Pretty Short


Sometimes the wind blew so hard, it blew scraps of paper, wrappers and dust from the gutter – clear up to the twenty-fifth floor. You wiggled your toes through the railings, and you saw the birds go higher. You watched them wet their wings in the clouds.

You knew you were going to fly. It’s all you ever wanted to do.

Your old man dragged a stool out to the the balcony, to be with you. He stretched his legs long and said, That’s good, son. So get yourself a plan. You need to study X and then you’ll get to Y. Might take a while but that’s the way to Z .

You turned to look at him and thought you saw the Z he got to. You saw the blood in his eyes and the dirt in the crease of his neck, but you never saw a bird with a plan. You just saw them fly.

But Marcus said:

This is how we get you there, fly boy. This is the fast track.

Marcus will have you a private jet in no time, with a pilot, and rye whiskey in a sharp cut glass, scything through sky.

You took the gun, because he took the wheel. He said it was fair. And fair was fair for the white boy in the suit, the one that had to mess with the fine balance of things, the transition between earth and air.

So now.

You dig for worms in the exercise yard. The others watch you and spit, slit-eyed.

Hey birdman, they say, you’re cleared for takeoff. Go ahead and fly.

Sure, your nose is in the dirt, but it won’t be there long. They think they know you, but they can’t see under your skin. There’s a feeling – like bubbles under glass – just above your shoulder blades, and back in the cell, if you reach back around your neck, you can feel two lumps, smooth as eggs. You touch them and they vibrate, low and mellow, living things that breathe with you. They quiver and itch. This time around, they won’t melt off your back. Marcus, you can rot in hell, wherever you are.

Carson squats over the bucket in the corner. You see the white sinews of his thighs. His voice is all naive and quizzical, but his eyes are the flint of no good.

You got fleas, birdman?

It feels right to hold his head in his own shit. He can rot too.

That was three days ago. You won’t get out anytime soon. Three days they’ve watched you on their CCTV. Your screams are reedy, and repetitive. You’re hopping around in their strait jacket like a baby starling in traffic, and they sip their coffee and throw their heels on the desk. You hear what he’s sayin’, they grin. Listen.

You’re back with your dad, struggling against him, high above the city. He won’t let you go. You’d pull him over with you, just to be given a chance. But you’re too weak still, and he pulls you back from the edge.

Now you know it’s the truth, but you’re talking to blank walls.

These wings are real. These wings are real.

Pretty Short, Trifecta Challenge

The Green Line

Your ex has a weak case. Flimsy, my lawyer says, and gives a little snorty laugh into her coffee mug. The mug advertises her services as a ‘Law Diva‘ and she sets it down on a photograph of a baby, made into a mouse pad. The bubbles on the surface of the coffee pop softly, one by one.

I can’t lose my son, I say.

Don’t worry, she says.

Her mobile phone rings. She makes an apologetic noise and swings her desk chair around to face the window. I can see the top of her head, stiff with hair spray.

Well, she says, did you take her temp? She snorts again. No, I can’t come home now. I have three more clients.

Outside the window, a crane hauls something heavy upwards.


Let’s take the tube to the end of the line.

His eyes widen.

Where does it stop?

I don’t know. Let’s find out.

He stands in front of the colourful map, chin straining upwards, straight blonde hair falling back from his face, and chooses the line that goes furthest away.

It’s not to scale, I say. But green is his favorite color, so that’s the line we choose. I buy him a packet of crisps and a Mars Bar, because he asks.

Don’t you have to go to work?

I shake my head. He munches thoughtfully. I help him push through the turnstile.

When we get there, it’s what I expected. I think I may have been here before. We cross a car park and over a triangle of grass, dotted with broken-off saplings, each inside its own battered wire fence. On the other side there’s a brick wall. I lift him onto the top, holding him round his waist while he dangles his legs over the other side. He points at things: a church spire, a shop window, a bright red sports car.

This is the best day, he says, with a slow starting smile. Where do we go now?


A Bit Longer, Trifecta Challenge

Semper Fidelis

“It would be apreshated if gests would take there shoes off.”

It’s written in childish block letters and taped just above the doorbell. There’s a drawing too. I would have expected a pair of sneakers or maybe some feet, but instead it’s a picture of a Rambo style character, with an AK-47.

