time_stamped by Sarah Cavar

time_stamped

The stamp shop next door functions as a liminal space. 

Here’s the scene: you’re standing in a stamp shop, where the shelves are a solid 6’ and you’re a tentative 4’6”. You’ve just tasted your very first bagel sandwich (as opposed to eating two discretely cream cheese’d bagel halves, with which you still feel significantly more comfortable) with curly fries on the side. They were a welcome break from the damp and yellowed monotony of the fries from the freezer. You’re all done eating and full of grease and dread but it’s not time to —––––. You need to be held, contained like a belly, 'till your next appointment. The stamp store is a gas station and convenience store and Dunkin’ Donuts, except with higher standards of restroom maintenance.

You’ve never seen an actual piece of cash money before, other than perhaps that dollar bill your dad showed you and muttered in your ear “money is dirty,” which you’ll later learn to be true in several different ways. All the stamps form walls around you as a consequence of their six foot shelving situation; you’re absolutely dwarfed by the things. A lot of them are facing backward, that is, their respective backings of reddened clay are exposed, toothsome to the finger. 

Your mother seems to ache for craftiness, not in the sly sense but in the P.T.A. sense, and you implore her to pick up some stamps and ink. You suspect she seeks the fruits of some socialite mom’s private creative labors –– which, before the age of Pinterest, remain so very mysterious –– without the imperative to lug ripped-and-spit-spattered orange and watermelon rinds from the youth soccer field to the garbage bin. 

It seems likely she will buy you at least one stamp. She hasn’t bought herself a new pair of shoes since before you were born, which, as you don’t yet know, was not a particularly long time ago in the life of a human but was quite a long time ago in the life of a shoe. She lets you pick one stamp and one ink pad despite the questionable state of her old shoes. The ink is redder than the clay back of the glossy, wooden stamp you get, which you don’t pay for but cradle in your hands anyway. It’s time to go to —––––. You: digested. You are skilled enough with your hands to stick a stamp into some ink and mess it up a bit and then stick it even harder on some piece of paper and the thing that will emerge from the stamp’s surface as it kisses the paper’s face will be perfect. 

You experience grave disappointment upon noting that a stamp might leave a thin outline of ink, sometimes at a ninety-degree angle, just beyond the design that was to be imprinted. Later you seek this for the kitsch. You realize that kitsch only happens once you’ve been around a little longer than a mother’s pair of shoes, or after at least your third or fourth go-round with the bagel and fries combo, after you’ve at least once left that damn container of ink open too long to recover. Until one of your gay aunts purchases you a self-inking stamp that you can’t help but call nifty, as she perhaps would have in the 80s, and although the defining feature of this self-inking stamp is its maroon plastic top, in the center of which is written your home address in black. This is the content of your stamp. The ink attached is violet, which is not yet your favorite color.

Back at the stamp shop you did not think about the way stamps were made; you knew not of their customizability. You were flabbergasted, yes, absolutely shocked when you saw that some people ate bagels as sandwiches. You grew out of many of your intolerances but still stand as an inferior being in the shadow of a six-foot stamp shelf, all red, towering above like a grizzly old giant that comes before you sleep. You still trace the outline of some secret-garden printed behind the raw red track of an old stamp when it appears behind your eyes. The –––- chews and spits you unlike your fatty lunch of choice, which holds your sluggish body long enough to mark.

Sarah Cavar is a full-time student of ambiguous gender. Their work can be found or is forthcoming in Mad Scientist Journal, Breath & Shadow, Polyester Zine, and Sinister Wisdom. They have guest-posted on blogs such as Epicure & Culture and Genderqueer.Me, and can themself be found at sarahcavar.wordpress.com

The Rarest Piece of Nothing by Lanny Durbin

The Rarest Piece of Nothing

I scrolled through the toy collector’s trading site I scrolled through every night. The tiny cranking gear of my mouse never stopping. A guy here in Chicago was selling a Purple Skirt Miss Elizabeth figure by LJN. I sent him a message, I wanted it.

You see, the Purple Skirt Miss Elizabeth figure was one of the most sought-after figures. Created by the LJN toy company, the purple skirt variant was a limited version, possibly a mistake. I already had the gold skirt variation. The purple skirt one, if mint, was valued at upwards of a couple grand. In the height of the 80's wrestling boom, everyone knew who Miss Elizabeth was. She wasn't the most valuable wrestling figure out there but it wasn't about the money to me.  

