Sugar by Alan Semrow


            When I asked, she said her name is Sugar and that it costs extra to touch any part of her body. A lot of extra—like, don’t do it, she said. It’s forbidden. Security will have me out in one shake of a lamb’s tail. I told her I’m a nice guy, that I really do just want to hang out.

            I’m in one of their private rooms. It’s got mirrored walls, a mirrored ceiling, really uncomfortable pleather seating, and the eye in the sky. The sign outside is fluorescent pink. The front window is just a huge fish tank filled with little Nemo’s. Sugar dances on top the center table, starts removing her lacey blouse. She says, “So what are you into?”

            “Bret Easten Ellis and Fiona Apple.”

            Sugar bends over and lets me have a glance at the thong she’s wearing under her itty bitty skirt. She puffs out, “Who?”

            “Never mind,” I say, paying just a hair of attention as she dips low and comes back up, dips low and comes back up.

            Sugar dances around in her ultra-high silver heels—a little half-circle. She faces me. “What kind of kinky things do you do?”

            “Just the usual,” I reply.

            “To women my age?”

            “Not usually.”

            Sugar laughs. “You know I’m old enough to be your mother, right?” The slinky music booms behind me, behind Sugar.

            “That’s a theory. I’m not that young. You’d be glad to know.”

            Sugar’s pink, lacey blouse falls from her arms. She steps off the table so her breasts are in my face. I stay seated, looking into her eyes. “Look at you,” she says.

            I look to the wall of mirror across the tiny room. I am sexy. I am strong. I am a man. I nod up at her. I tell her, “I really can’t touch you?”

            “I’m old enough to be your mother.”

            “I’ll pay extra. I want to fuck.”

            Sugar turns away and dances back up to the top of table. She bends low, popping her knees out, begging me to stare directly at her cunt. I don’t.

            Sugar mutters, “I don’t fuck my clients.”

            “Your clients?” I ask. “Don’t you have a boss?”

            She bends forward, graces her delicate hand through my thin bangs. Sugar whispers, “One day, honey. You’ll learn about what it means to be the boss.”

            Sugar flips away from me—her blonde wig, looking almost is if it’s floating through the air in slow motion. I tell her, “I want to be the boss. I want to be the boss of you.”

            “When’s the last time you had sex?” Sugar asks, back still turned at me.

            “I can’t say.”

            “It was a long time ago, wasn’t it?”

            “Not really.”

            “See,” she says. “I do plenty of things for money, but if you’re looking for that, you probably came to the wrong place. None of the girls here are allowed to fuck. It’s protocol.”

            “You have some kind of a guidebook or something?”

             Sugar turns. “You’d be amazed, wouldn’t you?” She points a finger at my nose and touches it. “You’re clever, hey? You some kind of a writer.”

              “Oh,” I laugh. “If only. If only, Sugar.”

              Her back faces me. She removes her top, her bra. She’s got smooth skin—smooth like what those soy milk commercials make their product out to be. “I’m too old for you anyway.”

              “Nah.” The slinky music booms—heavy, sexy bass.

              “Tell me what you want me to do.”

               “Turn around, bitch.”

               Sugar spins around. I look at her breasts. I look down. I say, “Lift your right leg up as far as it can go.” She does as told. Her expression, it says virtually nothing—just that she’s still in charge, that she reads me. That she has already made up her mind.

               “What else?”

               “Let me touch your breast.”

               “No can do.” Sugar looks me in the eyes and grins.

               “What would happen?”

               “Security would see you.” Sugar points one of her glazed, manicured nails to the ceiling. I look up. I already know it’s there—the eye in the sky. “They’d kick your ass out of here before you could even blink.”

             “Don’t men treat you terribly, Sugar? Is this really a fulfilling life?”

             “You want me to take my skirt off?” she asks. “You know I’d be happy to do that right this very moment for you, mister. Show you my thong.”


             Sugar shakes her head, rolls her eyes. “Whatever.”

             I remove a hundred dollar bill from my pant pocket and lay it lightly on the table she dances on. Sugar bends over to take the money. She says, “Thank you.”

             “You have a boyfriend?”

             “I have a kid. That’s what I have right now.”

             “You have small feet, you know. I could be your daddy-yo, you know.”

             Mom left too early. She didn’t even give Dad a chance. I don’t know—I still don’t even remember much, the things we did together.

             I do know, though, she smelled like basil. She always smelled like basil. I don’t know what it is. It’s just I can’t really eat Italian food.



Alan Semrow’s work has been featured in over 30 publications. He has a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Apart from writing fiction, he is a singer-songwriter, artist, poet, music and literature geek, playwright, screenwriter, and professional copywriter. He is also a volunteer reader for Black Heart Magazine and is a Guest Fiction Editor for the Summer Issue of Five Quarterly. Semrow has compiled his best fiction into a collection of short stories, called You Kill Me (currently unpublished). In his free time, he likes to be with his boyfriend, friends, family, and Shih Tzu, Remy. His blog can be found at



Vincent by Molly Guinn Bradley

We’re at the bar and he’s been sitting alone, or maybe with the two other people at his left, but it becomes evident that if he’s there with them, they’re not speaking to him.

Without a word he pulls up a chair beside our table. 

“Carry on,” he says, with a wave of his hand. “Carry on. I’m just listening.”

His name is Vincent, he says. He’s from France. From Paris, specifically. He’s living in the twelfth arrondissement, where, he says, he is very happy — “Because the tourists haven’t gotten to it yet?” we ask — but no: because, in the twelfth, he has found his people. He has his butcher, his fishmonger, his vegetable man. He has his barber and his wine shop. He is surrounded by the things he needs that he knows he could get. He doesn’t want for anything outside of his little world. 

I go with him alone outside for a cigarette. He asks me about my time in Paris. I tell him where I’ve lived. 

“I love the Parc Monceau,” I say, and he makes a face like he’s retching. 

“Too boring. Too bourgeois,” he says, and I laugh because his accent when he says bourgeois is an attempt at an American accent attempting to adopt a French accent, and it comes out more or less as a Spanish accent. 

He tells me again about his butcher and baker, his barber and mailman. I don’t remind him he’s already told me. 

“So what are you doing in Toronto?” I ask. 

“I’m here to bury my father,” he says. 

It’s not that I think he’s lying, but it strikes me as strange that he’d toss this off so casually. 

“That’s very literary,” I say. 

My cigarette goes out. He helps me relight it. The intimacy of the side of his hand against my face, protecting the cigarette, makes me laugh again and the lighter won’t light. I throw the cigarette in the gutter. 

“It’s maybe very bold,” he says, “but I fancy you.” 

“You what?” 

He repeats it, quickly, so that I almost miss it again. 

“You don’t even know me,” I say. 

“I fancy you,” he says again. 

“Do you mean you’re attracted to me?” 

“I mean I think that maybe also you should fancy me,” he says. 

He pulls me into the alcove of the doorway of the laundromat next door to the bar. My shoulders are against the cold metal of the grate barricading the door. He’s only holding me by the hand, but with a small motion he somehow compels my body toward his and he kisses me, quick but long enough for our lips to lock in, satisfying like a good finger snap. 

I pull away and say, “I can’t do that.” 

I say, “I’m in love right now.” 

He gives me a strange smile. 

“I’m with someone right now,” I clarify. 

“You’re engaged,” he says, still smiling. 

“No,” I say, and for a second looking at him I lose track of why what I’m saying is important at all. 

“So fancy me,” he says. 

“I think you’re using that word wrong,” I say. 

We stand there, I on the little stoop of the doorway, he on the street just a step below, looking at me with that smile on his face like he knows something I don’t about the way I feel right now. Or the way he wants me to feel right now. Or just the way he thinks I should, and wants me to, behave right now, regardless of feeling. 

