Tag Archives: Historical Short Fiction

The Sage Grouse and the Bandit Queen

“I’ll ask you again, Belle. What brings you all the way out here?”

“You can ask me a hundred times, Jack Hardin, and the answer isn’t going to change.”

Belle Starr stared defiantly at the fancily-dressed man standing across from her. The white satin puff tie flowing out of his vest and his shiny leather boots reminded her of something, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.  

 “I saw you on Cheyenne Road last Monday,” Hardin continued, “and a week ago Wednesday, you went south on old Bruton. Were you fixing to meet up with someone, Belle, or were you looking for something?”

Belle knew Hardin had been following her. She’d seen him both days. She also knew he’d been watching her movements for the last two weeks, but today was the first time he’d had the courage to actually approach her face to face. She’d stopped to let her horse have a drink in the clear water of Prairie Creek, and was considering jumping in herself to cool off, when Hardin pranced out from behind a rock. Now, there would be no refreshing dip in the creek with this tinhorn harassing her. 

“Why are you out riding so often in this heat, Belle?” Hardin repeated. “I figure you must be looking for something.” 

Belle did not respond immediately. Instead, she took a minute to study this strange man who had appeared, like a collared lizard, from behind a rock. Hardin’s fancy clothes were far too dressy for any serious riding across the dusty Texas terrain. He also strutted when he walked, like he was getting ready to two-step at a hoedown. Belle didn’t like him. She didn’t like being pounced upon, and she didn’t like being followed. To her mind, Hardin also acted far too friendly. She hardly recognized him as a past acquaintance from years ago in Missouri, but they were not friends there, and in Texas, he only looked like trouble. 

“What business is it of yours where I ride or who I meet, Jack?” 

Hardin smiled, shook his head, and adjusted his wide-brimmed Stetson to keep the sunlight out of his eyes.  

“Belle, you might as well confide in me. You know I’ll find out sooner or later, and the sooner you do, the sooner we can get out of this heat.”

August was always hot in Texas, but the afternoon sun this day seemed particularly penetrating. Belle removed her own hat and wiped the perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand. After carefully replacing this worn headpiece, she adjusted the two pearl-handled pistols hanging on her hips. She was sweating beneath her jacket and riding skirt, and once again, she wished Hardin would move on so she could take a dip in the creek. 

“Why have you been following me?”

“I’m following you, Belle, because I think you’re going to lead me straight to that $40,000 dollars you and Sam Bass took in that stagecoach robbery. I know you netted gold coins and paper money in that haul … and I know the whole lot of it is buried somewhere between Scyene, Mesquite, and Dallas.”

“You’re crazy or drunk. I never rode with Sam Bass, and I don’t know anything about buried money. Hell, Sam’s been dead two years. If there ever was any money, someone’s gotten it before now.”  

“Don’t go acting like you’re some innocent angel, Belle. You’re the best horse thief in these parts, and you’ve robbed more stagecoaches than anybody I know.”

Belle glared at Hardin. She wasn’t afraid of him, but she hoped, if she was as unfriendly as he was friendly, maybe he’d get the message and move on. Picking up on nuances and verbal cues, however, was not one of Hardin’s strengths. 

 “Besides,” Hardin continued as he strutted in circles, “I know for a fact you and that husband of yours, Jim Reed, robbed a stagecoach around here a few years back. It was in the papers. Where is ol’ Jim now anyway?”

“You need to read more newspapers, Jack. You’re behind the times.”

“What do you mean?”

Again, Belle did not answer right away. Her thoughts ran to her former husband, Jim Reed. 

Jim was a proper outlaw, she mused. He was nothing like this dandy pestering me now.

Jim Reed had been one of Quantrill’s raiders, and he’d rode with the Younger gang. He had robbed a stagecoach near Scyene, but he’d been killed resisting arrest.

“Jim’s dead, Jack. Been dead almost six years now. Like I said, you’re really behind the times.”

“My, oh my! So, the law finally caught up with Reed, eh?” Hardin chuckled. “Guess that makes you a widow, don’t it, Belle?”

“You really are behind, Hardin. I married Sam Starr three months ago.”

“If that’s true, Belle, why haven’t I seen Starr around?”

Belle’s new husband was on the run after robbing a post office, but she had no intention of telling Hardin anything about Sam Starr or his whereabouts. 

“You haven’t seen my husband because he has business elsewhere.”

“Business, huh? What kind of business?”

“It’s the kind of business that’s none of your business!”

“Sure, Belle, sure,” chuckled Hardin. “But from all I’ve heard you say, it just means you ain’t got no man around. Bass and Reed are dead, and Starr is off elsewhere. There’s no one around to take care of you.”

Putting her hand on the butt of her right pistol, Belle glared again at Hardin. 

“I don’t need a man to take care of me. Never have, never will. I can take care of myself.”

Taking a step back, Hardin flashed a thin smile. Belle was a crack shot, and he knew it.

“Calm down, Belle. It was just an observation. Remember, I knew you back in Missouri when you were simply little Myra Maybelle Shirley. I don’t care what your name is now or who you’re married to … I was just inquiring … for the sake of old times and conversation. I mean … I was just wondering what keeps you in these parts … if Starr is nowhere around?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, Hardin, but I have a brother in Scyene, and Sam’s family is nearby.”

The shrill scream of a red-tailed hawk drew Belle’s attention, and she turned to watch the predator fly over the sage-covered valley. Suddenly, she remembered. Hardin reminded her of that strange valley bird, the sage grouse. The one that puffs out its white-feathered chest and splays its tail while strutting around dancing and looking for a mate. Belle again noted Hardin’s white-collared neck and the way he strutted when he walked. 

He can dance around all he likes, she thought, but I’m not interested, and if he thinks I should be impressed by his clothes and highfalutin ways, he’s got another think coming.

“I think we should help each other out, Belle. Sounds like we’re all alone out here … and we are friends, remember? Why, we go all the way back to Missouri, way before the war, and you know, friends help each other.”

