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The best of the best is added to this page on an ongoing basis. All of the pieces were written in group, using a variety of random writing prompts and what these writers were able to do with them is astounding. All in 1,000 words or less. We hope you enjoy our work. If you would like to be in contact with any of the writers or with me, .
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Alexandra David, Eran Dror, Nataly Eliyahu, Jessica Fass, Dena Freeman, Äidy Friedman, Gillian Granoff, Shashi Itai, Kristen Jansen, Ossie Kishlanski, Chen Melamed, Evgeni Miller, Daniel Mines, Oren Peleg, Lynn Poritz, Katie Schlieper, Suzanne Selengut, Joline Vyth, Angela Wallis, Fernando Miller-Yache
Angela is a BBC trained TV producer who has worked with major broadcasters and prestigious independent producers. After working as a producer and director with the BBC for 18 years she went freelance and produced Piers Morgan’s documentaries in Monte Carlo, Hollywood and Dubai for ITV 1. Angela is currently working in Tel Aviv as a TV consultant, an English coach and as a freelance writer. Her blog Hammersmith to Tel Aviv humorously examines the challenges she faces having uprooted her life from London to Tel Aviv
…from the prompt “Reluctantly, he handed over the keys…”
Susan’s day was not going to get better. One look at the sky was enough to predict the horror story that was about to unfold. When the storm broke and giant balls of ice fell from the sky, Susan was caught running late for a meeting on Oxford Street. Her cute handbag-sized umbrella failed to open and her favourite white jacket was woefully inadequate. She was soaked to the skin and under attack from sharp ice bombs. The weather was almost biblical; she wouldn’t have been surprised to see frogs falling from the clouds. To add insult to injury, the rare gem of a taxi she was frantically waving down was about to be stolen by a city slicker type in a shiny suit; his massive umbrella actually worked, and was adequately protecting both him and his blow-waved eyebrows.
Susan was not quite sure what happened in the next ten seconds but she suddenly found herself attacking the taxi thief. She had his lapels in her hands and was screaming like a banshee -
“It’s my taxi, you supercilious, smug, corrupt, pig of a banker! You should be in jail with the rest of the scum – not free to roam Oxford Street stealing taxis from soaked women clearly desperately in need of shelter!”
James was too busy desperately trying to free himself from this mad woman’s grip to articulate properly. He decided compromise was the best approach and managed to stammer “ Look, we could share the cab – where are you going?”
The dripping wet blonde seemed to see some sense in this suggestion and although still screaming that it was her taxi and she didn’t see why she should have to share it with anyone let alone a smug bastard like him, she got into the back seat.
Susan suddenly became extremely self-conscious. Not only had she been raving like a mad woman but she was also dripping all over the taxi seat. She looked a complete sight: her hair was plastered to her head and she could feel her mascara running down her cheeks. Her jacket had become a pointless transparent shroud.
There was no way she could meet with the managing director of Selfridges in this state. The banker was asking her something and she realised he wanted to know where to drop her. Susan felt the tears well up, and no matter how hard she tried to stop them, they erupted and poured in torrents down her cheeks; her nose began to run and it was clear that all self-control had deserted her.
Eventually in-between sobs she spluttered:
“I needed to get to the most important meeting of my life, but it’s all ruined now; it would be commercial suicide for me to go looking like this. It took me two years to get this chance and now it’s all ruined and it’s all your bloody fault”
Susan continued to sob and large bubbles of snot emerged from her nose – she really was an impressive sight.
James did feel sorry for her: she looked an absolute mess and had obviously got herself into a right state. He tried his best to console her.
“Look I am sorry you got caught in a storm, but the weather really isn’t my fault, and I didn’t see you waving at the same taxi as me – I’m not a bastard, honestly …”
The city slicker’s apology sounded genuine and Susan could see he looked concerned. When she had calmed down a fraction she realised it wasn’t totally his fault. It was God’s – he had decided to drench her on the most important day of her life; no, it was hers, she had left her office too late. Damn it, they were all to blame! Susan decided to be reasonable
“Look, I am sorry about all this” she sniffed, “but it took me two years of stalking the managing director of Selfridges to get this meeting, and all I needed to do was impress him today to get my cosmetic range in the store and now I’ve blown it. Look at me – I’ve totally blown it!”
James was a natural problem solver and couldn’t stop himself going into full rescue mode.
“Listen” he told her, “my flat is just around the corner, I promise this is a genuine offer: we could call Selfridges and ask if they can re-schedule your meeting. You could get spruced up in my flat. I have a hair dryer”.
“For your eyebrows”, she muttered.
“Oh nothing” she coughed. “Really I’m not sure I’m comfortable going back to the flat of a complete stranger”.
James offered his hand.
“Well, I am James Simpson, how do you do? What’s your name?
“Hi, I’m Susan Jones,” she replied as she shook his hand. “Normally a very level-headed, dry, calm, sophisticated cosmetics entrepreneur”
“See”, James said, “we know each other now, and so will you take me up on the offer to use my flat”?
Susan thought about it. She did her usual ruminations on the potential newspaper headlines: “Woman found dismembered in Knightsbridge apartment”. She imagined her friends at her funeral exclaiming, “How could she have been so stupid as to go back to a complete stranger’s flat?”
Then she cleared her head of all the usual garbage and went back to her failsafe method: gut instinct. Sure he looked smooth and she didn’t know him from Adam but he had a nice face and her gut was saying it would be fine.
James was already on his mobile phone to Selfridge’s head office and was having a very cosy chat with the Managing Director’s secretary. Susan watched, open mouthed.
“What the hell? What are you doing?”
“ I just wanted to see you smile, and thought this might just do the trick. She has re-booked your appointment for 3pm so that gives you an hour.”
Susan, at last speechless, just smiled.
The taxi pulled up outside the Basil Street apartments, a very posh, classic Knightsbridge mansion block, with a full on marble entrance, a uniformed concierge and a very rickety iron-gated lift circa 1820. James scuttled a bemused Susan inside. As he opened the door to his flat, she was completely shocked. She had been expecting a bachelor pad fully equipped with leather-clad walls, push button light dimmers and surround-sound. In fact the apartment looked like IKEA had thrown up in it, but it was at least light and bright and clean.
Susan bee-lined for the bathroom and James plugged in the hairdryer for her. Now that she was drying off and fixing her make-up, James was able to see her as something other than a hysterical drenched wench. He noticed her eyes were really quite an amazing shade of violet and as the redness receded, he could see that they were the most perfect almond shape. She was in fact very attractive and he laughed to himself as he thought of all the pick up lines he had used in the past but he had never once thought to offer his bathroom facilities to a woman in distress! James found himself daydreaming about how odd it would be if he and Susan ended up getting married and one day one of their kids asked him how they had met and he would have to say “well, your mother was wet through and I….” Outraged at his girly mental meanderings James immediately dismissed such nonsense from his head.
His phone was ringing and he knew it was his office. He was now very late and would have to leave in a hurry.
James explained to Susan that he had to go; she was welcome to stay in the flat and could get a taxi from just outside when she was ready.
Susan was a little surprised and to be honest just a tad disappointed that James had not even tried to make a pass at her. He had in fact been the perfect gentleman.
“Are you going to trust me alone in your flat”? Susan laughed. “You do realise that we girls search through the private possessions of any men we know whenever we get the chance!!”
James looked panicked as he tried to remember exactly where he had left his stash of porn, “Don’t look so worried, I was only joking. Seriously, thanks so much for your help, and I am very, very, sorry for attacking you”.
“Please don’t be” said James. “It was practically the most exciting thing to ever happen to me on Oxford Street. Don’t forget to leave me your number, I’d love to know how your big meeting goes”.
As James walked to the door, Susan moved towards him, looking way better than she did when he first met her. She planted a big soft kiss on his cheek and he smiled at her thinking to himself, why do I have to leave right now? He reluctantly handed over the key, leaving this vibrant attractive woman alone in his flat.
Its not that its difficult to think of examples of events in my past that I would like to rewind and replay, its just that its hard to know where to begin. There are many incidents that have become vivid torturous replays in my minds eye. In these sweaty waking dreams complete with the heart thumping pangs of regret, I re-enact my mistakes ,in glorious Technicolor, but I never get the chance to undo what has been done or said.
If I could I would change a particular snowy night in Leeds one December many years ago. I was a student when I met my first love, a shy, intriguing, awkward but worldly, Belgian called Pierre. When I say first love I mean it in both senses of the word, it was Pierre who slowly and patiently introduced me to sex. He even accompanied me to the family planning clinic and together we noted carefully when it would be safe to make love for the first time.
Timing was very important as the pill would not be in full affect for three months which meant we would be clear for action right in the middle of the Christmas break. Our big night would have to wait until Pierre retuned from his annual skiing trip to St Moritz with his very well healed family. Over the holidays I stayed with my family in Manchester, I was excited, nervous and full of trepidation, and if I was honest with myself (which I was not) felt a little abandoned by his disappearing with his family over the holidays.
On Pierre’s return to Leeds he was very keen to see me, and was clearly beside himself with expectation, this was the night he had waited three months for. I being, young, foolish and a little embarrassed by his palpable excitement, completed twisted his motivation in my head and misconstrued his eagerness. As if channeling some Victorian heroine protecting her maidenhood I saw his eagerness only as proof that his interest in me was all about sex.
I threw a strop, panicked, told him I was hurt that all he seemed interested in was bedding me. As I vented and stormed to my car, I turned to see a forlorn Pierre walking after me in the snow, he tentatively handed me a beautifully wrapped present, a bottle of my favorite Chanel perfume. The sadness in his eyes made it clear I had ruined a potentially beautiful moment that I knew could never be reclaimed.
Although we got over the events of that night, when I replay my ridiculous reaction to Pierre’s natural enthusiasm for us to be together that night, I always wish I could rewind and replay the moment. If only I could have just thrown myself into the moment, admitted to him that I wanted him as much as he wanted me, I could have created a perfect memory with no regrets.
A longtime resident of Tel Aviv, Israel, where she is an avid participant in the local art scene, Alexandra David teaches Political Science at the IDC. The author of “The Elephant who wanted to become a Mermaid” a children book, Alexandra is soon to begin her PhD studies in the UK on the relations between Art & Terror which she also explores on her blog of the same name. Her blog Euphémérides features more of her flash fiction.
She closed the leather bound novel with a thunk and gazed out the window at the seaside. The beep of hospital machines cut into her thoughts.
She opened her eyes and realized she had been eating peanuts and crying for the last two hours. She had no idea how and where all the peanuts had come from and would not have accepted the truth had it been shoved into her face: each and every one of her tears turned into peanuts the minute they left her scarred face and touched the ground. She was sitting on a heap of fresh peanuts. She had become a microcosm without even realizing it.
She could not care less. She was now looking at herself in the mirror and the mere look of her sad face cut all across were enough to produce another kilo of peanuts.
The nurse came in, she had a hard time pushing the door open, the floor was filled with nuts and prevented the door from opening. Not really an obstacle for the sturdy Russian nurse. Back in the good old days, in the motherland.
And, she had been an officer in war submarine. When the curtain fell, she found herself in an unbearable position and decided to go for a major career change: she moved to the forbidden land and became a nurse! She did what she had to do.
People liked her, people did not, some patients survived, others died, all was normal and boring and dry until this patient.
She had arrived a week ago, with the heavy leather -bound novel she never read but always kept open. Even when she was sleeping, it lay spread across her chest, open. She was followed by a trail of peanuts and smelled of grilled cheese. Whatever was left of her face between the scars was so sad that one was better off looking at her chest, which, thank god, looked happier than the eyes which were always teary.
She was a bore. A true bore. But whatever, the Russian managed to enter the room, barely glanced at the patient and went straight for the window to light a cigarette.
She was looking at the blue sky as she took in deep inspiration. She loved her cigarettes more than anything in this world. They were the last remnants of her former life.
She never told anyone what had happened in the submarine. She never told anyone the real reason she was now a nurse in a foreign country treating crazy nuts producing crying patients.
She had been sacked, à la russe. They had tried to kill her. She was not scared. She did not feel threatened. She had just gone on smoking. Always, everywhere. For all the wrong reasons and for no reasons at all. Everyone in the submarine was choking and teary eyed from the smoke. She could not care less, she just smoked and smoked and smoked.
When they reached the surface, she had 20 deads and 67 highly intoxicated sailors. She smoked as she made her report to her superiors. Two hours later she was on the plane to NY, with a fake nurse certificate she had forced out of one of the dead sailors’ wife.
So there she was smoking by the window, day-dreaming while nut-woman was ever more productive.
Today was different. The nut-woman had stopped cryIng when she entered the room. She still looked crazy, that is the unscarred parts that were visible. But there were no kore tears. No more noise of the nuts falling on the floor, no more noise of her crunching them between her white teeth.
When the Russian officer turned around, the patient was no longer in bed. The bed had been made and was surrounded by heaps and mounds of peanuts but no patient.
Trained as she was, the officer felt danger was lurking. Her whole body was alert. She lit a cigarette, it always helped. She was puffing at it in a very inelegant and masculine way when the door opened and a doctor entered.
He looked at the officer in a kind way said some words in an incomprehensible language. He was walking towards her. She was about to inform him of the disappearance of the nut-woman, when the doctor took out a syringe from his back pocket and injected her with it. He then kindly threw away her cigarette and led her to her bed.
She was floating again, back in the submarine, giving orders to losers, getting orders from crooks. She was humming a tune her mother used to sing to her when from the corner of her left eye she saw the crying nut-woman waving goodbye as she silently, and without being noticed left the room and walked free. Had it not been for the peanut trail, nobody would have believed the Russian officer that the nut-woman really existed.
I have never told anybody this story – ever. At first I could not because I was so shocked by it that all I managed to do was store this unwanted piece of information in the darkest corner of my vortex. I kept it well hidden from daylight for three excruciatingly long winters. The longest and coldest I have lived through. The problem that arose after this period of total isolation – where I had kept myself as hidden as my dark secret, and had barely left my tiny, cramped apartment – was that the expected relief from the shock turned out to be an even worse enemy. Instead of the willed and prayed for redemption and empathy, from myself at least, I soon found out that the only replacement to shock was shame. And it was worst.
So bad in fact that I immediately started to miss my original ordeal and pray for it to come back. Of course it never did. And so, I remained stuck inside with this heavy stain. I found myself cutting ties with the last two friends I had sort of kept in touch with during the first phase. I had told them a white lie and had kept them at a safe distance, letting them closer or not at will I managed that feat for three years. My lies had must have been credible enough for they never pressed me more than would be acceptable from mannered manicured Victorian residues.
When shame came, I switched tactic with them and told them coldly what I thought about them, knowing that once they knew, they would never try to see me again.
In a way, getting rid of them was to be my only source of comfort during my darkest days. I did wonder for half a moment why they had ever been my friends in the first place, but this random thought was soon replaced by my real worry and no, nothing surprised me anymore. Not my past, not my future, not even my uncomfortable and suffocating present. What were they but tenses anyway?
Since I had, for obvious reasons, – well, obvious to myself- stopped attending mass and going to confession I resolved to building my own confessional and purgatory at home.
I recited dozens of Hail Mary’s a day and at least as many Notre Père, alternating English, French and Latin. In fact there were days, even weeks when these were the only words that came out of my mouth, days when I would scream them, weeks when they would be my only conversations, I would sometimes alternate a sentence from each and pretend they were actual friends communicating with me. I would provide all the answers, set the table for three, and wrap it all up with a Bloody Mary or two.
