Run All Day, Run All Night

[flash fiction]

At Gaffney’s, we feed the jukebox and dance with pool cues like they’re bolted to the ceiling until the men in town for the races buy us drinks we’d never order for ourselves. Rum Punches. Tom Collinses. Whiskeys with unpronounceable names. Theater majors, we thank them in thick accents—Russian, Spanish, German—trading some touchless flirting before melting into the crowd.

“Sure and begorah,” I say, rolling r’s like marbles as Mr. Striped Shirt hands me a dishwater-dirty martini.

He pulls out a chair, pats the seat. My best friend Tina stands behind him Frenching her hand, but I don’t crack. Stripes has two fluffs of hair—pale blond—arranged over the tunnels of bare skin at his temples.

“What stunning eyes,” he says, leaning close enough to ripple my drink. They’re colored contacts. I tell him all the women in my family have them, violet at night, blue in the morning.

“Stunning,” he says, again. “I bet your boyfriend loves them.”

Sipping from the funnel of my glass, I wink and he grins, rubbing knuckles down the creases of his khakis.

“So, what do you do?” I ask, looking past him to Tina in the corner where she flirts with the guy from Econ that I invited out tonight. He’s got curly hair I want to wrap around my fingers like an old-fashioned phone cord. In the shadows, Tina half-turns and points at me, then leans against Econ-boy and laughs.

“Gamble,” Stripes says, listing his tips for tomorrow as if I’m planning to bet my student loans. The horses’ names are bad puns: Life Foal of Joy, Pony Up, Unbridled Danger. I nod until he falls quiet. “Well, cheers,” I say, lifting my glass. “Lots of luck.” It’s his cue to give up gracefully, but he holds up a hand plump as a rubber glove full of water. His hotel is close, he says. He thinks I’d love the view.

“Thanks, but no,” I say, dropping the “h,” and stretching the “a” like the Lucky Charms leprechaun.

Stripes pouts like a child, fat lower lip punched out, but when I stand, embarrassed for him, he grabs my hand. “At least point me in the right direction.” I don’t know why I follow him to the door and push into the night, steamy like it can get upstate. Outside, I point up Caroline to Broadway.

He nods, then pins me against brick, bites at my lips, says, “Violet eyes, be sweet to me.”

“They’re really just brown,” I say, turning side-to-side, forgetting my brogue.

“Fine,” he says, pulling back enough to produce his fist of a wallet. “What’ll it cost?”

Under the streetlight, I see the bar’s dimness was kind. His hair is white, fine, spare.

When he starts extracting bills meant for trifectas and places and wins, I shake my head. No, I think, stop. Not for any amount you can name.

But then why do I say nothing, do nothing, except watch the bills mount between us?

Headshot - CorteseKatie Cortese holds an MFA from Arizona State University and a PhD from Florida State. Her work has recently appeared in Carve, Gulf Coast, Third Coast, Crab Orchard Review, Cimarron Review, and The Tusculum Review, among other journals. She teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University, where she also serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.

We’ll vanish in a blind spot portal

[flash fiction]

I’ve wanted so badly for so long to tell someone about the triangles, the ones I see when I close my eyes and sit in stillness, or as still and silent as my monkey mind allows. One day, I’ll work up the nerve to tell a coworker over sandwiches in the break room about them, how I sense them with my third eye, suspended in a haze like fog settled between mountaintops. She’ll have just taken a bite of her cucumber and hummus on seven-grain and raise her eyebrows, put her fingers to her mouth, too excited to finish chewing before shouting, “Oh my gosh! I totally know what you’re talking about.” She’ll wear her wavy auburn hair in an adorably disheveled topknot and tilt her whole torso back when she laughs. The only makeup she’ll wear is blue-black mascara on her lashes and Rosebud Salve on her lips.

One Tuesday morning, she’ll stop by my cubicle with her hands wrapped around a steaming mug of chamomile tea, and we’ll whisper about how we both saw a metallic blue Buick in our rearview mirrors on the way to work. But when we went to merge into the left lane, it was gone, vanished into a blind spot portal. My phone will ring, and she’ll smile and walk back to her cubicle, leaving behind the warmth of her coconut hand cream.

