Gene Goldfarb

Astronomy Meets High School Boys

We finally were able to take a decent picture 
of the true black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. 
A bunch of high school boys wonder if we could somehow 
tickle or nudge it delicately so it would jiggle wildly 
or do something amazing. What a question!
All sorts of variants and constants need be considered
in doing anything with this gigantic black hole,
the only constant we have is how high school boys think.

Daniel S. Irwin

Only Sleeping

He is not dead.
He is only sleeping.
That’s why he hates it
When the cat wakes
Him up by pushing
Its ass into his face.
Varmint!  Good thing
He doesn’t sleep with
His tongue hanging out.
Sometimes he does
If he’s really zonked.
The usual story of a
Life of disappointment.
Bad women and good booze.
Or was it/is it/could it be
Good women and bad booze?
The only time he got the two matched
Was bad women and bad booze
Amounting to kicks to the head
And mornings full of sorrow.
Good women and good booze
Was only at church communion.
But heathens don’t go there
And ain’t no Flowers of the Altar
Come to save him from himself.
It’s the Devil’s life and the Devil’s plan.
He’s nothin’ more than a mortal man.

HSTQ: Spring 2022

horror, adj. inspiring or creating loathing, aversion, etc.

sleaze, adj. contemptibly low, mean, or disreputable

trash, n. literary or artistic material of poor or inferior quality

Welcome to HSTQ: Spring 2022, the curated collection from Horror, Sleaze and Trash!

Featuring poetry by Featuring poetry by C. Renee Kiser, Joseph Farley, J.J. Campbell, James Diaz, Jay Passer, Jay Maria Simpson, Bogdan Dragos, Kristin Garth, Noah David Roberts, Eric Lawson, John Tustin, Daniel S. Irwin, Sherry Shahan, and Noel Negele.

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David Wesley Hill

Sometimes I Almost Feel Like a Real Human Being

Courtney became best friends with Mary Beth in order to learn her secrets, but she didn’t discover the most important one. It was Sam who found that out. He crawled from his basement tunnel and began bouncing excitedly. Dirt showered everywhere like water off a wet dog.

“I know it, I know it,” he said.

“Know what?” I asked.

“What she did, Frank. What Mary Beth did.”

Even when he stands upright, Sam’s head barely brushes my knee. It is as round as a pumpkin and disproportionately large for his body. His eyes are the shape and color of egg yolks and his mouth is crammed with broad flat teeth. Sam has many talents. He can mimic any sound he hears. His sense of smell is extraordinary. Perhaps this is because his nose is so immense that the tip actually touches his chin.

“What did Mary Beth do?”

Except for the corner where Sam had dug the entrance to his tunnel, most of the basement is finished. The walls are paneled with fake wood veneer and the floor is covered with plastic tiles that imitate real brick. Against one wall are a washer and dryer and a cabinet of laundry supplies. Against the other is the old couch on which I was sprawled. I was bored. I’m always bored. Sometimes it seems like I’ve been bored for centuries. My whole entire life.

Sam didn’t answer directly. He isn’t very smart and he has trouble holding onto a line of thought.

“I was hungry, Frank. Really, really hungry. And this big old rat, he was too fast. I didn’t catch him until he was inside Mary Beth’s house.”

Sam’s tunnels lead everywhere across the neighborhood. There’s not a home he doesn’t have access to for at least a half mile in every direction.

“Well?” I asked.

“He was nice and juicy.”

“Not the rat, Sam. Mary Beth.”

“Oh, her. Well, I knew what was up right away. The stink was that strong, Frank. Even you could smell it.”

“Smell what, Sam?”

“Mary Beth. She’s pregnant.”

Courtney said, “I can’t believe she didn’t tell me. I mean, what are best friends for?”

We were sitting at the kitchen table having a breakfast of cereal and toast and orange juice. We had to be at school in half an hour. Courtney was wearing jeans and a tight knit shirt without a collar. She was chewing gum and eating at the same time. I couldn’t figure out how she managed not to swallow the gum. In many ways Courtney is as talented as Sam.

“Maybe Mary Beth doesn’t know herself,” I said.

“Get real, Frank. Of course she knows. She has to. Sam says she’s in her sixth month.”

“Almost too late for an abortion,” I said.