My other source of solace came from my not so new television post. It was one of those old sets that did not mind, or that actually enjoyed a slap or two, to get to work. Although I did not always have the patience to watch the endless supply of silly programmes aired till no hours, the TV was turned on most of time. When the skies outside were as somber and scary as my inner thoughts I would bless the TV and gratify it with a Mary or two.
However, and to my great despair, no matter what I did, or how I did it, the prayers, the isolation, the TV on its head or not, the bloody and bloodied Mary’s, The self-flagellation, the self-purgatory, the shame would not go away. I could not get over it, it was eating my insides, it was making me see a monster I refused to be, whenever I would see my reflection in the only mirror I possessed, in the lavatories.
On what could have been a beautiful morning, five years after I found out, as I was standing for my morning “business” I got so scared by the man staring at me but not staring at me, his vicious and viscous eyes, his hollow and lifeless eyes, his crooked nose hiding a good part of his faces, his paper thin lips so tightly closed they looked like a no entrance sign. When the man raised a bushy eyebrow I screamed and punched him straight in his nose, and punched and punched until there nothing left of him and he lay lifeless shattered in a thousand bloody pieces in around the toilet.
My hand was in a similar state. But my hand was still alive. I wrapped it best I could with toilet paper and started praying.
I prayed, prostrate in the toilet for 72 hours.
After that came the realization it was crucial I saved myself … from myself. I had lost quite a lot of blood, and I felt as though the reflection of that skull crashing in a thousand pieces relieved me a little from my shame, as if some of my shame had been crashed at the same time. I know, I know, it probably sounds crazy, but I swear it happened like that. My feeling of shame was but half what it had been. After a two hour shower, a shave and a hard-boiled egg, I put my shoes on, took my umbrella and headed out.
I knew the time had come. God had heard my prayers and was guiding my steps,. He took me straight to the church at the end of my road. I went straight to the priest and begged him to forgive me and hear me. It took some time for the priest to recognize me. He had not seen me in 15 years. When he did, he gently smiled to me his eyes filled with all the compassion and goodness I had come to look for and invited me to the confessional.
It is only when I was done confessing to the father that I truly started to feel relieved and started to live again.
My first stop on my way out of church was to the bar, where I knew no one apart from Mary. I sat with holding her and pondering the light punishment I had received after confessing: one Hail Mary! One!
I thought the priest must have become a softie with old age. Who knows, maybe he suffered from some old people disease, like Alzheimer or something and had forgotten the other punishment.
It never dawned on me that what I had been so shocked about and what had kept me locked with shame like a madman for fifteen years might not have been as bad as I had thought it was.
I had made peace with myself after the priest absolved me and resumed my life, and although, it never was like before, it was not as bad as I had feared it would be.
The Sunday after my release and my come-back amongst the mortals and the sinners, as I made my way to church, I did not notice the people looking at me, and snorting. I did not hear the blond lady tell her husband I was the man the priest had told her about … the Jew…
He was resting on the side of the road. His left arm lay lifeless on her bony shoulder. With his right hand he brought his gourd to his lips relishing in the heavenly juice that was slowly making his way through his palate. Each drop of the liquid a pearl, ’the’ pearl amongst all others, bursting delightfully into one thousand more savours in his throat. His legs were stretched in front of him, one foot on top of the other. His trousers’ pockets were bursting with things. All sort of things.
He face was tanned and the lines that greeted his eyes seemed to have been born out of the charcoal pen of a Chinese calligrapher.
She sat next to him. Erect. She looked like a cat. Her skinny body so tensed, she seemed plugged in an imaginary socket, her ears raised high, her legs ready to bounce and bite at a flicker’s notice, at the smallest noise. She wore a light flowery summer dress and a shawl covered her delicate burnt shoulders. Every inch of her translucent face was alert. She was wearing beige leather sandals. Jesus’ type of sandals. At least that is what the saleswoman told her in the shop, that those were the sandals Jesus wore. She had no idea what type of footwear Jesus wore (or did not wear). On the many crosses she had seen, he was always barefoot. She did remember a Monthy Python scene where the sandals had been depicted, but she did not remember what they looked like.
His arm was getting heavy on her shoulder but she dared not move for fear of disturbing him. She could not see his face but she could feel he was smiling and she loved his smile. She would trek across the Himalayas and walk on water just to be close enough to see and feel it. You can feel when people are smiling, you don’t need to see them. On the phone too, you can hear when people are smiling.
His smile was very special. It was one of those magical moments in anyone’s life. The minute he would smile, one would feel enveloped in a world made of beauty and bounty. It was an all-encompassing smile, one that would invite you in and instantly make you feel protected, wanted, a smile that could make you forget there were bad things out there. He changed the position of his feet and put the gourd back in one of the many pockets.
He was smiling. He was looking at the poster across the street, trying to make out what it said. The sun was blinding him so he used his hand to protect his eyes and read: “Due to closure, Flamenco classes at 50% less”. Next to it was the remains of a picture showing what used to be a couple facing each other doing some dance move. The woman’s face had been removed, so had her legs, only her bust and arms remained, both hands holding red castanets; her partner was still intact, apart from the one missing shoe. He was staring the faceless woman straight into … well, nothing-but-the-wall, but, with so much passion that the man felt some sadness at not being able to see the face that had been removed.
The dancers must have been excellent, he thought. He was imagining the classes that used to be given in the school behind the sign, the music permeating everything and everyone, the little girls, rushing for their classes, late but filled with dreams of Hispanic grandeurs; the little boys, less numerous and a little ashamed, praying they would not be seen by classmates; the dance teacher, with her strange and foreign accent, smelling foreign, eating foreign and always a little nostalgic. Maybe she had been the one on the poster whose head was now missing. Where was she today? Probably gone. Back to her country. Or to another.
Slowly he removed his arm from over her frail shoulder, careful not to displace her veil. His feelings for her were growing stronger with every passing minute. He was ready to do everything and even the unthinkable to protect her from harm. He loved her so he was ready to sacrifice all he had, himself included, just to make sure nothing would happen to her ever. He wondered if she too had taken dance classes as a child. She must have, she seemed to have the perfect physique for it. He knew nothing about her childhood. She knew nothing of his. It was better that way. They would have enough time to discover each other in the new country, in the new home. He felt so strangely calm and serene when he thought about their future together.
Lost in his dreams, he almost missed the signal. The bird tweet. She had heard it, of course, how could she not. She took his hand. The sun had set. They got up and started to run.
Together they ran along what remained of the bullet ridden city walls. They ran faster than they had ever run in their entire life, each feeding in the strength and love of the other through their entangled fingers. As they ran, she turned her head to watch him smile at her. She felt so filled with love and happiness that she managed to run even faster. The bullets were flying all around them, making whishing sounds as they passed them by and exploding on the potholed streets and dilapidated buildings.
They passed the sign advertising the flamenco classes and before they knew it, they had reached their destination.
A month later she opened a dance school in their new location. She started teaching flamenco.
You’ve Got Mail
He was excited to find 150 new emails in his inbox.
It had been days, weeks, maybe months that his inbox had remained completely empty. Not even the occasional ad from some obscure online shop he’d used a thousand years ago, or the reminder for an invitation to some site, club or other that he had no interest in joining but would have jumped on the occasion now.
Nothing! Not a peep, not a tweet, not a sign. He had even called the e-mail server customer service to make sure his address was still valid and in use. Maybe they have changed their policy, maybe they now want to charge customers, he thought. Ha! He’d even been offended at first and had sworn to himself that he would never go that low. That he, Mister XYZ de W would never go so low and pay to have his electronic mail delivered.
But that was a month and a half ago. When the mail silence was still bearable. When it could still be a coincidence. When it did not yet hurt. When he did not yet feel so utterly and totally abandoned by the whole of humanity.
That was when he still had a life. Albeit it was mostly online and virtually devoid of humans; no matter, he was quite a star there. In fact, he had decided a while ago that he much preferred his life onscreen than the one in front of his mirror. Onscreen, no matter his size and quality, he looked so good, sounded so intelligent, was so charismatic. What’s more, he enjoyed so much success with members of the opposite sex. They could not get enough of him. It had happened on more than one occasion that he’d had to virtually run away from the scene to avoid a cyber-crime.
This would have never happened in his other life. He could not call it ‘real’ life anymore. It was too lonely. Had always been. He could not stand to see his own sorry reflection in the mirror anymore. It seemed even in the mirror, pieces of its silvering cracked and peeled off at each of his visits. Soon the mirror would be completely dark, as dark as Dante’s inferno.
Yes! Dante! He would use him in his next chat with Mary. She was the most likely to be impressed by it. Sweet, but oh-so-silly Mary. She believed every word he said. She was infatuated by him and thought he was a demi-god of some sort. But, the hell with her now.
Back to those emails. There he was, sitting in front of his biggest screen. He felt such an immense joy, pride and satisfaction at the blinking numbers! One hundred and fifty! One hundred and fifty mails waiting for him! One hundred and fifty mails addressed solely to him!
He knew there had had to be a mistake. He knew he was right when he decided in extremis to postpone his suicide plans last week. All right, it was also a little bit thanks to the cat that had run in front of him and had been killed on the spot from the confrontation with the car, but still, but still. Cat or no cat, intestines in or out, it had been his decision.
Whatever! He knew his real friends from his virtual world would not, could not let him down. He knew it.
And indeed, now he was proved right. He would tell Mary about Dante, he would look with delight at all the fake pictures he’d posted as his. He would argue about very serious and deep philosophical subjects with Tom, the President’s most valued and secret advisor, Tom without whom the President did not make a move, he had told him so himself, during one of their last chats; he would talk about politics with an ex-MI6 agent, one who was on a first name basis with the Queen.
Of course, it was all secret.
The names they used were fakes, his online friends, but who cared? Who was he to complain, he who put fake pictures of himself? They were best buddies. They shared everything. They had no secrets from each other. They were extremely brilliant, his friends, and you see, in real life they would have never met. They would have never had the chance to exchange all those brilliant and advanced ideas. He knew they had not let him down. He knew they would never do that. He knew he was still alive. He knew he still had a beautiful life ahead of him.
That what had happened was just a phase. A phase everyone went through.
He sat in front of his huge screen. He had a new screen, a new PC. Of course, before contemplating suicide, he had ruminated over the latest screen in the shop window and then bought it. So there he was, looking at his emails. Anticipating with ecstasy the pleasure he would feel. Planning and plotting his next move. He would open them, the emails, one by one. He would not be gluttonous. He would open them slowly and delicately as if they were each a button of Mary’s shirt. The very shirt she sports on her latest profile picture. Between light blue and green. Very delicate, almost transparent. Each time he looks at that picture he gets an urge to run to the bathroom and relieve himself and he thanks god it is only a picture.
There he is sitting, straight and tall, in front of his new screen, about to let all his contained joy burst out with just a tender press of his index finger, about to let all his love come and go like a surfer through the waves, about to feel alive again.
His heart is beating at a very fast pace now, he can feel it. His breathing is hacked and heavy. He can feel each and every breath in his head. His temples are starting to hurt. He feels like a huge ball of fire is rising rapidly from his empty stomach through his haunches, through his esophagus, through his mouth that is now on fire too, straight to his temples, which he feels are about to literally explode. His brain is constrained by the fire and the thumping.
He starts choking. He does not understand what is happening. He wants to scream but his mouth fills with bile. He wants to scream for help but his fingers are paralyzed and he cannot reach his keyboard to call for help. He wants to go back to the mails. He wants to feel intelligent and deep with Tom, he wants to feel close to the Queen by proxy, he wants to see Mary’s shirt and tell her about Dante’s Inferno, but he feels himself in that Inferno, without Mary, far very far away from her. So far away, until he stops feeling and falls silently to the ground.
His face gets the most of the shock. Two of his front teeth break. But it does not hurt and it no longer matters. He will no longer need them. He will never know that for his birthday Mary wanted to surprise and let him know in one hundred and fifty different ways how much she loved and admired him.
The mountain range was daunting. But not as daunting as her six inch, red Christian Lacroix heels. The strap had broken and …he slapped the book shut. It was pointless.
He could not concentrate anyway. His eyes kept going back to his phone on the table next to the couch. Each time he heard it ring he’d jump and reach out to it hoping it was her, and each time he would feel the disappointment. Each time it was yet another work e-mail. Another missile had fallen, and another one, and he was supposed to be writing his article about it, and instead he had opened this book that he had now shut and thrown across the room.
“To hell with the whole lot of you! Stop bloody bombing each other already! And you! answer my message already” and with that he went and did some crunches, punched his punching ball. He did not understand why she was not answering. He checked his phone, the last message he had sent her, maybe it was something he had written, the way he had written it, the tone he had used. His humour that she had not gotten. “Imysmpcm”
…. Hmmm… Yes, their game, they only wrote to each other using the first letter of each word and the other had to guess what was written. Maybe she did not get that one? Usually she was pretty good at it tough.
Could she have stopped loving him already?
He had to know. He jumped on his phone, anther false alert, but a real explosion and ten dead. He did not care. He was about to ditch it again when it rang.
The office, there were serious shouts at the other end of the line.
“What the hell are you doing? Why are you not sending us anything? Do you have any idea what is happening at the border? Are you sleeping! Let me remind you if the basic rules of the game here: you are not being paid to do fuck all and get laid with every hooker you lay your eyes on.
There is a real war on now you are meant to be on the front line, taking pictures, interviewing soldiers, informing the world. Get up and go to work! I swear that if I don’t get your story within the hour, you are fired, and we are not covering your trip back to safety! And one more thing, …..”
But he did not hear it. He heard a loud explosion that shook even the windows of his hotel room. He went to the minibar and took a vodka out that he finished in one gulp. He took the other one too, cursing those minibars with the mini-bottles. He was not mini, and he maxi needed to get blasted, well not literally of course…
The phone again, another explosion… That one was too late, he had already heard it live.
He went on his sofa. He needed to hear from her. They had met but a week ago, had seen each other twice, had kissed but once, but he could not get her out of his mind. All he thought about was her, all he dreamed about was her. All he wanted to do was be with her. He knew he had to get to work.
The phone again, 56 dead and 274 wounded from the explosion close to his hotel. He could hear the ambulances, the police, the whole spiel. He went to his desk, on his way, he snatched all the mini-bottles from the mini-fridge. He sat down and proceeded to write about the horrors of the war, but all he wrote brought him back to the colour of her eyes.
And then, it hit him: maybe she was not calling back because she had been amongst the victims. He put on his shoes, without bothering to tie the laces, took his phone, a notebook and camera and rushed out.
Outside his door, his fixer was crouched staring ahead. “What a weird guy” he thought to himself, on y va patron? he answered while running down the stairs, he had never trusted elevators in time of emergency. The fixer on his heels, he shouted to him “Where were the explosions? Where were the most civilians hit? What hospitals did they take them to?”
He did not hear the answer, but was now following the small and agile guy, who had taken the lead. As he was running, his phone rang, as his phone rang, he heard another big boom. It seemed to be getting closer and closer. He was so nervous now. He had to get to her. He had to see her. She could not have been hit. They had so much more to do together, so many new sites to discover, so many conversations to have, so many laughs to laugh, so much love to do.
His stomach was churning as they were now running amongst the dead and the wounded. Limbs seemed to everywhere, people were moaning, weeping, a small child was holding on to a hand and crying. He could not stop, he took a picture on the run. He had to get to her. He was scanning the floor as he was running, and giving secret blessings each time he saw white skin and it was not hers. He felt awful, but kept on running.he got to the first hospital where the smell almost knocked him down.
