the best of 52|250's fourth quarter

Week #44 – Crowd

A Lime Crowd by Rick Daddario
13b by Mike DiChristina  
“I shit you not,” says the guy who looks like a St. Bernard in 13A. He folds his tattooed arms over his chest and looks out the window at the Jersey Shore, far below.

St. Bernard’s sweaty arm sticks to mine. I hunch my shoulders and twist away from him.

The pug-faced guy wearing a wife-beater in 13C says, “That’s un-fucking believable.” He slips a toothpick into his mouth. A sleek, longhaired flight attendant swooshes by like a best-of-breed Afghan Hound gliding down Park Avenue. Pug’s nostrils flare as he breathes in her scent.

St. Bernard cracks his knuckles. “Nothing surprises me any more,” he says. He coughs, his jowls quivering with each wheeze.

The lady in 12B slams her recliner back into my knees, her white poodle hairdo peeking over the top of the chair.

“What’s he gonna do now?” says Pug. He twirls the toothpick in his open mouth, making it do little backward flips with his tongue.

St. Bernard laughs. “Nothing. He’s fucked.” He pounds his fist on the armrest between us.

I scooch further away from St. Bernard.

“Hey buddy,” says Pug.

Pug taps me hard on the shoulder, his fingernail a black smile.

“I’m talking to you,” he says.

I turn, our noses just inches apart.

“Move over,” snarls Pug. “You’re in my personal space, Scooby-fucking-do.”

array, cloud, set by Dorothee Lang  
She dials the number carefully. Voices surround her. A telephone box would be handy now, a space with a door, she thinks while she listens to the ringing of the phone on the other side of the line. Which, of course, isn’t a real line anymore, but a conglomerate of computers, transmitter and satellites. A black box of communication without answer.

She tries again, just in case.“Hello,” she finally whispers into the phone, as if it would make a difference. “Hello, are you there.”
It’s not even a question any more.

She waits another two rings before she pushes the disconnect button. The she turns away, takes some steps into the crowd, becomes part of it again. A minute later, she is gone, while you still stand there, waiting for your phone to ring.

Speech by Solveig Mardon  
She digs her heel in the dirt, her boot sends swirls of thick red dust vacuuming up tiny corridors between sweaty torsos. The whole population of this cowless cowtown gathered at the feet of the politician to hear it all come together or just as damn likely fall apart, like the groaning metal of weekend rattle-trucks built by little brothers and ripped around the edges of town. Neck muscles all around her flex and crumple, everybody squinting at the stage. Handkerchiefs whip over shoulders, slap dust out of brows.

She feels him reach down, pinch his fingers around the loose skin of her kneecap, Goddamn, his arms are long. In the smack of the midday heat, rickety fan shaking its noisy head no, he had snuck around her body with that mouth of his, her elbows, knees, backs of her hands, taking skin between teeth and tugging like a gentle dog.

The wet-pitted city man onstage is waving his arms around and she can tell the top of his baldy skull is changing color, it’s frying. He finishes his speech. Dusty hands smack together around her, and what do you know, nothing’s changed. She still has sweat in her hair and the hands of an edge-town, hock-spit boy sliding up her leg.

Rollercoaster by Lauri Martin  
“There’s no rush,” Luke said.But Linda pretended not to hear him, careening their Chrysler Le Baron through traffic like a greased pinball.

Luke’s fingers clamped onto the seat cushion and his shoulders tensed to keep from ramming into his mom whenever they made a sudden swerve to the left.Since there was nothing he could do to slow her down, Luke decided to close his eyes and pretend his mother was not in a manic phase and driving north on the interstate at rush hour. Instead he sat next to her on a rickety rollercoaster at the state fair.

Luke pictured himself in a bucket seat attached to a long train of cars riding a narrow gauge track through wild curves and up a trellis one hundred feet in the air. Somewhere along the track a skinny man with bad teeth held the levers that controlled their speed, their direction, their destiny, and this made Luke sigh with relief.

