the best of 52|250's fourth quarter

Week #42 – Under wraps

A Friend in Her by Angelique Moselle Price
Animal by Roberta Lawson 
Not the skin or the hair; not nails, teeth; no gentle touch. It must be the gut. The only way that any of them will find what they’re looking for is to go for the gut, and reach inside. To begin: a list of secrets. Let’s say the secrets are a shadow. The lights are out, and now they’re ready. To reach this place they’ll take a journey. Down through the mind, through the channel of the neck, down, down, until the body opens like the belly of the earth. Down until they’re sunk through rock and soil, blood and sinew, until they’re bathed in magma. A mouth opens. Speech begins to come.
What Happened to All the Readers by Len Kuntz  
They’d become such a minority that the world’s remaining readers were set up in communes on a crumb of land the size of Delaware.

This being the future, space was at a premium, and as their numbers continued to diminish, the readers were relocated to an abandoned estate belonging to someone’s deceased, millionaire aunt.

In less than a few years, weary governmental officials shuttled the dwindling bibliophiles to a split level home in Hackensack, where angry neighborhood dogs nipped at cyclone fencing and nightly air raid drills produced unmanageable migraines.

Months later, the further shrinking squad was shipped off to a one bedroom utility that doubled as a pantry for discarded, but well-used, kitty litter.

After a short shedding of weeks, the few readers that remained were dropped into a root cellar which had once hid Prohibition rumrunners.

But even this earthy hole was a waste of space, too roomy, with its hollow nooks left unfilled.

So, alas, the final surviving readers were stuffed inside a box.

Years later a young child stumbled upon the box by accident. Finding a smattering of bones at the bottom and, thinking them exotic drumsticks, the child began to beat the sides of the crate, until, tuckered out from so much physical activity, she went back to her multiscreen lap pad, playing video games, exchanging Facebook gossip while texting, streaming reality television and using Skype, busy but bored all at once.

Joe’s Plan by Mike DiChristina 
Joe called his son Tom on All Souls Day to confirm Thanksgiving.

Sure you’re up for it?” said Tom.

“No problem,” said Joe.

That night, Joe sat at the kitchen table with a calendar opened to November, a clean sheet of notepaper, and a pencil stub. Licking his pencil as he wrote, Joe made two columns on the notepaper: one for food, the other for chores. Then, he transferred each item to his calendar, making a neat entry on the day he would perform the given task.

The next day, Joe started upstairs with each of the bedrooms, washing the linens and cleaning the floors. When each room was in order, Joe closed the door.

Early in the month, Joe acquired non-perishable items, such as canned squash or frozen corn. He bought corn muffin mix and cranberry sauce.

Later, he focused on downstairs. He placed a pillow on the kitchen floor to protect his knees and waxed the linoleum. He disinfected the downstairs bathroom and left the window open to keep it fresh, though the seat was cold.

On Monday of Thanksgiving week, Joe purchased perishables – eggs, milk, bread.

Joe set the table on Tuesday. There were six places. He put chocolates at the kids’ seats. He laid Saran wrap over the table to keep the dust off.

On Wednesday, the store manager walked the turkey over.

By late Wednesday afternoon, Joe was ready. He sat in the dusk at the head of the table and practiced his talking.

Grey Skies by Stella Pierides 
Ever since the militia thrust a Kalashnikov into Gamal’s hands, he stays indoors.

“Use it,” the men had shouted at him.

After their car sped away, Gamal fell on his knees wanting to cry and pray at the same time.

At seventeen, he is no stranger to guns. His old father keeps three well-oiled specimens under the carpet-covered divan. These Persian carpets with boteh paisley motifs, hide three weapons against the enemies of the state.

“May God forgive you, Father,” Gamal repeats to himself. But he himself cannot forgive his father.

“He knows our leader personally,” mother explains to him, as if she feared he’d forget. “It is tribal loyalty.”

That’s no excuse for supporting a killer, he says to himself. Deep down Gamal knows it is not out of loyalty his father supports the regime. It is out of fear.

Now Gamal is expected to fight on the same side. The thought of the dictator makes him sweat. So he stays indoors and watches the sky from the inner courtyard: normally a beautiful square of blue, fringed with overhanging cherry blossom, it now tells him the news of the city.

The last few days, the sky has turned grey. Black billowing clouds carry an oily smell to Gamal. Ash snows on jasmine, geranium, and on his mother’s beloved cacti. He is hiding ‘his’ gun under his mattress. He dreads his friends coming for his father. He knows he’ll have to act, then; he’ll have to choose sides.

Garden Tombs by Martin Porter  
“When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.”

– Martin F Shaw (Oxford Book of Carols, 1928)

lamina thin
the green leaves of freesia
are already risen
hidden in the trowel deep trenches
are the baby-corpse
and the congealed lump
of the deathly unborn
waiting for the passing of winter

in this land of no winter
life springs at seeming random
spontaneous from the ground
enriched by dung
the coloured frocked bells ring out
the heaving seasons

autumnal Easter
or the occasional july frost,
the hope of a sultry christmas
in this a foreigner land

here is an alien
digging trowel deep
placing corms and
layered bulbs
embryonic folded adult
in a different soil
waiting for the everyday
to return resurrected

Little Fire by Michelle McEwen  
When mama made me, she say her and daddy went at it all winter long just like two skinny forest sticks rubbin’ together to make a fire. “We made a fire alright,” she says, “you!” I like when she says this ’cause I like thinking of myself as a fire. Mama says when she told daddy that their winter foolin’ was gonna bring them an autumn baby, daddy just shrugged and told her autumn wasn’t no time for baby havin’ what with all them leaves to rake and him getting ready to start college. “Can’t be mindin’ a baby and studying at the same time,” daddy said and closed the door on mama’s face. Mama didn’t pay daddy no mind, though. She said daddy could go off to college, but she was gonna have me anyway— her little fire that’s what she called me. And she hid me well, hushed up her growing belly with layers of winter clothes and kept out of her folks’ way ’cause she knew her mama and aunts would drag her to some place in an alleyway where they did away with babies. So there I was, quiet, inside of mama. There I was— a fire burning under mama’s winter school clothes, then burning under her spring blouses, then under her loose summer dresses, then under her autumn jacket ’til the time came. And no one found out either ’til mama was hunched over the kitchen sink— hollering from the little fire in her belly.
The Ties that Bind by Catherine Russell  
The love of Pharaoh’s daughter demanded a heavy price. He struggled to breathe, but the tight wrappings constrained his chest, sealed shut his eyes, and stopped his mouth – the scream from deep within his soul would never escape.Her name echoed in his mind. She had condemned him – as she had her other lovers. The daughter of Pharaoh preyed on men, lured them with her charms, and bound them with her beauty. Those foolish enough to love her always paid with their lives.

If he could have moved his lips, he would have smiled. Even now, he suspected his lover planned her father’s demise. With marriage and the Pharoah’s death, she would have all she desired. The loose ends of her past would be tidied away, under wraps, where they could not rise to haunt her bright new future.

Back to Wk #41 – Coincidence
Forward to Wk #43 – To the core
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