He was not prepared for what he saw there. He was not prepared for any of it. Not for the blood, not for the love. He told his fixer to ask about a white woman. But no one had seen any white woman here.
Relieved, he took a few shots and recorded some words on his machine and went back out. Night was falling now. He felt sick to his stomach. The whole city was burning, but not as bad as his heart. He looked around him and was knocked down by another explosion. Nothing hurt or broken. The fixer was fine too. They had been knocked down by the shock. He was holding back his tears now. He did not want to look like a wimp in front of his fixer. He got up and was on the run again when the phone rang.
It was not a bomb but an explosion of joy filled his entire body. It was her. Finally. She was fine, she was alive, she was whole they had a great future ahead of them. He could not stop reading and rereading her text: “icstoy.ly,my”. The fixer grabbed his sleeve, they were on the run, explosions all around them, but it all made sense now.
Eran Dror is an Israeli-born writer, journalist, and designer who spent the last nine years in New York City. His first book, The Book of Hard Truths, is an illustrated guide to the most universally resisted facts of life.
(From Improv Writing Prompt Night)
A San Francisco native living in Los Angeles, Oren Peleg is a writer and filmmaker constantly in search of authentic Hungarian goulash soup here stateside. If you have any information in regards to the aforementioned goulash, please contact Oren at his place of work, Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, CA.
Juan Carlos Alvarez Picque
My name is Juan Carlos Alvarez Picque and I didn’t believe in the power of dance until yesterday.
I was born in Sevilla, Spain but moved to New York City at the age of seven. When I moved to the states, my parents started calling me Jerry and it stuck. My father stocked vending machines in the World Trade Center and hardly smiled. My mother was a hairdresser who was always armed with a hot curling iron and an even hotter temper. She could never hold down a job for long because of it. She probably had a stint cutting hair at every damn salon in New York.
I was shy as a child. I was shy to the point of being accused of having a learning disability. I ate lunch alone. I studied alone. I played chess alone. Well let’s not be ridiculous. I played chess against the most worthy of adversaries, myself. I know what you’re thinking, but playing against one’s self isn’t the same as playing alone. When I’d slide over to the other side of the table to make the next move, I swear to god, I’d inhabit another soul and elevate my game to new heights. Each move I made in these games was more cunning than the last. Eventually, I molded myself into a chess champion of sorts in the unforgiving Central Park scene. I beat grown men at a game of wits but couldn’t coax a girl my age into letting me take them to dinner and a movie. Kids at school took to the hobby of clasping their hands together in mocking prayer and calling me The Virgin Jerry.
At school dances, I stood alone in the corner and drank enough punch to fill a shark tank… a tank for a shark with an affinity for sugar and a disdain for life, I suppose. One girl walked right up to me in my corner of isolation.
She was pretty. Ask me to dance, she said to me. Want to dance? I replied, my voice shaking. She skipped back over to her friends and was greeted by them with hearty laughter. Sick triumph for them I thought.
How was the dance? …You didn’t dance? …Why the hell not? It’s called a school dance? … Come on, Jerry, you go to your school and you dance! Dios mio! What’s the matter with you?
My mom slapped me affectionately in the face. Her show of affection left a mark on my face redder than the nastiest of sunburns.
Now, I’m grown and have my own place in the city. I work for a grocer in Little Italy and deliver fine Italian salamis, cheeses and wines to loyal customers’ homes. Enzo, the grocery store owner, likes the fact that I can put on an ambiguous sounding accent. I just smile and nod as Northern Italian customers say to Enzo, He must be Southern Italian, and the Southern Italian customers object, No, no, no, I don’t care what you’ve heard. This boy is from Northern Italy.
I met a nice Italian girl who would come into the store to shop for her mother. She was my first girlfriend. Her name was Connie. She had bushy hair that looked like it had been done up at a dog’s salon. My mother would’ve demanded a chance to, as she used to put it, “go to work on her” if the two of them had ever met. They didn’t, thank The Lord.
Connie dumped me last week. Too stiff. Too quiet. Too plain.
You’re not adventurous enough, baby… I need a man who can take the reins… I need someone with real spice, and not the kind you sell at Enzo’s.
So, yesterday, I’m walking down the street on my day off. I’m feeling sick as hell about Connie. I love walking around Little Italy like I’m in a hurry so that people who recognize me from the grocery store can only manage a quick hello and then let me on my way. I just walked and walked and walked. I saw a sign that read:
GOING OUT OF SALE. FLAMENCO LESSONS – HALF PRICE
I could hear Connie’s shrill voice, loud sloppy gum chewing and all, in my head. Not adventurous enough… take the reins… real spice…
Fuck it. I pushed open the doors and stepped inside. A goddess of a woman sat in a chair in traditional flamenco dress, her head buried in her hands. Soft, sad whimpering filled the empty, quiet room.
Hello. I said.
She looked up at me and quickly wiped the tears from her eyes. Without saying anything, she strode up to me and looked me up and down. She stepped even closer, her body now up against mine. She smelled me. I hesitantly smelled her back. She took me by the hand and lead me out onto the hardwood dance floor.
Ask me to dance, she said.
Want to dance? I spat out.
It was dimly lit on this side of the room and I could barely see her face. She moved me around the dance floor with quick and efficient precision. I stumbled to keep up with her but moved my feet at a furious pace. I have no memory of the steps. I just followed the flamenco firecracker. The daughter of dance. The sister of step. She was all mine.
Her smell was intoxicating. It was all I had to grasp onto, dancing in the dark. She stopped suddenly as we could both hear foot steps fast approaching. She pulled me near, now closer than ever to me. I could feel her hot breath against my upper lip. Her breath smelled of hot cigarettes and hard whiskey. Her eyelash fluttered against mine. I kissed her hard and wet.
With that, she shoved me toward the door and spat violently on the back of my neck for good measure. She shut the door in my face. I wiped the saliva off the back of my neck and stared at the door and the “Going out of Business. Flamenco Lessons – Half Price” sign, utter confusion all over my face. I could hear intense yelling in Spanish coming from inside the dance studio. A hand reached out and flipped the sign over. It now read:
OUT OF BUSINESS
I looked at my saliva stained hand, then up at the sign. Juan Carlos Alvarez Picque is now OPEN FOR BUSINESS.
Katie Schlieper has lived and worked in more countries as a US Embassy employee than most of us will see in a lifetime. And she has stories to match. Currently living in Tel Aviv, Katie is working on a collection of her short stories.
The Neighborhood Sage
Dolores had never felt such glee, such opportunity, such – well – adrenaline. She looked down at the shovel in her hand. Now things were going to change. Going to the closet she took her late husband’s duffel from its corner and packed up her tools. She slung the bag across one shoulder and slipped out the back door. Her neighbor’s house, the Peterson’s, was dark. They had gone to the silent auction she’d sold them the tickets for last week after Sunday services. There would be no one to bother her now.
She climbed up the stepladder and unscrewed the bulb from the motion-activated porch light and bent to place it in the sill. Then she stepped down, drawing a pair of oversized galoshes on over her bare feet. She stepped carefully down the back stairs and crept over to the fence line, sensing the Peterson’s black Labrador snuffling along on the other side, tracking her with his giant wet nose and fat black-lipped mouth that trailed drool over the hemline of her skirts every time she’d gone over there to talk to Chris and Luann. They always kept her out on the porch. Never invited her in and never showed her that neighborly courtesy. They just blocked the doorway with their wide-hipped bodies and let their dog sniff at her and rudely try to insert his anvil-sized head between her legs.
She’d kept a civil tone at first: about the noise level at the Saturday barbecues, and the dog’s barking, and the shade of paint they’d chosen for the house that was in clear violation of the regulations stipulated by the Homeowner’s Association. She’d even brought over a batch of her own raw molasses and karob cookies when she’d asked them not to park their cars quite so close to her azalea bushes as the opening and closing of the door disturbed the blossoms in such a way that they came off their peak as much as a week or two prior to what the woman at the nursery had promised her. She’d been nothing but polite. And then they’d planted the sage bushes.
She found the weak spot in the fence, pushed on the board until it gave on the bottom and swung open to let her in the Peterson’s yard. The Labrador was waiting for her, a rope of drool dangling from his mouth, his breath hot and smelling of bacon niblets. She reached into her duffel and took out the rawhide she’d soaked overnight in a warm bath of chicken broth and Benadryl. She held it out “Heeeeeere puppy….who’s a good boy?” The dog ambled over, sniffed at the rawhide and then snatched it from her hands before turning his back to her and settling down in the grass. She could hear the sticky, wet sounds of his chewing. “Sweet dreams, “ she whispered.
The bushes squatted before her. Eight of them. No matter how many times she contemplated them, she couldn’t keep herself from shaking her head. Only a perfect idiot would plant sage in this climate. They were a desert plant! Perfectly suited for the arid climes of the Southwest, or even the dry, high mountains of Nevada. She supposed that in a stretch you could get away with them in California, but in Oregon?! What on earth were the Petersons thinking? It was absurd. Now: an evergreen? A holly? A fir? Would have been lovely, would have filled the space, would have given the Petersons some greenery for their miserable dog to lift his leg against. But the sage? The sage was all wrong. And the smell! Like a thousand rotting logs dumped in a wet basement. Like a pot smoker’s convention in a dry sauna. Revolting.
She used to enjoy a nice cup of tea on the back porch in the early morning, before the rest of the neighborhood started up with their noise but not since those sage brushes moved in. Now she sat at her window nook with her 5am cup of Earl Grey and she stared out the window and she seethed. She’d tried to talk Luann out of if of course but she wouldn’t see reason. “Oh I love them,” she’d rhapsodized, clutching at her massive bosom with liver-spotted hands. “The smell is heavenly.”
Dolores had explained the difference between herbaceous and coniferous plantings. She’d gone into water tables and barometric pressure differentials, and photosynthetic variations in the mitochondrial activity of the genus Artemisia but it had fallen on deaf ears. And at a certain point, once the limits of neighborly goodwill and polite rejoinder had been exceeded, one needed to take matters into one’s own hands.
Dolores took the shovel from the bag, she looked behind her to see the Labrador splayed on the lawn, huffs of breath flattening the grass in front of his nose. She walked to the first of the bushes and began digging.
It was slow work, and she soon sweat through the thin cotton of her housedress. But one by one the bushes came up, their anorexic little roots giving up their grip on the soil like they knew they were never meant to be there. With each yank at the base of each acrid-smelling bush she felt her jubilation grow. One by one she hoisted each bush, carried it through the fence to the compost heap she kept behind her house and dumped it in, covering the growing stack with clippings and fallen boughs from her own garden, for which she had used only native plantings.
Two hours later she was done. She picked up her shovel and duffel and stole back through the fence, nudging the board back into place. She leaned against the fence, wiped the sweat from her brow, and smelled the clean, cool air. The Peterson’s would be leaving the auction any minute now, getting in their car to drive home, perhaps discovering what she had done. She hoped they’d be grateful.
Do you believe in the after life? (non-fiction)
I remember reading an article in the New Yorker back when social networking was just getting popular about logging on to a girl’s MySpace page a few days after she had been killed. The author of the piece scrolled through this girl’s photos, read her favorite quotes, clicked play on the song the girl had chosen as her site’s background music. This little corner of pixels and code was the girl’s electronic ghost. As long as the internet lives so will she, in this page that is frozen in time on a day in early January. And I don’t know whether that makes me more or less sad.
About four months ago a woman I knew who was working in Kabul died in a roadside bombing. She was 25. I can still log on to her Facebook page. People still leave her notes. They write, “We miss you Anne.“ “We know you’re having an awesome party in Heaven.” “We can’t believe you are gone, still, every day I think I will see your face.”
Her face in her profile picture is bright and healthy. Her life is suspended in a second hand’s tick. She is there, whole forever in the flash before the explosion. She is there, one click away, as she always was.
It’s not the after life, it’s the never ended life. It’s not heaven because for a second or a minute or an hour or a day you can pretend she isn’t gone. In fact she can’t get away. Every time you flip your laptop open, there she is. Which is worse? To feel her slipping away, her face getting blurred at the edges with each passing week or to be reminded of that face each day? That face that was once alive and animated and is now just a line of code in a digital reflection forcing itself into the present. She is there, but she’s not. She is immortal but as easy to scroll past as an advertisement for a hotel in Miami.
I don’t believe in Heaven but I think we all deserve a denouement. A rest from our labors. A chance to wind the action down and end on a good note, the narrator singing us out with a sunset and a long walk home. The people I love I can’t bear to think of losing but when they go I would like to imagine it is with a sense that their capers have come to a satisfactory close.
The princess has been won, the dragon has been slayed, the trek through the mountains has ended at a quiet inn in the valley with good beer and a warm bed. When they close their eyes for that long night I would like it to be with the unburdened sigh of a good day’s work.
A good story cannot last forever. Even the best book must end. It will be the pain of all pain to turn the final page, to close the cover, to feel the end. But a comfort all the same to say I read you, to say I knew you, to say I watched your life and loved it, and to say your story now lives in mine.
Gillian Granoff is a Tel Aviv based writer with a background in journalism. After working as an education reporter in New York for 8 years, she relocated to Israel where she is focusing on short fiction and working on a children’s book.
The button factory had gone utterly silent…
All eyes were on the birthday cake and its 50 candles. Slowly and hesitantly George leaned down to blow out the candles. For his fifteenth he has committed to quit smoking, but he allowed himself to indulge in one last smoke of his pipe as a celebratory smoke. His fifty years of puffing had certainly taken its toll. His doctor had warned him that he was pushing his luck.
As he stared down the fifty candles defiantly daring him like an out of control blaze taunting a team of fire fighters, he took in a deep inhale and blew out. He closed his eyes and sealed them shut like vacuum as if one peak through his eyelids might allow the last bit of oxygen in his body to leak out.
Fifty, he thought ponderously, how did this happen? His momentary lapse into self pity and pondering was dissolved by the smell of sulfur sharply tweaking at his nostrils. His eyes opened in amazement at what he saw. Through the smokescreen of candles he saw that all fifty candles with the exception of one were extinguished.
As the dense smog of sulfur dissipated George tried to make out the faces of his friends smiling and clapping through the haze, what he saw filled him with shock, the cake was covered in buttons. Apparently George had not only successfully extinguished all the candles he had also sent all the buttons in the store into a frenzy. Plastic buttons, silk buttons, embroidered buttons: a veritable buffet of buttons layered the birthday cake with a sumptuous button icing that spread gratuitously down the side of the cake and snaked along of the floor.
Apparently the current from George’s blow had been so strong it sent the entire store of buttons into a symphonic flurry. Like the thunderous waves of a waterfall, the meticulously placed wall of buttons came crashing down in a flood of chaos.
Emphysema be dammed he thought. Blowing out fifty candles had breathed new life into his lungs. George didn’t have long to indulge in his own self righteous silent diatribe about how his achievement had defied science and proven that his smoking habit had actually enhanced the efficiency of his lungs. His internal monologue was silenced by the deafening sound of the torrential tsunami of buttons crashing down and swallowing George in its wake, burying him in a mountain of plastic, embroidered , and quilted buttons. With no time to think George gasped his last breath as his handle furiously dug, scratched and scrambled to burrow a tunnel through the volcano of buttons.
The irony that George’s last breath on his fiftieth birthday would not be at that end of pipe or Cuban cigar but at the the mercy of tsunami of buttons forever became the legend that would challenge the anti smoking campaigns of pulmonologists for years to come.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Äidy Friedman has lived in Tel Aviv for over fifteen years. Her experience in global food importing takes her all over the world where she collects many of her short stories to come.
