Gene Goldfarb

Interview with a Dirty Writer

Q. What’s your earliest dirty experience?

A. I saw a friend’s mother taking a bath when I was six.

Q. So what exactly did you see?

A. A nice pair of boobs and lots of soap.

Q. Let’s move on. Earliest dirty movie?

A. That’s an easy one, “And God Created Woman,” with Bridget Bardot. It was all white bed sheets, golden skin, blushing, breathlessness and Bardot’s pouty face and body.

Q. Any other dirty early movies? 

A. I, a Woman, I Am Curious Yellow, Swedish Mistress, as I remember.

Q. What kind of films were they?

A. All Swedish and dirty. One sexual adventure into the next. One had a scene where a young hot blonde girl masturbates in her bedroom near an open window, while the guy who’s interested in her sits outside on his motorcycle revving the engine under her window. 

Q. What did this mean to you?

A. The decadence of western bourgeois society within a post-modern paradigm.

Q. Honestly, can you put it in simpler terms?

A. A lot of mindless heat.

Q. Is there anything in fashion, art, or politics that captures the current zeitgeist?

A. Aside from pornography? Yoga pants for women. If men could be criminally charged for ogling women wearing this item of clothing, you wouldn’t be able to stuff the jails fast enough.

Q. Seriously?

A. Please. Thong bathing suits make a statement, where YP (yoga pants) issue a suggestion. The latter’s so much sexier by leaving something more to the imagination. While dining with my family once in mid-town Manhattan, a stark naked woman marched past our window, heading uptown all business, no one appeared to notice her. It was a good five minutes before I saw a police car heading uptown, presumably after her. If she had instead worn yoga pants and had the body for it, she would have turned heads fast enough to give a community of chiropractors a field day. Okay, bad example.

Q. What about what stimulates gay men?

A. If I gave you an answer I’d only be pretending that I wasn’t guessing.

Q. Is there a drink you associate with sexual stimulation or stamina?

A. Tit milk mixed with vodka, and a stemless maraschino cherry. A real zinger.

Q. Any other stimulants?

A. Yes. There are particular perfumes, odors really, women in certain neighborhoods of Rio De Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo apply to themselves that supposedly drive men absolutely insane. I can’t vouch for it except to say no one I’ve met has ever returned alive and sane to credibly tell about it.

Q. What else can get men excited?

A. Contrary to the rhyme about men not making passes at women who wear glasses, if the woman otherwise has an ounce of attractiveness, men will be turned by this apparel into little schoolboys aching to be spanked. It makes sex dirtier by triumphing over stodgy rectitude. Instead of glasses, it can be nylon stockings with a black seam (actual or drawn) up the back, or just the right shade of lipstick applied a bit too generously. That’s it, not much. Men need just a slim streak of smoke issuing from a furrow of propriety to set them on edge.

Q. Is that it?

A. A starchy white nurse’s uniform. Men will always wonder if there’s a rhumba going on underneath. Also a good show of legs always has men, especially mathematicians, wondering where parallel lines meet somewhere in space and what that’s like.

Q. Any books that you thought were over-the-top erotic?

A. Marquis DeSade’s “Bedroom Philosophers” appealed to the animal in me. And there’s D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which took me out to the spiritual horizon in sexual relations.

Q. What about something short and sweet?

A. There was a commercial jingle in my early college days about paper panties. It went something like this, “Put ‘em on, tear ‘em off, throw ‘em away. Paper Panties!” I couldn’t get it out of my head, and kept wondering if I could ever witness this and at least collect all these torn, discarded panties.

Q. What’s this obsession with women’s panties?

A. I think if they wore boxer shorts it would disappear in a day.

Q. What about periodicals like National Geographic with native women from undeveloped lands? Did you ever thumb through it as a teenager?

A. Purely for anthropological edification.

Q. What about pin-ups?

A. My parents kept finding these magazines almost as quickly as I could hide them. I told them it was to read many of the articles they might contain, again for sociological research. I did find a way to hide at least one pinup from them in a newspaper under the fold of a book jacket. The pin-up was of a comedian’s wife appearing in a gossip column in the New York Post.

Q. That’s hard to believe. Do you even remember the book?

A. George Lefebvre’s “The Coming of the French Revolution.”

Q. Don’t you think everything you’ve told us is really inexcusable objectification of females on your part?

A. Objectification maybe so. Inexcusable? I don’t think so. I wasn’t taught to objectify females by any older role models. The cowboy heroes I watched on television when I was growing up were actually a very clean lot and would only kiss, if that, behind a large hat. The heroes of today’s movies lose no time making out even on prime time TV with lots of heavy breathing and few if any clothes on top of or under the sheets. In sum this is all natural like the tides, they come in and then go out, over and over.

Q. So, how do you define a perversion?

A. Oh, that’s a political question.

Robin Cantwell

The Rat King

‘Campbell. You’re late. Sit.’

As I listen to my boss snap at me like I’m some sort of Pavlovian poodle, I slip into the chair opposite his desk and watch him gulp his coffee. He savours it, loudly, licking his lips with his reptilian tongue.

‘I tell you, that’s a fine cup of joe,’ he grins. ‘Shame you’ll never get to enjoy it. They save the real stuff for senior management, see. You pencil pushers only get capsules. They practically piss in them. Hey Campbell, wanna know what success tastes like?’

He leans forward and holds out his coffee cup at full stretch, letting it waft under my nose.