“Mary Beth wouldn’t have one anyway. They’re Catholic.”

“Who’s the father?”

“Brad Vogel. Has to be. They’ve been going steady since eighth grade. Mary Beth says they haven’t gone all the way.”

“Maybe she’s lying.”

“No, I don’t think so. There must be some other explanation.”

“It’s been two thousand years since the last immaculate conception.”

“Don’t remind me, Frank.”

Dad joined us in the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee from the pot warming on the counter top. Dad’s in software development. He used to be in armaments but he got out of that business. He was dressed for work in his usual gray pinstripe suit and black wingtip shoes with the built up right heel that prevents people from noticing his limp. If they do, he says he had polio when he was a kid. This is not the truth. Dad’s always been lame.

“What are you two looking so serious about?” he asked.

“My friend, Mary Beth, is pregnant,” Courtney answered.

“So what do you have in mind?”

“We don’t know yet,” Courtney answered.

“I’m thinking about it,” I said.

Brad Vogel was seventeen but seemed younger. He was into computer gaming and since there is little I can’t do with electronics it was easy to impress him with my expertise. We went to his house after school and settled down with a couple bags of chips before his computer and took turns playing death matches on-line.

“I don’t think they’ve had sex,” I told Courtney. “They were doing some heavy petting and accidentally got a little too close. I don’t believe he even knows she’s pregnant.”

“How do you suppose he’ll react to the news?”

“There’s only one way to find out.”

Going down to the basement, I explained to Sam what we wanted. His grin was so wide that it almost split his head in half. Using a burner phone spoofed to identify itself as belonging to Mary Beth, I dialed the number for Sam since he has stubby claws instead of real fingers.

“Brad?” Sam said in an adolescent female voice. “Yes, it’s Mary Beth, of course, it’s me. How can you ask if something’s the matter? Yes, I’m crying. We have to talk. Now. I’m pregnant, Brad. Yes, I’m sure. Don’t be stupid. Who do you think? Half an hour. I’ll leave the porch door open.”

I clicked off the phone and Sam said: “That was fun, Frank. Real fun. I did good, didn’t I?”

Then I spoofed the phone to display Brad’s number, dialed Mary Beth, and gave the phone back to Sam. His voice was indistinguishable from the teenage boy’s.

“Hi, Mary Beth, it’s me. Well, I’m OK, but there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask. No, no, nothing like that, it’s what you haven’t told me…. Please, don’t start. I can’t bear to hear you crying. Yes, that’s better. We’ll talk. No, no one else knows. It’s just I noticed you were gaining weight. All right. I’ll be over. Leave the porch door open.”

This time Sam was so excited that he got down on all fours and started chasing rats. As small as Sam is, he was still much larger than the rodents, and soon his groin was messy with blood and fur.

The squealing got on my nerves and I went upstairs. Courtney remained behind until her favorite television program came on.

Sam wired Brad’s and Mary Beth’s rooms so we could overhear their conversations. Brad wanted to tell their parents about the pregnancy but Mary Beth didn’t. She was a big girl and she was sure that if she wore loose clothing no one would guess her condition. Brad was less certain. Neither had much idea what to do with the baby after Mary Beth gave birth.

Dad was sitting on the couch in his boxer shorts like he does every evening after work. He was finishing his third glass of the vodka he keeps in the freezer until it becomes as thick as syrup.

Brad was visiting Mary Beth. We were streaming the microphones in their rooms to our smart TV and their voices came clearly through the stereo speakers. Brad was saying:

“Of course, I love you, Mary Beth. How could you think I don’t?”

“But you want to ruin my life.”

“I’m only saying it might be better if we got help.”

“My mother will kill me. She’ll really kill me. You don’t know her.”

“Let’s think about it.” Brad didn’t sound convinced.

Dad scratched absently at the thigh of his thin leg and took a swallow of vodka. “The boy’s scared,” he observed.

“They’re both scared.”

“He needs to be able to justify keeping the pregnancy secret,” Dad went on. “Otherwise he’ll tell his parents.”

“I think you’re right,” I agreed.

So the next afternoon I met Brad after school and we went to his house and slipped a game into the console.

“You ever notice –” I began.

“Notice what, Frank?”

