By Eric Boyd
Sitting on the toilet, I was reading a copy of Women's Weekly. I often went to the local thrift store and, along with any decent chinos or blazers, bought a stack of random magazines, usually only a week old, for about two dollars. My girl, Lucy, liked having the magazines around to roll up and hit bugs with; our apartment was full of spiders. I liked having something to read on the bus, or at the plasma center, or in the bathroom.
Women's Weekly was a cheap, gaudy, embarrassing magazine. Had I noticed picking it up, I would have bought it anyway, but to burn it. The magazine was dull, devoid of relevance, and filled with stereotypes about its demograph of readers. Nearly every advertisement featured 'plus size' models waving their double D breasts in photos for Fruit of the Loom; and the rest of the ads were for dieting products. I read about what stockings to wear at your job for a raise, a little girl who won a beauty pageant before being raped by a judge, whose mother had since entered a younger daughter into pageants to "show that monster we're still beautiful," and how pinching your earlobes for three minutes a day relieved stress. Basically, I read nothing.
Continuing to flip through the magazine, however, I found the 'Romance Fiction' section; one page featuring a short story submission, called upon by the magazine, from a 'long time reader.' The story, about a widower who falls in love with a female air pilot, was awful. I glanced over it for a moment, amazed by its simple idiocy, and laughed.
"These magazines actually pay writers for this shit," I said to myself, wiping.
As I pulled my pants up and flushed the toilet, I realized I could do a story like that. I couldn't write that sort of story, writing having to involve actual care or worth; but I could do a story like that. Afterall, the magazine was calling for submissions, and donating plasma didn't always make enough money to cover the month.
I walked into the kitchen and grabbed an old metal coffee pot from the cabinet. I put the pot down on the counter and opened the freezer, pulling out a bottle of Jameson and a few ice cubes. I threw the cubes into the coffee pot and placed the bottle inside to stay cold. I went back to the cabinet and got a glass, which I put over top of the bottle. Then I made a sandwich, picked up the coffee pot with the chilled bottle, and went towards the bedroom.
"Fredrick, what are you doing?" Lucy asked from the other room. I was standing in the hallway and said, "I'm going to do a story."
"Absolutely nothing, probably. I'm going to do it for a women's magazine, see if I can get it published."
"Why would you want to do that?"
"I don't know. It could be funny, in an Andy Kaufman kind of way."
"The magazine pays, doesn't it?" she asked.
"Yes," I said meekly.
"I see, now."
"It'll only be one page worth, maybe less."
"If you get published, everyone will think you're awful."
"Who will? A bunch of fat housewives? I don't see any risk."
"Alright. Have fun."
"I'll try," I said, stepping into the bedroom. I put my things down and shut the door.
How do you start a story you know will be terrible? How do you belittle yourself and your work? Easy, by needing your rent paid. Magazines generally take a few months to reply to short story submissions, but the need will always be there. Rent has a way of always needing to be paid.
Eating my sandwich, I thought about what to include in the story. I took a pen and paper from my desk in the corner of the room and listed the best possible things.
1. Make the main character a person in their early to mid-thirties. This is an age the reader will either be in, or is familiar enough with to be pleasantly recalled.
2. Give the main character a flaw, one which the reader will identify with.
3. The main character should be smart, witty, and responsible. But, more importantly, they should be bland. The reader will have the chance to admire the main character, while also giving the character no truly unique features, so the reader can inject themselves into the story.
4. Make the story vaguely romantic and slightly mysterious; this entices the reader.
5. The shorter the better.
I drank three shots and began.
I ended up typing a story, under nine hundred words, about a divorced woman taking her young son to a photographer for his school portraits. The son's birthday is soon, and for some reason he is acting strangely. The photographer asks if the kid ever sees his dad. The woman says yes, and recalls her ex-husband, saying he was a 'goof' who 'could never dress himself.' The woman is confused, noticing the photographer is acting strangely too.
But then her ex-husband comes to the photography studio and tells her that, on his son's last visitation day, they took photographs for the kid's birthday. The woman is speechless (this tying into the title of the story, 'A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words') and fondly watches the ex-husband as he leaves the photography studio. The last lines are 'But the goof still couldn't dress himself.'
I resisted the urge to make it about the photographer having beaten the kid at some point, explaining why they were both acting strangely, even though it would have been the funnier story.
I drank a lot while reading the story over, reviewing. I put the pages into a large envelope and sealed it, writing down the address to the editor of Women's Weekly. I went into the other room and showed the envelope to Lucy.
"Can you do me a favor?"
"What's that?" she asked.
"Tomorrow, could you take this to the post office? It's a big envelope so they'll have to weight it. I'll give a couple dollars to cover it."
"Why can't you?"
"The women's story?"