“I can’t,” I repeat, “I’m in love right now,” and I realize I’m not sure with whom.




Molly Guinn Bradley is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her work has appeared on The Toast, The Equals Record, Splitsider, and Defenestration Mag. She enjoys long walks along the dirty, dirty Hudson.

A Previous Life by Donal Mahoney

        It was their wedding night and Priya didn’t want to tell her new husband all about it but Bill kept asking where she had learned to walk like that. Finally she told him it was inherited from a previous life, a life she had lived many years ago in India, not far from Bangalore. She had been a cobra kept in a charmer’s basket.

        When the charmer found a customer, usually a Brit or Yank, he would play his flute and Priya would uncoil and rise from the basket. Her hood would swell and she would sway as long as the customer had enough money to keep paying the charmer. She never tried to bite a customer but some of the men weren’t the nicest people in the world. You think they would know better than to tease a cobra.

        Being a charmer's cobra was Priya’s job for many years until she finally grew weary of the tiny mice her keeper would feed her so she bit him and he died. His family had Priya decapitated but she was born again later in a small village, this time as a human, a baby girl. After she matured into a young woman, she had a walk, men said, reminiscent of a cobra's sway.

        Priya told Bill she had been married many times in India, England and the United States but always to the wrong man. She would give the men time to correct their behavior but none did. As a result of their failure, she bit them with two little fangs inherited from her life as a cobra. They were hidden next to her incisors. Death was almost instantaneous.

        No autopsies were ever performed. Death by natural causes was always the ruling. Priya, however, would move to another state or country before marrying again. 

        She told Bill she hoped he would be a good husband because she didn’t want to have to move again. She wanted to put down roots and have children. She was curious as to whether they would walk or crawl or maybe do both. But Bill had heard enough. He was already out of bed, had one leg in his tuxedo pants and soon was running down the hall of the 10th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel. He had his rented patent leather shoes in one hand and an umbrella in the other in case he ran into a monsoon.



Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has had fiction and poetry published in various publications in the U.S. and elsewhere. Among them are The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Commonweal, The Galway Review (Ireland), Bluepepper (Australia), The Osprey Journal (Wales), Public Republic (Bulgaria), and The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey).

Nervous Girl / Whiskey Shot by Johnny Darlin


Johnny Darlin is an electronic rock musician based in Brooklyn, NY and Little Rock, AR devoted to infusing pop music with an much-needed shot of queer love. He released his debut EP Mr. Monogamy on November 15, 2014 after three years of preparation with producers Francis Steakknife and Tommy Cormier. He is the brainchild of writer/pianist Michael Doshier who graduated from the Tisch School of the Arts in 2013 with a degree in Dramatic Writing. You can listen and download the EP for free at; follow him at, or

Charlotte's World by Edith G. Boyd

       Charlotte Evans was a fifty year old bartender.

       "Whiskey on the rocks," Frankie said, as he adjusted the sound on the remote. "Did your ears get shot off on duty?" Charlotte asked him as she added ice to his drink. " My pension doesn't say anything about hearing loss, Charlie."  

     The ritual was well established. Frankie would use the nickname she hated, and  play the role of tough ex-cop. He had been a cop, but he faked the tough.

     Tom arrived and Charlotte placed his beer at his spot before he sat down. Some guests wanted their drinks without asking. Others did not.

     "I felt like I hit a grand slam in the bottom of the thirteenth, first pension check I got," Frankie told Tom and the couple at the high top behind him.  Any hearing person in his vicinity heard about Frankie's pension.

      Since Rocco's arrival, Charlotte preferred anything Frankie said to Rocco's comments. "Broad's too old for this place."  "She must be giving the house away...Why else would they come?"  The owner hired Rocco to spy on long time employees, like Charlotte. He counted the cash drawers often, making sure no money was pilfered by her or the other bartenders. His was also the job of watching to see that the regulars didn't get that extra drizzle of brew or spirit.

      Making sure the busboys emptied a trash can or two should be his job, Charlotte thought.  The patrons walked to the bar in the city, lending little harm to Charlotte's topping off here and there. Soot-stained overalls made their way to see her before the trudge to their row houses or apartments.  She felt respected by the guys who worked with their bodies, laying bricks or painting roofs. A few offered Rocco a short trip outside when he uttered a rough remark about her. They also understood that their tips were her paycheck.

       Charlotte had worked in fancy clubs where the guests signed for her service, often leaving her struggling to pay her rent on time. She felt at home with Frankie and Tom, and most of her regulars. She also felt his presence, the little face, no bigger than an orange, who arrived in a hospital three blocks from here, thirty years ago.

       She allowed her parents to influence her decision to let him go, not knowing the price of such a loss. Each year since, most keenly the day in July, punctuated with fireworks,  Charlotte grieved the loss of her son. Having given up on his interest in finding her, she felt comfort working close to the site of his arrival.

       "Those rocks glasses aren't going to wash themselves, lady," Rocco said, just when the owner stopped by to check out the place. She really didn't fear the owner, as she had outlasted too many managers to count.  But she could feel herself coloring and turning from her visitors, ignoring Rocco while he sauntered by.

        "She's home spending my pension. 'Home shopping' thing on TV," Frankie told the couple to his left. Charlotte noticed Frankie's failure to charm. Unusual.



              The clatter coming from the restaurant caught everyone's attention.

              "Man down! Call 911!" 

              Servers gathered around a booth. Charlotte came out from behind the bar. Rocco's fists were pounding the chest of a hulk of a man, and Charlotte rushed over to help him. She reached under Rocco's fists and took over the chest thumping.

             Rocco gave her a break, just when the stretcher arrived banging into a dessert cart, spilling some gooey contents onto the floor.

           Rocco. kneeling beside the booth, locked eyes with Charlotte. "Nice work, Charlotte." She noticed he called her by name. Frankie helped them up. "Force could of used you two. Saved the sucker's life."

       The sucker played high school football with Rocco. Played better than Rocco. Got a partial scholarship to Michigan and played until he blew out his knee in junior year. Charlotte learned all this at the end of her shift. Rocco had closed the place after the episode, amidst complaints from the servers that he was starving their children or keeping Pebbles from the vet. The young ones, living with their parents, took their freedom out back, stinking up the dumpster area with the strong smell of weed.

            Frankie asked Charlotte to join the fellows for a drink. She stared him down better than many of his perps. "The big guy wants you there," Frankie whispered to her, his breath smelling of the cigarette he stepped outside to smoke. Good thing Frankie's not near the dumpster, Charlotte thought. Her hands were trembling as she poured a draft beer to join the men at the bar.

            Tom and Frankie provided the buffer she needed. One life-saving CPR session didn't wash away the ill will she felt for her boss. But Frankie had a way with her that she couldn't resist. He also knew about the little treasure she had given up that summer, long ago.

           "Where'd you learn CPR?"  Rocco leaned forward on the bar to see past the guys.

           "I have a life, Rocco." Charlotte hoped he could picture her sipping wine in an evening dress, hitting tennis balls at he club, or even playing cards with friends.

            "Charlotte isn't married to this place, Rocco. My buddies who guard the hospital told me your buddy came through O.K. Hooked up like an octopus but gonna make it." Her actual name uttered twice in one evening. Did emergencies soften people?

            Her hands still trembling, she listened to the football stories around her.

            The blocking that Rocco and Matt did, so the running backs could weave their figure eights to the goal line. "He was better than me though...stood out enough to get him to Michigan," Rocco told the guys.

