Nothing Is Ever Fleeting That Returns

Nothing Is Ever Fleeting That Returns

by George Mahoney

I walk along the hardened-sand road and turn at the path marked Begonia. Two plots in I stop and look down at a rose-speckled stone that stands out from all the others in Lemon Bay Cemetery. Its top lines read:

Emile Gaugin
son of
Paul Gaugin

My eyes flick up and down between the first name and the second. Then I bend to feel the grainy surface of the stone.

“You’re spending a lot of time here. Don’t you have other things to do?”

I shoot up and turn to see if someone has followed me. “Who’s there?”

“Whom do you expect? You’re messing with my spot. Can’t I respond?”

Speechless, I swivel around looking for someone hidden behind one of the scrub pines.

“It’s useless to search for someone who’s already here.”

“Where here?”

“Here and everywhere. Have you come to snoop about me or my father?”

“I’m not snooping. It’s public land. It’s hard to answer your question.”

“Why’s that?”

“It says right here that you’re the son of this father, the famous painter.”

“Don’t I know it? It’s strange that he followed me, wherever I went.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s the one that left us, five children and a wife. He had some calling he told my mother to go off to the South Seas and paint the natives. She was dumbfounded. Do you blame her?”

“Not at all.”

“But finally she told him to go, figuring she was better off without him. He was useless hanging around or going off painting whenever he felt like it.”

“How did you feel?”

“I didn’t have a childhood, you know. I became the man of the household, expected to keep the others in line.”

“That must have been hard.”

“Very. I was pissed at him then and stayed pissed at him even after he became famous and died young. I still had that big ache.” There’s a long pause.

“Are you still there?” I ask.

“I’m not going anywhere. What was I saying?”

“About the ache.”

“Oh, yes, I was furious at him for leaving, but more so for not taking me with him. If he was going on an adventure, I wanted to be a part of it but never was.”

“I don’t blame you.” My throat tightens as I sputter, “I’d feel the same if my father took off and left me.”

“Something wrong? The last words sounded a little wobbly.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Just a fleeting feeling.”

“Nothing is ever fleeting that returns. You can’t get away with that here. May I ask you something?”

“But I’ve come to learn about you, or you and your father.”

“That’s not the way it works here. If you ask something, so do I.”


“What was your father like?”

“He stayed with us, if that’s what you mean.”

“Was that good?”

My eyes shifted upwards to a row of clouds above the bay. I hesitated to answer. “Sort of, I guess.”

“Go on, please.”

“He was there, and he was not there. That may not be a clear answer, but he was at work a lot. My mother always told me that he was very busy. We lived in the same house but only connected briefly. We seemed to be going in opposite directions: I’d be going out as he’d be coming in, or I’d be going upstairs as he’d be coming downstairs. He was pleasant enough when we met, but he was never really there for me.”

“How did that feel?”

I stop and struggle to respond. “It’s as though there’s a big empty space in my life where there should be somebody important.”

“What did he do?”

“Investment banking. He left us well off. We wanted for nothing.”

“Except for the most important thing, which is why you’re here.”

“I’m not sure why I’m here. I’m curious how the son of a famous painter ended up in the cemetery of a small town in Florida, off the Gulf of Mexico.”

“I had my own journey as all of us do. So whom are you seeking to know about? Me or my father? Do you still seek to know about my father because the one you had eluded you? Or are you wondering how I survived after being abandoned because your father abandoned you?”

“That’s unfair. My visit here is out of curiosity about you and Paul.”

“Is it really? Is it out of curiosity or need? Were you drawn here for some other reason?”

“What could that be?”

“To be at peace with your father as I have come to peace with mine.”

I hesitate before asking, “And did that happen finally?”

“Strange to say, yes. While I was fuming that he went off to some exotic place without me, he told me on his last visit home that my time would come.”

“And did it?”

“Of course it did. I travelled for work in South America and then the United States before finally settling here. Each move was a new adventure. And, strange to say, while I didn’t go with him, wherever I went he came with me.”

“How’s that?”

“He came to me every time I introduced myself to someone new. There’d be that flicker of recognition in the person’s face and then the question, ‘Are you related to the famous painter?’ Soon I realized that he stayed with me more than if he stayed at home. Things can turn around.”

“I doubt that could be the same with me.”

“Why not?”

“Mine stayed but was never really there. I wouldn’t know where to look for him.”

“Be open to letting him find you.”

“He didn’t when he was alive.”

“Well, that can change, if you want it to.”

I pause and then gulp, before saying “It’s hard to admit but I don’t know if I want to.”

“May I ask why’s that?”

“You may but I don’t have an answer for you now. It feels too heavy, like layers of resentment built up over the years. My way of survival, I guess. It’s hard to suddenly let go of all that.”

