Prose #120

Issue 120 of fabulous fiction brings you head trips.  Are you really who you think you are?  Kick back and let the words of Blake Cooper, Susan Tepper, Michael Solender and Erik Smetana insert rainbows and reverie into your brain.  Double back for another dose of daydreams with this issues Editor’s Pick for Must Read Twice by Blake Cooper.

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The Lonely One

Blake N. Cooper

Kids ask me all the time what it’s like living in this “holy wow” spot, under these “are you serious?” conditions. It isn’t really a secret and I’d appreciate it if you asked your children to stop looking at me with wide-eyed surprise every time they see me. I live alone and, yes, it gets lonely; I steal my food, late at night, from sealed bags you toss in the local alleys or bins you leave on your sidewalks (let it be known: I only steal from families with kids or businesses that specialize in caring for kids).

The truth is: my life isn’t all that different from yours. You live hidden behind closed doors surrounded by white paint; I live hidden behind mystery surrounded by the greatest of colors (except for white). You’re a sapien of the homo variety; I’m a leprechaun. We’re similar, you and I, in many ways, but I must say there is a glaring difference: you eat severed body parts of animals and drink from leaking cows; I eat crayons and drink from leaking clouds.

Blake writes from Seattle, where he runs Thinking Ten: A Writer’s Playground.

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Who Sent You?

Susan Tepper

Janis Joplin came to my place on West 4th a week before she died.  She came for some dope, which kind of annoyed me.  I had given all that up except for a brownie, here and there, which I liked along with a cold glass of milk.

At any rate, there was Janis on my front stoop looking like something the cat dragged in then didn’t want.  I hate telling it like this because she died in a bad way.   But she looked damned ugly and kind of dirty.

“Doc,” she kept calling me.

“It’s Chuck,” I told her more than once.

“Doc,” she kept saying.

“Who sent you?”  I remember saying; or something close to it.

“Ain’t you Doctor Acid?”

It was Greenwich Village so that was almost a joke.  Two feet away this guy was hawking passersby.  Plus she had a band.  Why did she need to scratch around?   She looked so determined.  I’ll give her that.  Janis had this fierce determination that was kind of scary up close.

“Can I have a ticket to one of your concerts?”
“You mean like a trade?”  She was pushing that mop of hair off her forehead.  It was hot and my building faced the sun in the afternoon.  That hair was so tangled I thought of rats living inside and would she even know?

“I don’t have any,” I kept telling her.  Finally I sent her to Original Louie in the next building.

“Which way?”  Janis said.  She looked right to left up the street.  Her see-through blouse had this sad little pink rose pinned on, some kind of paper flower hanging cockeyed so the safety pin showed.  I could see her breasts sagging behind the blouse.  They looked sad too.

I asked if she would sing Me and Bobby McGee.

“Man are you crazy or what?”

Susan writes from New Jersey, where she’s garnered five Pushcart nominations and penned three books, the latest collaboration due out in the fall by Cervena Barva Press.

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Express Train Uptown

Michael J. Solender

Harvey fed two successive dollar bills into the stout, robotic ticket machine. He punched his stubby, sausage-like digit at the menu choices. Senior. Round Trip. $1.50. Buy. Two shiny quarters and his light-rail ticket plopped into the slot.

At fifty-two Harvey was eight years shy required of the discount he’d just obliged himself of. Beating the Transit Authority out of a buck was the furthest thing from his mind. Rather, this small societal infraction was a type of psychic balm for Harvey. His petty misdemeanor returned a tiny sense of control and dignity to a man who’d long ago been stripped of both. Caustic erosion of ordinary ate at Harvey’s fortitude like molten lava spewing from the volcanic average. He couldn’t bear to be compliant in every last action of his life. The purloined train ticket was Harvey’s last stand, his Alamo.

Far from malevolent, Harvey was a portrait of convention to all who might notice. He maintained a tidy lawn that perfectly framed his suburban rambler.  Citronella scented geraniums lined his window boxes. He often chatted with his mailman, even knew his kids’ names. Harvey paid his taxes, voted in every election including the municipal ones, and was a generous tipper at the Big View Diner where he always sat in the corner booth and ordered an egg -beaters omelet with dry wheat toast.