We’ll share a cigarette in the parking lot after work and fantasize about what’s waiting for us through those triangle portals, plan a road trip to go there together over Memorial Day weekend. We’ll decide to rent a more reliable car, take turns driving, but not even book hotel rooms along the way, just go, a real adventure.

One day, when we’re the only ones in the break room, she’ll pull out a bridal magazine and show me an earmarked page with photos of mason jar flower arrangements she’s considering for her wedding in the fall. I’ll tell her that they are “perfect, so rustic, but so romantic.”

She’ll smile and slide her hands out to me across the table. “Michelle,” she’ll say, and we’ll be holding hands so tight I can feel her engagement ring pressing into my fingers. “I want you to be my maid of honor.” And I’ll say, “Of course!” and we’ll squeal and hug, and her silver bracelets will sing.

After she walks back to her cubicle, I’ll linger over my carrots and kale dip, alone at the table, listening to the copy machine receive an order and start sliding out pages of someone’s monthly report. I’ll imagine her wearing a purple full-length gown covered in triangle-shaped rhinestones, light beaming in all directions from the dress like rays from little pyramids, like that hotel in Vegas with its searchlight scanning toward space.

The time will come for our trip through the portals. We’ll put our overnight bags in the trunk of the newly washed white Chevy Aveo. I’ll offer to drive first. We’ll get in and turn toward each other after buckling our seat belts. She’ll take a deep excited breath, let it out with a sigh, which will make me drop the keys on the console and giggle, which will make her laugh with her eyes wide and her teeth showing; and we’ll take each other’s hands and hold tight. My hands are cold even though it’s summer and I’m beyond excited. Hers are sweaty, filled with energy.

“Here we go,” I say, and we close our eyes and wait.

MichelleMcMahonMichelle spends most of her time in alternate universes created by memories, where she writes short stories and poems. Some of the places her work has appeared are Shelf Life, Wheelhouse Magazine, River Walk Journal, Getgo Magazine, SHAMPOO, and Hot Whiskey Magazine. She lives in Southern California with two sons and a husband.

Snow

[flash fiction]

“Promise to tell me . . .” I can almost feel your breath in my ear. If you were standing here with me tonight, I wouldn’t say a word—and I wouldn’t have to, knowing you. You’d scoop it up like birdseed in your palm and blow it away, laughing. Your laughter, I love it—you make me laugh even when I don’t want to. Like our last night together.

You wouldn’t stop giggling as you slipped off your sandals and curled your legs around mine. You complained that the boulder we leaned against was too cold and insisted that we should snuggle under our picnic blanket. I sweated rivers. From across Lake Atitlan, the hotel lights in the Piedmont looked like a broken string of pearls scattered on black velvet. I didn’t want dawn to come; Javier would be driving me to meet the coyote at the Mexican border. You knew I didn’t want to go.

“Look for me here,” you took my hand in yours and pointed to the stars above us, “and know I’m with you.” I glared at the lights across the lake. There, the tourists danced; their night would never end. Here, the moored boats moaned; the fishermen were never late.

“Eliseo, what’s rattling around in that co-co of yours?” you messed up my hair, giggling. The lights in the distance—your hand in mine—the black water beneath us.

“Samabaj,” I mumbled.

You didn’t say anything. I don’t think you heard me. I found you tracing the constellations with your finger. I raised my hands to my lips. In the distance, the heavens slowly dissolved into red. The fishermen dropped their rods into their boats.

“Promise me something?” You rested your head on my shoulder.

Did you even have to ask? I’d promise you the world wrapped with a ribbon. But I didn’t say a word—and I didn’t have to. Of all the things to make me promise—I always laugh to think about it. On nights like this, I wander the streets, wondering what to tell you about snow.

Snow’s light but heavy.

Walking through snow has made my calves like Pele’s. After the first few dustings, I thought all the stories about blizzards were nonsense—snow didn’t stick to concrete, snow left a chalk outline around everything and, by ten in the morning, it was all gone.

