Cyclone: a biography of inheritance

(flash creative nonfiction)

 

“Cyclone.” Original score by George Bassman & George Stoll, 1939.

“Cyclone.” Original score by George Bassman & George Stoll, 1939.

[Fix]

The one time I met Dad’s dad, he pissed in Mom’s closet. Grandpa George liked speedballs—cocaine and heroin in the same syringe. He liked prostitutes—the power of purchase was the one he abused most readily. But most of all Grandpa George liked Music—and Music liked him back, God knows why.

[Catalog]

Grandpa George composed for Hollywood. He was the cyclone that whisked Dorothy to Oz, from black-and-white to Technicolor. He was chanting monkeys beating their filthy wings. He rode the high country. He got sentimental over you. He was into both guys and dolls. Passion without compassion fueled his compositions. It spilled into his Music from a pool deep within him—the rest of him withered, or perhaps was always dry.

[Mercy]

The kindest thing my grandfather did to my father was neglect him. I shudder imagining what might have happened if he’d raised him.

[Fetch]

The worst was already over before the beatings began: “Go get my belt,” George would whisper. My father delivered his abuser the instrument of abuse. The pain didn’t matter—the shame was in the submission.

[Inconvenience]

When you became inconvenient to George he sent you to live in the Neuropsychiatric Institute. Indefinitely. First went his wife. Then his daughter Leslie. Then David—his son, my father—at age thirteen. No diagnosis was necessary. A rich man’s word is binding.

[Independence]

The fifteen months Dad spent in the psych ward were the best of his young life. He found love in kindred spirits. He found real education, found rebellion and counterculture. It wasn’t unlike a cyclone, hurling him from black-and-white into color.

[Burden]

Decades passed. Piss in the closet. Having blown the fortune his son would have inherited, George came begging for the money that was meant to buy my diapers. Later he pled ignorance when the dealers came pounding on our door.

[Altruism]

Weekly my father would buy his father a hot meal, even though his father never fed him. He would put his father up in a motel room, even though his father had locked him in a nuthouse. And he would tell his father about how he was raising his son.

[Death]

“Bassman’s later life was marred by tragedy—his personal life involved three marriages, and the last had a duration of scarcely a year. He was cut loose from his career, and he later fell in with the wrong people. He died forgotten by his profession and alone in Los Angeles in 1997.” (“George Bassman,” Wikipedia.)

[Legacy]

Is my Music “mine” then? My own? Is his Music mine now? What is left to inherit from an empty man?

[Spite]

Dad was forbidden to play the piano. Grandpa George couldn’t stand the sound of amateurs. A lesser narcissist would want to spit his own image onto a vicarious heir. But George denied his son every piece of himself.

But I have come to claim my inheritance.

[Portrait]

“George Bassman.” Original photo by David Bassman, c. 1969 Photo of photo taken 2015.

“George Bassman.” Original photo by David Bassman, c. 1969
Photo of photo taken 2015.

nicholas-bassman_optNick Bassman writes songs, stories, poems, essays, Facebook rants, and weird lyric nonfiction pieces like this one. He hails from Los Angeles and currently studies at Oberlin College in Ohio. Nick writes for the Oberlin Review and co-created the quarterly art zine California Salmon Chronicle with Malcolm Gottesman. This is his first poetic publication. Find music from his band, Flowerteeth, at https://flowerteeth.bandcamp.com and his personal ramblings at https://www.facebook.com/ackbasswards.

 

Passage

(flash fiction)

As a girl of seven, she was told to pretend the stranger was her father. Fake passports and stories to match, enough to fool an inquisitive customs officer. At first, she’d wondered whether coming to America meant she’d get a different father. A father who was there, not just a name to put to a framed picture in the living room. And now, outside the terminal, was this what an American father looked like—younger and in a jean jacket? She memorized his birthdate, the color of his eyes. He complimented her for being such a smart girl. She remembered it still, his hand on her shoulder, his comforting nod to her mother. He was a ghost that remained with her; a shadow longer than a promise. Sometimes in the shower, trying to cum after a long day at work, her unguarded mind would falter upon his gaze. Something about his heavy eyes, conveying a belief certain as an anchor. After all these years she remembered how he had said her name. He’d been the first to pronounce it in the Anglicized syllables she had later come to identify with herself. A milky glaze drizzled over the delivery. The softer R, an easy roll over the first A. It had all started with him, the doors and life and existence that formed her now as much as that birthing Portuguese village faded behind yellowed curtains of hovering dirt. A fake father was all it took to come to America. After the flight and the questions and the suitcases he disappeared into a cab and she was back to being someone else’s daughter.

