By Paul Smith
I’d been kidnapped by Isosceles Sam and his Hypotenuse Gang. They’d been looking for me. They thought I knew too much, or more than them, or just enough or something. They’d been running numbers, triangulating the geo-grid, doing binomial expansions (which is by no means easy), running the old sum-of-the-squares swindle, La Place functions, partial derivatives, every angle known to man. Finally they stubbed their collective toe on the Bernoulii equation when they found it had some complications they hadn’t foreseen.
I think it was a case of mistaken identity. They mistook me for someone who knew the ins and outs of mathematics. They thought they’d found someone as crooked as them.
But they were wrong. I was straight.
Straight? I was a perfect square. Sure, I’d passed differential equations. Sure, I got through complex variables and even aerodynamics. For what? To know the square root of minus one? Is that all there was to life? I doubted it, but I had yet to find out what else there was, unless it was maybe the jokes and stories and tales we spun when we should have been studying. Maybe the whole college setup was a scam, and all along we should have been mastering the ‘Ballad of SUNY Jim’ and the mystery lyrics of ‘Louie, Louie.’ I ruefully admitted I had no answers.
They took me to their secret hideout at Six Corners, where Milwaukee Avenue, Cicero and Irving Park convene. This hideaway is so secret that most people believe that Six Corners is the intersection of Milwaukee, Damen & North. But these are the things only Isosceles Sam and his gang knew.
They don’t know much else.
They took me to a basement where they tied me up. My wrists wrestled with the wobbly knot. ‘A square knot,’ my wrists told me. In all the lousy cities of the world, in all the lousy basements, it had to be a square knot. It couldn’t be a Sheepshank, A Clove Hitch, an Ossel or a Clinging Clara.
Wait a minute. I couldn’t get out of those either.
Yes, I have long conversations with all of my body parts – my wrists, my ribs, my tailbone, my abdomen. They all speak up from time to time. The only quiet one is my brain. He’s the strong, silent type. If I could just get him to talk more.
“So, what’s the gig, Sam?” I asked. ‘Gig’ was a special word I learned from my abdomen when Earl Hooker’s blue guitar kicked me there.
“Gig?” he asked. “This ain’t no strange beauty show. We need something I think you got.’
“I got the blues,” I admitted.
“You got something else. You passed complex variables. What’s this thing about the square root of minus one we hear about?”
He was referring to the Bernoulli equation, the thing that makes airplanes go up and then holds them there so they don’t fall. So maybe he never heard of Orville and Wilbur Wright and wanted to invent the airplane. He needed to get out more. Or maybe he just wanted to pass his final exam.
“Yeah,” I sneered. ‘The square root. The imaginary plane. That ring a bell?”
“You first, Sam. Sure, I can talk, but so can you. What are you getting at?”
Sam looked at his gang, and they looked back. He licked his lips. “We’re going to build the biggest, baddest submarine there ever was. We need to know what makes it go up and down in the water. Eddie over here said it works like an airplane, an airfoil, so we all took aerodynamics but haven’t gotten around to going to class yet. Tomorrow’s the final. We know there is something about the square root of minus one involved. Once we get past that part, we can build the damn submarine. Eddie and us have worked on cars our whole lives. Now spill the beans!”
I stammered. “I, uh.”
“That’s it!” Eddie shouted. “i.”
“What?” Sam shouted back.
“i,” Eddie repeated. “The symbol i. I saw it in Cliff’s Notes.”
“Who’s Cliff?” Sam shouted.
“i is the square root of minus one,” Eddie said jubilantly. “Now we can build our sub.”
Then my brain spoke up. ‘Ask them if they know what you get when you take the ice out of ice cream. Maybe they’ll let you go if you stump them,’ she said. What a dame. She was really under-appreciated.
So I did.
“Cream, “Sam replied.
“What do you have when you take the water out of watermelon?”
Here was the coup-de-grace. “And what,” I asked, “Do you get when you take the f*** out of onions???”
“There ain’t no f*** in onions!” I shouted.
Out of embarrassment they were forced to release me. Sam’s street cred shrunk to zero. He got it back the next week, though, when he busted a hexagram into two triangles and recruited them into his gang. And he passed his final exam and went on to build his submarine.
I got wind that big changes were coming so I headed to the airport. And I took my brain along. She turned out to be a wonderful conversationalist.
We had a plane to catch.
