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Issue number five




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Short-shorts 1 by Jose Chaves, Utahna Faith and Marc Kipniss

Lobster hat and All I misunderstood as a man makes
complete sense as a parrot by Jose Chaves

Lobster hat

In order to become a writer, a woman decides to wear a lobster for a hat. She spends a bundle to have a tailor glue ribbons to its flanks and secure it to her head. She wears it to a literary party and everyone goes wild. "Where did you get such a fabulous hat?" a man asks, poking at the lobster to see if it's real. The lobster snaps off the man's index finger and there are more cheers.

The woman basks in the warm glow of attention, drinks champagne, and begins to flirt with the establishment. She sets her eye on a man with hoot-owl eyebrows, rumored to own a publishing company. She discovers he lives in the country and tells him how trapped she feels in the big city: "I have always longed to live in a cottage," she purrs, "where I could live and write."

During the conversation, the lobster dies from too much oxygen and collapses on her head, turning several shades of green. The smell of shellfish begins to fill the room, as guests politely move to the verandah. The man checks his watch and excuses himself, saying: "Pardon me, but I have to attend a midnight meeting."

The woman, unable to see the limp crustacean on her head, fears that it might have been something she said. She smiles and begins to flirt even more zealously to win back the crowd, but this only elicits circles of cold shoulders, strained smiles, and a polite invitation to leave. Half-drunk and humiliated, she takes a taxi back to her apartment. By the time she reaches her door, she is ready to toss her hat into the trash, but turns to discover an adoring throng of alley cats, now winding their way up the staircase.

All I misunderstood as a man makes complete sense as a parrot

I am enjoying a cup of coffee with friends at a small cafe, when the conversation turns gray with politics. Suddenly, they are no longer friends, but large green parrots, squawking things overheard on the television and radio with remarkable precision.

The first time this occurred, I was so frightened by the metamorphosis, I wanted to smash their giant beaks with my fist until they spoke again with human mouths. Instead, I opened up a package of crackers and that was the end of it.

Another time, I tried to use logic to convince them they were not parrots: All parrots can fly. You cannot fly. Therefore: You are not parrots! But they began to flap their ridiculous wings, hovering just high enough above their chairs to contradict me.

This time, at the risk of madness, I begin to squawk in their language, jerking my head about in a parrot-like fashion. I thought they might perceive this as a trick--my squawking in order to convince them of their humanness--but something quite different occurs. Miraculously, we discover we can understand each other quite well from a parrot's perspective.

In the end, we are able to agree on almost everything, except the sad fact that we are human.

* * * * *

José Chaves is currently living in Bogota, Colombia, on a Fulbright and is putting together an anthology of the Latin American "minicuento." His work has recently been published, or is forthcoming, in The Atlanta Review, Recursive Angel, Cross Connect and Exquisite Corpse.

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Tracking the double yes by  Utahna Faith

Cora walks on Chartres Street, alone in the crowd, cool in the sunshine. She looks in the windows. She doesn't know the meaning of art or antiques, but she watches them. She crosses Jackson Square, past the street bands and jugglers. She turns to face Saint Louis Cathedral. Bells toll.

Turning on Saint Ann, Cora buys an ice cream. She eats it in three bites. French vanilla, chocolate fudge, waffle cone, and then nothing. She wipes her mouth on a napkin, drops the napkin in the gutter. She passes the street artists, the fortunetellers, the mime.

Cora walks to the river and watches it flow. She watches the people who are watching the river. She walks down the bank, amidst stray cups and broken beads. A riverboat docks, its red paddle wheel slowing. Calliope music fills the thick air with transparent colors. Cora walks into the river. The tourists don't notice. She disappears beneath the muddy water. Her shoes stick in the primordial muck, and she walks out of them.

Cora walks the bottom of the muddy Mississippi, to the bottom of the Nile, to the bottom of the Euphrates. She walks across the sky, to an imploding star.

In the void of maximum density, Cora has a lover. She lets him fill her up; her space takes his shape.

"Oh Cora," he gasps, voice rasping in ecstasy. Her body receives his heat, accepts his desire, but her fingers are bloodless as she presses them to his lips.

"Hush," she says. "Cora does not exist."

* * * * *

Utahna Faith is currently working on a series of poems and short stories set in various locations, including New Orleans, Los Angeles, the Caribbean and numerous unspecified hot spots. She has poems forthcoming in Exquisite Corpse: A Journal of Letters and Life. Her short short, "All-Girl Band," appeared in Issue #3 of The Cafe Irreal.

