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Short-shorts 2




When the curtain falls by Cheryl Pallant

I was arrested for being myself. That's what the officer charged me with as he handcuffed me and shoved me down the hall to the waiting van already occupied by a middle-aged couple picked up for indecent exposure.

At the station house, I was directed to a room with pallid yellow concrete walls and a large mirror, obviously an observation window. A second officer offered me coffee, pulled up a chair close enough for me to feel the heat of his breath but far enough so that I couldn't reach him with my feet.

"Why'd you do it?" he began, wasting no time, wanting a confession immediately.

"Like I said to the first officer," I offered, choosing my words carefully, my admission jeopardizing my fate. "I'm innocent. I was only...acting."

"Let's not get technical," he replied, sharpening his gaze. "How do you account for last night then," he asked, planning to hear only what he expected, what would make his job easy, and let him leave early enough to join his wife for dinner.

For the second time that morning, repeating it verbatim, I narrated my whereabouts of the last fourteen hours:

"I was standing offstage, script in hand, making sure all lighting cues and entries and exits by the uncle, his sister, her young son and the lesser characters were carried out as planned. For months that felt much longer, clipboard in hand, I stood behind the curtain. I watched as the sister in her blue satin dress sashayed around the stage, the uncle bragged about his financial investments, and the son soared his toy airplane above floor and table, interrupting their conversation with fantasies of WWIII invasions, proclaiming himself a superhero in a loud enough voice for them to hear and consequently ignore.

"Though I often sat content on my stool, mouthpiece strapped around my chin for delivering instructions to the control room, each word of the dialog so well memorized, I tell you I could have delivered the entire thing myself, I suddenly broke out in a dizzying sweat. By the dinner scene, Act IV, line 33, when the uncle confesses amorous feelings for his sister and stumbles on the leg of his chair, I strode onto the stage.

"'Why, Nancy,' says the uncle, tapping the table nervously with his right hand, 'we were not expecting you until...later.'" He then fidgets with his tie, which is my cue for grabbing his bowl of soup, pouring it onto his lap, buttering myself some bread, and ranting about everyone having so many expectations of me, an eloquently delivered speech that brought me great applause afterwards during bows."

"Exactly," said the officer, pleased by my account.

"But it was an act," I defended, suspecting a difference in interpretation.

"Attempting bodily harm," explained the officer, "is a felony, but you caused quite a...disruption. If you're lucky, you'll be given a small fine and serve community time." He glanced at the mirror smugly.

Once again, my body temperature climbed dramatically, my thin rayon blouse suddenly too heavy and tight for the room. "This is absurd!" I yelled, leaping up from my chair. The officer tried to force me back down without success. "The reviewers were pleased by my performance!" I insisted.

"Critics know nothing about laws."

That's when I lost it. I'd had one too many arguments about theater aesthetics with the uninformed. Same as the night before, a dizzying heat surged through my body, a current that left no room for contemplation. I grabbed my chair, raised it overhead, and before the officer could stop me, I brought its full wooden weight crashing down on his shoulder. He flopped to the floor near his chair like a puppet severed from its puppeteer, his pad of paper falling beside him, his pen rolling away from both of us, the sound echoing in the starkly empty room, eventually followed, when the pen stopped rolling, by a complete and profound silence.

Shortly after, the lights dimmed, the curtain fell, and I bowed to a series of bravos. The critics' opinions that night were mixed.


* * * * *

Cheryl Pallant lives in Richmond, Virginia, and teachs writing and dance at Virginia Commonwealth University. This story is from Dreaming With Eyes Open. One of her stories, "A Touchy Situation," appeared in Issue #2 of The Cafe Irreal.


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So tell us about your dissertation?/Loose lips sink ships by Davis Schneiderman

So Tell Us About Your Dissertation?

I'm glad you asked. Essentially, I am undertaking a phenomenological inquiry into the ontological nature of such areas, as prescribed within a postcolonial context, that correlate with certain externally-imposed distributions...in order to sustain a pluralistic socioeconomic continuum of those historically under-represented and noumenally excluded from, what Henri d'Mescan would label (perhaps erroneously), as Epicetus' enthymematically-flawed maxim: 'When we kiss our children, we should remember that this too is mortal...' Of course, it's more detailed than that; that's just the first quarter of the project. The syllogism is somewhat encapsulated by the hidden premise 'Kissing is an act of humanity and warmth, that all persons are capable of, because A) they possess lips and a complete mandible system, B) there is another to receive the impression of lips (not necessarily another set of lips, as lips can be said to be 'kissing' when pressed only against the air or other non-responsive body, but in this case a 'human' one) and C) that 'kissing' is an actual act with actualized results, that can be said to correspond across the infinite difference in realities of the participants...so that when I plant one on you like this...ummmmpphh...this exchange may not...aaarrrmmmpphhh...even be transpiring..."