- - -
Brief bio: Paul Smith lives near Chicago with his wife Flavia. He belongs to the Rockford Writer’s Guild, who occasionally accepts his poetry/fiction. He believes that brevity is the soul of having something to say and then cutting something in half with a butcher knife, a meat cleaver, an axe or whatever else is handy.
Posted by E.S. Wynn
Fun Facts When Drawing Blood
By Travis Roberts
A workday. The stained canvas draped along the overpass rail features Think in mottled lines of black spray paint.
I consider it. My brain behind a classroom desk.
A woman once told me she preferred fiction in violent weather. I associate her memory with barroom lights, dim and red, suspended above pictures of smoking dogs playing cards, framed in plastic. Truth is, she slept in my house for a time but I never saw her naked. I think because we loved each other.
Nobody stands next to the stained canvas. It simply hangs, limp and rain worn. A distraction. Like kids playing basketball, or a woman jogging. You look, as long as you can, and then you look elsewhere.
After the exit my drive consists of a shopping mall, a Burger King, and a nail salon tucked behind a low hill.
Three lights, one turn.The margins of a universe.
Live in your own time, a man told me once. This is a truly exciting era.
My customers recite stories about how the theater in the mall used to run Ingmar Bergman films. Back before you were born, they say. I explain that I know all about the God trilogy, that I've even seen Wild Strawberries. There's hope, they say.
Occasionally I impress someone. These moments weave around corners and often require alcohol. One took shape in the early hours of a college Sunday. We were at a birthday party and I mentioned Bergman's God trilogy.
This is why college is so much better than high school.
There was only High Life. I rubbed my hand between her thighs until she fell asleep.
In high school I chose cello. Fourth chair. My stand partner, a senior, was three years older. She looked the part. Showed up late to class like a pioneer. Like it was her idea. Jeans torn at the knees, t-shirts tight around the chest. I listened when she spoke.
These next three years are the ones you want. Trust me, cutie.
The God trilogy. Jesus. Too serious. Too quiet. And where's the color? Our kids don't need lectures, just bullets and sequels. And for Christ's sake, English.
Park and catch the bumper sticker in front of me. Tell the truth, there's less to remember.
Called in sick yesterday. Spent my shift on a pleather stool with red lights and popcorn. Happy hour and a full memory.
A coworker once mentioned a man on the Greyhound. A cook from northern California who wouldn't shut up about servitude. Said he'd just quit a gig in the San Juan Islands because the host made him feel like a lackey. Said he couldn't wait to get home. See his girls. Go a round with the wife.
I make a lousy indentured servant.
I greet a woman with fake red hair at the entrance to the store. Pearl's name tag reveals a commitment of twenty-four years. One more and the badge turns silver. Pearl smiles like I'm trying to sell her something.
Good morning, how are you?
Good, thanks, how are you?
My tag is different. Far from silver. I prefer to consider myself unique. Uncommitted. A stopgap.
From behind the counter I scan your groceries. I smile and so do you.
Good morning, how are you?
Good, thanks, how are you?
Drift among endless rows of fluorescent bulbs dangling from the warehouse ceiling.
Frozen meatballs. Meatless grind. Chicken nuggets shaped like Mickey Mouse.
Good, thanks, how are you?
I overhear a customer two registers over waiting for her husband, adrift in search of forgotten butter. A baby in her shopping cart waiting to sleep. Two small boys at her feet, arguing. They can't wait to blow this place, huff one of our discount take and bakes and forget it happened. I'm waiting, too. First break. Lunch break. Last break.
She looks at her watch.
Where is your father?
The baby adjusts, unnoticed. Grabs the rubber handle.
Will you two please leave each other alone?
On her heels. A shift in weight. Forward, headfirst.
A poster I saw once in a doctor's office: Fun facts when drawing blood.
The silence in bone and concrete.
A cat's ear has thirty-two muscles.
The hush. The howl.
Chewing gum while peeling an onion prevents you from crying.
Breathe. Move. Impress.
The time we went shopping and the baby flew away.
More dogs playing cards. Another woman jogging.
- - -
Travis Roberts holds a bachelor's in creative writing from Western Washington University, where he studied under Jack Duluoz and the Glass family. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Albion Review, the Eunoia Review, Black Heart Magazine, and the Molotov Cocktail.