They hit a pothole. Luke screamed.

His mom yelled, “Wooooo,” and laughed.

She swirved to the right.

He heard metal scrape metal, the blare of horns.

Luke squeezed his eyes tighter. He pictured the carnie working the levers, struggling to trip the brakes, but instead of slowing they went faster jerking through curves until they sailed, twisting on a corkscrew and landing with a slam and a splash.

Luke was shaking. “What a ride,” he said when he found his voice.

Linda just stared out the windshield at the cattails.

ANT FARM by Linda Simoni-Wastila 
My daughter gnawed on her honeyed toast, dropping bits into the top of the ant farm. The workers scurried to gather the crumbs. I sipped my coffee slow, to avoid the cup’s bottom, to prolong the moment when I left for work. Sarah and I watched the insects crawl through tunnels and burrows, hauling beige globs bigger than themselves to the queen. The sun warmed the kitchen. A sort of hypnotic peace settled over us.A bargain, my husband had declared, holding the farm in his arms. He smiled, sweaty from a summer morning spent yard-saling. Sarah will learn about community, he had said. She’ll learn about hard work. What about you? I had thought.

But I let him assemble the structure after he promised to release the insects when Sarah entered kindergarten. A year later and the ants still thrived, unlike the goldfish that went belly-up when Sarah sprinkled in too much Tetra. The farm occupied an entire counter. Somehow the ants escaped and found their way into the sugar bowl and the plastic-sheathed bread. Every time I squished an ant with my finger, I felt a piece of me loosen and chisel off.

My husband bounded down the stairs, his happy noisiness preceding him. Sarah ran to him, they hugged, chattering, behind me. Pressure welled from my gut to my chest. The room clouded. Outside daffodils poked through snow and the air shimmered blue. I drained my cup, picked up my keys, the morning unbearable.

The Only Baby a Man Needs by Michelle McEwen 
First, there was one baby in the tub and by the time my man got home, there’d be a sweet smellin’ baby ready for bed. It was easy then— I’d close the door to the baby’s room and me and my man would go to our room. Then there was two babies in the tub and by the time my man got home, one baby would be sleeping and one baby would be fighting sleep. It wasn’t easy then— my man would go to our room slam shutting the door like the wide woke baby was my fault. Once, shaking his head, he told me how his aunt put whiskey in her babies’ formula to help them sleep. I don’t want drunk babies I told him. That night, I slept in the babies’ room. Then there was three babies in need of washin’. My man didn’t come home then— he’d just call to see if the babies was asleep. If they wasn’t, he’d stay out ’til they was. Once I lied just to get him home. But when he got home, there was a baby in the hall, one on the stairs, and one, hollering and hungry, on my hip. My man split for sure then— didn’t call ’til he was up north, outside of Cincinnati, talking about how me and the babies don’ took over his house, talking about how babies is women stuff, talking about how the only baby a man needs in his life is his woman.
Message by Marcus Speh 
We are fortunate to live in times of great tenderness. To describe the intimate touch between two of God’s mad children whom we encountered today in the crowd, on the railway, we must use a metaphor lest someone presumes we want to poke fun at the less able as they’re called by well-meaning magistrates of human diversity. The normal people, as they call themselves, looked with suspicion at the crazies hugging in the train. They cannot figure out why the bozos, as they secretly call them, caress each other so eagerly. “You don’t need to hang on to one other”, says their minder, “just hold on to that pole”. His voice sounds practical but not dispassionate. “Okay”, says crazy Jim and as he grabs the pole, another one of the group with dark eyes puts her head on Jim’s shoulder, smiles and sighs deeply. Jim smiles, too. He doesn’t think he’s stupid. Neither do we. Before the train disappears in a dark underpass, I read a feverish message on the tunnel walls: “If everyone hunts the offender who stays with the victim?”
Back to Wk #43 – To the core
Forward to Wk #45 – Broken shells
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