"I shouldn't even ask to read it?"
"No. It's already in the envelope, anyway."
"Okay, I'll take the story down," Lucy smiled.
I went back into the bedroom and turned the light out. I sat down on the bed and thought over the story for a moment; I was amazed by its simple idiocy. It would probably be published. In fact, I was sure of it. The story was just bad enough. At least they'd pay me. Then I wouldn't have to worry about the rent for a month or so, and that'd be extra money to buy more whiskey, maybe some better magazines. Anything to forget.
I rubbed my earlobes for a few minutes, trying not to think about it.
- - -
Eric Boyd was born on October 16th, at 3:33AM, 1988 in North Carolina. He briefly studied at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. Boyd's work has been featured in several journals, both online and in print, including the Newer York, Hillbilly Magazine, and Velvet Blory. He is also a fiction writer and assistant editor for Pork & Mead magazine. Boyd's first collection of short stories, Whiskey Sour, will be released in the spring of 2012 by Nervous Puppy Publishing; he hopes to complete his first novel before he dies. Eric Boyd currently lives in Homestead, Pennsylvania. His cat's name is Oscar.
Posted by E.S. Wynn
The Central Reservation
By Dave Migman
Shattered sundown hobo standing at the lights waving a guitar of sawdust at the shimmering lanes. It all goes down at the intersection, as soon as the red eye blinks the tall, sunshine tribals (who live in shacks of faith, filth and fibre scattered further down the highway) bless the cars with mobile plug-ins, car phone batteries, flowers made from rust.
The pale slabs, with guts wedged behind steering wheels of their manhood, stare dispassionately at the sight. They are on missions to pick up beer (return and sift through the scorched flesh).
Henry goes down that way. His song is never over, screeched at every vehicle - for dumping him here. Stranded on this island.
THE SPEAR - he yells
BRING OUT YOUR SPEARS!
He’s right you know. Hostage to the blue-eyed indifference. Seen it all before. Every time the cattle crow in the market we seek to scrape a little fat to burn. We see them everyday. The clown, frothing at the mouth, bitten dog crazy that one.
Papa Nomad in his flannel shirt and golfing hat (culled from receptacles of trash). He slips along the street, his walk is a talk, it’s a hip tune. Across the lanes ole Henry, still there man, gawking at the sight. Crazy nomad bastard skipped across six lanes, dodging the traffic, gliding through effortlessly. Not a bead of sweat on that loony tune.
At the next lights we’ll find Charlie the mango man plying sweet boxes. Six to a pack, while Chipper sits in the shade packing them boxes over and over, sunny side up.
Trundle of wheels as the trolleys arrive, the trashies pushing their precarious stacks. Bundles of dirt, wrapped up in refuse like Russian dolls of ruin. Scrappers and wheezers, their tiny wheels resigned to burden.
Henry says it’s all a river of eyes man. Endless and crazy. Makes you crazy to think about it. The hypnotic waves of those who blankly stare at the lights.
They are sleeping - he says.
They are dreaming their journey.
Old man Blink is eighty and he was of faster cars, and whiter roads. He is gangrenous of mind, he is too far gone to ever crease the corners of his mouth, other than to frown. All the nights of fear turned him on himself. Gristle in the spine, inching up the central column.
You’ll die alone - Henry thinks, spitting on the fender as it pulls off. Henry reaches behind the column, withdraws of the sawdust of his muse. A crazy tune to ease in the night.
- - -
Posted by E.S. Wynn
Idylls of the King
By Cean Gamalinda
He rushes past the heavy door and through a stall onto the seat - he should have known better than to order guacamole from a place like this. Self-conditioned to internally plug his nose on entering a public restroom, he makes what he considers a fatal mistake and takes a nice deep whiff of his excremental environment. To his surprise, it's not so bad. Actually, it's not bad at all. Uncomfortably comfortable, he drops his jeans and begins the unloading process.
40% through, he looks with awe at what--he thought-- was bathroom taboo: clean stall walls - as in, no graffiti (Latin Kings/Latin King wannabes or otherwise.) Rather, in neat black cursive on the toilet paper dispenser: JOANIE LOVES CHACHI. What kind, he wonders, of weirdo hippie gang-slang is this?
At 60% he notices a tiny trash can in the corner of the stall. Wavering between courtesy and stuck-uppery as possible motives of its placement, he instead questions the flushing power of the toilet as maybe it just clogs when t.p. gets flushed down. It is probably a good thing that he never actually looks inside the trash can.
When 90% rolls around (or would that be "out?") he hears the heavy door open and an array of loud voices fills the quiet of his stall. Problem: men do not sound like these voices sound. But come on Jay, he admonishes himself, the world ain't like that anymore. Anybody can say anything and anyone who hears it can't just judge them. And then a set of heels passes by the little bottom rectangle that lets him look out a little beyond the door. But, again, he figures he can't just assume they're not men.