The Soul of Paris (non-fiction)
Of course it was highly illegal and I knew it, but I was determined to have the fun of breaking another Jewish law.
I was in Paris for a food trade show. My job in Israel required me to attend this exhibition for 2 days starting Sunday. I had arrived earlier for the weekend to spend some time with a close friend living there. She too grew up in Brooklyn, home to many orthodox Jews and we had a joint agreement that hell was definitely more interesting than heaven. I spent the day enjoying the crisp autumn weather and browsing around St. Germaine where I found a flyer on the wet pavement advertising the Harlem Gospel Choir’s performance that evening at the Eglise Saint Roch cathedral in the center of town.
Growing up, we were never allowed to step into an actual church. The only permitted place of worship was Shul. So my friend and I were quite delighted to find a good reason to break another taboo that would get us front seats in the afterlife inferno.
We arrived on time, paid our tickets, lit a candle and walked into the cathedral with our heads in a perpetual staring at the ceiling angle. It was monastic, beautiful and creepy at the same time. There was definitely more to survey in comparison to shul. I couldn’t decide if I was more overwhelmed by the notion that I finally entered a church or by the magnificent architecture. I felt like dancing in celebration. The ensemble took their places and began singing. At first they seemed to fit the image of what we thought the Harlem Gospel Choir should look like. They wore the long robes; there were generous boobs with necklaces, brocade hats in happy colors and enthusiastic clapping. But they weren’t the actual Harlem Gospel Choir and the principle difference was that this was Paris – not New York City. We sensed that being African Europeans they were keeping back. We were also missing the uninhibited African American spirit in the crowd. They clapped politely but no one was up in their seats singing their guts out, and no passionate outcry’s of Hallelujah were heard.
I thought of the song my mother used to sing from the film Gigi, and how she couldn’t understand the Parisians.
My friend and I looked at each other with the common understanding that something must be done here. We sprinkled Yiddish expressions between ourselves because the contrast gave us the chuckles and we decided to give these Parisians a much needed rhythm injection.
So there we were, two Jewish Brooklynites clapping our kishkes out, swaying our hands energetically to the sound of Oh’ Happy Day and shouting out ‘Hallelujahs’, and ‘Praise the Lord’ at any given moment even when it made no sense at all.
I never felt so Jewish.
The sightseeing boat wound down the river, passing green banks and stone walls. He couldn’t have been more bored until, on the left bank of the river, a great white-tailed bird swooped over the tree line.
Finally, something worth seeing!
Henry grabbed his binoculars and tried to train them on the bird. Noting the blue- coloured swatch on the tail, he pulled out his guide to northern bird species and searched through for a matching description.
Hmm, nothing matched. The bird had landed on a nearby tree and Henry studied it more closely through the binoculars, wondering if he was missing some kind of distinctive marking. As an avid birder for 20 years, it was rare that he couldn’t identify a particular species.
This cruise had been recommended on some of his favourite birding blogs as a great way to see some of the traditional northern species. There was only one other potential birder on the boat, with an expensive set of binoculars in hand. The rest were local tourists, taking advantage of the hop-on, hop-off cruise with its loudspeaker blaring garbled descriptions of the historical relevance of the nearby hills and villages.
The bird was still in the tree and Henry was positive that nothing in his definitive guidebook matched the description. His pulse quickened – could this be it? The Holy Grail for any avid birder? The discovery of a whole new species?
He looked around and with relief spotted a dock marked with a green flag indicating that the boat would be pulling-in to let off any passengers who wanted to take a stroll through the idyllic countryside.
Agonizingly slowly, the sightseeing boat came around and pulled its starboard side up to the dock. Henry grabbed his backpack and hurried to the gangplank. No-one else was getting off the boat, except for the other potential birder.
Henry hadn’t paid the man much attention, birders being a notoriously competitive lot. He wanted to get in a few good sightings on the cruise before striking up any conversation. He casually glanced over at the man: slightly younger, slightly fighter and with the more expensive set of binoculars.
The man, or the competition as he was now named in Henry’s head, was also sneaking glances in Henry’s direction. He sensed it, he knew it, that the man had also seen the unknown bird and was after the prize. As the gangplank clanged against the dock, Henry and his competition scurried off the boat, both trying to maintain a false casualness.
Henry took one last glance over at the competition as they reached the top of the dock and then they both moved into the trees.
Even with the pressure of competition mounting, Henry felt confident in his own abilities. He doubled back through the woods, taking care to walk slowly, and keeping an eye on the bird that still sat atop the same tree. He couldn’t see the other man, but assumed he was moving on a parallel path, avoiding any disruption that might scare away the bird.
Henry reached the base of the tree. He knew for the national ornithological society to validate his discovery, he would need at least one clear picture of the bird. Usually he would position himself at the base of the tree and wait for the bird to fly out into a clear patch of sky unmarred by the leaves and branches. But he could sense his competitor close on his heels. So he decided to climb.
Leaving his backpack at the base of the tree, Henry heaved himself onto the lowest branch and started to climb towards the white-tailed bird. He was, of course, terrified of heights, but the prize of a new discovery was too tempting to resist. One clear photo that he could email immediately and the claim would be his. To distract himself from the growing distance from the ground, Henry thought about what he might name this new species. The Henry? Too vain?
He could see the bird now, growing tantalizing closer and his breath started coming heavier and heavier. He balanced gingerly on a large branch just below the bird, reaching behind his back to pull his camera around to his face.
A flash of movement from the ground below distracted him. His balance shifted and his grip slipped. He swung forward, clawing desperately for a branch and unable to grab something to hold onto. With his head dangling towards the ground, he realized that under the tree was his competition from the boat, not a birder at all, but just a guy come out to the woods to take a piss.
And as he fell to earth, he could hear the soft “coo coo” of the bird that only he would know as Henry.
The floor was spotless and the furniture dusted.
She observed it all with a sense of mirth. After all, “What 40-year-old male has a dollhouse?” she asked. “And teeny tiny picture frames with those pictures of farm yard animals, some swinish but oh-so-cute, and those little Shaker chairs and the walnut dining table?”
But then again what 35-year-old woman sleeps with a man who has a dollhouse and miniature people – the dad, the mom, the three toddlers – hidden away in a closet, under blankets, as if she would not rummage there when he rushed out to buy the butter she demanded for her eggs. And what type of amateur chef has margarine in his fridge while extolling its health benefits. “A unique man,” she thought, happily.
It had been four years since Regina had broken up with Mr. Right, Mr. rich and successful, Mr. oh-so-normal, Mr. ready for-a life together with her for all time, and when you probed a bit, Mr. in love with her oh so under-achieving and barely educated best friend. During that post Mr. Right time, there had been a series of long interviews with more potentials to become Mr. Regina, a man who met her demands – prestige, money and a matching lifestyle. After all she was a highly paid corporate lawyer with Ivy League degrees from four different universities and the number was not because she flunked out of anywhere. Of course not, I deserve perfection. My man must be my equal, she thought, touching the miniature Maserati hanging around her neck.
Now Mark – that is Mr. Margarine – and she laughed again, was not even in the competition – some community college in New Jersey, some sales job along the turnpike, some life she had no intention of sharing but all that did not stop her from having him move into her place for awhile until Mr. Right would materialize. Last night she stayed over his place because he wanted her to enter his world and she thought, I can slum it for a night.
That dollhouse is super cool though and surprising. Who knew he had such inclinations, hang- ups, gender bender proclivities. Or it could it be openness, maybe acceptance -supreme confidence in himself, fearlessness in the face of society’s demands of men? The beautiful hand-hewn wooden dollhouse charmed her. He had seemed so macho in the bar, silently watching the soundless football replay – but this could be way better.
She looked closely at the house and placed itsy bitsy mommy in the den and put a slide of a football scene on the retro tv and stuck dad in the living room reclining on every girl’s dream sofa. She even dressed daddy in a tutu, removing that suit and pocketing the brief case that just did not belong. She put the kids in the kitchen, and said to them, “Bake chocolate chip cookies. Here’s the pre-rolled dough. Mommy is watching the game and daddy needs to sleep. Have fun but don’t make too much of a mess – ok, make a mess!.”
And then she looked up.
Mark dropped his shopping bag full of Irish butter, out-of-season strawberries and Dom Perignon.
“So sorry but I hung up my coat and the dollhouse just fell out.”
Mark smiled, anticipating a life of white lies, but so what?
So Regina closed the smallest door she had ever seen, and glimpsed a sign hanging on it. She moved very close to read, “Regina and Mark’s place. Will you play house with me until the end of time?”
Regina stood up, flung her arms around Mark’s neck, and said, “I do. I do.”
They spent the entire morning sitting on the floor rearranging the furniture.
Jessica Fass hails from Los Angeles, CA, and holds a BA in film and television production and writing from Chapman University. A freelance producer, writer, and stand-up comedian, Jessica is also a modern day matchmaker.
Nothing goes right when your underwire is pinching you, she thought as she walked into the boisterous Tel Aviv bar. She felt like the elephant in the room as the judgmental Israeli girls watched her walk in in a bright pink, flowery dress and fiddle with her bra like a hillbilly. She knew she didn’t really look like a hillbilly, she just felt like one compared to all the beautiful, lean, tan Israeli girls. She was the jovial, always smiling, slightly chubby yet cute, American girl who was always told that she was “a great listener” and “such a good friend.”
She took a seat at the bar on an empty stool and a deep breath. The breath didn’t help. She was still nervous beyond all reason. “Who suggests a first date on Valentine’s Day?? Well, it is Israel,” she reassured herself. “The Israeli guys don’t take Anglo holidays into consideration when planning dates. In fact, Israeli guys don’t take much into consideration at ALL when planning dates. And in fact, they don’t even call it a DATE! They call it a “meeting.” What the heck is up with calling it a “meeting?” Are we on a job interview here?
Ok, I’m getting off track,” she thought to herself. “Just focus on getting to know him, focus on him getting to know me, show him how awesome, and funny and sweet and charming I am. Think of that song from “The King and I,” “Getting to Know You.” God, why do I always bring up musical theater in stressful situations? Why am I such a nerd?!
Note to self: Do not bring up musicals on this date! Act like a laid-back, carefree badass chick. Do not mention your childhood summers in drama camp or obsession with “Glee” or The Muppets! Do not mention that the only piece of news that you read today was that “Boy Meets World” is getting a spin-off!”
She looks around the bar again at the good looking, tan Israelis surrounding her. “How do all these people have so much time to go to the beach? Doesn’t anyone work in this country? Well, it is the “start up nation,” so they must work sometimes….” She checks her watch. “Where is this guy? He’s already 10 minutes late! What if he’s standing me up?” Just then, the door of the bar creaks open and she anxiously spins around in her seat to see who just walked in. It’s him, she’s sure of it. If it’s possible, he’s actually better looking than his picture.
“Oh crap,” she thinks. “I don’t want him to be an 8. That’s overwhelming! I haven’t mentally prepared for an 8, especially not on Valentine’s Day! Oh that’s right, I’m not supposed to be thinking about the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day. But who am I kidding, I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for an 8!! I don’t care if it’s freaking Yom Kippur and the rabbi who is leading the congregation is an 8, I will never feel comfortable in the same room as an 8!
“Oh god, and this bra is killing me! How can I be comfortable on this date in this bra? How could Sarah have convinced me to wear this stupid padded bra?! I know my boobs are small, but I’d much rather be comfortable than have big boobs, especially on a date with an 8!”
She sees him glancing around the room looking for her. She turns her back and quickly adjusts her underwire again so he won’t see.
“Crap, he is looking for me. Ok, you can do this. Just remember everything Sarah taught you. Just turn around slowly, make eye contact, and smile. It’s not that difficult. If a monkey can do sign language, then you can do this.”
She takes another deep breath, slowly turns around, makes eye contact with this devilishly handsome young man across the room, smiles coyly, and then… SNAP! The underwire pops out of her bra and straight through the front of her dress! This could only happen to her. Only on Valentine’s Day. Only with an 8.
Daniel Mines was born in Denver, Colorado but spent most of his life living overseas. Currently he attends SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx, New York where he is a merchant marine in training. But he still finds time every now and again to pursue his love for writing.
She removed her shoes as she sat crossed legged on the freshly cutgrass. The feeling of the wet morning dew clinging to the sides of her feet stirred past memories of her life as a child. A more complicated time, a time where raw emotion trumped reason and logic. A time where expressing even the simplest sensations was a chore. A time burdened with the constant barrage of waves filled with anger, fear, jealousy, and remorse; a time that felt as if it would not end; a time that did not end.
She had been sitting on the green grass for hours running her hands through the severed blades that laden the ground, trying not to think of the way it used to be. Her attempts were futile compared to the amount of pent up emotion that continued to spill over from the back of her mind into the window of her eyes. She felt her hands leave the cold earthen floor to shield her eyes but to no avail.
The images kept on coming and with them the tears. Empty tears, made only of superficial emotions, she shed more tears for the petty feuds that happened with myrtle then for the ones that wouldn’t come. There was one memory in particular that breeched her emotional barriers more than all the others.
She remembered as she watched Myrtle remove her monogramed lipstick case carefully from her bag and carefully apply it. The lurid color stirring raw emotions inside of her.
She was always jealous of Myrtle, jealous of her charisma, jealous of her career, jealous of her character, and now jealous of her lips. Her bountiful lips, always so lushes and red, and with the right lipstick accented to perfection. Myrtle finished painting a masterpiece and left out the door. Leaving her, all alone, with nothing.
So there she was 17 years later all alone sitting crossed legged in the soggy grass reminiscing of the way it used to be.
Thinking of all the things that made her jealous of Myrtle, thinking of how insignificant and meaningless they all were, compared to what she envied of Myrtle now.
She reached out and touched the smooth engraved stone that rested in front of her. “I envy your rest” she whispered “I envy your bravery, I envy your peace, I envy you even in death.”
Joline Vyth loves reading (from literature to advertising leaflets) and writing (from newspaper articles to poetry). She has an academic background in health and journalism and she also likes to learn new languages.
The Royal Treatment
Who cares if the royals had a baby, the kid thought, looking back at the moment when he made that wonderful goal, and of course, Jimmy had to ruin the moment, his moment, with the news about the royal baby. The kid needed to get home as soon as possible, the sun has already set and it was not the first time this week that he was late. Slowly walking off the muddy field, swinging his backpack from side to side, he dreaded going home.
Since his mother had her last baby, things got worse. His stepdad was doing less than ever, watching TV almost all day, smoking cigarettes on the balcony or loudly talking on the phone with his mates. Baby hasn’t stopped screaming and neither has Mom. Older sister tried to do the same thing as the kid, staying out as late as possible, but since her last boyfriend was arrested for smoking a joint, she was grounded and got herself locked up in her room.
Second sister escaped into fantasies and got mute. Third sister found her relief in eating candy as much as possible. His oldest brother wasn’t seen in 5 months; he disappeared after a night out in a shady night club.
Second brother got addicted to computer games, Third brother was studying non-stop. Youngest sister was either crying all the time, or bullying the Terrible Twins, almost 2 years old, who, in their turn, had developed a special ability to destroy everything in the house, including the ginger street cat who called their tiny apartment ‘home’ since a couple of days.
The kid’s mood grew even darker at the sight of his neighborhood. Tall, grey apartment blocks stood bluntly together like old men complaining about their fates.
Mildly kicking against the front door to open it with his muddy football shoes, he tried to maintain an innocent and blank face, but his heart started pounding so loud that he could almost hear it.