“Well, all the heroes, all the real heroes in the good games, I mean, there’s always something mysterious about how they’re born. Either some god was screwing around with their mother. Or else they’re foundlings. You know, left on a doorstep by their parents, who can’t keep them for one reason or another. Maybe there’s a rule about it. Like, you can’t be a true hero with an ordinary mother and father.”

Brad’s eyes became distant. They held so much innocence that I wanted to steal them from their sockets and cradle them in my palm.

“You really think so, Frank?” he asked. “There’s a rule?”

“I’d bet on it.”

Mary Beth called Brad when she felt the first contractions. The motel they’d picked out lay a couple miles down the state road beyond the town limits. Sam had wired the entire place since we couldn’t know what room they’d be given. We switched channels until we tuned in on them. It was not an easy labor but they were left alone since it was the kind of establishment where unusual noises are attributed to energetic sexual activity.

“Push,” Brad said. “One more time.”

“I’m pushing.”

The groan Mary Beth made mingled pain and effort and deep satisfaction. After this we heard the wail of a newborn. Mary Beth said, “Let me hold him.”

“Just for a little while, OK?”

“He’s so small, isn’t he, Brad? Oh, I wish we could keep him.”

“Come on, Mary Beth. You know we can’t. We’ve gone over this a thousand times. Look, I’ll get the bassinet ready.”

I stood up and said, “I’d better leave now.”

“Can I come, too?” Courtney asked.

I shrugged and pulled on a jacket. Twilight had faded to night and a chill November wind snapped sheets of rain against the pavement. A walk of ten minutes brought us to St. Luke’s Church. We waited around the corner against the overgrown hedge that framed the rectory. The shrubbery screened us from observation while allowing a good view of the front steps. Just past nine an old Civic pulled up before the church. Brad got out of the car. He didn’t notice us. He leaned inside in order to take out the cradle with his son in it.

For a moment he stared into the cradle. It was easy to guess what he was thinking. For Brad, giving up the child had mystical significance. He was ensuring the boy an extraordinary future. Like in computer games.

Brad placed the bassinet in front of the entrance under the overhang and out of the rain. Then he hurried down the steps and gunned the car away from there. I immediately went to the church and took the bassinet and brought it to Courtney in the shadow of the hedge. Together we peered at the baby.

His eyes were so blue as to seem black. He looked at us fearlessly. There was such wonder and delight in his regard that for the briefest instant I almost felt like a real human being.

“Isn’t he the cutest thing,” Courtney said. She blew a huge bubble.

“Sure is,” I replied.

I reached into the cradle and strangled him. Then I cut off his left ear and tucked it in my pocket.

I replaced the bassinet with the dead body before the church door and Courtney and I returned home.

“I want to report a crime,” Sam said in a woman’s voice. “Yes, well, I think there was a crime, but I’m not one hundred percent sure. I could be wrong. What? What does my name have to do with anything? I’m simply a good citizen, is that so hard to believe? Anyway, my point is, I was visiting a friend at the Seven Oaks Lodge, out on the state road, and I couldn’t help but hear all sorts of funny noises coming from a couple doors down. Number seventeen, I think it was. What? Oh, I don’t know, like crying and maybe like someone was being slapped around a little. I didn’t make too much of it, that’s how the Seven Oaks is. Only I started wondering if maybe I heard a child in there. Now that surely isn’t any place for a child. There’s all sorts of goings on.”

“Very good,” I told Sam. “Now this time you’re a man.” I dialed the police again. In a masculine voice he said:

“There’s been a murder. No, I didn’t see it myself. Let me tell you what happened. I was walking by St. Luke’s Church over on Montgomery, and I saw an old Honda pull up. A kid got out. He was carrying a box or something and he left it on the church steps. I didn’t think nothing of it, but there was something odd about the kid, you know how it is, and after he left, I opened the box. Only it wasn’t a box. It was a cradle. There was a dead baby in it, the son of a bitch dropped off a dead baby like a God damned bundle of used clothes. Sure, I got the license plate. Let me tell you what it was.”

Brad and Mary Beth were arrested for murder. The news made the national papers because the district attorney decided to press for the death penalty even though they were juveniles, but the charges were bargained down to manslaughter. I visited Brad while he was out on bail before sentencing.

“Mary Beth is sure I did it,” he told me. We were sitting on the edge of his bed in his room in front of the computer but the machine was off. “She hates me. She won’t talk to me.”

