the best of 52|250's fourth quarter

The Editors’ Farewell

The fourth quarter closed at 52|250 in May 2011, and with it came the last challenges for the editors. Those included choosing the best writing and artwork from our last thirteen weeks – a daunting task because the quality of work kept getting better and better as the year went on – and also committing ourselves to the same task we set our frequent flashers, to take a well known story and give it a new edge. Here we bring you our last new stories at this venue – riffs on The Three Pigs, Rumplestiltskin, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, and Aesop’s The Hawk and the Nightingale – plus our selections for the best stories written by the editors of 52|250 during the final quarter. Because, as always, we love to write, too. So thanks for stopping by and letting us say one final farewell.

Michelle Elvy
lives, loves, and writes on her sailboat Momo and is presently located in New Zealand. She is founder and co-editor of 52|250 and is the fiction editor of Blue Fifth Review‘s Blue Five Notebook series. A 2010 Pushcart nominee, she has published numerous travel articles and her creative fiction and non-fiction can be found in places such as Poets and ArtistsMetazen, Words With JAM, Like Birds Lit, 6S, Blue Print Review, Ramshackle Review, ROOM, Istanbul Literary ReviewGloom Cupboard, and A-Minor
Three Houses

The first house I built was in the early 1990s. Pre-internet software engineering firm. Boom! went our stocks. My father tsked his tongue, muttered things like house of cards and Icarus. But I was pigheaded, grew the company fast and furiously. Invested in shiny black NeXTcubes, played DOOM til 5am with Marty and Jeff. I secured bank loans and spoke at California conferences with Steve Jobs, got a sprawling cherry desk with a view of Boston’s harbor. Then a cold wind blew in, huffed and puffed and kaboom!went our stocks.

The next house I built was in 1999, a bonafide urban walk-up lovenest. Stan and I moved in together within three months of meeting. My mother tsked her tongue, called it a house of fire. But I was pigheaded and didn’t listen – and he was hot. Neighbors carrying groceries smiled at me in the stairwell. We drank wine and played chess at night, made love ’til dawn. Then a cold northerly blew in. Her name was Ilse. She huffed and puffed ’til he moved out. I licked my burnt ass and didn’t call my mother for a month.

Then I built my third house. Both parents tsked their tongues, but I knew they secretly like this one. It’s smaller than the others – more modest than the first, more secure than the second.  And it can stand up to the wind. So when the cold northerly huffed and puffed this time, I hoisted my sails and went with it.

The laugh which was always there  from Week #47 – Blind spot  
When Henry Watson’s 1980 Buick LeSabre skidded off the road, he expected to see his life pass before his eyes. They say that happens, the whole birth-to-this-minute flash. Instead, he saw only parts of it, some parts he’d never seen before, like when his daughter found him masturbating in the closet – he’d felt mortified, almost zipped himself. What he saw now, in the moment the LeSabre careened round the corner and dived into the muddy ditch, was not the look of disgust he’d assumed (which had covered his face) but something else entirely – amusement or possibly even understanding. The masturbating turned into blending malts in the kitchen with the lid left off: there was his wife in the corner, long before cancer ravaged her perfect body, her mighty laugh exploding at the eggs on the ceiling and the malt powder on his checkered shirt, her soft hand caressing his unshaven face. There were other moments, too: a sudden and violent slap across the face of his three-year-old son which he’d regretted for thirty years, a blinding sunrise in Athens, a scowling man outside the shop where he purchased his coffee every morning for thirteen years, the whitetail of a buck gamboling away yesterday as he lowered his Browning and didn’t fire, a waterfall somewhere in upstate New York – roaring like his wife’s mighty laugh which was here again, too. The laugh which was always there, even as he lost sight of everything and the world went black.
Nothing happens at sea  from Week #49 – Cold front  
“Nothing happens at sea,” he had told her, and for the most part he was right. Mile after mile is the same: the blue sea-sky-scape he’d always known, the slow undulation of ocean swell, the maddening froth and staccato rhythm of storms, the constant hum of wind over canvas. An occasional pod of dolphins, an occasional albatross. An occasional moment of terror with an unfamiliar noise. An occasional evening symphony in the cockpit – sometimes Brahms, sometimes Zappa.

