BLACK THURSDAY (a short story) by L. Milton Hankins

BLACK THURSDAY (a short story) by L. Milton Hankins

As well as I remember, Aunt Lucy Mae mentioned she was born around the time World War I ended, which would have made her about eighteen or nineteen years old as I was preparing to start to school. I have fond memories of those “good ol’ days” when things were booming. Folks were feeling good about the future, new businesses were sprouting up everywhere, and the First National Bank opened its doors not half a mile down the road from our house.

Little we knew about the future! I recall a Thursday morning:

Granny was readyin’ up the breakfast table when Aunt Lucy Mae flounced downstairs–late, as usual. Granddaddy folded his Daily Mail slowly, laid it beside his plate, and slid his chair back far enough so’s he could cross his legs. I could always tell when Granddaddy was upset because everything about him slowed down. I mean everything! Every gesture, every word, every move. I’ll always venture Lucy Made knew what was comin’, too.

“G-o-o-d mornin’,” she said to no one in particular, sliding into her place between the table and the back wall. “L-o-v-e-l-y day!” Lucy Mae couldn’t say an adjective without drawing it out to kingdom come.

“Damn nigh evenin’,” Granddaddy muttered. He folded his arms across his chest. “Lucy Mae, can’t you manage to get down here on time for breakfast one of these days?”

“Oh, Poppa, don’t get all revved up. It’s too n-i-c-e a day to get off on the wrong foot. Besides, the bank doesn’t open until nine.”

“You want bacon?” Granny said.

“If you don’t mind, Momma.”

Aunt Lucy Mae arranged her plate and utensils like she liked them while Granddaddy stared at her. I was finished, but I sat with my hands folded in my lap–waiting. Something as brewing.

After a while, Granddaddy scooted his chair back and leaned forward, elbows on the table, his hands wrenching together, his bushy, gray eyebrows quivering. He never took his eyes off Lucy Mae, and it was clear he was working up to something good.

“Sarah,” he said to Granny, “Fetch me that letter!”

I saw Lucy Mae flinch, but she didn’t look at Granddaddy. She picked at her fingernails, careful not to chip off the polish.

“You know anything about this here letter, Lucy Mae?” Granddaddy said.

“Why…what letter’s that, Poppa?”

“I’m talkin’ about this here letter from your bank that come yesterday. It says they’re taking out fifteen cents for keeping my money! That’s what letter!”

“Oh, P-o-p-p-a, that’s what we call a service charge. Everyone who has an account pays a service charge,” Aunt Lucy Mae said, “Is that all’s troubling you?”

“Troubling me? Troubling me?” Granddaddy said, his voice rising a pitch each time he said it. “Lucy Mae, when you got that job down at the bank I thought I’d help them out a bit for hiring you by letting them take care of some of my money. Not all of it, mind you. Just enough so’s you’d look good. I give it to you to take down there for me, and the next thing I know, I’m getting this here letter saying they’re aking my money fifteen cents at a clip.”

“Poppa, you don’t understand–“

“I understand perfectly well that bank of yours taking my money fifteen cents at a clip. It says it right here in black and white!”

“Poppa, you told me you’d agree to put your money in the bank if you could get it out any time you wanted it. Don’t you remember? So I put it in a checking account so you can draw it out any time you want to. Now, that’s the way it’s done.”

“Well, now,” Granddaddy grunted. “That’s a fine howdy-do! I put fifty dollars in that bank an’ I figure I ought to get fifty dollars out any time I want it, like you said, but according to this here letter, I only get forty-nine dollars and eighty-five cents down there now ‘stead of fifty. The way I see it, when you put your money in one of them banks, you’re just givin’ them people your money. No wonder them bankers can lay up in bed til noon while us working people’ve got to get up with the sun.”

I was beginning to understand something bout the banking business.

“Eat your bacon, Lucy Mae,” Granny said. “You’ll be late.”

“Late…hell!” Granddaddy thundered. “Maybe Lucy Mae shouldn’t bother to go in at all. She’s making money for them jest bein’ my daughter. Take my money down there like that! Get up at noon and come down here and eat my food. If that ain’t the life I don’t know what is!”

“Poppa, it’s h-a-r-d-l-y noon.”

“That’s not the point, Lucy Mae,” Granddaddy said, “The point is I want my fifteen cents back. Now you either get me back my fifteen cents…or I can go down to your high-and-mighty bank and get my fifteen cents back myself! Everybody in this whole county can get took in by that new bank, but they’re not taking your daddy in!”