That’s a new one, I think. Sherice didn’t used to be so house-proud. I guess the kids are on board too. I always knew my brother was a neatnik, but when he retired from the Marines and got married, Sherice softened him up around the edges, made him realize that four kids (in three years) and an incontinent pug (that she found at the bus station and kept for the kids) were not compatible with high levels of barracks-style cleanliness. We have to band together on this one, she would say.

It’s drizzling, cold. The wind chimes she gave him on his forty-fifth birthday hang limply from a porch rafter. I ring the doorbell again. My brother’s broken-up face appears in the bubbled glass of the door lite.


Yeah. Let me in.

He’s quiet.

Let me in, would ya? It’s shitty out here.

He opens the door in full dress uniform, medals, epaulettes, white cap and belt, the whole deal. Except no shoes. His socks have HANES in blue across the toes.

He points an M9 Beretta at my chest.

Christ, Jerry.

He doesn’t move. I step backwards, knocking into the wind chimes.

C’mon Jerry. Quit it. Put it away.

There’s a small black lump lying in a pooled shadow on the hallway floor behind him. I think I see a pink collar. From further inside the house, a crash and a child’s high-pitched wail.

Where’s Sherice?

Jerry’s eyes flick away, back to me. He laughs, like when I would tell him my stupid kid brother jokes.

That’s a good one, he says.

A Bit Longer, Fiction


I’m sitting outside on my deck in the early morning sun, smoking a menthol while I drink my coffee. I don’t smoke, and if I’m honest with myself, the cigarette has really ruined the taste of my espresso. Since Sara left, I’ve been doing this a lot. Doing things, I mean, that seem like they’re going to be really cool – like they’re going to make me feel really cool – but turn out to be, well, a disappointment. Take Ellen, for example.

My brother introduced us, which was probably a bad sign. (He never had liked Sara, pronouncing her ‘dry as a lawyer’s wet dream.’ Nothing was ever exciting enough for him, as witnessed by a trail of broken marriages and a missing middle fingertip, victim of his obsession with carnivorous fish.)

A mutual friend had talked me into a party on the east side – nothing wild, just the late young adulthood, early midlife kind. The kind of party I needed to ease me back into sociability. I sat in a corner, watching people drink lite beer out of paper cups, while a lone baby (the sole entertainment) bounced up and down in a primary colored plastic saucer, enthralling the assembled crowd.

Sara loved babies. Loved them so much in fact, I got sick of hearing about it. When you are, you know, of the Sapphic persuasion, the whole procreation thing is just so inordinately complicated. Birth mothers, sperm donors, gestational surrogacy. Whatever.

We would sit up nights, straight backed at the kitchen table, and discuss it until the sun cracked through the drapes and shot a shard of light between us. The best I could come up with, after all that, was a poorly disguised yawn and a specious offer to ‘investigate the cost of adoption.’

Darren rolled up to the party: late, drunk and uninvited. Ellen was draped over his arm. A thin gold headband encircled her frizzy squared-off hairdo, and her rosebud lips sipped at a menthol cigarette through an ivory holder. With her full sleeve tattoos, she put me in mind of a tribal Lillian Gish.

Darren winked at me, flipped me a stumpy bird, and left us together. After an awkward moment, punctured by the squeaking of a rubber zebra, Ellen flicked her cigarette ash in the direction of the performing child.

“Dear God,” she whispered, her breath hot in my ear. “I simply cannot stand infants.”

We hit it off.

The next Saturday morning found me relaxing in the tub, languidly relishing the memories of the previous seven nights, up to my neck in milk and honey. I was pondering the pros and cons (but mostly the pros) of getting my nipples pierced, when I caught sight of my lone toothbrush in its glass by the sink – and allowed myself the merest hint of a hope that it might soon be joined, on at least a semi-permanent basis, by Ellen’s. Babies or no babies, I just couldn’t help myself.

Then the screen door slammed. In the eerie silence that followed, I became slowly and painfully aware of the soft fizz of my bubble bath deflating.

She did leave me an opened pack of Kools, thrown on my pillow like a half-chewed mint. She took the ivory holder, of course. My brother says he saw her yesterday on one of his delivery runs – she’s the back of house specialist at Kidz Kottage. She didn’t tell him to say hi.

Whatever. It’s now eight-oh-four. Time to get ready for the nine-to-five. I’ve got a hollow, dry feeling in my chest, but I guess I can say one thing for that menthol cigarette. Unlike the coffee (a bitter Bolivian blend I’ve been drinking for years) – it gave me one hell of a buzz.


Friday Fictioneers


Last night, you held out your hand and said, “Don’t be afraid of falling.”