            Knowing she was not expected to talk football gave Charlotte the chance to imagine her son bobbing and weaving down the field. Maybe a quarterback, lean and quick-witted like her dad. Or a musician with long fingers massaging piano keys, or strumming a guitar. Or maybe he became a teacher, inspiring students, planting memories in them when their hearts were open,  in harmony with life.  When her fantasies took her to images of his being a junkie or a thief, she grabbed a bar rag and began to wipe it clean.

            She realized she had forgotten to clock out of her shift. No more time cards in a clunky basement machine. She had to go back to the computer to punch in her worker number. The guys continued to tell their war stories. The episode had rocked them all. Before Charlotte grabbed her jacket to walk home, she took the bar rag over to the gooey spot on the floor next to the dessert cart. Rocco said, "I've got it, Charlotte."

            Awakened by a noisy truck, Charlotte fixed herself a cup of instant coffee. While trying to read the paper, she felt distracted and restless. She decided to call City Hospital to check on her patient. Rocco had referenced his last name in some of his tales. Before placing the call, Charlotte checked the adoption website, a habit as natural to her as breathing.

            The harried hospital phone operator put her on hold, coming back on the line with a room number and a condition: stable. Rarely impulsive, Charlotte surprised herself. She decided to visit Matt Wilson. Although she would prefer to wear her sneakers, she chose her dressy black slacks and shoes. She didn't know why she was doing this, but it felt right.

            She boarded a bus for the short trip remembering to bring the exact change. She chose a seat in the front, next to a man in a business suit, his face tight, his lips pinched together. A stench  of garbage entered through the electronic double doors. Charlotte looked through the wide windows in the front of the bus and saw they were behind a city garbage truck.

            Regretting her outfit, she knew she could get to the hospital quicker in her sneakers and jeans. At least I won't miss my stop, Charlotte thought as the garbage truck rumbled along in front of them. The streets were too narrow for the bus to advance.

            She looked past the man beside her to see two spiked-hair teenaged boys approaching an elderly woman, her purse clutched tightly to her chest. They pointed to the light and stopped her from advancing into traffic, then continued on their way, their baggy jeans hanging loosely on their skinny butts.

            The bus driver announced the stops in advance of his pulling over to the curb.

            "City Hospital next," he said as she felt her stomach rumble as the bus pulled right in front of the entrance. The building was large and imposing. She nearly froze in her seat as the bus driver repeated "City Hospital. One stop only." She got up from her seat and descended the steps of the bus and walked into the lobby.

            A blast of cold air hit her as she walked over to the large oval desk marked Visitors.

            "License, please."  the young woman behind the desk said, looking bored and a little hostile. As Charlotte fumbled through her wallet for her license, the woman said "Patient name" and Charlotte straightened her shoulders and said "Matthew Wilson" as if she and Matt were good friends. The receptionist looked at the the license, then up at her, and wrote Charlotte Evans on a sticky name tag. She handed the tag to Charlotte, all of her stubby fingers adorned with rings, her wrists jingling with bangle bracelets. "Room 404. Go left."

            In striking contrast to the sullen receptionist, Charlotte was greeted by a perky teenager, a hospital volunteer, to escort her to the elevator. Double doors swooshed open for them and she nearly gagged on the  antiseptic odor of the hospital corridor, barely concealing the scent of  sweat and urine. The youngster appeared immune from scents, bouncing along with her golden curls like cork screws swaying down to her waist. Another set of doors and they were back in the lobby area. " I'm new." Carlie said. Charlotte didn't mind the detour as she felt nervous and ridiculous for visiting this stranger.

            When the elevator stopped on the fourth floor, she got out and saw the signs directing her to the lower numbers, Room 404. Having the detour prepared her for the peculiar hospital scents. She squared her shoulders and approached the room, her heels clicking along the hard floors. Rm. 404 Wilson, M., the name stuck into the plastic holder.

            Not quite an octopus, Charlotte thought as she peeked into the private room. He did have a small tube in his nose extending to a wheeled machine with a screen next to him. He noticed her instantly, giving her no time to retreat from her fool's mission.

            "Mr. Wilson? I'm Charlotte Evans. We met last night at The Beacon."

            "That Charlotte? Who helped Rocco? You just missed him" he said as if being pumped back to life were an every day happening. He beckoned her over to shake his hand which was calloused and strong. He gave her a hearty handshake and looked directly into her eyes. Losing his bluster, he bit back his lower lip and said "Thank you. You and Rocco saved my life.'

            "Mr. Wilson."


            " I can't explain why I'm here, but I'm glad I came. You look pretty good. What are the doctors saying?'

            "That I had a heart attack and I'm lucky to be here. But with the right meds, I should be here to meet my grandkids." With that, his wife walked into the room and Charlotte excused herself. After a short introduction, she backed up to leave and Matt said, "Rocco gave you a lot of credit."

            Charlotte didn't know if the moon were full or the earth had shifted, but as she made her way out of the hospital, she smiled and looked forward to telling Frankie and Tom about the visit.

            When she got home and changed her clothes into her comfortable sweats, she went to the computer. There were still a few hours until her shift at The Beacon began.She browsed the web for new sneakers and wanted to make the one click for them to appear, like magic, at her front door. But she decided to wait and try them on as she spent so much time on her feet.

            She answered a few e mails and saw something in her in-box that shook her to her foundation. THIS IS NOT SPAM.  Birth mother search confirmation. The subject line of the e mail.

She scrolled down and read a short note from someone she had waited thirty years to meet again.

            My name is Michael De Lucia. I have been aware of you since I turned eighteen, and have followed your entries on the adoption website. I believe you are my birth mother. My mother died last year, and I needed to respect her feelings about contacting you. I understand that this may upset your life. I do not intend to impose myself on you, but if you would be open to meeting me, I would like to meet you. I want  to thank you for giving me life, which has been good so far. My wife, Terry, has been encouraging me to do this.


            Mike De Lucia

            P.S. I was born on the Fourth of July.


            Charlotte read the message over and over. She grabbed a Coke from her fridge, wanting something stronger, but knowing her shift would start in a few hours.  She paced around her apartment, her breath coming in short gasps and gulps. Michael. She spoke the name aloud, liking its' sound. Michael, married to Terry. He was real and he wanted to meet her. She wished she had a sister to call to calm her fears, to enjoy this news, to guide her response. Her own parents, gone for more than a decade, were no longer here to help her. She felt a wave of resentment toward them, especially when she re-read the line about his mother.

            The earth had shifted. Charlotte's world had changed. Her son wanted to enter it.

            She watered her plants, and rinsed her coffee cup, knowing she was avoiding her response. What if I write the wrong thing? she thought, as she stared straight ahead, her vision blurry with tears. Her work gave her an understanding of men, and how hard it is for them to talk about things that mattered. She owed it to Michael to write back. And she did.


            Dear Michael, I have missed you every day. Nothing would make me happier than meeting you. Please let me know where you want me to be. I am so thankful your life has been good.


            Charlotte Evans


            Feeling more like herself behind the bar at The Beacon, Charlotte remembered her guests' drink choices. "House red for the lady. Bottled Bud, no glass for the Mr." The couple she was serving hadn't been in for a while, and they both lit up like they had won the lottery when she remembered their drinks. They brightened even more when she asked how their son Thomas liked college.

            She left the remote at Frankie's spot at the bar, hoping he would blast the sound so she could share her news without being overheard. All she needed was a stoned server or a useless busboy churning the rumor mill.

            True to form, the sound from the television escalated. Charlotte leaned across the bar toward Frankie as she handed him his drink.

            "I have big news."

            "You went to the hospital to meet the guy. I already know. Just missed you there."

            "Yeah, but that's not it. My kid got in touch. Sent me an e-mail.His name is Michael.

            Wants to meet me."

            "Ah, Charlie. He's gonna love ya."