“Poppa, you s-i-m-p-l-y don’t understand. You’re supposed to keep putting your money in the account, and the bank makes its money off everyone’s account. All the accounts pay a service charge. That’s where my paycheck comes from. The bank looks after your money. It’s in a vault. It’s protected, don’t you see?”

“My money comes from workin’ this here farm! I ain’t leechin’ none of my money off another man’s hard labor! And, as far as protecting my money, I can damn well protect it for myself like I always did. What I want to know is are you gonna  get me back my fifteen cents, or am I going to have to go down there and get it myself.”

“P-o-p-p-a, a service charge has to be deducted–“

“Well,” Granddaddy snorted, “I reckon that answers that question!” He shoved back his chair further and stood up. “Eat your bacon and go down to your bank, Lucy Mae. Go on to work and d-e-d-u-c-t some more money from some of them other people’s accounts.”

It looked like the matter was settled, so I went on about my business, but I noticed Aunt Lucy Mae didn’t look none to happy when she left for work.

Later than same afternoon, Granddaddy headed down the road. He was wearing his best Sunday-go-to-meetin’ suit, tie and all. When I asked him if I could come along, he said he had some important business to tend to and I’d best stay home with Granny.

“You goin’ down to get your fifteen cents, Granddaddy?” I inquired innocently.

With a trace of a grin, he said, “Never you mind about that, boy.”

I don’t know what happened down at the bank that Thursday afternoon, but I do know the following Monday morning Granddaddy was sitting at the kitchen table with a satisfied look on his face as he tallied up his money, the doors of the bank were closed tighter’n a drum, and Aunt Lucy Mae stayed in bed all day long!

 

 

 

FLASH FICTION* by James Merritt

FLASH FICTION* by James Merritt

[*Editor’s Note:  James Merritt is a pioneer in the development of a fresh literary genre known as “Flash Fiction.”  Flash Fiction, in short, is stories told in the fewest words possible. They may have their roots in “meme,” We are pleased to have published some of Merritt’s early work.]

A great giant sleeps with only his beard allowing man to see him. The trees and scrub grow the beard from him. In the day all other vegetation turns to dust, his beard shall fall away and the giant will awaken. The giant will go forth and crush the last humans surviving. The time of the giants will come again. Many types of world endings have been foretold. Since I will not likely see the end, I will choose to believe an ending of my own making.

 

JOY IN HIS EYES

With joy in his eyes he took his father’s hand and walked to the morgue. His father explained his mother would not speak, open her eyes or move. The boy said he understood. They walked in, and his mother was laid out covered by a white sheet. The father began to weep but the young boy’s eyes did not shed a tear. He took his mother’s hand and flashed back to all of his memories with her–the moments she smiled and laughed with him, the moments she wiped away his tears, the moments she kissed his ouches away. When his memories caught up to the day, he spoke. He told his mother he would cry for both of them and laugh twice as much to keep up her end of things. He told his mother not to worry or fear as he would be okay.

His mother often took pictures of their life, so he pulled out her phone he had hidden away in his pocket and took one last selfie. He promised his mother he would take lots of pictures so she could see him grow. He squeezed her hand one last time as his father stroked the hair away from her eyes. The two joined hands and walked from the room.

The boy kept his promise and took a hundred photos each day. Later in life, becoming a photographer, he brought his best photos to his mother’s grave on her birthday.

At the age of eighty-two he lay on his death bed and had the nurse take a last photo. The nurse took the photo to the old man’s mother’s grave. She did not look at the picture until she got to the graveside. When she lay the photo down, she saw it had a strange light glare in it as if someone was standing by the bedside holding the old man’s hand.

THE JOLLY GAYS

Two jolly gay men strolled through the park hand-in-hand, loving each other. Each reminiscing their lives together; staring up at the trees and stars above. Their children grown, and retired, they were truly the perfect couple. Walking to a bench they sat and disappeared as the universe itself would crumble if they continued one more perfect day. Perfection in all its glory cannot happen here.

 

 

 

 

THE FLEA-INFESTED TRAMP by James Merritt

THE FLEA-INFESTED TRAMP by James Merritt

A long time ago in Eastern Europe, what is now known as Germany, a stinky beggar awakened and sat up out of the stale piss-smelling straw he called his bed to a grand realization. Fleas!–the small black flecks that ate at his already skin-and-bones body, that were causing him the most grief, would soon be his greatest relief.

