The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Sixteen

Long November by Michael Farrell
Houses in Their Backs by Sean Ferrell
Warnings Accompanying Your Inflatable Universe by Justin Kahn
They Are Translucifying by Susan Lantz
Carolina in the Morning by M.E. McMullen
Broomsticks by Mari Ness
The Girl with Glass Skin & Combustion by Michael Obilade
At the Cafe by rovesciato
Cellular by Girija Tropp
Rose Red by Andrew Wille


irreal (re)views


by Mari Ness

The truth is, any party focused on vibrating broomsticks is going to have difficulties, even when the broomsticks are properly vibrating, and even when the room is not filled with a single angry couple like Max and Chloe. To be utterly truthful, Max and Chloe didn't quite fill the room all by themselves — that description more properly belongs to the not-quite-vibrating broomsticks, which had fallen every which way over the floor and the furniture, making it quite difficult to appreciate fully the low-cost Peruvian wines that Ellie had pressed upon us, even when we had protested that really, we just wanted some beer.

But if Max and Chloe didn't quite fill the room by themselves, they certainly filled a large part of it. Their tension, their dramatics, their hate — or love — exuded from both of them, enveloping us all. Their insults were spectacular and astonishing: "If I were going to tell you about Max's private life, I would tell you that sheep expressed disappointment and rabbits scream when he appears, but since I'm not going to talk about that, let me tell you about yesterday when the county mistook him for the garbage can, picked him up, and took him halfway to the county dump before he even realized what had happened." And from Max: "She eats weird cheese. I don't know why." Their insults grew bolder: some of the broomsticks vibrated madly in response, while others visibly withered and shrunk. I spotted at least three broomsticks trying to roll under the couch away from Max's angry feet. People began absent-mindedly jumping a little as a broomstick approached, letting the broomsticks slither under their feet. It made it, as I noted to Tessa, both difficult to avoid Max and to come up with witty one-liners to distract and attract Chloe.

"But you wouldn't want Chloe now anyway, would you?" protested Tessa. "I mean, not like, right now," she added, as wine disappeared down Chloe's cleavage, and two broomsticks quietly shuffled away from her.

"I don't know," I said, watching Chloe make another grand gesture, a gesture that sent another guest scurrying backwards to trip over a potted plant and fall on yet another broomstick, a process that made the broomstick moan a little in falsified pain. And it was true. I was attracted to Chloe at that moment because she was Chloe, because her anger had become something visible in the room, because her anger seemed to be something that I could grab at and tug and bring to me to be shaped or destroyed. "I don't know..."

"Did that broomstick leave a mark on my dress?" asked Tessa, returning, as always, to the main point.

"It's so difficult to tell," I said. "Twitching broomsticks have a bad effect on my vision."

The broomsticks, of course, had been Ellie's idea, and, like her earlier attempt to serve smoked radishes on rose petals, had garnered the distinct feel of unnecessary inspiration.

"I need a beer," said Tessa.

"Ellie only has wine."

"Damn Ellie."

"It's broomstick time," shouted Ellie, perhaps in an effort to avoid further discussion of the refreshments. "Everyone, mount!"

We dropped our glasses and grabbed for the broomsticks, with varying degrees of success. Tessa actually managed to grab two, one that wiggled delightedly in her touch, and a second that seemed determined to sulk, pulling Tessa inexorably to the floor. I found one that had been trembling on the love seat, and now sat dull and unmoving in my hand. When I mounted it, I must be honest: it felt like a broom. Like a stick. Jeff swore, afterwards, that his broomstick had actually bitten him, but the teeth marks looked suspiciously like those of a woman who was not his wife, and we all felt a bit skeptical. Max picked up his, looked at all of us with a smoldering gaze right out of the best clichéd romantic fiction, and broke it in two. "That," he said, "is like making love to Chloe." He rolled his shoulders back. "Brief. Snappy. Destructive."

We all felt the message would have worked better without the adjectives, but who, really, wanted to interfere?

Chloe, it seemed, had not heard him. "I'm flying," she said. "I'm flying..." Her broomsticks were, indeed, vibrating just a little off the ground, and Chloe's feet were, it seemed, almost off the ground. "Watch me," she said, placing her feet on the broomsticks, which moaned a little, and then began vibrating wildly. "Watch me fly."

I would have, I really would, but I was surrounded by chattering, vibrating broomsticks tapping me nervously, eager, it seemed, to escape this house. I wondered if Ellie had rented them for the evening or for the hour. I would have asked, but she had broomstick problems of her own. Three broomsticks surrounded her, and I could almost hear them either weeping or negotiating for higher contract rates. I opened a window and helped the broomsticks escape, one by one, those, that is, that were capable of flight. Most continued to wobble on the floor, or sit motionless, unmoving, depressed. I would have helped them, I suppose, but I wanted to watch the ones that could fly.

Mari Ness lives in South Florida under the tyranny of two cats. Most recently, her work has appeared in Reflection's Edge and the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 2 and 3, and will shortly be appearing in Antipodean SF.

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