            Finding restraint an over-rated virtue, Frankie shared Charlotte's news with Tom and a few of the regulars. Armed with Michael's full name and date of birth, he even had one of the guys on the force do a background check. Clean. It didn't take Charlotte long to catch on.

            "How do you know he's a landscaper? He just told me that today."

            "We have to look out for you, Charlie."

            Near the service bar, one of the servers was gesturing toward Charlotte.She walked over and a scruffy-looking guy with a nose ring  held a colorful basket of flowers. " Last delivery of the day for Charlotte Evans.My boss said to wait until  five."  She handed him a tip and thanked him.

            "Secret admirer?" A man near Frankie said. Charlotte set the lush arrangement on the bar. The golden rust-colored flowers sprouted from the tasteful basket, mixed with daisies and ferns. Charlotte opened the card, read it, and showed it to Frankie. " Matt Wilson and family."

Rocco and a few servers walked over to see the flowers. Frankie showed them the card. Rocco's shoulders sagged as if letting go of hostility, and said. "Good work on Matt, Charlotte."

Charlotte heard but did not see him, as she was busy wiping a spot on the computer, her back to them all.

            Charlotte's son was faithful in sending and returning e-mails. He lived in a neighboring suburb, and his busiest work days were toward the weekend. He invited her to dinner at DeMarco's Ristorante, close to The Beacon, the following Tuesday. His love for his father shown through his descriptions of DeLucia Landscaping, which his dad had started before he was twenty. His dad had introduced him to De Marco's for special occasions when he was a little boy.

            A stab of pain went through her as she read this. Not only was Michael real, he belonged to the people who raised him. And here she was, a bartender in an apartment, with little to brag about. She combed through her closet looking for an outfit to wear next Tuesday.

            Michael knew she worked at The Beacon, so he couldn't expect her to be like the ladies at the club where she once worked, bejeweled, and signing slips of paper for their meals, bemoaning their putting or tennis serve.

            A flush of shame crept through her when she realized how petty she was being, begrudging Michael anything. She also felt ungrateful for resenting her job, and her buddies at the bar. Hell, even Rocco was warming up.

            Saturday night, three days before DeMarco's, the bar was slammed. Her long time bar back cleaned glasses, worked the service bar, and got the food runners moving to get the meals delivered. Rocco poured a few drinks and dug into the soapy water, his shirt sleeves getting damp and rumpled. Charlotte scooted behind him to get a coke for a new customer. She handed him a menu and told him she'd be right back. He left cash on the bar and disappeared.


            Charlotte was so wiped out from the busy shift, she had no trouble sleeping, her nerves calmed by pure exhaustion. Her regulars assured her she'd do fine at The Ristorante.

            Tuesday evening, she took a cab to DeMarco's. The host asked her to follow him to meet Mr. De Lucia. He guided her to a large round table. Completely surprised, the first person she noticed was Frankie, dressed in a brown suit and tie. Tom was next to him along with a few of the servers and busboys. She recognized her son in the group. He had ordered the coke from her the other night.. He hugged her and said "I'm Michael. I would have invited Terry if I knew about all this..." he said, clearly relieved by the company. "I've waited a long time for this, Michael," she said her  tears flowing freely.

            Frankie said, "We will let you two get to know each other, or we can stay and tell you a few good stories, like the time Charlie threw out the owner's brother when she was new."

            "Or the night a keg exploded," Tom said.

            "How she never once ratted me out to the boss." This, from one of the busboys.


            "Stay. I hope to get to know this special lady."

            He lifted his glass as he spoke and Charlotte noticed his hands were like her own father's, like one of her fantasies of her son. But he was really here, in Charlotte's world, and she remained quiet, breathing in the gratitude of his forgiveness, and gratitude for the boys from The Beacon.


            Her friends from the bar didn't stay after all, and Charlotte and Michael enjoyed a delicious meal together. He didn't ask her why she had given him away, but she felt the need to explain the best she could. How different the times were, how helpless and ashamed she felt.

           He placed his hand over hers, assuring her he had wonderful parents who loved him, and her choice led him to meeting Terry, whose picture he showed her on his i phone.

His utter delight with his wife was apparent, as he fumbled to find the best photos of her.

            Throughout dinner, Charlotte was struck by his confidence, his poise in dealing with the staff at De Marco's, many of whom he knew.  How easily he had chatted with the crew from The Beacon. Her small package had been cared for by good people, and she felt all traces of jealousy and resentment fade away. They made a plan for her to meet Terry and his dad later that week.

            While walking her to her cab, more boyish and less poised, he said, "Watch the fireworks with us this year."  And with his eyes glancing sideways, he whispered, "I always hoped for that."

            "I did too, son. Every.... Single.... Day."

            Charlotte asked the cab driver to take her to The Beacon. Frankie promised they'd find a way to keep the place open for her, no matter what. And they did.


Two Poems by Molly Guinn Bradley

Whither Thou Goest

Whither thou goest
I will go, too, or else I’ll
try, sort of—talk of
quitting everything, packing a bag,
booking a flight, alighting in
              your city—embrace! we’re here— 
              then what?

My student debt will come, too, and
crowd the bed. You say you’ll sell your
horse to help with rent, but of course
when you go to the barn and see
that face, you just— 
              well, when you see my face… 
              you don’t quite finish your thought—

But none of this happened.
I’m all talk. You’re all
implore. I’m very maybe.
You’re constantly wish. We’re both hope.
We’re all want, 
              and, in the end, isn’t that 
              as close as it gets?






view from the hill on berke ct
when i become convinced i have contracted a terminal disease

if you get there in time
to see yellow stretch out and then curl its fingers
in the one wooly patch of trees between those two hills,
it means you walked there in the dark.

if you wake up and are uncertain
(if the digital dashes of the numbers are unclear)
take a shower and put your clothes on anyway.

there are a lot of dots
that look like ink stains or holes
puncturing the backdrop
or staining the screen
and if you don't think hard enough
you forget it's supposed to be glorious and all
at all.
if you stop without stoplike punctuation
you can't be sure whether you're really even done
(not to mention
the rest)





Molly Guinn Bradley is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her work has appeared on The Toast, The Equals Record, Splitsider, and Defenestration Mag. She enjoys long walks along the dirty, dirty Hudson.

Two Poems by Reed Hexamer

Papilio Polyxenes

she will diagnose you by the national geographic
on the white stand by the plant too plastic to die
she will open to the two page spread; full color
ten thousand dissected black swallowtail butterflies
ask why you wanted to pin yourself to the windshield
of the oncoming forest hills train
why you only identify with animals that are already crucified
why you shave your arm’s wallpaper
she asks what color you will paint your new body
suggests yellow like egg yolk; like bruise almost healed
asks if you think it will feel less like him




Botanical Dentist

the flowers are teething this morning
pointed green buds knitted into rows
my backyard looks like an animal with its mouth open




Reed Hexamer is a multimedia artist and performance poet who runs workshops, open mics and poetry slams in the Boston area. She is also the president of the Massart Poetry Alliance and enjoys writing on fire escapes she perhaps should not be on.

Happy Endings by Daryl Muranaka

Glenn Kawamura grew up without snow, so the idea of a “snow day” with the mayor on TV telling people to stay home was odd.  Still, he didn’t complain when his boss called him and said that the office would be closing at noon and it would be okay if he just didn’t come in at all.  He drank his coffee slower and turned off the TV, preferring to listen to the nothing outside.  At the kitchen sink, he looked out onto the park next to the house. The snow whipped like strange curtains, one coming left to right, the next right to left. There were dozens of curtains.  He’d become so hypnotized that he felt like he was outside, lost in the snow, and had to startle himself awake.

