Editors’ Choice: Neil Serven

In the Whore’s Style

The restaurant had to be mob-owned. Spotless to a fault, and the waitresses dressed like they were in another kind of business—scoop-necked tees, ass-hugging slacks. Your hand was forced by the extortionary markups on the Pacific wines.

But the lady had insisted: they have the most amazing puttanesca there, have you been? You haven’t lived.

If there was one thing this one had no trouble with, it was putting away food, but she looked none the worse for it. Extra carbs kept up the stamina, which was useful when they got back to her place. The flesh above her hips was smooth and soft. She devoured nonfiction books—history of all kinds, new biographies the size of cinderblocks—and talked about them in bed. She had lived in Honduras with the Peace Corps, digging irrigation trenches and teaching line dance classes, before the shit started to fly with drug traffickers and the U.S. pulled everyone out. Now she was managing a bank. Firmest deltoids he had ever felt on a woman.

Another clue: the front-of-house guy was a guy. Not the owner, but someone probably installed there as a favor, who could muscle up on the fly if a customer got ass-grabby with one of the servers, or if there was a rat in the house.

Plus, the olive oil: put out by some family operation. It came with a whole spiel, and sure enough they had take-home bottles available for purchase. Hand-lettered labels.

It seemed like a good place to end a relationship. If there was a meltdown, and it drew the wrong kind of attention, it’s not like you would miss place if they asked you never to come back.

***

So of course she ordered the puttanesca, as though to prove a point. This way they could sample each other’s dishes. He went with the veal saltimbocca, thinking of it as a business dinner: light on the sauce, nothing that would splatter.

There was nothing really wrong with her, if he had to lay things out. Her heart was true. It had reached the point, though, nearly eight weeks in, where you could only squeeze so much juice out of the grape. She kept having these ideas: projects for the two of them, daylong outings in places where they could be seen holding hands. This thing called geocaching, which you had to go all over creation for. She began talking up her family, wanted him to meet her friends. Worse: she wanted to meet his.

The times they were in his apartment she seemed distracted, as though there were things she wanted to rearrange. She couldn’t believe he didn’t keep any fresh basil on hand.

It was beginning to feel like an audition. The conversation kept slipping away. And he began to sense that he was repeating his jokes and she wasn’t telling him.

The restaurant was called Louie’s, which of course made him think of Sollozzo and the police chief. The old-fashioned toilet in the back, you yanked on the cord to flush. Every time he watched the film he’d wonder: what about the owner? What about poor Louie? What happens now to this decent family establishment that you’ve just stained with the blood of corruption?

Tessio said the joint had good food. But it was a clear evening in the Bronx and maybe only four other people were eating there.

 ***

His tactic was to wait until the main course was over, but before they could order dessert. She would almost certainly want to share something. Back and forth with the same spoon.

Puttanesca: from the Italian, literally, in the whore’s style. They put it on the menu as a joke.

He had even brought a wad of cash, so there was no having to wait to sign the slip. He stood with their coats while there was still wine in her glass. (There was always the risk it would end up on you.) The couple at the next table got quiet. At best, an awkward minute for the lady to put it together that she was being dumped. We all get dumped, somehow the trains still run and the sun rises over the river.

If she were smart, she would make him pay for her taxi home. If she didn’t ask by the time they reached the sidewalk, he would insist.

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Editors’ Choice: Fernando Montejano

Fluorescent Tidal Waves

Seconds:

Instances when the sun stops shining and the world holds its head hung low just for you. Because time takes its time to make its way back to this second. And the tremble of my hands matches the steady beat of my heart as we stand here in the dirt. And the wings of a dove swim through the clouds, break the sound barrier now because you won’t be able to do it again. My muscles tighten as my arms force gravity out of the way to the skin on your face. These fingertips held a feud with my blood and they tried to drain it out, but that moment doesn’t even matter now. The light in the corner blinks like time is irrelevant. But the milliseconds in between the light and the darkness of the flickering tube light last years. And I stand here, wading in seconds, pushing harder and harder to hold my hand to your cheek.

Minutes:

Between the alter and the carpet and the sun shining through the stained glass windows of a church dressed entirely in red. There is a priest walking his words down the aisle in to my ears. And the letters saunter past the pews like individual little children making their way to us. The congregation is silent in a hall built for god. And the way my hands hold yours makes arms feel like a bridge where our hearts will meet for a minute. So the cross behind the father looks down at our crossroads and I wonder what we look like to him. I wonder if he’s waiting in the minutes just like us. But I’m not looking up at him. I’m fixated on you. Because I don’t want to miss your lips when they tell me “I do.”

Hours:

In a room made of wood. Where the bed in the corner lay still. And in between a bed sheet were two naked selves. Whispering the night in to submission. So the loss of color under heated bed covers was a temporary transition in to bliss. Under the hover a dull moon lit window, we lost all the secrecy between us. These bodies couldn’t sit still for a minute. Restless legs and fingers running down the length of a thigh. The stars beamed through the window and gave light to our strife in the night. Where the hours were missing and where the river ends, is where the tidal waves rage to a swell. But the light in the corner still flickers and hums, as we embrace all the rest of ourselves.

