra: I’d like to say some classical authors that I started out on, but actually I’ve almost forgotten them. Since MFA school, I’ve been reading a  lot of memoir. I’ve especially liked Kim Barnes, who writes in an earthy, but lyrical way about growing up in the west; Mary Karr, who makes a dysfunctional family so engaging with her hilarious scenes, and Abigail Thomas who writes so sparely that it’s a zen experience. Each of them is unique in their style, but they all move me with their experiences seen through a woman’s eye.

NS: Your ability to convey the visual in your work is really strong. Are you also a painter?

Debra: No, actually, but I do think in visual terms. I’m a bird-watcher, always going out with my binoculars and getting very excited about the stripe on a bird’s wing or the shape of the ring around an eye. Sometimes I wonder, though, how much of the detail I remember in writing is accurate, or my imagination.

NS: What you are up to now and what do you have planned for 2010 for your writing career?

Debra: I’m still spending time looking for an agent to champion my memoir, although I’ve slowed down on that a bit. In the meantime I’m writing short pieces and hoping to get some published so I can get paid for writing!

Pumping at The Richfield by Debra Gordon Zaslow

I pull into the Shell station and edge my car up to the pump.  I always have to think which side my tank is on, which wrenches me out of the muddled reverie that my brain is in when I drive.  A young man in a red shirt leans toward me and says, "What can I get for you?"

I answer, "Fill it up with Ethyl."  He stares back at me blankly.  It is 2001.  He has never heard of Ethyl, and he doesn’t think I’m funny.

He never met George and his wife, Lee, the owners of the Richfield station on the corner of Nordhoff and Sepulveda  in the San Fernando Valley where I grew up. We knew them so well that nobody in our family even had to show them our Richfield Card.  "Just charge it to my parents,” I’d say breezily to George, as if he and Lee were our best friends and the station was in our back yard.

I don’t know how old George was. The Southern California sun had braised his cheeks brown and burnished lines into a web around his black eyes. He could have been Italian or Greek, but we didn’t know him that well. He was a compact man with short hairy arms who walked easy, like he owned his body. Not like my parents’ real friends who were pale and paunchy from sitting at desks and moved as if their bodies were rented equipment.

George and Lee lived outdoors and smelled of sweat and gasoline, an odor that still intoxicates me.   My first husband, a blond Lutheran man from a working class family as far from my Jewish, intellectual origins as possible, worked in a gas station the first year of our marriage.  He would come home at noon smelling of sour sweat and Ethyl gasoline, and we would make love before we ate lunch.

George’s wife, Lee, wore men’s trousers and a blue shirt, and carried an oily rag in her pocket to wipe oil from a dipstick before she leaned over and plunged it nonchalantly into an engine. Even in her boxy uniform, you could see her curvy shape, but she tucked her curves into her trousers as naturally as she eased that oily rag back into her pocket, with just the red end peeking out.  Lee’s face, like George’s, was tanned hard and rough like a piece of jerky, but she always rimmed her dark eyes thickly with Maybelline, and slicked her black hair into a pony tail, that swung with the rhythm of her walk.

I wonder now what Lee and George must have thought of my parents, who entrusted them totally with a series of Ramblers, DeSotos, and Lincoln Continentals. The Gordons, who gave their fashionably tanned teenage daughters their own cars as soon as they could drive, and instructed them to go to the Richfield station and tell George or Lee to charge it.  Maybe they didn’t think about us at all. They were busy changing oil and pumping gas, and letting the sun etch their faces.

      The Young attendant in the red shirt at the Shell station continues to stare at me.  I shrug, "I guess ‘Ethyl’ was before your time."  He smiles condescendingly, the way only a 19-year-old can, and rolls his eyes, just slightly.  I glance around.  Lee and George are nowhere to be seen.  They’ve probably gone home to rub their tough, oily skins together and make love before lunch. 

"Just fill it with regular unleaded," I say, " and put it on my Visa."

’57 Chevy by Debra Gordon Zaslow

My grandparents have come over to show us their new, ‘57 Chevy, smooth yellow, with glossy chrome trim. The San Fernando Valley heat rises off the sleek fins, as we stand at the curb and marvel.  My parents and sisters and I look like any suburban family. With our bright shorts and sunglasses, you could match us with any of the tract houses in “Storybook Lane,” where the floor plans repeat every fourth house. My grandparents don’t fit. Grandpa wears rumpled wool trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, while Grandma has on a worn flowered dress with a handkerchief tucked into the bosom.

She doesn’t approve of anything he does, but this extravagance has her really steamed. Grandpa, a solid man with a perpetual smirk and breath that smells of old cigars, lets us touch the white vinyl upholstery, roll the windows, and switch the radio to KRLA Top-40, while Grandma grumbles.

“Our legs vil stick to dat seat in dis heat,” she says, as if it were a slow death by a tropical disease. We ignore her as we explore the new Chevy.

“If he plays da radio ven vere driving, ve’ll get in an eccident.” When no one responds, she adds, “Dat’ll be da end of us.”

When we cram in for a test-drive, Grandma turns away. My father calls, “Come on, Ma, come with us!” He calls her Ma, although she’s my mom’s mother, and never raises his voice no matter how irritating she gets. I figure this is because he’s not related to her by blood.

Grandma glances back, and I see the flicker of a half-smile on her face. It would be fun, wouldn’t it, to squeeze in with your grandchildren in a new Chevy and careen around the block with the radio blaring? I think I see that on her face, but she smoothes her hair, and adjusts her face into a scowl. “Youse kids go if you vant. Hev a good time.”

