She never cared for mermaids the way her roommate did, who believed beyond belief that his grandfather had been seduced by one in Italy. Even after unearthing the family photos in Maryland, bringing them back to Nashville, narrating them to anyone he could get to sit on their couch—where, without fail, the guys and gals all gasped at how breathtakingly beautiful was his grandmother Rosie, envied the apparent devotion with which her husband eyed her. And still there was Matt just sure his granddad had snuggled up with a she-fish who couldn’t even spread her legs for him if she’d wanted to.
At lunch last week, just down the street, her boyfriend told her his mother’s bedtime tale about mermaids, where the seafaring whore gets her head chopped off in the end. She thought “that’s a little too gruesome for childhood,” but not as bad as the one that scared her worst, where a black scratchy animal gets his tail chopped off and eaten—and he moans and he howls and he asks for it back. But what’s given is gone and what’s taken we lack. When Zach was done flattering the waitress, she ordered tuna.
The Wet Collection
I hit the pavement for a kid I met at Warped Tour, in a dream. He was shy, low-esteemed, spoke in mumbles. When he smiled, shadows drew toward him and amplified his laughter. He had sandy eyes, a wobbly stomach, and wore tighty-whities loose around his thighs. If he crapped, it would all wiggle out the sides.
He took me around to the shadiest pockets of East Oakland on bikes that rusted and fell to shrapnel. We carried the pieces to his place, a dark studio at the end of a crack hall. Similar to a crack house, a crack hall is one floor designated for crack in a complex filled with other shenanigans like whoring and chop-shopping and meth-making, possibly the sales of babies. He played the guitar for me, and then the drums when neighborly arguments over drugs, whores, or babies overshadowed base, tom, and cymbals.
We ended the night on a shady cot on the whore floor. The sheets were stained with blood, he explained, because his grandmother had died of ruptured hemorrhoids the day before. Talking side by side, he fled at the site of a striped spider, which he crushed upon escape.
Mother starts transcribing our shared meals, writing down everything we say in shorthand, then going back and shaping these conversations into one act plays. She does this for weeks on end, meal after meal, urging us to be clever and dramatic, to give her work merit. Before long she has a working draft that she is proud of, and she hands it out to us before a meal of meatloaf and greenbeans, a copy for each of us, and asks us to practice our lines. We read from the script, an almost word-for-word reenactment of a meal we shared three nights before, while our mother sits and watches us recite her/our words, transcribing them, writing yet another script.
Riley Michael Parker
THE SISTERS BROTHERS
The lock on the right rear door of Gray's black Lexus doesn’t work. We were having some Two-Buck-Chuck and he said, “I need to get that fixed.” I left my gallery that night and stole into his car; it smelled expensive. Maybe that kind of money pays for extra smell. He kept a camera in the glove box, and mix-CDs. I stuffed my panties under the armrest, stole some music and took pictures of myself on that camera.
I have two cats in my apartment in Echo Park, my stab at redemption. They leave pools of piss around their litter box on days I’m late. Once a year, I buy a card, wish my daughter all the love in the world and drop it in the mailbox. I leave the envelope blank.
Next Art Walk, Gray stayed after closing, and I imagined he’d found my pictures, and I said, “Do you want to show me your place?” and he said, “No, Susan,” and after three minutes he was gone. I went to the garage and peed on the driver’s seat. I wiped myself and put the napkin into his glove box. I said, “I get it.”
He was gone for Thanksgiving, Christmas, even grandma’s funeral. In the morning, he would mutter that he needed a pop or had an errand, never named, on a holiday when all the storefronts were dim and all the ever-motile souls were wombed in their homes. You could barely grasp his wispy words.
On such occasions, he wouldn’t return until he knew the dip sat saran-wrapped in the fridge and the coat closet was empty. He would come back late with sand in his backpack. Sand from a Lake Michigan beach. In December. During a wind-slapped chill that would scald your deadened cheeks.
He never announced his return. Never apologized for his absence. Never explained himself at all. You never heard him slip to his room, where he would lay before the pale lambency of his laptop in the dark and mold and disorder.
You could enter the hush and the clutter of his cocoon, and ask where he went. He might say it was fine, if he said anything at all. He wouldn’t lift his eyes if he spoke. His eyes were recessed, wed to the carpet, gone. He was gone when he was there, so far gone.
Joseph S. Pete
Today he confronts the drawing, a faded stick figure of his child with bandaged head. Tiny elves hammer at her with fists. He runs trembling fingers across yellowed paper, corners curled, and turns to trim the bonsai, snapping off one piece at a time to the rhythm of jazz fusion. The juniper mimics a Thai dancer, one arm bent east, the other west.
After lunch, he graffities his walls with keep it simple slogans as the cat rips the burlap shades, exposing a view of a hundred motor homes, a lake and dumpster.
That evening, under leafless oak branches that reach for heaven and hell, he drinks coffee from a chipped mug, wraps his gnarly fingers around its warm smoothness and watches a slice of moon ripple over the lake. His hand clenches. The cracking mug makes him jump and he hurls the fractured parts against a tree. The cat yowls out of the way.
That night, he snips the fifty- year old juniper again, one new bud here, one new bud there, a stick snaps, a branch pops and a twisted tree- to- be dwarfs again.
Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories
My grandfather tells his story every time we are together. He drove that 23 hour stretch straight through, after a long day of work, after a day of city maintenance and concrete and streets filled with waste and filth, he drove into the North to rescue me. He tells me when we eat dinner and when he brushes the spiders from his begonias. Over card games and in the middle of reading his newspaper something will suddenly click and I am there when the phone rings and my mother is crying on the other end. I am there to see the tears falling from his cheeks and I am helping my grandmother pack sandwiches and coffee and apples. I am there on the bench seat of that old Granada keeping him company as the house lights slowly disappear and I am grabbing the wheel when his eyes are too heavy and fiddling with the radio trying to find any voice in amongst all these trees.
The Best of Roald Dahl