“Well, you did plead guilty.”

“Only because no one believed my story. They told me if I said I was innocent, and was convicted anyway, I might get the chair or a lethal injection or something. So I had to say I did it. What other choice was there?”

“I don’t know, Brad.”

“That baby was alive when I left him at the church. I swear it. Why would I kill my son? Why would anyone kill a baby? And steal his little ear?”

“Maybe someone had it in for you,” I said. “Maybe it was all a set up, Brad. They were keeping you and Mary Beth under observation. Watching you all the time, just waiting for the right opportunity to frame you both. Probably you were followed from the motel. They killed the baby as soon as you left him at the church. And after that they let the police know where you were.”

Brad looked at me like I was crazy.

“Why would anyone go to all that trouble?” he asked.

“Maybe they wanted to see you suffer for something you didn’t do.”

Brad shook his head slowly. “You’ve been playing too many computer games, Frank. The real world doesn’t work like that. I’ve learned the truth. Probably what happened is some sick bastard, some psychopath, was passing by. That’s all. It was chance. Bad luck. Nothing else.”

“If that’s what you believe, Brad,” I said, “who am I to argue?”

Mom’s a terrible cook and never gets any better. I doubt she’d get any better even if she tried for another thousand years. The frozen green beans were still cold in the middle and the turkey was dry on the outside while at the same time being underdone. Sam crawled onto the table and stuck his head into the cavity and munched happily at the raw meat. Dad carved around him. Courtney blew a bubble and said:

“Mary Beth got two years since they said she was only an accessory. Brad was sentenced to four.”

“I spoke with him last week,” I said. “I told him what happened. He thought I was making it up.”

“Never underestimate the human capacity for rationalization,” Dad observed.

“Even now Brad doubts evil exists,” I continued. “He thinks life is all just circumstance.”

“An Existentialist, is he?” Dad asked.

“He considers himself a cynic.”

Mom was chewing deliberately at the turkey. She dislikes her own cooking as much as we do. “How will you change his mind?” she asked.

“Well, first I’m going to wait four years. Until just before he’s served his sentence.”

“And then, Frank? And then?” Sam popped his head from the turkey and wiped grease from his eyes.

“I’ll send him the videos we made of him and Mary Beth.”

“And the ear, too, Frank,” Sam said. “Don’t forget the ear. That’ll really do it.”

I took the tiny scrap of flesh from my pocket and rubbed it between my thumb and forefinger. For a fleeting instant I was reminded of that fragile second when I had felt alive. It didn’t last. I was bored again.

“The ear, too,” I said.


Originally published in Candlelight magazine

Ryan Quinn Flanagan

If Your Dick Were Any Smaller, it Would Mail Me Love Letters from Micronesia

The S.S. Minnow gets on my knees. Jimmy Boy Rock guts a twelve string Fender with his galloping back nine horse teeth. If your dick were any smaller, it would mail me love letters from Micronesia. I am not trying to be kind, so much as honest. Dredging lakes named after habitual nose-pickers out of their only spawning water. It’s Rocky Horror for rocky shoals. Jack Daniel’s and smoke rings and layer cake concept albums over a garage sale turntable. Friedrich Nietzsche stuck in some squeaky animal balloon threesome that never included god. And those rats you keep trying to catch all look like syphilis with legs. How Byron came to see the Greeks once he soured on the Ouzo and pita. Do not commit suicide, everyone commits suicide these days. The inmates have replaced the warden with a Barcalounger made of Hate. Awning over awning like sunscreen for cracking death-march sidewalks. That crunchy yellow grass that makes you think you are walking on tiny instances of tinfoil. Someone to carry the baseline that is not a stork or a flatbed or some yummy mummy surrogate offering up her high end hotel womb for an extended stay. “You’re so overrated that Tripadvisor can’t keep up,” I hear some familiar smart mouth say. In a voice that could be mine if nails started eating hammers and jimson weed made a comeback that nervous Nancy guillotine never could.

Jeff Weddle

A Sudden Knocking

Small killer with big dreams 
her mind like the gears 
of a forgotten music box
unloved and lost
in a hot attic.

Thoughtful assassin
not wanting you to suffer
(just a quick pop
then nothing)
used up and lost in tears 
most eyes would never recognize.