One day in October, I called you from a pay phone to tell you but your line was busy. Since November, storm after storm of this stuff disappears, flake by flake, on your tongue crippled by this monstrous city.

The sidewalks were packed with jagged, icy footprints. The curbs were edged with mountains. The streets were slippery with slush. I called again and again in November and December, but each time your line was busy. One day in January, I found a huge park covered in a landslide of snow. When I called to tell you, your line was dead. I kept walking.

Snow’s cold but hot.

It doesn’t matter if its day or night, sunny or cloudy, calm or windy—it’s always freezing here. I learned early on to bundle up for my commute from Pilsen to the Loop; somewhere beneath a wool cap, vinyl gloves, woven scarf, thermal underwear, down coat, Columbia boots, goggles, and layers of Blistex was skinny me. As it got colder, I began to keep a flask of whiskey in my coat. I was insulated from the cold and the snow. Sure, sometimes I’d feel the flakes on my beard, and sometimes me and my roommates would have snowball fights, but I’d pack my snowballs with gloves on. But I never really felt snow until one Friday night in early February. I’m ashamed to say, I called you from a pay phone, drunk. Roberto and Donnie came from behind, pulled my pants down, and threw me into a snow bank. The remaining twelve blocks home, I cursed them—my backside burning. Nights after that, I’d try to get them back after we left the bars. I even devised a brilliant plan to get them. I shared it with you in my last letter. A few days ago, I found the letter in my post office box with a strange stamp. A friend at work called the post office and told me that your address no longer exists. I was going to put it with the rest but decided to make a crown out of it for my walk tonight, my ears burn.

Snow sparkles.

The park is empty at this hour. Here there is a clear view above. The tips of black branches caress the clouds, pregnant with snow. Does the view really matter in the city? Even here, I’ve never seen stars. But the other night, I made a discovery: when I searched for my flask in the snow bank, I couldn’t believe it—the purple blanket of snow sparkled under the park lamps. And there they were: your constellations. But when I traced them, they disappeared beneath my fingertips.

Tonight, the silhouettes of snowmen stand over the rows of angels the children left. The winds funnel from every direction, howling, carrying the horns of taxis and the siren of an ambulance, whipping the crown off of my head. The clouds are black. The angels have all but disappeared under the fresh snow. My laughter sounds strange in the hollow of the park. Today, the consulate told me about Mayor Esquina’s decision.

I feel your breath in my ear.

Tonight you know about snow and I know you’re with me.

Padilla photo“Snow” is from an upcoming collection of fiction entitled Si Dios Nos Presta Vida by Jesse Paul Padilla. Mr. Padilla’s work has been published by National Public Radio, Reed Magazine, and the Marquette Journal, and has earned Honorable Mention and Semi-Finalist recognitions for short-short fiction from New Millennium Writing.

Superman

[flash fiction]

We stop for our morning atole—that thick crushed corn drink con chocolate, de los Indios. Hot, hot, hot. Like cereal, so much better than the gringo café, just makes me want to poop. All morning. Standing in la basura—la basura—reaching past my knees. I try not to look at it, but now, I begin to smell. Like basura.

The guys are my age. Sixteen. Seventeen. We’re lucky to have a job, and maybe someday, I’ll drive the truck. Instead of standing in stinky basura. I’d rather wash cars and make more pesos, but mi Mama says this job has a future. Driving la basura, maybe. The first stop, CLANGING metal, that’s my job, people come running with their pinche basura. Plastic containers, large, and small—some with worms crawling—spread it all evenly on the truck floor. Stomp with feet, us young guys. Los gringos bring their basura in neat, black bags, smiling. I take them, rip them open to spread evenly on the truck floor. To my shoelaces. But the gringos put tips in the can dangling with wire—I smile, “Gracias.” Maybe enough for tacitos for us all. Some rich Mexicans tip too—“Gracias,” I smile. “De nada,” no smiles, but more pesos. No me chingas.