BEGGAR

It was impossible to tell the beggar’s nationality because of the millions of black bugs which covered him from head to toe. His “grand realization” was that he would put them to work. So, he began the struggle of training them. He taught them to jump through hoops, walk a tight rope, and created the greatest flea circus of his time. His circus was such a hit with the local village they stopped throwing rocks at him and replaced the rocks with vegetables. He didn’t mind being hit in the head with a cabbage, as that meant he had dinner for the week.

When he got all the fleas trained, he started training larger insects, like flies, bumblebees and even a butterfly. People stopped attacking him altogether to see his show and even tossed him an odd Bob or two. He invested the funds back into his business as he didn’t like sleeping inside, and baths would sure kill half of his performers that lived off his flesh. He was growing weaker and weaker while his show grew stronger and more popular.

Once the king himself came to see the beggar’s tiny circus.

THE MEDIEVAL KING

He offered the beggar a better life. The tramp refused the king, as no normal man would dare. When the king was moved to insist, the tramp proffered his greatest defense. The king’s confrontation and the ensuing defense brought the show to a close. The fearful audience ran away.

After that no one came to his shows or even acknowledged his existence. They ignored him no matter what amazing new acts he crated. He even used an eyelash to paint the fleas into clowns, but no one cared. Without money or food he gave up his body to his performers to devour, dying in the straw under the bridge he called home.

The day he died, his soul was met by a great god-like being that recognized his love for his performers although they had stolen his life. The being offered him a second life–one of magnificent performances. He was reincarnated as a politician.

He was perfect for his new profession–man’s version of a performing flea sucking the life from society, but performing so magnificently that no one cared. He was draining the life from his audience–his constituents–or anyone who would listen. He spent his second lifetime without seeing a single flea–ever!

On his second death bed, he missed his family so much he decreed that his body was to be interred in the local sewer so that it would once again feed the only creatures he really loved–the blood-sucking flecks of death and disease. From the former flea-infested politician sprang the greatest disease known to man.

The reincarnated beggar referred to it as the kiss of a friend; others called it the Black Plague.

DEER HUNT (poem) by Judson Jerome

DEER HUNT (poem) by Judson Jerome

DEER HUNT

Because the warden is a cousin, my

mountain friends hunt in summer, when the deer

cherish each rattler-ridden spring, and I

have waited hours by a pool in fear

that manhood would require I shoot, or that

the steady drip of the hill would dull my ear

to a snake whispering near the log I sat

upon, and listened to the yelping cheer

of dogs and men resounding ridge to ridge.

I flinched at every lonely rifle crack,

my knuckles whitening where I gripped the edge

of age and clung, like retching, sinking back

then gripping once again the monstrous gun,

since I, to be a man, had taken one.

 

SINGULAR LIVING (a poem) by Eleanor F. Johansson

SINGULAR LIVING (a poem) by Eleanor F. Johansson

While in a moment of reverie

I began to trace when I’d lived alone.

A couple of times, I lived in a room by myself.

Once was a-way back in early college days.

I wasn’t all alone, though.

There were other girls in the house

Inhabiting their single rooms.

 

Later, where I worked, there was Staff Housing.

But that wasn’t all alone either,

Again, each person had a single room.

Just a place where it was singular living.

So…when have I lived alone?

 

As my reverie continued, I had to ask myself,

“What does ‘living alone’ mean to me?”

Is it when the place you live in

Is not shared with another living thing, or

Another human being in a caring, loving relationship?

Or living with that singular sense of aloneness inside,

Even when other life forms are around you?”

I had to answer, “All of the above.”

 

My times of living alone have to include

Many of the years of my thirty-two year marriage.

Living alone came gradually as the caring,

Loving relationship was disintegrating.

When living together turns into being single together,

There is an aloneness of a singular experience.

 

I began to experience more about living alone

When I “house sat” my brother’s home in another city.

Even having some familiarity with where I was

Did not take care of me as much as I needed.

Finding my way outside of that which I knew,

Having to take care of the details of a car accident,

All contributed to creating a nightmarish experience.

 

Then came that which I call really living alone.

The house in which I lived no longer resounded

With the sounds of family living.

No longer any children’s records’ sounds

From the stereo in the living room.

 

My piano in the cellar was silent.

Since the players had moved away.

The laughter and arguments were gone, too.

But I was still asking,

“Was I living alone now?”

 

The players of the piano would come back now and then.

Wouldn’t they?

And they’d bring their little ones to play

The children’s records on the stereo in the living room.

Wouldn’t they?

They will come for Holiday get-togethers, and

Of course they will come spend Mother’s Day with me.

Wouldn’t they now?

And in between they will telephone

Just to ask how I’m doing

And to tell me their latest news.

Sure, they will, won’t they?