“Where have you been?” his mother, wearing jogging pants and her hair in a messy ponytail, yelled at him while holding the crying baby, milk dripping out of his mouth. This was bad news, he knew immediately, very bad news.
“Just out… with friends”, he whispered. Then he spotted the newspaper, laying spread out on the ground. “Look,” he quickly spoke up louder, “the royals got a baby today…”
Dena is an anthropologist, writer and consultant based in Tel Aviv, although her various professions keep her travelling rather a lot. Originally hailing from London, she loves the creativity and vitality of Tel Aviv. After writing several academic books – mainly about Ethiopia -she is now enjoying the playfulness of fiction.
Morning Reflections on Life and Death
The ruby pomegranate seeds stained the floor where the baby had mushed and squashed them until their juice oozed out over the white tiles. Smiling in glee she spread her palm over some still half-alive seeds and made circular movements leaving bright red swirls on the floor, with occasional intact seeds, like blood clots among the colourful flow.
I looked down at the mess and thought about the blood that had flowed out of me as I had brought her into the world. The kettle boiled and I sleepily placed a spoon of instant coffee into a mug and poured in the water. Was it really already six months? It was hard to believe. Just six months ago when I didn’t know if she would live or die, whether I would get through it alive, when the endless flow of blood had midwives running out of the room, doctors panicking, and my worried husband nearly having a heart-attack. And now little Amy is sitting on the floor making art in the blood as if to reframe the whole event, to turn it into something joyful and vital and alive.
She smiles up at me, red pomegranate stains now smeared across her face and a clear red handprint proudly on the belly of pink flowery baby-grow. She is so full of life! Of energy! Of joy! I am looking for the right word for this bubbling, sparkling, vital energy that pulses through her and her mess. Then I find it – zest. Like the sparkling energy of the fruit she pummels, she is full of zest.
I, on the other hand, am tired. Even when the coffee begins to kick in, I am struggling to arrive fully in the day. My eyes hurt, my head is heavy, my insides are still sore. I found our brush with death terrifying. It still amazes me that I’m here, there we’re both here, in the kitchen, making breakfast, like everything is totally normal.
I take the remainder of the pomegranate and stick it in the juicer. Why on earth do I insist on drinking this every morning, this blood red drink? Is it an attempt to replace all that blood that I lost? Or some smug way of showing the world that I am powerful, that I even have control over my blood, over life…. and death. That it was me that got us through? Or maybe I secretly like seeing blood smeared all over the white-tiled floor, some screwed up post-traumatic butcher shop scene…?
Amy, oblivious, chortles away on the floor. And then suddenly she loses interest and stares at the door. I don’t know what she sees, but when she looks away she lifts up her arms to me with a sad look on her little face. I bend down and lift her away from all the blood. Safe… with me…. alive.
I walk over to the chair by the window and sit down with her on my lap and the glass of pomegranate juice in my hand. I drink it down quickly and leave the empty glass on the table. I wipe the bright red stains off her face and belly. Now we’re ready to start the day.
He hung up the phone and the colour drained out of his face. He stared at the glass figurines for a long moment and couldn’t move. He stood there, motionless, for what seemed like ages. It was as if his feet had turned to cement and his brain had switched to stand-by. Vacant. No-one home.
The sound of the door opening and closing brought him back in an instant. ‘Oh my god,’ he thought as the reality dawned on him, ‘I’ve just been asked to play the lead role in Johnson’s new play on Broadway’.
‘How can this be? It must be a mistake. I’ve never even worked with Johnson before, not even a bit part, and now I’ve landed a lead role. And on Broadway? No, no, they must have made a mistake, they must have meant someone else. Maybe there was another Simon Klein at the audition – it’s a pretty common name after all. That must be it….’ He calmed himself down momentarily with these musings, but then it suddenly hit him again. ‘They chose me! Oh my god, it’s finally time. It’s finally my big break, finally time to show the world what I’ve got, and for them to stand up and applause!’
The perspiration from his brow started to drip down onto the floor, somehow melting his cement-like feet. He could do it. He could leave Wisconsin, fly to New York and give himself to the world! He could give all, reveal all. He was a larva about to transform into a butterfly.
His wife came into the salon, dumped the shopping on the floor and slipped off her painfully high heals. ‘How was your day dear?’ she enquired distractedly. ‘I…… I…..’ Words wouldn’t come out. His larva had been smashed, squashed by a bag of groceries, pierced by a stiletto.
‘Did you hear anything from Johnson yet?’ she continued, barely looking up, ‘I guess if they wanted you they would have called by now. Don’t get your hopes up – it’s best to keep your expectations below. There are so many talented actors out there, it would be a miracle if they wanted you’.
The daggers slipped effortlessly out of her mouth, reminding him of his utter worthlessness, reminding him that he was at-best an underscore in the drama of life.
But then he remembered the phone call, and the astonishing news that they, Johnson of all people, had chosen him. The larva stirred, there was still life there. After all the daggers the world had thrown at it, there was amazingly still life there. He would accept. He would go for it.
He pushed the bags of shopping out of the way and walked over to his wife. ‘Jean,’ he said purposefully. She looked up, surprised. ‘What? What’s wrong? Why are you standing so close?’ ‘Stand up,’ he said. There was something in his voice she didn’t quite recognize, something like authority. She found herself standing up without actually having decided to. He put his hands on her shoulders and looked her straight in the eye. She started to get scared, this was not like Simon at all, something must be wrong.
‘Jean,’ he said again. She could feel his pulse and see a new light in his eyes. His presence felt something, firm, excited. ‘Jean….they chose me…..I’m going to New York. I’m going to be the lead in Johnson’s new play’. ‘The lead…?’ she gasped, ‘but…’ ‘Yes, the lead!’ he interrupted before she could get out her daggers. ‘This is it, my moment, it’s finally come!’
The butterfly emerged and spread its magnificent wings. It was time for him to meet himself, his potential, his greatness. He looked at his wife intently. ‘I’m doing this,’ he said in this new voice that suddenly flowed out of him. ‘I’m going to Broadway. Are you staying behind or will you come with me?’
Evgeni Miller is an Israeli-Canadian journalist, translator and part-time chess coach. He holds a BA in Communication Studies from York University. He is currently working on his first book.
They’ve proven to be a mysterious bunch, unwilling to cooperate with our curiosity. They hadn’t answered any hails. Still, the news, according to military sources, was good. Sure, they’ve managed to conquer the vastness of space and travelled for countless light-years, but experts agreed that their ships weren’t that special, and we could blast them out of the skies with our impressive array of top-secret weaponry if need be.
And so another day passed, and another, and then another, as the date of the rockets’ arrival drew ever closer. Theykept refusing to answer our calls, and theanxiety around the planet was building up. Some turned to apocalyptical prophecies that spoke vaguely about something that could, with quite a bit of imagination added, be construed asan extra-terrestrial armada and were doing stupid things in light of that. Others were doing stupid things because they believed the ships carried the solution to all of the world’s problems. And yet others kept on doing stupid things because they were dumb to begin with, and idiocy and incompetence were vital parts of their daily routines.
The tensions mounted, and mounted, and mounted until at last that great date was upon us.The ships, travelling so steadily the exact moment of their entry could be calculated to the minute, were scheduled to arrive at 10.14AM. There was a great crowd gathered around the outer perimeter. The latest scans indicated that the ships carried no weaponry on board, so it was considered mostly safe, though not safe enough for the insurance companies, which swore to void any and all policies held by those who dared set foot near the landing site.
The inner circle was, of course, occupied by the military. Naturally, there was a tonne of weaponry on site in case our guests had some crazy ideas. The other countries thought it was unfair that we were getting all the ships, but the threat of an alien invasion turned out a solid enough reason to avoid going to war over that,so they did the reasonable thing and limited themselves to sending their observers who passed on a few harsh words.
Fashionably late, at a quarter past ten, the rockets – all three of them – began their descent, having deployed whatever it was that was supposed to stop them from getting overcooked in the atmosphere. At ten forty-three, just when the crowd was beginning to yawn, they finally touched down.
Three groups of soldiers ran towards them, their big guns at the ready, and stopped near what looked like the entrance hatches. There was a minute or so of frustrated waiting, and then the door of one of the rockets slid open. A young man, who was wearing a green uniform and a slightly greener helmet, and looked like any other soldier there but was in fact the bravest of the entire bunch, peeked in.
And that brave young soldier then reported to his officer. And these were the first words uttered by man after encountering another race, a message that was picked up by the many, many microphones which carried it around the world to forever be etched in our history books: “It’s… It’s garbage, sir.”
‘Please repeat,’ said the voice in the young man’s ear. This demand, just like the soldier’s reply, was ignored since no-one cares about sloppy seconds.
‘It’s garbage, sir!’
‘Garbage?!’ repeated the confused voice.
‘Trash, sir. They’ve sent us their trash!’
The alarm at the observation station began blaring. Ten dots appeared on the outer fringes of the solar system. Then fifty more. Then a hundred more.
The Generation Gap
‘Hi, mum, this is Queg, we-are-in-love-and-we-want-to-get-married!’
Alex’s mother, true to her conservative self, looked for the nearest chair to collapse on.
Marriage with an alien?! The concept disgusted her. It wasn’t even recognized in most countries. “And rightly so,” she thought. “And what would Alex’s other mother say?! She had a weak heart too. How would she handle the news?”
And then there was the grandchildren issue. Helena always wanted two or three, but this… union put a dampener on things. Alien sexes were a murky issue. There were about three of them, male, female and then another one somewhere in-between the two – those could reproduce with either of the first two, but quite why some members of the third sex displayed predominantly male while others predominantly female characteristics remained unclear. Even in case her son’s partner’s reproductive capabilities happened to be compatible with his, the end result would still be sickening. She’d seen the pictures. Shriveled up, with light green skin and pointy ears. Hybrids made her sick to her stomach.
‘It’s unnatural… This country is going to hell,’ she complained to Linda later that evening, after she finished disowning her son who’d refused to break off his engagement. ‘These things shouldn’t have the right to marry humans! God made humans, not aliens, and marriage should be kept this way.’
‘Shocking,’ her wife agreed with her. ‘These LGMs want to make a joke out of the sanctity of marriage. You did the right thing. If Alex wants to be with one of those… things, he’s no son of ours.’
‘Such a shame,’ concluded Helena, ‘he was always such a good boy,’ and tucked in for the night.
Some decades later, Alex and Queg’s son, Jean, by then a beautiful young man who was considered to be quite the catch, no longer shriveled, but still very much in possession of the slight greenish tint and the pointy ears, nervously smoked cigarette after cigarette as he awaited his father.
‘A ghost! Our son wants to marry a bloody ghost!’ Screamed the broken Alex later that evening.
His spouse was beyond consoling. ‘Where did we go wrong?!’ Queg asked amidst wailing. ‘How could we’ve let our son get on the road to damnation!?’
‘I tried to get him to see the light,’ added Alex, clutching the side of his chest where his heart was, ‘but he would have none of that. So I told him we couldn’t be his parents until he was through with this nonsense.’
‘You were absolutely right, dear,’ replied Queg with a sob, and gave Alex a trembling hug. ‘Marriage is sacred, it’s until death do you part. We can’t have these… unliving making a mockery of it, not even when our own flesh and blood is involved. And think of our grandchildren… half transparent… oh, the shame, the shame…’ and with those words Queg, overcome by emotions, ran into the bedroom.
Jean and his alternatively animated wife Mary lived a full and happy life together. They never had any children.
Little Green Man (pronounced as “leegms”)
The Rocky Path to Salvation
It was said when all the Qx lived by the laws of the holy text that the Heavens will descend upon the Earth. And then it came to pass that all the Qx lived by the word of their gospel. In all fairness, this was a much less impressive feat than it may seem. There were only about twenty thousand of them, and they all lived in the same town. They had a great feast when the last of their brethren declared his readiness to abide by the sacred laws. And then they sobered up and noticed that nothing looked different and the Heavens did not descend from the skies.
The council of the Qx elders was quickly gathered. They scratched the gray of their heads, tugged absent-mindedly on their beards, scratched the gray of their heads some more and finally returned a verdict: The sacred texts were not at fault. The reason for the prophecy’s failure was a clerical error: Somewhere in the vast world remained an unaccounted Qx who did not conduct himself in the appropriate manner.
And so they threw themselves into the search, using any and all tools available to them. And there was great excitement when that last single missing Qx was finally discovered, and right in the next town, of all places.
This missing Qx had gotten lost during childhood and was presumed dead, but was in fact found and adopted by the couple who discovered him by the roadside. They made good parents, and raised a decent enough son, but one who, unfortunately, had no idea of the responsibility he was born into and partial to a great number of pastimes the Qx texts had frowned upon.
He received the Qx delegation with open arms and was delighted to hear that his birth mother, though by now stark raving out of her mind, was still alive, but showed no interest in their way of life. Dejected, the delegation left empty handed, but promised to come back in a fortnight’s time to give the man time to digest the news and come to terms with his role in the universe.
And that they did. The man had again welcomed them with open arms and was delighted to learn more about the place where he had been born, but again, at the end of the day, he sent them away. They came four more times to no avail, but on the fifth time they showed up the man would not open his door before them.
‘This is getting tiresome,’ he said, ‘go and live your life in peace, and leave me to mine. I shall never go with you.’
The delegation returned to their town more dejected than ever, amidst worries that if news of the refusal broke out some of their not-as devoted comrades would lose their resolve, and, as one of the elders pointed out during a very private conversation, “Fuck it up for the rest of us”.
The council reconvened the following day. They again scratched the gray of their head and tugged on their beards, but no solution was forthcoming, not until one brave soul uttered the words everyone else was too afraid to say. They drew straws, and it just so came to pass that the same brave soul who gave birth to the idea ended up with the short one.
He found the renegade just as the man left his office for the day.
‘Please,’ he begged, ‘return with me and honour the way of our people, so we could all live in heaven on Earth.’
Again, the man wouldn’t budge.
‘In that case, I’m sorry,’ said the messenger.
Three dreadful “bangs” tore through a quiet evening. By the time the passers-by reached its source, it was all finished.
‘The horse has been sold,’ the messenger sent in an encoded message. A great feast was awaiting him when he returned home. The Qx – man, woman and child – drank and danced all night, for now there was no longer a single thing standing between the world and salvation.
‘Daddy! daddy!’ A little Qx was jumping up and down, his hands on his father’s shoulder. ‘The angel is blowing his horn!!!’ The shooter shook his head, trying to clear out the fog. Before he could make sense of things a great bang took his door off its hinges.
‘He’s here! He’s here!! The angel!!!’ The little boy kept bouncing, his finger pointed toward the entrance.
The shooter focused. The angel was a lot bluer than the texts described. He couldn’t recall any references to a baton or a pair of handcuffs either.
She closed the leather bound novel shut with a thunk and gazed out the window at the seaside. The beep of the hospital machines cut into her thoughts.
Room 227. It was always room 227. Its inhabitant, whoever he was, refused to let go. It was the third time that day the staff rushed in. Just like the previous two, she heard them come out about a quarter of an hour later, the patient once again brought back from the brink.
Not his time. Yet. She didn’t know if it was actually a “him” on the other side of the door. She never did. ‘Is he a man?’ She thought, ‘a woman? Perhaps it is a child. A small skinny boy with leukemia. Or maybe it’s a hundred and seven year-old grandmother who was surrounded by her extended family as she took her final breaths.’ She didn’t know. It was forbidden.