"OMG Kelly, you are such a skank!"
He figures it's probably just some new slang.
"Um, like, shut up, ok, Leonardo DiCaprio is flame as fuck."
He doesn't really know what that means, but he does like Leo D, so--
"Oh, oh, oh, I wanna be free-yeah, to feel the way I feel"
His eyes open wide. Ohmygod they are singing the chorus to that one Shania Twain song. He panics, looks out the cracks in the door to make sure they don't suspect the guy in the stall--the guy just now realizing the eerie absence of urinals he was too busy to think about when he first burst into the bathroom. But he can't just up and leave--the process isn't finished yet.
"Did you see that one guy at the table across from us?"
His panic culminates in the cessation of breath.
"Yeah, OMG his stomach was huge! Like, what, are you going to like, eat me? Hahahaaa"
He rubs a gentle hand along his belly, brows furrowing.
"And yeah, his, like, stupid spiked hair? Hahahaaaa"
A well-gelled spike stands a little less straight on his head.
"Or what about his hairy arms? Like, what, you - you gonna, like, shave or something hahahaaaa"
Ashamed, he rubs his fragile arms upon each other.
The cycle continues: unintelligible insult-joke followed by crippling psychosomatic self-consciousness. It only gets worse. It goes on and on until finally he's sitting on the toilet shaking uncontrollably, racked with fire in his eyes. Completing a transition to the fetal position, he draws his feet in so that the straps of his knock-off Air Jordan's collide like tectonic plates. He clicks his heels three times but he's still there. He clicks his heels three times but he's still himself, at 100% but only operating somewhere in the single digits.
- - -
Cean Gamalinda lives and writes in Chicago where he likes to look out the window and sigh. His work can be found at ceantumblrcean.tumblr.com and he loves receiving emails at email@example.com
Posted by E.S. Wynn
By T. E. Hieatt
I am dependent and helpless as a pivot
without the door and the frame
A bag of Ultex Jazz IIIs hang
A Schecter Hellraiser Deluxe sits
A pad of paper and pens and
moments stuffed in boxes
materials in storage
a brain on the shelf
a mind in a closet
It's somewhere down there
Let me keep looking
It's those bits and bytes
I take in
And I worry about the size
of my abdomen
When the trigger points in the
back are bad
I cannot operate the ab muscles
and the guts fall out to gravity
the organs pull and pull and the
rest of my body becomes a broken door
holding on by a rusted pivot
so I paint myself in wishes and dreams
and apply rouge to arouse the suspicion
of color and life in my thoughts
If I drop out of college again
it may be the best decision of my life
Windir is blaring in my ear canals
and swimming abrasive harmonies
inject the antidote into my position
Like a fuck
and a screwball without balls or the ability to screw
If I go to the disability office at school and say
hey, I am too damaged to keep up
they might be like, ok, we'll work things out
you can catch up
we will give you special consideration
since you have special considerations
and I'll say thank you politely with a forced smile
and I will walk down one flight of stairs to
building 10, 3rd floor, and as people eat pizza
I will throw myself off the edge right to the bottom of the next floor, and they will think oh my god,
and the campus police will be called, and I will experience pain like no other. It will be the truest of all pain. I will have something broken and be unable to move. I may be paralyzed. I may have to spend a year in physical therapy, and a lifetime in mental therapy, and they might give me medications to stop me compulsively throwing myself off of things.
Or should I just smile forced and walk away to math class and pretend to stay awake and learn about Gaussian systems and try to take it in and stand with 1000 other people someday in a ridiculous outfit so they can hand me an embossed paper, stamped with the seal of their approval, and then I will throw myself off the stage and they will all gasp in shock and I will laugh because I have the paper. I have it. And I will die in a sea of capped faces and the glare of auditorium sodium lights where sometimes they play basketball games. My parents will cry and my mom will faint while sobbing. Dad will be appropriate about the matter, consulting with the authorities and following the chain of command. Jess will rush to my side and have a flash of concerned anger in his eye, deeply sigh, and ask "What did you do that for?" David will say, "Oh, Jesus Christ," and stare in disbelief while becoming overwhelmed with emotion and the urge to run away.
Or perhaps I could skip the disability office and take whatever grade comes. Forgetting all I've missed and go for passing. Then I could stand there in that sea of capped faces and feel like the best most intelligent underachiever in the world.
Someone wrote in a psychedelic mushroom forum that one should only go to the psychiatric hospital if they are suicidal or homicidal.
