She paused on the street, suitcase at her feet, crying under her dark glasses.
She had spent an unpleasant morning packing a few rumpled clothes, old photos and a few faded letters, leaving it till almost the last minute, an hour before he was due to return.
She had no idea what she was doing but she knew she could not stay.
Where was she going to go? She could go to the bridge and throw herself into the murky waters, ending her miserable, useless existence. She might throw the suitcase in first and watch it split in indecent haste, exposing the entrails of her forgettable life, her clothes floating up in soggy puddles of black and grey.
The image in her mind nauseated her, but what else was left for her?
She picked up the suitcase and began to trudge through the hammer of the sun, down the noisy city streets. Hardly able to see where she was going, she bumped into someone.
“Usha?” he said.
She blinked at him and then she recognised him. Raghu, her first love, her crush in school, whom she had not seen since the day she graduated. He had hardly changed; older, of course, and expensively dressed.
He asked if he could buy her coffee and she said yes. He took her dusty suitcase. They walked to the corner cafe. She did not take off her glasses.
“You don’t look good,” he said.
Her voice shook when she said, “I’m leaving Anil.”
“Anil? You married him? But he…” his voice trailed off.
“I was a fool,” she said. “You always told me to keep away from Anil, didn’t you? You were right. I was stupid not to listen. He was everything you said — and more.”
“People change,” he said.
“And some people never do. I found a picture on Facebook — with another woman. They had their arms around each other, the way a man and a woman stand when they have shared a bed. I always suspected all those business trips. Now I know for sure.”
“Did you talk to him about it?”
She sighed, “Many times. He always accuses me of being paranoid.”
“And this time?”
“This time I told him it was no use lying any more. He hit me and told me I was the one having an affair. Me. Where do I do anything but work and keep house?”
The coffee arrived. He stirred his cup.
“It should have been you,” she said. “It could have been you.”
He smiled at her, “No, my dear, you were right to leave me. I was too wild and always in trouble.”
“I thought you would never spend a day sober and I thought Anil would give me wealth and security. Look at you now. What happened to you?”
He said quietly, “You did. When you walked out on me I thought my world has ended. Then I took a look at my life and determined to change. I have not had a drink since.”
She stared out of the window at all the people walking briskly as if life meant something. She wondered what her life would be like if she had followed her heart and not listened to all those who said Raghu was a disaster waiting to happen, that Anil was the up and coming one. She had loved them both and gone with Anil.
But then, if she had not left Raghu, would he have changed at all? Oh, the ironies of life.
“Are you married?” she asked him.
He smiled, “Yes, happily married. Two kids. Run my own company. Life is very good.”
Were there actually happy people in the world? He showed her the pictures on his phone. His wife and the children, laughing.
“I’m such a complete failure,” she said, her eyes tearing up again.
“Listen to me.” He leaned across the table. “You’ve taken a very brave step and there is a whole new life ahead of you. He is the failure, not you.”
“Do you really think so?’
There was anger in his tone, “I know him only too well.”
The phone in her purse began to ring. She took out the cheap shiny thing and laid it on the table. It kept ringing then fell silent.
He smiled. “One day you’ll look back at this new beginning. One day you will find happiness again, just as I did.”
Was it possible to ever be happy? There was nothing in her but a great echoing emptiness. Her marriage had scoured her clean of love, of caring, of everything but despair.
Yet, the dark had ebbed a little. “Thank you.” she said, “I needed that.”
“What will you do now?”
The bridge seemed far away. There was a part of her that still clung onto the suitcase, as if there were a thin thread of hope packed among the folded clothes.
She had an aunt who was alone and would welcome her.
“Perhaps,” she said, “it’s not all over.”
“I wish there was some way I could help.”
About to shake her head, she paused. The cell phone in front of her was ringing again.
“This is about all he ever gave me,” she said, pushing it across the table to him. “He bought the cheapest one he could find.”
He looked at it, puzzled, as the ringing stopped.
“I’d be grateful. A ‘hallo’ will do.”
He began to laugh as he understood. “Oh, I can do better than that.”
“Just let it ring a few dozen times,” she said, “He will not give up.”
“Neither will I,” he said.