She opened her book again. “One must not ask questions,” it said, repeating the idea one way or another on every page. ‘It’s so easy….’ she thought, ‘I just step out into the corridor the next time the beeping starts, check who’s biting his fingernails by the door. I wouldn’t even have to look in.’
When the machines began beeping again, she almost did. ‘What am I doing?!’ She caught herself at the last moment, just as she touched the door. She hurried back to her seat. “It is imperative that the operative remains ignorant of his target until such a moment it is no longer identifiable. Such measures are required to prevent tainting of the passing.” She shut the book. ‘More of the same,’ she said speaking to a bird that landed on the tree by the window. The bird chirped back. ‘You’re lucky,’ she continued. ‘You get to go home when you’ve had enough of sitting here. Not me. I’m just going to be back in here.’ The bird turned its way sideways and looked at her. It turned its head as if it wanted to say something, but just flew away instead. ‘Go,’ she whispered, sending it a kiss.
Another alarm. The third one within the hour. The personnel rushed back in. Whoever lay in that room was getting worse, but she didn’t need the alarm to realize that. A sort of brownish blob began seeping into the room through the ceiling. For the moment it was almost completely transparent. ‘Not this time,’ she thought, ‘I can still see the window through it’.
‘I thought that was the one,’ she heard one of the staff say as they walked out.
‘Yeah,’ another voice added, ‘there go my ten bucks in the death pool, damn it.’
She shifted her eyes back to the blob. It seemed to be floating a little lower than earlier. ‘Was it this dark before?’ she asked herself. She wasn’t sure. The blob began moving towards the door. ‘Even you are teasing me?’ she asked it. It didn’t reply of course.
She got up and slowly made it to the door again, opened it carefully and peeked out. The hallway was empty. ‘Just take five steps. Just five little steps,’ she told herself. ‘Five steps then open the door. One glimpse. Just one.’ She didn’t move, just glimpsed the door handle harder.
She stood like that until she saw the blot float out. ‘Do you want me to follow you?’ She asked. Again, it didn’t reply. It didn’t even seem to notice the question; it just floated like a balloon the wind had torn out of a child’s hands.
She gathered the courage to take one step. Then another. Then a third. Then the alarms began blaring again and she rushed back into the room, shut the door behind it and pressed against it, out of breath.
She sat like that for a while, waiting for the medics to leave. They wouldn’t come out. ‘My last chance to find out,’ she thought, as her eyes moved from the now almost completely opaque blob onto the book, which lay face down on the table. “The Soul Agent’s Manual” its title read. She’d lost count of the time she’d read it. Each time she’d opened the first page, she hoped that this was the one, the time she’d notice something new, something she missed before. A way to break the cycle. She always ended up disappointed. There was nothing of the kind in the book. Just some rules and the promise of so horrible a punishment for the offenders, that it could not be committed to paper.
‘But what can be worse than an eternity of this?’ She asked the air and forced herself out of the room.
‘Excuse me?’ she heard a man say when she opened the door to the room with the machines. He was covering someone with a large white sheet.
‘Sorry, wrong room,’ she blurted and quickly pulled her head out. The blob above her was fully formed now. ‘Let’s go,’ she motioned to him. It followed her to the end of the corridor and vanished.
And then she was back inside the room, her book in her hands. The beep of the hospital machines cut into her thoughts. She closed the leather bound novel shut with a thunk and gazed out the window at the seaside. ‘This time’ she whispered. ‘This time.’
Nataly Eliyahu is hard at work on her startup for writers, MuseForMe, while studying psychology and writing in the Science-Fiction and Fantasy genres. Her blog Nataly Creates is centered on the topics of entrepreneurship, storytelling, and personal growth.
The button factory had gone utterly silent. All eyes were on the birthday cake and its fifty candles. Slowly, hesitantly, George put down his tools.
A long moment passed before he moved. Finally he started walking to the center of the room, his metal hand swinging next to his body, making a clanking noise that sounded like a roar in the silence. The cake was beautiful, the frosting a light shade of pink, but the candles – those damned candles were a fire hazard.
George grunted and blew out the candles in one forced breath. Nobody moved or made a sound.
He nodded to the crowd and returned to his post, hoping that would be the end of it.
“Back to work,” he said.
A few hours later, it was time to close the factory for the day. The workers were moving around the room, religiously checking all the machines were off, taking all safety precautions (they were much stricter on the protocol since the accident). One of the workers approached George.
“We have something else for you, sir,” the worker said. He was a thin, freckled man, and looked too young to be working there.
George frowned at him. “I asked you not to do this.”
The worker (whose name was Mike, or maybe Mickey – George wasn’t quite sure) just stood there with his broad smile, looking at George eagerly.
George sighed. “Fine, let’s get it over with.”
They walked towards the exit, Mike almost skipping with every step, while George dragged his feet on the floor.
George thought about the closet full of buttoned shirts he had at home. I hope it’s not another shirt, he thought.
Outside in the parking lot, a space had been cleared for a small table. On it was a box covered with a white cloth.
“We all pitched in a bit of our salaries”, Mike said.
George said nothing. He didn’t know what to say.
Two men threw the cloth aside, and revealed a glass box. George couldn’t help but gasp. The box contained a beautiful, shiny, new bionic hand.
This was a new brand, only out in the market for a few months – George had been secretly reading about it ever since it was announced. The reviews said it was much more flexible, and fixed a few shaking issues from previous models. It was perfect for the kind of work George did.
Losing his resolve, George barely held back tears. He looked at all the people around him, their smiling faces, and now he remembered all their names and felt a great rush of gratitude.
He had known before that they were good people, loyal and honest workers, but now he appreciated them for being more than that – they were his friends.
Serge Diego Llamas (From: Writing a Life That Never Was)
Reverand and founding member of the Santa De Palma Presbyterian church has died at the age of 82. The Reverand, best known as Rev. SDG was and is a local hero to many. When no one wanted to delve in and resolve the island’s rotten mango and bananas crisis, he was there. In person and spirit, digging in the dry soil with his bare hands. Plucking the weeds was what he loved to do. His contribution to the island’s booming mango plantation and banana crops is undeniable.
Throughout the years he invested more than $2m in organic farming and boosted the economy’s farming trade. He became the renowned Father of the National Mango and Banana Tree Love Will Be With You Free Trade Foundation.
Hundreds are expected to attend his funeral tomorrow, Thursday the 5th of May at 8am. The service will be held at the Presbyterian Missionary House on Calle de San Blas. The Reverand accidently slipped on a banana skin while making one of his famous Rev. SDG smoothies. Unconscious, he was rushed to hospital on Sunday with a broken collarbone and serious injuries to his lower back. Come Tuesday, he slipped into a coma and this morning the doctors prounced him dead. Rev. SDG is survived by his wife, Juanita and five sons.
May his soul be blessed and rest in peace.
A native of Israel, Ossie Kishlanski is a graduate of Chapman University’s film producing program. Ossie’s aspiration to work in the entertainment industry led her to positions in Scripted World, and BabyFirst TV. In addition, Ossie writes, creates, and produces in Israel, with the hopes of developing a career both there and in Los Angeles. Learn more about Ossie on her website.
Trevor the White Chihuahua
The iris stood tall in its vase, undisturbed. In the background, Leslie was sprawled on the couch. It all had happened so fast. She never meant to be irresponsible, but one thing led to another, and before she realized what time it was, she was drunk at a bar, flirting with the high class, wealthy men of downtown.
When James, her neighbor, had asked Leslie to watch spoiled Trevor, his obnoxious white Chihuahua, for two weeks while he was away visiting his dying father, Leslie felt obligated to help. She thought it was going to be easy. Walk Trevor, feed Trevor, and clean his crap. It would have been easy if the dog weren’t the loudest, meanest beast Leslie had ever encountered.
From the very beginning it was obvious Trevor was not fond of Leslie, and Leslie never hid her hatred for him from James. But despite their contradictory feelings for the dog, Leslie and James grew close. At least once a week they spent an evening together eating Gouda, drinking Chardonnay, and bitching about heartless men. Trevor would usually be locked in in James apartment, uninvited.
The last thing James reminded Leslie before he left was Trevor’s medicine. Trevor had a heart condition that required him to take pills twice a day. One evening James wasn’t able to tend to Trevor and the dog suffered a heart attack. James returned home when it was nearly too late for the dog. The pet hospital veterinarian warned James that another incident like that could be the end of Trevor
Leslie felt confident she could take care of the dog. After all, she was a twenty-six year old, college educated, independent woman. The first day was a breeze. Leslie fed Trevor, walked him, and didn’t gag when she cleaned his shit. The following day was more challenging. Leslie attempted to give Trevor his pill, but the dog bit her hand. As the days passed, Leslie began hating coming home from work to the dog’s unstoppable barking.
After almost two weeks, Leslie finally accepted the barking, the biting, and the constant destruction of her apartment. She’d already lost two pairs of shoes, four pieces of lingerie, and had to wash her favorite jeans, which Trevor shat on. Leslie kept reminding herself to be strong. She couldn’t disappoint James when he was dealing with his dying father.
On Friday night, a day before James’s return, Leslie and her coworkers went to happy-hour at a downtown bar in hopes of meeting the one, or at least a one-night stand. The four girls, the only single girls in their office, bonded over the absence of engagement rings, and staged, photoshopped, wedding photos from their lives.
Sexy rich men flooded the bar that night, just like the vodka Leslie consumed flooded her stomach. A man Leslie met invited her to his apartment to show her his Star Wars action figure collection, something Leslie pretended to be interested in to win his attention. Leslie usually faked an interest in sports. She intentionally memorized fun facts about basketball, football and hockey to help her with men. This was the first time she attempted to woo a nerd. Leslie didn’t remember she had to return home; Trevor was the last thing on her drunken mind when she was about to get laid. After all, Leslie’s self-esteem was dependent on her men’s approval.
Leslie woke up in the foreign bed at noon the next day. She was absurdly hung over. The man she had slept with was still sleeping next to her. In the the light of day, she could not identify one attractive quality to him. She hurriedly got dressed, grabbed her purse and hopped in a taxi home. On the way she looked at her phone. Nineteen missed calls from James. The horror suddenly hit Leslie. Trevor! He had already missed his medicine twice. She might come home to the dog’s lifeless body. She wanted to ask the taxi driver to turn around, but she couldn’t. James was supposed to return home that evening. She must face the situation.
Anxiety consumed Leslie while she stood outside the door, listening to the silence. Trevor should be barking at her. Leslie found the courage to open the door. She froze when she smelled the horrid smell of dead flesh. Leslie immediately turned around and began walking down the streets, thinking helplessly about her next move.
Leslie could not deliver James the dreadful news. She thought of getting him an expensive bottle of wine, or high quality drugs, something that would make him happy; maybe find him the man of his dreams. Finally Leslie settled on a single iris, mostly because a little blind boy handed it to her on the street.
Leslie returned home and placed the flower in a vase. Her apartment reeked from Trevor. The iris managed to lightly disguise the smell. Leslie laid on the couch, helpless. She could not bring herself to look at Trevor’s body. Suddenly someone knocked on the door. Leslie wished she could disappear. Instead, she headed towards the entrance.
Teary eyed, James stood outside the apartment. Leslie felt horrible: Trevor was dead, and she was hung over and exhausted. James seemed broken. Leslie panicked; she couldn’t understand how James already knew about Trevor.
Before Leslie could say a word about Trevor, James abruptly mumbled that his father passed away. Leslie, guilty and confused, felt a sudden relief. She embraced James, patting his back awkwardly, attempting to console him, but mainly trying to conceal her shame. James suddenly noticed the smell. He erupted into the apartment and found Trevor’s body in the kitchen. Leslie, horrified, followed James inside. Suddenly giving James the iris seemed like an awful idea. Instead, Leslie acted shocked. “I don’t know what happened, he was fine a second ago.” Truly, there was nothing Leslie could do. She fooled James, she fooled Trevor and the man she slept with, but more than all, she fooled herself.
The fountain in the garden was radiant with sweet water. But by the hydrangea, gripping a cocktail a little tightly, Jennifer stood with her eyes closed. She was trying to relax, to forget about the chaos ensuing inside.
Jennifer spent days planning this wedding. And oh what a wedding that was. The couple’s parents spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on that day. Not day, an ongoing event.
The groom wore a black, tight, well-tailored tuxedo, and the bride wore a haute couture vintage looking wedding dress. They rented a mansion standing on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and had enough rooms to accommodate each and every one of the 200 lucky guests who got to eat the gourmet food, sleep in the luxurious guest rooms, and enjoy the never-ending wedding carnival.
Jennifer had been in the wedding planning business for a while, and that was the first time she had this big of a budget, this big of a responsibility. She was in charge of every little detail having to do with the wedding. The groom had hired her ten months before the wedding, before he even proposed, and Jennifer was immediately consumed with the couple’s engagement party.
Soon after, Jennifer found herself in an absurd wedding mayhem. Her days were filled with expensive venues overlooking beaches, lakes, city lights and deserts. Color schemes the couple could never agree on. Fuchsia, African violet, Amber, teal, Apricot, cotton candy pink, ash gray, dark magenta, aquamarine. Wedding gowns, bridesmaids dresses, bachelor party, bachelorette, bridal shower gifts, food tasting, flower smelling, table decorating, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
Jennifer could not believe that the day had finally arrived. After a successful wedding rehearsal she slept for about three hours, making sure to wake up early to prepare the bride for the big day. And the bride was so blasé; Jennifer often felt that she was the only one who cared about the success of the event. But why would the others care? This was exactly why they hired her, she kept reminding herself. She was so thankful for this opportunity; her life was about to change after a wedding like this. Her career was about soar.
But as the wedding progressed, after the vows were exchanged and the roasted tenderloins of beef with the side of succulent peppered potatoes were served, Jennifer discovered a horrid revelation the catering company withheld from her. The wedding cake, the wedding cake the couple had hired a special pastry chef to bake and ice and design. The precious, delicious cake the couple couldn’t wait to slice together, fell on the floor. Destroyed.
Jennifer, shocked by the horror, stormed outside immediately. She could not face the truth, face the couple and their parents, all intoxicated on the dance floor, dancing to the sounds of the big band playing their saxophones, bass, and drums.
She stood outside, near the mimosa station, drinking a cocktail, trying to relax. “This cannot be the end of the world,” she thought. “The cake must be fixable. This is not the first time a wedding cake is wrecked minutes before its reveal.”
After ten minutes of staring at the extravagant flower arrangements, she knew the show must go on. She must return inside and fix the impossible. Her brain was racing, rationalizing the idea of ordering a new cake that would arrive within an hour to the secluded location.
Jennifer rushed into the kitchen from the back entrance and found the cake right where it fell, right where the catering staff left it. Untouched for ten whole minutes. Why couldn’t anyone take initiative and save the day? Jennifer could not hold it anymore. She opened her mouth to say something, but she was speechless, instead, she began erupting. She screamed and squealed. No words came out in particular; she just let out beastly shrieks that had built in her for the past ten months.
And there he was, the catering company manager, standing still and staring at Jennifer with a blank face. And Jennifer burst at him. “Why is the cake still on the floor? How come none of you, ass-butts dip-shits, is capable of fixing this? How dare you being paid so much, and not take responsibility for your fucking mistakes? Huh, fucktard? Someone come forward and fucking do something about this? I’m the fucking wedding planner, it’s your damn-fucking job to go ahead and make sure the couple has a fucking cake. What the fuck is wrong with you, you scumbags?”
