Fiction Section: Fresh Fiction

Writers Ronald Wilson, Victoria Large, and Alexis Pope are the latest fiction forecasters predicting happiness with three different short stories just in time for the holidays. With Christmas right around the corner, make the Yuletide gay around the family christmas tree this year with these stories from the West coast, Midwest, and the East coast. United, these stories stand to make up our 7th and final issue of the year. You have our approval that “The Cake Box,” “A Thousand Years,” and “And The Balloons Only Mimic Happiness” are more than delightful.

Don’t forget to enjoy!

1. “The Cake Box” by Ronald Wilson
2. “A Thousand Years” by Victoria Large
3. “And The Balloons Only Mimic Happiness” by Alexis Pope

The Cake Box
In “The Cake Box,” Wilson’s skillful attention to descriptive detail brings his colorful protagonist to life as we follow him on an early morning quest to solve the mystery of an enigmatic stranger.

The guy comes in the joint just like always. I have him figured as an insomniac, just like me, but I ain’t never said nothin’ to him and he ain’t never said nothin’ to me either, so who knows? Maybe the guy works some oddball shift somewhere. It’s obvious from the looks of him that he ain’t never worked with his hands. He’s what I’d call white collar.

Anyway, he comes in just like I said; only he ain’t got the newspaper with him this particular morning, which is unusual, but it ain’t my business. Instead, he’s got himself one of those boxes you get at the bakery. You know the kind I mean, one of them pink cardboard boxes tied up with a string.

He just sits at the counter, puts the box on the countertop, and orders a black coffee, no sugar. Fat Marvin asks him if he wants anything to eat and the guy says no. So he ain’t hungry. Big deal, right?

Fat Marvin brings him his joe and the guy nods. He stares into the cup for a minute, like maybe it’s too hot or maybe he’s got something on his mind. The guy looks over at me and catches me lookin’. I turn away, but not before I see that hangdog mug of his, with heavy dark bags under his eyes.

He turns back to his cup and picks it up with both hands and I can see they’re shakin’ pretty bad. He manages to get a sip, but not before spilling hot coffee all over his hands and the counter top. The coffee gets the bottom of the box wet and the guy curses under his breath. He picks up the box, and the coffee has made a sort of square-shaped puddle where the edges of the box has stopped it.

He takes a handful of napkins from the dispenser and cleans himself up, then he mops up the counter and the bottom of the box. He suddenly catches his reflection in the chrome dispenser and just stops and stares. I see his lips moving, but I can’t make out the words.

He puts the box napkin dispenser down, fishes around in his jacket pocket for something and brings out a couple of crumple dollars and some loose change. He counts out the change and takes what looks like four bits to Fat Marvin’s old jukebox, which still has the original records that lazy bastard put in it when he first bought it thirty-some years ago.

So the guy puts in the quarters and punches the buttons. The arm picks up a record and puts it on the platter, then the needle – which Marvin ain’t replaced in thirty years, either – hits the groove and the record starts poppin’ and cracklin’, and that corny Eric Carmen song comes on. You know the song – “All By Myself.” I mean, Jesus!

The guy is just standin’ there with his hands on the jukebox and his back to me.

The poor asshole. I think he was cryin’.

Still, I remind myself it ain’t my business. No sir! That just ain’t me.

I can’t help myself, though. The guy has me curious, so I keep an eye on him. I watch him as he’s hunched over the glass on the jukebox, not movin’ or doin’ much of anything ‘cept mopin’.

When the song finishes he goes back to the counter and ponies up, then he picks up the box and leaves. Against my better instincts, I throw a fin on the counter to cover my breakfast special plus tip, and follow him out.

I see the mope right away heading down 12th Street. He don’t notice me, or anything else, for that matter, on account of he crossed Broadway against the red and nearly gets creamed by some young kid in one of those fairy electric cars. You know the kind I mean; it’s one of them cars that don’t hardly make no noise. I mean, I can see a chick drivin’ one, I guess, but a guy? Nah! It just don’t look right.

Anyway, I wait for the light like a good citizen and pick up the trail on the next block. I see the mope up ahead. He’s easy to spot, on account of that bright pink box he’s swingin’ in his left hand.

I follow the guy for maybe six blocks, but it don’t bore me. Go figure. All I know is, I’m gonna be late for work, so I’m thinkin’ maybe I should break it off. But then, just as I’m thinkin’ I ought to turn back up 12th, the guy makes a left on Del Mar and heads towards the harbor. I figure he ain’t goin’ much further than that, unless he’s goin’ to the cab stand down there, but if it’s a cab he’s lookin’ for, he coulda hailed a half dozen of ‘em up on 12th.