‘Sir, I wanted to check in with you about the Paris promotion? I was told we’d hear back last week and –’

‘Paris?! You?!’

He rocks back on his chair legs like a conquering warlord and screams a hellish wail of laughter.

‘Word on the ninth floor is you’ve screwed up the Henderson deal, Campbell. Just when I thought you couldn’t sink any lower.’

‘Sir, I did no such thing!’ I protest limply, scrambling my brain to remember who the fuck Henderson is and what exactly is his deal.

He clenches his fists and grits his teeth, as if ready to launch himself across the desk and smash me to smithereens. And right on cue, I feel it: the faint stirring of an erection in my underpants. Now this isn’t one of those unwelcome hard-ons you get when sharing a glass of wine with your fiancée’s better-looking sister. No – this is a pump of full-bodied adrenalin reserved exclusively for those sweet, sweet moments of unfathomable humiliation.

I brace myself for the torture to come:

‘A weakling who lets people trample all over you. That’s what you are, Campbell. Hell, you’re not good enough to shine my shoes.’

‘Be that as it may, I believe myself to be an integral cog within the company’s –’

He slams his fist down on his desk, sending a battalion of corporate plaques, trophies, and commemorative busts flying my way.

‘Little baby Campbell wants me to give him the Paris promotion – too hard for you here, is it? Too tough a boss, am I? You’re a cubicle rat, Campbell. A stinky little cubicle rat.’

He bites his teeth against his bottom lip and makes gnawing rat noises, doing his best to eat away at my self-esteem – but as I watch the veins in his neck bulge with testosterone-fuelled rage, little does he know that I’m absolutely rock hard down below.

‘You know why I don’t belong in a cubicle? How I took one look at that fucking infestation out there and said ‘Sayonara’? It’s because my big balls won’t fit in them. And the way I’m going – they’re going to have to build a bigger building for them too.’

‘So…I’ll wait to hear back about Paris?’

‘Paris is strictly BBO, Campbell. Big. Balls. Only. Now piss off and do some bloody work for once in your miserable life. Au rev-fucking-oir.’

He dismisses me with the flick of a finger, and off I trudge to my desk, listening to the water cooler gurgle its pity at me. I stare at my computer and think of ways to turn it all around – how maybe, just maybe, if I claw back the Henderson deal, Paris could still be on the cards…or failing that, promotion to a slightly bigger cubicle.

But I can’t suppress it. My groin still burns from the glorious smackdown he just gave me. I need to unload. So I do what I always do in times of trouble: I rush to the toilets, lock myself in, immediately drop my pants and jerk off to memorised porn videos, faithfully reconstructed with precision-engineered accuracy. 

There’s only one problem: every time I picture myself with a girl – be it a pornstar confused by my presence, the argumentative barista down the road or Racist Cathy from Accounts – my boss bursts into the fantasy, ripping off his clothes to expose his Herculean torso and testicles the size of bowling balls. The women rejoice with feverish delight, of course – as if Superman has just flown in to save them from my over-eager touch. Then he beds them mercilessly as I stand in the corner and watch, wide-eyed with arousal and fear.

The plot thickens. Now it’s just me and him. Mano a mano. Giant dick versus shrivelled slug. Without a single word of instruction, I turn around, squirming uncomfortably as he enters me. I wince at his disapproving grunts – I can only assume he’s disappointed that I surrendered so easily. I try to stop but can’t. Instead I listen to him tear into the loves of my life one by one – how it was too easy to bring them to orgasm when he was banging them in the boardroom behind my back – until I finish with a mad flourish, splattering the wall like a squirt gun loaded with cottage cheese. I stare at my weird graffiti and think about what I’ve done. Just like he’d want me to.

I leave without washing my hands, rubbing my gummy residue between my fingertips. I’m on my way back to cubicle purgatory, ready to zonk out on Minecraft when I see it: my boss’s mythical coffee cup, unguarded by the kitchen kettle. While his assistant searches for milk in the fridge, I tiptoe over and peer inside his chalice of power, filled with a brown swamp of boiling water. Without giving it a second thought, I stick my crusty finger into the cup, feeling the water scold me as I stir in my sticky essence.

Moments later and I’m back at my desk, watching him through the reflection in my monitor while he patrols his office behind the great glass walls that keep the vermin at bay. His assistant brings in his coffee. I hold my breath. He takes one look at the cup – sniffs at it suspiciously – then swallows. He licks his lips and smiles.

The taste of success…

Bogdan Dragos

the father and I are one

She got very deep
into spirituality
at her mother’s
sound advice

A lot of people,
including her mother,
got into spirituality
as a means to calm
the feeling of having
no control over life
whatsoever

But behold,
there are those who
go through spirituality
and come out knowing
that it none of it’s true
Suddenly they know
and understand we have
one hundred percent control
over our own destinies

Today she was one
of those people

“It’s all a matter of
how we manage our
thoughts,” she said
“How we organize
our minds. You attract
what you focus on
most of the time.
It’s that simple.”

The guys at the bar all
nodded, each hoping
to get some private
lessons out of her

And one of them did

He took her to his place
where he found out that
she was on her period

And she used her dead father’s
severed thumb as a tampon

“Indeed,” she said
as she put it back in
“I and the father are one.
He had created me
in his image and
I am a part of him.
I am therefore never apart
from him and he is never
apart from me.
Oh, young soul,
please brace yourself.
There is so much I have
to teach you.”