She imagined her husband’s face when he heard a man’s voice on her phone, and not just any man.
As she stepped out into the sunlight the day seemed pleasantly bright. She stopped, put down the suitcase, and took off her dark glasses.
Rohini Gupta is a writer who lives by the sea in Mumbai, India. Rohini says: “I have published nonfiction and poetry books and am now writing fiction. Flash fiction is keeping me happy while writing longer stories.” Rohini’s blog is at wordskies.wordpress.com.
The crash sounded like a garbage can being whipped with a chain. John jumped in his plush leather seat. “Goddamn, what the hell?”
He had parked right next to the shopping cart corral, yet failed to notice the rusting white sign bent nearly in half on a corroded yellow pole.
A cracking teenaged boy’s voice taunted: “Can’t you read, old man?”
The words came from somewhere behind John’s brand-spanking-new BMW. But there was not a soul in sight. John had only stopped at this drab suburban shopping plaza in the old part of town because of a Starbucks right next to the old Kroger, the coffee shop where he would occasionally run into Samantha Deutermann, the VP of Marketing. He wanted more than anything to watch her face when she saw his racy sky-blue sports car. His wife Wendy was still angry about the purchase, arguing that she could use a bigger SUV to take the kids and their kids’ friends and all their assorted gear to their endless series of soccer practices. But he decided he deserved something special for his 50th birthday. He rarely thought about the humiliation of bagging groceries at this very same place decades ago, back when he was in high school.
John craned his neck out the window and squinted against a sudden strong blast of grit-filled wind sandpapering his face.
He scanned across the parking lot. A cloud of dust and scraps of paper swirled up, rising like a mini trash tornado. He was careful not to let his Tag Heuer watch scratch the paint on the top of the door of the car. Then just as suddenly the wind died. Not a cloud in the sky. Weird.
Another crunch. This time it was more of a jangling thud, deeper and closer. From the passenger side now. Something definitely hit and scraped against the car. A steel-cage shopping cart was mashed up against the door.
“What the Hell!” John slapped the steering wheel with both hands.
A gangly teenaged boy with an uncombed mop of hair and an apron emblazoned with “Kroger” draped around his waist sauntered over and giggled, The teen bent down and pointed to the beat-up sign and read in a sing-song voice: “Not responsible for damage caused by shopping carts.” His voice hit a supernaturally high falsetto on the world “responsible.”
The kid ambled back to the cart corral, grabbed another one, and with raging teen angst strength smashed it into the car, this time with an extra-vicious glint in his eye.
At the same moment the reality of what that sound meant began to sink into John’s psyche, he heard a loud jangling bang. Another cart launched like an erector-set kamikaze rammed him again.
“Who the hell do you think you are? “ John yelled.
The kid strolled a cart over to John’s opened window and bent down. “Shit man, you need new glasses. Don’t you remember me?“
John squinted against the sun. The face was familiar, like an image out of a dream suddenly recalled with a jerk of the head while dozing off during a status meeting. But he couldn’t put a name to it.
“What did I ever do to you?” John gripped the steering wheel.
“You were born, old man.” The kid spoke quickly, his eyes totally alive. “I always hated guys like you. Thinking you’re a big shot. Pushing people around, always in a hurry. No time for the person right in front of your face.” Then the kid guffawed like a hormone-addled leprechaun and hurled his cart straight into the driver’s side door. The cart screeched as it carved a long gash. “Happy fricking Birthday!”
“You goddamn little crap. I’m going to take you apart.” John fumbled with his seatbelt, flung open the door, and jumped out.
“You’d have to catch me first. Knees are not what they used to be, are they?”
Just before he was going to lunge, John stopped and looked at the kid again. With a shock he recognized the pimply face. His thirty-four years ago self. “Holy shit.”
The kid smiled, the playful mania gone, his eyes now calm and warm and thoughtful. “Yeah, I can’t believe it either. Just look at you. Big stomach. Gray hair.”
“One of us is smoking weed.”
“Maybe both of us,” the kid laughed. “I had to get through to you. Remember how you said you’d never be like your Dad, just working your ass off all the time?”
“You mean do I remember you saying something like that?,” the recollection forced John to crack a smile.