Snow fascinated him, even living fourteen years in it.  Snow was always novel and new, even today, in February when he was tired of being cold.  He liked how the snow moved through the air and how that made him feel.  He liked how the bare branches became full of cotton puff blossoms.  He liked wearing his fleece and drinking hot coffee all day while staring out the window.  Days like this, snow days, were the reason he didn’t miss the tropical home he fled after college.  Snow made all the uncertain and uncomfortable years of living five thousand miles from his family bearable.

By mid-morning, the snow covered the park.  Glenn heard his landlord downstairs shoveling the sidewalk.  Spreading out the pain, he figured.  The snow continued to fall, and its persistence surprised him.  Across the street, the snow half-buried the wheel wells of the neighbors’ cars. Then the plow came through and buried them further.  The cars looked like they floated in the snow like ships on the sea.

He was still in front of the window, eating a sandwich when she called.  Grace had had to go to work, but by lunch her boss was sending them home.  She was almost ready to go and wanted to know if he’d be around.  She’d stop by on the way to her apartment, which was not far from his.  “You’ll be home, right?  No one else will be there?”

“No, no one’s here.”  He had the place to himself, his roommate being on vacation up in the mountains.  He wasn’t sure how he felt about her coming, breaking up his solitude, but found himself saying, “Okay,” in spite of himself.

He grunted into the pillow as her elbow dug into his back.  Sometimes his muscles tighten so hard, they felt like pieces of metal digging into him.  Over the months they’d been dating, her massages had changed from a light drizzle on his skin to a jackhammer pounding its way into his flesh.  Her weight, as small as she was, dug into him.  “Maybe a little softer,” he said into the pillow.  It hurts, he thought to himself, but the spine feels better.  She made little circles down his back with her elbow and then with the heel of her palm.  She wasn't always precise, and he jerked every time she ran over a vertebrae.  He wanted to relax, but he was nervous.  Was it because it hurt or because he never got used to someone touching his skin?  Who knows, he decided and concentrated on relaxing.  “The palm feels better than the elbow,” he said.

He liked her weight on his hips, half-sitting on his behind, her calves next his hips.  This was good contact.  He was grateful she never made comments about the odd bruises on his arms and shoulders, the friction burns around his neck.  Others had, suggested he try a less violent hobby than the martial arts.  In the back of his mind, he wondered if she didn't feel comfortable about the subject or if she didn't care.

 “Your skin feels better,” she said, “You’ve been drinking your water.”

He grunted into the pillow again, and she started rubbing his shoulders.  He turned his head and opened his eyes.  The room was getting darker, colder.  The snow was steady earlier, but now it had all but stopped.  Little white spots flecked the window.  He felt lazy, and that was good.

“I used to think that maybe I’d like to be a massage therapist.  That job appealed to my healer spirit,” she said, “but I didn’t want to deal with the stereotype.”  She leaned over to get at a knot with her elbow, and her long hair fell over his head and shoulders.  It was soft and thick and smelled nice.  It felt comforting.  She kissed his neck as she rolled off of him and onto her back with her head turned to face him.  He rolled onto his side and asked, “What stereotype?”

“You know, the one about ‘happy endings.’”

“Oh,” he said.  He hadn’t thought of that, and felt naive.  He wanted to say the stereotype was crazy, but knew him saying that will sound even crazier.  “I guess I had to know about it, but that never crossed my mind.  Sounds too much like a bad 70’s porn movie.”

She laughed, looking at him with the same look she always did when he said something that she thought silly or naïve.  She reached out and touched his cheek with the back of her hand.  He was a silly man.  Far too literal, far too trusting, just like his name.  The Trusting Husband.

Her brother had called him a “painted banana” after he had met him.  Glenn’s Japanese-ness was painted on, he said, like a coat of paint on a model airplane.  His Japanese was stiff and accented.  His culture was only thin academics. He did a martial art which was nothing more than a pseudo-art for those flailing at their ancestry like a drowning man watching the rescue ship sail away.  But she wasn’t sure that was right.  She agreed that he had covered himself in coloring, but the painted banana wasn’t it.  He was more like an Easter egg with washed out yellow dye.  He was okay with that.  He liked that it was like a strange, obsolete Japanese aesthetic.  Never perfect, but had a kind of weird naturalness to it.  

Just before she met him, she had decided that she wanted to go out with an Asian American guy, if only to escape the stream of fetishists she had been getting.  She had posted a few profiles on dating sites with an all-caps warning that she didn’t want non-Asians posing as Asians.  She knew she would take some heat over it, but she had felt like a trophy with the last few guys she had been out with.  An Asian guy, she figured, wouldn’t have an Asian fetish.  Glenn thought that was strange.  “Why couldn’t an Asian guy have a fetish about Asian women?” he asked her after she had shown him the ad.

“You can’t,” she said.  “How can you?  An Asian guy wouldn’t have the same stereotypes.  You don’t see me as a ‘China Doll,’ right?  You don’t look at Asian women without thinking about your mom or your aunt or someone, right?  If anything, Asian guys would have a different stereotype of Asian women.”

He understood that.  He had resisted going out with an Asian woman since he graduated from college because he had some stereotypes about Asian women.  If anything, the women in his family dominated the men in loud and demanding voices.  He didn’t think Asian women were bad, but he often felt the flavor of the traditional couple dynamic wasn’t for him.  Still, he understood where she was coming from.

He hadn’t thought a lot about Asian stereotypes until he met her.  She was more militant than he was, and that surprised him.  Thinking about this sort of thing surprised him because he was an old stereotype too.  The Asian guy who does martial arts.  He looked over at his uniform hanging on the back on the bedroom door drying.  “That’s a stupid stereotype too,” he thought, but the again, most of the Asian guys he knew here he met through martial arts and all his friends at home did them too.

Glenn, for his part, didn’t mind Grace’s bluntness.  He liked her decisiveness, her wanting what she wanted and pushing that.  What she wanted to eat, or what movie she wanted to watch.  She’d always ask his opinion, but otherwise had no problem making a final decision.  The decisions didn’t feel as heavy as his mother’s.  He felt free, even if he had the same number of choices.  Did Dad feel this way?  Maybe it was a shortcut to thinking, but she made the decisions that he didn’t want to make.  He felt free to think about the things he wanted to.  He felt he could concentrate.  But was this, he wondered as she pushed his hips a little to the right,  a good thing?

Turning back to her, he reached out with his hand and brushed his fingers tips over her chest, the line where the swell of her breasts began.  He moved his hand back and forth along that line, not wavering up or down.  The motion was slow and his only made slight contact with his fingertips.  His eyes followed the fingertips as they glided.  He thought it was strange that he didn’t seem to have any sensation of touching her.  He was only aware of the image of his hand moving back and forth on her chest.

“Kiss my neck,” she said and turned onto her side.  He nestled up to her and wrapped one arm around her stomach as the other snaked under the pillow and below her neck.  He kissed the part where her shoulder and neck met then worked back towards the center line, just below where her hair ended.  He moved down , maybe only an inch, before he circled up back to where he had started.  He pressed his hand on her stomach.

* * *

They had met at a party a friend of his threw in the waning days of autumn.  He wasn’t too thrilled about the party, but he said he was going to go.  Most of this friend’s parties were filled with people who loved Salsa dancing, which he just didn’t have the hips for.  He resigned himself to an evening sitting in the corner of the dining room, encamped in front of the punch bowl.  He worked on his fantasy football line-up for that week.  So, much to his surprise, he found her leaning across the dining table laden with desserts asking what he was doing.  For every answer he had, she had two questions.  There were no easy answer to give her because she wanted everything explained in careful detail.  He wondered, at one point, if this is what an interrogation would feel like.  Because she was pretty, he didn’t mind, but as she kept asking questions, he felt a little overwhelmed.  Maybe even attacked.  After a while, she let up, gave him some slack.  At the end of evening, they shared numbers, met later for a coffee date.  A first for him, since he never thought of going for a coffee as being a “real date” but who was he to argue?  Those were the terms of the agreement.