On this passage, there’s Christmas pudding, too. Every day, because she gave it to him as a parting gift. She is in the pudding. She is everywhere.He had laughed when she gave him the pudding, 40 tins in al – one for every estimated day in the Southern Ocean  –  for the rich bricks will last much longer than his passage from Auckland to Punta Arenas. “So you won’t forget me,” she had said, patting the boxes gently. “I will not forget you,” he’d said. “But will you come back?” He had not answered, for as sure as she is from there, he is from nowhere.

But he feels the answer pounding in his chest, and he thinks it was wrong to say nothing happens at sea. Because he sails east but looks over his shoulder with every sunset and feels his heart change. He feels her hot whisper in the cold wind, and he’s not so sure he’s a nowhere man any more.

John Wentworth Chapin runs a writing center and teaches writing in Baltimore. He uses his middle name to increase his googleability. John is co-founder and editor of 52|250.
Still Crazy After All These Years

Dr. van Roos made quick observations at the midpoint of her Wednesday afternoon Stockholm group: the miller’s daughter played with hem of her Chanel jacket, Hansel stared at his fingers, Rapunzel checked her headscarf in the pierglass while her thumbs worried a dark stone, probably that same filthy trichobezoar.

“I can’t shake the feeling that he’s lying in wait,” the miller’s daughter whined. “I dreamed we went to Six Flags. Rumplestiltskin was too short for any of the rides, so we ate funnelcake.”

Hansel groaned and shifted his gaunt frame. He quickly looked around at the group and muttered a quiet apology. Any mention of food did him in.

The miller’s daughter continued. “Why do I dream about him?”

Rapunzel interrupted. “I don’t mean to be rude, but – doctor? She married her king and he’s the one who locked her up. The whole point here is that we’re trying to stop having feelings for our captors, right? Not helpful elves.”

“He wasn’t an elf,” the miller’s daughter snapped.

“You all were only locked up for a few days. Try years,” Rapunzel sniffed, tugging a ghost strand of hair.

“She wanted to eat me,” Hansel whispered. “Now she’s gone and I can’t even friend her.”

Dr. van Roos reminded the group that trauma is trauma, regardless. “This is not a competition,” she admonished. The three queens’ antagonism raised the emotional ante. Group sessions were a nice trick: her hourly take tripled.

Eggshell White Frigidaire from Week #49 – Cold front 

When he was seven, he and his four-year-old brother hunted raspberries in the ravine. They found an old abandoned refrigerator covered in brambles. He continued filling his coffee can with blood-red berries, maneuvering carefully around thorns, eating any over-ripe fruit. He called for Will but got no response; Will’s can was perched on the old off-white refrigerator. Will was inside: warm, not breathing, limp as a wet towel. He pulled Will out and their jeans and skin caught on the brambles. He tried to drag his brother, but it was too much. He ran for home, screaming for help in the silent ravine. A hollow space opened inside him.His mother gaped as he blabbered incoherently, dripping his own blood and vomiting bloody red raspberries onto the linoleum. He couldn’t make her understand; he was hollow. He ran from the house with his mother on his heels screaming at him to stop and come inside.

When they got to the bottom of the ravine and she saw what had been Will, she ran to her boy, flaying herself on the brambles, shaking him and pounding his chest and kissing her baby. He threw up again. The hollow space engulfed from within, emptying him.

“What did you do to him?” she howled at him, at the brambles. But he was a blown egg now, fragile around nothing. He had no answer for his mother, then or decades later, long after she stopped asking.

After the Fall from Week #51 – Unintended consequences

Pop-pop and Lily were in the garden again. His hands were knobby and mottled, ugly things, but she took them without hesitation when he offered them to lift her out of the dirt or onto his knee, setting her there like a giggling princess. Pop-pop couldn’t talk since the stroke, but his gestures were broad with warmth and love.Dee, Lily’s mother, watched from the porch, hiding her rare cigarette from her father and her daughter. She was as ambivalent about Kent III’s as she was about her formerly monstrous father charming his granddaughter. For a long bit of her childhood, he’d come drunkenly into her bed and made a mess of her life; it started after she quit ballet and ended around her first period. She had to count the years on her fingers, but she remembered the markers.

She forgave him, she supposed. It had been easy to do so at the hospital when he was gray and papery. Now, it took a cigarette to steady her when she watched him touch Lily, another drag to quench the fire when Lily shrieked with delight. Dee trusted him, but she couldn’t look away. Yearning, horrified, resigned.