Hugo Dos SantosHugo dos Santos is the translator of A Child in Ruins (Writ Large Press, 2016), the collected poems of José Luís Peixoto, and a recipient of a Disquiet International scholarship. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications in the U.S. and Europe, including upstreet, Queen Mob’s Tea House, DMQ Review, Public Pool, and elsewhere. He is the author of ironbound – a blog.

 

Smoke and Mirrors

(flash creative nonfiction)

I found a fledgling in the yews in the side yard when I was eight or nine. He was covered in bird lice, and shit down my arm as I washed him clean with the hose. I still remember the heat of it. His big, dumb eyes blinking in the light. He didn’t seem to know he was pitiful, and that itself was a kind of magic. My mother made me put him in the tall grass beyond the swing set. She made up stories about his wonderful adventures.

My brother got pooped on by a white dove at a magic show. He was small enough still to sit on our father’s lap in a gymnasium full of metal folding chairs. The magician popped a big red balloon with a straight pin and the bird it contained startled, arced out over the audience and let fly a great white splash of poop before settling in the rafters. The entire audience followed the dropping with their eyes and I remember them gasping in disgust as it hit my brother’s leg. The magician doffed his top hat and insisted it would bring my brother luck.

But a magician’s gift is misdirection. My brother has never known what hit him. Then and now and all his life. Smoke and mirrors, the bared arm and the nothing up the sleeve, rabbits kicking against the air, and doves that disappear against the sky with a flap of desperate wings.

There are those days lost to memories. They pour out endlessly like silk kerchiefs from the head: The bright bouquet of his fortieth birthday, harsh and plastic. The candles winking out. There is the collapsible top hat of his never marrying, the dangling legs of the pretty girl cut in two. The risk of lives not being put back together. There is the sword that pierces the heart like loneliness. There is the flourish of the black cape and the tap of the wand. There are the false bottoms, the trap doors, the hidden compartments. There is the way he laughs at you using nothing but his eyes. There is his smile twitching midair. There are the hours with their circular flight. There is a brother you can’t quite believe in. There is a brother who disappears before your eyes.

Brent FiskBrent Fisk is a writer from Bowling Green, Kentucky. His work has appeared in Rattle, Fugue, Folio, Cincinnati Review, and Prairie Schooner, among other places. He is taking time off from his day job to finish several book-length projects and perfect his mid-range jump shot.

Trouble with GobbledUp

(flash fiction)

Hi!

Thank G-d I’m a busy writer, wife, mom, and grandmom. I joined GobbledUp several years ago. During that entire time, I elected not to take advantage of the many freebie upgrades you’ve offered me because of my high number of connections. Truth is, I’ve also been too busy to learn all of the needed technology.

Anyway, some time ago, you, i.e. GobbledUp, asked if you could access my Hoo-hoo email address book. I said, “Yes.” In that list are various folks in the publishing profession. I don’t know most of them, personally, but I have had professional, tangential contact with all of them.

Weird stuff happened thereafter. I continue to get “accepted” invitations from people I never met. What’s more, few were in the publishing industry. Albeit, the military logistics folks were interesting, but annoying, while the gamers were annoying without being particularly interesting. Nonetheless, that latter group, those computer athletes, helped me to promote my most recently published fantasy book. To wit, I received better sales on that title than I did on many of my others.

No matter. Until recently, I mentally shrugged at each new notice GobbledUp sent meI am truly, blessedly busy filling multiple book contracts. However, now you, GobbledUp, have put restrictions on my ability to send out connection invitations. I am exasperated. I repeat: I am exasperated.

I gave GobbledUp permission to riffle my Hoo-hoo address list, yet I’m getting penalized for giving you that permission!!!! I was nice enough to be “out there” for you, for your military members, and for your military enthusiasts, and made no complaint about the vast number of strangers filling my GobbledUp mailbox. Yet, your gratitude to me got manifested as restricting my privileges. Let me repeat: I am exasperated.