John felt the wind pick up and turned around. Behind him in the center of the parking lot another whirlwind appeared, not just dust and grit, but he somehow recognized other things in there too — a swirling mass of birthday party kool-aid Dixie cups, shredded Christmas present wrapping paper, yellowed Spiderman comics pages, a dog-eared algebra textbook fluttering hopelessly like a shot sparrow, fast food burger wrappers from illicit skipping school jaunts, semen-stained socks, first cigarette butts, spring break road trip speeding tickets, maps for week long canoe trips into labyrinthine swamps, wilted prom corsages, streaming brown ribbon entrails of cassette mixtapes made with dramatic earnestness by old girlfriends, and scrap-relics of beer-smeared promises torn from senior yearbook pages. The whirlwind moved towards them with a roaring hum like a mosh-mountain of punk-rock bees, and John closed his eyes.
When he opened them, the kid was gone.
At least the kid’s body was gone.
John drove back to his three-thousand-square-foot house on its full acre of protected tree-lined cul-de-sac. His plan was now clear. Instead of getting the insurance company to fix the numerous dents and gashes in the skin of his new car, he should sell it and find something more like the AMC Gremlin held together with duct tape he used to cruise around in in high school. Then his only trouble would be what to do with the windfall.
Paul Celmer is a technical writer that lives in Garner, North Carolina.
“NO!” he thunders. “We will not go!”
The children shy away, shrink into the kitchen’s corner, away from Grandpa’s ire.
“We must go,” his son asserts softly. “There is nothing left for us here.”
“Nothing?!” Grandpa cries. “Is it nothing for a man to work his own land? Make a living with his own good hands?” He raises them, brown and gnarled, forms them into fists and shakes them in the face of his son.
He strides to the door and bangs it forcefully shut behind him. Emerges from dimness into light; a sun that beats down boldly on his aching head, his throbbing hands, his tortured heart.
He storms angrily away, across the field with its abundance of cassava plants budding bright in the spring sun, ripe with the rain. How can they even think of going?
His fury overwhelms. Irate, he forgets to turn back, to retreat before he reaches the edge, the threat he does not wish to perceive, not now, not today. But it’s too late, he’s seen it already, the water leaking into the farthest furrows, encroaching upon the edge of the field. His field.
Cursing, he bends towards the withering flowers and branches, smells the salt. He feels the loathing rise again in his heart, the hatred of his people’s greatest and most ancient treasure, the source of their bounty and succor of their souls.
The wall has again failed, has let in the seawater that laps along the coast, along an ever-decreasing coast.
He turns his back on it and glares out over the remaining field, the remaining furrows filled with crops. Good fertile land but less and less of it every season, less with which to feed his family; to feed any family.
His son is waiting when he returns, gazing, like him, at the farm: half-alive, half-vanished, half-vanquished, half-gone. His grandchildren sit giggling in the dirt at its edge, patting the soil into cakes and then smashing them, sending the earth flying.
“We are going,” his son repeats. “You must come, too.”
Grandpa shakes his head hard, shakes his fists harder. “No, my son,” he pronounces with conviction. “I will not go. I will not be a squatter on another man’s land; earn my living by begging on doorsteps; become a scavenger, a vagabond, a homeless wanderer. A man does not abandon his native land!”
His son glances over at his children, playing cheerfully in the dirt, the soil of the country he loves, too; was born and raised to revere.
“We are not abandoning the land,” he answers quietly. “It is abandoning us.”
And then they are gone. Grandpa remains. He watches season after season as the lapping at the shore grows nearer and louder, enveloping the field and farm while he hovers at its edge, kicking the dirt, savaging the earth fast fleeing his feet.
It draws ever closer, the sea he despises. At last even his memories descend into its maw: the cakes fly no more; his grandchildren choke on a slurry of swept-away soil.
Lori Schafer is a writer of serious prose and humorous erotica and romance. Her short stories, flash fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her first two novels, My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged and Just the Three of Us: An Erotic Romantic Comedy for the Commitment-Challenged, will be released in 2015. Her memoir, On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, will be published in October 2014. You can find out more about Lori and her forthcoming projects by visiting her website at lorilschafer.com.