Sweat trickled down Belle’s back, as she moved toward her horse. She began adjusting the straps on her saddlebags, but she kept one eye on Hardin. 

He’s certainly a prickly lickspittle, she thought, if ever there was one. He’s not a proper outlaw, and he’s certainly not my friend. He’s just pretending on both counts. He forgets I know real outlaws. Frank and Jesse James hid out in my family’s barn back in Missouri, and I know the Younger brothers as well as I know my own brothers. Sure, those fellows rob, fight, and kill, but they always have a need or a reason. They’re respected men. I’ve seen all of them share their spoils with families in need. Doing a good deed, they call it. They may not be perfect, but they’d never try to be something they aren’t. Never have I seen any of them act like a puffed-up sage grouse. Hardin forgets, too, that I was a Confederate spy during the war. I know a fraud when I see one, and you, Mr. Hardin, are one. You want something, but you want it to come easy. You want it without any risk to yourself and without you getting any dirt on your fine clothes. You’re a fake and a fool, and I’m finished here. This conversation is over.

“No dice, Hardin. We’re not in Missouri any longer. This is Texas, and I’ve got things to do and places to be.”

With those words, Belle mounted her horse and galloped off toward Scyene. She didn’t, however, take the most direct route. She made a few detours and backtracked a little, checking constantly to be certain she wasn’t being followed.With vipers like Hardin watching her every move, she decided it really was time to move on. 

Two miles from Scyene, Belle rode around a large boulder that hid a narrow ravine. At the end of the ravine, there stood eight cedar trees, and beneath their branches she stopped. Sitting quietly on her horse, Belle waited and listened for any noise that might indicate someone was following her. 

When the sun started dropping down below the horizon, the stand of cedars became shrouded in shadows. Only then did Belle dismount and walk over to the tallest tree. Taking a knife from her belt, she knelt down beside the cedar and began raking the soil with the knife. She scooped out a couple of handfuls of dirt and then pulled on the top of a white bag. With a little effort, she dislodged the bag and carefully pulled it out of the ground. Untying the twine knot at the top, Belle looked inside the bag. In the dim light, she could just make out coins and paper currency inside. Standing up, she hoisted the bag up and down with both hands, and estimated, by its weight, that the money was all there. Smiling, she carried the bag back to her horse. 

It was too late now to head out, so Belle decided it would be best to wait till morning. Besides, she wanted to stop at the Shady Villa Saloon in Scyene. She needed a drink to wash away the dust in her throat, and she wanted to play the piano loud enough to drown out any lingering thoughts of Jack Hardin. 

Before Belle mounted her horse, however, she separated the money in the bag into four parts. She placed two portions in her saddlebags, one in her bedroll, and over two thousand dollars in a leather pouch tied to her waist. It was an old trick Jim Reed had taught her. By separating the money, if she did get waylaid, there was a good chance the would-be robber wouldn’t get all the haul—just part of it. This task completed, she mounted her horse and rode toward Scyene.

Arriving at Shady Villa, Belle looked for the owner, Molly Jennings. Molly was one of the few women whose company Belle could tolerate. Molly recognized that Belle was a talented piano player, and there were limited establishments available where Belle could exercise her talent. The two women had found common ground over the piano in Shady Villa’s bar. Belle liked to play the piano, and Molly liked for her to play. 

From behind the bar, Molly saw Belle first and called out to her friend. 

“Howdy, Bandit Queen. You going to provide some entertainment for my guests? You know they buy more drinks when you raise their spirits with music and keep their minds off their troubles.”

Belle liked it when Molly referred to her as the “Bandit Queen.” It was the newspapers’ newest moniker for her, and she felt the title described her well. Smiling at Molly, Belle nodded affirmatively. 

“That’s why I’m here, Molly. I need to raise my spirits, too.”

Belle didn’t mention Jack Hardin. She got a drink at the bar, and sat down at the piano. For over an hour she played, and gradually the music made her forget her dusty encounter with the sage grouse.  

Belle was just thinking about getting some sleep, when she saw Molly sitting at a table at the back of the saloon. Molly was talking with a man, and she looked distressed. Taking a closer look, Belle realized the person Molly was talking to was Jack Hardin. Had he managed to follow her after all? Or did he have some separate business with Molly? 

When Hardin headed upstairs for a night with one of Molly’s soiled doves, Belle left the piano and went to talk with Molly. She found the proprietor in tears.

“What is it, Molly? What’s wrong?” 

“That man,” Molly said, nodding her head toward the stairs. “He comes around every three months wanting his money. He says if he doesn’t get it, he’ll burn the place down.” 

“Why do you owe him money?

Dabbing at her tears with a handkerchief, Molly sighed.

“Three years ago, when I set out to buy Shady Villa, I was short on cash. That man … his name is Jack Hardin … offered to loan me money. I took it, but I’ll never get out from under his thumb. He wants a hundred dollars interest every month. I don’t clear that much from the bar, and the girls barely bring in enough to cover their food and clothes. Hardin knows this, but he’s a leech … a bloodsucking parasite. Once he gets his teeth in you, he won’t let go till he bleeds you dry.”

Molly put her head down on the table and started to cry again. Belle sat down beside her. She sat quietly till Molly’s sobs lessened, then she spoke. 

“How much do you owe, Molly, to get out from under Hardin’s thumb forever?”

Without raising her head, Molly whispered. 

“All total, he wants two thousand dollars.”

Belle reached into the bag at her waist and removed two thousand dollars.

 “Look at me, Molly,” she insisted, and Molly slowly raised her head. “We’re going to take care of this leech, or sage grouse, or whatever he is, once and for all.”

Belle laid the money on the table. 

“There’s two thousand dollars, and I want you to do exactly as I say. In the morning, when Hardin comes down, you pay him off. Make sure he signs a bill of sale, and get two witnesses to verify he got his money. Do you understand?”

Molly nodded. 

“Belle, how can I ever thank you?” 

“Never mind about that. I’m going to count it as my good deed, like some friends of mine do.”

