Thelma by Catherine Lewis
Hair in a beehive. Cat-eye sunglasses trimmed in rhinestones. She’s smoking at the picnic table out front, a school of butts swim in the sand at her feet. No need to ask if she’s been waiting.
I shift the sack of groceries to my left arm, check my watch.
I’m early, she says. It’s so peaceful out here. I can smell the pine.
Inside, I pull a couple of beers from the fridge, squeeze lime down the long necks then unpack the groceries: coleslaw, spare ribs, baked beans, more beer.
I brung some fresh corn. And don’t worry, it ain’t lab grown. Come right outta the garden first thing this morning. I know you think them GMO’s are all bastards. Well I got news for you, they are. She starts laughing at her own joke. We load up two trays and take everything out back to the grill.
I shake some mesquite chips into an aluminum bowl. Thelma turns on the hose and waters until the chips are soaked. For good measure she squirts down the patio bricks. Afternoon steam rises off of them as the water burns away. I scrape the grill with a metal brush then pile high the briquettes—all ready to go. We have another beer or two and play a few rounds of horseshoes.
You starting back on Monday?
My old shift. The shoe thuds short of the stake and I rub my right forearm. Even though it’s healed a tender sensation lingers.
It’s back to midnights for me but least I see my boy for breakfast. I ask how that’s all working out.
He’s done stolen twice from my wallet. The other day he tried to cash my paycheck but the check-cashing store called the police. How the hell he think he’s gonna pass for a 34 year old woman? A tear escapes from behind her dark glasses. I shoulda pressed charges then and there for stupidity.
We have another beer. Dusk settles. There’s a string of lights around the trailer and I plug them in. Gather up the horseshoes. Ignite the fire. After a while we put on the mesquite chips and the smell fills the woods all around, earthy and primal. Mosquitoes come out looking for blood though it seems like most of Thelma’s has already gone to that boy.
I dress the ribs while Thelma attends to the corn. She peels the green husk to the shank, then pulls off the fine hairs. When Danny was a boy his hair was just like this, thin and silky, soft as a yellow ribbon. She wets the leaves, pulls them back up, and we cook the corn in its own green blanket. Afterwards, our plates look like some modern exhibition—all bones and cobs in congealed butter, bean and coleslaw sauce.
The stars are twinkling and we’re both slightly drunk when Thelma takes off her sunglasses and lights a cigarette. There, in the single flame her black eye is illuminated. When she sees I see, she says, That damn boy is just like his daddy. No good but I love him anyhow.
Obama’s Confederacy by Greg Larson
It was Election Day: November 4th, 2008. I was on the campus of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. I was a college sophomore and a twenty-year-old lifelong Minnesotan (you betcha) who had just moved south of the Mason-Dixon line for the first time. I watched the results of the election with my new friends: a good ol’ southern boy named Alex who kept his room at a constant 85 degrees and two girls who lived on our floor. We sat in his balmy room, hiding out like the rest of the southern whites, biding our time until this whole thing blew over in four years.
We sat in funeral silence as the Fox News broadcasters announced Barack Obama as the inevitable winner of the election and the next President of the United States of America. My new friends stared at the TV screen, willing it to change to John McCain.
“I mean, y’all don’t think they can have a re-count like Bush, do you?” Alex said.
“It’s really not that close,” I said.
At that moment the sounds of cracks and screams seeped in from the cool November night. One of the girls slowly stood up, entranced, and peeked out of a slit in the shades to see people lighting off fireworks in front of a neighboring building. She shut the blinds and sat down on the bed with a bounce. We were the bitter friends who didn’t get invited to the dance, so we sat sulking in our locked bedroom. I excused myself quietly, and as soon as the door closed I exploded down the hall. My roommate, Charles, wasn’t in our room. People were still screaming and yelling outside to the occasional whistle and crack of fireworks. I heard running footsteps approaching my room and the door flew open to reveal Charles in a sweaty smile. Charles was black (still is) and I was white (still am).
“I heard they’re rioting up in Thomson,” he said as he sat down.
I stood up. “We need to go over there!”
“Naw man,” he waved his hand, knowing I’d want to get into some mischief, “we don’t want to be in the middle of that mess.”
“Charles, in five years when you’re looking back on your college career do you want to tell yourself that you’re glad you weren’t ‘in the middle’ of a historic event, or do you want to know that you took the chance to experience something special?”
He smiled and shook his head into his hands to hide it from me. We jaunted over to Thomson Hall, the neighboring dorm that held the cafeteria and (supposedly) the riot. As we approached, we could see that people setting off fireworks—not only near Thomson, but all over campus. In the distance we could hear a small group of people chanting, “Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!” Charles looked at me, perplexed, and we broke down in laughter.
“I think they’re getting ahead of themselves,” he said.
Several faces in lit windows of Thomson peered out into the dark night, gazing like kings over a kingdom soon to be razed. Once inside the cafeteria, Charles and I saw that the riot was just a lot of people in a confined space with excited energy and nothing in particular to do with it. It was like a collective thought: We finally have a black president!…Now what?