The following are just some of the 109 reviews from CarpenterAdvisor.Com for Doctor Cal’s Custom Cabinets.
4 out of 5 stars
The cabinets are awesome. The owner, Doctor Cal (that’s what you call him) gave a really low quote and an estimate of four days to finish the cabinets in my kitchen, and he made that quote. Can’t complain about that. The guy Doctor Cal had do the work was a little weird, sure, but how can I complain about these cabinets coming in on time and on budget?
3 out of 5 stars
I agree with the other reviewers, Doctor Cal came in on time and on what he estimated. I love the cabinets, but I think we had the same employee the others were talking about, the one Doctor Cal called Gary. He was very creepy. He never spoke, he moved around slowly, like he was under water. He had dark sunken eyes. He never stopped working on the cabinets. He didn’t stop for a coffee or for lunch, he just churned on with the cabinets. My kids were freaked out by him. They would see him and cry. And this Gary never said anything about it. I like the finished work, but ask for someone else, someone who isn’t sleepwalking through the day.
5 out of 5 stars
I got cabinets and a show!!! We got the the product we asked Doctor Cal for and then we had Gary to watch. He looks like a backup singer to the Bauhaus band, or Kraftwerk. You know, Dieter from Saturday Night Live, that’s what he looks like!!! How cool. I watched him work and work and work and never stop and just shout out, “Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!” He didn’t react at all, just kept on doing the fine work he produced. When Doctor Cal came by to spot check Gary’s work, he asked me “Not to interact with the somnambulist, he must concentrate on his work.” Of course I still interacted with him, he was in my house after all. I guess a somnambulist is someone who does cabinet work. The English language is filled with crazy words I never heard of before.
4 out of 5 stars
I have never had wood work like this. The cabinets seem to be alive. I know. I sound crazy, but when I touch the wood they put in, I feel like it’s breathing. Or at least vibrating. It makes me feel peaceful, a little bit sleepy sometimes, but I don’t worry about any of my cares. It’s like nothing I ever had installed, but that’s some nice kitchen work that changes my mood.
1 out of 5 stars
It’s not worth it. Having these monsters make something in your house, it’s not worth it. The cabinets were lovely and very affordable and in just one month of having them, we removed them and put in new ones from another contractor. They reminded me too much of Doctor Cal and his worker. I can’t explain it any better, just pick someone else.
4 out of 5 stars
Doctor Cal doesn’t do the work. His tall assistant, dressed in black, does. Don’t talk to him. He won’t respond to anything you say. I think Doctor Cal gets recovering drug addicts to work for him. Yes, Gary was buggy, but you are getting good cabinets and helping the downtrodden.
1 out of 5 stars
I can’t figure this out, but since this company put in my kitchen cabinets, I’ve been sleepwalking. I wake up and I’m in the kitchen. Not every night, but at least once a week, I wake up in the kitchen. The other night I woke up and was holding an awl. I don’t own an awl. Where did the awl come from? This is not me going crazy, this is the cabinets, I’m sure of it.
5 out of 5 stars
I love Doctor Cal. The cabinets look amazing. I saved money and now my lay-about grown son is working for him. Yes, my son with the Master’s Degree in History is actually out of the garage apartment and earning a wage. He is working with Gary making cabinets. He looks thinner than he used to be, and he doesn’t call his mother anymore, but hell’s bells, my son has a job! This is the best company ever!
David Macpherson lives in Central Massachusetts with his wife Heather and son George.
There weren’t no way I was goin’a win that lottery. Either way I was too old and there were the babies to look after now. I don’t regret it no ways but seein’ them ships lift off towards heaven and away from what was comin’ — that was hard. Seems there ain’t two things made for traveling on them fancy space ships — old women and babies. When stuck between a baby and a ticket off of earth to escape death — well, they reckoned, who needed something to hold them back? Plus there was jabberin’ on about how a baby’s bones don’t grow right in space. But like I said, I don’t mind them no ways.
There is Lottie, Lord for two does that girl have lungs like from the Devil! Keeps me up late. And Charles aged three, but I call him Picasso ‘cuz he is always coloring up my walls. Boy ruined fine wallpaper from my memaw’s time. But it was fadin’ anyhow. Them walls will all be lower than dust from what they sayin’ on the news.