There was always something missing in my collection. Once a thing was found, another black void appeared. A puzzle completed but one piece was kicked under the couch, eaten by the dog, plucked out in a fit of lunacy by the guy working at the puzzle factory and never added to the box in the first place. I decided that Miss Elizabeth was the woman to fill out the blurry chasm in my heart. My collection, rather. 

Sometimes it felt like that sliding coin game at arcades and carnivals. I kept sliding coins down, hoping to create that windfall. They stand at the precipice and I know that this next coin will start a landslide. But it never does. Do they ever fall? Are they supposed to fall? 

I rode the brown line north to the address this Rick gave me. I thought about Miss Elizabeth and the wrestler she managed, her real-life husband, "Macho Man" Randy Savage. His figures netted a hefty sum themselves. I thought about those glasses, that voice. His charisma, the otherworldly id—all mania and neon tassels. I thought about my lack of those things, squished into a train seat, breathing into my jacket's sleeve to avoid the sickness in the air.  

I climbed down frozen steps to the door of Rick's basement apartment. Orange glow from the little window at my knees. I heard locks being slammed open when I rapped the special knock he told me about in his email. Rick pulled me into the apartment and down the steps like a KGB officer. He was middle-aged, stumpy but expanding sideways. He led me through a hallway lined with shelves of toys and collectibles that looked the same as my shelves of toys and collectibles. I smelled the clean air from the humidifiers that were necessary to keep things pristine. A row of Skeletors cackled at me. I was used to their piercing taunts—some of their number populated a shelf in my kitchen.  

Rick smiled the awkward smile people like us can only manage and slid one of his glass cases open. Within the glass case, within her own cardboard and plastic case, LJN Purple Skirt Miss Elizabeth beamed. I knew already that she was the one. 

I slapped an envelope full of twenties into his puffy hand. He counted and looked me over. Miss Elizabeth was held out in front of me, lightly balanced by Rick's index fingers at two corners. I received her likewise, held in between my fingers like a precious artifact. Not like one, she was one. More precious even. Rick began to speak but I was anxious to get her home and into my collection. I nodded at Rick as I backed towards his front door. Yeah? Oh, nice, thank you, I need to get going. 

The most nervous train ride of my existence followed. Everyone's eyes were on her, I could tell. I knew what the "Macho Man" felt now.  

The moving lights I could see up in my second floor apartment from the street below made my stomach curl up. I'd come to find thieves in mid-ransack once before, when I was 21 and new to the city. I stayed down in the street and hid behind cars until they'd pilfered my useless belongings to their satisfaction. Things were different now—nothing in that apartment was useless. I ran up the stairs and shouted like a stray cat had wandered in an open window. "Out of here now!" 

The two men in black hoodies did not leave. They exchanged a look and the nearest man to me dropped a Spider-Man and punched me right in the face. I crumpled. I think I cried a bit while they stuffed pristine mint items into trash bags like goddamn lunatics. They weren't even handling them properly. I stared at Miss Elizabeth with my cheek against the hardwood, blood trickling. I told her I was sorry that I was so weak. One of them picked her up and stepped over me. They'd defeated me with ease. 

But I thought about Miss Elizabeth. She'd be pawned, she'd be bought later by a child probably, touched carelessly. I was raised from the floor by the steam my anger created. There was no blood hotter anywhere in the world. I stepped out onto my balcony, the men tossing bags of my life into a van just below. I became him, I became "Macho Man" Randy Savage, if only for that moment. Balanced on the black wrought iron balcony, fingers pointed to the heavens. I floated down, a flying elbow drop of which even the man himself would approve. 

I landed right on one of them. He and I mangled into one, the sound of air leaving us filled the dark street. I clawed at his bag, found her and pulled her out. The other guy put two hard kicks into my already busted ribs and yanked his cohort away.  

I stared up at the stars as the van pulled away, Miss Elizabeth on my crushed chest. I said aloud, there's always something missing from my collection. 

