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Sylvie and Dooney
Richard Baldasty

Be more splendid. Be more than extraordinary. Use every moment to fill yourself up.
— Oprah Winfrey on Starbucks® heat sleeve

Day promised again to be torrid, so they rose early for morning cooling quiet on the deck. "Life doesn't get much better," said Sylvie, as she sucked chips of ice dusted with cinnamon sugar and pointed to contrails of airplanes. But Dooney thought otherwise: he went to the kitchen, returned with a peach-gold sauterne and a half gram of Tunisian hashish. The combination invited flowers in the deck planters to dance their brightest colors. Which they did, said Sylvie, herself disbelieving, as if to honor Dooney's contribution, which in fact she considered superfluous, ponderous.

Ice and airplanes provided perfection already. Why be splendid plus, why ask for beyond extraordinary? Sylvie wanted to confront Dooney, trim his excess, teach him less-is-more. But, no, he wouldn’t learn, would never understand embroidery on the pillowcase doesn't improve sleep, would never get it that a beagle in a tutu isn't ever-so-cuter. Would never know because he could never hear, could never hear because Sylvie would never as much as whisper the correction desired. Because she couldn't. Well-bred, well-disposed, discreet; draped with, thus mummy wrapped by, silken manners. Gagged.

Yet in reverie contrapuntal, a mind resourceful, bold, like someone other. Thoughts, secrets. Sylvie noticed hers traipsing nearer the deck railing. Second story up. Likely serious fractures, nothing definite as death. Sylvie might—would she?—like to push Dooney over. That would be something, that could command attention. Pretty to pretend, to imagine his surprise, his screaming descent. Guilty pleasures. They are, she knew, the best, private images within, home movies taken by hidden camera; played over and again, every moment they really fill you up.

Sylvie sucked another ice chip, waved to the next plane. There were people above, people flying to beaches to take off their clothes. The scorcher meant to linger. There’d be a surge, to be sure, in orders for iced chai. No cup sleeves required, surfeit in the heat. Restraint perfected, simplicity complete.

Dooney gazed up too, in wine and hash manifest. He was admiring dawn, its imperial sun. How more splendid, if but one moment, to dance there with flowers in colors beyond extraordinary. Sylvie, he asked, won’t you go with me?


Cherry Dress
Sammi Curran

I imagine her in that white cotton dress, with the bright red cherries patterned all over, and the day she said I should wear it because it’d make my boobs look great. I never tried it, but I asked her if I could have it. It was so damn pretty. It flared out at the bottom just the perfect amount, coming right above the knees, and the bust was beautifully shaped, the straps thicker than spaghetti. Best of all, it was something that would make her look even more stunning than she did that day, with her mismatched socks and faded gray cardigan.

She said I couldn’t have it. She wanted it, but said she didn’t know what she would wear it to. So I told her anywhere, she would look like a bombshell, and everyone would want a piece of her cherry pie. I started singing Cherry Pie, even though we both know I’m a horrible singer. She did that laugh that sounded like the joy of a fairy, the one blonde strand of hair falling over her right eye. Still singing, I brushed the hair back to join the rest of the short waves atop her head. Then I told her she was gorgeous, and she said thank you, I’ll wear it someday. She said it like it was a passing remark, like I wasn’t staring her straight in the eyes with a sincere smile.

I think that was when I realized there was nothing I could say other than “please kiss me” that would make her see me any differently. I don’t think that’s what she wants from the friendship that I wanted to sprout into something else. So I dropped the subject and stopped singing. I grabbed my keys and told her we should go if we ever wanted to make our lunch date with Brittany. Her smile was genuine and she flitted from the room with me trailing behind, taking a last look at the dress hanging toward the back of her closet.

I never saw her wear the cherry dress in person. I only saw it on her in a Facebook photo of her kissing another girl.


Lillie
Howie Good

The summer birds have disappeared somewhere, maybe heaven, and a girl who has just turned 13 but looks even younger sits at a work table with a serious pair of scissors, silently cutting lace in the approximate shape of flowers every day after school, one flower standing, another leaping, still another bent like a nail and seemingly grieving for a girl who has just turned 13 but looks even younger.


At the Edge of the Fen
Matthew Chabin

It had rained hard in the night, the first of the summer storms—it scrubbed the air with metal teeth and exorcised the innocent and idling ghosts of spring. Dawn, spilling red, caught the banana slugs on open ground—unfortunate—for the boy was up early too and making a lively slaughter of them with his basketball, dispensing raspberry eulogies with his tongue and lips as he dropped his terrible orb. WHAAPsfps-WHAAPsfps-WHAAPsfpsths—the sound of death descending on slugs.

When he noticed his mother was no longer watching from the kitchen window, he stopped. He looked around the empty grounds, rolled the soiled basketball into the garage, and set off at a run. A sixty yard dash over the open field brought him to the edge of the woods, where his backpack was stashed in a hollowed oak. He slung it over his shoulders and set off into the trees, down a slope, following the sound of the creek. Soon he could see the easterly sun falling on the waters, and stepped through the trees onto the bank. He wished he could meet his friend here, but his friend wasn’t allowed so far from home.