In the flow of things, they saw each other a couple of times a week.  They tried new restaurants, went to a couple of movies, took walks when the weather permitted.  He knew that they were moving along the day she called him at work to tell him to use hand lotion and lip balm before he met up with her that evening.  After a quick dinner and movie, they went back to her apartment.

He liked that she lived in a real apartment building, and that heating was included.  From her window, you could see the small Korean market and the little Greek place he liked across the street.  It was close to the T.  Her cat seemed to like him, and she jumped on his lap whenever he sat down.  The vibrations of her purring made him think of her as a kind of  electric blanket.

Grace was physical and aggressive, and this was new to him.  He felt relieved.  He felt no pressure trying to be intimate with her and had no questions about where her boundaries were.  She liked certain things and didn’t like others, and all this she explained in clear detail as the first time she lay on top of him.

Towards the end of December, he visited his uncle in Los Angeles, California, like he did every year since moving East.  He spent a couple of weeks away and came back right after New Year’s.  She came over the day he returned, despite the snow storm.  She stayed the night, the only time she stayed over, something she didn't want done at her apartment.  Around midnight, he awoke alone and found her sitting on the couch in his bathrobe, eating the pizza they had had for dinner.  In the morning, after a quick breakfast, she was gone.

Now, the room was dark.  It was hard to see her. He worked up her neck and stopped below her ear and started to move back down the neck.  She didn’t like the ear thing.  Her skin was warm and soft.  It was the softness that surprised him, and did every time.  He wasn’t sure why it did, but it did.

“You’re getting excited again,” she says as she turns her head to kiss him.

“You know what would be a ‘happy ending’ for me?”


“Waking up to you in the morning,” he said and kissed her neck again.

“My cat will miss me,” she said.  He kissed her neck one more time and then stopped.  He pulled the covers over them and they lay there still, not talking any more.  He knew how the afternoon would end. She will say it’s late and get dressed.  Outside the tinted street lights would turn everything a yellow-orange hue.  He’ll want to walk her home, but she will kiss him at the door.  He'd walk away on the snow-covered sidewalk, wondering if there are ever happy endings.


Daryl Muranaka works primarily as a poet and his poems have appeared most recently in the Tulane Review and is forthcoming in Spry.  His first poetry collection,Hanami, was recently published by Aldrich Press. His prose has appeared in Under the Sun, Ink Monkey Magazine, and The Rejected Writer. He lives in Boston.


FIVE: Saint Bollard by Andrew Choate


Andrew Choate is the author of Too Many Times I See Every Thing Just The Way It Is (Residual Press, PRB Editions), Language Makes Plastic of the Body (Palm Press) and Stingray Clapping (Insert Blanc Press). He is currently working on two books: Learning, which will be published by Writ Large Press and I Love You More, for Insert Blanc. He is a member of Inner Dinner, a performance art dining collective, and is the host of The Unwrinkled Ear radio show on KCHUNG every other Tuesday from 5­ to 7pm PST. His most recent piece of music writing was about the 2014 Nickelsdorf Konfrontationen. In terms of pictures, he is saintbollard.

FOUR: Saint Bollard by Andrew Choate

Three Poems by Mick Cormack

The Blood; A Window

All day I carried a key around the house, searching inexplicably. In the garden
I couldn’t remember our cloud-names. I traced the outline of your shadow along
the wall, but it kept slipping. I watched the water boil over in the pot. The edge
of the bathtub filling before the body. Displacement could be another name for
how we love. The tangle of the flesh across fresh sheets. The music moving from
another room. I wanted to grasp the light that fell between us. To colour everything
magnolia. Everything a sense of belonging in the afternoon. But I couldn’t open the
cupboard door, the handle too loose for my fingers. & when I finally pulled too hard,
glass shattered at my feet.





Another Place

Let’s say you are walking along the shoreline 
and find a door, standing frameless & inviting- 

almost a question mark. Or you open a kitchen drawer 
& forget your lover’s name. You feel it hanging there, 

slipping like the trace of a dream upon waking. 
Let’s say we were eating strawberries, there 

on the cold beach & you lost a glove to the ocean. 
Let’s say somebody will find it washed up & think of you. 

Suppose any of this was true. Suppose you could 
grasp your future self, even for a second. Let’s say 

everything is breaking apart. Or it is not breaking, 
only opening; Let’s say there is another door.






Light echoed all around us. You remember the flash that came before & so soon
left. The merciless undoing of nothing into something. You imagine a woman
sleeping on a train. The train gliding almost dreamlike across a salt plain. But
do you remember the sunlight moving like water through the glass? The skin
unfurling into ribbons? Suppose you woke & the body was already gone. You
remember how the whole afternoon was ghost-like & the room where the dust
refused to settle, but instead hung in the static air. You said you could measure
the weightlessness of a day. The birds leaving everything inside you. Do you 
remember everything turning blue? Suppose your presence felt tangible.
Would you still believe so much in silence?




Mick Cormack was born and raised in Liverpool, England. Some of his previous work has appeared in The Harpoon Review and Mount Island Magazine. You can find him on twitter @bodiesandghosts

Wildest by Doug Hawley

Interviewer:  Good evening America, welcome to Celebrity Chat, this is Jason Atkins interviewing Terri Tight, pornstar, on her book Wildest - Sex and More Sex on The PCT.

Jason:  How are you doing tonight Terry?

Terry:  I’m awesome.

Jason: Terry, what was your name before you adopted your nom de porn?

Terry:  My what?

Jason:  The name that you were born with.

Terry:  I was Sally Schlitt.

Jason:  What do you to say about claims that you ripped off the book Wild?

Terry:  Absolutely false.  First she only hiked part of the trail.  I walked the whole trail.  Second, that wannabe had sex once all the way from California to the Oregon border despite carrying a bunch of condoms.  Pitiful.  I had sex 200 times, or about once every 20 miles.  Not only that, but I’ve got the pictures and all the pertinent info on my partners – stats where it counts, duration and positions and even pictures in some cases.  Due to privacy issues I could not name names.

Jason:  Tell me about your documentary of the same name.

Terry:  As with the book, better in every way than “Wild.”

Jason:  I understand that the movie budget was just $111,563.67.”

Terry:  I hope that you aren’t some philistine that equates artistic value with dollars spent.

Jason:  Of course not.  But don’t some of those guys look like known porn actors rather than hikers?

Terry:  Why are you able to identify particular male porn actors?

Jason:  I’ll let that go.

Jason:  About the sex.  How did you find that many guys able to perform after a hard day on the trail?

Terry:  It wasn’t only after a hard day on the trail.  A lot of the time we took advantage of morning wood.  But when you are open minded like I am, and look and smell like I do, it’s easy to find willing partners.

Jason:   Speaking of your looks, I notice that your hair color and shape look a lot different than they did twenty years ago when your adventure took place.  What’s up with that?

Terry:  A lot of women color their hair and get some surgery.  As the song goes “You don’t want to be A cup in the XXX world.

Jason:  Odd, I had not heard that song.

Jason:  You have some critics that say you did not hike the whole trail.  They cite the fact that all of your pictures and scenes are close to junctions next to highways.

Terry:  Easy to explain.  That’s as close as I could get the photographers.  They are a bunch of wimps that could not hack it on a real trail.

Jason:  Did you write the book yourself?

Terry:  Damn right.  I have a high school education.  Some people just like to dump on adult actresses.

Jason:  Let’s expand on that.  How do you compare adult films with mainstream cinema?