“But Hardin is going to ask where I got the money. He’ll insist I tell him.”

“Tell him. Tell him I gave you the money. Tell him I joked that I found a treasure chest on my last ride. Tell him … I said I had to pay a few debts, and then I was going home to Missouri.”

With those words, Belle left the Shady Villa. She led her horse to the stables, and once there, she asked the stable boy to pick out a fresh horse and ride to a farm a few miles away. She told him what to say to the two men living there. The boy was hesitant until Belle dropped two gold coins in his hand. After he left, Belle fed her horse and settled him in for the night. Laying down on a pile of hay, she fell asleep in a neighboring stall.  

Belle woke when she heard the boy returning. The sun was just coming up. She saddled her horse and rode to the Scyene Wagon Factory. Behind the large building, she found Cole and Bob Younger waiting. 

“We got your message, Belle. Glad to help, but we’re not sure if you want us to catch this bird, chase him off, or just shoot him.”

Belle laughed, and then she shook hands with Bob and Cole.

“Thanks for coming, fellas. I’m trying to leave town to meet up with Sam, and I’ve had this little sage grouse following me. I just want you to rough him up a bit and send him packing. He’s got two thousand dollars of mine on him, and if you send him on his merry way, you can keep it for all your trouble.”

“How do we find this little bird?” asked Cole.

“It won’t be a problem. I’m fixing to head west, and as soon as he sees me leave town, he’ll follow me. All you have to do is waylay him, take the money, and scare him away from these parts. Then you can get back to your business.”  

“Sounds good, Belle. We’ll take care of the fella, and you give Sam our regards.”

“I will, boys, and I appreciate your help.”

Belle turned her horse and headed west. She was not surprised to see a fancily-dressed man on a horse following her before she was an hour out of town. When she gained a little elevation, she looked back over the land she’d just covered and smiled when she saw two men on horseback shadowing her sage grouse. 

Hardin doesn’t even know they are there, she thought.

When her horse mounted a rocky plateau, Belle stopped and turned to look back again. In the distance, she could just make out Cole and Bob Younger mounting their horses. Hardin was galloping off north toward Arkansas. 

Good riddance, Belle thought. Maybe he’ll go all the way back to Missouri.

As she looked on, Bob Younger waved his hand in her direction. In his fist, Belle could make out dollar bills. Tipping her hat in appreciation, she turned her horse and headed towards Sam Starr’s secret hideout. It was time they were together again.

* * * * *

Billie Holladay Skelley received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now retired from working as a cardiovascular and thoracic surgery clinical nurse specialist and nursing educator, she enjoys focusing on her writing. Billie has written several health-related articles for both professional and lay journals, but her writing crosses several different genres and has appeared in various journals, magazines, and anthologies in print and online—ranging from the American Journal of Nursing to Chicken Soup for the Soul. An award-winning author, she also has written eight books for children and teens: Eagle the Legal Beagle, Ollie the Autism-Support CollieWeaver the Diabetic-Alert RetrieverSpice Secret: A Cautionary Diary, Luella Agnes Owen: Going Where No Lady Had Gone BeforeRuth Law: The Queen of the Air, Hugh Armstrong Robinson: The Story of Flying Lucky 13, and Two Terrible Days in May: The Rader Farm Massacre.

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Mumler and the Widow

The history of all pioneers of new truths is relatively the same.  I showed them a beautiful truth; in their ignorance, bigotry, and blindness, they called me fraud.  Barnum called me fraud, a “humbug.”  When last was a man cleared by a court so vilified?

I insert the plate into the camera, my channel through which the spirit host shines. “Through a glass darkly,” St Paul writes, “but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  The glass plate brings the truth to our face.  The camera brings the truth, and that is why she comes and why they will mock me no longer.

The boards creak as I pace to the door.  For the fourth time and then the fifth, I peer down dim stairs though I know it is early.  I sit in the one chair I can afford, now, the one in front of the camera, and then I stand again and pace to the window, door, window.  Things had been different in New York, before the trial.

I check the camera again, ensuring I have inserted the right glass plate.  If I am wrong about “Mrs. Lindall” I will have to switch it, but I am not wrong.  And I can help her.

Slow footsteps echo in the stairwell.  I can help her, I think again as the black veil enters. The mourning dress is elegant; the newspapers always said she spared no expense.  She passes by me without a word and enters the studio, proceeding directly to the photograph on the table.  It shows Bronson Murray with his head bowed.  The spirit stands behind him, one hand on his shoulder, the other passing through the hairs on his cheek.  She holds him.  It is Ella Bonner; her husband, Robert, knew her immediately when he came in response to a letter, and he wept to see his deceased wife.  They often weep; they give thanks as they pay me.  I have taken many spirit photographs, but that one is among the finest.  I wonder what the widow thinks as she examines it.  I say nothing out of respect for what she’s endured, for her grief.  For who she is.  But at last, I must say something, and I must make sure I am right.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Lincoln.”

“I knew you would know.”  She does not turn, but she lifts the veil to get a better look at Mr. Murray and Mrs. Bonner.  I wait for some moments.  “How did you first connect to the spirit realm, Mr. Mumler?”

I have learned it is best to be open.  “It began as an accident, as a jest,” I say. “I was experimenting with my camera, developed a self-portrait, and saw it.  The form.  I assumed I erred somehow.  One day a gentleman visited me who I knew was a Spiritualist.  I was not at that time… inclined much to the spiritual belief.  I concluded to have a little fun.  My exact words were, ‘this picture was taken by myself when there was no visible person present but myself.’”

“And did you have a fine laugh, sir?”  She faces me now with the veil again drawn.  Her aspect and her voice are death-ridden.

I nearly falter, but I have told this tale many times. “The jest was on me.  That man told others what he had seen, and in about a week from that time, I received a paper from New York called the Herald of Progress reporting on my ‘great proof.’”

“And were you exhilarated?” my inquisitor interjects.  “Fearful?”