You have an open face, a face I can trust. I’m close enough to see the freckle under the arch of your brow. Below us – another world, moving silently on invisible wheels. Walking heads, veins of tar, and hard, black pavement. I smile my smile, the wry one that keeps me tethered to myself, the one that says: You take me for a fool. Your hand flutters in front of me – I reach for it. And let it drop, a flightless bird, into the space between us.


Friday Fictioneers

Trifecta Challenge

Pardon My French

He’s standing at the pisser and this is what he sees, scrawled on the subway tile in crude red letters:

so michel FoUCault is cRap??

He’s in the philosophy library john, on the third floor of Doolittle Hall, on the campus of a mid-sized Midwestern state university, in the middle of the afternoon. Spring semester is officially over, has been for two weeks.

The graffiti – no shocker, except that there’s not a soul around. He was in this exact same stall twenty minutes ago (he has an addiction to energy drinks and a bean-sized bladder) and he’d bet his right nut it wasn’t there then.

So who wrote it? And – Foucault? It’s weird. No way anyone round here has ever heard of Foucault. Shit, he only found about him last semester, and then he let that faggy French prof talk him into a whole fucking thesis.

Yeah, weird. It gives him the chills.

He shakes himself off in a hurry and yanks up his fly, and now he doesn’t feel so vulnerable. Who is this ignoramus anyway? Like they even know how to write like a grownup. The random capitals? What is this, ‘The Da Vinci Code’?

Back in the library, he tries to keep the words ‘visibly shaken’ out of his head but they keep popping back in. Ridiculous. But he still has the messed up idea that someone was watching him in the john… Like, big deal, he thinks, I’m used to it. I’m on the lacrosse team after all. Haha.

Scraping his chair back up to the reading desk – the place echoes like a museum – he notices a piece of paper tucked inside his pristine copy of ‘The History of Sexuality’ (Volume 1).

He throws a glance over his shoulder. Nobody. He unfolds the paper.

Pouting at him is a Playboy centerfold, and there’s a note in red ink splashed across her implausible tits.

You’re in way over your head, FUCkeR. Stick to Dan Brown.


Trifecta Challenge – 333 words – “Crude”


Tea For Two

How’s Barbara? is all Helen says. Nothing more than that. Nothing inflammatory, like, what’s that crazy sister of yours been up to lately, or, I heard some story from Denny about where she was last Saturday night. Definitely nothing like that. But Joanne goes tense and starts jabbing about with the little silver tongs in the sugar bowl.

Eventually, she says, Why do you ask? and her voice reminds Helen of strawberry jam spread too thin, so she replies, No reason, no reason, with a mental step back from the situation, a kind of throwing up of hands (although really she keeps her arms neatly folded to her, just under her tidy breasts.)

But Joanne keeps poking around with those stupid tongs and the sugar cubes start to disintegrate before her eyes. And this is not something she takes lightly, no, because she has not even had a chance to pour her own cup of tea, never mind put sugar in it, and she wants two lumps, two perfect lumps, and nothing else is right. And it’s a shame, yes it is, that Barbara is going off the deep end and that Joanne feels she has to take it all on, but really isn’t it time for Joanne to start concentrating on herself or maybe even just on Helen, for starters, because hasn’t she been there for her through thick and thin and then even (here she smiles to herself) through thick again? And she can’t help it, she really can’t, her hand shoots out over the sugar cubes to cover them up (to protect them) and Joanne stabs her with the tiny sharp tines of the tongs, just below the wrist.

Joanne’s mouth is a round black ‘O’, as if a thumb has punched a hole into her pastry dough face. Helen looks at her wrist. She sees: two perfect beads of blood of exactly the same size, each their own little orb of perfection, but reflecting and somehow drawing beauty from one another. She wants, in that instant, to preserve them and stare at them forever.

But Joanne grabs a table napkin, sending the cutlery cartwheeling to the floor. Heads turn. She snaps it in the air and brings it down on Helen’s hand in one smooth movement and the beads blossom and bleed into one another through the linen.

This what she must be like on the ward, Helen thinks, all efficiency and pressed patience, making emergencies evaporate into thin air, mere excuses for the exercise of professional calm. Her nurse’s uniform straining around her bulk – but containing it, controlling it, turning it into something that means something, that has a purpose. Cinched in with a tidy white belt and a shining silver clasp.

I’m so sorry, they both say, and their voices chink together like knives.