“Strange that you came wondering about me and Paul and now I’m wondering about you.”

“How’s that?” I answer sharply.

“Why snap at me for pointing out something within that you’ve avoided? I’m curious where you’ll go from here. The greatest adventures are those inside of us, what we hold onto and what we let go of. You don’t have to travel far for them.”

“No indeed.” I shake my head knowing it’s time for me to move on.

◊ ◊ ◊

George Mahoney
George Mahoney has had varied and well-travelled careers as teacher, priest, and consultant. His short stories have been published in The Storyteller and The Iconoclast. He runs two literary discussion groups at the local library here in Englewood.

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Take It Away Sam

Take It Away Sam

by Norman Marcotte

Stefan opened the first drawer of the tool cabinet searching for the proper tool to deal with his predicament. He eyed the 18-inch hacksaw with the blue handle. It would do the trick, but the outcome would be too devastating. There was surely a less drastic measure. He rummaged around and found a 5-inch X-Acto knife with an aluminum handle. Much more precise and less damaging.

Rust covered the blade. Stefan opened the second drawer looking for something to clean the blade. Fine sandpaper would do the trick. He folded the sheet and wiped the blade as much as he could. Stefan then walked up from the basement up to the second floor bathroom. In the medicine cabinet he found a bottle of rubbing alcohol. He poured the alcohol on the blade. He took out a long wooden match that his wife used to light up the candles when she was taking a relaxing bath. She normally worked till five and would not be home for at least four hours. He lit up the match and heated the blade. No need to get infected. As the flame created a soot deposit on the blade, Stefan wiped the blade with toilet tissue.

He removed his socks and sat on the side of the tub with his feet touching the cool white surface. He lifted his left pant leg above the knee. He tied an old scarf around his leg below the knee and tightened it as much as he could. He placed a wooden spoon in his mouth. With the X-Acto knife in his right hand, Stefan sliced the skin from the inside top of the tibia down four inches. Blood started to trickle down his leg and he noticed the whiteness of his bone. Biting hard on the spoon, Stefan inserted his right index finger under the skin. He easily felt the small inserted microchip. With the tip of the knife, he scraped the glue that bonded the chip to his bone. The pain overwhelmed his senses that the knife slipped and opened his wound a further two inches splattering blood on his right pant leg and across the tub.

Stefan felt his determination weaken; he did not know how long he would last. He poked the blade between his bone and the chip. He twisted to the right and then to the left. He sensed an opening and inserted the blade a little deeper underneath the chip. With a final twist he dislodged the intruding device. He dropped the knife which made a loud clunk. It rolled to the drain leaving a bloody smudge in the tub. He took out the spoon from his mouth and placed it on bathroom floor. With his index and thumb, Stefan retrieved the tracking chip and brought it up to his face. Triumphantly Stefan said: “Got you, you little sucker. Finally, I’m free.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Norman Marcotte
Norman Marcotte is an author who enjoys writing speculative fiction with the aim of stimulating different points of views. He has published in Friday Night Reader, Flash Fiction Press, 101 Words and 50-Word Stories. Website:

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My Witch and Her Dragon

My Witch and Her Dragon

by H.M. Pridemore

You think we first met when I was five, and you appeared above me in my bed like a white cloud. When I went to scream you placed a delicate, transparent finger on my lips, and put me at ease. In actuality, we first me when I was just a babe sitting on the cottage floor. You think I don’t remember that, but I do. It is my first memory.

While the witch rocked in her chair ogling the fire, a red ball rolled down the stairs and across the floor, stopping only when it touched the soles of my bare feet. I giggled. The witch spat to be quiet. She hated giggles. She didn’t notice the ball. Not at first. This gave you and I time to roll the ball back and forth. I couldn’t see you then, but every time the ball rolled back to me, I could feel you. We played while the witch rocked in her chair.

Then the raven in her little clock came out. “Caw…caw…” it sang, and the witch flew from her chair.

“Where did you find this?” She held the ball up as though it were a poisoned apple. I was unable to answer. This frustrated the witch and she threw the ball into the fire.

The witch destroying my playthings was the least of her cruelties. I was most frightened when she threatened to turn me into a rabbit and roast me over the fire, but you whispered that the witch was powerless. She had lost her powers when she was young. As I grew, I observed: She couldn’t cast spells, or make poisonous brew. She couldn’t fly (broomstick or not) and she couldn’t disappear into a gray cloud of smoke. She couldn’t even cackle. The only thing she could do was sneer. You didn’t say why, or how she lost her powers, just that the loss made her bitter and envious to anyone with power.

I’ve never known how I came to live with the witch. Surely, I cannot be her child. If I were part of her, she would’ve of loved me. Are witches capable of love? I don’t know. All I know is I love you. If you had not come to me, appearing before me like a fading memory of a real being, I would never have survived the witch. Would’ve never survived those starless nights when the witch would walk in my room with a goblet full of chicken’s blood.