Perhaps he was hollow, without memory behind his now watery eyes. Perhaps this was a peace offering. Perhaps it didn’t matter. They were a family, now, these three: child, widow, widower.

Lily aped a pirouette and collapsed giggling onto Pop-pop’s lap. Dee inhaled.


Walter Bjorkman
is a writer, poet and photographer from Brooklyn, NY, now residing in the mountains of Pennsylvania. His poems and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in THIS Literary Magazine, A-Minor, Phantom Kangaroo, Poets & Artists, O&S, Wilderness House Literary Review, Blue Print Review, Metazen, Dark Chaos, OCHO and MiPoesias. His collection of short stories, Elsie’s World, was published in January 2011. He is Associate Editor of  THRUSH Poetry Journal.
The Raptor and the Songbird

The Raptor’s Hymn

why do you cry to no avail
you are held by one
in your place of inertia
you will go where I lead

I will make dinner of you
or set you free

only fools try to resist the strong
for they never shall prevail
and then suffer in pain as well
as disgrace

The Songbird’s Plaint

why do you hold me at your command
I come to sing of flowers and fields
in your arena of dominance
I would go where I will but cannot

I will not taste so good
in my shame

the bold make nothing of themselves
when force comes to feed
in my pain there is
no sustenance

Keeping it under wraps from Week #42 – Under wraps

It was a plain white papered bundle, held together by twilled white cord in a cross pattern, square-kotted and slip-bowed, tucked tightly high up under his arm. The train approached the station at quarter to nine, late evening. As the steam whooshed out from the undercarrige, the worsted-suited man rose up the steps, grabbing the railing with his free arm, the package securely cradled in the other.

He immediately turned right into the last passenger car and moved swiftly down the aisle towards the last compartment, opened the door to see the small, balding, mustachioed man he knew would be there. Sitting beside him was someone totally unexpected, a young, urbane, dark and stately woman in a large hat and veil. The strangers exchanged glances and nervous nods, as the package lodged now deep into his breastbone.

The pudgy man arose quickly at the next stop and lurched across the compartment as the train screeched to a halt. This left the strangers alone for the rest of the trip. Both read the entire way, the woman buried deep into the stock pages, the man holding up a folded newspaper in the one free hand, never letting go of his load.

Both got off at the last stop, the woman walking towards the dimly lit parking lot as the man got on a bus, still hanging on tightly to the now crumpled mass. He arrived home, placed the bundle on a table to open it but was tired and went to bed.

Three Oceans from Week #52 – Threesome 

CHILD

A dream of eerie, oddly-shaped fish dominated my sleep some nights as a child. Afraid and rapt with wonderment, I could not tear myself away, awaken on will as with other frightful ones. I was slowly suffocating, descending deeper into waters that somehow remained just as clear, and although each non-breath seemed to be my last, it went on and on, intensifying in its awful fascination and constriction on my lungs, until some external factor woke me.

YOUNG MAN

I worked the waters of Miami’s gritty river for ten years, sometimes in the cramped hold of a millet-filled ship, where the grain for the hungry Haitian poor was piled everywhere. It got into my lungs, it provided slip-relief, like sawdust, from the oily floor. I also worked the gleaming docks of the shimmering Biscayne Bay where Americans came to bathe in the false hope of the Caribbean, hoping for some days of freedom.

Working in the spacious cruise ship laboratories with their white surgeon’s suits and fresh paint, I couldn’t help but wonder about the disparities — the Chief Engineer, a man of distinction, the scow captain a man of disrepute.

Then the pure joy of stopping by a Mami-Papi comedor, soaking in fresh-fried maduros where this conflict of Miami faded away into nothingness.

OLD MAN

Now I think of neither but see an azure sky casting diamonds on red coral specks in the sands, and dream of the white foam of a wave receding from your breast.

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3 responses

  1. Thank you so much, for such a great venue and the themed inspirations to get everyone writing something each week! You’re all the greatest! Really looking forward to your new venture, Michelle, John and Walter! Thanks for a great trip!!!

    October 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm

  2. These are all wonderful, but I have to admit my favorites are the ones most readily recognizable to me as fables or fairy tales. The first one, about the three pig’s houses, was absolutely brilliant!

    October 4, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    • thanks, Cathy! what a fun collection we made for this last challenge together!

      October 4, 2011 at 9:33 pm

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