I Was Something Then

by Helen Chambers

The face of tomorrow slides away from my grasp, like catching a glass rainbow on a tablecloth. Tuesday? Wednesday? I expect you told me, but the cobwebs in my brain tangle the connections. In bright shafts of sunlight, I recall the hiss and flick of grasses scratching on my boots. We walk and willow trees dip their fingers into the river where the blue sky and our reflections are trapped gazing back at us. I am warm, too warm and I try to take off my shawl, but the others push it back on my shoulders.

I’m singing, with the others, crowded together, too hot. That song – you’ll know its name. You watch us. They say I mustn’t wave. I must pretend I don’t know you. So silly. Just sing. I know all the words. I was something then. I sang solos, proud and alone, with a strong voice. I have to stand behind the others now and I can’t see.

No more singing, that’s sad. I’m too hot. You take off my shawl, tuck my hand under your arm. Perhaps this is where the man’s daughter leaves. He looks old and sad. My daughter went. Lying in her pram watching the sun fluttering through the leaves. Tiny fingers, big round eyes.

You look old and sad. Did your daughter leave too?


Helen Chambers is a short story and flash fiction writer from North East Essex, UK, who dreams up ideas whilst out walking by the river. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Essex and she won the Fish Short Story prize in 2018. Helen has several publications, many of which you can read on her blog: https://helenchamberswriter.wordpress.com

Moving Day

by Dawn DeBraal

Billy Bergen was picked on by the neighborhood bullies. Lunch money, his new baseball, all his marbles. Billy was tired of the whole thing. Those Delaney brothers, all seven of them, were mean and lived a few blocks from him. The brother always seemed to know when Billy was on an errand or needed to be away from his yard. Billy was so relieved when his mother and father told him they were moving. No more Delaney brothers!

“Where are we moving to?” Billy asked.
“It’s a surprise!” his mother and father told him. Billy didn’t care as long as it wasn’t where he was living now.

It was moving day! A big truck pulled up at his doorstep. Box after box went into the back, along with their furniture. The moving men latched the truck door. Billy and his little sister squeezed into the back seat of their car to follow behind the moving truck. As they were leaving, there stood the Delaney brothers all seven of them, looking sad. They were losing their fall guy.

Billy rolled down the window sticking half of his body out of the car.
“So long, suckers!” he shouted out to the Delaney boys. He even flipped them off as they turned the corner making sure his mom and dad didn’t see that part. The Delany brothers chased after their car but couldn’t keep up.

Sitting with his sister in the back seat of the car piled high with boxes Billy rolled up the window. He sighed with relief. A new place, a new start, a new life. Things were going to be great! The moving truck went about six blocks from his old house turning into the driveway of their new house.


Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband Red, two rat terriers and a cat. Recently retired, she has discovered the love of telling a good story can be written.

Wanted

by Don Noel

Jill hadn’t imagined so many choices. In the chalky light, the buses kept coming and going: to Waterbury, New Britain, Boston, New York, Providence, Philadelphia. She wished she had a map.

The backless metal benches were uncomfortable. Probably to discourage homeless people from sleeping here. Never mind; she kept getting up to watch buses load or unload, wondering if someone like her would be noticeable. Not stand out by age: She was fifteen, but was sure she looked eighteen. No, scared: She didn’t want to look scared.

Most arrivals had someone waiting: Stepping down to the pavement, hugging awkwardly, they hurried to waiting cars. Others moved confidently toward the taxi stand or the local bus stop at the end of the platform. No one seemed uncertain. Except her.

Departing buses gave her time to study the passengers. Most, traveling with friends, chatted as they waited in line, shuffling up to where the driver took their tickets. Some had suitcases to be stowed in the holds, which made them seem purposeful. Those alone stared into smartphones, or smiled, rocking to rhythms in their earbuds. None looked indecisive.

It was chilly. It had been warm at the cemetery, an autumn afternoon whose beauty mocked their purpose, but the day’s heat was long gone. Taking off her backpack, she took out her hoodie and pulled it on, trying to avoid mussing her hair. It warmed her, but made her more conspicuous, she thought: People resolutely going somewhere wore real coats. Without the hoodie her bag was almost empty; she should have packed more. She set it at her feet.

Remembering the cemetery brought tears; she dabbed with an already-damp handkerchief. She had not known until this day that Dad was not her real father.

The scene at graveside replayed in her head. “Jill, I don’t know why you’re crying,” Carol whispered acidly. “You’re adopted. I’m his real daughter.”