Posted by E.S. Wynn
By Brenda Anderson
Brad wept frog tears. The instant he’d checked □ pools and □ girls, Dream Dates had turned him into a frog and dumped him here, beside this chocolate pool. His green skin itched like crazy under the midday sun. What girl would look twice at a frog?
A single arm, hacked off just below the shoulder, broke the surface of the pool. The chocolate left streaks on the still-pink flesh. Brad blinked. A single leg broke the surface at the furthest edge of the pool. He gulped. This was no chocolate pool. Individual body parts? It had to be Army Replacements. Only they ran immersion tanks like this: nutrient-rich pools for body parts, grown to order. Brad studied the reinforced perimeter fence shimmering in the sunshine. Yep, definitely the Army.
He should surrender right now before they shot him, stepped on him, or whatever else the Army did to intruder frogs. Brad leaked more tears.
The warm breathy voice made him leap and spin round. A girl in a long, silvery dress crawled towards him, wearing a sparkling tiara. She reached out to touch him. He edged away. Was this some escaped nutcase? Army Recruitments?
“So nice to meet you. I’m Olivia.” She flashed a dazzling smile. If only he weren’t a frog.
He waved a webbed front leg. “I’m Brad. You’re with Dream Dates?”
Olivia nodded. “I checked □ princess, □ chocolate and □ pool. Look, they matched us here, together. I get to kiss you now, right?”
Oh God, if only he weren’t a frog. She did sound ditzy, though. How was he going to wriggle out of this one? Maybe let her down gently. “Smart work, getting past the perimeter fence. I heard they don’t like intruders.”
She sniffed. “D’uh, the guards let me through. All princesses get Lifetime Pool Membership, but they did tell me to keep a low profile. 1.5 metres from the ground, something about security. Hey, I’m poolside with you, froggy. How about a dip?”
Swimming with dismembered body parts, breast-stroking in her chocolate? No thanks. He tried to edge away. She giggled. “How about skinny dipping?”
His eyes bulged.
She grinned. “Brad baby, settle down. I’ll strip and get into that wonderful pool.”
“No! Seriously, it could give you extra bits.” Brad eyed his own four fingers. He was minus a digit, himself, and his skin felt like old cardboard. He edged closer to the pool. To hell with it, he needed liquid and fast.
Olivia reached for him but he leapt free and sailed up in the air. Zip, an arm rose from the pool and caught him. Hefting him high, the arm bobbed up and down. Brad breathed easier. At least the choc-sticky hand supplied him with much-needed moisture. A head bobbed up, that of a young girl, her mouth pouting, her wide-set blue eyes blinking at him.
Such a cute smile.
“Hey, cool disguise.” Her voice felt like balm on a hot day. “I’m impressed.”
This was more like it. “I’m Brad.”
“Beatrice. Call me Bea.”
“Bra—a---ad.” Behind him, Olivia’s voice rose to a shriek.
“That’s your girlfriend? Ok …ay.” Bea sounded amused. “Brad, that arm is going to go under any minute. Could we hook up sometime later? We should be out of here in a month.”
“Reconnected, with the rest of my body, you know.” Under the chocolate he could swear she blushed. “Then I’ll be back in uniform, ready for deployment.”
At last, his big chance. “So, how about a date?”
She grinned. “What’s your girlfriend going to say about that?”
Brad thought hard. “She was just leaving. About that date?”
“Mmm. Let’s say, Bar ‘n Grill, Main Street, 7pm, a month from today. But how will I recognise you? You won’t be in disguise, I guess.”
Please God, no.
In the background, Olivia’s wail changed to a scream.
“Well, wouldn’t you know, the gardeners are back.” Bea gave an exclamation. “Look at that. They’re spraying the ground. Ooh, you’re right. She is leaving, at speed. Wait, she’s dropped her tiara. They’re calling her back … too bad, she’s gone. Well, Brad, I’ll be seeing you.”
Her adorable head sank back into the chocolate, and didn’t come up again. The dismembered arm laid Brad gently on the edge of the pool and sank back down, too. The pool basked in the noonday sun.
Brad heard heavy footsteps and froze.
A gloved hand scooped him up. “Aw, will you look at that. A frog. I’ll lob you over the fence, buster. Special security pass for frogs, haha.” The gardener lobbed. Brad whizzed over the fence and splat, landed on the grass outside the fence. Zap, he changed back into his twenty two year old, naked body. Brad got up and ran for his life.