He got into the lotus position
beside her and listened
There was nothing
else to do

Judge Santiago Burdon

Naked Truth

I mentioned to a poet friend of mine, one of the few I respect, if he believed a writer could consider himself a success by the amount of nude photos women and surprisingly number of men send to him.

I’m not sure how to measure my efforts as a success or as a failure. My point of view is if I am doing what I’ve always wanted to do as a profession, then I have achieved success.

I’ve mentioned my somewhat modest expectation to others when discussing the subject and it has received a variety of comments. But the comment that has been most popular is, “Bullshit! You can’t tell me you don’t want your book to be a bestseller or have your books made into movies and make a shit load of money. C’mon, everyone wants to be famous, and I’m not talking the fifteen minutes kind.”

“Famous isn’t good for a writer,” Ken Kesey once said. “You don’t observe well when you’re being observed.”

Fame and fortune would be wonderful perks, without a doubt, but these have never been among my motivations for being a writer. I sincerely am not concerned if what I write is accepted or rejected. Rejection letters are just fuel for my creative fire. I selfishly write for myself not for an audience. Twisting your prose to fit the perimeters of an audience is a fucking trap without any hope of escape.

A true writer knows this predilection is actually a curse we’re born with. It manifests in our souls, an insatiable need to be recognized. I described a writer in a poem written years ago:

A Poet is an Artist that paints in darkness
Words of the poem are colors creating light 
A Writer is blessed with all of the answers
Cursed with the search of which questions to ask

It’s the first time I’ve ever directly quoted myself.

“Okay, but get back to the naked pictures, will ya. No one is interested in this boring literary mumbo jumbo.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

“So, I’ve been receiving what I consider a large number of nude photos on my WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Gmail accounts, and I’ve concluded it is a direct correlation to my success as a writer. I’ve researched the subject to investigate if other writers have experienced the same anomaly. I haven’t discovered any mention of it being so. I surely can’t be the only writer out there that has received this type of appreciation in response to their work.”

My poet friend said he’d get back to me, it was something he had to think about. Although I judged him as an accomplished poet, he turned out to be an unreliable counselor. He would’ve been a terrible bartender. After a week I contacted him to ask if he had made a decision concerning my question. He first apologized and then started laughing, commenting he didn’t think I was serious. He believed it was all a joke, a setup or research for a story. Now I had his complete attention after convincing him my question was authentic. 

“In order to make an educated decision, I’d need to look at the pictures. Do you think that could be possible?”

“I’m not sure how seeing the photos would help in determining an answer to my question. Besides, all the senders asked me to keep them private and not share them.”

“How many photos exactly have you received? Are the women totally naked, and can you see their faces?”

“I guess close to twenty five, including the three photos of men.”

“Were there suggestive messages with the photos? Also, are you sure they were sent in response to your writing? Are you on some type of dating site?”

“Yes, some included sexual messages. Most mentioned my poems and I’m not on a dating site. So, what do you think?”

“I rarely receive more than fifteen comments on my poems when I post them,” he said with a sarcastic tone. “So I’m going to conclude yes, it does have a relevance in determining your success as a writer. Although, the most viable explanation is that your poems appeal to a unique audience of sick, twisted and perverted readers.” 

The phone hummed a dial tone without a goodbye.

And I thought, why did he say that like it’s a bad thing?

Sara Corris

Miracles

November, 2020: Dad Bods

“Yuck! Daddy has donut crumbs in his shoulder hair!” 

“Da-da gwoss! Gwoss da-da, hahaha.” 

Stacy and Jordan scampered off across the park, laughing. Their father remained seated on the cold hard earth, back slumped, gut protruding from beneath his sweater, gaze inscrutable.

Rob smiled down at him. “Same, man. Same! After 32 or 33, it all hits at once: the weight gain, hair sprouting in weird new places–”

“Gotta cultivate that dad bod.” Jaimie’s dad patted his paunch with a grin.

Rob laughed and gestured to his own flabby midsection. “Same, dude. Same! I can barely fit into my jeans.”

“Good thing we’re not heading back to the office anytime soon. I don’t think my work clothes–”

“Ravages of time. It’s inevitable.” William’s dad reached for the donut box. “Nothing to do but embrace it, lean into the dad bod–” 

“Hey guys. Anyone seen my shirt?” 

The dads ceased talking as all six feet, five inches of Tessa’s dad stood shirtlessly before them.

“I took it off for my HIIT workout, now I can’t find it anywhere.” 

Sweat glistened on Tessa’s dad’s hairless torso. It trickled down into his cumgutters while the dads glared at him in silence. 

Tessa’s dad shrugged. “Guess I’ll have to keep moving to stay warm.” He smiled, turned, and launched into another set of burpees.

The wives returned en masse. Rob caught William’s mom’s eye for a second before turning to kiss his own wife, Meghan, on the top of her head.

“So whaddya want to do with our Bella-free weekend in the city, Megs? I’ve only got the one showing tomorrow … Megs?” 

“Huh? Sorry Robbie, could you repeat that? I got distracted by all the squirrels.”

Nearby, Tessa’s dad executed another set of hand-clap push-ups with flawless form. His daughter, his heavily pregnant wife, and his dog, all seated on his back, cheered and laughed. 

“Now do one-hand, daddy!” shouted Tessa. 

“Ok, baby!”

Stacy and Jordan’s dad watched Tessa’s happy family as his right hand fumbled around for the donut box, in vain.