Recall: I have no time these days to seek new contacts, except for the handful of writers or publishers with whom I need to communicate. Recall: as a result of allowing you to access my Hoo-hoo address file, I’ve become an unwitting mentor to many aspiring writers (I’m happy to be their guide, but would have preferred to do so on my own terms). Recall: I’ve been a good sport, never registering, until this moment, a complaint with you.

At your first convenience, please fix this situation. That is, please restore my ability to connect with folks at will. If that means GobbledUp no longer has access to my Hoo-hoo email list, so be it; it has not proved to be cost-efficient to be a “good citizen” in the GobbledUp world.

If I don’t hear from you within the week, I’ll have to consider an alternative recourse. Some of my new gamer friends are hackers. Some of my new military friends are confrontational, that is, are physical “hackers.” A few of those new military friends are based roughly a half-hour from your headquarters. They’re expert at breaking and entering, especially the breaking part.

Sincerely and Never Meekly,

Petra Gram, Granny Writer

KJ Hannah GreenbergKJ Hannah Greenberg’s whimsical writing buds in pastures where gelatinous wildebeests roam and beneath the soil where fey hedgehogs play. Her newest books are a collection of poetry, A Grand Sociology Lesson (Lit Fest Press, 2016), and a collection of short fiction, Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs (Bards & Sages Publishing, 2016).

Lily

(flash fiction)

Because the white boy had saved me from drowning, my father invited him to dinner.

He brought his six closest friends with him and three newcomers—including a girl. I’d never seen him with a girl before. She floated like a cloud by his side, pale as the moonlight by which we dined, and just as devoid of heat. He turned not once to look at her.

As the meal began, she was whisked away to the kitchen with the other women. Only I remained, my father’s favorite and his heir, to observe the men as they ate and smoked and sang.

The white boy’s friends were dressed, as always, in animal skins—full hides, heads and all. And the white boy himself donned a war bonnet though we were not, to my recollection, at war. They spoke of us, and to us, in words we hardly even used: how, squaw. They affected our accents. And they, in their pomp and belligerence, dressed as they were in carcasses—they called us savages.

And we—wary of this tentative treaty, knowing that, should we object, we would only be seen as the antagonists of the tale, then and in all future reimaginings—we said nothing.

I said nothing.

I sat between my father and the white boy as they smoked together—each putting his lips where the other had put his lips, breathing the same breath, pantomiming intimacy—and I dared not speak. About how their love of our customs didn’t feel like love at all. About hard work and ritual and what it actually takes to earn a place at the head of this circle. I watched the youngest of them slap war paint on his teddy bear, and still I said nothing.

Forgive me. I was only a girl then, and did not yet know the grown-up words to express my discomfort.

Forgive me. I was only a girl then, and feared that if I’d spoken up, the men might have laughed at me, shamed me, even banished me from my place at their party, sent me to the kitchen with the other women. From whence, I now noticed, the white girl was watching the reverie, her eyes drawing the small wooden dagger from its place in the white boy’s belt and shooting it back at him as he continued to forget her.

At him? No. No, I realized as I sat there in silence, watching the men, watching the girl—she was shooting the points of her blue eyes at me.

Forgive me. I was only a girl.

And he had saved my life.

And I had, in that moment of being so poorly drawn by a room full of white men, something to prove. I had to prove something.

I kissed him.

Without pretense or permission, I turned to that boy in his ostentatious feathered headdress, grabbed hold of his shoulders, and put my lips right where his lips were. I gave him a kiss he’d never get from any mother.

His mouth felt fresh like the wind and the rain, tasted soft like surprise and imaginary cake. The mane of feathers shrouded both our faces for a moment, and when we emerged, the whole world went red.

The boy’s friends, embarrassed by the public display.

The girl, jealous and raging—finally a little spark in her skin.

The moon, grown bold with the promise of harvest.

The fire at the center of the circle, leaping and dancing and licking the air in a way I hadn’t known it before.

At that young age, who knows what love feels like? At that young age, this is exactly what love feels like.

