Justin spent hours talking to his tattoo, Jill; and most of the time followed her advice. When he was sad, Jill would do a little dance which always cheered him up. If his friends came over to play games and joke around, she would fill his mind with laughter and many witty remarks and he often would share them with the group. To everyone else she was just another tattoo, but for Justin she was a friend and companion, until he met Sabrina.
Sabrina was gorgeous with long, dark hair, a full figure and a spontaneous personality. His heart burned intensely whenever he saw her or heard her voice. At first, Jill was silent and said little. Justin thought it was very considerate of her to allow them their privacy. But it was not long before the silence became snarky remarks, pointing out things Jill considered flaws – her ears are too pointy, isn’t one of her nostrils bigger than the other, or will the chairs support those thighs. Jill’s comments got more personal and eventually became outright insults accompanied by rude hand gestures. Despite Jill’s attempts to sway Justin’s feelings, he only had eyes for Sabrina.
In frustration, Justin returned to Living Ink Tattoos searching for answers. The tattooist, Bill, had just finished giving a customer instruction on how to care for her new tat and she was leaving as Justin waited inside. Bill had several tattoos and piercings, though some found his appearance to be intimidating, he was one of the nicest people you could hope to meet.
“What can I do for you, Justin?”
“Well, I have a new girlfriend and Jill just doesn’t like her at all.”
“Ha! I don’t do relationship counseling.”
Jill was apparently in a very bad mood because she began to mumble about counselors wearing ties not tattoos, having desks instead of glass counters, and books instead of drawings.
Justin ignored her ranting. “Let me look through your portfolio again.”
Bill began to flip the pages, pointing to options that he considered his best works of art. Daggers, webs, and dragons were among his personal favorites. After he flipped a few pages he came to a man riding a motorcycle. The wind blew in his hair and he wore black leather from head to toe. Jill gasped then hummed to herself. She told Justin this is what a real man looks like and asked why he did not have any leather.
“I’ll take this one, Bill.”
“Good choice! Where do you want him?”
“Let’s put him on my shoulder close to Jill.”
“Let me step into the back room and prepare to work the magic. I’ll be right back.”
After a few minutes Bill returned with three bottles of ink and began, as he promised, to work his magic. They talked about motorcycles, craft beers, and women. Time passed quickly and before long Justin was admiring the new tattoo in a mirror.
“You do miraculous work, Bill. I think I will call this one Jim.”
“Thank you. You already know how to take care of it. When you are ready for the next one, I will be here.”
By the time Justin got home, Jill and Jim were practically engaged. Sabrina met him at the door and greeted him with a long passionate kiss. With Jill focused on Jim, he could once again enjoy his time with Sabrina. Justin now understood why you never see anyone with only one tattoo.
Eddie D. Moore travels extensively for work and he spends much of that time listening to audio books. The rest of the time is spent dreaming of stories to write and he spends the weekends writing them. Saturday Night Reader will be publishing one of his stories in print July 2015 & online 8/6/15. He can be followed on Twitter @EddieMoore27.
My mother said maybe it would help if I got blond streaks in my hair. I said I didn’t think it would make any goddamned difference but I went out and got my hair highlighted anyway. You’ve got a lot of hair, the stylist said. Shit, she said, I wish I had your hair.
But it didn’t make any goddamned difference.
On the fourth of July, Marcus and I wandered around Capitol Hill trying to find Reggie’s building so we could watch the fireworks from the top. We got a late start because Marcus couldn’t decide if he wanted to go or just sit around at Bug’s. At the last minute he decided we should go, but then we got confused by the whole Northeast/Southeast thing. We were lugging around a cooler of drinks and that slowed us down a bit. By the time we found Reggie’s building the fireworks had started, and it was too late. They were all up on the roof watching and the door was locked. We sat on the front steps and listened to the fireworks pop overhead. We drank beer from the cooler. We couldn’t see anything through the trees. The humidity in the air made my skin feel tacky all over. But just the day before Marcus told me that when I smiled, it was like I was giving him a present. So there was that, and the beer was cold.
Later that night we walked back to Marcus’s place. We were a few blocks from his house when he said, “I was thinking, you know, I’m 34 years old. The girls I knew 10 years ago, the really great girls, are all married now or living with someone and I’m thinking maybe I missed my chance, maybe I missed all of my chances to be with someone I could really connect with.” He stopped walking, and turned to me. I figured he was going to break up with me.