I scanned the crowd and saw a few people throw the Dynasty sign to each other across the sea of bodies (the Dynasty sign was the trademark hand symbol for rapper Jay-Z and has literally nothing to do with Barack Obama). I was one of only several white people in the cafeteria, over-stuffed like one of its loaded potatoes. Although it wasn’t unusual for me to be one of the only white people in any given space in South Carolina, it was a bit out of the norm in such a large group. As Charles and I tried to squeeze around the mingled mass of yelling and chanting bodies, I decided to swipe a loaf of bread from the counter, Aladdin style. It’s not a real riot unless someone steals something, I told myself.
A white girl stood on a chair, turned off the cafeteria televisions with her master remote, and spoke to a suddenly booing mob.
“I know it’s a very exciting time for y’all,” she yelled over the jeers. “Heck, I’m really excited too. It’s about time we have a black president!” She paused for applause. Everyone went silent. “But I have to ask everyone to go back to their dorms, or at the very least exit the Thomson cafeteria. Again, this is an exciting time to be an American.”
Two people sarcastically clapped through the low rumble of the dispersing crowd.
On top of the state capital building in Columbia, seventy miles south of Thomson cafeteria and Winthrop University, the white stars of the Confederacy still proudly waved in the mild November night.
White folks in the south seemed more uncomfortable than usual that time of year when Obama was elected. People like that girl in the cafeteria seemed to overcompensate by trying to flaunt their acceptance of a black president (“I’m so progressive!” their actions would scream). What were they all overcompensating for, though? “Better show everyone how not racist I am,” they’d say to themselves. “Then they can see that I’m not like other white people.” But it came off as more prejudiced than just being upset, like my friends in the dorms. (Who knows, though—maybe Alex and the girls just really liked McCain’s policies and maybe that girl in the cafeteria just really liked Obama.) But tolerance’s opposite is usually what lies inside the bedroom of the person who tries too hard to project it to the world. At least my dejected friends in the dorm were honest about their disappointment, even if they weren’t necessarily flaunting it like stars of bursting white light shooting skyward.
The Conversation by Dick Altman
I’m not sure what I think
when I see the image
of the Confederate flag,
battles mostly, a boy
lofting the banner, ready
to be riveted by grapeshot,
a metaphor for the side
that couldn’t let go.
He told me over dinner,
somewhere years back
in the south, that the flag
wasn’t just a flag to his
generation of writers,
who after a few drinks
would return to the war
still festering inside.
Our great grandfathers
fought the war, he said.
Lots of us own land
worked by slaves.
The story for us refuses
to go away. Rewrite it
in our minds. The words
still come out the same.
Nature Plays Favorites by Claire Eder
The old man fishing on the dock shows off
for the pretty young tourists by tossing a sardine to a pelican.
Or rather he uses leverage in the form
of a sardine to get the pelican to show off for the girls.
The pelican stabs at the fish beating itself on the dock,
nimbly baskets it in the rubber sack,
then like a frat boy tosses the lump back to worry
the long white neck for a couple of minutes
(hear the thrashing against the muscled column).
The girls know they are pretty and that this means
staged violence and the food chain all fucked up.
They’re tired of it and would like to leave
this sudden stage where they watch and are watched
but they crouch closer, mostly to appease the ringmaster,
a small, tan man with a Greek accent. For him they exaggerate
the watching of the neck as it does its thing.
Somehow, the bird gets the handout down.
The girls realize afterwards, reading their field guides,
that they have taken part in a cliché, that fishermen
have been throwing sardines to pelicans
for too many years. More pelicans, gulls. One heron,
spindly legged on the rail, is too shy to compete
for the next fish, nabbed by the same pelican
who spreads his wings like a policeman
to repulse the others. But the girls have places to go.
They have nowhere to go. They smile at the man and sidle
past the defensive pelican and then past the heron, which is resisting
personification as nobly as possible but which lets
a mumble of anguish stretch taut over the long beak
as it glides away to stand in the shallows, alone, too damn shy.
About the Contributors
Dick Altman writes in the high, thin, magical air of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where at 7,000 feet, reality and imagination often blur. Decades of writing for Corporate America have been mostly replaced by hours a day at the anvil of poetry. Somewhere in the house, which looks out at a half-dozen mountain ranges, hides an MA in English from the University of Chicago.
Claire Eder’s poems and translations are forthcoming or have appeared in the Cincinnati Review, Subtropics, the Florida Review, [PANK], Midwestern Gothic, The Common, and Guernica, among other publications. In 2015, she was selected to receive an ALTA (American Literary Translators Association) Travel Fellowship. She graduated from the University of Florida’s MFA program and is currently pursuing a PhD in poetry at Ohio University.
Greg Larson is a second-year MFA candidate in Creative Writing-Nonfiction at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. His work has appeared in Ruminate Magazine, Switchback, Belle Reve, and BlazeVOX.
Catherine Lewis is the winner of the CALAX 2014 Flash Fiction Competition. Other essays and short stories have appeared in magazines such as The Bellevue Literary Review, South Loop Review and DASH Journal. She is the author of three books, most recently Thrice Told Tales (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum).