The best of Fiction 59

A collection of short-attention-span stories from the creative minds of CN&R readers

Paralee Cooper

Paralee Cooper

Photo by Tom Angel

First place

Brand Names
One whiff of Sea & Ski and I’m a kid at Cannon Beach again.

The molester reports that the Coppertone ad with the puppy pulling down the little girl’s bathing suit bottom turns him on.

My sister dives into the creek where it’s almost black and there are rotting logs. I never look at her the same after that.

Paralee Cooper

Second place

Names from La Belle Epoque
The old gentleman’s diction was precise. Claudia was “Cloudy-a,” light and lilting. His thoughts, though, were looping back, repeating, caught momentarily in an eddy. He stopped speaking and let his memories seek stronger current.

Claudia. Sylvie. Pearl. Grace. Misha’s friend, Mariela Maria. All uncommonly beautiful. But which had the crackling blue eyes?

Vittoria! Miss Vita. He smiled and continued.

John Larkin

Third place

Jannie’s Diner
I watch my mother in the kitchen as she makes breakfast. She butters perfectly browned toast with a Winston dangling loosely from between her lips. The glowing embers are buried beneath at least as much ash as Pompeii, but somehow she senses it’s time to tap it off, just before it falls. Still, every now and then she forgets.

Molly Mix

Honorable mention:

Confessions of an Ambulance Man
Burns. Flash frozen in their shoes on a sub-zero night.

We stack ’em in the back of the ambulance like so much cordwood.

Occasionally, we need to chip away the yellow ice from around their crotches with our boot heels to free ’em up after they went and pissed themselves during a seizure and froze to the sidewalk.

Reggie Bates

Working on the Food Chain Gang
The greedy green eyes of the cash register watched the groceries pile onto the counter.

I remember learning about the food chain in fifth grade, but never imagined I would be part of it.

Now, I work as a food chain link specialist, weighing apples, bagging cereal boxes and exchanging money, moving food to the top of the chain.

Calli Burch

The best of the restFrustrated Writer
Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends; so he had been taught. But this stingy word limit precluded any such adherence to form, pitilessly oppressing his incipient genius. Thwarted at every turn, he felt reason sliding away. Hatred for the editors bloomed in his heart. Beer followed beer. In the morning, he was missed at work. They regretted firing him.

Bythos Lewis

An army of sweaty, tortured men; muscles rippling amid noxious clouds of petroleum smoke. The clink of tools flits across the shimmering haze, pricking ears like tiny biting flies.

They toil, gasping and groaning, while Fat Master crouches in the shade with cold drinks and the smell of money. Three years now, and the searing sun has not budged.

David Silveira

Bob started the car. The Texan in him wanted to shout; the Anglican in him said he’d better pray. So he shouted a prayer. There was a hard, thin moon outside, tipped up to catch the rapturous words. Bob shouted and hollered, hoping his luck would not change. Occasionally he honked the horn, punctuating his loud howls and whistles.

Jennie Hammett

Drug Advertisement
“Cocaine can be yellow, right?” said the black leather man. The plan executed, he lit a cigarette. Dull work in the FunDip business required some corruption. Yet, the health codes forbade it. Sugar stick dipping children would not miss their lives. The cigarette, burnt to his fingertips, was yellowed. “That’s it!” he said. One day they would thank him.

Anya Galli and Hannah Sistrunk

Last Night
You said, “It doesn’t matter"; I bear the scars of these things. Love picked us up and hurled us around the room, away from the melancholy view.

Did you know that ducks make one straight cut through the water? This ripple, caught like my legs folded with yours as you sleep. You turn and dream of me no more.

Tara Ramelli

Blue Lips
It was the only way to get a good husband. The Ainu girl was but 17. The older women surrounded her. They slashed at her gentle mouth with the traditional knives. The dark ink was smeared over the bleeding cuts.

“Beautiful blue lips,” the women cooed, “a beautiful girl.”

John Larkin

Photo by Tom Angel

It was the only way to get a good husband.

Sarah Miller

Want of a Wee Lad
Once had a woman
Lived on me thumb
Thrice bore me daughters
Twice bore me sons
Girls bringing slippers, robes and our tea
Boys fetchin’ firewood, fish from the sea
Sinking in rubbish, piling too high
Lacking a lad to take it outside
Commenced we to lovin’
Perhaps for a son
Though it was jolly
Lo, she bore none

Chris Lewin

Paper or Plastic
“Get off my friggin’ foot,” I bark at the man ahead. He rams a pineapple into my groin. Two tattooed women catch me. They jettison an avocado and roma tomato. The floor smashes the avocado. The tomato bounces between foreheads of an embracing couple. An elderly clerk wails, “PAPER OR PLASTIC.” We stare at him for exactly 59 seconds.

John Robert Walker

Tea Grain-Totters In-hairy-tense
“White dead tea check-can chorus tea wrote?” Cramp-awe axed. Hay loft tail-link haze grain-totter thaws choke.

“Wide eat tooth hat?”

“Took ghetto tea otters height,” hay chalk-hold.

“Cramps, tail law deaf-rent choke necks fizz-it,” tea curl gay-kilt.

Bought shill loft hair grain-fodder some itch beak-hose hay neigh-far debt.