“You!” She’d point one long, red-nail finger at me. “You!” She’d say five, six, seven, times before she’d pick me up by the arm so she could throw me in the fire.

I lived only because with one beautiful breath, you’d extinguish the fire. The witch would scream in frustration, then toss me on embers warm enough to blister my skin, but not kill me. She’d look around. She’d look at me. She’d mumble and sneer. She never saw you, but knew you existed. You scared her. She had no power against you.

If I had, by some chance of fate, managed to survive the witch, I would’ve never have survived the dragon. The dragon was smaller than other dragons (about the size of a large wolf) but just as powerful. He could blow fire from miles away, and a flick of his tail would send me flying across the room. You made your presence known to him, and although he would trip me with his spiked tail, or leer at me with his yellow eyes, he refrained from killing me, although he could have.

I don’t know how they met, or why the dragon was content to sit by her side, perhaps it was their fondness for chicken’s blood. The chicken coop was bigger than our cottage, and they would catch the biggest chicken they could, and hang him by his feet from the metal hook in the kitchen. I would watch as they slit the chicken’s throat and let the blood drain into their goblets. Then the witch would dissect the chicken and hold the legs out for the dragon to roast. Then they would throw me the legs. You made sure they fed me. When they attempted to starve me, fruit trees would die, and livestock would disappear.

I used to wonder why you didn’t eliminate them and release me from their abuse. Now I understand. We needed them. I only needed to be patient.

One day I woke up and was able to look the witch in the eye, and the mirror reflected a woman I hadn’t met. The day after that, the dragon woke with scaly skin that flaked off around him. Two days later, he couldn’t lift his tail even to defecate, and the waste drew biting flies. Three days after that he couldn’t breath fire. All that escaped his nostrils were little tufts of gray smoke. A week later, he took a step, started to wheeze, and collapsed.

The witch told me to drag his carcass to the garden and bury him before the buzzards came to feast. I told her it was her dragon, and you should always bury your own. She took one liver spotted hand and tried to grab me, but you hurled her across the room and out the door. I thought that was the end of the witch, but you had other, much wiser plans.

The witch dusted herself off, picked up the shovel you had left spiked in the earth, and began to dig. I watched, sipping a cup of dandelion tea from inside the cottage.

When the hole was deep enough, she wrapped a chain around the dragon’s neck and dragged him to the hole. The sun was glaring and it didn’t take the buzzards long to smell the dragon’s corpse. You allowed her to shoo them away, and it wasn’t until she dumped the last mound of dirt on his grave, that you enabled their descent. They went for the witches scalp with hungry impatience. I sipped my tea as they tore out hunks of gray hair with bloody bits of scalp attached. She ran for the cottage but they pecked at her throat, causing her to fall backwards, exposing her chest. Accepting the invitation, a rather large buzzard dined on her heart.

I thought that buzzards only feast on the dead, but they had no reservations eating the witch alive. I suppose a witch without powers is half dead anyways.

When the buzzards had completed their meal and flown away, it was my time to dig. Their wasn’t much left of her, and she was my witch after all.

You helped in the only way you could. As I stuck the shovel into the earth, you muted the sun, and sent a soft breeze to dry perspiration from my forehead. Most of all you came behind me, and whispered a song of freedom. Thank you.

◊ ◊ ◊

H.M. Pridemore
H.M. Pridemore reads and writes dark fiction from a Southern California studio that she shares with her husband, a dog and a cat. Currently unpublished, she continues to write and submit, dreaming that one day maybe….

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Thousand Ways of Not Detecting Aliens

Thousand Ways of Not Detecting Aliens

by Russell Hemmell

Nano-organisms arrived first, carried by the winds and disguised as pollen. Tiptoeing on plants and meadows, they scattered over the eight corners of the planet, blossoming into unusually colourful flowers.

Nobody paid attention.

Auroras came soon after in even more colourful fashions, appearing at the centre of world-famous squares in a fantastic parade. On New Year’s Eve New Yorkers gazed—puzzled and admired—at those shining natural beauties, oddly at the wrong latitude.

“I told you they would blame that yellow, bubbly water in their glasses, or climate change.”

Sighing, the visitors decided to upscale their presence. They resorted, in an ordinate sequence, to all they could devise to make themselves noticed, and namely: flying unidentified objects across the Earthian sky (dismissed as traditional UFOs and ignored); using Lagrangian points in ways astrophysics wouldn’t allow otherwise (Earthians’ notions seemed indeed primitive not to pick up the anomaly); pushing near asteroids into creative fly-by trajectories (blamed to strange and previously undetected gravitational pulls); last resort, attracting unlikely comets into Sun’s orbit. All efforts ended up in a glorious, complete failure.