And the boy, so kissed, reddening from suede tip to copper top, believing that the blush on him could make us kin. But I can blush too, boy, in a shade of earth so rich, it’ll ground you in your tracks. Go ahead and make me.

We danced together, he and I, until the party burned to embers.

And then, at the end of the night, he left with the white girl after all.

Things were simpler that way.

marie-marandola_optMarie Marandola received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She now lives in San Diego, where she remains in the habit of picking up bits of fallen trees and giving them to people.

Now Serving Fresh-Baked Cookies

(flash fiction)

I’m making cookies from scratch and I’m confused. But I’m here, cookbook in hand and flour in bowl, pretending to be something I’m not. Because I’m in love with a boy and I’m losing him. He likes girls who cook from scratch, who are serene, who have ponytails that bounce when they walk. And he used to love me, even though I’m a different kind of girl; the kind of girl who curses when she trips, who orders takeout so often the delivery drivers say “what’s up” when they see her at concerts. The kind of girl whose hair is so curly, ponytail holders roll up and away from her hair and fly through the air like a hornet hopped up on nectar. But now when he looks at me, he sees what he’s missing and not what he’s got. And so I will make him love me again by making him cookies. I brought the cookbook with me into the grocery store and spent twenty-two dollars on exotic ingredients like baking soda and vanilla extract. Piling the contents of my cart onto the conveyor belt, I ignored the raised eyebrow from the cashier at the checkout. The one who knows me and knows my typical grocery cart holds makings for sandwiches, cheap wine, jars of spaghetti, and frozen lasagna. Now I am a domesticated tiger, embarrassed to be caught jumping through fire when I used to bite those who tried to tame me. Yet here I am. In love and in the kitchen. The cookies come out of the oven at the exact moment the doorbell rings: the boy is here. A kiss, followed by a hug, then I lead him by the hand to the kitchen. I’m making you cookies, I say. And he smiles the kind of smile you can’t ignore. His grin starts in his heart and dances in his eyes before it comes to rest on his face. He is happy, and he’s happy with me. I am his now, and he is mine and I am not quite myself and I know this and he knows this. But I want to be the kind of girl who is wanted by the kind of boy who now stands in my kitchen. And so I am, and so he does, and so we eat the cookies and so we stay in love for a little while longer.

erica-gerald-mason_optErica Gerald Mason is the author of the poetry collection i am a telescope: science love poems. Her poetry has been published or forthcoming in Silver Birch Press, Blue Lyra Review, Lunch Ticket, Zoetic Press, The Found Poetry Review, and HIV Here & Now Project. She blogs at www.ericageraldmason.com.

The Temperature of Islands

(flash fiction)

After her heart attack Barbara returned to the island. She knew very well that the helicopter—if available—would take twenty minutes from the mainland. She went straight to the stoned guy on the beach who did winters in India, and bought a purple sarong.

Barbara sunbathed nude, it was heartening—heartening!and her ropey body soon gleamed. Friends passed. Emmanuel and his poodle-headed partner Nadine from Paris. They were already seamed and brown. The northern Italians with their glorious sons. A waddling Greek woman whose rear was a lopsided adjunct and whose breasts moved as though they were gourds filled with water.

They all asked her how it had been, this first year without Hervé. Did she have plans to move? Had the children been supportive?

Barbara replied that she had had a heart attack. A smallish one—not at all like the one that had thrown Hervé to the ground when he was sitting at Roula’s pouring back raki—but a heart attack nevertheless.

At that, her friends remembered the clumsy display of Hervé’s dying, the useless propping of his head, the lack of final goodbyes, and Roula’s extinction of the music. Barbara watched each of them recompose after this.

But— 

They wanted to say, But are you not afraid? But the helicopter? Do you not remember that drive to the heliport in the dark? The way those imbeciles had almost tipped Hervé’s body onto the rocks?

In fact Barbara did. She smiled at them and rolled over and tanned her bottom.

*     *     *

Barbara dragged herself up to the heliport. This was where she had seen the life leaking out of Hervé, vanishing from his livid face. It was true, the paramedics had levered him unevenly so his body almost slid to the ground; one young bearded man had looked at her apologetically. The other had not.