Lanny Durbin lives in Springfield, IL, plays in a few bands and drives a Buick. His work has appeared in Hobart Pulp, *82 Review and The Fiction Pool. He can be found on Twitter @LannyDurbin.

Storm Warnings by John Carr Walker

Storm Warnings

Weather abroad/And weather of the heart alike come on/Regardless of prediction. — Adrienne Rich

The weather machine plugged in behind the sleeper sofa in the office of our new house, set back from the country road and surrounded by vineyards, an intensely quiet place. I liked to visit the office while my father was out just to look at the weather machine, my knees sunk in the couch cushion, arms crossed over the upholstered back, chin resting on the bend of my elbow. It shared the windowsill with a snakeskin and mound of sculpturesque welding slag—this gray box, with a speaker grate, volume knob, and on-off switch, shouldn’t have been what fascinated me. But push the switch and a voice from the Bear Mountain weather station read the most recent report, and in the event of a storm warning, the weather machine’s siren blared like the house had caught fire.

Now, when information appears instantly on our personal screens, my memory of the weather machine's on-demand technology seems sentimental. In 1981, however, the year my sister was born and we moved into our new house, the Internet was still a military secret. Our phones were a mess of wires. We didn’t yet own an answering machine—few families did. Getting a television signal depended on adjusting a pair of antennae, rabbit ear and telescoping, as if the coarse and fine knobs of a radio. Folded issues of The Fresno Bee, dropped once a day at the end of our long driveway, determined the scope of the news. The weather machine asserted itself in a way most devices would not for several more decades. It only talked about the weather, but my father grew raisins. His livelihood—our lives—depended on the weather.  

*

In school, my sister read Night of the Twisters, about tornadoes that devastated a Nebraska town, and her imagination wired the disasters of that novel into her nervous system. Though we lived in California, in earthquake country, what might fall from the sky terrified her. When the weather machine's siren went off, she hid in her closet, in the box with her stuffed animals, and prayed the roof wouldn’t blow off the house. 

*

Our weatherman was called Angelo. We followed him with the kind of loyalty usually reserved for a favorite sports team. In one promotional spot, I remember, he appeared on the television screen wearing an overcoat and galoshes, kicking puddles, while "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" played in the background. Then, with an omnipotent twirl of his umbrella, Angelo stopped the rain. Surely, I’m not the only raisin grower’s son who can still see Angelo turning his palm toward the changed sky. It was a brilliant piece of advertising. Weathermen in the San Joaquin Valley were supposed to be able to do the impossible.

*

In preparation for the evening weather forecast my mother set the television trays. She closed the living room mini-blinds to keep the glare of the winter sun off the screen, while outside, the weather did its thing unobserved. My father needed to know if he should expect a freeze overnight, if he needed to run the irrigation pumps to protect the crop, and he only trusted Angelo to tell his fortune.  

From the moment Angelo appeared on screen my father demanded silence. My mother flapped her hands to hush my sister and me. For the weather forecast, everything must stop—talking, eating, breathing. I used to hold bites of half-chewed food in my mouth so not to obscure a word Angelo said. But we always made too much noise, somehow. My father hiked the volume until Angelo’s voice rattled the speaker. The rest of the forecast hollered through its parts: today’s temperatures, tomorrow’s highs and lows, Angelo’s narrative of historical patterns, all delivered at the decibels of a scream. My father kept his jaw set while he listened, baring teeth ground small from being constantly on edge. Only he could comment on the forecast. Perfect, he’d say, or Jeez, in resignation. 

After the five-day outlook, when Angelo returned to the news desk to banter with the anchors, my father turned the volume back down. My mother stormed into the kitchen. I swallowed the bite gone mushy in my mouth. My sister must have been longing for the shelter of her stuffed animal box. 

*

If the skies were gray when our mother picked her up from school my sister begged to go anywhere but home—let’s runaway, she'd plead.

*

In 2006 I moved eight-hundred miles away from our family vineyards. It must be distance that allows me to remember the weather machine as a piece of archaic, amusing technology rather than an instrument of terror.

Angelo retired from Channel 30 in May 2013. Honored as “The Dean of Central California Weathercasters,” by his colleagues, Angelo’s farewell segment lasted for more than six of a twenty-two minute broadcast. He said goodbye to his public with a tremor in his trained voice.