“I was mortified, ma’am.  My name in public print… At that time, you see, I thought the photograph to be a kind of misrepresentation…”

“When did you learn otherwise?  When did you believe, Mr. Mumler?”
I gaze at her obscured face.  She has come all this way for my gift, but she still needs me to confirm it.

“When I went to the gallery where my photographs were displayed.  A crowd of people waited, and one of them was a scientist from Cambridge, thoroughly acquainted with photography.  I told him what another man had told me, that I had not cleaned the glass sufficiently and that the spirit was merely an image from a previous exposure.  The scientist said no.  He said that might be possible, and even probable, in daguerrotyping, but not in my photograph.  Not on glass.”

“And you believed then?”

“Yes.”

“And now?”

“Yes.”

“How much then?”

Her questions are nothing if not efficient. “I ask ten dollars for a sitting, ma’am.”

“A pretty penny for a picture, but not beyond the means of a widow Congress finally saw fit to grant a pension.  Are there… guarantees?”

“I cannot control the spirits, Mrs. Lincoln.  I know only after it is developed.”

The black lace thinks.  Whether hesitating or hoping, I know not.

“Good,” she says.  “Am I to sit in this chair?”

I take a step to help her as a gentleman should, but she seats herself and, to my relief, lifts the veil.  Hers is a hard, suffering face.

“Just a few moments while I prepare, Mrs. Lincoln.”  She nods.

I open the camera and examine the plate yet again, confirming I have placed the correct one.  I look through the camera.  It is her. It must be perfect.  I visualize where the spirit might be.  Everything depends on its perfection.  The great truth.  The future of spirit photography.  My return to grace.

“Do you consider yourself a great man, Mr. Mumler?”

She has surprised me, but I bow my head with appropriate reverence.  “I am an instrument.”

“As are we all, Mr. Mumler.”  She looks to the window; I curse myself for not having scrubbed the grime, then remove the slide cover.  Nearly ready.  I examine the shot through the camera again.  She still looks away to the window.

“My husband was a great man.  But you know that.”

“He was, ma’am.”

“You all know that.  You think you know…”  Her hand moves to draw down the safety of the veil, but she glances at the camera and catches herself.  “He was destined for it.  It was God’s will he be taken in his country’s cause.  Do you know, when he was elected, what he said?  ‘Molly, Molly, we are elected.’  We are elected, he said.  For my life was predestined, too.  In Illinois Stephen Douglas, that small man, courted me before Abe did.  Did you know that?”

I realize she has asked me, and I shake my head.  I cannot fathom calling this woman Molly.  The scale of her life presses in upon me.

“When I refused Douglas, I told him, ‘I shall become Mrs. President, or I am the victim of false prophets, but it will not be as Mrs. Douglas.’  Oh, I knew, Mr. Mumler.  And I knew when I saw him.  People would never believe it now, but my husband danced.  Quite appallingly, but he danced.  Dear old James Conkling said he looked like old Father Jupiter bending down from the clouds to see what’s going on.  Abe approached me, bowed, and said he wanted to dance with me in the worst way.  I told him he did dance in the worst way.”

She laughs, so briefly I wonder if my ears have deceived me.  I would not have known she could still laugh.

“He was a good man.  He worried his income would disappoint me, coming from the family I did and living the life I did.  But Abe was worth more than all the houses and all the gold.  He was a man of mind with a hope and bright prospects, and a head for power.  He could never manage to wear socks that matched, but he had a nobleness of heart.  You have heard of my troubles, Mr. Mumler.”

The abrupt turn jars me.  I feel my jaw hanging as she fixes her gaze on my wordless face.

“Do not dissemble, sir.  You have… everyone has.  Everyone with an ounce of education and the sense to find a newspaper has read of my impropriety.”  She has mercy—she releases me and looks back to my unclean window.  “It has been my hourly prayer that I might soon be removed from a world so filled with woe and bitterness. God has willed it otherwise.”

My jaw still hangs uselessly.  Those in grief have sought me.  For more than ten years I have given them comfort with my camera, and I have learned to comfort with my words.  But they were men and women, and now I stand in reach of something beyond them.  She is vast.  Implacable.

“I saw what they did to him, Mr. Mumler.  That angel of light.  I was there when he forgot to eat dinner, and when he stooped with exhaustion, when the war sapped him.  I knew what weighed on him.  I read the Bible to legless men in Washington’s hospitals and held their hands as they died, and I could see their souls in my Abe’s eyes.  And through it all, when the newspapers slandered me and his cabinet scorned me and our Willie left this world, that husband, in his great love and tenderness, would not allow the wind of Heaven to visit me too roughly. That, sir, is the man my husband was.  Do you know what is inscribed on this wedding band?”

She points at the ring on her finger, and her ferocity demands an answer, but I can say nothing.

“’Love is eternal.’  He is here, I know he is here, because love is eternal.  Now, you may take your picture, Mr. Mumler.”

I realize my hand still rests on the camera; I see my studio again and remember where we are.  I take a final look through the camera; having been photographed many times, she is still, and I need give her no reminders before uncovering the lens to admit light.

She will have a spirit photograph worthy of her pain. I prepared this plate more carefully than any in my career.  The subject was carefully chosen for height, nose and beard, and I exposed three different plates to ensure I had the best possible likeness and in case I spoiled one by cleaning too much.  But after twelve years, I know just how much and how little to clean that first exposure from the glass.

They call me fraud because they do not understand.  I do not fully understand, not after the trial.  I thought I did.

When I ran to that gallery twelve years ago, mortified at the publicity my jest had received, my Emma was there. We had never met before that day, but I heard her cry in her pretty voice, “Why, there is Mr. Mumler!” She would be my wife; I sensed it.  I confessed the secret to that Cambridge scientist because I could not deny them all.  He gave me the explanation, and the assembled crowd gave me conviction; Emma gave me conviction.  They called me an instrument, a divine instrument of the spiritual host. Could an error and a jest move these people so?  I knew what I had done. I also believed.  For in the end, what is truth?  We Spiritualists believe the unknown can be known, that we can reach the other side. Spirits inhabit Emma.  I have seen it.