Terry:  The adult world is so much better.  Mainstream can spend $100,000,000 on a movie, take months to film it, and turn out a pile of crap money loser.  We shoot in a week for a few thousand and never lose money.

In mainstream, guys are the bosses 90% of the time.  In adult, women rule.  The guys are just tools.  Oops, did I say that?  Anyway, you get the idea.

People dump on the plot and actors in porn, but have you ever seen a porn movie about cars that turn into robots?  Could Brad Pitt maintain an erection for fifteen minutes while servicing three different women who may smell bad or have the flu?  Could Meryl Streep simulate five orgasms with three men and two women in six different positions?  Now which do you think is better, porn or straight?

Jason:  Well, you’ve certainly given us a lot to think about.

Jason:  So how is the career, and what effect has Wildest had on your career?

Terry:  As you may know, cougar porn is booming, and I just barely qualify as a cougar.  I’m now number one in that subgenre.  Wildest has had great cross media synergy, or so my agent told me.  My movies have brought readers to the book, and my readers are now looking for my movies.

Like many successful actors, I’m moving into directing and writing.

Jason:  It looks like it’s time to go to commercial.  Terry, thanks a bunch for dropping by, and good luck on your dual career.

Terry:  Thanks for having me, and see you at the movies.  Check out CineMax for the softcore versions and go to Vivid for the hardcore DVDs.

Jason:  Next up, porn critic Carey Corsette.


Doug Hawley is a little old former actuary who lives with editor Sharon and cat Kitzhaber. He writes (Potluck, FOTW, Insert, Oblong, Hash, Subtopian, Jitter Press), hikes and volunteers.  He just started to twit @dougiamm.

THREE: Saint Bollard by Andrew Choate

TWO: Saint Bollard by Andrew Choate

Bollards are the typically concrete posts that prevent cars from driving into buildings or sensitive equipment, or onto pedestrian paths: anywhere cars are not desired. I have been photographing them for years all over the world. Neither cars nor people are allowed in my photos.

I've never been fascinated by character or plot in writing, but am passionate about context and insight: the immediate. The landscapes I know are populated by bollards, which appear in a phenomenal variety of colors, designs and rhythms, and foreground a comic/absurd element inherent in our hyper-industrilaized landscape. Accompanying these photographs are a series of poems I have written that utilize repetitive elements, often from common phrases or sayings. 

I call these poems "Horizon Poems" because repetition in poetry functions like the horizon line for me. Departures and variations from the repetitions carve out shapes and silhouettes against the horizon, forming the landscape. 

I'm working on writing as landscape, a kind of landscape writing, but I don't want to write about rivers or flowers or be dependent on using "natural" vocabulary. 

When I say landscape I mean something you have to live with, next to, inside. 

The writings I do for the posts on instagram are more like daily exercises, with the requirement that I find a couple of words to misleadingly hashtag.



Two Poems by Maxine Anderson

Misandry Poem #1

I am immense
& I am out of control
of my body & I resist
all attempts at containment
(and abatement) by well-
meaning civil engineers.

With a slight effort I could 
break down your door
and sometimes I think if
I tried really hard I could
knock out power to a mid-
sized Southern city.

I regret nothing. Not the 
cocaine or the window of the
ice cream shop or the fact
that today I wore my cop-
kicking boots so I could kick
in the face of a cop.

I do not lament what I 
consumed in my quest to 
become all-consuming.
I am not sorry for 
eviscerating you on live television
as you announced your campaign for
                 San Francisco District 8 Supervisor.

And when sometimes I pause to
remember the loneliness of your
soft belly against the vast and
desolate Pacific my thoughts
become lineated in a cloudy way,
but that is easily brushed aside,
like stray Ponderosa pines,
or highway overpasses,
or heartbreak.




for the em dash 

if we could do our Reading over again I would say 
that your breaths between lines should not be so Obvious 
and I should have been friendlier to the Bartender — 

the Window-washers perform a ritual. better person, 
I say, crawl into your Light Fixture, your metadata are 
Revelatory or not // 

Diasporic nodules appear on the body of an artist &
it is Prophecy or it is indeed the entire breathing Organism 
of Manhattan itself — 

The warmth of the needle on Vinyl 
no longer a plausible Romance // so I postulate 
the Silence alive in your Headphones with the City 
all Boot-heels that echo on Sidewalk? 

Your metadata depict Me Emily Dickinson 
hailing a cab in an outer borough and it is spring or Whatever —




Maxine Anderson is chronically underemployed in New York.

Georgie Boy by Alan Semrow

The dog hears the crash in the garage first. He scatters to the bottom of the stairs and begins to bark—his high-pitched yelp. The baby he is, the baby he’s always been. I’m sitting on the couch, watching a movie starring Diane Lane. She hasn’t been truthful to her husband. George never barks.

I rise from the leather sofa and start down the carpeted stairs. George stands attentive, waiting, shaking his tail. I stand at the bottom, looking down at him. I hear light taps—things falling. I grab the handle, push the door open. I knew I had smelled something irregular the last time I took George out for a piss. I don’t scream. I don’t gasp. I should have known this was coming. Flames mount from the garbage can in the corner. Me and my friends just had to have the bonfire last night. We sat drinking, laughing, adding more logs. Someone put those hot ashes where they shouldn’t have been.

I yell, “Mom!” She’s sleeping, snoring—reverberating through the house as usual. “Mom! Mother!” I push the button to the garage door. The fire hasn’t gotten to it. It still works, but I don’t have time to thank God or Jesus or any one of them. I run up the stairs, screaming, “Mom! Mom! Mom!”

I stand at her bedside, shaking her. Screaming at her. She wakes, “What.”


She jolts up from bed, tells me to call the fire department right now. I grab the cellphone from my pocket. In the late nineties maybe, I heard somewhere once that you can’t get ahold of them on a cellphone.  I run into the den, her office. I remove the phone from the receiver. I dial. I’ve never used this phone before. It’s clear. I have to press something. The call button? Where the fuck is the fucking call button? Mom shuffles past me, down the stairs, to the garage. She opens the door, gasps, yells, “Damnit it all to hell! Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!” She sees the melted storage bins. She sees the plastic plates, oozing down onto the floor. She sees her work papers, the ashes, the flickers floating off of them.

I tell the fire department our address. The dispatch girl tells me to get the hell out. I don’t know where George is. “George!” I scream. “George!” I scream. I return to the burning garage. Right now, this is when I realize it could be huge—an entire condominium, burnt to the ground in one hell of a small town. Mom’s gotten the neighbor over to help—Maddie. She’s started the outdoor faucet. We never got a hose—never needed it. The faucet pours over the landscape, the little patch of grass we earned with the place. Maddie’s running at me. I yell, “I don’t know where the fuck George is!”

Mom runs upstairs, tells me she’s going to grab some buckets. She runs up. I tell her to get the dog, to scream for the dog. She says, “He probably just ran off. Settle down!” I sprint to the outdoor faucet. I have no bucket.

Mom reenters the burning garage, hands me a few plastic buckets. I sprint from the faucet to the burning garbage can. We’ve got time, I tell myself that. I’ve got time. It hasn’t hit the Chrysler. Just a bookshelf filled with Mom’s work papers—next to the burning garbage can. A few old storage bins. This isn’t our life. It’s not everything we’ve ever known. I pour the water. Maddie, she comes up to me with her bucket full. I pour. I run back with mine. I run back. I pour. All I see, right now—is the fire, the bucket, the water, the missing Shih Tzu. I take Maddie’s bucket. I pour. I run back. Water. Pour. More water. Pour. I scream, “Someone, go get the fucking dog!” Maddie runs upstairs. The fire’s settling, if only just a little bit. The sirens. The sirens. The sirens. The red, red, red lights, flickering. Neighbors peep out of their garages, staring at our scene. The trucks honk, moving slowly down our little road. I run upstairs. Maddie’s searching under my bed. I scream, “George! George! George, you motherfucker! Georgie Boy!”