He glanced down, then looked around. No box.

“What the–”

He looked up and saw the hulking mutt a few yards away. Watching. Grinning. The box with the last remaining donut in its hideous maw.

“Mommy, Daddy, look! That man is fighting with a dog over a donut!”

“Uh-oh!” Tessa’s dad laughed toplessly.

Jamie’s dad continued conversing at Jamie’s mom: “I’m considering increasing monthly transfers to the stocks portfolio–”

Jaimie’s mom gasped and squeezed his arm. 

“Look, there’s Tessa’s dad! I’m going to go see how he’s holding up, what with all this Asian hate on the rise.” 

Jaimie’s dad stared.

“But … I’m also Asian, and you’ve never asked me …” he trailed off. His wife was gone.

William came toddling up to his parents.

“Tessa’s daddy is SO strong!” William exclaimed breathlessly. “Look! He’s carrying Tessa and Tessa’s pregnant mommy and Cinnamon the doggie all the way home! Wow!” 

He lifted his tiny arms up to his father. 

“Carry me home, daddy!”

“Baby, you know daddy’s back hasn’t been right since that time he tried going to the gym three months ago,” said William’s mom. 

“I hate you,” muttered William’s dad.

***

The Following Monday: TBF ADD Is Totally Real (I Have It Myself)

Rob’s phone lit up with a new message from William’s mom. He threw the sports section over the phone without reading it.

Rob stared down into his coffee as he spoke. “I might stay in the city tonight. Not come home, I mean.”

“Uh-huh.” Meghan continued frowning at the prescription bottle in her hand. Had she already taken her pills this morning? When she’d first come into the kitchen, perhaps?

“Because of work. Work’s been crazy. Weird, right? You wouldn’t think it from the news. I’ve got showings booked for every night this week. Next week too.”

“Hey Robbie? Did you see me take my Adderall this morning? I can’t remember if I took it already.”

“What?”

“Did you see–oh, never mind.” Meghan shrugged and gulped down another 30mg.

“So you should assume for the next couple weeks that I’ll be staying in the city most nights, unless I say otherwise.”

Meghan settled down at the table with a mug of coffee and began scrolling on her phone. “Uh-huh. You helping Bella get set up on the computer today?”

Rob leaned back and sighed. “I guess, yeah, I can get her started. But I have to be out of here by 10, and I need to get myself ready first. I actually have to go out into the world. Assholes around here assume everyone can hunker down in their pajamas, work from a laptop–”

“Language,” Meghan murmured, absorbed in her reading.

They sat in silence. Several minutes passed before Meghan spoke again, her head bent over her phone.

“You going to be home for dinner tonight? Can you pick up some things from the store on the way?”

Rob stared. “Didn’t you hear anything I said? I just told you, I’m slammed at work. I’ve got showings booked every evening for–”

“Holy shit! Did you know the Righteous Brothers are white?” 

“… huh?”

“I’ve lived my whole life, thinking they were black.” Meghan shook her head in disbelief, then turned and gazed out the window. “My whole life. What else don’t I know?” she whispered.

“What the fuck?”

“Language.”

“But you just said ‘shit’ a moment–”

“Language.”

Rob sighed with frustration. “MEGS. LISTEN. I won’t be–”

“Ssshh, keep it down! Bella’s still asleep. You want to wake her?” 

Rob lowered his voice to an irritated hiss. “I am trying to tell you, I won’t be home tonight because of work–”

“You’re still too loud. If she wakes up, you can deal with her.”

In a strained whisper: “I keep telling you, work is really busy right now, and tonight I won’t be home, and in fact most nights I probably won’t be home, so you should just assume going forward that I won’t be home unless–”

“Oh god.” Meghan swallowed. “I definitely already took my meds this morning. Shoot.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I accidentally took my meds twice. It’s nothing, I do it all the time. It just means my heart feels weird and jumpy for a few hours, like it’s trying to escape my chest. It’s annoying, is all.” Meghan got up to refill her mug.

Rob watched incredulously. “That … really doesn’t sound good, Megs. You say you do this a lot–”

He was interrupted by wailing from Bella’s room. 

“Shoot, she’s up. Can you handle her this morning? Get her to have some breakfast, but first she’s got to use the bathroom, maybe some fruit, she won’t touch the bananas but she’s been into the pineapple lately, if you haven’t eaten it all already maybe try giving her some of that, but you have to cut it up into very small pieces or she won’t eat it, and get her all set up on the computer? I’ve done it the last three days. I still haven’t finished my coffee.” Meghan’s hand jerked as she tried to pour, sending coffee everywhere but into her mug.

***

December, 2020: Endings! Beginnings! Squirrels!

Rob typed out a brisk final message to William’s mom. Don’t overthink it, he told himself. Get to the point and be done with it.

I’m out. Meghan’s starting to suspect something. I can’t risk it anymore. 

Rob read it over and hit send.

Meghan came into the bedroom and screamed.

“Jeez, Robbie, you scared the shh– … the crrr– … you really, really scared me! What are you doing here?”

Rob stared. “Megs. I’ve been here for hours. I talked to you out by the TV, remember? You were sorting laundry.”

Meghan’s mouth hung open. Shoot, the laundry!

She craned her neck back towards the living room, trying to determine whether she’d actually put a load into the machine, or just left everything in separate piles on all the furniture.