“Are you sure we’re targeting the right species here?” Alpha asked Beta, dismayed. “It has been a few thousand years, in their timescale, that we tried to get in touch and it came to nothing.”

“They seem advanced enough for rational thinking.”

“Oh yes? Last time we assumed their shape, just to reassure them, they took us for deities.”

“It’s your fault—you wanted to impress them with lightning bolts.”

“Just to show we could be of use,” Alpha sneered. “Whatever. You keep up with your optimistic efforts with them, I’ll try my chance elsewhere.”


“The marine mammals.”

Alpha had indeed a better response rate and more positive replies, especially by killer whales, which promptly detected the alien guest and took it around the oceans as a token of welcome. They declined however the offer of further interaction, and even less to serve as a liaison with the humans: the lords of the surface were hassle enough already without the need of getting any closer. Ask them to leave us in peace if you manage to obtain a hearing, they pleaded.

Beta, on the other hand, kept up his work for a couple of centuries more, under Alpha’s snarky remarks.

“They can’t see us,” It whined after the nth disappointment. “This is why they’re unable to detect our presence.”

“They’re still able to detect invisible things though. Atoms, waves, and…”

“Only because they’ve an idea what to search for.”

“Well, sure thing—they’re not good at causality,” Alpha replied. “Look at their environment. They’re screwing up royally and they seem not getting it—yet.”

Beta’s light toned down, changing frequency. “Being made in a waveform it’s not always a good thing when it comes down to contact other species.”

“Don’t complain. We won’t be here otherwise.”

“Yes, but we have to admit defeat. This system’s too primitive. Abandoned.”

Alpha shimmered around for a while. “Now that you said it, you gave me an idea.”


“Let’s leave them a message.”

“Like what?”


“What about that?”

“They’ve finally learnt that it can’t be but a tiny percentage of the whole universe. Matter won, and they know it.”


“So let’s provide them with an antimatter pot bigger than anything they could dream about. Not so huge to provoke annihilation with star systems around, but enough to be detected by their primitive instruments. They will take notice of that. They will be worried. They will enquiry.”

Beta remained quiet for a while. “It’s you that overestimate them now,” he said eventually. “In the best case scenario they’ll notice the anomaly, and then conclude something was wrong in their calculations.”

“At the beginning, yes.”

“And then—do you believe they’ll realise and search for a maker instead of a process?”

Alpha’s lights perked up in a rainbow.

“One day they will.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Russell Hemmell
Russell Hemmell is a statistician and social scientist from the U.K, passionate about astrophysics and speculative fiction. He has stories in Not One of Us, PerihelionSF, Strangelet, and others.

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A Redundant Life Unworthy Of Living

A Redundant Life Unworthy Of Living

by Michael Marrotti

There was a time in my life when I felt beneficial. A time when I expressed my hostility to the world through rhythm instead of violence. They say violence doesn’t solve a thing, but it sure feels rewarding once the deed is completed. Bloody faces have a tendency to learn from the agony and humiliation, where as words for the most part only leave more room for dialogue. The only problem with that is the cost of bail and repercussions of dealing with an unjust system. Either way I feel as though I just can’t win.

It’s another annoying day in Pittsburgh. Winter is here, but it feels more like spring. Each day I choose to live is faced by a constant reminder of a man who gave up, as I jump out of bed and see my fender guitar neatly set up in the corner collecting dust.

Everyone thinks they’re the latest and greatest underground talent just waiting to be discovered. Social media in a way has ruined it for everyone. YouTube is overdosing on mediocrity. Cheap guitars playing the same strings as the last hundred musicians before them. Banality is smothered over the lyrical content. It’s not for sale because nobody is buying. Millions of people are on the internet. Getting them to give you a piece of their valuable wasted time is another story. Good luck with that.

I’m out the door waiting for the trolley, surrounded by faceless people who have no inclination to speak a word. My wardrobe is somewhere between liberal and conservative, not like it matters. Both sides have a proclivity to give me shit. The silence amongst this socially inept crowd is monotonous. Occasionally it’s broken up by the sound of iPhone buttons. They feel a need to update their Facebook status over the most mundane things.

I cautiously walk towards the back of the trolley away from them. Some inconsiderate asshole has his Jordan’s hanging from the seat into the walkway. I run into this problem frequently when dealing with public transportation. If he wants to be an asshole, so will I. I walk right through his hideous overpriced sneakers like they don’t exist.

“Hey, yo! You gonna at least gimme an excuse me?”

“How about you be more considerate of others, asshole.”

The tall skinny black male with a black lives matter attitude gets up from his seat and comes within five meters of my face. This ignorant fuck appears to be upset with my actions and obviously thinks I’m at fault.