I want to hear his collar, his little medals decorating his neck. I want to hear them ring.

I tell Maddie, “Get downstairs!” She leaves the room.

The condo has filled with smoke. No dog. I run down the stairs. The firemen are exiting their trucks, readying their long hose. I run out of the garage, barefoot on the paved driveway, into the grass, past the other condos, the people—my neighbors, watching. I scream, “George! George! George!” I approach the edge of the street. I look both ways. A few yards down our wet, private road, George is sitting on his ass eating his own shit.

I run over to his little baby body. “George! George!”

As he digs his little white head in for one more piece, I snatch him off the ground. I pick him up like a baby—cradle him, hug him so tight. I whisper into his floppy ear, “You shouldn’t be eating your own shit. Where did you go?”

I start back to the condo. The fire could have been a lot larger. Vintage photographs, old movies, my mother’s dead mother’s things. The fire department’s hose pounds hard against the old garbage can. It could have been gone. A lot could have been gone.





Alan Semrow lives in Wisconsin and is a graduate of English from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. His poetry and fiction have been featured in multiple publications, including The Bicycle Review, Earl of Plaid Lit Journal, Danse Macabre Literary Magazine, Potluck Mag, and Wordplay, and he won the Essayist Award from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point English Department for his nonfiction work. He spends the majority of his free time with his boyfriend, friends, family, and Shih Tzu, Remy. His blog can be found at He is a frequent contributor to Potluck.

Tar or Oil, Stained Either Way by Roy Miller

            Hot summer days were always a breeding ground for fights between Dale and his wife, Nadine. Nadine always said that heat ran in her family so the hot days were miserable. She sat in her blue recliner on the right side of the living room, away from the door, chain smoking cigarettes with a tall glass of ice water.

            Sweat would pool up around the bottom and leave rings on the table, and one afternoon she dropped a full glass in her lap because of the moisture. Dale was out working in the garage, trying to piece together an old ‘71 Nova he re-homed from a vacant house in the country, so she quickly grabbed a hand towel from the kitchen to sop up the mess before he had a chance to notice. Little things like that were an easy argument starter.

            The old television set hummed along at a low volume. Reruns of Supermarket Sweep complimented the dated decor of their one story home on highway 80. Tobacco-stained tartan wallpaper ran floor to ceiling in the living room, along with dirty brown shag carpeting that screamed of the disco era. The colors clashed horribly and random assortments of flea market knickknacks weren’t helping the situation.

            Several homemade shelving units containing everything from glass cherubs to painted rubber unicorns spanned all four walls. To top it off, they all bore their own layers of cigarette ash and dust, siphoning any gleam their appearance may have had.

            Dale eventually made his way into the house and headed for the kitchen. He liked to wash his hands out there instead of in the bathroom, mostly because the kitchen sink was bigger and had a window above it. Nadine would constantly nag him about this, saying he would splash oil and grease all over the appliances that sat out on the counter, but Dale just shrugged her off and dried his hands on a towel. More often than not he would get a little grease on the towel, too.

            After he cleaned up he would pour some coffee and take a look at the paper. There was never anything good in it, but he only wanted it for the Classifieds, anyway. People out that way were constantly selling all kinds of tools and equipment. Last winter he bought a chainsaw off his old boss Hank’s boy Randy for sixty dollars. Not bad for a working piece of machinery.

            The bird clock that Nadine had picked up from the flea market two summers ago chirped at six o’clock, and when she heard it she got up and headed into the kitchen to make dinner. Dale stayed in place, not looking up when she entered the kitchen. He was still a little sour from the night before, being told he should sleep on the couch because of his snoring. He told her if she would get a job maybe she would be tired enough to sleep, and to get off of his back.

            She rolled over and didn’t say anything else. Couple’s counselors always tell you you shouldn’t go to bed mad. It seemed like Dale and Nadine rarely went to bed anything but, yet they managed to stay together for thirty seven long years.

            Hamburger patties sizzled on the stove and when Nadine started to unwrap some slices of cheese, Dale got up and grabbed condiments from the fridge, along with a beer for himself. Nadine didn’t drink, but he liked the taste of beer. She hated kissing him after he had had a few, since she said she couldn’t get the taste out of her mouth afterward.

            It didn’t matter much to him, since he hated the way she tasted from all of her smoking and it seemed like an even trade. He’d tried to get her to quit a dozen times by cutting back on the beers, only having them on nights she was out with friends. She had success once or twice, but it only lasted a handful of months each time before she was sneaking a smoke in the bathroom at night. Eventually she would stop trying to hide it, and they would be back at square one.

            With Dale having his nose buried in the paper and Nadine staring out the window above the kitchen sink, the burgers on the stove charred too much on the bottom and started throwing off smoke. The detector above the ceiling fan beeped loudly, and when Dale looked up from the paper at a startled Nadine, he was overcome with a familiar feeling of irritation.

            “Can you pay attention, Nadine?” asked Dale. “You’re gonna take the whole house down.”

            “Well if you feel you can do better sweetheart, I’ll let you cook next time.” Nadine’s tone dripped with sarcasm.

            She used a spatula and a cheese grater to knock off some of the overcooked patties and then spaced them out on a serving plate. Dale looked on top of the fridge for buns but didn’t find any. With a sigh, he took down the half loaf of wheat bread he did find and tossed it onto the table. The thud made Nadine jump a little, but she didn’t turn around.

            Once the stove was turned off she brought the plate to the table and set it in the middle, next to her twice blown glass ashtray she’d gotten as a prize for winning Bingo night at the Eagles. Dale looked between the ashtray and the plate, his face turning sour at how close her disgusting habit was to his food. She didn’t miss the look.

            They ate in silence for the next twenty minutes. Dale switched on the radio that sat on a small bookshelf next to dining table so he wouldn’t have to listen to the sound of chewing. He looked over at his wife. She sat there, eating slowly with a blank expression on her face.

            He used to think she was really something, but looking at her now just made him wonder where he would be if he had chosen another life. If he had maybe gone to Alaska to work on the pipelines instead of staying home to help his father out with the auto body shop, he could have met a nice Eskimo woman and went on seal hunting trips.

            Instead, he had three ungrateful kids that never called and a wife that was so busy daydreaming about whatever it was that took her away she almost burned the house down. He suspected she knew how he felt; their seldom eye contact held a certain discontent.

            Nadine got up and ran herself a glass of water. No ice this time. She drank half of it while standing at the sink then filled it up again and took it back to her seat. Dale continued to eat silently. The ticking from the bird clock seemed to echo throughout the kitchen, even over the fake excitement of the announcer for a firework ad on the radio.

            The bang bang noises behind his voice reminded her of gunshots, and she thought fleetingly of a dream she had where one of her old high school boyfriends had come around, killed Dale and took her away to a new life. She knew how it would sound to someone that didn’t know them. Two people that basically hated each other, living day after day under the same roof while barely tolerating the other’s existence.

            Truth was, they stayed together because it was easier than splitting up. Neither of them wanted to have to pack their things, find another place and worry about rebudgeting their money. Besides, marriage was a life-long commitment, and Nadine’s father would have nothing to do with her if she got a divorce.

            “You know,” said Nadine, “your old pal Ken told me if I ever wanted a taste of the good life I could go with him and he would take care of me. He ever tell you that?”

            “That’s great, dear,” said Dale. He didn’t look up from the paper.



Roy Miller is a midwestern cinephile and book fiend. He enjoys watching and discussing film, reading anything from short stories to screenplays and listening to music, mainly post-rock and modern classical.