“Megs … Megs … are you listening? Did you hear what I said earlier, by the TV? About staying out here with you guys from now on, only heading back to the city for showings when I really need to?” Rob struggled to stay patient.

“Uh-huh! That sounds nice.” She turned back around and smiled. 

Meghan went to her dresser and began changing for bed. “Can you bring back some more of my winter clothes, the next time? Sweaters. Also for Bella. Are you going back tomorrow? Pyjamas too. But with the footies, I don’t know. They grow so fast. A whole year? Dental floss; that’s what I meant to get! No. She’ll need new ones.”

Meghan went to draw the curtains, but stopped when she saw Rob. “What’s wrong? Do you have a headache?”

Rob lifted his head from his hands. “Megs. Come here. Sit down.” She did; Rob took hold of her shoulders and stared into her eyes. “I’m not going back to the apartment, ok? I’m gonna stay out here with you guys, from now on.”

Meghan swallowed. “Oh. Well … great! That will be great.” She forced a smile, then rose and went to the window. “The curtains … Bella will be thrilled.” She stood staring out, not pulling the curtains shut. 

Oh god oh god what will I do I can’t … aww! A squirrel!

“Robbie, come look! There’s a squirrel in a tree!” she called over her shoulder, but Rob had left the room.

***

Later That Week: It Really Is A Solid Franchise

Meghan and Tessa’s dad lay on the rug before the fireplace, fully nude, facing each other.

“Really? You’re not teasing me?”

“Meghan, I swear! They’re my favorite movies. I watch the whole series start to finish at least once a year.”

“Seriously? Me too!”

“What! Really?”

“Yes! Which one’s your favorite?”

“That’s tough for me.” Tessa’s dad frowned. “Objectively, I’ve got to go with Furious 7 as the all-round best, but personally? I love the ones with Han.”

“I love Han too! I still feel deeply ambivalent towards Shaw, even though he’s on their side now–”

“I know; the British are such dickheads. But, before all that? Han being with Wonder Woman? That was huge for me, seeing that on the big screen. Walking Dead gets all the attention for pairing Glenn with a white chick, but–”

“–but the Fast & Furious series has been low-key racially progressive since DAY ONE, both in front of the camera AND behind the camera–”

“–YES, exactly!” Tessa’s dad slapped the ground. “I can’t believe this! Which one’s your favorite?”

“Well, like you, I fully appreciate that Furious 7 has the greatest cinematic merit. But my personal fave is the first.” Meghan lowered her eyes. “Because it was the first time I’d seen ADD depicted onscreen in such a raw way. When Paul Walker says to Jesse, like, ‘you’re so good at computers, how are you not working for NASA or something,’ and poor Jesse explains he’s got ADD–”

“–it’s heartbreaking.”

“Right? And later, when Jesse impulsively makes that terrible bet against Tran, then loses the bet, then panics and impulsively flees? Those are textbook ADD behaviors.”

“It’s so sad when Jesse shows up at Dom’s place days later, and he’s like, ‘please help me, I didn’t know what I was doing, I have ADD,’ and then Tran and his crew gun him down right there in the driveway–”

“–he had so much potential, but he never stood a chance in this world. Because of the ADD.” Meghan sighed. “And that’s what it feels like, for me, every day. Fast & Furious nailed it. It … made me feel seen.” 

Tessa’s dad swallowed. “That’s how the Fast & Furious franchise makes me feel, too. Seen. When I felt like, maybe no one did.”

Meghan kissed him. “I see you,” she whispered.

“I know that now. That’s why I love you. And I see you, I really see you.”

“I know. You make me feel the way Fast & Furious makes me feel. Seen. Really, truly seen. And I love you for it.” She wrapped her limbs around him and drew him back on top of her.

***

June, 2021: Awww! A Miracle!

Meghan stood outside the movie theatre, too stunned to order an Uber. 

Only one person in the world could understand what she was feeling at this moment, and he was the one person she couldn’t call. It had been too long. Too much had happened, in both their lives. So much sorrow.

All around her, people streamed out into the streets, buzzing about one thing: a hero’s return from the dead. That, and the space car.

Meghan felt the tears coming. She reached for her phone. But instead of ordering a car, she found herself drafting a text. To him.

“Meghan? I thought I saw you in there.”

She looked up. He was standing there, so close. Smiling at her. 

She smiled back, her first smile in months. 

“You did. You did see me. You’ve always seen me.”

And she was in his arms again. 

“I see you,” she told him, over and over, between kisses.

“I’m sorry your husband shot himself in the head–”

“I know you are. I’m sorry your wife died in childbirth–”

“I know, I know,” Tessa and Gisele’s dad murmured as he drew Meghan to his chest. 

Feeling Meghan’s goosebumps, he wordlessly peeled off his shirt and swaddled her in it.

They looked into each other’s eyes and smiled. Everything was going to be ok.

Bradford Middleton

The Wild Times Return 

It was just like one of the old nights,
Those nights of chaos and utter
Derangement.  I got in early and began
My often trudged path to total
Obliteration; beer came in pints and
The whiskey came in doubles and one
Followed the other until I didn’t care
Anymore.  I ventured outside for a 
Much needed smoke, smiling, scanning
The scene of St James’s Street on this
A typical early Friday night.  All 
The usual crazies were around and, as
Usual, felt just like one of them as the 
Smoke takes hold but before too long I 
Got back and inside again, returning
Quickly to my throne, my stool, at 
The bar in my delinquent palace of fun.  
I got back into it until my reflection in
The mirror behind the bar is nothing but
A blur and I know, calling the barman
Over, it’ll be time for just one more.
“A god-damn half-pint but always take
The double,” I tell a blur of a person behind
What I hope is the bar and as they come over
I stand to my feet, drain some of the beer
Before hitting the whiskey all the way down
And before anyone knows it the beer is gone
With me not far behind it, down the road to
The safe sanctuary of my room for a smoke
Enjoying the beauty of sweet oblivion.