Little shooter on the move. 

Knives are fine in a pinch
or poison in a frosted glass.

Deft beauty out for blood
in the nicest way possible.

That’s her at the door right now. 
Do you answer? 

She is quite lovely after all
and a brilliant conversationalist.

For reasons you will not understand,
you are her greatest ambition. 

She will be loving, soft,
the one you have wished for, 
and prepared for anything. 

Consider well. 

You have this final chance 
and there are many worse ways
to go. 

Sherry Shahan

A Most Disgusting Poem: Homage to Sixto Diaz Rodriguez

I’ve written in every kind of pleasure dome
I’ve scrawled in bowling alleys, biker dives
Dance halls, strip bars, old folks’ homes.
All the times I’ve hummed requiems
The same lines, rhymes, sooty impromptus.
So if you read on you might see yourself in this poem.

A most disgusting poem.

A future ex-husband limps through the door 
Eying an after-hours’ beast hoping to score
The bartender mixes a dirty bloody Mary 
And sightless Andy chokes on his cherry 
Then the local convoy be-bops in
And bit by bit the party begins.

There’s Vinny “Do-Diddy Pimp” Victor
Looking to procure a virgin stripper
Preaching is a sullied pope
While everyone downs the soap
That cannot revive their hopes.

And there’s old horn-dog Jeff
Who underwhelms even himself
And a topless waitress with a silicone ass
Who assumes little more than she grasps.

Yeah, every night it’s the same old scene
Smoking dope, sloppy drunk, being horny
At the Halfway-Inn, again. 

And there’s old preacher Jerry with the pool boy wife
A blue-eyed voyeur with a martyred life
And the professor with blue pills in his drink
Who never gives love, only nervously blinks.

Yeah, rank and file it’s the same old scene
Placated, unsubstantiated, masturbated at Mr. Spate’s Inn, again.

And there’s the young blood with the homespun soul 
And the Queen of Hearts stumbling down a rabbit hole.
And there’s ice-maiden Jane who forever reminisces 
She kneels, blesses herself, and doles out French kisses.

Yeah, they all show up, the Iggy Pops and Jim Crows,
Deadheads, redheads, and dirty blondes stealing the show,
Who speak in tongues, consult with nuns, and wish to be mistreated
Who misplace their dreams only to claim they were cheated.

Yeah, every night it’s the same old scene
Smoking dope, sloppy drunk, feeling horny
Mislaid, even, at Royal Albert Hall, again.

Noel Negele

Days of Beauty, Strange Days

I move from place to place,
collect stories, meet new people,
take in the landscapes—
I don’t stay long in a single job,
I don’t anchor myself in one field—
I end my relationships after
two to three months,
don’t give women enough time
to fall in love with me
or truly know me,
its cruel to do that—
I’m weary of weeping faces.

At the new warehouse
I work in a freezing environment 
with three other coworkers 
on such a mind-numbingly
boring post 
that it’s made a talker out of me.

We face each other 
while breaking boxes
for nine and a half hours 
dressed in high visibility 
jackets, skull caps,
face masks, scarfs—
the only thing visible
from our facial features,
our tired eyes.

We kill the time
by talking about anything
and everything 
while slowly going deaf 
by the loud machinery all around us.

Nihal, on my right
is a 22 year old Algerian
already married with
three kids, he says.

You really stepped your foot in it,
I tell him.

He shakes his head regretfully.
Apparently, his 19 year old wife
wants three more kids.
It’s stifling, he says,
I don’t make nearly enough money.
I don’t know what to do.

On my left, Neil, a fat boy
from Liverpool 
breaks the boxes with his elbows.

Don’t you just wish
you paid more attention 
at school, I ask him.

He says he has a better job waiting for him
in September,
a job at a call centre.
Somehow, sitting all day in front of a computer 
taking abuse from raging customers
sounds better to him.
I imagine him getting fatter and fatter
in a cubicle
leaning dead over his desk
at the age of 34 
because of his oversized heart
attacking him 
and lying there for hours and hours 
until his irritated boss approaches his body 
and gives it a shove 
and asks just what the hell
is he thinking going to sleep
on the job.