She stood at the rusty chain wire fence that had been tossed over by the seasons. Growth burst through the concrete slabs, mostly relieved of their colored paint. This was where she had realized Hervé was leaving her. This where she saw that life would blaze through each of them, leaving carcasses and flickering shrines. Barbara thought of Hervé the day before, elbow on the table, trying to entice Emmanuel to invest in the faded discothèque on the hill, or at the least hire Manolis’s fishing vessel that afternoon—when Hervé knew very well that Emmanuel would never leave Nadine alone on the beach. And then, Barbara saw the two of them on their separate beds in the room, each shrouded in greying sheets, Hervé’s farts uncontained.

Barbara’s heart attack had happened on a train crossing Germany. With discomfort, she had stood up to move down the carriage, but found herself wading in water, blind in all but the centre of her eyes, crashing into headrests and shoulders, and landing with an injured face in one man’s lap. At first, they had thought of terrorists, and police charged through looking for youths with knives or guns, until Barbara, whimpering, was surrendered.

Barbara rattled the chain wire fence. She kicked a stone. There were wells on the mountain tops with wooden planks laid over the openings, and these were held in place by abrasive stones. There was a temple of loosened rocks with a font made of a burning black substance that Hervé had said was certainly from a meteorite. There was a white church several peaks away where there were candle stubs on a stand and a powdery square of carpet, and an icon of Saint Gabriel sweeping across a gold frame.

Catherine McNamaraCatherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris at twenty-one to write, and ended up in West Africa running a bar. Her collection Pelt and Other Stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Award and a semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize. Her work has been Pushcart-nominated and published in the U.K., Europe, Australia and the U.S.A., in reviews including The Collagist, Literary Orphans, Flash Fiction Magazine, Ambit, Structo, Litro, Wasafiri, Southerly, Two-Thirds North, Short Fiction and Trafika Europe. Catherine lives in Italy.

 

Emoticon

(flash fiction)

I knew Nick before we had words. Our mothers met in childbirth class. They were seated next to each other in the circle. They struck up a conversation and had such a good time talking they almost forgot the solid forms of their husbands, who sat behind them, legs spread, each supporting his wife’s body with his own.

I have pictures of Nick and me as babies snuggled into the same playpen, and shots of us riding the carousel as our mothers held us in place. The story is he spoke first. Never an innovator, Nick’s first word was “da.” I spoke later. I said “ba ba,” as I waved my hand goodbye.

We were best friends through grade school and then went our own ways in middle school. In high school, I was horrified to recognize my growing attraction to Nick, who had seemed more like a brother than a boyfriend. We dated all through college, sometimes barely speaking, feeling more and more like our pre-verbal selves.

Nick and I never spoke in our post-college days. We sat side-by-side in coffee shops and bistros in Paris, Milan, and Geneva, and stared at our phones. Correction: He sat hunched over his phone and I watched passersby, elegant women dressed in black, teenagers in ripped jeans, working men with scruffy beards, all looking at their own small screens. Dogs peed on light poles and birds flew like winged drones through the sky without anyone watching.

Every so often, Nick would send me a text. I knew it was him because after the ping I could hear him let out a small sigh.

How r u?

He’d stare at the screen waiting for my response. I wanted to type bored, but instead I’d type F for fine. He’d go back to texting.

I watched a father and son sit side-by-side on a bench, both staring at their phones. After a while, the son nudged the father, but he never looked at him. The father nudged the son back, his face glued to the screen. They pushed at each other, not seeing the smile on the other’s face.

We went to museums. I watched Nick take pictures of the art we were standing in front of. His images were one-dimensional. I looked at the canvas noticing the layered swirls of paint.

It was only at night, lying in bed in some cheap hotel, that he looked me full in the face, his eyes unfocused, his body moving against mine. When he was done, he gave that same satisfied sigh he gave after texting.

We had a month left in our trip before we looked for jobs, faced the future. Lake Como was our last stop. I’d seen pictures of the still lake, mountains in the background, buildings the color of parchment paper. Lake Como was beautiful, but it was the smells that intrigued me, the dank scent of the water, the sweet bougainvillea, the sharp espresso. I took it in, watching Nick’s fingers dart back and forth as he played a video game.

Our waiter looked at me and Nick appraisingly. I looked back and shrugged. He brought me a plate of cookies I didn’t order. I wrote my phone number on the napkin and slipped it into his breast pocket. Nick’s phone trilled—high score.