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Cafe type and Coup de grace by Marc Kipniss

Cafe Type

His long nose was deep into a book. "Deconstruction," she noticed, appeared in the title. She also noticed the beret on his head, the pack of Dunhills on his table. It had been some time since her last cigarette. . .

She watched him while loudly sipping her double cappuccino. She cleared her throat, twice, and crumpled her napkin. But he didn't look up. This made her that much more curious. How good a book could it be?

Rising from her chair, she circled around behind him with her crumpled napkin, which she deposited in a garbage can. Then she saw the back of him. His hair was thick and furry. The T-shirt he wore had a picture on it of Miles Davis playing the trumpet. There was even a ticket stub lying next to the cigarette pack that bore the name of a theater that showed foreign films.

Hmm, she thought, and glanced over his shoulder, down the length of his nose. The pages in his book looked strangely alive--the words seemed to be moving, swarming, like little black ants.

The caffeine, she thought, it's getting to me . . . my vision is impaired.

Only this was not the case. The words were really like that. He was really liking them, too. And she realized this, after a moment: that he was really some type of avant-gaardvark.

Coup de Grace

The house had been falling apart a lot lately. Lou and Norine were getting too old to keep up with all the repairs. But a big renovation would have cost them several times as much as they'd originally paid for the house. So instead they decided to move to a condo, a condo down in Arizona.

Some of their belongings went to charity. Some of them ended up at the dump. The rest were manhandled by gruff movers into a truck--an ugly orange semi--that had just pulled out.

Walking through the empty rooms, Lou and Norine listened to their voices echo off the walls. They looked at the peeling paint and blotches of mold, the blank places where pictures used to hang. The carpeting by the entrance to the kitchen was worn down to the pad.

Norine had been a nurse during World War II. That's how she met Lou, in an army hospital. He'd been wounded by shrapnel in the buttocks. It was embarrassing for Lou, when Norine treated him. He got over his embarrassment, though, and proposed to her the day he was released, while she was changing his dressing for the last time.

The last time Norine had prepared a syringe was during the war. But standing there at the sink, after all those years, she still remembered how. She still remembered plenty of things ...

Norine obtained the syringe from a diabetic friend of hers. She'd found a book in the library that told her what chemicals to mix the solution from. Most of them, she was surprised to discover, were common household products.

Tucking the syringe into a pocket in her plaid shift, Norine went with Lou down to the basement. The stairs creaked and sagged. One of the steps had rotted away. Lou helped Norine across it, and winced from the pain in his rheumatic knees.

You okay? Norine asked.

I'll be better when we get down south.

Maybe, Norine said. You didn't forget to take your pills at lunch, did you?

I don't know. I might have ...

Lou's joints weren't his only age-related problem.

The smell of mildew was very strong at the bottom of the stairs. Norine wrinkled her nose and shuddered. Lou gazed at the warped and watermarked paneling he'd put up in the sixties. Then he squinted through a hole in the ceiling at a termite-pitted beam.

Lou and Norine walked toward the furnace. The concrete around its base was broken up, deteriorating. Norine held her husband's hand as he eased himself down. She knelt beside him and set the syringe next to the furnace. They pulled up pieces of concrete, made a pile of them.

Norine brushed away a tear. Lou stroked her shoulder. She glanced over at him. And back down.

Touching the dirt, Norine thought of all the holidays there had been, of the many turkeys and hams and roasts she had cooked, of the rich aromas of food wafting through the rooms while the children played, the grandchildren, the whole family gathering to celebrate the birth of a new baby, or to mourn a loss . . .

Ready when you are, Lou said.

Yes, Norine replied, picking up the syringe. Let's get this over with.

She sniffled and took a breath. And administered the injection.

They went up the stairs again and outside, into the twilight. Standing by their car, at the end of the driveway, they watched the house through misted eyes.

The chimney wavered in the setting sun. Norine hooked her arm around Lou tightly. A brick slid down the roof and tore a section of the gutters loose. It looked as if a strand of white hair were hanging down over the front door, as if the front door were yawning ...

Norine dabbed her cheeks with a threadbare handerkerchief. The two dormer windows darkened slowly. Then, on rusting hinges, the shutters closed. Lou felt his body shaking, felt his wife's body shaking.

It's time to go, Norine murmured.

Lou replied, Okay.

But neither of them moved until the sun had set completely, until they couldn't see the house at all.

* * * * *

Marc Kipniss holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Washington-Seattle. His fiction has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Salt Hill, American Letters & Commentary, and many other magazines. A chapbook of his short shorts, Reptile Appliance, is available from broken boulder press. His stories have been published online in elimae, 5_Trope, and Snow Monkey: An Eclectic Journal. Three of his short shorts appeared in Issue #3 of The Cafe Irreal.

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