 

After my youngest telephoned in the afternoon,

My question was still with me.

“Hi, Mom. Could you take care of the boys for me while I go—–

You don’t sound too good. Are you alright?

I hate to ask, we haven’t been over for a while.

It will be a chance to spend some time with your grandsons.

We love you. The boys miss you.”

When their visit ended, living alone felt palpable.

 

Next I call the second to be born to me,

Greeting her cheerfully. “Hi, how are you?”

“Tired. I’m working pretty hard at my job.

I don’t have time for anything.

Oh, I went out with the girls last Saturday.

And, Oh ya, I am going on a Benefit walk next Sunday.

Outside of that I don’t have much time for myself.

Have you heard from my sister lately?

I don’t know what her problem is.”

 

Her question hangs in space, unanswered,

While I called another to let him know I’m alive.

“Hello? Is ‘at you? This is me. How you doing?

Haven’t heard from you for an awful long time.

I’m just around the corner,” I reminded him.

“Ya, I know. You just woke me up.

I started work at 5 a. m. this morning

And I didn’t get home until ten last night.

Talk to you some other time.”

 

As I say “Good bye”, I remember,

My first born walked away from his family

Years ago and had not returned.

Longing to have him home again

Floods my heart as time passes on

While my life has answered my question.

 

EMPTY NEST

EMPTY NEST

 

© 1992 Eleanor F.  (nee Johansson) Gamarsh is a mother, crafter, writer and multi-media artist.  She lives with her husband Fred in Gardner, Massachusetts.  She participates in GALA’s Open Mic Poetry Readings, exhibits her art, and has contributed poetry to a published book Inspirations and Expressions 2012.  Her poems have appeared in her local newspaper, the Gardner News, and her essay “On Mother’s Day Gifts” was featured on the front page in May, 2016.

 

LILLIAN (a short, short story) by James Merritt

LILLIAN (a short, short story) by James Merritt

At 5’9”, Lillian was a tall girl, slender–except in her hips and bust. She grew up like most girls with her social standing.  Her father worked constantly, and her mother was often away from home.

LILLIAN

LILLIAN

Lillian had four private tutors who educated her in the arts she was to memorize in order to gain for herself a proper suitor.

By the age of fifteen, Lillian knew her world was not the place she wanted to live, so she fled to America–more specifically–New Orleans. Being a single woman sailing the high seas with an all-male crew, she learned the survival arts–what would keep her fed, and who to keep out of her bed so she wouldn’t end up dead.

Scurvy was the first thing to welcome her when she landed. It left her weakened and hospitalized. With no family ties and limited funds Lillian ended up where did many women in her situation–sleeping at Saint Josephine’s. The pews were hard. And, having to listen to a sermon was required; but at least, she was inside, safe from the outside world. The muscular, albeit flamboyant priest kept his charges safe while they slept.

NEW ORLEANS

NEW ORLEANS

Lillian’s days were more of the same monotonous–breakfast at the church, walking through the dress shops. Looking for work, and eventually heading down to the docks where, remembering her tutor’s lessons, she met hungry men and relieved them from a healthy portion of their meat money.

Lillian always saved half of the income from her nefarious activities. Even, sometimes, when she was hungry and cold. A quarter bought her fine dresses, hats, gloves and things to make her appear the lady she was bred to be. A quarter took care of her living expenses.

On good nights, a few ships would come in, and her port would swell with the number of men who called on her. Other nights she slept with a mayor, governor or visiting diplomat. The more she saved the higher the man had to be and the more he had to pay to get his “timbers shivered” in her Davey Jones Locker.

Two years quickly passed since her adventure had begun.  As luck would have it, on one of the ships a familiar salt disembarked—yes, this seasoned sailor had been her childhood sweetheart. As he had come of age, he had come in search of Lillian. His heart had never stopped longing for her.

LILLIAN'S SWEETHEART CAME LOOKING FOR HER.

LILLIAN’S SWEETHEART CAME LOOKING FOR HER.

Unfortunately, Lillian’s heart no longer felt a thing for anyone. She met with her friend and helped him procure his envisioned dreams, then sent him on his way knowing he could never marry her because never would she want to limit herself to one man. She had neither shame for her craft nor would she abide it in others.

About six years later, Lillian and her five-year-old daughter in hand walked through the door of her new establishment.  Above the portal was a sign which read non pudore tantum voluptatis—Lillian’s life creed.  The rest of her life, she spent teaching her own daughter, along with the many generations of youth who sought her out, this creed [“No Shame—Only Pleasure”] which was magical to all who entered her establishment, even to this very day.