But no, I believe in mental anarchy. Just another system of equations to make those mental variables fit, those places. Anti-psychotics and permanent brain damage. Take your risperdal. Eat your lunchtime mac and cheese. Six hour therapy sessions. Maybe it's not so bad. But I'd rather be in an institution in Sweden, where they are truly philanthropic and encourage the art out of you. Just like that one guy who is schizophrenic and makes electronic music. I can't remember his name.
I've walked by the open math book for two weeks and I've sat down and I've tried to work on problems and every time I do I feel like I am losing my mind, and I think of David at school and it pisses me off that I can't just get by and go and be with him, but I'd rather be here in my coffin where I can sort out my spaces and figure it out so I can start the whole cycle over again, but not by choice really.
I'll go to the disability office and tell them I have lost my mind, that I need to be admitted to a special ward for special mental considerations, because I don't care about treating my physical pain anymore because nothing works, since it's a part-time job like my old doctor said. She's right. I quit. So the disability officer of special justice will refer me to a counselor who will refer me to a behavioral correction center for outpatient therapy but then they will say, oh, she's worse than we thought, we should admit her for a long time. And I will begin again in a new coffin. I will request Sweden and I will be put on a coffin boat since I don't like to fly. And I will throw up at the waves and dance and fuck the sailors on my way to Sweden and I will throw myself off the side, even though I am shackled to the deck. Wait, no... And then I will smartly hang myself off the side. And the beginning of "The Beginning" by Windir is playing now, and it is lovely, and should be the song playing as I bounce around hanging by a chain. I will look out at the distance and the waves and the shores unseen and imagine fisherman in boats and women sweeping things.
I could just go to class and sleep.
- - -
T. E. Hieatt is a graduate of history who loves conquering limitations by kicking at the walls between her writing, music, art, and entrepreneurship.
Posted by E.S. Wynn
By Eric Suhem
On a snowy winter’s evening in a small Sierra mountain town, Colin held a chunk of ice in his coat pocket, disguising it as a gun, as he demanded money from the liquor store cashier. The alarmed cashier jumped back and slipped on a melting ice cube, falling and hitting his head on the linoleum floor. The man later died, and the fugitive Colin fled the store, never captured, the sound of boots crushing into the packed snow reverberating in his mind.
Colin eventually got a job as a waiter at a vegetarian restaurant in the Sierras. One evening, all of the customers began tapping their water glasses with spoons, complaining to Colin, “We specifically requested crushed ice, yet you gave us ice cubes, can you imagine how disappointed we are?” All of the customers were in town for a cashier convention. The restaurant’s manager intervened, asking Colin and Peggy, one of the restaurant’s cashiers, to go to the market and get crushed ice.
As Colin drove to the convenience store, with Peggy in the passenger seat, he noticed, oddly, that she had a big ball of yarn, and was snapping at it industriously with two large knitting needles, while wearing an apron adorned with bouncing apples and oranges. Upon further inspection, he determined that Peggy was knitting a machine gun. Her response, when asked about it, was a cheerful “Well, everybody needs a hobby!”
They pulled the Toyota Camry into the parking lot of the convenience store. Colin got out, and got in line, as Peggy stayed in the car, busy knitting the gun’s trigger. A woman who was queued in front of Colin, wearing a turquoise and neon green dress approached the cashier, “In the freezer section, I noticed only bags of ice cubes for sale, when I needed to get crushed ice…”
“I’m sorry we only sell ice cubes,” said the cashier.
“Well I had gone to the casinos in Reno for my crushed ice,” the woman said, “but all I could get was shavings from the discount tubs at the buffets, and most of that was partially melted, and filled with disagreeable pieces of parsley, and sweat from swarthy buffet workers, and…”
“Enough!” said the cashier, holding up her hand. “Go home and crush the cubes with a hammer. Next!” The woman walked away, in tears.
Colin was next in line. “I need some crushed ice…” he began. The cashier held up her hand, ready to wave Colin away, when she glanced out the window at the Toyota, seeing the jolly Peggy hold the knitted machine gun against the passenger window. The cashier looked at Colin, beads of sweat suddenly perspiring on her forehead, and reached down into a small freezer underneath the cash register, retrieving a bag of crushed ice. “89 cents,” she worriedly said to Colin, who gave her a dollar, and got back 11 cents in change, which he put into his pocket, bypassing the tip jar.
As Colin returned to the car with crushed ice, Peggy finished her knitting. “Colin, dear, did you leave the change for the cashier in the tip jar?”
“Are you kidding?” he smirked, looking at her crocheted yarn gun and laughing, “Is that something for next week’s sewing circle?”
Peggy pointed it at his temple, and clicked the trigger, saying, “Thanks for shopping with us.” It took her 3 hours to clean the blood out of the car upholstery.
- - -
Eric Suhem lives in California and enjoys the qualities of his vegetable juicer.
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