7pm, the Bar ‘n Grill. Dim lights. At the bar sat drop-dead gorgeous Bea, draped in something slinky, her pale skin dusted with freckles, her red hair cascading round her shoulders, her full lips curved in a welcoming smile.
At last, his dream date.
- - -
Brenda Anderson’s fiction has appeared in places like Andromeda Spaceways, A cappella Zoo, Punchnel’s and Penumbra. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia, with her husband and two children, and loves the offbeat.
Posted by E.S. Wynn
The Las Vegas Strip Disappeared This Morning
By David S. Atkinson
The Las Vegas Strip disappeared this morning, leaving a large number of pasty white vacationing Midwesterners blinking bleary-eyed confused at the morning sun. It happened suddenly, monolithic towering casinos and flashy digital nickel slots evaporating like people's money normally did there. No lights, no bells, no 'thwacking' of stripper cards advertising girls that would come to your room but depicting girls who were young in the eighties.
No 'you bring the booze, we bring the girls.'
Apparently, that Joshua tree out on Interstate 15 that dreamed Las Vegas took a break for the first time since that Honeymooners debacle back in the fifties. Pulled up root and got itself a room at a motor lodge and pinewood derby car museum near Baker, closed all the blinds and watched countless hours of HBO original programming. Without its dreams, Vegas was nothing more than a single story collection of housing developments, gas stations, and Speed Racer themed massage parlors.
And a mass of bewildered tourists wandering around in the empty desert like Lawrence of Arabia that time he lost his GPS unit.
Fremont street was still there, of course. Binions and Golden Gate. Four Queens. That place was too ugly to be a dream, too greasy to disappear. It lingered, like herpes or DVD collections of Alf.
The casino conglomerates ran to the mayor. The mayor ran to the mob, which was a short trip. The mob sent Dean Martin and Robert DeNiro to knock on the Joshua tree's motor lodge room door with 1967 World Series commemorative softball bats, break a few kneecaps if they had to. Joshua trees don't have kneecaps, but Martin and DeNiro managed to be convincing anyway.
It would have been a terrible thing if the rains never came again, or if someone were to release the Joshua tree's credit card information online.
Regardless, the Joshua tree went back to its place on Interstate 15 and resumed dreaming. Put down desert roots again. Raised a family of adopted Belgian refugee children.
And the dream of Las Vegas bloomed from nothing again, like the resurgence of bell-bottoms. Neon and two hundred foot tall cement. Cocktail waitresses dressed like reflective genies. Cocaine and thalidomide in the bathrooms. A Cirque du Soleil version of the Gettysburg address with an all bonobo monkey cast. The tourists went back inside.
And they spent money. Sometimes their own.
Luck was a lady again, an eighty year old lady wearing a gold lame track suit covered in Faberge rhinestones and an LED tiara seventy feet tall filled with the blood of male atheist virgins. All was right and well once more.
- - -
David S. Atkinson is the author of Bones Buried in the Dirt (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, first Novel less than 80K in length) and The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes (EAB Publishing, spring 2014). His writing appears in Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Interrobang?! Magazine, Atticus Review, and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.
Posted by E.S. Wynn
There's No Funny Farm for the Likes of this
By jacob erin-cilberto
fair game Detroit crazies
burning buildings and brains hot against
the time's sentiment
not the NY Times, although some sophisticated
ivory white writer might try to position his article
in the right column,
one untouched by the flames
as he thinks he has captured the guts of the nuts
throwing TV sets through windows
and throwing windows through decades
of sparkling clean glass hate
Walter Cronkite flying through the air
his necktie unwound as the tempers
flaring, the sirens glaring
and we were ate up
by discolored hate
and colored fate
and planned dates
for moving in
and moving up
forcing issues down others' already raspy throats
from the protests
and the protests
of the protests
of the protestors
with black faces and white faces
and no other places
because it was the sixties
and those years trapped us within our subconscious
without our conscious
but with deep conscience
that fair game Detroit crazies
weren't so crazy after all...
and that NY Times news blues paper
needs to print a retraction
about the action
of the crazies
who maybe just changed the world,
(at least theirs)
for at least
a one moment
when the flames
were finally extinguished
even if the burning minds
- - -
jacob erin-cilberto, originally from Bronx, NY, lives in Southern Illinois and teaches at two community colleges. He has been writing and publishing poetry since 1970. erin-cilberto's 13th book of poetry Intersection Blues is available from Water Forest Press, Stormville, NY.
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