She sold me on the car. She was ugly and her body needed work. It’s an easy sell, I tell her. You want the ones with no mileage, I say. My age is forty. I carry my stomach and most days I climb ladders. I fix antennas for a cable company. My last car went kaput in this heat. And it has its hand in everything I care for.
I pay for her and go home.
There she is, I say, when people ask. The tires on her could use some rubber, but she handles great. Still, I get their looks. At home I sometimes look at her, astonished. I bought you!, and even worse things than that. This is after some months, after the innocence is stripped and all I have is this used, tired thing. I call her names, but she doesn’t go.
The market is bleak for this exact model. I put her up for sale. No one’s buying. A kid, probably new to driving, asked I lower the price. I can’t, I cried. I can’t go any lower.
She stays. She waits for me to start her up. I can’t. Things aren’t so good now. I lost the weight. I can’t get the job done anymore. Dammit, why did I buy you? I scream but she don’t listen. Rather, she talks, and it’s loud.
This crazy heat decides it’s me this time, that I should go. I go. I’m inside this girl. She tunes me out.
Jeffrey Pride is a traveler and a laborer. He lives in Washington, near Seattle, but is originally from Nashville, TN.
Getting Through the Day
Bored stiff, she pulled cartons of yogurt out of a shipping box and put them in the cooler while repeatedly pushing the cooler’s door off her bum when it swung closed on her. Frequently, she had to scooch out of shoppers’ ways, one pair a young man followed by his gaunt, gray-haired father who apparently needed schooling. Had to be father and son given their jaws and ears, ears her erotic obsession. And this was the son in charge, the limping father silently taking note of everything the son said and chose—Vermont sharp cheddar, scones, and then, one cooler over, a small white jar of Devon cream.
So now she was doing what she was doing while glancing over her shoulder at them, the father perhaps not Alzheimer’s, instead a recent widower. That would be it, the ring on his finger notwithstanding. Couldn’t bear to take it off. Holding himself together. Intent upon his son telling him why Devon cream was called clotted, even though she saw he didn’t care. He just forced himself to listen as he shifted his weight from one leg to another, easing his aching knee. Then her eyes and his eyes nicked each other like two bits of gravel tossed up by a car on a country road, and she had to look away and find someone else to help her get through the day.
With more than 100 stories in print and online literary journals, Robert Earle is one of the more widely published contemporary short fiction writers in America. Vine Leaves Press published his story collection, She Receives the Night, in May, 2017. He also has published three novels and two books of nonfiction. He lives in North Carolina after a diplomatic career that took him to Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East.
A Clyfford Still Painting
Tattered as a Clyfford Still painting, my birthday unfolds on a snowdrift and settles there. I could use a glass of wine the color of starlight, but the murmur of competing voices keeps me sober. Maybe later in front of the TV I’ll cough up the stone in my throat. Maybe when I’m old and bankrupt I’ll find a stick of driftwood the color of bone and adopt it. When a friendly museum offers to frame and hang my birthday in a gallery I’ll blush with the honor and accept a handshake or two. Until then, I’ll try to keep a straight face while women repulsed by my wrinkles and sour expression insist I resemble Richard Gere. I don’t know Richard Gere well enough to spot him on the street, and have never sat through any of his movies. But I’m sure his birthday also resembles a Clyfford Still painting, maybe one of the white-on-white ones from the early fifties. Mine looks darker, more like the orange-on-black ones of the same era. Regardless, it’s the irregular forms, like rags after a bomb blast, that define me. Maybe every artist feels this tearing and ripping on their birthday. Maybe not. Maybe just the convergence of color and form excites and incites them to excel.
William Doreski’s work has appeared in various electronic and print journals and in several collections, most recently The Suburbs of Atlantis (AA Press, 2013).
Alissa is still a clone of a much younger Natalie Portman. She was sidelit by candlelight, in her bathrobe, holding the door a third open and not another inch. The coyness in her smile was unintentional—one can only wonder what it did to his heart.
There are miracles and miracles and I hope this reaches you on one of them.
Worse than trouble is coming.
But there was this.
Jim Bartruff’s work has appeared in Fat City Review, Gambling the Aisle, New Verse News, Two Hawks Quarterly, American Tanka, JAMA, Canto, Barney, Marilyn, and many others. He is a past winner of the William Carlos Williams prize while attending the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and Academy of American Poets prize as a UCLA undergraduate. A third-generation native of Los Angeles, he has been a print journalist, screenwriter, and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland, Oregon.