Later, I watched as Nick walked dangerously close to the water’s edge, texting. That evening, we sat in the town square, I watched the passeggiata, the evening walk. The waiter, now in jeans, approached and extended his hand. I took it. His hand was warm. We walked slowly away from where Nick sat on the bench, his face peering at his screen.

“Ba ba,” I called to him over my shoulder. I didn’t look back.

ellen-birkett-morris-headshot_optEllen Birkett Morris’s fiction has appeared in Great Jones StreetShenandoah, Antioch Review, Notre Dame Review, South Carolina Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, and Upstreet, among others. She is the 2015 winner of the Bevel Summers Prize for flash fiction for her story “May Apples.” Her story “The Cycle of Life and Other Incidentals” was selected as a finalist in the Glimmer Train Press Family Matters short story competition.

Impasse

(flash fiction)

These Alcatraz cells have ovens and sinks. Refrigerators. No ice inside Father’s, just time, chilling the rations. Past the bars, Father’s new captor paces. She is a child. Her blue ice skates have frayed against her ankles, but she sharpens the blades at high noon each day anyhow.

Father sleeps on the top bunk, the furthest he can get away. The bed below him stays made up, though he once shared this cell. In the nights, the girl hoists herself up. Atop Father’s mattress, she balances on two hands.

Father sleeps on his back, his neck a vulnerable target.

The girl’s skates, poised for the incision: one drop, feet first, she will fit her nails into the slash, use her fingers to make two soft flaps that she can pull open. Inside, she will look for something, she does not know what, but she knows he keeps it inside of himself.

This is the girl who once groped for his hand in the darkness, then pulled a finger from its socket. This is the girl who swapped flowers for weeds, who helped build Alcatraz, her hands shedding baby skin into its base. This is the girl who stutters whenever it is time to cut.

Father hears the crack of her blades on the concrete floor, her knees and hands smacking when she falls. He sleeps again. In a dream: the ice skates, new, slip onto a child’s feet, his own hands tie the laces. In the waking hours, the girl settles back into her post.

Alcatraz moon lays low. Prison stones drip drop into pools of viscous bloody rust. A rowboat lurches. If they escaped, there’d be a thousand buckets to bail, just to get an inch of water out.

Eshani SuryaEshani Surya is is a current MFA student in fiction at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she also teaches undergraduates. Her writing has appeared in Ninth Letter Online, Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment, First Class Lit, and Minetta Review. Eshani also serves as a reader of fiction at Sonora Review. Find her on Twitter @__eshani

 

Do You Think I’m Beautiful

(flash fiction)

If I were a hostess in Japan, I’d be the favorite of an overweight salaryman. His wisps of hair would be spread across the top of his skull. He would smell sweet, like ginger and molasses.

Before our shift started, the other girls and I would get ready together. We’d tease our hair and fix our makeup. We’d pucker our lips and check our teeth. We’d admire our reflections in the mirror.

Do I look pretty? we’d say. Am I beautiful?

If I were a hostess in Japan, my overweight salaryman would buy me glasses of orange fluffy drinks. I would suck on them with a twisty green straw. I would smile when he smiled. I would imitate his gestures. He wouldn’t realize I was doing it on purpose. He would think it was just our connection.

He would call me by my genji-na, which would be Sakura, for cherry blossom.

It’s such a common name, he’d say.

I’d laugh like he’d made a very funny joke. I’d put my hand on his arm.

If I were a hostess in Japan, I wouldn’t let my Japanese boyfriend visit me at the kyabakura. Because I would have one: a Japanese boyfriend. He’d have black hair and eyes that were so dark it would be like gazing into nighttime.

The other girls wouldn’t have boyfriends.

Who’s got time for that, they’d say.

They’d take me along with them after work to the host clubs. Everyone’s favorite would be Tanigawa, with his bleached hair and Armani suit.

He’s so authentic, the other girls would say, and fix their makeup again before we left for the host clubs.

They’d say: How do I look?

If I were a hostess in Japan, the other girls would tell me to beware of the Kuchisake-onna.

She used to be a hostess like us, they’d say, but one of her clients disfigured and murdered her, and now she’s a terrifying yokai.