Instead of backing down like a little bitch, I stand my ground and speak my piece.

“Look man, I’m not out to have any problems, but I’m also not willing to permit these asshole tactics from you or anyone else to affect my life. If I were you I’d stop being so fucking selfish and think more about other people. That’s all.”

“Man fuck you! I can’t stand y’all white privilege motherfuckers! This ain’t no white man’s world!”

“Exactly, asshole! The world belongs to you, me and everyone else. We need to be considerate of other people, as we do our best to coexist!”

“You preaching to the wrong nigga, white boy! You best be getting the fuck out my face!”

“Who approached who here? Jesus fucking Christ, you’re ignorant. Go read a book a bro.”

“Yeah you lucky I don’t fuck yo white ass up, bitch!”

The eyes of old ladies, scantily dressed sluts and business suits are all enjoying the show. I’m yet again holding back with everything in me not to have another episode that’ll place me in county jail. The cornbread is the best I’ve ever tasted, but not good enough for another appearance.

“You a fucking bitch, yo!”

Mr. Black lives matters takes his seat, and I calmly take mine. All the plebeians go back to Facebook or Twitter. Whatever’s best for their social interactions. Now I’ll be dwelling on this fiasco for the next three days, obsessing about how I could’ve inflicted pain to get my point across, and how all this wasted dialogue didn’t change a thing.

On a normal day I’d go home, create an instrumental with my acoustic guitar, post it on YouTube and receive no applause. If was feeling really enthusiastic I’d go play an open mic at Wilkies Bar, only to be met with further disappointment from a lack luster crowd too busy pounding out cheap drafts to pay attention to the music. What’s the point anymore? It doesn’t exist. I’ve lost all sense of accomplishment, along with the feelings of gratification.

The trolley moves on. Self obsessed people pay the toll and go on living a life of redundancy. I sit all alone in the back glaring out the window. The dilapidated sights of Dormont are gone, only to be replaced by the conditions of the working poor in Beechview. Through the tunnel we go and over the filth of the Allegheny river. More people come, more people go. Next stop is mine. The final destination.

I pay my toll to the gray haired trolley driver. He thanks me, I ignore him like an average American and continue on my journey from the trenches all the way up to the polluted streets of downtown Pittsburgh.

It’s only a matter of time before I’m at the cultural center of Pittsburgh known as The Point. On a typical winter day this place would be deserted. It’s not that type of day though. It’s December and the weather is like spring.

I’m not surprised to see herds of people down here living it, like life’s worth living. The yoga sluts, the suits, the homeless and unwanted. They’re all here talking bullshit and the air reeks because of it. I walk towards the underpass that leads to the magnificent fountain. It’s a sight to see at the summer time if you’re a fan of vaginas. It’s the pussy epicenter around that time of the year.

I hear acoustic rock music ahead. It sounds surprising good. I approach the man and make an introduction. He’s an older man with long gray hair, tethered clothes, medium build and a unbearable smile.

“Hey what’s up bro? I’m Mario.”

“Hello. I’m Harold.”

“So how’s it working out down here? That guitar sounds beautiful.”

“Oh, I can’t complain. I’ve been down here for about an hour. It looks like I made about fifty bucks. People must either be feeling generous or the music really is that good. A man like myself must remain humble.”

“Haha. Humble my ass. I’d really appreciate it if you’d let me strum that thing. What is that, a Martin Guitar?”

“Yes it is, kind sir.”

“Well what do you think? I’m a fellow musician who’s never strummed anything as beautiful as that. This could be a new life experience.”

“Oh, I guess it couldn’t hurt. Just be easy with those strings. If you break one there goes my livelihood. A man gotta earn a living.”

“Yeah, I understand. I’m currently unemployed and seeking work. I’ll be easy with it.”

I play a couple chords, jumping around from E to F then from A to G. This guitar is everything I’ve always wanted. A sound like this could get me the recognition I deserve. I haven’t played guitar in six months, now that I have, I feel like the time is overdue. It’s time to forego this pessimism and move on. There’s an audience out there for a man with a Martin Guitar. I know it.

I play an original song which draws a crowd. Hot bitches are giving me the eye, suits are dropping ten dollar bills in the guitar case, people are openly applauding. What a difference a day can make.

I stop playing after that and inquire about the price of this guitar.

“This thing is amazing! How much was it?”

“This guitar was over six hundred dollars.”

“Holy fuck! That’s expensive.”

“Yes it is. Can I please have it back.”

“What if I said no, old man?”

“Then I’d have to get up and manually take it from you, kind sir.”

“I’d love to see you try it.”

“Come on young man. Stop playing around and give me what’s mine.”

Luckily for me the crowd dissipated after the music. The old fuck is all alone now. No one’s here to save him.

