52|250's Third Quarter Review

Editors Flash! Public Appalled!

From your Editors’ pens…

Yes, that’s right: we scratch on paper sometimes too. Elvy prefers pencil; Bjorkman does it with a 0.7 Sarasa Zebra; Chapin scribbles with whatever he gets his hands on. Here your editors deliver three new stories, written to themes selected by a trio of the most frequent flashers this year, Catherine Russell, Linda Simoni-Wastila and Susan Tepper. Set us a task, we said. And they did: Write, they said, three stories about the themes Cube, Square, Roots. Stumped us, they did. But we don’t shy away from a good challenge.

You’ll find these new stories below, followed by two of our best stories each from the third quarter, as selected by our Co-Editors.

Michelle Elvy

Roll with it: A Cube Story
Roll the die. Three. Past present future. Which you gonna take? Past is dead even if Faulkner says it ain’t so. Present is a blinding maze. Future? Don’t even go there….Roll again. Six. Count the days since you spoke to each other. An eternity, a six-day war of silence. Draw a line in the sand and stay where you are. Don’t talk don’t listen don’t blink, don’t break don’t breathe don’t think.Just throw the die again…One. Easy. No chances taken, no games. Never mind what Donne said. You arean island.Five. Can’t sleep, you slip in and out of this moment. There’s a roulette table in your dreams, black-red-black-red-black. Five words in a promise: I will never leave you. Never say never, you’d thought but hadn’t said.Four. You roll again, blow for luck which works ’cause this time you’re back in Carolina, out behind the old Route 4, kneeling in red dirt, your brother grinning and the worms in the pot wriggling, Papa and Pattie calling you to supper. The past is dead but it’s a good dream still.Wake up and roll again. Dreams aren’t real, this is. Game’s about to end so you hold the die, squeeze it, squint. Roll and… two, not what you expect. Early morning light coming through the blinds, and he’s walking through the door. Take his hand, wake up.
Charlie’s Travels (from week #31 – Missed the bus)
Charlie Hancock missed the bus. Started walking.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Charlie Hancock boarded the bus, sat in a seat in the back, the  same seat he always chose.
He didn’t stop anywhere or talk to anyone, just kept walking.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa He looked around at the familiar faces, the ones he saw every evening on the Number 9, felt a pang of guilt — but only a small pang.
Out past the town line, to where Main Street turned to gravel and then dirt.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa He remained calm as the bus came to a stop at the corner of Pine. He slid down low in his seat and waited for the next passenger.
He came to a field, sat under the shade of a large oak and began to cry.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Sweat beaded his brow as he watched the man board the bus — this man whom he’d planned to follow home and shoot for all the right reasons.
He pulled out the gun, tossed it far as he could, forsaking revenge.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa But on this night the man was carrying a bundle which cooed and smiled while he paid the driver.
Then Charlie wiped his brow, stood up and walked toward the grassy spot where the gun had fallen. There’s always tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow I might not miss the bus.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa And Charlie, losing all resolve for all the right reasons, decided then and there against revenge.

~

Tell me what you think (from week #27 – Lost in translation)
“Dites moi ce que vous en pensez,” said the old woman. “Tell me what you think.”The girl had been gazing at the canvas, an astonishing explosion of color amidst a grey background of tattered cardboard and greasy clothing and tired plastic bags, and she now sensed the woman’s gaze on her. What could she say? That she wanted to press her cheek into the cool ocean purples, put her lips to the milky sky and drink? That the sweep of greens and browns rising up with the sun’s golden fingers parting the trees just so hinted at the home she’d left and nearly forgotten? That the feathery texture of the grasses down low reminded her of the brush of her lover’s hand on her neck, that she was sure that the depression in those tall wildflowers was made by him and her, right there. And that the line of black birds off in the distance placed a thin, cold emptiness in her chest which had nothing to do with the November Parisian morning?For a moment, she wondered if she could take this woman around the corner and buy her a hot tea, sit with her and talk about the color of warmth and love and home, of sorrow and loneliness and fear. She wanted to know how an old woman could capture everything that was in a girl’s heart in such a small square. Instead, she tossed a coin into the woman’s worn grey cap and muttered: “Oui, c’est bon.”

John Wentworth Chapin

That Beach
You could see their footprints in the sand still, a man’s feet and a boy’s almost-man-sized ones next to them. From the beach blanket and chairs and canvas bag of Pringles and Diet Coke and paperbacks, the footprints went down to the ocean and then back up again, interwoven with sandpiper prints.

Years ago, at the same beach, the footprints might have circled a large pit dug in the sand or several sand angels. The years before that, maybe castles with sand drippings like candlewax on the minarets. A few years prior, the boy’s footprints were intermittent; his father carried him when he was tired or the sand was too hot.

Soon, perhaps, there will be another set of prints, a young woman’s maybe. Maybe it will be the man’s prints alone, walking solo to where the ocean wipes the sand clean and leaves nothing.

City Streak (from week #30 – Urban convert)
Darlene’s dad had sent her down here from the county to keep her from the drugs and the pregnancies that had trapped her older sisters. She missed him, but there wasn’t really a place for her there anymore, and that was okay. She liked thinking of herself as the One Who Got Away.