“So, I was wondering if you wanted to marry me,” he said. He was looking down at his empty hands. Bug walked by and saw us standing there.
“What are you guys doing?” Bug asked. Marcus said he was asking me to marry him. And what did you say, Bug wanted to know. I told him I said no.
Then Marcus said, “Can I get you a cab?” I said sure. He flagged one down and I got in and said I was going to Alexandria. Marcus and Bug stood on the curb, peering in my window. Bug was eating a Snickers. The cab driver looked at them, then at me.
“Are they going to Virginia too?” he asked.
“Just me,” I said.
It amazed me how short the cab ride was from Mount Pleasant to Alexandria. I didn’t even have time to cry. On the metro it takes an hour but the cab ride wasn’t more than 10 minutes at that time of night. Before I knew it I was back in my apartment with my burgundy couch and broken window shade.
I gave my brother Jason a call. He invented a girlfriend, Nina, instead of going through the trouble of finding one. My mother loves Nina, although she’s never met her, and Jason doesn’t have any complaints about Nina either, so I thought he might have some advice about my situation. Jason suggested maybe I should try going out with someone who smokes a little less pot. Someone like that might be able to get somewhere on time and, in addition, not be an asshole, according to my brother.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” I said. “You really got the brains in this family. Too bad you’re such a delusional little shit.”
“I may be delusional,” he said, “but at least I didn’t pay two hundred bucks to get stripes in my hair.”
I told him I got it highlighted. Foil highlights, is what they really are. And it cost me three hundred, not two hundred. It’s the American dream–the right to pay someone lots of money to make you look stupid. It means I’m a success, and Marcus is not, because he barely has enough money to get his hair cut, let alone colored or tipped or whatever. I picture him in his room in the attic, playing his bongo drums, the breeze blowing through the open window. He is enjoying the cool hum of the fan, the last cigarette before bed. He is thinking about all the girls he once knew, the really great girls.
Deborah Siegel is a writer and editor living in Alexandria, Virginia.
Everyone knows the four rules of Punch Buggy:
• If you start the game, you can’t be the first to quit.
• Convertible bugs are worth two punches.
• No blocking hits.
• When playing with a girl, you don’t hit hard.
Karl broke the fourth rule.
From the back seat, I watched Liz do her best to be brave, but a tremor in her lower lip hinted strongly at her pain. Karl knew he’d fucked up. He danced back and forth between being apologetic and trying to play it off like it was no big deal. Neither approach drew Liz out of the angry silence she’d folded into. The Bug rattled past us heading north. Surfboards strapped to the roof with bungee cords threatened to fly free at any second.
I fought the urge to jump into the situation. Karl and I went back a ways but when Liz came into our lives things became awkward. We both liked her, she liked us, and that was fine as long as we were just friends. But it’s tough staying just friends with the hottest chick at Stonewall Jackson High. Karl is a big meaty guy who laughs easy and he makes girls feel safe around him, so unsurprisingly she gravitated his way.
I hoped his unsportsmanlike punch would knock her out of his orbit.
“Hey Liz, there might be some ice in the cooler if you want,” I said.
“I’m okay,” she replied.
“Get some for my hand,” Karl said. “Her damn thigh is like a rock. What’s with you swimmers anyway, Liz?”
She cut her eyes at Karl then turned back towards me, her face softening.
“Thank you, James. You were kind to offer.”
As much as I loved hearing my name from her lips, I did feel a little bad for Karl. He didn’t mean to hurt her. I know from experience. My Pops, when he slugs Mom, now he’s trying to hurt. It’s always when he’s drinking, which is why I don’t drink. And it’s always after she says something like “I never shoulda settled for you.” Which is why I try not to let words bother me too much. Thinking about my parents reminded me of why I was glad to be away with my friends and how I didn’t want this stupid thing with their game to ruin our Ultimate Summer Road Trip. We were headed to Avon to meet up with half the senior class for the fireworks. Sun, sand, surf, and no chaperone. I’d been dreaming about it for months.
Karl gave up trying to make amends and slouched sideways in his seat, gripping the top of the steering wheel in one hand. After a minute he cranked up the radio to about 90 decibels, blasting us with “1999” which, no disrespect to The Purple One, I was tired of hearing. It’s 1999. We get it. Party on.
Liz rolled down her window and stuck a bare foot out, wiggling her toes in the wind. Over the next thirty miles I contented myself with studying her calf, ankle and foot and decided there were far worse ways to pass the time.