Loose Lips Sink Ships

I once watched a rose bleed in Köln, during the Bacchanalian wife-swapping festival. For three days we all pranced around in varying degrees of nakedness, me, Joachim, Anna called Bella, and magnificent Oliver, so dapper and joyous. Ah, to be like Oliver! He had all the wives without even trying. While I still had to strap on an enormous giraffe dildo, bright yellow, with hormonally-arranged splotches sure, but giraffe nonetheless.

* * * * *

Davis Schneiderman is a writer living in Ithaca, New York. He is working on his second novel; his work has appeared in The Iowa Review and to the QUICK, and will soon appear in Neotrope: Progressive Fiction, Quarter After Eight, and Studies in the Novel.


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Trauma by Ali Seay

I think I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't shocked when that first finger fell off. I just stood there, barrelling on in a nauseating conversation with a local psychiatrist. He didn't miss a beat and continued on with his monologue on how he felt Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to be a sham.

"People go on with their lives," he said as my pinky plunked into a pool of cocktail sauce. Now missing two fingers, I found it nearly impossible to hold my shrimp.

"They muddle through. All this stuff about flashbacks and whatnot...malarkey." He studiously ignored my waving digit as it retreated on a tray of finger foods.

I nodded like a wizened sage and did a mental tally. I still had eight fingers left. What was the harm in losing a few? Although my outlook was cavalier, a fine film of sweat had popped up on my upper lip.

"I mean, really, talking of these extreme physical ailments caused by nothing more than memories of past trauma. The children of my generation were beaten almost daily. It was a perfectly acceptable form of punishment. We're not all running around holding up fast food restaurants and climbing clock towers with rifles."

I mumbled agreement as my thumb plopped softly against the leg of my slacks.

I brushed my hair back with the hand that still had three fingers and a thumb. No sense in publicizing my misfortune.

A woman across the room gave me a long stare. I tried out a weak smile which she returned.

"How was your childhood?" The shrink asked me as he nibbled a cocktail frank.

"Perfectly normal," I lied, smiling, as my ring finger and remaining thumb bounced their way down to the gray carpet below.


* * * * *

Ali Seay lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband and two children. She hopes to raise her children to be healthy and happy so their digits never drop off.


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Black Umbrellas by Jeffrey Valka

The cracked, red desert sprawls before me for hundreds of miles in every direction. The landscape is almost completely desolate, save for spotty clusters of gnarly, twisted thorn bushes. The vines are miserly and vicious, toughened by their harsh existence in the desert and afraid of nothing. They remind me of the hands of a bitter old man.

My tongue is dry and shriveled like an old piece of leather, my legs numb but still moving me forward. If I should stumble I know that I would die where I fell, unable and unwilling to stand and resume this futile journey. Still, a tiny sense of purpose not totally dried up by the sun and heat propels me onward.

I reach the top of a dune and find myself looking down into an oasis of sorts. A knee-high picket fence cordons off a patch of soil for a garden of black umbrellas. Most of the umbrellas are in bloom, fully opened to catch the sunlight. Others are in varying stages of opening, with a few scattered black shoots poking up through the red sand. The umbrellas fall into neat and even rows with room enough for a person to walk between them. With a cry of relief I run to the garden, tripping and somersaulting down the side of the dune. If this is where I am to die, I could not have found a better place. My skin sings with relief to be out of the blistering gaze of the sun. The air beneath the open umbrellas is cool and slightly heavy with moisture, a blessed respite from the heat.

After lying in the shade for a few delicious minutes, I see an old Chinese woman and a brown cat spotted with gray come to investigate what's going on in the garden. The woman wears dusty overalls and a farmer's straw hat, and uses a broom handle with the head snapped off as a walking stick. Her cat jumps and chases around as if playing with an imaginary mouse. I am unable to get up and properly introduce myself, so the woman finds me lying in her garden like a sea turtle flipped over on its back, completely helpless.

After a startled moment of discovery followed by a quick assessment of me and my pathetic situation, the woman gives me a world-weary, all-knowing smile that puts me at ease. I try to smile back, but my lips are so parched that all I can manage is to gape dumbly like a goldfish, and even that shoots pain through the corners of my mouth.

With a motion of her stick she bids me to move beside one of the unopened umbrellas, and I comply. She squats and grips the stalk of the umbrella in one hand and opens the dome with the other. It clicks into place and a shower of sweet rain falls from within its folds, cleansing and refreshing me.

With water dribbling down my face and neck I struggle into a sitting position to thank her, but she and her cat are already gone.


* * * * *

Jeffrey Valka has been writing since he was in high school. In 1992 he attended the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop and since 1995 has completed three novels and a collection of short-short stories. A handful of stories from his collection Dragonfly Heart have appeared in the magazines Mind In Motion, Pirate Writings, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. In May his story "Subtext" appeared on www.The13thStory.com. His current project is a fantasy adventure called The Flowers of Proserpine.


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