James Diaz

Give it here

For you
the extra mile 
the long talk
the last sip 
all I have 
and then some 

mountains
move em

forget the world
here is a hand
that knows 
the dirt 
the blood 
lost to blood 

for you 
the very last mile 
bullets from every direction 
the hardest part 
the very last bite 
the other shoe 

this back; climb
on

I hear them down below
sayin; just jump already
they don’t even live in the same world as us

whatever it is
give it here
I’ve got you

whoever you are
reading this 
right now

when your night is long
and you can’t shorten the distance 
between your hand and your heart 
I’ll do what I can 
to see you through it

I want to see you through it. 

Daniel S. Irwin

Rehab

Aw, man, rehab.
I asked, “Is this
Really necessary?”
It was just three DUIs,
The nose-candy thing,
And a couple hassles
With disturbing the peace.
It ain’t all that much.
But, no rehab and my
Workin’, bill-payin’ woman
Was gonna cut my ass off
Cold.  No cash, no nookie.
So I got with the program.
Got some mellowing drugs.
Got the shot that made
My tongue stick out.
Attended the boring classes.
Then came the enlightenment:
Backslidin’ was expected,
Actually seen as a part of
The recovery program.
That I could handle.
Sashayed out and had
A scandalously wild week.
Not sure when the cops
Corralled and returned
This heathen to the haven.
Don’t know when or where
I got this tattoo on my weezer.
Got some mellowing drugs.
Got the shot that made
My tongue stick out.
Then, got the bad news.
The state’s done with me.
No insurance, no money,
My woman done gone broke.
They put me on the street.
But still the law said
I gotsta be in a program
Or it’s Sing Sing time.
So now, I got my collar,
My shots, and my leash.
Three days a week,
The ol’ lady takes me
To obedience school.
I’m okay, the Lord knows
That I can hump a leg
With the best of them.

Joseph Farley

The End of Time

The minister on television
says these are the end days.
That might be true,
but I’ve heard the same thing said
every day since I was born.
That might just be
because I was born in the end times,
but when you look back to the past
and read history
you find that the preachers
have always been saying
“We’re living in the end days.”

You can place bets if you want.
Check the Las Vegas odds
on survival from day to day,
month to month, year to year.
Maybe you’ll win big.
Maybe you won’t.

You’ll never collect
if you bet the bomb will go off
in the next half hour.
It’s probably better
to tune it all out.

Pretend the news isn’t there.
Who knows if it’s real anyway?
All of it.
Truth is easily hidden,
confused, lost
in the noise from talking heads.

Live your life now.
Love your life now.
Be nice to people,
even if you hate their guts, 
if only to see the surprise
on their faces.

Watch your garden grow a half inch
in the new March weather.
Who cares if you live long enough
to see flowers let alone fruit.

You’ve got it all made in the shade
until that last moment
when you don’t.

Don Stoll

State of Nature

I’m the last bloke you’d think would know any philosophy: never a day of uni in my life. But I know a bit about the one true philosopher of our time, old Tom Hobbes.

Acquired my knowledge as a lad, good thirty years ago. “Advanced” for my age, I was. Would go into a pub, usually get told to leave. But one night got served straight off. 

Barman’s drawing my half when bird next to me says, “Make it a pint.”

Smiling she says, “I’m a nihilist,” me with no clue what she means. 

She sees that, says, “Sorry, studying philosophy at uni.”  

She’s twenty. I can’t believe my luck. We get pissed. 

Next morning I wake up in her bedsit. She’s sitting up, sheet pulled up to cover herself. Me wondering why she bothers since I’ve seen it all. Or would have, night before. I can’t remember how she looks, so maybe there’s sense in her covering up. 

I say, “Last night’s a blur, so we do it again this morning it’ll be like the first time.”  

I laugh thinking that was a good one. She nods the sort of nod that means she’s not listening, and her smile from the pub is gone. I think Bloody hell, now that she sees me in the full light of day. . .  

I come clean, say, “I’m fifteen but no way you could have known, that’s on me.” 

Her smile comes back. She lowers the sheet. Lovely jog to the memory, that was. Tells me she knew I was a baby, had only been pondering her hangover. 

She says, “Sod your age,” and, “Danny, right?” 

I say, “Close, luv.” 

I call her luv because I’m fucked if I can remember her name. 

I say, “It’s Davy.”

Sliding down on the bed I say, “But you call me whatever long as you call me for mealtime.”

After a minute she says something I can’t make out because she’s got my ears clamped. But the calm way she says it, like she’s ordering breakfast in the same place she goes every morning, tells me I’m not doing a proper job. Takes practice, I guess.

She says, “No worries, Danny or Davy, come on up here.”  

I obey. Kiss her mouth wondering what she tastes more, herself or the skinful I’d had night before, not just coming out of my mouth but out of every pore. Whatever she tastes she doesn’t mind.

The kiss finally over I say, “So that’s it, sod the law?”    