A fat water balloon thwapped against the windshield as we pulled up to the beach cottage. Liz bailed before the tires stopped rolling and hobbled over to a cluster of girlfriends who screamed and laughed like they hadn’t seen her in a decade. A couple of guys two-fisting Solo cups met Karl and me at the front door. I took one to be polite. Working our way through a gauntlet of backslaps, hugs, fist bumps, and high fives we claimed a pair of couches in the living room then raced out to the beach. Although barely after four, a bonfire was already roaring. The sharp hiss and crack of butterfly rockets punctuated the boom of heavy surf.
I was so damn happy in the moment I almost forgot about Liz, but then I noticed her strolling toward the ocean in her Daisy Dukes and a pink bikini top. Karl was looking her way too so he didn’t catch me staring.
“Chicks, man. Chicks. Do one dumb thing and… man. Go figure.”
“Yep,” I said.
Karl chugged his beer then jogged toward a pickup football game. Liz glanced our way and gave me a slight finger wave before plunging in the ocean.
Fireworks from the show at the Avon Pier burst overhead, bathing everyone in a fleeting glow of reds, whites and blues. I lay propped up on my elbows in the sand munching on a s’more when a familiar pair of feet stepped next to me.
“Hey you,” Liz said.
She dropped to her knees, sloshing beer from her cup on my shoulder.
“Oh shit, sorry.” She wiped the beer with her hand, succeeding only in spreading it down my arm and across my chest. “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” came out “Shorry. Shorry. Shorry.”
She giggled and kept wiping away. I laughed and put my hand over hers.
“Don’t worry, Liz. It’ll evaporate in two seconds.”
She turned her hand over. Her fingers entwined in mine. With profound, glassy-eyed sincerity she said, “You’re so nice. You know that? I always liked you.”
I couldn’t get a “thanks” out before she’d leaned in to kiss me. It was a full-blown lip lock, swirling tongues and everything. It was the kiss I’d fantasized about for the last three years except this was even better because she’d made the move instead of me.
But the longer we kissed the more I became aware of something wrong. I felt her… trying. There wasn’t anything behind the kiss other than a momentary drunken impulse. The fireworks in my head should have been louder than the ones popping off in the sky above us, and definitely louder than the echo of Mom’s voice mocking, “I never shoulda settled for…”
I sat up, pushing Liz gently away.
“Karl’s really sorry,” I said. “He just doesn’t know how to say it.”
J.C. Towler spins tales of mystery, suspense, science fiction and is particularly fond the deep, penetrating horror tale. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is his home which is odd considering he’s afraid of the ocean and doesn’t eat fish.
Sitting behind his computer in his dorm room, Carl Weston grinned at the email he had just received. “Mom’s inviting me home for Springberg’s ‘Dependence’ Day celebrations,” he told his roommate, emphasising the typo.
On July 3rd, Carl arrived in Springberg. He pushed open the porch door. “I’m home, mom.”
“Since when have I been ‘mom’,” his mother called from the kitchen. “It’s ‘mum’.”
As always when Mrs Weston was cooking, the kitchen was chaotic.
“Shall I take the trash out?” Carl offered.
“‘Trash’? Take out the ‘rubbish’ if that’s what you mean. What kind of English are you picking up at university?”
“I get it,” said Carl. “You’ve gone all British for Independence Day. How quaint.”
With his mother regarding him curiously, Carl tied off a bag of garbage and took it out to the trash can.
A municipality truck was parked outside and workers were putting up decorations along the street. Carl did a double take. Instead of ‘Springberg Municipality’, the truck had ‘Springberg Council’ written along the side. And there was no way those flags being fixed to the streetlights were the Stars and Stripes. The blue rectangle in the top left corner had the requisite number of stars, but they were superimposed over a British flag.
“What’s happening?” Carl asked a municipal worker who was unfurling a banner with the message ‘Happy Dependence Day’ on it.
“What do you think’s happening? We’re preparing for tomorrow’s celebrations.” Grinning, the man pumped the air with his fist. “U.C. A.,” he chanted. “U.C.A.”
Back in his mother’s kitchen, Carl asked, “What does U.C.A. mean?”
“United Colonies of America, of course,” said Mrs Weston. “Get me the butter from the fridge, will you? Thanks, dear.”
Thoroughly mystified, Carl excused himself and went upstairs to his bedroom. From a shelf he took down and opened An illustrated Encyclopaedia of American History.