I ain’t took but four of the children that were left downtown. There were about fifteen, but an old woman like me can only do so much, can only give so much. All the cryin’ that day with their names pinned on and scribbled, paper flappin’ in the wind like dying birds. Only took a handful, but I am doin’ my part. Lil’ Mary, she is as quiet as a rag doll and then there is Baby Colby who looks like my Mary Grace, God rest her soul. Every time I look into those hazel eyes I see my daughter, gone from this world for twenty-five years now.
They will know that what they left for me down here is much more precious then anything they will find up there. Before now I was a lonely old thang. Sure, there was my church and social times on Sundays but, Lord — don’t Christians forget about a person the rest of the week. I spent my days gardenin’; soothes the soul to get one’s hands dirty digging into the warm blackness of the earth. Watching sprouts turn into tomatoes and sage. Nothin’ like it, no, sir. And I have my chickens cluckin’ about. The children love the chickens.
On sunshine afternoons I got Baby Colby swaddled nice and tight in her bassinet as I get my little Picasso’s hand around a small shovel guiding it into the same ground my pepaw and I worked. Some nights we got storms run through. Nothing big to frighten the babes but that play of lightnin’ lickin’ at the horizon’s bend, the soft rumble of thunder. Ain’t really nothin’ on TV anymore besides that astroid, Apophis they call it. No need to see that. I prefer the evenings with storms ‘cuz then you can’t see it glarin’ down at you. Mocking you as if the countdown on the TV ain’t enough.
Sometimes I don’t sleep. The babies will cry out in their sleep. Lottie’s always the ringleader on that. It starts with one and then all the rest follow. Babies know something’s up. Babies always know. I do my best to sing to ‘em but nothin’ works.
Another night lost and day gained. Tired hands wiping tired sweat. Sometimes I close my eyes out in the garden while Picasso makes art out of the mud. Close my eyes and see the promise of what yesterday was and what today coulda been. My Sam humming to himself as he walks the rows droppin’ seed. My belly full of growin’ life. My daughter bein’ born and runnin’ around the porch chasin’ a dog. And somewhere further my grandbabies pullin’ at my apron while fresh bread bakes and jam waits. But none of that happened. Sam died in an accident on his way home from the lumber mill, Ford smashed flat by a cargo truck that veered into his lane. Head on. I imagine it was quick. God could do that for him. And Mary Grace, Lord. Gone from SIDS.
A yell from little Charles pulls me back to now. He is a’jabberin’ and a’pointin up to the afternoon sky and I see it. No clouds or storm to hide it. Like a beast prowlin’ or a cat before it pounces and we are the cricket. Just like that Baby Colby starts to wail and on cue there goes Lottie too. I bring them in and comfort them. I wish I had Sam here to comfort me. I don’t know the hours or minutes I got left and I am okay with that. I got these babies to take care of. Being as lonely as I have been, ain’t nothin’ that can please the heart more then to got someone or something to take care of. I suppose in that regard I won the lottery.
By nightfall the winds pick up. Ain’t no type of night I had seen no ways. Might as well be dawn. I read to the babies from Aesop’s Fables. Their favorite — “The Tortoise and the Hare”. Fittin’ I reckon since we are like the hare runnin’ and a pantin’ though life, and death is always there, slow and steady, and we are bustin’ our butts to beat it but he laps us in the end. The winda’ shutter’s are a flappin’ now and I would swear the sun is up. There goes Lottie and the rest.
Thunder is a’rollin down on us now. Flattenin’ us down against ourselves and I cling to them babies and there is silence in that instant. Babies always know. And there we are clingin’ to the end of the world and I am okay with that because I got them and they got me and soon Sam will be with us and my little baby girl Mary Grace — and that’s the jackpot.
Joschua Beres has previously been published in Bohemia, Every Day Fiction, The Kitchen Poet, Literary Orphans and has work included in the anthology Milk and Honey Siren. His chapbook Forty-Five Seconds was released in 2014. Joschua is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Literati Quarterly which launched in 2014. He is majoring in Anthropology at Texas State University.