I wonder how they got rich, fancy cars, fancy boots for women. They look like las gringas, tight jeans, bright lipstick and skinny, no hips. When mi hermano, Jorge, calls from Los Angeles, where he says there are no angels and laughs. We gather at la gringa’s casita where Mama cleans and cooks, to talk to him, even see him on el Skype. He tells me I should come, el otto lado, the other side, before I get every disease in el mundo from everyone’s pinche basura. He tells me he shares a nice casita with a bunch of guys—cooks, waiters, busboys. That las gringas would love me, give me their phone numbers when they pay.

I clang the metal and the next group runs toward us lining up, containers and black bags full. Plink of pesos. “Gracias,” I smile.

“They wouldn’t give me their number, Jorge. I’m not pretty like you,” I laugh, knowing he’s watching me from the place with no angels.

“Oh, you’re the rugged type, Andres, they’d like you even more. You’ll start out as a bus boy, like I did. Then, the waiter with all the gringa phone numbers,” he smiles widely. “Is Mama there?”

“She went back to cooking for la gringa.”

Jorge pitches his voice low. “You can even become their boy friend, and they pay for everything, buy you nice clothes. The one I’m seeing right now wants me to move in with her, crazy but beautiful gringita.” He laughs his wild man laugh.

“Are you going to do it or what?’

“I’m thinking about it, chico. Even if it’s for a few months. Why not? Don’t tell Mama. You know how she is, her y la Virgen and all the saints,” Jorge smiles. “Come and join me, chico. Get your nalgas out of that chingada basura. I”ll send you plane fare, just get a visa, and you’ll never go back.”

“Las gringas won’t like me, Jorge, like they like you. Do you ever look for Papa up there?”

“He could be anywhere, chico, and I’ve stopped looking, el cabrón, leaving Mama with everything to care for.”

“The money you send us really helps, but it’s time for me to work, no more school for me. I think I could be a poet, Jorge. I’m not kidding. I write them and save them,” I almost whisper, my secret.

“Next time bring one and read it to me. And get that visa. Then, I’ll send you the plane pesos, and before you know it, you’ll be a waiter with a gringa girlfriend.”

I’ve promised myself to go to the Consulate and get the chingada visa as soon as Jorge’s boss at the restaurant writes me a letter saying I have a job. In Los Angeles where there are no angels. Jorge’s going to be a cook, but he’ll probably miss all the gringa phone numbers.

I smile, clanging the metal, everyone lining up with their stinking full containers with worms. But, I’m not pretty like Jorge, and I’m not a smoothie like Mama calls him, laughing. Mama’s English is getting better with la gringa, and I’m glad I took those free lessons. I could be a bus boy. Give people water, clean the tables. But, I’m probably not smooth enough to be a waiter. With a gringa girlfriend.

Now la basura is up to my ankles. Pesos clinking in the can. I look up smiling, “Gracias.”

“De nada,” a beautiful, blonde gringita smiles right into my eyes.

“See you next time, cutie,” she says laughing.

“Okay, bonita,” I manage. She laughs louder. Tinkly.

I look up to a roof where a small doll is perched. Something red waving in the wind. Someone wedged it between pieces of metal. When the red moves, it looks like the doll is flying. And then I realize, it’s Superman. His red cape. Flying. Wedged in the metal on that roof.

I take the final containers of rotting basura, spreading it evenly on the truck floor. The driver finds a ranchera on the radio, full blast, starts the truck toward the next block. The next people waiting with their rotting, wormy basura. The driver does a loud grito to the rancheras. The usual topic, love. And the guys and I laugh, stamping la basura flat with our feet like we’re dancing.

I look at Superman as we drive away and almost tell my friends, but decide he’s mine. He’ll give me the courage to go to the Consulate, el otro lado, where there are no angels, and maybe even be a waiter with gringa phone numbers. The beautiful gringa’s blue eyes, laughing. I wonder if Superman has blue eyes?

Villanueva photoAlma Luz Villanueva has taught fiction and poetry at Antioch University, LA’s MFA for sixteen years, with so many marvelous students. Her fourth novel, Song of the Golden Scorpion, has just been published, and her eighth book of poetry, Gracias, will be published in 2014. She lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.