‘Criminal acts,’ read Carl,‘by the Boston Harbour Saboteurs against the Motherland’s economic interests, led to the War of Dependence (1775-1783). After the Blue Coats’ defeat, the Fledgling Fathers of the thirteen Colonies signed the Declaration of Dependence. This signified an end to hostilities and pledged allegiance to the Crown.’
Stunned, Carl flipped to a picture of the flag saw being hung from the street lights. The accompanying text said, ‘The American flag is commonly known as ‘Starry Jack’. The stars represent the fifty American colonies, whilst the main body of the flag incorporates the Motherland’s famous ‘Union Jack’.’
“Come down, Carl,” Mrs Weston shouted from the foot of the stairs. “Your dad’s home.”
Carl closed the book and let out a nervous laugh. “This must be a prank,” he said, scouring the room for hidden cameras. “Let me just play along.”
Carl found Mr Weston out on the porch.
“Nothing like a sun-downer on the veranda,” said Mr Weston, pouring himself a gin and tonic. He indicated the cool box beside his chair. “Grab yourself a can of bitter, Carl.”
It wasn’t until late evening, when Mr Weston raised his glass to toast the Queen of England, and when Mrs Weston suggested that after the Dependence Day parade they could watch the one-day cricket match, that Carl’s patience finally ran out.
“Enough, already,” he said, his speech slurred by alcohol. “This is the United States of America and tomorrow’s In-dependence Day. I don’t know what reality show deal you’ve signed, but this isn’t funny.”
With that, Carl got to his feet, went indoors, stumbled upstairs and flopped onto his bed.
An hour later, tiptoeing to the kitchen to get a drink of water, he overheard voices from the porch.
“This is just like Jeff McCarthy’s daughter,” Mr Weston was saying. “She kept going on about weird sports no one had ever heard of – basketball, and a game she called baseball.”
“I blame university,” said Mrs Weston, “and all these drugs the kids experiment with. So what are we going to do about Carl?”
“The McCarthy girl became normal again after just a week at Springberg Mental Asylum,” said Mr Weston. “Let’s wait until after Dependence Day, then get Carl sectioned at the asylum.”
Making a U-turn, Carl tiptoed back upstairs. “It’s not me that should be in the nuthouse,” he murmured, and lying on his bed made plans to escape from Springberg.
Next morning, blaming his previous evening’s behaviour on a twenty-four hour virus, Carl accompanied his still suspicious parents to the Dependence Day parade. There was the ‘Sad’ King George the Third float (‘Sad’ due to the rebelliousness of his subjects), the Battle of Bunker Hill float with Red and Blue Coats re-enacting the great English victory, and marching bands in eighteenth century regalia beating drums and playing penny whistles.
When the hero Benedict Arnold’s float had passed by, Carl made his move. Ducking in and out of school children attired in period costume, he crossed the street and headed for the bus station.
Once the Greyhound reached its first rest stop, Carl breathed more easily. Inside Gracie’s Diner he ordered coffee and waffles off the menu. Only now could he reflect calmly on what was transpiring in Springberg. There had to be a secret government department that dealt with this kind of thing, hadn’t there?
Staring out the diner window, Carl watched as the side of the Greyhound bus shimmered. The sleek greyhound motif transformed into a pugnacious canine face, and the lettering altered until it spelt out ‘Bulldog Buses’.
Then the waitress arrived at Carl’s table with his meal.
“I didn’t order buttered scones and tea,” Carl insisted, snatching up the menu in time to see ‘hamburger’ change to ‘fish and chips’ and ‘apple pie’ change to ‘rhubarb crumble’.
“Is everything alright, sir?” said the waitress, frowning.
Carl wasn’t sure how to reply. There was something important he needed to remember, but try as he might, he didn’t know what. Instead, feeling a bit of a chump, he smiled up at the pretty young waitress and said, “Happy Dependence Day, miss.”
Paul A. Freeman is the author of ‘Rumours of Ophir’, a crime novel set in Zimbabwe. His narrative poem ‘Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers’, and his second crime novel, ‘Vice and Virtue’, have also been published. Over a hundred of his short stories have appeared commercially in print. He currently lives in Abu Dhabi with his family, and despite reports to the contrary, he never swims in the nude. He can be found at www.paulfreeman.weebly.com.
“A boy. A boy will come to see me on some day when it’s raining,” Mr. Torrance said. “You can’t let him see me. He’s going to say he’s my grandson. He’s not my grandson. You can’t let him see me. Got that, Marcus?”