After lunch when my friend, Bonnie, comes over to ask me to play, Grandma hollers, “Vere are you going?”

“To ride bikes.”

“You just ate. You desn’t go till you digest.”

“That’s swimming, Grandma, that can give you cramps. We’re bike riding, and I hardly ate anything.”

“You didn’t eat a helty lunch?”

“I am healthy, Grandma.” I glance at the screen door. Bonnie stands on the porch, out of Grandma’s view, her arms raised like claws, her teeth bared, “EAT HELTY,” She hisses, then clutches her side, giggling.

“I gotta go.” I try to keep a straight face.

“Take a jecket. You’ll get cold.”

“No, it’s hot out,” I say, knowing it’s useless to argue. Bonnie does a polar bear imitation on the porch, shivering. “Only NINETY DEGREES today under all this FUR,” she growls.

“Anyway, exercise is healthy, Grandma! See you later!”

She nods, but I know she’ll have the last word, “If you dunt get exxersize, honey, you’ll get fet, like your modder.”

I slam the door. Bonnie waddles on the porch, her hands circling her belly. “OY,  I VISH I GOT SUM EXXERSIZE,” she moans.

I hear my mother yelling from inside. I know she heard Grandma say she’s fat and now they’re going to go at it.

We push our bikes down the driveway, then hop on and start to pedal. Bonnie passes me, her hair flapping behind her like a flag. She balances on her seat, then shoots both hands out to her sides.

“Look, Ma, no hands!” she screams.

I hold on tight to both handlebars. If I let go, I know I will fall.

The Mexican Crib Crisis by Lupe Fernandez


October 1962- In a little brown house, Salvador, lying on his baby belly, turns face down. The crib mattress presses into his face. His breathing stops. In the living room, his parents watch a special television broadcast. His mother, Claudia, interprets the dire news into Spanish for her husband, Tomás. A black and white image of President John F. Kennedy announces the blockade of the Cuba to stop Soviet atomic missiles from sprouting on the former casino island paradise. Premier Khrushchev intends to keep his promise of burying America.

Salvador’s pressed lips dribble salvia onto a white bed sheet. If Salvador doesn’t start breathing in three minutes, his tiny brain will starve from oxygen deprivation. His chubby cheeks will turn blue and his heart will stop beating. He will be among the millions of babies who die mysteriously in the crib.

If neither Uncle Sam nor the Red Bear blink, a destroyer will be torpedoed or a submarine will be sunk in the warm, azure Caribbean waters. The missiles will fly and the nuclear equation will incinerate everything.

Salvador turns his head, flexes his tiny fingers and sucks in a gush of air.

The Russians dismantle their launch sites and go home. The Yankees promise not to invade Cuba.

The world breathes again.

Seven Days Ago by Lupe Fernandez


Seven days ago, a paroled pedophile was arrested for loitering at St. Augustus Elementary School. Seven days later, I was taking photos on a scorching summer afternoon Hermosa Beach, near the restored pier.  The black barrel my vintage 1988 Canon A-1 zoom lens focused on a sweaty man digging a hole in the sand. As I snapped the image, a four year old blond boy, face plastered with sand, crossed into view. Click.

“Excuse me.” A curly blond woman in a one piece black bathing suit padded up to me. “Who’re you with?” She smiled politely

“With?” Was she picking up on me? I looked at her and then my camera. “No. Not with a newspaper if that’s what you mean.” I cradled my Canon in both hands. “This is just for fun.”

“Fun?”

“Fun,” I nodded.

“Steven!” The blond boy plodded up to his mother with a bucket full of sand. The mother hugged him tight and glared at me. “This is my boy.”

I shifted my bare feet in the hot sand. The mother backed away from me, clutching her son.

“Oww…!” The boy squirmed under her wiry arms. “That hurts.”

“I was aiming for him.” I pointed to the hole further up the beach. I shuffled toward the hole. “He was in here.” The pit was empty. Tracks led toward the swirling surf.

The mother stabbed her finger toward the sand. “Leave the camera there.”

“What?” Cameras and sand don’t mix. “No. What for?”

“Have those pictures developed,” she said, “and we’ll see what for.”

“Crazy woman.” I turned away and marched toward the pier.

“Help!” The mother shouted. “Somebody help!”

I spun around. She retrained her boy with her right arm and rocked her left fist in the air. “Molester! Child molester!”

A crowd of sunbathers and volleyball athletes heeded her call and gathered about her, casting me with wary eyes. I smiled and waved. Bare feet pounded the sand as the crowd chased me. Pressing my Canon to my chest, I scampered under the pier. Maybe I should have snapped a few photos for evidence. The charging mass of flailing arms and outraged faces surrounded me. I twisted into the surf against the mollusk encrusted pilings. A wave splashed over me, drenching the Canon. I stopped, furious at the pursuers. Two flabby belly men pulled me under the surf and kicked me. Water choked down my throat.

A chiseled faced Life Guard pulled me out of the water. Canon A-1 lost. Shore patrol zoomed up in an SUV. Plastic cuffs squeezed around my wrists. I declared my innocence in the Hermosa police station lockup. Due to lack of evidence, the district attorney failed to press charges.

Seven days ago, KCLA broadcast a segment titled CHILD STALKERS.  Taking photos of children at beaches was a common tactic used by predators to select their next victims. Though my shots were lost in the ocean, my grey-bearded, balding drenched face appeared on countless websites via cell phone cameras, next to the outraged mother clinging to her cherubic son.

I sat in my studio, surveying my color prints of urban landscapes, Art Deco architecture, and female body studies. The e-mail and answering machine used to be crammed with client requests.

Now, nobody will talk to me.