My father leased his hundred acres to an almond grower and in the fall of 2014 the vineyards were bulldozed to make way for orchards. 

*

My sister still lives down the country road from my parents and still gets nervous during storms. Even though Angelo is retired and the vineyards are gone the squalls of our childhood remain. Somehow, a change in the weather still feels like losing everything. 

John Carr Walker’s writing has been appearing in literary journals since 2007. His critically acclaimed first book, Repairable Men (Sunnyoutside), was featured on Late Night Library. A native of the San Joaquin Valley and former high school English teacher, he now lives and writes full-time in Saint Helens, Oregon.

Beedancing and Stupidhead by Carolyn Eichhorn

Beedancing

When I was four or five years old, I stepped on a bee. I had been running around the pool at my grandparents’ house in Arizona, exactly as all kids are told not to do, and I crushed a dead bee with my chubby little bare foot. The little bastard stung me from beyond the grave, rearing up to inflict pain and psychological damage long after its last gasps of ridiculously hot desert air. It was probably bitter about the heat. Arizona is a special kind of hot.

Anyway, as my mother tried to calm my gulping sobs, treating my swelling sting with baking soda, cooing, and promises of ice cream, I remember thinking that this was profoundly unfair.  What kind of creature can hurt you after they die? Thus began my bee phobia, my apiphobia, according to Google.

Fast forward to Florida where the air teems with insects and one’s twitchiness caused by buzzing, flying things can really blossom. All those orange groves have beehives set up to pollinate the sunshine fruit, so when riding horses or minibikes, one needs to take care not to end up in a cloud of angry, armed, flying fuzzballs. Combine that with a movie about killer bees, a proliferation of wasps and “mud daubers” with their dangly legs and rampant house building skills, and my nerves were always on edge while out-of-doors.

Aside from one incident with a hornet that stung me through my leather gardening gloves (I sobbed in the fetal position on my living room floor for fifteen minutes), I had few direct interactions with the flying pests. But the buzzing, the threat, always triggered a physical response.

During a volunteering day at Give Kids the World, I was painting the side of one of the administration buildings alongside friends and colleagues, hip deep in hedges when I heard that familiar, horrifying sound. In seconds, I had leapt from the bushes, arms flailing, face contorted in terror, screaming like a sorority girl in a slasher movie. Once out of the danger zone, I looked up to see my team, my friends, doubled over in laughter.

“Did you see that dance?”

“That was a bee dance!”

“Buzz, buzz! What’s that by your shoulder?”

Unfortunately, that bee dance has been repeated many, many times while mowing the yard, hiking local trails, chilling at the pool, even walking across the parking lot to Publix. There was a particularly horrifying incident outside a Sam’s Club once when I discovered a wasp nest up in the handle of the tailgate of my Mom’s pickup truck where my fingers had been. But patio furniture, pool chairs, long wooden docks, and all those places you would expect to relax are like Disneyland for flying, stinging things. Wasps love water parks, by the way. Seriously, just look up while you wait in line for that flume ride. Wasp nest city.

When I get caught in full freakout mode, the question is always the same. Are you allergic? 

Um, no, I’m just fucking terrified. Does it diminish my panic that only pain, not anaphylactic shock, is coming at my face via airmail? Nope. Avoidance of pain seems like a completely legitimate and logical effort to me.

And, by the way, bear maulings can’t be fixed with an Epi-Pen, which is just as well since no one can afford those anymore.  Nor can they soothe the anxiety that descends like that paper dentist bib at the sight of the silvery metal torture tools next to the spit bowl. At that critical moment, when it’s just you and a flying thing that could be a brain eating wasp or merely a ladybug, we have only our own defense mechanisms, no matter how ridiculous they look to others.

It turns out that bee dances are really a thing. Bees communicate with each other, so beekeepers would have us believe, by using a series of “dances,” the most famous being the “waggle dance” which seems to be a butt-shaking figure-eight, not unlike what one might see at the club. Presumably, these bees can share details about the location of food, taking into consideration the distance, angle of the sun, and line of flight.  Seriously. Buzzaboutbees.net even has a video of this spectacle, though I could not bring myself to watch it, as I had no Xanax on hand. And, honestly, I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with the idea that my lifelong foe is capable of GPS targeting. Are they just messing with me? Throwing in a little fly-by on the way back to the hive for kicks? Gathering with each other for a little pollen and some bee-sized guffaws at my distress?