She says, “Give it a minute, sod more than the law.”  

I wasn’t hard all the way till she said that.   

“Yeah, sod the law,” she says. “State of nature’s coming, and in such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no. . .”

I try to kiss her mouth again but she says, “Clever bloke you should know about, Thomas Hobbes.”

I say, “Professor of yours?” 

She says, “Look him up,” and, “Abridged version for you: in the state of nature there is no society; and continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” 

I say, “You going to flip over?” and she says, “Didn’t I say give it a minute?” 

She says, “Anyway, I promise you the state of nature’s coming.”

Not long after I did what she told me, looked up Hobbes. Seemed like bollocks.

Till the oceans started rising.

***

Thirty years after my unusual lesson in philosophy, I pissed off for the States. If the planet was drowning, better to be somewhere with more land. It would take longer to go under. Immigration ban didn’t frighten me because by that time, amidst the general chaos, passports had become incidental and enforcement at ports of entry was slipshod. It was mostly vigilante, meaning that as long as you were white and you sounded American, you were safe. I can do a number of Yank accents. I chose Midwest.

Enforcement at the ports was a joke. I brought in an old Westley Richards droplock double rifle in my luggage. Knew I’d find use for it. Bloke can always find use for a rifle. 

Course, you could still ask why not stick to dry ground in the middle of the States instead of heading for California. But I never thought about putting down roots there, with less ground all the time where they could get a purchase. My thinking was that California had been rich, so all the posh people fleeing to high ground would have left loads of swag. Help myself, then piss off to dry, beautiful Montana was my plan.

Took over a place in this sodding ghost town. Assumed I had no neighbors. Then evening came, lights went on at a place a couple of hundred meters away. Could have moved, but I decided to observe through the glasses first. Thought I might as well stay put unless they were going to give me trouble. 

Old chap, young woman. His daughter, I think, come at no small risk to herself to talk him into moving. Wouldn’t have been the first old chap to insist on staying in a doomed house he’d lived in forever.

Next day old chap’s on his deck with a rifle, blasting away at a wolf well out of range. He’s bloody starkers. I think, Off his head, and his daughter has to tolerate it. 

Then she prances out onto the deck also not wearing a stitch. Strokes the rifle barrel, then starts stroking elsewhere. Then decides more than stroking’s needed. Use your imagination.

But it’s no good. He hangs his head, that not being the only thing left hanging. She goes back in the house.  

Need to meet them, I thought. And once I had, him saying their names were Frank and Ludmilla Pride and she was his third wife, the way she looked at me told me she was aching for a younger bloke. I’m thinking he’d introduced her as his third wife to hint that he’s got one who looks like this now, imagine the women he had when he was younger.  

I think, Not sure you could have done better. And, You’re young no more, lad.          

Anyway, he’s doing all the talking. But finally he says, “This man’s no danger to you, Ludmilla, you can talk.”  

She says, “Is pleasure to meet you,” in an accent you’d have needed a chainsaw to cut. He says he’d brought her to the States right before the ban on immigration passed. So I understood why he’d told her not to worry about me: I hadn’t used my phony Yank accent. I also understood why she’d stayed with him in this ghost town instead of heading inland where the younger blokes were, but also where the hordes wouldn’t give a toss that she was legal. They hear her and know she’s a foreigner, she’s done.   

We chatted more. Frank said he’d been mayor of the city when it was a city. 

“Practically Mayor for Life,” he said.

That made me curious. But truth is that after we parted ways, I thought more about Ludmilla than about Frank. 

Anyway, place I’d taken over happened to be near the city library. I thought one day I’d have a snoop around. Never been a reader, but you never know. I didn’t have to break in: the staff had fled without bothering to lock up.    

I poked about and came across the old newspapers. I recalled “Mayor for Life” and thought I’d see what there was to read about Frank. There was loads. 

City, when it really was a city, had an interesting story too. And Frank’s own story tied up with it.     

***

Frank Pride had liked to boast about his success in the stock market. And he liked to say that a winner in business would also be a winner in politics. 

Critics said he’d been lucky to exit the market just before it crashed in 2002 and 2007, and lucky to jump back in as it was about to tick up.  

“You know what makes someone a critic of me?” he liked to say when he was campaigning for mayor. “Not being as rich as I am.” 

Ecstatic applause.

“History teaches that markets rise and fall. You’ve heard about the first-ever market bubble, the one for tulips that burst four hundred years ago? I learned that markets rise and fall from my old Dutch uncle who got out of tulips at the right time back in 1637.”

Frank must have been proud of that joke, knowing he was the last forty-five-year-old man in the world that anyone would mistake for four hundred. Losing his hair, but fit. And his wife gave proof of his vigor. He would deliver his tulip line and then turn to where Wife Number Two, the former Olga Orlova, a beauty barely half his age, was sitting. Frank would present her with a fresh tulip. 

“History also teaches,” he’d add after kissing her, “that the oceans rise and fall.”

He would scan his audience for the right face before delivering his next line. 

“Sir, you remember when a morning stroll could take you from Alaska to Russia?”

A smile would spread across the face of the chosen old geezer.

“But don’t try that now unless you’re from Galilee,” Frank would smile back.

He would pause for laughter.   