Barnum called me humbug.  He exhibits nothing that does not give a man his money’s worth, he claimed.  Is ten dollars so much?  They would not believe less.

A fearful man asks, “Is this all of life?  Is there a hereafter?”  And as the years roll on, bringing him nearer to the solution of this great problem, the question becomes, to him, one of great moment.  The anchor to which he has been clinging for safety begins to drag; the advance of science demonstrates that the world was not made in a brief period, but has existed for innumerable ages, and where is he drifting?  Spiritualism comes to him like a beacon-light to the mariner.  And if he doubts this beautiful truth, he can turn to the photographs of William Mumler, for proof that there is more.  Truth, manifest.  Am I a fraud if it is real? I used to know…

“Are you quite finished, Mr. Mumler?”

I realize she is right, and she has sat still long after I had covered the lens. 

“Yes, Mrs. Lincoln.”

She eagerly pulls the veil over her face.  “When will it be ready?”

“You may pick it up in three days’ time.”

She whispers, “Was he here?”

“As I said earlier, I cannot—” The black lace arrests my voice.  I know what eyes it hides.  I cannot separate the plea and the demand in her whisper.  I cannot face that veil. I turn my attention to the camera and mumble, “There may have been something at your left shoulder.”

Movement pulls my eyes upward.  She holds that shoulder with both hands, tilts her head to it.  A minute or so later she stands and turns.  I might hear “Abe” once, but with her back to me, her words remain a murmured mystery. I feel I am lurking over a prayer. What prayer does one offer an idol whose children one has borne?  She continues murmuring over a quarter of an hour, shaking sometimes; I assume she weeps.  I feel him too.  He is with her.  He must be with her.  I dare not move lest I disturb them.
When I notice her turning I pretend to work with the camera.  “I will return in three days, Mr. Mumler.”  Her footsteps descend slowly.  The stairs labor her.

I pull the drape closed.  I place the plate in distilled water and prepare the bath of developing fluid.  The spirits need tending.

NOTES:
Mumler’s photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln with Lincoln’s “spirit”: http://contentdm.acpl.lib.in.us/digital/collection/p15155coll1/id/56

Mumler’s photograph of Bronson Murray and Ella Bonner: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/95748/william-h-mumler-bronson-murray-american-1862-1875/

Portions of Mrs. Lincoln dialogue (notably “the winds of Heaven” line) adapted from letters published in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association by Thomas F. Schwartz and Anne V. Shaughnessy in 1990, available at the University of Michigan website here: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2629860.0011.105/–unpublished-mary-lincoln-letters?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Other portions of Mrs. Lincoln dialogue (notably the Stephen Douglas refusal and the discussion of Lincoln’s dancing) adapted from “The Life of Mary Todd Lincoln” by Kimberly J. Largent at eHistory, available on the Ohio State University website here: https://ehistory.osu.edu/articles/life-mary-todd-lincoln

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Ryan Love teaches high school English in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, where he earned a degree from Alfred University.  He and his wife live in a Victorian with pairs of daughters, beagles, and guinea pigs.  He has yet to see any of William Mumler’s photographs in person but has plans of seeing the Fox sisters’ séance table someday soon in nearby Rochester.

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Ghost in the Bathroom

The little girl slipped out of the church when they brought forth the scrapwood coffin. Through the tawny windowlight, she watched as the long box of splintered planks clumsily jounced atop a garland of brown hands flayed raw by sand and sun. From the evening dark beyond the surrounding fence crowned with machine guns and sentry huts, the frantic yips of starving dessert wolves sounded from the belly of a gloomy arroyo, their whimpers high and sharp like a tribe of lost children. The little girl turned and ran between the wide empty firebreaks to her barrack, desperately trying not to think about the man who had fallen.

He had been the first to die in the camp. A young Nissei on a construction detail. An accident by all accounts. The little girl had seen a small crowd quickly gather near a pile of joists and studs at the base of the unfinished theater. She abandoned her game of jacks and wandered over to see what had happened, what absurdity lurked at the center of the serried throng able to diffuse the same solemn stare over all who looked upon it. By the time she pushed her way through, the stirred desert dust from the plummet had settled and the Issei hoarsely chanted in a sacred Japanese meant only for monks and poets. The dead man lay stiff and still, caked in a grainy red film. Above, frayed ropes hung from the broken scaffold and swayed like lazy spider legs in the hot wind. The body was bent in odd ways, a heaped and tangled mass of human angles. His hands were crammed beneath his chest, arms crushed and flaccid like the wings of a baby bird. His legs were spread and contorted, his right knee jerked high like a sprinters’ as though he were edging through a jagged finish line of loose nails and rusty scrubweed. The alderman for the dead man’s barrack block stepped forward and squat next to the body. He spat into dirt and shook his head and looked blankly beyond the fence. He decided the guard would have to be bribed for there to be a ceremony. That the mess hall would have to be consecrated. That another man’s help would be needed to move the corpse before the buzzards caught scent. Dorothy stepped back from the gathering and covered the beginning of a smile she could not stop from spreading. Against her will, she had thought the dead man looked as though he were dancing and hated herself for thinking such a thing. She pinched her arm hard and prayed for God’s forgiveness.

Curled under her tick-straw cot in the darkened barrack, Dorothy formed little piles of sand and told herself a tale about a young pharaoh and a magic horse who could gallop across the waters of the Nile. The story made her less afraid and gave new purpose to the powdery sand that always managed to get into her eyes and mouth and clothes despite how hard her mother tried to keep it outside. The front door exploded open with a heavy crash. Dorothy’s older brother stepped out of the blue night into the tiny greenpine chamber.

“Think you can run off huh? Think you can get away from having to sit through that funeral?”

“No Tom, no. I don’t want to see that man again. I don’t want to see him in that box, and I don’t care if I get in trouble. I don’t want to see that man again.”