I’m no longer that child in bare feet, but I find that as a grown-up, I’m still watching where I step, lest something seemingly harmless might come at me with poisoned barbs. I’m listening carefully when I enter a room of chatting humans for any warning buzzes that I should avoid, especially around politics. You might not see the sting coming, but you will often hear the thrumming warning hum. I cannot seem to control my facial contortions in response to bullshit, though arm flailing is infrequent at professional events. My bee dancing is happening all the time in degrees, though not usually in a figure eight. The waggling, I’m afraid, is merely a result of a slower metabolism. I wish that I was just sharing the location of leftover meeting brownies down the hall, but it’s more likely a manifestation of other fleeting things that might hurt us, though they appear harmless.

Stupidhead

“So, we’re all good then?” Beezer asked, like he always did.

Lisa got to her feet and brushed red dust from her clothes and hair. Her limbs all appeared to work normally, but she knew she would bruise where her hip had struck the ground after her Huffy spilled her into the rutted clay road.

“You are a stupidhead,” she said back to him, her standard reply. She gulped the last part, still fighting to catch her breath and not willing to drop the attitude that clung to her thirteen–year-old self like the rust colored earth staining her Keds.

Beezer smiled his gap-toothed grin and Lisa smiled back. After all, it had been as much her fault as his. She’d agreed to sit upon the handlebars as he steered her pink beach cruiser down the steep switchbacks. Turns out, this made maneuvering difficult and the incline did the rest. Beezer had dumped them both over to prevent the bike from careening completely off the road. He’d gotten the worst of it, not from the wreck, but from the removal of the bike from the thorny blackberry bushes growing wild in the ditch. Beezer’s close-cropped blond hair and Ron Jon t-shirt were wet from the Georgia summer heat and his efforts to tug the bicycle back to the road. Lisa took a moment to straighten the barrettes that struggled to contain her insubordinate wavy brown hair. Neither of them wanted questions from the parentals.  For insurance, they picked enough blackberries for a cobbler, wrapping them carefully in Beezer’s shirt, before returning to the cabin. The diversion worked long enough to get them inside and upstairs, but five minutes later they heard Beezer’s mom call from the kitchen.

“Benjamin Zachariah Ross! Did you intentionally ruin this shirt?”

Lisa snorted with laughter.

“Goofball,” Beezer said.

“Stupidhead,” Lisa replied.

At least there wouldn’t be stitches this time. The waterbed adventure at the lake three weeks earlier had earned Lisa nine. Filling the patched-up mattress with air and jumping on it from the pier had seemed like an awesome way to pass a hot afternoon. However, seven minutes in, Lisa had been catapulted with impressive height into the closest splintery piling. When she had sputtered back to the surface, blood coursed down her face from a cut at her hairline. Beezer had fished her out of the water and pressed a wet beach towel to her face. Soon, both the towel and Lisa’s freckled face were streaked with watery red. Lisa had joked, “Good thing there are no sharks in the lake or we’d really be in trouble.” This had gotten a laugh from Beezer. He’d looked a little worried.

The parentals had gone berserk. Well, the ones who were still around had. Beezer’s mom and Lisa’s dad were sister and brother. Every summer the families gathered at Pop-Pop’s cabin. While sister and brother complained about their lives over beers and barbecue, Lisa and Beezer played in the woods around the lake, not wanting to hear anymore about illness or affairs or heartbreak or divorce. They already knew the ways parents could leave.

Each summer meant elaborate adventures, mostly of Beezer’s invention. As the older cousin by a full year, he became the coordinator for their summer shenanigans. They improvised parachutes of bed sheets and leapt off the roof. Luckily, there were no broken bones, but both agreed it would be best not to tell the parentals. When Beezer wanted to catch a Sasquatch, they dug a hole so big it took them a week before they covered the opening with tree limbs and set up surveillance. They checked it every morning for six days. No Sasquatch. They searched for treasure and buried some of their own – just stones, an arrowhead, a metal Corvette toy, and other stuff in a cardboard shoebox, the location carefully marked with an X on a bona fide map. They built a make-shift tree house with some old two-by-fours and plywood scraps once Beezer was old enough to use Pop Pop’s drill. They played Hunger Games. Although Lisa had agreed that real bows and arrows were probably not safe, she fell while fleeing Katniss-style into the old Sasquatch trap. In the darkness of the pit, the wind knocked from her lungs, she managed to gasp, “Beezer, you stupidhead.”