When school was about to let out for the summer, she needed to find a reason to stay in the city, so she got a job around the corner sweeping hair at the little crummy salon that churned out little fat women with pinked curly hair. They had daughters they fought with and daughters-in-law they fought with worse. Darlene listened carefully; clearly, unless she figured out things for herself, she was in trouble no matter whether she was out beyond the bus line with her father or here in the city. The old women were miserable, and the young women were miserable. They all nestled up against convention and obligation, and it beat them down.

As far as she could figure, the only way not to be one of them was to be something else. She played with the coloring chemicals at the salon after hours; weird hair was enough to keep immediate trouble at bay for the short term. Keeping the world at arm’s reach over the long term was going to take more than some colored streaks and unconventional cuts.

~

The Last Birthday Party (from week #34 – Floating away)
The boat crashed into the concrete bank and the little boy shrieked, delighted: “Do it again!” His father tried to put it in reverse with the remote, but the engine only whined. He directed the boy to turn the boat around.

“You broke it already?” she said.

He said nothing.

“Come back to the party. We’re going to do cake soon.”

“It’s his birthday. Let him play.”

“Mommy, look!” the boy shouted, nudging the boat away from the edge.

“Careful, sweetie,” she called, her tone shifting to warmth. She hissed five minutesand disappeared over the embankment.

He joined his son at the water’s edge and toggled the remote. The propeller spun a moment, urging the boat forward, then stopped. “That last crash might have been one too many,” he said.

The boy took the remote and carefully pushed one lever forward. The engine caught and reached full speed, leaving a tiny wake. The boy grinned up at his father: two rows of white baby teeth.

“Turn it around now,” the father suggested. The boat continued forward and then the engine died, stranded fifty yards away in the middle of the pond. The man sighed; he took off his shoes and rolled up his pants legs.

“Can I come?” the boy asked. The father looked past his son up the embankment and nodded. The boy held onto his father’s hand as they waded together out into the shallow, frigid water. The boy giggled, splashing his father and howling at the cold.

Walter Bjorkman

Roots of a cubed square
He sits surrounded in his six by six by six grey padded cell thinking about his wife at home cooking dinner the same as last week the two kids playing in his wonderful yard his loan at the bank the same rate as everyone else for the privilege of living in a house as good as the one next door a house the same as the one next door matter of fact his wife the same as the one across the way his kids the same as the two down the block his wonderful yard the same as everyone in the subdivision and for a second a minute no more than three he thinks about his father and mother on a steamer coming from farmlands abroad and landing in a big diverse city where they did all sorts of jobs and lived in a house different than all the rest and he and his sister were different than all the rest and he wonders what happened then crunches out the same numbers as all the same accountants in all the same grey cubicles on the same floor he will never leave except to go home
drifting in pictures (from week #34 – Floating away)
there I stand brave and tall
chest flooded with pride
holding the backend of a raft
Bobby Lange, I recall holding the otherside
on this buttered toast of beach for the public
in his poor man’s heaven, my Dad called itHe would finally arrive
with candied treats melted and warped
from his two-hour drive – late fridays
we heard him come before he did
— but I have told this story
too many times for me before
now this one on the last blanket
that last summer day I didn’t know
would hold no more, not with my Father beside
on the same day we built that raft to get out to the rock
playing dive-bomber one-hunded yards from the shore
the runt of the pack, I was the first u-boat
preparing to be attacked –
jump from one end and traverse underwater
the twenty-four foot long edge to survive
children’s depth-charger feet, unknowing
that by next summer someone would die,
not I
three years later a visitor in the bungalow
He built what was our lifetime ago
– once me in a big old tin bucket
having my first swim at two (and a half)
while my Father sawed and hammered and smilednow that heaven not ours but a cousin’s
two fast weeks for me, not a lifetime in three months
the raft is found smashed flat against the fifty foot sand cliff
we would slide or tumble in a ball to get down
a dead-grey driftwooded dry raft, I now eleven and a halflift it up to bring to the ebbing tide

~

The Gowanus. Expressway, not canal (from week #37 – Border town)
The Gowanus. Expressway, not canal,
a blue steel turned green turned paint gray
turned green paint gray steel elevated road
that whisks other people to the pancake streets
of manhattan in the morning to return them
to their grass-green supper lives
too far away to imagine but close enough
to drive to, that in its cradle
against new york harbor
keeps one group
safely from another
except for the daring on each side
that would tryst and fist under its never
green shadows – groups that never walk away unsated
in their hunt for desires not felt on either side of the crescent
called Gowanus where you hunker down over a sheet laid out
on the dirt in the cave formed by the concrete support
that you climb up and over and under the green gray girders above
down into where highway and park workers keep their implements
door locked three times shut die-casting your future in money and blood
if this next roll doesn’t come up eight

4 responses

  1. CUBE SQUARE ROOTS

    You each met the challenge with stunning stories. All are so vastly different but equally beautiful.

    Michelle’s gave me the ally I need after a tough morning.

    John’s lifted me out of the hot blaze burning my feet.

    Walt’s is a fragrant dream of all our pasts to return to.

    Thank you, Susan xoxo

    May 11, 2011 at 12:20 pm

  2. Really great work in this final challenge laid before you all. A special treat!

    May 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm

  3. Challenges well met! Interesting takes on the prompts.I think my favorite though was- well, nevermind because I have too many to name. Beautifully done. :)

    May 12, 2011 at 9:37 am

  4. randalhoule

    Well done. Where’s the fav button? lol

    May 21, 2011 at 12:58 am

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