She hides her slitted mouth under a surgical mask so you’d never know it’s there. And if she asks you am I pretty and you say yes, she rips the mask off and says how about now, and then she cuts your face like hers.

If you say no, she’s not pretty, she cuts your face.

They’d say: There’s no escaping her.

If I were a hostess in Japan, I would know they weren’t supposed to employ me. I would know about the hostesses who had been murdered, girls like me, foreign. I would know their names. I would have copies of the newspaper articles. But it wouldn’t matter. I would be American and invulnerable and take my payment under the table.

If anyone asks, you do the cleaning, the manager would say.

If I were a hostess in Japan, I wouldn’t do the cleaning. I would let the wrappers from the twisty green straws in my orange fluffy drinks flutter to the floor, and leave them there. I would touch my overweight salaryman on his arm and laugh at his jokes. I would tell my Japanese boyfriend: I don’t want you coming here. Please. I would follow the other girls to the host clubs when our shift was done.

It’s much easier this way, don’t you think? they’d say, while we shared a bottle of champagne with the tanned hosts. No strings.

No strings, I’d agree, but I would excuse myself early, before Tanigawa sang Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyugeshiki. I would leave alone, to hail a cab back to my twelve-tatami apartment and my Japanese boyfriend.

On the street, looking for a cab, I would hear a voice: Watashi kirei? Am I pretty?

And I wouldn’t know if it was the Kuchisake-onna, or one of the dead foreign girls, or one of the other hostesses, or if it was even myself.

I would close my eyes and cross my fingers.

I’d say: Hai. You’re beautiful.

Cathy UlrichCathy Ulrich always picks up her straw wrappers. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including The Airgonaut, Monkeybicycle, and Literary Orphans. Her humor writing can be found at Hollywood Hates Me.

Bikini Wax

(flash fiction)

Rosalina is Mexico pulled inside-out. A striking woman, smooth as an olive, with a firm bun of brown hair. Desire on legs, whether she’s pussyfooting between the rooms at the Salon or she’s doing a Brazilian on a client under stark, fluorescent lights, patting the pussy, waking it up.

When I arrive after three months of growth tangled between my thighs, Rosa is busy with another client. I don’t mind waiting. Other attendants pass by. I hold their faces for a moment. Nice girls. Girls waiting for someone. A man or a woman, doesn’t matter. Not Rosa. She’s here even when she isn’t.

When the door opens, a twenty-something girl walks out. Rumpled hair and flushed cheeks. I walk in and Rosa hugs me, the smell of her lavender shampoo tickling my straight bearings. She replaces the sheet, sprays the room with Lysol, and adjusts the TV. A busty Latino is singing.

“Long time.” She sticks a towel between her breasts and helps me undress. A layer of wax glistens over my pubic bone like molten gold. I tell her my husband is traveling again, the last trip to India seemed so long and my swimming lessons are going well, as if I have promised to disclose all the details of my life. She talks about her ex-boyfriend whose last name was Ali. He was a carpet weaver from Iran who liked to have burritos and pancakes for breakfast. They had sex every single day when they were together. Sometimes even three times a day. One morning, the immigration authorities took him away. He never came back. She presses the strip and pulls hard.

“Shit.” I bite my tongue.

“He coming soon?”

“Who?”

“Your husband? You have someone else?” She laughs and the luster in her eyes deepens as she wipes the exposed skin and applies moisturizer, slowly circling from my navel to my clit. I see her arched eyebrows, sweat trickling down her neck, her frame oscillating between hurt and pleasure, and I feel words rolling on my tongue and falling back, sticking in my throat.

“Take your time.” Her voice cracks. She pats down my pussy, her fingers groping the flesh for reassurance. I try not to think of my vacant home, my absent husband, the swimming lessons I don’t go to, and the vacation that never happened. I’m wet, maybe even smelling. The room is like a void, nothing but a knot of excitement in motion. This is the real thing. I repeat it quietly. I’ll never come here again. I’ll come here again and again and again.

The girl on the TV is still singing.


Tara Isabel ZambranoTara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas with her husband and two kids. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Moon City Review, Parcel, Juked, Necessary Fiction, Gargoyle, and others. She likes to read three books at the same time and is an electrical engineer by profession.