Opposite me, stands Steven
a 58 year old Scotsman,
all skinny and feeble and kind
and more energetic than the rest
half his age.
An ex junkie, 
my favourite person in the warehouse.
“Been on the Junk since I was thirteen,
me, pal, had to move to Ireland to get clean.”

I ask him if he got clean on his own.
Aye, he says, all by me-self.
Now, I just take Valium 
from time to time 
to take the edge off.

I nod. Valium is a hell of a tablet.
A very tasty poison.

At the bottom of each 
cardboard box,
bold capital letters in red



I take a black marker and write 
over the red words.
I have to entertain myself, somehow.



I put the box on the conveyor belt
and watch it travel through the warehouse.

After work I frequent 
a beat down pub 
in an ominous alley
you wouldn’t go through 
even if it saved you a lot of time.

The men there are dark-faced,
their women mean-looking,
all their hearts filled to the brim
with hatred,
it’s a foolish affair to hate,
yet they’re consumed by it.
I study them. I see the old me
shoulder to shoulder with them.

I drink two or three beers
and call it a day,
proud that I can drink 
not to get drunk,
proud I can take the world in sober.
Glad to not be leaning 
heavy against anyone,
glad to be able to help people
I care about, finally.

I wish to be kind 
but I’m afraid
of being kind
towards the wrong person.

On the ride home
I smirk at my rear view mirror.
The wind is in my hair
and the smell of spring 
is a fine smell indeed
and although there are many burned bridges
in my past 
I make plans for my future
too hopeful to even write about
lest I jinx them.

In these days of solitude,
in these days of beauty,
I am used to being 
a stranger amongst strangers —
I am my own home now
and when I go to bed
I don’t toss and turn
I slip right into

Otto Burnwell

This Drink’s on Her

You started doing it as a joke, any time your wife made you wait in restaurants or bars. Especially bars. You hated drinking alone, nursing the one whiskey, killing time until she showed up. You never knew what to do with your hands.

To explain you were waiting for someone always came out sounding like a dodge, an excuse, since you couldn’t be sure when she’d show up from work or whatever “engagement” she had.

So you’d settled on this one joke to fend off your discomfort.

Your wife had taken a new lover, you’d say, and you were giving them time to get used to each other. You’d add a little half-smile of apology, but never laughed.

It put anyone curious or judgmental on the defensive, unsure how to respond. It bled off your anxiety as you pictured what you might look like to anyone bothering to notice you sitting by yourself, giving off that kind of first-date failure or rookie predator vibe.

The response, in free drinks, surprised you. Totally unexpected. Bartenders especially would sport you to a free one. For the wait, they’d say. You perfected the nod of humble gratitude and furrowed brow of wounded pride to mask the guilty pleasure at the cheap victory. You’d salute with the glass, saying “this drink’s on her” and they’d laugh—with you, not at you.

It worked in most places. Probably not the kind of thing you’d try in a biker bar, or red-neck dive, pissing on your own manhood.

You watched the waitstaff for any reaction when she finally did show up. Did they gossip among themselves about her? Like—did she look freshly fucked? Did she act guilty or evasive? Did she even look the type to leave a new lover for drinks and dinner with the likes of you?

She’d enjoy herself, oblivious to her unfortunate reputation. Her vivacity—if that’s a word, then it’s her—her vivacity an odd underscore to what you had the staff thinking of her.

Maybe she would have thought your insecurity funny. Maybe she would have been flattered. You can’t come clean about it now. You could beat yourself up for not appreciating what you had. But it’s a little late for that.

Now, you whip out the line for real. That first time out alone, you didn’t feel at all guilty when that free drink showed up. Some nights it would get you a second freebie when you called for the check, when the waitstaffer got all tender for the long-suffering guy with the randy wife, eating, then leaving alone.

Tonight, in the bar when you tried it, you were sitting next to an older woman. Lots of makeup and side-boob.

She wanted to know all about it, not bothering with excuses or apologies for listening in and chatting you up.

You’ve never given much thought to filling in the details. No one ever asked before. So you make it up as you go, how it ended much too soon, how she’s probably happier, probably better off, maybe you were a jerk, not appreciating what you two had and you deserved what you got. But—you admit—there are things about the whole situation you can’t stop brooding over. Guess it goes with the territory, you say.

She asks about the asshole lover. You dismiss him with a hand wave. Never more than a name to me, you say. Not that you’d been formally introduced.