Eight years older, her sister had always seemed distant; suddenly she had turned cruel. And apparently wasn’t a sister anyway. Good riddance.

On the other hand, Carol would go back to college soon, halfway across the country to get a degree in cybernetics, whatever that was. At that point, if she changed her mind, Jill would be an only child again — adopted or not. It had been special this year, with Carol away: Mom taught her to sew, and helped her make a Father’s Day shirt for Dad.

She made herself concentrate. A girl got off a bus from Albany, looking lost. In the ghostly fluorescence her blonde hair looked frosted. She stood with her little roll-on, people eddying around her. The Travelers Aid booth seemed to catch her eye. It was dark, though, closed at this hour.

Were there Travelers Aid booths in other cities? And what would she ask? “Excuse me, I’m running away. Where can I safely get some sleep?” Not likely.

The blonde girl was being met after all: A couple came up, quick hugs. Parents? No, maybe uncle-aunt hugs. Whatever; she was wanted. The man took her roll-on, leading away.

Maybe she should ask people about the cities they’d left. “Excuse me, how big is Philadelphia?” Or “Excuse me, is Providence a friendly city?” No, that was absurd.

She’d been wrong not to say goodbye. But Mom was already grieving, and unlikely to have time for a spare-wheel daughter. Was Jill her real name, or one given at adoption? And how old had she been? Would Mom know who her real mother was? Or tell her? Must phone or write when she got settled in wherever she was going.

She’d taken a city bus downtown. Local buses must stop running soon. She wandered a half-block to the bus stop, peering at the sign with the schedule for her route. The last bus for the night had already gone.

That settled it: Time to get serious about deciding, buying a ticket. She went inside the terminal to the huge electronic timetable of arrivals and departures. Within the hour buses would leave for New York, Pittsburgh, Albany, Boston, Toronto. Did one need a passport for Toronto? Irresolute, she walked back to where buses came and went.

A man in a uniform cap, with a taxi-driver’s badge on his tunic, startled her. Thick grey hair, bushy moustache. Nice-looking, old enough to be a grandfather. “Excuse me. Aren’t you Jillian Bassett?”

He didn’t seem the kind of predator you read about, but she was wary. “Why does that matter to you?”

“Your mother thought you might be here.”
“Oh, sure.”
“Your sister told her you’d had a fight.”
“That’s not what I’d call it.”
“Your mother wants me to take you home.”
“How do I know you’re for real?”
“I understand. But I’m a licensed taxi man.” He pointed to his badge. “And I saw you at the service.”
“You were there?”
“Couldn’t have kept me away. We went through high school together.”
“You really knew him?”
“We got together over a beer now and then. He was so proud of you!”
“He was?”
“Loved you. And you must have loved him.”
It was more than she could absorb. “Yes, but I’m not his real daughter.”
The taxi man’s eyes widened. “What do you mean?”
“I’m adopted.”
“Why do you say that? He never mentioned it. Your mother didn’t, either.”
“That’s what Carol said today.”
“Oh, that’s what’s going on. Listen, your mother is going crazy worrying.” He stooped to pick up her knapsack.
She snatched it, cradled it in her arms, a defensive barrier. “I don’t know.”
“Running away won’t solve any problems.”

The headlights of an incoming bus raked across them, then blinked off. She turned. It was bound for New York.

“Your mother has enough grief tonight. You shouldn’t add to it.”
People were beginning to board the New York bus.
“Your mother needs you,” the taxi man insisted. “Wants you.”
“What?”
The magic words again. “She wants you.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Let’s go.”


Retired after four decades’ prizewinning print and broadcast journalism in Hartford CT, Don received his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2013. Don has published more than four dozen short stories and non-fiction pieces, but has two novellas and a novel still looking for publishers.

Someone to Watch Over

by Brian Weston

From my vantage point I have a view into your world.
Your life history. Page by page. Every morning you are the first one awake. At 6:30 you open the back door and let the dog out.
You don’t like the dog. The dog doesn’t like you. You are not its master.
When the morning sun is out you raise your head up into the rays. You immerse yourself in its warmth. For a second you look. Happy.

Then chaos ensues as the rest of the house awake.
In the madness you blend into the background. Invisible in your own house. But I see you. You go to say goodbye to her. She recoils as you move closer. Eventually letting you kiss her on her cheek. She swats your arm away like a fly as you try to caress her. You wander out of the house, looking as if you were the one who had a tail to put between your legs.
The house breathes a silent sigh of relief.