“Listen here you old washed up bastard. I need this more than you. I can’t get social security or a job right now. I’m betting you get a nice check every month. How about you do the right thing and bestow this to me?”

“You fucking little shit! Who the fuck do you think you are?”

The old man jumps to his feet with uncanny speed and wraps his hands around my throat. My left hand is placed firmly on the neck of the guitar. I’m going out of my way to protect it from any unnecessary damage. My only viable option is to let him have it with the right. I reach back and unload on his face. Three direct hits. I might’ve shattered what’s left of his dentures. The old man’s hands release their deadly grip and he staggers back. I seize the moment with a fierce right hook. The old fuck wobbles back even more and trips over his guitar case going face down onto the pavement. There’s a streak of blood on the guitar case. The old man is knocked out, snoring. I look around and see a couple physically fit white males running towards this crime scene. Now’s the time to take what’s mine and make a run for it.

“Get the fuck back here, you piece of shit,” scream the physically fit white males.

Fuck that shit. I got what I wanted. I’m running through the afternoon commute, down to the trenches, hoping the trolley will be there waiting for my arrival. If not I’m going to jail after a much deserved beat down. I’m out of breath and looking conspicuous. I can feel their vigilante eyes upon me. Here’s the last set of steps and a motherfucking trolley! Hallelujah!

I jump on the trolley, pay the toll and go back to where I came from. I’m feeling overjoyed and accomplished. Two feelings that have eluded me for quite some time now. Fate is on my side.

Life can be funny at times. My original goal was to go downtown, find the biggest skyscraper, go to the very top and make the big plunge. The cycle of life had become a burden.

Now I’m a street musician making a couple hundred dollars a day for a few hours of playing and it’s all because of this beautiful Martin Guitar.

◊ ◊ ◊

Michael Marrotti
Michael Marrotti is an author from Pittsburgh using words instead of violence to mitigate the suffering of life in a callous world of redundancy. His primary goal is to help other people. He considers poetry to be a form of philanthropy. When he’s not writing, he’s volunteering at the Light Of Life homeless shelter on a weekly basis. If you appreciate the man’s work, please check out his blog: for his latest poetry and short stories.

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Dropping Tumblers

Dropping Tumblers

by Angela Doll Carlson

It was Pauly what got me into safes. He used to line ‘em up in his warehouse and just go down the row, bum bum bum, like a machine or somethin’. He has these hands–I gotta tell you, his hands are soft, like leather gloves, real leather. It’s like he was just tappin’ those safes, like they listened to him, did whatever he wanted. He used to say that you had to know just where to touch ‘em. He always elbowed me and winked when he said that. I knew what he meant. He was the king of dropping tumblers. That’s what he liked to call it. I always thought that sounded classy. Is that recording? We starting now?

So, all I know is the explosion was supposed to go off at 10:42. Daytime gigs always make me nervous, but whatever. It’s a job, right? Pauly said it’d be an easy gig–nobody was gonna be home that day ‘cause the guy was on a business trip, and the wife was gone, really gone–filed for divorce, moved to Boca. It was somethin’ about a tennis pro–but here’s the kicker, wasn’t the wife, it was the guy and the tennis pro. Ain’t that somethin’?

Yeah so, like I said, the charge was supposed to go off at 10:42–boom–and just like that we’re out. I was on the drill because that’s my thing and Pauly said he needed me on this one ‘cause he can’t handle the drill on his own anymore. He’s getting up there and I’m good with the drill. You know, when I started out in this business, I just wanted to drive getaway. What can I say? I was young.

Pauly taught me everything I know, but I wasn’t so good with the tumblers. I couldn’t see nothin’ in there, maybe my eyes are no good. And I couldn’t feel it out like he could no matter how hard I tried. I think he got tired of trying to teach me, and truth be told I got tired of trying to learn so I stuck with the drill. This was a scope job, I drill in, Pauly takes it from there. He can’t work that drill so much anymore but his eyes are still good for the scope, and, plus, those hands, well you know.

So who’s gonna hear this? I mean, if word gets out about this, I’m dead in the water. Nobody likes a rat–no offense.

Right, so, I just went for the drill instead of the tumblers. That takes some skill too; nobody really talks about that. They just think it’s rammin’ it in and firing away, but it’s not. You gotta know where to put it in and how deep to go, too. It sounds bad when I say it like that, but you know what I mean. It takes some skill, or the whole thing goes to hell. You hit that relocker wall, and it’s all over. Might as well pack it up and go home.

Yeah, so, the explosives were Jackie’s area of expertise. He got ‘em from, God, I don’t know, he got ‘em from around the docks probably. There were always guys down there looking for some extra cash because, you know, the dock pay was shitty to begin with, but also traffic really slowed down after that last dust-up with the Feds. Trading legislation is fucking ruining this country, I’ll tell ya. You vote for that bastard, Collins? I didn’t. I don’t know anyone who voted for that bastard. How do these jokers get elected anyway?