The sense of exuberance and adrenaline rush accompanying the anticipation of getting caught motivated Harvey to get out of bed on work days. It made him feel alive. Daily, he rehearsed in his mind what he’d say and exactly how he’d react when challenged by some beefy transit cop. They were the type of men Harvey thought he could have been. They wore shades even if it was cloudy. They made their own decisions. They didn’t sit in cubicles waiting to be told what to do and how to do it. They had independence, something Harvey aspired to have.

Consumed by the fantasy playing on his mind’s super-eight twice each weekday, the lies he imagined grew more outlandish. He’d been given the ticket by a friend, he’d say. He didn’t know the age was sixty, he’d been told it was fifty. The ticket machine miscalculated. He pushed the wrong button.

For forty minutes every Monday through Friday, his blood-pressure soared like a thermometer in July. His senses became more acute. The aroma of yeast rolls from the bakery they passed along the way was that much stronger, pure heaven.

Two or three times a week, he was asked to produce his ticket. To Harvey’s great disappointment, not once in two years had the transit cops so much as questioned him.

They would though, maybe even on the very next ride.

Harvey would be ready.

Michael writes from North Carolina — just outside Corporate America — and blogs stuff worth reading here.

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Working Class Zero

Erik Smetana

Widgets. Sprockets. Gears and springs. Each one has its place in the soot spackled factory weeble-wobbling on the county line, where the taxes are cheap and the labor cheaper. Conveyor belts roll tiny pieces of metal, former shards and scrap reborn, at a precise pace.

Two shifts, eight hours each, thirty-three lines, each cranking out one-hundred and eighty units per minute. Damn near five million pieces of pieces loaded into the back of diesel spewing, road munching cargo machines every day.

Davis works the widget line, just like his daddy and granddaddy before him, been here since dropping out junior year (back when “Angie Baby” lit up the charts). He wears thick glasses now, but still has to squint as he looks for flaws in the chrome bits whipping by. Hate is a general term he likes to use. It is the way he feels about most everything. Job. Family. Church. Life. He’d just as soon end it all, if only he had the energy.

Roscoe pushes a button that drops molten metal into molds, been pressing and depressing the same piece of grime tainted plastic as long as he can remember. He eats alone each night, all the while telling a framed photo of his wife about his day and what fella said this or which one did that. Every word a lie. Roscoe spends his days in a little plexiglassed box minding his own business the same way he spends his evenings, by himself.

Armand Fell is a lube man. He makes sure the belt keeps rolling, churning out chunks of other things for machines assembled elsewhere. Armand’s hands have a permanent glow to them, the oil he carries around in his gun having formed a permanent bond to his skin. Relatively speaking, he’s the new kid. Armand just showed up one September day, before Roscoe was alone or Davis started hating the world, talked his way into a meeting and walked out with a uniform. Been greasing wheels with a smile on his face ever since. He keeps to himself, eating canned soup day-in, day-out in a corner of the break room during lunch. Armand likes it here, fancies it over what he left behind: the framed degree, corner office, pretty-girl-in-pearls.  They are the sort of memories that still haunt his dreams.

Erik writes from just outside St. Louis, where Motown runs through his veins as the words flow from his pen.

4 thoughts on “Prose #120

  1. Blake- Leprechauns are so much more than little green men as you deftly point out.

    Susan- I’m always taken aback by the depth in your work, lovely and imaginative vision of J2 in her prime.

    Erik- Lube men make the world go ’round. Thanks for reinforcing this notion.

    I am humbled to be in such fine company. Thx to Allie and Gloom for the showcase.

  2. Wow! Four brilliant tales–every one a winner!
    Thank you much, Allie, for presenting these terrific writers. This is one of the best issues of Gloom Cupboard, if not THE BEST.
    Blake, Susan, Michael, and Erik, each of you has produced something to be remembered and reread, and to find you all in one place is like winning a jackpot. What a variety, from leprechauns, to Janis (this one absolutely floored me!), to fare-beaters, to lube men, it doesn’t get much better than this.

  3. EEek. These people walk among us, sit next to us in movies and on the commute, drink before us at water fountains. But they are scary talented.

    @Solender, “Caustic erosion of ordinary” is brilliant. How do you take the plainest words and make them so shiny?

    @ Blake: “you eat severed body parts of animals and drink from leaking cows; I eat crayons and drink from leaking clouds” is making me actually cramp with joy.

    If I build a shrine and hold my mouth just right, will I be able to write like y’all?

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