As the yelling continued, the catering staff, the chefs, and the waiters gathered around Jennifer, gaping at her, at the monster that erupted from her. One of them whispered, “That must be this time of the month” and Jennifer exploded once more. She closed her eyes, opened her mouth, and let the beast out once again. And that whole time she kept thinking how right was the waiter who noticed that her menstrual cycle is scheduled to start the next day. But how dare he? Fucking sexist. She shrieked and screeched until she was out of breath. And when she opened her eyes she discovered a new horror: the groom was in the kitchen standing in front of her, in front of the cake. The guests must have heard the commotion. And now there was nothing left to be done. Jennifer definitely could not count on the couple’s referral. Her career was over.
Originally from the US, Suzanne Selengut is a freelance journalist, marketing writer and translator based in Tel Aviv. She holds an MA in English Literature from Hebrew University and is working on a collection of unpretentious short stories. Learn more about Suzanne on her website.
Already So Pretty
Scalpel in hand, Marcel hesitated. What was it his mother always said? About beauty? That it was skin deep — was that it? Or that it was in the eye of the beholder? No, no; beauty is as beauty does – that was her thing. But what did that mean? He never understood that, never understood her view of life which was so idealized, so childish, so silly and therefore tragic. All of his life, Marcel had had to protect her. Ironically, she had tried to protect him too with her lectures, with her beliefs, her long gray hair – often unwashed – and the house in which she hoarded her junk. And when his father left, and Marcel hoped she’d finally dye her hair and clean the house – then, then things only got worse.
“Dr Bitton, shall I prepare a tray and pincers? The nurse was trying to gently jar him from his reverie. She was a sweet girl, very nurturing and she always had his back in moments like this, when he was supposed to be concentrating but time got away from him. His belly ached and he wanted food and coffee.
“No,” he said, a little too gruffly. He looked up and through his glasses, slightly smudged, he could see that Cho the anesthesiologist was looking at him strangely. “She’s under and ready to go,” said Cho, a little pointedly.
Marcel leaned in and sliced, It was a good, clean, bloody slice, his favorite part of plastic surgery. Although he had a talent for design, symmetry and balance and a reputation for his understated rhinoplasty and careful cheek implants, it was really the crispness of a beautiful slice he liked the best. Did other surgeons feel this way? They never really spoke about it. Everything was couched in the clinical, the factual. Sometimes Marcel was bored of that. Underneath his medical training, his lightly graying beard, his short stature, Marcel had a secret: He was a passionate man.
Sex with his first wife had been a little predictable. He liked it at first. She was so easy to please and this was something he found amazing in his mid-20s. They used to joke she was a little like a man, always ready and done before he was. Over time, he had grown tired of her, tired of his practice in Far Rockaway, tired of driving with the radio on, sitting in traffic, even a little tired of his kids, who were really sweet and he felt guilty even thinking that.
With Laura, a pharmaceutical rep, everything changed. He had planned on just a one-night-stand at a medical conference but that turned into something else. They began a strange affair. She had a lot of issues. She was repressed and had inhibitions up the wazoo. Oddly, this served to intrigue him immensely and he found himself doing everything possible to calm her down, to turn her on, to make her feel good. A million times a day, he told her she was hot and beautiful and sexy. He wrote notes. He placed calls and sent texts. Nothing was ever enough.
He looked down at her now, and prepared to break her nose. Without the skin and cartilage, it looked so slight, really just a thin bridge of delicate bloody bone, hardly fit for breaking.
“That looks good,” said Cho, who was leaning on the other side of Laura’s feet, checking vitals.
“Yeah,” Marcel said, “good break, we’re gonna have an easy time with this. Probably gonna be done with the nose in under an hour.”
Cho shrugged. “How many have we done this month, Marcel? He asked – “20, 30?”
“Tis the season, Robert, tis the season for holiday cheer and nose jobs. Everybody wants to be ready for summer.” Cho chuckled.
But she’s already so pretty, said the nurse. Marcel did not remember the nurse’s name but he registered that she was such a lovely girl. She handed him cotton very gently. No one knew that he recognized the patient from more intimate moments, the still youngish woman lying here so vulnerable under a white sheet. And that’s the way he wanted it.
He breathed deeply into his mask, and the heat and mist reminded him somehow of Laura’s mouth. She was so quiet now, so peaceful. Sometimes she would cry after sex and it was terrible, took all the fun out of it for him. She’d lie on her side and hide her body and push him away. She’d start asking him to help make her better, more ok. She wanted new breasts, a different nose and “a more proportionate chin” to match the nose.
“I can’t do that. That’s a bad idea. If you want to get it done, I’ll recommend you to a friend. Jim is great with breasts and we’ll get you the best for everything else.” He just wanted her to turn over, to smile and be ok. But that didn’t happen
“So, you do think I’m ugly, that I need work!” She said suddenly and then another crying jag. “I knew it!”
Now he was sewing up the flap of skin over her new, smaller nose. Like everyone in the midst of this process, she looked ghostly, ugly, and utterly inhuman. Why had he agreed to do it? Already he missed her old face, the bump on her nose and that slightly too-full tip. What was that thing his mother said – “Love makes you beautiful?”
He had loved his mother but he did not think she was beautiful. He loved his first wife but she had also become ugly to him, fat and slow, like a water buffalo. And Laura, what would happen when her skin healed and she had the perfect curved nostrils of a Natalie Portman, a Wynona Ryder, when she had the round breastsm symmetric and right, pointing high like flags atop Buckingham Palace, and the chin – feminine, slight, like a summer’s day – then what? Would he love her forever? Would he find her ever-lovely and totally good?
“Thread please,” he said to the little nurse, and she handed it to him so softly, it almost slipped out of his fingers, so softly, he could feel every one of her fingertips.
Some Kind of Karma
Alice stared at the flat tire, punctured beyond repair. She was already half an hour late for the festival. And Bodhi had already been there for hours, setting up, laying out prayer mats and affixing lanterns, steaming the tea, making the tipping jars, greeting the early arrivals. She could see him there, barefoot and anxious, looking at the sun to see what time it was and thinking about how she was late again. He would not be happy. Luckily, though, he wouldn’t say anything. He’d just greet her with a hug as always. And she’d rub up against him and let him show her off to everyone and all would be fine as usual.
She didn’t have a spare tire in the trunk. She didn’t have a trunk. She had no idea how to change one anyway. And her friend’s Zena’s warning about putting air in the tires and not driving on dirt back roads came back to her. Well, it was too late now. And anyway, Zena really should have done it for her. She knew very well that Alice was not car-savvy. And as for the dirt roads, seriously, how was one meant to get to this random stretch in the Rocky Mountains without some off-roading?
Grr, she thought. I’m pissed off. Screw you Shubananda with your “anger is an illusion.” Had Bodhi’s spiritual leader, with all his talk of positive karma, ever had a bad day in his life? Had he ever had to settle for making due instead of success? For teaching special ed instead of being an artist? For dating someone he didn’t like and going to a bunch of lame festivals he didn’t enjoy? Had he ever had to take an assessment of his life and start compromising on everything? She doubted it.
Next to the uneven car, other cars whizzed by on the highway. Some of the drivers looked at her. A few men checked her out, all long hair and palazzo pants, her prayer beads swaying in the heavy gusts of wind. It was near 6pm according to her phone…her phone…aha…her phone. She should use it to call AAA and of course, leave a message for Bodhi. He’d have his ringer off. But at least she could text. Despite his guru’s instructions, she knew he’d keep his phone on just to make sure she was okay. That was how he was. But how could he even help her now? He was a good two hours away and tucked away in a circle of trust, or whatever the hell he called it.
She wanted a cigarette. That’s what she was thinking. A menthol, a big, fat menthol and a cup of black coffee. Yeah. Fuck it, maybe even with some soy milk. That’s what she was thinking as a car stopped slowly and evenly behind her, nestling itself onto the same grass patch.
“Hey, honey, what’s goin on?” The voice was gentle and low. She looked up. First thought: He was kind of hot. Second thought: Was this what they meant by the term ‘redneck’? He looked clean enough, wore some kind of oversize baseball cap and had copious five o’clock shadow in a way that was clearly not meant to be ironic.
“You got some car trouble goin?”
She put on her best cute face. Did a thirty second assessment of what kind of girl he liked. Hmm…not too challenging, not too funny, sensitive. He liked sweet. Yup that was it. She switched to her sweet face and shifted her body slightly.
“Oh my God, thank you for stopping. I’m like totally freaking out. I have no idea what went wrong. The car just.. like. Will. Not. Move. Weird? Right? It’s not even my car and also I’m not a car person.”
The baseball cap exited the car, followed by the long, lithe body of the guy. He was chuckling. He was amused. Good girl, she thought. He walked over to the car and checked out the tires.
“Well, what you got here is a flat tire,” he said, after a full two minute pause.
Good going, Einstein, she thought to herself and out loud said: “Can you do anything about it? Like right now? I’m late for this um..family party and my aunt is waiting for me. Oh, I just was so scared that I’d be here all night.
She gave him a ‘Doctor, will I make it?’ face.
“Well I can change it for you easy enough but if you don’t have a spare, I’ll need to go get one. I live about 15 minutes down this road. So, if you want to wait here for just a little bit, I’ll get something that you can use just to get you..where is it you are going?”
“Um, its just 30 minutes away,” she lied. He took a long sideways, stolen look at her. He was shy, she saw. Slow too. “Ok, then,” he said.
“Oh, that would be so great,” she said, touching his arm lightly.
“No problem at all, he said, now hurriedly, blushing a little. He liked her, she could see and was eager to help her now. He got into the car. She looked into the interior and saw that despite his appearance, it was neat and organized. A lone disco ball swung from the dash. She leaned against her own car and waved at him.
He leaned slightly out of the window, turned to her. “Now you’ll be here when I get back, right? “ He winked at her.
“I got nowhere to go,” she said and smiled. To herself she thought, “I got” was a good touch. Not ‘I have’ nowhere to go. “I got”…hmm.
He had been gone for about five minutes when she found herself again alone, watching the cars rush by. She began to grow restless. She stood on one foot, pretended she was in one of Bodhi’s endless meditation sessions. She usually could turn her mind off if she wanted.
But, somehow, how it was harder to do it. The air was turning colder. Could it rain soon?
Was it instinct then, or some spirit, that made her pick her arm up? She was chilly and the more she looked at Zena’s dumpy car, the less she wanted to fix it. The more she thought of the Sunflower Festival, the less she wanted to be there. The more she thought of Bodhi, the less she wanted to fake it anymore.
Like a force of nature, she raised her thumb and arm, and a man well past 50 in a truck stopped quick and short. He smelled a bit; the truck had seen better days. She grabbed her bag and phone and hopped into the backseat even before she said a word.
“Hey,” said the man, flooring it as he leered a little into the back seat. “I’m headed back towards Boulder.”
“Hey” she said, “That’s cool, you got a cigarette? He handed her an extra strong one and passed her a lighter. She puffed. It wasn’t a menthol but it was good.
A half hour later, when Greg got back to the side of the highway with his brother and a spare, he couldn’t find the girl.
“You said she was here, huh?” asked Kyle, “You sure you wasn’t hallucinating?”
“She was right here. I swear.”
“Jeez, Greg, I don’t got time for this,” Kyle said.
Greg was quiet and a little embarrassed. He turned his truck around and said nothing more. They rode back home in silence.
At the Strike of Thirteen
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. They were all on military time now.
At 13:00, individuals were all encouraged to practice creative pursuits – painting, social media networking, lanyard making, that kind of thing. But Rita was using it for lying on a pile of girls’ clothes in an abandoned clothing shop.
It was freezing. Her ass was asleep. She shifted to warm it amidst some junior miss denim skirts. She was alone, the way she liked it. At first there had been shock, then fear, and now she this other thing, something she had never felt in her other life: this thing where time would freeze. She’d look up at the ceiling, sort of zone out, and before she knew it, it would be hour 14:00 and time to return to the snotty kids at The Kid Pod.
“The clocks were striking thirteen” thought Rita. Then she said it out loud, giggling. She was reminded of the book 1984, and oddly, began to feel nostalgic. She had read it in 7th grade with Mrs. Horowitz, a big, jolly woman who would twirl around the classroom with a surprising amount of grace. That was the year the school had run out of space, and the gifted readers had been put in a trailer out back. It was tempting to think about the past, tempting to go somewhere else in your mind at times like this. But it was also dangerous because when she remembered, when she thought about the truth, she’d step right back into ‘the bell jar’ again. Dr. Tobin had touched her shoulder. He had looked her in the eyes and said – “It’s up to you. You can collapse and be moved to The Cloud Room, or you can repress and live.
“I choose life,” she had said to Dr. Tobin, and he smiled, a big buck-toothed smile that made her feel too bad to tell him she was only sarcastic. In February, she was moved to a halfway house – oddly called The Living Room – and then was given housing at an independent pod. Independent was code for not paired up, single, if you will. Nowadays, the way things had gone for most people that usually meant relentlessly promiscuous. Condoms flowed like tissue paper – despite the fact that most STDs almost certainly didn’t exist – and no one slept the whole night in their own room. Rita had taped bubble packing material over her vent to lower the volume on the moans from The Turquoise Floor beneath her. That’s where all the freaks lived. Just my luck, she had mumbled when she got her housing assignment. She went back to Housing & Family Preference to discuss the issue. A tall man with a shell necklace, graying hair and several piercings told her she wouldn’t get moved. His name was Hawk and he reminded her that she ought to accept her karma. In her old life, she would have fought it, maybe asked to speak to Hawk’s boss. Now, there were no bosses, and karma was a bitch. She returned to her pod and went in search of bubble wrap. It was not very effective as a sound-proofer.
It was then – accepting fate – that she had taken to taking walks, another activity that was frowned upon. Some areas hadn’t been as thoroughly screened for emissions. Her ‘community wrangler’, a woman with some kind of European accent who had taken an instant dislike to Rita, had told on her. She had even got an official warning. But she still did it. At first it was just wandering, past trash-pickers, rag-and-bone men that dwelt under rocks outside of civilization, some of them rapists probably. She barely noticed. She had found the store one day. There was no sign on the front of course; paint was always gone. But she had found a cash register on the ground, and here and there, shielded by pieces of furniture, clothes for little girls. She picked out a pair of overalls and a pink mini sweat-suit and brought them home with her. She carried them everywhere. And whenever she could, she’d come back here. Here, she’d lie down and hope to cry. But mostly, she’d just lose track of time.
Today, the cold was punishing, but she barely felt it. April was cold, May would be colder and June, even more so. It was the big joke. Global warming had been reversed. “At least the ozone layer’s gone,” the comedians at The Light Night always said. And the inevitable next line – “Too bad no one’s left alive to enjoy it.”
“You can’t be in here. This area has not been screened and all property is community,” came a voice.
It was a man, tall with official looking red pants and a strong five o’clock shadow.
“Please go away,” Rita mumbled, not getting up.
“Identify yourself, please, he said.” She could hear him contacting someone on some kind of device.
“Why can’t you let me just be here for a while. I lost my daughter. Do you understand I lost my beautiful girl and I’ll never have another.” She felt suddenly that the truth had come to find her in this store. Where had it gone, this truth she felt now so heavily and so full of pain.
“Maam, we’re all in the same boat and you have to exit now. You know The Person Pact you signed. You know you agreed to honor all community decisions. When we act alone, we remain alone. Nuclear power is nothing in the face of social power.”
“But I can’t get up now. I’m finally feeling something. I want to feel again. Can’t you understand?” She spoke but perhaps it was only in her own head that the words were audible.