Tom’s tie was loose, his collar wilted. He was almost fourteen and already taller than both of his parents. He was lanky, acned, and missed pitching for his junior high baseball team. His thin mustache was thickened by the dark of the room.

“You know,” said Tom, “I followed you out here to bring you back to the funeral. Mom and Dad’s orders. But as I was walking, I saw the ghost, like Obachan said. I saw his ghost, his y?rei in the bathroom.”

“No you didn’t!” Dorothy cried, “no you didn’t and you are just trying to scare me.”

“I saw him, sticking his broken arms and twisted neck out of the window. All that dust still on him.”

“Shut up!” Dorothy burrowed her head between her arms, tears dampening the frilled sleeves of her only church blouse, “Please go away, please!”

“Mom and Dad told me to bring you back. But I have a better idea. I’m gonna have you pay your respects to the ghost himself.” Tom grabbed both of Dorothy’s legs and dragged her from under the cot. She screamed and beat her hands against the floor. Tom let go of her ankles and covered her mouth. “Quiet,” he angrily hissed, “you stay quiet or I’ll throw you off that scaffold like him.” He hove Dorothy over his shoulder and stepped back out into the night.

The younger children had not gone into the bathrooms since the fall. None of them wanted to be the one cornered by the ghost while they were relieving themselves. In the days since, the oldest Issei claimed they had seen the y?rei in camp. Sometimes he was sitting on the benches around the gardens. Sometimes he walked along the fence passing his hand through the barbs in the wire. Sometimes he took the form of the snakes and scorpions that wriggled up through barrack floors when the days were hottest. But most times, it was agreed, most times he was in the bathroom.

The camp was quiet and solemn. The lights from the distant mess hall windows punched square holes into the dark while a cotton-eyed moon ogled from a vaulted cobalt sky. As they neared the bathroom, a tattered shroud of cirrus crept across the moon’s lambent glare and the remaining sprays of copper stars flickered weakly. 

Dorothy punched furiously. Her mouth was still covered and she bawled into the salty callouses of her brother’s hand. Tears streamed down her cheeks and pasted plaited locks of hair against her skin. Her shoes flew off as she kicked his back and slapped his cheeks but Tom only held her tighter.

Out of the dark, the bathroom materialized and its torn shreds of tarpaper lapped the desert wind like a long black tongue. The crooked door flew open and hit the side of the latrine with a slap.

Tom shoved his sister inside and held the knob. Dorothy frantically beat her fists against the wood, her weary brittle shouts rattling and crumbling inside her throat like dry autumn leaves. Through the pitch dark, a cold gust blew from the empty stalls. The slivered boards moaned in pain and between the low drumming of her balled fists, the dulled clink of dragged metal rung from behind like broken bells. Dorothy thrust her shoulder into the wood, driving with all her weight, but the door did not budge. She sunk to her knees and pushed her head against the planks. “Here he comes,” Tom whispered through the slats, “here he comes.” Dorothy closed her eyes and pressed them into the palm of her hands.

The dead man danced limply in her head.

______________________________________________________________________________

Christopher Berardino is a writer of Japanese-American descent from Orange County, CA. He received an MFA in Fiction from Cornell University in 2018. He has completed his first novel, Infamy, about the oft-forgotten Japanese Internment Camps. Selections from this novel won the Truman Capote Writer’s Award. Additionally, he has won Cornell’s Arthur Lynn Andrew’s Award for his short story “Dog Bait.” His work has previously appeared Connu Magazine, and Flash Fiction Magazine

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The Role She Plays

By Charlie Riccardelli

 

Elia’s wife Barbara is an opportunist, a faux Marilyn likening herself to that blonde bombshell of yesteryear.  ‘Marilyn and I started out the same way,’ she gloats, another cigarette over another cocktail at another party he doesn’t want to host.  ‘Both pinups in pushups,’ she quips, bumping her chest out, kicking up her feet.  She wiggles all her curves in a tight blue dress, eyes batting alongside her beaming smile.  The party guests eat it up, like she has Monroe’s moves or her wit.

Wit.  She stole that goddamn line from Elia, from the night they started sleeping together.  After a rehearsal during their first show at the Washington Square Theatre, she approached him with questions about her role.  Up in that sound booth they went to spitball ideas.  Ever the schemer, Barbara moved the conversation to praise Elia’s direction, for bringing Marlon Brando and Tennessee Williams to the stage, speaking of him as some sort of theatre messiah, hyperbole for hyperbole’s sake.  Elia retaliated with those comparisons of Monroe and how he knew her once, an insecure vixen of a movie star wanting to really be an ‘Actress’.  He talked up the weekend he spent screwing that platinum blonde in a posh Manhattan hotel.  “But she was all surface, Marilyn,” Elia told Barbara, hand running up her thigh.  “Marilyn should be lucky to be like you.”   In no time, he had her body against the controls, her ass pressing the levels up, his arms across the knobs, bringing a rainstorm cue to life on the stage.  Barbara’s otherworldly wails projected from the back of the theatre to the stage.  The pipes on that woman.  Christ Almighty.

Elia saw himself as a master manipulator of everyone in his life, so it threw him for a loop when the wiles of Barbara left him fevered on her pheromones.  She made him her trophy, a self-proclaimed muse to the director.  Barbara, who mistook those early lustful desires for love and passion.  In the theatre she maintained a professional air, never seeking favoritism, but outside during meals and drink, cramming one more body into a booth built for two, she trained Elia to heel at her command.  She curtailed annoying conversationalists and schmoozed investors he couldn’t take time for.  Barbara, who managed the calls and the arrangements, who asked for nothing in return but him in her bed at the end of the day.

Barbara motions Elia to join her inside this black box space she’s created at the center of their living room, to show off her seasoned husband for the people, the man who makes her free with the aid of his considerable assets and clout.  For a moment it appears that she might be willing to relinquish her one-woman show into a two person production, but she doesn’t seem content to do that, and really, what more can Elia add to this conversation to the domestic farce that she’s created?