Okay, sure, so 10:42 was when the explosives were supposed to go off. Pauly said the score was big. I mean, really big. You never saw a score like this–diamonds, gold, what have you. We had it all timed out, down to the last minute, which is why the explosive part was so important. Well, that and I didn’t want to lose a hand to the whole operation. Or worse even, I heard about guys wearing the safe door for their funeral when the explosives went off bad, you know what I mean? So it was pretty crucial we get that timing right, you know?

I felt pretty good about the whole thing, I gotta say, because we had inside information from this guy who worked at the house. I never met the guy before, but I did see him once when I had to drop off Pauly for a meeting. I didn’t get a real good look or nothin’ but maybe good enough for a line up, who knows?

Pauly said the guy was the gardener, maybe the lawn guy or the pool guy, I don’t know. He worked on the property, he said. He had the keys, so he’s the one who let us in. Pauly said the guy came to him. Pauly thought maybe he was disgruntled, or somethin’. He didn’t even want a major cut, just a finder’s fee, which was weird, but again, Pauly set it up, so who was I to say?

We were parked in the back by these overgrown azaleas; I only know that because my grandma had a whole bunch of those in her yard when I was a kid. I know that’s what they were called because of all the times I almost got skinned for tearing ‘em up too bad. I was the guy who trimmed ‘em at Gran’s house, so I know how they were supposed to look, cut back and nice so they bloom right. These here were overgrown, which was weird since the guy who let us in was a gardener and all, or maybe he was the pool guy. I don’t remember exactly. That was all Pauly’s department.

Okay, so we were in the back and I was on the drill and this big Kenyan guy was on explosives because Jackie got the croup. Can you believe that? It’s a fucking kid’s disease. What are you, a toddler? Anyway, we got this Kenyan guy because nobody coughing like that ought to be handling explosives. You know what I mean? Sounded like a fucking seal. Pauly wanted to get Marko Fontaine but that guy is a clown. I mean it. You know, not like a joker or somethin’ but a clown, like an actual clown, but just on the weekends. Kids parties and all that. He does this ‘Jocko the Clown’ act, and it creeps me out. I always had a thing with clowns so I just couldn’t do it. Every time I looked at that guy’s face I just saw the big red nose and fuzzy wig, so we went with the Kenyan guy. I didn’t get his name. Jackie or those guys down at the docks might know. You think he was in on it?

Right, so anyway, the Kenyan said the timer was the best way to go, and he seemed okay to me. We get there and he says he’s gonna go set the charges. I was busy with the drill. It’s heavy, heavier than it looks. I have this crappy leather bag for it. My dad had a tool bag that would be perfect, but who knows where that is now. He probably left it in the garage when they sold their place in South River. His whole garage was filled with stuff. Don’t worry. He paid for it all. He wasn’t like that. He’d kill me if he knew I what I got into after I left home. I left when I was like sixteen. Don’t get me wrong, he was good to me, I just wanted a different kind of life, you know?

Hey, so you said something about a sandwich before, can we get that going? I haven’t eaten since they patched me up, and that was like–how long ago? I know I said I’d come clean, and help you guys out, but I have this stomach thing. My hands shake when I’m hungry. It pissed off Pauly so bad once on a job because I didn’t eat breakfast, and when I had to do the drilling it was like wah wah wah, the drill back and forth like that, and me all shaky, and man, I thought I might puke. We didn’t get in that day, had to pack it up–’cut bait’ my dad used to say. He said that was a fishing thing, you know, cut the line to the bait and just start over. We didn’t start over on that job though. Once you got a drill hole started in your safe, you tend to get wise that somebody got their fingers on it.

If you got turkey, I’ll eat it but you know, whatever you got. I’m not picky. Except I don’t like pickles, never did.

Right, so anyway, you were asking about the crew. Well, apart from Pauly and that Kenyan guy, we had Joey on the getaway. He’s a young kid, way younger than me. He’s got skin troubles, I mean, really shitty skin. Poor guy couldn’t get a date if you paid for it. Maybe that’s why he turned to a life of crime, huh? Twenty years old, shitty skin and a life of crime–that’ll bring in the ladies, huh? He’s a nice kid, though, and smart, reminds me of myself, ha. The guy really has a future. No offense. I forgot to mention no mayo on that sandwich. I break out in hives from mayo. My Ma said it’s probably the eggs. I don’t do so good with eggs. I love ‘em but I can’t eat ‘em. Isn’t that the way? Everything we want we shouldn’t have; my ex-wife, for example. Ha! She was amazing, long legs and a face, I can’t even tell you, so beautiful. She was older than me when I met her. It was like that movie, what was it? With the college kid and the hot older chick? I wasn’t in college though. I never went in for that. My dad wanted me to try it out, but I didn’t have time to sit in a chair and listen to some Tweed talk about, oh shit, I don’t even know what! Look, there’s my hands shaking, see?