He followed the creek’s course, and down he went into the teeming slew below, where brambles and barb-wire sinuously mated and burnt-out wrecks lay swaddled in the groping verdure. The boy slogged along, whacking brambles with his stick and spitting out mosquitoes. When water-moccasin reared like a bolt of shadow and struck at him from the grass he barely glanced down, but whacked its head off clean as a cattail and kept right on rambling.

He kept to the north bank. There was no south bank to speak of. That was the edge of the fen, a dense wilderness radiating out from its own tangled and inscrutable heart. He came upon an ancient school-bus, sunk nigh to its busted-out windows. His friend was standing on the roof, a shadow black against the rising sun.

It was their third such meeting, and they made no immediate salutations, but approached each other with a sort of mute formality, as was shaping to be their custom. The boy climbed to the top of the school-bus, opened his pack and laid the contents out for inspection: two Green River sodas and a quiver of bottle-rockets. His friend puzzled over these for a moment before presenting him with a rattle made from a raccoon skull. The boy accepted this solemnly.

Next the boy demonstrated a bottle-rocket, which impressed his friend as a first rate miracle. His friend showed how to shake the rattle at a certain cadence and make the mosquitoes around them drop out of the air dead. When the boy proffered the Green River, his friend took a sip and spat it out in surprise. He then drank the rest with such alacrity that the end of the bottle broke off in his mouth. The boy gave him a concerned look, but his friend just smiled, crunched up the glass and spat the pieces through his teeth.

“You know, said his friend, breaking the silence, you’re taking a big risk.”

“Oh?”

“My mother ate the last friend I had. She kills them whenever she gets the chance.”

“Why does she do it?”

“It’s just her way. Maybe mine too.”

“That’s okay,” said the boy. “I’m not afraid of anything.”

They sat for awhile, with nothing between them but the drone of nature. Then they boy said “Hey, Gurgol, there’s a hornet’s nest behind the old cabin, ‘bout half a mile that way. Wanna go shoot rockets at it?”

“Sure. But it’s Grendel.”

“What’s that?”

“Grendel.”

“Sorry.”

“That’s okay, you have a weird one too. What was it again?”

“Beowulf.”

“Right.”

The descended together, each cherishing separately his own weird name, each imagining a destiny no less unique, that would follow that name and no other. And with hearts full, eyes open, they pressed forward into the wilderness.


The Price of Life
Laurence Sullivan

The sliding door silently opens, allowing Kojirō access to his target. A blotchy and bloated man lies before him, his chest rising and falling almost imperceptibly as he sleeps. A clean kill is the only gift Kojirō presents to his quarry. His blade buries itself deep into the merchant's chest while his free hand covers the man's mouth. Unable to scream, the merchant's pupils flicker left and right, seemingly searching his killer's eyes for something. An answer.

Instinctively, Kojirō responds in kind – fixing his gaze on something just out of his victim’s sight. The merchant’s eyes cry agony, but even as his vision begins to fail and shadows start to consume his world, he can still understand why he has met this fate. The merchant's bedroom acts as a symbol, a small emblem that shines as brightly as the rest of his estate. Every corner of it is filled with luxuries: kimonos of the finest silk, long smoking pipes made of gold, the purest saké, and yet all of it was brought with blood.

The merchant had once watched idly as the hired hands of criminal ronin – masterless samurai – had torched the houses of hundreds, simply so that he could reclaim his investment. Much of the village was indebted to him and repeated warnings written in elegant and cursive kanji did not seem to rouse the peasants into paying. The truth was: not one of them could read.

The wealth gained from looting the villagers' houses as they burned to cinders had far outweighed the cost of the mercenaries. A perfect transaction.

Now as he gazes up into the glassy and unforgiving eyes of his killer, the merchant can see the pain he has caused. His attempt at speech is a pitiful thing, little more than an exhalation – blocked anyway by the assassin's hand. With that pathetic death cry, the merchant slips into an everlasting sleep – the ninja hopes it is one tortured by nightmares.

Kojirō now struggles to pull his blade from its latest resting place. Falling backwards, he regains his balance and focuses on his next task at hand. A single swift slice is all it takes to remove a section of the merchant’s beautiful bloodstained kimono. He holds it close, seeing in his hand not a piece of cloth but a swatch of gold.

‘Leave the proof at the crossroads and collect your reward in the morning,’ was all the letter had said. Why collect some paltry reward for the deed when Kojirō could simply take everything his victim already had? The merchant would never need any of it anymore…

Resting on his knees, Kojirō stares covetously at one of the gold pipes beside his victim’s lifeless hand. The candlelight in the room is just luminous enough to create an image on the decadent pipe’s surface – a reflection of Kojirō’s own face.


 
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