She potters about the everyday mundane that nobody likes to do. At 1pm, Tuesday and Thursday her lover slithers into your house. They could not be closer. Passion and lust in equal measure. They make love on the kitchen diner floor. The new flooring that you laid last Bank Holiday weekend. By yourself. On your own. Alone.

I feel sick for you. I feel hurt for you. I want to tell you. I know if I told you it would not hurt as much. But I am not allowed. Those are the rules. My stupid rules.

Thirteen hours later you return. You move around the room like a considerate intruder. You even pierce the film on the microwave meal as quietly as possible, just to ensure you don’t wake anybody from their slumber. Always kind, always thinking of others.
You start to eat. After a few mouthfuls you raise your head. Chewing, you survey your domain. When you finish chewing you still keep looking around the empty space in the room. You look lost.

Alone. I feel a tear roll down my cheek.

Every morning you are the first one awake. At 6:30 you open the back door and let the dog out. Today you stand in the morning sun. With your arms outstretched it looks like you are trying to hug the sun. I share a smile with you.


Brian Weston is a nervous newbie writer. Loving writing and hope to find people that love what he writes. Alan Bennett is his hero. With Brian Bilston a close second.

Important To Be Grateful

by John M. Carlson

“I’m making spaghetti for dinner, with an apple crisp for desert,” Mom said, as she puttered about the kitchen. “I’d thought of making something special, since it’s your first night home. But I just didn’t have the time.”

“Spaghetti sounds good to me!” Indeed, I liked spaghetti. For that matter, I liked everything Mom cooked. Well, everything except liver and onions.

“I hope you’ll eat a lot of spaghetti! You’ve lost weight. You won’t do well in school if you don’t eat properly!”

Not this topic again! We’d just covered it less than a month before. I said: “I’m no thinner than I was at Thanksgiving. As I told you then, I’m eating enough. I just don’t have a lot of stuff I have at home—like deserts—and I’m walking so much.” Time to change the topic. “Can I do something to help?”

“Well, you could open a bottle of wine for dinner.”

“Sure.” I went over to the cupboard where we stored wine. “Any particular wine?”

“A red wine. Beyond that, I don’t care. It’s all the same—good for the price.” Mom sighed. “‘Good for the price!’ I get so tired of always thinking of the price! I get so tired of thinking of money. I remember what it was like ten years ago, when we could completely fill the oil tank—and we kept the house warmer! Back then, I bought nice wine more often. And back then, ‘roast’ didn’t automatically mean ‘pot roast.’ Come to think of it, when was the last time we had a real roast?”

“No idea.” I thought. The last time I could remember was when I was in junior high. I wouldn’t tell Mom that—I didn’t want to depress her by reminding her it had been so many years since the last time she’d roasted a real roast that her teenage boy had become a man. “It’s been a while. But that’s OK. I like your pot roast.”

“Good. Guess what’s on the menu for Sunday?”

I opened a bottle of wine. I reached into the glass cupboard, and started pulling out a wine glass.

“Use the nice glasses,” Mom said.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. Maybe we should use nice things more often. They are made to be used, after all. And I can trust you now. I remember when you were six, and somehow climbed up to grab one of those glasses. I nearly had heart failure.”

I poured a couple of glasses of wine, using the nice glasses.

We sat down at the dining room table a few minutes later. Mom had me say grace. Then, we began eating. The spaghetti was, as always, wonderful. The sauce was thick, rich, and full of flavor. We had garlic bread that had buttery-garlic goodness with every bite. And the wine might be cheap, but it was good. Really good.

“You probably don’t say grace when you’re at school,” Mom said, “since you eat in the cafeteria.”

“No, I don’t say grace,” I said. Indeed, I could imagine that if I did say grace, everyone around me would think I was crazy. Especially on those all too frequent nights when dinner was beyond horrible.

“I just hope you at least remember to be grateful for all your blessings,” Mom said. “I know it’s hard sometimes—I have trouble remembering to be grateful sometimes, too! But it’s important to be grateful.”

Mom was right. I had a lot to be grateful for. I had enough to eat, even if college meals could sometimes be beyond horrible. I had a chance to go to college, unlike either of my parents. I was doing well. I had good friends. I had my family.

She was also right that sometimes it’s all too easy to lose sight of one’s blessings. One bad event can completely ruin a day that was otherwise perfect.

“I am grateful,” I said. “I am very grateful.”


John M. Carlson lives in the Seattle area. His stories have appeared in a variety of online publications. More of his work can be seen on his website.