Okay, back to Joey. We called him Joey, but he didn’t like it. He said his Mom called him Joey and it made him feel like a kid, which he was, but you know, we tried to call him Joe to his face just to keep the peace. On a job, it’s good to keep the peace. I been doin’ this for a lot of years, and been pretty good at it, I have to say, no offense. Till now of course, ha, and then that time with Pauly and the shaky hands on the drill, right?

So that was the crew, all of us, well, not including the gardener, lawn guy, pool guy, whatever. I never saw such overgrown azaleas in my life. If he was the gardener, that guy was the real criminal.

So yeah, Pauly took it ‘cause he thought it was a big score. I was already thinkin’ about gettin’ out of the business, I gotta say. See, there’s this girl. I can’t even tell you, so beautiful and smart too. But Pauly said this one was a cakewalk, so I thought, “why not?” The explosives were expensive, top rate stuff, had to smuggle those in special on the dock, I guess. Jackie said that it would only take a little of the stuff, but that Kenyan–he had other ideas. It would go off, you know, not to blow the safe, ‘cause we were busy drilling and then scoping it out, but like a distraction at the back of the house or something after we were all clear. Seemed complicated to me, but I’m not really in on the big picture, you know, that was all Pauly–and that gardener.

It was supposed to be an easy score, but there was a lot of eyes on this one because of all the publicity, which we did not expect. What are the chances of the job we spend three months planning–guy keeping all that loot in his safe like that–and the day before the gig, story shows up in the paper about him filing for bankruptcy? Pauly said the gardener told him that got nothing to do with the loot in the safe, but I wasn’t so sure. I mean, my old Dad filed bankruptcy after that real estate deal went south back in the day, and he was stone-broke. If he had loot like that in his safe he’d of headed straight for it before filing papers with the government, I can tell you that, but what do I know?

Pauly said that the explosion would be just enough to get people to pay attention to something else after we drilled and dropped the tumblers and got out with the loot. And it was supposed to happen on the other side of the wall, you know, which I thought was brilliant but then again, what do I know? I’m just there for the drilling. Pauly is the one with the magic digits. He knows just where to drop those tumblers. I guess he won’t be droppin’ tumblers anymore though, huh? How many digits he lose? Six? What was it, three on each hand? Poor guy. There goes his future, huh? No offense. And the Kenyan? No sign of that guy or Joey, huh? So, all you got is me in here, and Pauly in a bed at St. Joe’s. Right, but he won’t talk. He’s a professional like that. Even if he can’t be droppin’ tumblers, he’s smart. He’s still got a future, no offense.

Lucky for me, I just got that bump on the head. Who knew the door would fly off like that, right? That Kenyan must’ve got his numbers wrong. I mean, I don’t know much about explosives or nothin’. Doc who patched me up said it was physics. I never even got that far. Is that math or science or what? I did one year High School math before I got into shop and the math there is different, you know? If I’d gone to college, maybe I’d learn something like that, right? Make me a better burglar! Ha, but no, I’m done with that. There’s this girl. I told you about her. Yeah, no offense to Pauly, and the business and everything, I just want a different kind of life, you know? So, yeah, I’ll help you find this gardener, no problem. I could use a break.

Right, so no loot in the safe, which I submit was probably because of the bankruptcy, or maybe the divorce–and that door, flying off like something out of a movie, and at the wrong time–way too early. And Pauly in there, still droppin’ tumblers. Poor Pauly, man. He’ll kill me for only getting off with a bump on the head and nothin’ else because of immunity. “I’ll give you a knuckle sandwich,” he used to say. I guess he’s not gonna be sayin’ that anymore, huh? Speaking of, these hands are shakin’ pretty good here. So, you know, I’ll take that sandwich anytime now. Turkey’s fine. No pickles, no mayo.

Angela Doll Carlson
Angela Doll Carlson is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has appeared in publications both online and offline, such as Thin Air Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, Apeiron Review, Burnside Writer’s Collective, St. Katherine Review, Rock and Sling Journal, Ruminate Magazine’s Blog and Art House America as well as on her own blogs “Nearly Orthodox” and “Mrs Metaphor.” Her first book, “Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition” from Ancient Faith Publishers is a memoir of her spiritual journey into Orthodoxy and is available now. Her latest book, “Garden in the East: The spiritual life of the body” is expected in September 2016. Angela and her husband David currently raise their four outrageously spirited yet remarkably likable children in Chicago.

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