“Look at this man,” Barbara says to the guests, hooking her husband by the arm, nearly knocking the scotch out of his hand.  She squeezes in close to Elia, planting a long kiss on his lips.  She can still do that right, her tongue protruding into his mouth.  The sensation of her explorative tongue gets the better of him and he goes along with her show, rough hands rubbing along the side of her body.  He feels the need for the crowd of chic hangers-on who crowd his gawdily impersonal apartment for the evening, lounging across his couches, spilling ash and cocktails, pontificating over pretentious bullshit.

“Hey Barb, how does it feel to be married to a legend?” one of the guests calls out from behind the others surrounding the couple.

Barbara brushes back the bangs falling down in front of her face, waving off the guest’s question as if she doesn’t mean to answer such an inquiry, but Elia knows she has her words rehearsed.  She’s stated to him in private her emphatic opinions of herself and the role she plays in his life.

“You know…boys and girls…normally I wouldn’t be too boisterous about mine and Gadge’s relationship.  Mother always told me when you had a good thing going, no need to gloat.  But you see…Mother’s not here and this liquor’s been doing some wild things to my head this evening.”

Whistles abound, cheering loud enough to wake up their infant son Leo down the hallway.

“Let me tell you something…and who asked that…who…Oh, Michael…Michael, thank you so much for coming, doll.  Michael…I’ve had my time on the stage and I’ve had great reviews and success for what I’ve done.  I’ve had it, but it all seems so fleeting in comparison to being a muse…an inspiration to a greater artist like my husband right here.  To be his rock through every Broadway production and movie…well…Gadge sure is the kinda man I wouldn’t mind keeping around for a while.”  Barbara, smiles, petting the back of her husband’s thinning grey hair with her hand, planting a soft kiss on his cheek.  Such nice words to be said, but Elia thinks he should be the one to compliment her prowess if anyone can say it at all.

Why do they call you Gadge, anyway?” the costume designer of Barbara’s latest show asks.  Elia goes to answer, but he’s interrupted again, holding his wife’s empty glass as she passes it on to him.

“Something about his Group Theatre days all those years ago.  A man you can count at any given point in time, something like that.  How does it go?”

The party looks to Elia.  Barbara wants nothing more than for him to confirm that she knows his history from a good twenty-five years before she met him.  “Short for Gadget,” he confirms, feigning ignorance, “or something like that.”

Barbara leans into her husband, pinching him at the waist.  “Try to show a little enthusiasm, please.  You’re acting like a fogey, like some parent who’s checking in on his teenager’s party in the basement.”

Elia tenses up, passing back her drink. He’s ready to explode in front of her, with each  new sly dig he can’t handle.  “Gonna go mingle,” Elia decides, anything to distance himself from the hostility of his wife.

He is unsure of what Barbara is supposed to have inspired in him all these years besides taking a leave of his senses, maybe to leave Molly.  His wife’s a part of his history with women, they both know that.  He screwed ingénues all along Broadway for years.  In dressing rooms and toilets, against the sharp beams of the lighting grids and the comfort of stage couches.  Elia took them in hotels in Boston while the rest of the cast fretted over the preview reviews in all night dives, finding solace in a heavy drink and a quick toke of grass.  Their director put his mind at ease with random women in stopped elevators, somewhere between floors six and seven.

Every woman came to Elia just as Barbara had, in the guise of a concerned artist, grappling with the motivations of their characters.  They asked for after-hour discussions, ‘too alert’, they’d claim, nearly on the brink of a breakthrough.  These actresses never sought help understanding the script, but advice embodying the physicality of a character, letting loose their emotions.  “Show me again,” they said, extending an arm for Elia to operate.  “Show me how I should handle myself.”  He planted himself behind them, one arm entwined with theirs, this other adjusting the waist for proper blocking.  “Keep the head angled just so.  The people in the balcony will gasp from the acting or the beauty or both.  Take hold of your body while my body takes hold of you.”  A late rehearsal leads to an early morning excuse to Molly for why he couldn’t get the kids off to school on time.

Molly, Elia’s first love, whom he abandoned for Barbara so readily, escaping to the bed of a dye-job blonde in those final years that should have belonged to her.  Where has she gone to?  Wherever Protestants go when sudden illness takes them, perhaps.

“The pictures are all gone,” says a playwright friend approaching Elia, a man staring into his glass of scotch like it holds all the answers.  “I remember the old way the apartment was. The walls were covered in memories.  Now all I see is Pop Art.  Kinda miss the homey quality.”

Elia shrugged with no reasonable response.  “I don’t know what happened to them,” he lied.  “Anyway, Barbara says pictures are for people who can’t remember.”

“Wait until she gathers up a few more photos from times she was around with you.  They’ll be mounted on the wall.  Once the specter of the first Mrs. of your life is behind and she has more of you than Molly ever did, that will change.  The new wives always feel in competition with the old ones even when they’ve been in possession of you for years.”

Elia grows frustrated at the implications, but he puts up a weak defense of Barbara, knowing there’s truth to those words.  His friend long ago left his high school sweetheart for an actress of his own, then again to a travel photographer.  The playwright’s early joys in boundless bawdiness have given way to drink, endless glasses of lament for what he gave up to follow his dick.

“Ease up on the drinking, huh?” says Elia.  “And maybe stop performing a critical analysis of my life.  You wouldn’t want me to do it for you, my friend.  Bowing at the altars of your Shiksa goddesses like a pagan ritual.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit.  You analyze my life all the time, Elia, so don’t jerk me around with these stories of what I do or don’t.  My plays are my life and you’ve produced them all.”  The playwright pulls the glasses from his face, wiping away flecks of dirt with his handkerchief, dabbing the sweat building up in embarrassment over this argument he doesn’t want to engage in like so many of their tiffs.  “I don’t mean to be this way.  You get to spending enough time fretting about your own problems and sometimes you want to believe others have it  the same just so yours  don’t seem all the worse.”  He stares across the room at Barbara, watching someone light her cigarette without her noticing, too deep in conversation.  “She’s so different from Molly.  I guess I think different is bad sometimes when it really just is.  I don’t mean anything by it, Gadge.”