“And Mr.”. . . (he’d pause again so the old chap could shout his name) “you also remember the Ice Age. So you’ve learned that the climate changes and oceans rise and fall, just like my Dutch uncle learned that markets rise and fall. And I say now’s the time to be smart about rising and falling ocean levels, so we can profit from them just like we profit from rising and falling markets. I say we unincorporate Beach Flats now before the ocean covers it. Then we reincorporate later after the ocean has washed away the mess!”    

Frank would have to shout so that his audience could hear him over their cheers.

***

The Beach Flats neighborhood was cut in half by a river that flowed from the mountains to the sea. The first people to live there after the Ohlone Indians were Italian fishing families, with some Portuguese mixed in. Some of those families built restaurants. As the waters got fished out, the restaurants remained. Every one of the restaurants lining the pier was either Italian or Portuguese. 

By the time there was no more fishing you’d have seen, if you looked back toward land from the pier, Beach Heights North on your left and Beach Heights South on your right. The ocean views made this real estate to kill for. 

A time came when the rich people on Beach Heights decided to buy enough of Beach Flats to make room for an amusement park. This would bring money into a neighborhood that would never see fishing money again. The new park straddled the river and it had a roller coaster, like every amusement park. But what made the reputation of this particular park was the river. From the bridge connecting the two halves of the park you could look down on “mermaids,” girls paid to swim back and forth under the bridge.

Eventually, the park suffered from mismanagement. Best example: the “adult swims,” when the mermaids swam naked and admission to the park doubled and by paying double again you could swim with them. Absolutely my cup of tea, I don’t mind saying. But amusement parks do best when Mum and the kiddies feel comfortable. 

The adult swims finally went away. But they’d polluted the atmosphere, making it welcoming to every sort of sleaze. In particular, the old Beach Flats Italian and Portuguese families had been replaced by a new “demographic,” if you get my meaning. Heights people looked down on Flats people in more way than one. 

So Beach Heights fell in love with Frank’s plan to unincorporate Beach Flats. Its “demographic” would have to provide for themselves the services that Beach Heights and the rest of the city had got fed up paying for.   

“Low moral values keep the Beach Flats property values low,” Frank would say. “I’m going to let the ocean scrub the filth out of there. Then, when the time is right, I’ll go back in to build great moral values and great property values.”              

As for the pier thrusting from Beach Flats deep into the bay, Frank’s plan was not to unincorporate. The money saved by unincorporating the Flats would pay for new access roads and bridges to the pier, bypassing the Flats. Direct access from the Flats would be denied. Though some people said that new access roads and bridges wouldn’t save the pier from rising ocean levels, Frank had an answer. The savings from unincorporating the Flats would pay for construction of a sturdier, taller pier. 

There were happy memories of the glory days of the pier’s Italian and Portuguese restaurants, but good families had stopped going because they didn’t like passing through Beach Flats. However, Frank’s plan was to take apart the old restaurants plank by plank and put them back together on the new pier, far above the waves. 

Diners who didn’t want to think about Beach Flats would have their view of it blocked by a wall of steel and concrete. Nothing excited the crowds at Frank’s rallies as much as watching him get worked up about the wall.

***

Long after the end of his third term as mayor, Frank planned to celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday with his wife. I wondered how much he had to celebrate.

During the thirty years since he’d first become mayor, the ocean had submerged Beach Flats, driving out the old “demographic” like rats from a sinking ship. But then the ocean had submerged the pier, meaning the old one. New access roads and bridges had been affordable, but it turned out that the new pier hadn’t. The ocean had gone on to submerge also Beach Heights North and Beach Heights South and nearly all of the rest of Frank’s city. He’d moved several miles inland while the rest of the population had moved farther inland still, to places like Minneapolis and Missoula. 

Why hadn’t Frank gone, too? Concern for Ludmilla’s safety? Perhaps. But my guess is that stubbornness had to be a big part of it. Same stubbornness that had made him stick to his guns about rising and falling ocean levels even when scientists told him there was no evidence that the falling would start soon enough.

I went looking for Frank and Ludmilla on his birthday. My lorry was loaded. I wanted company for the drive to Montana.

But would she go with me to where her not being a proper Yank would be an issue? I’d need to show her I could protect her, be hard in more ways than one.   

Frank and Ludmilla had their guns and I had my Westley Richards.       

“Bulls and bears,” Frank said. “Never saw them in the old days.”

He always talked about the sodding bulls and bears. Story was, a rancher who’d left for the Midwest had abandoned his cattle, bulls included. And what with depopulation, the grizzlies had come back. You never dared go walking without a gun. 

“You going to shoot something for your birthday dinner?” I said. 

“I used to like turducken on my birthday,” he said. “You know turducken?”

I shook my head.

“A chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey and cooked that way. You slice it and get the meat of all three birds at once.”

Frank beamed.

“How about stuffing a bull inside a bear,” he said. “Or a bear inside a bull?”

Ludmilla shook her head. They had no staff to do the work.   

I was tired of small talk. I knew I was taking a gamble since I might have misjudged her attachment to him. But I’d made up my mind. 

Thinking of old Tom Hobbes and the state of nature, I raised my Westley Richards and emptied it into Frank’s chest.

I looked at Ludmilla. Maybe she didn’t like having blood sprayed all over her.   

She looked down at herself. I held my breath. 

She smiled. I let out my breath. 

“Come to Montana with me,” I said. “I can protect you.”

“I need a shower first.”

I had an idea.

“How about we go tomorrow? While you shower, I shoot a bull and a bear. We’ll do the stuffing together. Curious to taste it.”

She nodded.