Anthony Schneider


She Was Not

She was not to stare, not even at helicopters or albinos. She was not to yawn in public or cough loudly or chew a chicken bone or break a pencil with her teeth.

She saw a car on fire at the side of the road. She could tell it had not been burning long. There was no smell. A few people watched the blaze. She rode away on her bicycle, and the explosion that she expected did not come.

She was not to smile with any teeth showing. She was not to drop anything, she was not to turn on a light switch without holding her breath to the count of three. She was not to turn off a light switch without first untying a shoe, then immediately afterwards stepping through a doorway and retying the same shoe, or if she was wearing a slip-on, taking the shoe off and then putting it back on. She was not to wear miniskirts or plunging necklines or flip-flops. She was not to show her toes.

She was not to use the word nice. Or hate. She was not to eat rice and broccoli, not even rice pudding, in the same seating.

She was not to cry in public, or remember things that might make her cry, not in the company of others. She was not to talk about the mess we’re in or how bad things had gotten, or divulge when last she spoke to her father. She wondered what she had to learn from whales, trees, small children. She wondered what she wanted. And whether she would recognize change.

She was not to be the loudest, or the last to leave, or the first to speak. She was not to point, she was not to linger, she was not to eat with her mouth open, or burp or fart audibly or sneeze more than twice in a row. She was not to drive over railroad tracks without both feet raised, even when she was driving. She was not to be visibly sweaty, she was not to be dirty or have newspaper ink on her fingers.

She kissed a boy. He bit her tongue. She made an excuse the next time he asked her out.

She spoke to her father on the phone. But when he came to town she said she hadn’t been feeling well and suggested she visit him instead, the next month maybe, or the month after that.

She was not to ask too many questions. She was not to look at anyone askance, especially not men. She was not to braid her hair. Or sing in the shower. There were no roads leading home. There would be no Armageddon.

She was to talk to him, to be civil. She was to comport herself if she saw him. She was not to set fire to anything, no matter how small. She was not to let herself wonder, even for an instant, if she might be better off if she had stabbed him with a steak knife, rather than let those things happen. She was not to bite her fingernails until they bled.

Anthony Schneider has been published in McSweeney’s, BoldType, Driftwood Press, Details, The Believer and other magazines as well as several fiction anthologies. His novel, Repercussions, is published by Penguin South Africa and Permanent Press in the US. He divides his time between New York and London.

Robert Garner McBrearty

The Story of Your Life

The fellow sitting next to me at the bar said, “I went through some rough times. You ought to write the story of my life.”

“I will, John,” I said, ‘I’ll do it right now.”

In those days, I always carried pen and paper with me, and as John told me his story, I wrote: John Springer was born in a small town in Ohio. His father passed away when he was fifteen, and his mother shortly after, and nobody figured out that John was living in the old house alone. He ate what was left in the fridge, and then he turned to cannibalism. He first took down his neighbor, Joe, across the street…

John leaned in. “What do you got so far?”

I read what I’d written and his eyes widened. “This is all wrong. I wasn’t born in Ohio. A cannibal!”

“It’s interpretive, John. This is the descent part. You need the descent before the redemption.”

“You son of a bitch! You’ve made a mockery of my life!” He threw his drink in my face and struck me. We grappled at the bar as I tried to ward him off. The bartenders forced us out on the street. He went off howling down the block. “You’ve ruined my life!” he shouted.

“Come back, John,” I cried. “I love you. I love your life!”

But he went on, bellowing in outrage. Since then, I can’t stand to be alone. I want to tell your story.

Robert Garner McBrearty’s short stories have been published in The Pushcart Prize, Missouri Review, North American Review, New England Review, and many other places, including flash fictions in Opium, Eclectica, Flashfiction.net, and Lowestoft Chronicle. As well, Robert has published three collections of short stories and most recently a novel, The Western Lonesome Society. He’s worked at many different jobs, from dishwasher to college teacher. For more information about Robert’s writing, please see www.robertgamermcbrearty.com.

Zeke Jarvis

Las Vegas

The bum approaching the businessman is covered with grime. He’s wearing an awful lot of clothes for this heat, but everyone knows that bums like to layer. The bum smells terrible. It could be sweat or puke or garbage, knowing the bums here. The businessman that the bum’s approaching looks towards this wretch with his eyes only, keeping his face turned towards the other side of the intersection. The bum mumbles something about spare change, and the businessman shoots back, “Get a job!”

The bum straightens himself. “Look Buddy, I’m a Viet Nam vet. I fought for my country and now they fucking spit on me. You all fucking spit on me! Spit on me and shit on me and leave me to die.” The bum whirls around, pointing at nobody in particular. “I can’t get a job, they won’t let me get myself together. What am I supposed to do?” His voice breaks and he falls to the ground.

There’s silence. Then the businessman laughs and a family a little way down the sidewalk applauds. “Shit is a word you shouldn’t say,” the mother says to her son, but she smiles and gives his shoulder a little squeeze.

The bum rises, smiling, and bows to the family. The businessman hands the bum some money and the family sends their child over with a dollar for him. The bum thanks them both and wobbles a little bit for the child. He belches, softly, and the boy laughs.

“That was good,” says the businessman. “Were you really in Viet Nam?”

The bum folds up the money and stuffs it into a pocket of his innermost shirt. “Nah, it was a little before my time, but I did have an uncle who fought there. Terrible business.”

The businessman nods. “You pulled it off well. Do you have any cards?”

“Cards?”

Just then, the mother from the family interrupts. “Excuse me. Do you think our son could get his picture taken with you?”

“Sure,” the bum says, smiling. “Do you want me to look defeated or menacing?”

“I have to go,” says the businessman, “but I enjoyed your work. If you had a card… or a website, even, I could hook you up with some clients or coworkers who are in town at conventions.”

The man smiles again. “Vegas is a wonderful town for that. I don’t have a card, but I generally work around this casino.”

The businessman nods. “Good luck.”

“Thank you, Sir. Now was that menacing or defeated?”

“Oh,” says the mother, “menacing, please.”

The bum leans in over the child and glowers. The child begins to moan and whimper. The bum relaxes a bit. He points to his shoes, from which his big toes stick out. He wiggles the toes and the child smiles. “Sorry,” says the mother, “We’re from Wisconsin; he’s not used to this.”

“That’s fine,” says the bum, looking now only slightly threatening as the mother takes the picture. “That’s just fine.”

Zeke Jarvis is an Associate Professor at Eureka College. His work has appeared in 4 Chambers, Petrichor Machine and Moon City Review, among other places. His books, So Anyway… and In A Family Way were published by Robocup Press and Fomite Press.