As soon as I round the corner at Del Mar the wind off the harbor hits me somethin’ fierce, so I pull my coat tight around the collar. I see the mope is doin’ the same up ahead of me.

I see he’s headed for the fishin’ pier, which is nearly deserted, except for a couple of Filipinos who’ve got lines in the water. I hang back where the benches are. That’s where the old timers throw bread and whatnot to the goddamned seagulls. Dirty birds! You know what I mean.

The mope walks onto the pier and looks inside the five gallon buckets the Filipinos have with ‘em. Funny how that kind of thing can distract you for a second, ain’t it?

When the guy gets to the end of the pier he squats down on his haunches and sets the box down at his feet. He fishes for a pack of smokes and a lighter and, after what seems like a hundred tries in that wind, manages to get a ciggy lit.

About this time I get up and walk onto the pier myself. I try to be casual, you know? I’m sort of strolling and acting interest in what’s in the buckets the Filipinos have, which turns out to be nothin’, at least so far.

When I’m about ten or fifteen paces away from the guy he stands up, the pink box still at his feet. I stop and keep a respectful distance, keeping my gaze on the horizon, like I ain’t interested in what he’s doin’.

I AM watchin’ from the corner of my eye, though, and I happen to spy the guy kick the box into the water and throw his ciggy after it. Then he turns around and walks away, just like that, not payin’ no nervermind to me, that’s for sure.

I watch the guy walk off the pier and head back up Del Mar, and he’s really movin’ now. He don’t ever look back, so I move over to where the guy was standin’ and look down where he kicked the box over.

It turns out the lid popped open and there was a slice of white cake dissolving in the water, and little fish were goin’ crazy eatin’ it up. I tell ya, they were so agitated, they were knockin’ the box around ‘til it sank and the cake was all gone.

I don’t see the guy back at Fat Marvin’s for three or four days after that, then he shows up out of the blue with his newspaper and takes his usual spot, just like nothin’ happened, which I guess it didn’t, did it?

At any rate, he seemed to be over whatever was eatin’ him, which is good. I mean, bully for him, right? After all, it ain’t none of my business. Not really. Not at all.

BIO: Ronald Wilson lives with his family in the desert of Southern California – far, far away from anywhere, really. His other works have been published in Rock & Roll Comics, Mesa Visions, Hoi Polloi II, and Flashquake.

“A Thousand Years”
In Victoria Large’s “A Thousand Years,” Gina worries about her little sister Theresa who in turn reflects on the changes getting older has wrought on her older sister’s personality and lifestyle. The story poignantly addresses the divide between life’s “golden years,” during which our youth envelops us with a seemingly eternal sense of carefree invincibility and the acceptance that age spares no one.

“It’s an awful, awful thing,” one of the women was saying as Gina took her place behind them on the train platform. Each morning, messy clusters of people formed vague lines, their positions roughly approximating the placement of the train’s doors when it pulled up. Gina had stepped into the stationhouse to buy a terrible cup of coffee (for the warmth and caffeine) and now her ears pricked up as she turned her attention away from the steam rising out of her Styrofoam cup and toward the backs of the two women. The speaker was shaking her head, her earrings dancing. “What can you say about it except that it’s awful? Nothing in life could be so bad as to warrant that. And imagine the people who had to clean it up. Imagine them. And the conductor. You can’t stop these trains. You just can’t.”

Gina tapped the woman on her shoulder. “Excuse me. I couldn’t help overhearing. What happened?”

Both women turned, and the one with the earrings spoke with wide-eyed earnestness. “A girl twenty years old laid herself down on the tracks between here and Providence yesterday and was killed. Terrible, terrible thing. They say she was depressed. I see selfishness there. People don’t think about their actions. Twenty. Everything ahead of her.”

“That’s awful,” Gina dutifully replied. The woman nodded and she and her friend turned around again, resuming their conversation while Gina’s mind ran off with what she’d just heard. She tried, and failed, to imagine the dead girl without imagining her sister Theresa – six years younger than Gina and just turned twenty. She thought of what the woman had said about the people who had to clean up after the accident (Accident? Could she call it that? It didn’t matter.) and for some reason she only pictured the maintainer from her former college dorm, a short mustachioed man named Vinnie who changed light bulbs and always smiled and seemingly always had a bucket in tow. She imagined Vinnie and his bucket at the train tracks and Vinnie not smiling. As for the rest, she could only conjure up the impression of a great deal of blood. No details. Gina decided that she would call her sister after work.