Their last summer together at the cabin had been before Beezer went away to college. He played football, channeling his toughness into the game. After graduation, he became a coach at a high school in Florida. Last Christmas, Lisa had teased him in front of his boys about the trouble he’d gotten them in as kids. He’d laughed in a way that made Lisa suspect that he had pulled off a few adventures with his little guys. Lisa had punched his arm and complained that he always seemed to get away with everything.

“Not true!” He’d laughed, showing that same gapped grin.

And he was right. In the end, it was cancer that caught up with him, not his reckless spirit. Lisa ran her thumb over the raised lettering on the funeral program, while the pastor lead the congregation in prayer, blinking back hot tears before whispering, “Stupidhead.”

Carolyn Eichhorn completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Tampa where she won the Plant Hall Spooky Story contest in 2015. She's had stories published by Oscillate Wildly Press, ScrawlBrawl, and the Baltimore County Library Foundation and is currently shopping her mystery novel, Murder in the Mix. Carolyn teaches writing and writes twisty fiction in Baltimore, Maryland. You can check out her blog at: https://groundsforsuspicion.blogspot.com/.

Fighting Over Depeche Mode by Stephanie Valente

Fighting Over Depeche Mode

My sister and I are in a battle: we know we'd be so good – married to Depeche Mode. The romance, the lust, the hunger. When I play, I play to win. Who gets to marry Martin? Who gets to have Dave? Is one better than the other? I tell my sister that as the oldest, I get first choice. It's only fair. I'm protecting her from a mistake and midnight-blue heartache. After all, it's an older sibling duty.

My sister says that we should think about this carefully. We already died a few times – first by the music, the second after dancing, and the third by the ocean. It’s the British accents, I say. They’re poison. It’s always sweet and always delicious. Who could say no to that? Who could say no to death when it’s so much fun?

My sister says that we should wait and see. We should propose. We should choose the right man. Which musician will make breakfast in the morning? Or will both of the men sulk away and write sad, sad songs with big wet eyes? We hope so. We told them we’d make good wives and wear branch crowns and wait by the window with poetry and berry lips. We think they’d like it. We think they’d like to watch us dance. We think they’d like to touch our wrists and tell us about all of the tiny traumas that live in their hair, the faded ink receipts in their pockets, what it’s like to feel lonely when you are not alone.

For this, my sister and I think they would be interesting husbands. But, we don’t know who to choose. They both sing. They’d both give us ghost children, but only if we wanted them. As for me, I think of the blonde one late at night. In my morning dreams, he lays behind me, a face in my shoulder, my neck. We are always naked and never cold. I think about how his voice would curl behind my ear. I think about us smiling with all of our teeth. I told my sister I would like that.

Good, my sister says, I liked the other one better.

Good, I say. And I think this life would be full of machine music and the man with the sad blue eyes would be mine. Finally, finally. I would always hold his hand. And maybe, steal his leather jacket. I tell my sister he would roll his eyes, but truthfully he’d love it.

My sister would love the other man with dark eyes. They like to dance and contort their bodies. He has the best record collection for dancing. But, I have the better kisser. Though, in some ways, it makes me jealous. With our husbands, we’d be good at sending each other our thoughts. If you’re going to marry a band, you’d have to have superpowers, no? Being a vampire is overrated. But telepathy, my sister and I decide, is where it’s at.

But then, I think of the dark eyed one and the full lips and perhaps, one day, we would be happy too. Dancing in the weird moon. Laughing and not being so serious. I told my sister this could work, too. If she’d only let me try. It’s only fair.

Stephanie Valente lives in Brooklyn, NY. She has published Hotel Ghost (Bottlecap Press, 2015) and waiting for the end of the world (Bottlecap Press, 2017) and has work included in Susan, TL;DR, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Sometimes, she feels human. http://stephanievalente.com