AnnaMarie E. Whiteley

Urban Planning
I got directions to my old roommate’s house. Drove for hours. Whoa! This must be it. First, exit at the Home Depot; take a left at the McDonald’s. Left again at the Les Schwab tire place … go past the mall. There is a Circle K. I must be getting close. Damn! I just realized I’m in the wrong town.

Tim Murphy

Why I Avoid Bars These Days
I drank.

He smiled.

I smiled back.

He kind of joked in an offhanded way.

“Don’t do things by halves, especially wit.”

“Right. Go all the way.”

Like any good story, it had a beginning, middle, and end. I began by thinking that brevity was the soul of wit and ended up with a half-wit in my briefs.

Jim Dwyer

Ate my morning dose of doubt.

Under my bed the latest classic grows moldy and is dying alone.

Brenton came from south town, earthquakes in his liver.

Had a drink or two; Brenton lost his job.

Nobody took the pain away for Brenton or for me.

They couldn’t get past us: It hurts too much to give up pain.

G.T. Kelly

Work Around My Grandpa’s Is Like a Cattle Drive
Dad and Grandpa tell us what to do. They sit on the tractor and move things around, then tell us, “Get the nails out,” or, “Stack that wood!” They might as well have whips and a six-gun herding us across the country when we finish moving everything that burns into a pile. It all goes up in flames.

Andy Baugh

Census Day
Mathew filled out his census form, arranging his life as neat block letters inside small white squares. His responses looked lonely, so Matt filled in the remaining boxes with the family he dreamed would be his someday.

Now, with the form completed, he felt lonely. It seems his dreams didn’t fit as neat block letters inside small white squares.

Tim Murphy

Desert Trippin’ With the Folks
On Route 66, wild donkeys roam famous Oatman’s Main Street, nuzzling tourist tail ’til they get smacked with the very sacks their stupid snacks came in, rolled oats flying.

Molly Mix

Photo by Tom Angel

Gramma’s camera catches Grampa, faking dead, tongue lolling, in the famous hangman’s noose. Behind the historic Oatman Hotel I sneak a shot of whisky on our way to the hoosegow.

Janice Bliske

Chess Game
He always spoke with a kind of intellectual deliberation, exuding confidence, perhaps falsely. He observed, carefully pondering his next move. I casually noticed his interest yet discounted it as my own convoluted machinations. Weeks later, sitting across from his impeccable perfection, there were no doubts as to where this was headed, if I could just keep my act together.

Shelly Riches

Paloma’s Hands
Xavier wants Paloma’s hands in his big jungle paws: those pink porcelain beauties, each delicate finger the neck of a sunlit swan—the antelope gloves of a coddled goddess. The skin of two halves of a velvet peach.

Xavier wants them NOW, in his own two hands, to do this thing, to crush Paloma’s beautiful hands into rose perfume.

R. A. Garner

The More Things Change
Company formation. The mission is given. The sergeant turns and faces her platoon.

Stone faced, they stand ready for orders.

“We’ve got police call today. Line it up.”

Halfway through, a granddaughter of dustbowl Okies looks down at the cigarette butts filling her cupped hand. Then it hits her, and she has to laugh.

She’s back to picking cotton.

Victor Moore

When a Tree Falls
“I’m telling you, when a tree falls in the forest with no one around, it does not make a sound. With no ears within range, there is no sound.”

“You’re crazy! Sound is sound, whether anyone is nearby or not. It surely will be heard.”

“Hold on a sec. I gotta answer this phone call. Hello, Andy Meghdadi here.”

Jay Goldberg

The Mirror
With lukewarm water and empty plates, they sit at the blonde oak table.

The cat is scratching the front door screen.

The record player weeps.

June bugs rush the porch light, like little rocks with wings.

The woman sees a fluttering in the mirror of the cardboard face, a blurred reflection in the flat gray eyes. This time, her own.

R. A. Garner

The Bar Scene
Ruben didn’t care anymore. OK, she was leaving. There’s no way around it. He got off the bed, put on his sexiest clothes and went downtown. “Yeah, that’s right. She left today.” The woman sitting next to Ruben shook her head and said, “Sure, I’ll have another drink.” She’d left better than Ruben herself but what the hell…?

Phil Elkins
Forest Ranch

Cinema 5
The wealthy business executive yawned as his young daughter gave a short shriek and hid her face behind his arm. He only came with her because he’d “have to deal with the divorce attorney if he didn’t.” A baby cried in the seats below and he nearly did too, waiting for the juvenile sub-moronic swill to roll the credits.

Woody Houchin

Vern spoke exclusively with his fists.

Anger management was his oxymoron.

So it was quite a shock when he finally learned to turn the other cheek.

Blubbering like a child, he ranted of winged seraphs and swords of light.

I always knew that the lord moved in mysterious ways, but then, so does a bottle of 150-proof liquor.

Renee Pope

Skin Game
Spent carbine shells, letters, jewelry machined from aluminum casing, insignia ripped from fallen foes’ uniforms. Artifacts of war. Horrors and delights in Grandpa’s wooden box."That’s an ear in your hand. Cut it off a dead bugger,” Grandpa said.

Nausea churned deep in Jack’s 11-year-old gut.

Much later in life, Jack learned he was really holding a Navy-issue condom.

Dennis Freire