“Ma’am did you hear me? It’s 14:00. I have to ask you to leave. We’re in Phase Two of the afternoon. You know what that means.”
Calculations in a Bar
Standing in the crowded bar, Avi was once again the guy that had no one to talk to. All the people were engaged in active discussions or else cruising someone. Avi stirred his vodka tonic, feeling the little ice pieces crush in the glass. It was Friday night and he was lonely.
He looked at his watch – 10:30. Katya was almost here. He searched the bar, nodded to the bartender. He hoped she’d show up soon.
Moments like this, he felt like he was back in the lunch room at Haifa Reali School or in the army, sitting alone while everyone told jokes and smoked nearby. He tried to never think of those times.
At 28, he had become a programmer at a multinational company; at 34, he had developed a technology that his friend Liav paid him for and made millions. Now, at middle age, he was a CEO himself, out to use his business acumen with his technological knowhow. Everyone knew tech people were the best at business too. After all, he actually understood the product. His motto was: it’s never too late, although, he acknowledged, it was no longer early.
At 47, he was at the helm of a moderately successful, if lately struggling, company. Now if only they could survive just a little longer. If only he could get another round of funding to stay afloat. He twisted on the bar stool. Don’t think about that now, he thought.
“Hi, I’m so so sorry I’m late” Katya was suddenly in front of him, wearing something between jeans and tights, high boots and a translucent blouse. “I’ve been running around all day. Just had a meeting at Twitter. Really good friend is a VP there but it ran late and I’ve been so scattered,” She leaned forward to pour water into a glass and he could see her breasts shift.
Avi sat up straight, looked down. If it was ever going to happen, it would probably happen now. But would it? Could he? And did she even want to? There was no way to tell so far but tonight he’d figure out the formula, Tonight he’d make the determination and follow up with either action or inaction.
His wife was at home in Ra’anana. She had looked at him oddly when he left for the trip. He smiled very widely when he hugged her and the kids too, tried to show he cared. This is what then therapist suggested and it was what Orit always said she wanted, right? Him to show his affection? There it was. But at the door, saying goodbye, her body stiffened when he reached out, and she raised her eyebrows when he gave her his numbers. “Won’t you be lonely,” she said, pointedly. He didn’t mention Katya was coming. What did it matter?
“So tell me everything about how it went,” Katya exclaimed now in her usual loud voice. She was touching him on the shoulder. Her tiny red sloped nails grazing his shirt. He felt distracted.
“I think we did okay at Stanley Mortenson. I felt they were very interested in our idea and the guy there said he’d take it under advisement. You said they already gave you a ‘yes’ on the phone, right? They’re planning on investing, right?
“Um yeah,” Katya mumbled. “That’s right Listen even if we don’t get them, they must have some contacts I think we can mine. Let me get in touch with Stan tomorrow and feel him out a bit.
When she said feel him out, Avi felt she was looking at him. Did she want him to feel her out?
“Oh God, I need a drink. I gotta say it’s nice to be away from the kids. They keep texting me though – one needs help with homework, one wants to go to a sleepover. I keep telling them to ask their dad…”
She motioned for the bartender and said loudly: “I’ll have a Seltzer.”
Oh, thought Avi, not a good sign.
“So, I want to talk to you about tomorrow and the next day.” Katya said, turning to him a bit abruptly.
“Yes, the meetings you set up for me at Ernst & Young and Sequoia”
“Unfortunately, the guy I arranged them with isn’t in the country so they won’t be happening for now. Actually, I think it’s for the best. You can spend the day decompressing and get some presents for the kids.” She was rooting in her handbag.
“Oh okay,” said Avi. He stirred the ice, looked down, He felt a little blindsided, a little confused, He had made the trip all the way to New York for meetings, to make his company survive a little longer. She knew it. She knew it.
Oddly, it made him feel mildly embarrassed, like there was a birthday party he had not been invited to, or like a pretty girl said ‘no’ when he asked her out, or like he had started to feel when his wife no longer wanted sex with him, when she sighed all the time when he was around.”
Katya took the Seltzer from the bartender and flashed him a 100 watt smile.
“Oh God, I’m falling asleep, I can’t get used to the timing, so many meetings this past week!”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Avi said.
He shuffled his feet and felt Katya’s heel brushing past his ankle. He loved sexy shoes. He loved the way she smelled and her loud, clear voice. He thought of touching her leg with his Rockports, of maybe even letting his shin find hers.
He felt embarrassed but also lulled into exhaustion, as if he might fall asleep right there at the bar. Above them both, meeting his gaze, was a flashing exit sign. How many times a minute did it flash? He tried to calculate, but it was too confusing and he kept losing count. Katya was draining the last of her Seltzer and texting someone. Again and again, the sign flashed.
Fernando Gabriel Yache is an Argentinian- Israeli animation artist with 23 years of experience in the animation business worldwide. Currently living between London and Munich, he works on animated TV shows and feature films as director, supervisor, and storyboard artist. Fernando is an official certified professional on Storyboard Pro by Toonboom. Online portfolio.
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clock was striking thirteen and he knew there was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke and he was glad, no, happy that it was finally happening.
He fell on the green fresh cut grass carpet while listening to the ringing of the clock tower in front on the other side of the perimeter wall.
His eyes focused on the cloudy polluted sky above while grasping for air . He drew his hand to his fast beating heart and he wished this would not be the last image he would see while passing to the other side, at least he wished to see the sun, one last time.
He heard faint shouts from the people around, something about help or about ambulance, but he knew it would be too late when they’ d arrive, and he preferred it that way , because it was his time to leave this wretched and wicked world. A world sick because of human abuse, a world dying since the industrial revolution, a world that we humans are killing so fast that would never recover.
He knew that humans are cause of such atrocities and that technology was advancing so fast that we couldn’t ,as species, wrap our minds around it in such short time. So it was better this way and hopefully, in the very near future a new flood would engulf our wicked species and bring a new beginning and a new era to planet earth and mother nature.
Even though God promised He would never send a flood to destroy humans again, he hoped He would.
“How did I get here in such a short time?” he thought. “How from my socio-economic position did I fall so low, as I am now, laying on this fenced
backyard green lawn”? he asked himself. “Was it worth it, lose it all to put the message out there”?
And he knew the answer : YES…it’s worth dying for what you believe in.
It all started after watching few TED talks about global warming, the deterioration of the world’s natural resources and how little time we got to save the world for the next generation.
He even attended some of those talks and important global warming summits, and it was all the same, for one step forward there were five backwards. He knew it , society and world leaders didn’t want to recognise that it was already too late.
He decided to spend the small fortune he amassed on campaigning,educating and helping…but again, the world was moving backwards not forwards.
His first stroke happened at a TED talk.
His second stroke caught him while at the UN summit on weather deterioration and finally the third one was striking him here, surrounded by the inmates that had been his family for the last two years.
His family urged him to stop, his friends ,everyone around him told him he was becoming too extreme, but if you do not become extreme, then your voice would die away flooded by pollution like in the amazon river.
Images of the “event” flashed quickly in front of his eyes like if the clouds above were shaping them.
The determination, the undercover buying of explosives, trying to pass the security systems, been discovered a second before activation, been judged and sentenced to a life of jail.
And now here he was , saying goodbye to this world while slowly the clouds were parting and letting some sunshine crack through those grey white patches. And he felt happy, for the first time in years , he felt himself smile at the feeling of the sunshine hitting him.
Slowly he closed his eyes and his last living wish was granted by God, to see the sun one last time.
A former standup comedian and agent’s assistant at New York’s William Morris literary agency, Shashi Itai hails from Teaneck, New Jersey, the source of innumerable funny stories. A blogger for the Times of Israel, where she writes a tongue-in-cheek, biblical era advice column called Ask Avigail, Shashi now lives with her husband and two children in Netanya, Israel.
All You Can Eat
It was dusk, as John and his dog, Stanley, hiked amongst the towering trees, of the isolated mountainside. Suddenly, a loud roar! It was John’s stomach, as it wrestled with the remnants of the all you can eat Humous and California Fig Festival. This year’s theme was BE KIND TO YOUR COLON, but it was anything but that.
Another shattering roar echoed through the trees. This time, he couldn’t blame it on his flatulence problem. Suddenly, a nebulous figure stood in the distance. They say that animals can sense danger. The dog froze, as he thought of his options: a. RRRMPH (but he was out of practice); b. RRRMPH and SNMPH; c. PLAY DEAD ( it had worked with the Rottweiler affair).
He looked up at his master, who was trying to become one with the snowy cliff. It seemed to Stanley that, even if John had swathed on Max Factor’s Albino Death Pallor 4, with a shovel, he could be dinner to this towering, foreboding, yet, human-like form.
John was sure that it was not the Abominable Snowman, simply because most people could not spell it. Perhaps it was the result of an experiment gone amuck, from the notorious Moldavan Institute of Feckless Funding of Inane Scientific Research (something to do with extracts from baby yaks?). Very few people in the scientific community had heard of this facility; yet, its researchers hoped that it would put Moldava on the map, as a global icon for useless factoids, gone amuck (it’s repetitious, but consistent).
The furry, no, faux furred figure took hesitant steps toward them, as motor-challenged monsters are apt to do. This creature’s walk immediately reminded John of his former boss, Marty, who liked to indulge in an occasional appertiff. The poor man was so wasted, he couldn’t even climb the 12 steps to the AA meeting. He accidentally died when he mistook a keg of beer for wood alcohol.
I digress. You ingest.
John and Stanley heard the creature make sounds that were almost human-like.
It spoke. It coughed up a hairball. Even the cascading icicles gave it a rest. The dog was thinking of his cozy, Naugerhide chair, curling up with his bag of Barf and Bark cheese wheezes, hoping the Lassie reruns would be broadcasted at 12.
John thought of the raspy, gravely voice of his mother, Gertie. Most of her life a heavy smoker, her vocal chords had internally hemorrhaged, and she now spoke in a voice, not unlike a Mafia hitman. She had given up smoking, but occasionally, she was known to wrap her mouth around a tail pipe, hoping to suck up some exhaust fumes. Yes, the voice of this creature sounded eerily familiar.
Stanley detected a hint of a Jersey accent, exit 16, to be exact.
YOU FORGOT YOUR GALOSHES. It held up two, yellow,shiny, vinyl models of Italy.
I GOT THE LAST PAIR OF SIZE 12 AA AT A BAZAAR IN KATMANDU. COULDN’T REMEMBER A WORD OF NEPALESE, BUT I BARGAINED WITH WILD HAND GESTICULATIONS AND BODY LANGUAGE. I ALMOST WOUND UP IN A BROTHEL. AND YOU COULDN’T EVEN HAVE JOTTED A NOTE, TO TELL ME YOU WOULD NOT BE HOME FOR DINNER. WOULD IT KILL YOU TO TAKE A VITAMIN PILL? I HAVE EVERY CHRONIC DISEASE ENDING IN ITIS, AND YOU STILL PERSIST WITH THIS DELUSIONAL, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LIFESTYLE. I DON’T WANT TO NAG, SO I WILL WHINE….COME HOME…IT’S GETTING DARK…I WILL KICK IN FOR A CAB…JUST DON’T CATCH A COLD, AND COME CRYING TO ME…NOT THAT I want to rub it in, or flaunt I TOLD YOU SO in your face…
The non-forgiving,relentless, brutal winds resumed their frigid barrage….as non-forgiving, relentless, brutal winds are apt to do.
From: Where We Live Now
….if I would write a screenplay, encompassing all the irksome nuances of Israeli society, the title would be “Cohen the Barbarian.” OK, I’m a little over-zealous when it comes to manners. If I bump into a chair, I say excuse me. But, for example,when forming and maintaining a line, it should have some inherent instincts to say: please, excuse me, thank you, and a general awareness of personal space.
I was in the Rav Kook Super this morning. A 70 year old Israeli woman was allegedly behind me, apparently clueless of acceptable perimiters. Had I been a leper, perhaps she wouldn’t be so eager to form an airless vacuum between our respective sunburns. She was so close to me, I could feel the vibrations of her stomach enzymes pummeling her herring breakfast.
I had mentioned sunburns; I could feel hers molting. No, that wasn’t onion skin left in the “agalah” (wagon). After the fifth jab to my ribcage, I said in a most polite, friendly way: “Selicha (excuse me), Ayn makom “(I don’t have room) All she heard was the “excuse me”, cut my sentence off and magnaminously pardoned me for some slight offense, which I committed. My impatience and anger were melting my Arctic pops, and I just resolved to endure that, and the Israeli-style customer service, at the cash register. No eye contact and a flippant tossing of my Rav Kook 3% discount card onto the moving counter.
Another incident took place in the Shuk of Ramla.
There was an opening scene in a Woody Allen movie called Stardust Memories. Two trains headed side by side. The first train’s passengers seemed like the spawn of the Stepford Wives; multiple Barbies and Kens, with straight, sparkling, white teeth-the former with perky breasts enhanced by pastel-shade pullovers. Ken was probably gay, but even he knew gay as euphorically happy. Neither were cognizant of the word “cellulite.” Not in their world, where linen never wrinkled.
The other train was full of passengers that can best be described as “not the Pepsi Generation”, perhaps the legacy of Eraserhead. Women, with Marty Engel eyes, people you might find in the macarbe section of the Guiness Book of Records/Barnum and Bailey honorable mentions. THIS WAS THE RAMLA SHUK.
My husband, who is 6’5″ held up a bunch of cilantro and asked the vendor why the price was so high. The vendor challenged, “why are you so tall!”
Obviously, this man scored a victory in his own mind for some such grievance totally unrelated to Yacov. Perhaps it was related to the congregation/synagogue in the Shuk, where the Rabbi and his followers met, while incarcerated. The minyan was always iffy, depending on variables like parole, release or repeating offender.A sublimated blood fued might have explained the high cost of cilantro, but not my husband’s pubescent growth spurt. In either case, it was obvious that Ramla was not the apparent hub of Mensa activity.
Yet, I love Israel. When I was 12, a labor Zionist youth movement came to my town, North Bergen. It was called Habonim. Suddenly, the realization that Judaism was more than a religion, but rather, my nationality, captured my inarticulated feelings of alienation. For instance, when my Italian Catholic girlfriends confided to me what saintly names they were taking for Communion, I pulled my Hebrew name out of storage, only used for birth, Bat Mitzvah, marriage and death in the Galut. SHALOIMIS.
Connie Castellano stared at me, afraid she had contracted cooties the moment I uttered my then Hebrew name. After that, I took my Hebrew name out of the plastic slipcovers and gave birth to my person: SHASHI. I became obsessed with everything Jewish, in its new nationalistic perspective. I even counted the Jews listed in the daily obituaries, having explored the holocaust, and having decided we could not afford any more Jewish loss of life, even if it was death by old age, or apathy.
I feel the vibrations of a train plodding down my carpal tunnel, so I will have to end this essay soon, before I belt out James Brown, better than James Brown.
The one thing I wish I could change in Israel is the smoking. I hate all the smokers who turn my outdoor cafe coffee, into an appertif of secondary smoke with an asthmatic wheeze chaser.
But, we are a united people – the cretin from Ramla, the aged dowager of the Rav Kook super, we are all a quirky oneness. This point is crystalized five minutes before the midnight of Passover, when families catapult out of neighborhood pizzarias, shwarma stands and anything reeking of chumatz. My world is leaven-free as an army of sanitation trucks scoop up the garbage from every can and vessel, so this night can be different from every other night and every other country, in the world.
ISRAEL IS REAL.