Headed east through the cornfields, you see an antique shop. You walk in with 20 bucks and leave with two matching Smith Coronas. You end up in Detroit and trade the two Smith Coronas for one Remington Portable. Guy is a shady and needs a couple typers quick. He gets his, you get back on the road. You try out the Remington in a hotel room with a cigar and some bad whiskey, pull the shades in the morning, find yourself in the Bible Belt again with the cornhuskers and crop-dusters. You point yourself west toward the thin Colorado air.
–Michael O’Reilly, Royal Oak
Open the back door before Dwayne knocks. Hi. Two $100 bills in my hand. Come up with the other $40. Borrow it from Dad. Can pay him back Thursday with my first paycheck from the House of Shrimp. Got Mom's car, told her I have to open Saturday. Says as long as I'm back by 4 so she can shop. You don't have to come. OK. Next day, can't move. Tell Dad it's cramps. Puts pillows under my legs, a bucket next to my bed. Get better. See you after church. Nipples still discharging. Dwayne never comes by.
–Lara Wasner, Southfield
Frank always avoided the "Cat House" because of his phobia. But then one day the "Cat Lady" up and died, leaving 20 cats on her porch. Frank called the Kitty Kat Rescue Squad who wouldn't pick them up without the owner’s permission. The city pound said he would have to bring them in but he couldn't bear the thought of touching their fur. Ironically, he felt sorry for them and left food by their porch. And just when he thought it couldn't get any worse, the cats came down to his place and started talking.
–Roberta Ralston, Detroit
My sister's a virgin and it's the night before her wedding. We go to the bar, just she and I. She lets men hit on her just so she can turn them away. I'm the second choice in the turtleneck sweater.
"Hi, sweetheart." One slides his hand up my skirt. I let him. My sister offers to throw her drink in his face.
He buys me a shot.
In the back of the cab, I hold her hair as she vomits.
I overhear the driver: "Drunk sluts."
That's when she tells me she doesn't think she loves him.
–Katie Chase, Ann Arbor
Mrs. Nardi grows doughnuts in her kitchen. At dawn she makes her crooked way down the street, psyching up like a painter, an athlete: There is so much to accomplish.
She bakes all day — strudels, tartlets, loaves slick and fat as hens. She bakes and bakes, as if for all the hungry souls of the world.
By nighttime she settles on a stiff wooden chair, her oven mitts dense with flour and sweat. I close my book like a prayer and smooth my egg-white pillow, drifting slowly sleepward to the lullaby ... of … bread.
–Karin Hibbert, Mt. Clemens
This One Thing is Certain
He'd come to this park as a boy. He often tells people that he cannot remember his childhood, but this is not so. He remembers his mother bringing him here. He remembers a lecture about strangers, playing with other children and big dogs. This was all years before his family grew troubled and he grew very sad, and he told himself he would never love anyone. Such things were not to be.
Something suddenly threw its arms around his legs, disrupting his thoughts. The man looked down at the little boy.
"Hey, Pop," he said.
The man smiled. "Hey."
–Robert Lazich, Royal Oak
Rick rolled out of bed, ate a Tylenol Three and washed it down with Jolt Cola. As usual, his ex-girlfriend's ghost was sitting there staring at him. "Hello, incorporeal cutie. You know, you're only 25 and not even dead. You could find something else to do, or at least tell your body to call me." Another failed attempt at exorcism. She glared at him until her attention span was exhausted and resumed her usual activities of ignoring him utterly and leaving bits of her hair all over his apartment. It was like she had never left. Then the telephone rang.
–Erik V. Wicks, Royal Oak
At 87, my mother's self-contained world operates on a tightly structured logic. When I set my new hat on her kitchen table, she said it was bad luck.
"I thought it was shoes on a table."
"That too, but it’s bad luck to set a hat on a table."
I set it on the chair. Five minutes later, ready to have tea, she sat on my hat. She shrugged, hung it on the chair back and stirred sugar in her cup.
"You see, I told you it was bad luck to put your hat on the table."
–Hugh Timlin, Mt. Pleasant
You realize the movie of your life is the oldest story there is: boy meets girl, blah blah blah. Except the girl is another boy, not a girl. And you really have to end it with "blah blah blah." And you don't know if you'll reach the part where "Boy gets boy back."
You sink further in your seat. The dialogue is stilted. The characters, unlikable. The setting, vague.
Leave the theater in the middle of the show. You're allowed. Walk out into a sunlit afternoon and leave it behind.
–Andrew Wright, Detroit
Easy With the Hair
Ricky Kieffer was the biggest hair-metal rock star in the world when he went up the river for involuntary manslaughter. One night before a show, he'd used too much ultra-hold mousse on his brittle but chart-topping mane, and during an especially energetic bout of head banging, Ricky accidentally slashed his bass player's throat with his hair. During his sentence, Ricky considered changing his name back to Richard and playing no-frills blues guitar in clubs. Unfortunately, by the time that Ricky got out of prison, rock was dead. Luckily, VHI's "Behind the Music" was still around to ease the transition.
Modern RomanceChad was everything to Jenny. The perfect Husband.
But what about the mysterious nightly trips to the compost pile? The smell of sulfur mixed with formaldehyde and something ... "Eastern" floating from the closed den door? And the way he grew silent and distant when someone said the word "trains"?
"The mysteries of love," she thought and went about the house Scotchgarding the carpet and whistling the pub songs and sea chanteys of her youth.
Little did she know the summer at the cottage would prove fatal.
––Philip Stenger, Detroit
Rule's WalkSummer meant open windows, odors and music mingling with footfalls. Rule loved his summer strolls. He'd have his sister drop him off near campus and return in a few hours. It was three years before she'd actually leave. Her perfume made her presence obvious, but Rule kept quiet, chalked it up to an older sister's protective love.
The sidewalks were the only drawback. Uneven and littered with everything from rims to fruit skins, Rule had difficulty choreographing his gait. His rhythm was more Thelonious Monk than metronome, his feet hesitantly negotiating the things that his cane couldn't see.
––Robert Barnette, Detroit