Editors’ Choice: Tom Ipri

Six Minutes

If not for the fight with his wife, he would not be outside on such a hot evening and he definitely would not be smoking. He takes one last long luxurious drag—the indulgent drag of someone who smokes only on rare occasions—before dropping the butt on the stones in front of their house. They do not have a lawn, as many of their neighbors do. Instead, their ground is covered with small rust colored stones with several cacti poking through here and there. He thinks houses with lawns look foolish here. There’s something to be said for native landscaping, for the southwest to look like the southwest. At least the terra cotta roofs and the methodical beigeness of the houses give some clue that this isn’t the same east coast suburban development they left behind.

The night, not surprisingly, is brutally hot. During most of the year, the days will be hot under a relentless sun, but the nights will still be comfortable. But this late in the summer, there is seldom any reprieve. A heated wind kicks up which makes waking hours feel like they are being spent under a hair dryer. Of course, he knew when they moved to Vegas that they were moving into the desert, but he was not mentally prepared for how hot it really can be. What gets to him is the relentless sameness: just one cloudless hot day after another. People back home don’t believe him when he complains about how tiresome day after day of sunshine can be.

Some clouds have moved in, but there’s no danger of the rain he would so openly welcome. No rain in the past three months. From their house well to the south of The Strip, he can still see the glow of the lights reflecting on the clouds, especially the eerie green patch hovering above the MGM Grand, haunting people out having fun. Fewer than before and more cautiously than ever.

Nearby, someone is barbequing late trying to avoid the worst of the heat. Another hoses off his driveway. No rain in the past three months. A foreclosed sign stares ominously from across the street. A teenager walks by talking on her cell phone. Wars rage and people starve. Dogs bark from a few blocks away, trapped in the complex inner circles of their development. Somewhere, a lake is drying up.

During the fall, smoke from California wildfires fills the valley. He has no shoes on and cannot crush his cigarette into the stones. When out drinking—the other time he may smoke—he can become obsessive about crushing the butts under his foot, grinding them back and forth well beyond any need to do so. Last summer, a neighbor’s bushes went up in flames. Spontaneously. Mysteriously. No rain in three months. He bends over and grabs the butt, presses what’s left of the dim red and ash into the stones and brings it back inside where the air is still heavy with her tears, their adrenaline, and the words of two people believing each is right. A world has lost its precious balance. From here on, he fears, it’s all dénouement.

The contrast between the heat outside and the air conditioning inside always feels so glorious to him, but she is perpetually cold. There she is, predictably, sitting under a blanket. No compromise is enough. She stares at the TV with the remote control in her hand, but the TV is not on.

She had stormed out of the kitchen after the argument and buried herself on the couch as she often does when anger enters the house. He remained in the kitchen and put up a kettle of water. He didn’t even want a cup of tea; it was just an excuse to linger in the kitchen and be away from her. He took out his favorite mug and fed it a tea bag before heading out front for his smoke, making a point of not looking at her as he walked through the living room.

Now he sneaks a look at her as he comes back in. She stares at the silent TV and he wonders if he detects a slight smirk on her face. Maybe she is pleased that he went out for a cigarette. What is it they say? That each cigarette takes six minutes off your life?

Back in the kitchen, he sees that the heat under the kettle is off, that the tea bag in on the floor, that his mug is in pieces on the counter. He flicks the cigarette butt into the sink and leaves the kitchen not even attempting the slightest glance her way as he bounds up the stairs.

He goes into their bedroom and tries to slam the door, but the pressure altered by the air conditioning cushions the attempt. He sits on the edge of their bed, his hands shaking. In a way, he wants to just curl up in sleep, but he is too upset. All he knows is that he cannot stomach the thought of being in the same room with her. As often happens, he has lost track of what they were fighting about and how the fight escalated to this point. In fact, he didn’t even realize they were fighting until he was deep in. He remembers talking about his parents’ impending visit. What suggestion had he offered that caused the conversation to slip, so unwanted, to the point where the mere thought of being in the same room with her makes his hands shake?

He puts on his sandals and grabs his wallet and keys from the nightstand and jogs downstairs. He stops at the bottom and waits. When she finally looks at him, he glances down at his keys, raises them up by their ring and jangles them in her direction before leaving the house, heading into a night where the rush of hot breeze, the smell of barbeque, and the sound of the barking dogs still hang in the air. The beauty of Las Vegas, if there is any for him, is that he can leave in anger and have the option of staying out all night, producing a worry in her that was never possible in the east coast suburb they so regretfully moved away from.

Call for November Edition

Craigslist

We are looking for pieces that are either inspired by or a reply to the random, crazy, sweet, but creepy Craigslist postings. For inspiration look in “rants and raves,” “missed connections,” “causal encounters,” and “local news,” but do not limit yourself to just these. We are looking for a wide variety of styles, forms and approaches, both traditional and experimental. We will consider the work of poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers, as well as visual artists. We do not consider previously published work.

Please limit your submissions to three (3) poems or two (2) pieces of visual art or one (1) piece of prose, 1,000 words or fewer. All selected pieces will be published here during the month of November. Submissions for the Craigslist theme are open from June 1-July 1. Submit HERE.