What’s he look like? Better looking than you, she asks.

Never saw him, you say, and you aren’t all that keen to find out. In fact, you’d like to avoid thinking of him at all.

Not like you should go up, shake his hand and ask him his intentions, she says. You laugh and say no, probably not.

You’re a young enough guy, she says. There’s other fish in the sea.

Much wisdom, you say, and heft your glass. To wisdom. But then you add, it’s hard to go back, throwing out the net when you can’t forget that first fish.

She turns on her stool to face you, looks you over, and says, come on babe, I can fix that. Make you forget your own name.

That she can do, says the bartender, then hurries to add, not that I’ve ever needed my memory wiped.

She laughs and says, you wait, there’ll come a time, even for you, and she laughs along with the bartender. Just like to see the customers satisfied, he says back at her.

If I don’t fix you right up, she says, it won’t cost you a thing. She points to her glass and the bartender fills her up. I’m the Angel of Subtraction. I can take it all away. Whatever it is. I’m here nights and weekends.

Watch yourself, the bartender says to you, she can be addictive.

Bring him another one when we’re done, she says to the bartender as she slips off the stool, a mite unsteady. He’ll need it.

She leads you to a booth in the back, chatting as you go.

Very scientific, she says. Known fact. Resets the chemicals in your brain. I read up on it. I’m not just a pretty face, she says, and laughs. Once I get done, your brain won’t know what to do with itself.

 She gets you seated in the booth, balances her cigarette on her glass, and slips under the table.

Watch the door, she says, and let me know if she does show up.

No chance of that, you tell her, as she takes you into her mouth. But she does show up, superimposed over the lips on you right now.

What would you say? If she did walk in? Standing over you, this cloud of hair, rinsed to a bright rust between your knees? Sorry? It’s one-time thing? I’ll tell you—if you tell me why you left without a half-believable reason?

You think you are about to embarrass yourself with a soft performance. Her vivid absence distracting you from the expert attention given to your crank.

But her face begins a slow dissolve as you respond to the Angel of Subtraction under the table. It’s a long way, but a swift trip, and from a distance you can tell the orgasm train is approaching the station. The nerves in your calves and thighs wake up and the tingling vibration builds. It chugs up to your midriff, your belly flinching and flexing and then the tingle spreading to your ass, clinching closed, all attention to the mouth.

You’re concentrating and you are feeling the swell of intense pleasure rise up through your crank, the forewarning of juice to come and then it’s electric, like lights going on all over the house, your dick swelling—swelling beyond the capacity of your skin to contain it, and the vocalizing that comes unbidden, warnings of impending deluge.

The music is louder somehow. Maybe the bartender turned it up to cover the sounds you’re making. The room fades, the walls fade, the world fades, and you clinch holding onto this feeling. Teetering at the precipice, already over-balanced, you are a cartoon character windmilling your arms to keep an impossible balance at the cliff edge, and then—you explode and rise, not falling, the contractions, a biologic efficiency, jetting it all out of you.

The Angel of Subtraction doesn’t recoil. Instead, pushing down hard, she makes you feel the back of her throat, the swallowing muscles constricting the head to take it all as the convulsions go on, and the sucking goes on, and you are trapped — deliciously trapped—and your legs and belly flinch and jerk, the nerves receiving and responding to the nervous system gone mad with sweet chaotic pleasure.

And then you relax—which is not the right word, but it will have to do—so the weight of your body descends once more and you are lumpen, settling on the booth bench.

She tongues the spot that always makes your leg jump, just because she can.

She comes up from under the table, swinging her ass onto the bench beside you, running a hand through her hair and taking up the cigarette she left burning on the rim of her glass.

 So, she says blowing a jet of smoke up into the dim, shaded light over the table, can you even say the name of her new lover. You think a long minute, then say, yes. Yes, you can, as it swims up from its dark hole, back into your memory. Death, you say. Fucker’s name is death.

The bartender standing there with your fresh drink, goes ‘whoa’ and sets the glass down on the coaster. On me, buddy, he says.

Might as well bring me another while you’re at it, she says. This one’s going to be tough, and she slipped under the table again.

As you are engulfed, surprised at rising again, you hoist your glass to the vacant seat, the missing face across the table, and say, this drink’s on you.