The phone call came when Theresa was getting ready to go out with some friends for the night and couldn’t decide on an outfit. She had been eyeing her pile of discarded clothes, faintly admiring how the mixture of colors and prints played off one another and the fabric of her bedspread, when she heard the ringtone that she reserved for family members begin to chime. Her first thought when she saw her sister’s name come up was to wonder what could be wrong.

Nothing, it had turned out. Ginny just wanted to check in. It was a strange, short conversation: more like one you’d have with an acquaintance you’d called by accident than with your older sister. How was school treating her? How were boys treating her? School sucks, Theresa said laughing. Boys suck. But somehow I endure. Ginny had laughed too, had said hours at work were long and she and her husband Jake were almost always feeling beat. She said that she missed her little sister, that sometime the two of them should plan a girls’ night. She’d hung up with a Love you, Reesa, her voice a little melancholy with the distance that she couldn’t close.

That night, Theresa requested that the DJ play a David Bowie song, “Golden Years.” She thought of it after the phone call because Gina used to play it when she drove Theresa around town (always sweet and uncomplaining, even though it was so obviously a pain-in-the-ass thing to do). The pair of them would sing with the windows down and the wind whipping their hair into tangles. I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years, nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years. It seemed to Theresa now that there had been countless nights like that: beautiful summer nights with white round stars overhead, and somewhere to go, even though her world then had been so small. She was usually just off to a friend’s house, for horror movies and sleeping bags and giggling deep into the night – but when the wind whipped and the music played, everything had been possible. It must have all stopped when Gina settled into a life of seriousness and commutes and rarely called anymore unless something was wrong. Theresa wondered why she somehow hadn’t realized before that those nights were gone forever.

But when it came over the PA and Theresa began to dance, “Golden Years” still echoed with the joy and that pregnant sense of possibility that the whole world had seemed to hold on those nights in Gina’s car. Theresa mouthed the words along with Bowie as she danced with a boy she had just met, who spun her around at the right moments and playfully, ticklishly sang the word angel in her ear. The room was a whirl of sound and light, and Theresa made herself a promise she already half-knew she would break: that she wouldn’t ever be quite so tired as Gina, that she wouldn’t let herself feel old, at least not before she was. She could hear her own pulse when the song ended and her dancing came to a stop. She breathed in deeply, feeling utterly, electrically, alive.

BIO: Other works by Victoria Large have previously appeared in Cafe Irreal and Crossing Rivers into Twilight. She is currently completing her MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College.

“And The Balloons Only Mimic Happiness”
With “And The Balloons Only Mimic Happiness,” Alexis Pope delights readers with a poetically executed flash fiction piece. It flows like a stream of consciousness, and it is quite easy to get swept away in the current of Pope’s writing.

What was the big deal about red, blue, green, yellow masses filled with air that had to be tied to picnic tables as not to float up and into the sky blue sky. Static energy attracting the rubbery texture to his head, hair wild with new movement, up and away. The blonde child at the table screaming laughter, hands clapping, icing on cheeks. His feet moving backwards, steady, counting steps, and the sound of mud burping under sneakers. As if backing away equals escape. Falling leaves like petals, or rain drops, sounding like skin slinking off bodies and landing in shades only to be described as autumn. The blonde child clapping and shrieking presents wrapped clumsily with clear tape that’s never clear. His headache moves from temple to back of skull, touching the brain with needles or knifes or the back end of a hammer. The meat sizzling, smoking and wafting hot dog, burger, sausage into the breeze as more leaves fall like skin and pick up the scent of flesh and decay, earth and animal, helium and oxygen, squealing children and shrieking wrapping paper. His backwards steps only carry his back into a tree trunk, not dying but shedding and nearly naked. The tree ridding itself of layers as the man adds more, his sweater, jacket, wool socks, knit cap, no mittens, not yet. The blonde child with flaming waxy sticks jabbing into spongy yellow cake, chocolate frosting, tasting of sugar and whipping cream. The tall dark woman, her eyes searching him out, raising an eyebrow, spent yesterday baking. Her arms and nose splashed with flour, smelling like musk and brown sugar, vanilla, fed him cake batter as he lifted her onto the counter. Kissing icing and egg yolks, but his feet today are searching for what’s left in the background. What could have been in the places he never set feet down, set her down, where kisses never happened, and the blonde child is only an idea.

BIO: Alexis Pope is a student of English and Creative Writing at The University of Akron.

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