I might want to say when he told me this, where I was, what I was doing. But I can’t tell you, because he told me this a bunch of times. Sometimes when he was in his bed. Sometimes, while I made sure he was eating his lunch. I could check in on the rec room and get this statement.
My responses were always pretty much the same. I might say, “Sure thing, Mr. Torrance. I will tell your grandson that you don’t want to see him when he shows up. No grandson visit, check.” That was usually it. Nothing else to say. But one afternoon I couldn’t help myself and asked, “Why would you say that, Mr. Torrance? I mean, you don’t get visitors at all. And now you are telling me that if a kid shows up you don’t want to see him. I mean, me and the other attendants are great company, but I don’t think we’re the same as a grandson showing up.”
He looked up from his fruit salad and said, “Because it’s not my grandson Marcus. It’s me. Me as a young temporal traveler. I know he’s coming, and I have nothing to say to him. Never have. Never will.”
At Reynold’s Home, that’s where we end the conversation. Now the thing about this place, and why we attendants get paid pretty good coin, is that all the people who reside here claim to be time travelers from way back. Yeah, I know. What’s that about? I’ll tell you what that’s about. It’s about five dollars more an hour in my paycheck, so the residents who live here are whatever they want to be. And who’s to say that they aren’t? There are things out in the world that I don’t comprehend, so why bother. Besides, the place is well run and the folks are as good as you would want.
So when Mr. Torrance says his grandson is actually him on a different timeline, fine, let’s move on with our conversational topics, shall we? Days passed. Months passed. Things pass like that at any rest home. Time moves on.
Then one afternoon, I was leaning against the help desk, making flirt talk with Agnes, when a cute ten-year-old with apple cheeks came up saying he wanted to see Mr. Torrance. That he was his grandson. Agnes, adorable thing that she is, was going to let him pass, when I put the halt on. I said I had to check.
I went to Mr. Torrance and asked him, “You got a visitor. I don’t care if he’s your grandkid or a spy from Planet X or whatever. You have a visitor, Mr. Torrance, that’s like gold.”
Mr. Torrance paused and thought about it and he looked kind of teary. “Can’t do it, Marcus. Can’t see myself. Can’t look at what I used to be. I don’t need that memory, from then and now. I am too old for circular time lines.”
“That’s a no, then?” I asked. He closed his eyes and nodded. He began to cry.
I went to the front lobby and there was the kid talking baseball with Agnes. I said, “Kid, your granddad isn’t up to it today, you might want to try another time.”
The kid looked hurt, “But this is the only time I can see him.”
I was going to say something, but Mr. Plaistow put down the paper he was reading, and rolled up in his chair and said, “Hold on there. I hate to see a cute kid come all this way and then be turned away. Why don’t you talk with me?” He had a desperate lonely look on him, but a lot of them have that look, so it wasn’t too different from normal.
The kid said, “I don’t know. I don’t know you, mister; what would we talk about?”
“It doesn’t have to be talk, kid,” Mr. Plaistow said. “We can watch TV, we can play cards.”
The kid looked up. “Cards? My grandfather taught me cribbage. I like playing that.”
Mr. Plaistow jumped in, “Sure, sure. I love cribbage. We can play cribbage.”
“My grandfather always said you can’t play without some wager. How about a quarter a point?”
That shook Mr. Plaistow some. He thought on it and said, “Sure, sure. But I don’t want to take your money, but sure, that’s fine.”
He and the boy went to the rec room and I went back to making pleasant chat with Agnes.
A couple hours later, the boy left and he was whistling and bouncy. I checked on Mr. Plaistow and he was there at a table with the cards and the cribbage board still out. His checkbook was out as well. “The kid wiped me out,” he said. He then rolled away without saying anything else.
Next stop for me was Mr. Torrance, who was crying. Crying hard. But it took me a moment to realize that it was tears of laughter. “Yeah, I totally ran the board with him. Seventy years ago and I still remember wiping the floor with that schlemiel. Double skunked him three times”
“Wait, Mr. Torrance, do you mean that you didn’t want to see him so your younger self would hustle Mr. Plaistow?”
“Back then, I was poor, starting out walking through time, I needed some fast money. Plaistow was, I mean is, an easy mark. I know it just happened, but I remember it like it was just yesterday.”
I left him and went to Agnes and said, “From now on, no one gets visitors.”
David Macpherson lives in Central Massachusetts with his wife Heather and son George.