Elia stared at his wife, so different from Molly.  His first wife’s uniqueness was what drew her to him in the first place.  Growing up in the Bronx, Elia knew no girls like Molly.  Never so refined or fair skinned.  Never with the kind of uptight WASP background, that’s for sure.  She came from a lineage that included lawyers and college presidents and a solicitor general.  Molly’s pedigree ensured that she would never have to fight for a single thing, with the spoils of life being handed down to her as she wanted them, from educations to husbands to homes.  But she was a fighter, Molly, and that’s what Elia loved in her.  She fought her family to go to Yale and indulge in what they referred to as ‘the pageantry of theatre and playwriting’ and she fought him on every choice he ever made in the theatre because she was right and Elia needed to see it.  She carried more class and consideration than those blue-blood New England Republicans who claimed her as one of their own merely because of the circumstances of her birth.

While in school together, Molly defined herself in classes and productions by not being among the garish and obnoxious who vied for the attention of everyone in the department.  As an aspiring author, she wrote and rewrote.  She watched rehearsals and revised again.  Her fault came in the failure to self-promote as the others did, insecurities of selling herself, but no one could deny her intelligence for the theatre, ahead of all others and the up-and-coming trends.  Elia never took the time to notice her, busy chasing the skirts around him, women swayed easily by his charms and slumming it with an ethnic.

Molly was drawn to his imperfection, speaking up to him one day about his acting, sticking around in class after the others left, Elia failing to scrounge up some action with a girl he was chasing.  “You have this very rough, unrefined quality about your acting.  I don’t know how much of it is you or your peacock-like way of presenting your feathers.”

“I don’t follow you, girl.  What are you saying.”

Molly curled an arm over her chair, still seated, Elia against the doorframe.  “You act and I can always see that kid in you, the one who’s posturing for attention, like you’ve found yourself in trouble and you want to get out of it.  I see you in class, trying to get these leading man roles that aren’t you.  You should use your natural talents as a charmer.”

“I don’t want to be defined by some character actor parts, alright?” he protested.  “Those aren’t for me.”

She smiled at Elia’s objections.  “If you bring in that natural quality to your work every time you’re on the stage, they’ll be showcasing you only so the star isn’t upstaged.”

One evening after rehearsals of The Seagull, Elia approached Molly about thoughts she expressed in a class discussion regarding more naturalistic acting in the theatre.  She swept him up in her ideas and inspirations of what theatre could be if only distanced from the formal European traditions.  “American theatre is ripe for a Bolshevik style revolution of its own, to carve out its place in history and develop a style dictated by the people, not tradition handed down to us.  More than reading the lines, we can act with our experiences and emotions shaping our parts, not some blind following of a script, performing like automatons.”

“But the play is the script,” Elia argued.

“No,” she said to him.  “A play can be so much more than that.  A play can be everything that we bring to it.  Our experiences can mold the roles.  Don’t just play a taxi driver, know what a taxi driver does every day, what he struggles with in life.  Anyone can stand up and call themselves whatever they want, but not knowing what shapes those lives and what we can bring to the role to inform those experiences is nothing more than recitation.”

They spoke into the evening about Stanislavski’s system of acting, and the burgeoning Group Theatre reparatory company in New York City, which had begun to build its reputation by never putting one actor in the group above others.  This young woman, who spoke with such conviction and intellect of all things art and politics, won Elia over, that he could not help himself or his passionate feelings towards her.  The conversation flowed liked the cheap beer he and Molly drank on the floor of his furniture-less apartment, wrapped in his bed’s blankets to keep them warm, as if either noticed the cold.  With each new topic Elia found himself moving in closer to her, until he discovered the two of them in a romantic embrace, making love at the foot of his bed.

All through the night he watched her sleep, fearing that she might wake up and be nothing more than a rabble-rouser Red intent upon creating this radical persona to ruffle the feathers of her family.  She might have broken from her family’s ideas of what a suitable man was, picking up the one she saw as most unacceptable to call her own: A South Bronx Greek immigrant with a bronzed skin and busted, bulbous nose, speaking in the clipped language of the old country and what passed for English in the slums.  To a woman looking to frighten her family, his presence at the Connecticut dinner table would create hysteria.  Only in the morning, awakening to Molly’s kiss above his eye did Elia see the sincerity of her words and her feelings for him.

“And in The Group Theatre, you won’t have to play just another ethnic,” she said, carrying on the conversation of the previous night before another word was said.  “You are only limited by the roadblocks you set for yourself.”

Their marriage was a grand collaboration of talents.  Elia found in Molly his muse, a forward-thinking theatrical wunderkind who always knew better, how to change the theatrical experience into daring new directions.  In her husband she discovered a man recognizing the strengths of her insights, a conduit for so much of the choices she was too nervous to risk taking on her own.

Molly kept Elia from parties in drama school and their first years of marriage in New York.  She preferred late nights of notes and character deconstruction.  She commanded the floor of their living room, coffee table removed to form her makeshift stage.  Molly inhabited the roles of Blanche Dubois, of Maggie the Cat, a Willy Loman to make Brooks Atkinson take notice for his latest column in the arts section.  They discussed and argued, fought and made love and fought again.  She touched his body and told him how to breathe, how Terry Malloy should breathe.  How Terry Malloy and Edie would walk through Hoboken on a bitter winter day, discussing her brother who had been thrown off the roof their apartment building.  How he made love to her that first time, forceful but caring.

Molly knew about the other women Elia juggled and why he kept them from ever entertaining guests on the few occasions she wanted to do so.  Theatre crowds swapped lovers, and too often, leaving him to wonder if Brando’s date could be one of his past mistakes, a costume designer from some long ago summer stock or certain dalliances committed when a trip away from their Manhattan apartment proved too long for his needs.

She booted him out.  Molly took the kids away to her parents’ house in Connecticut for a prolonged trip, the returns always delayed until the couple missed each other, missed that creative spark.  Those times when Molly and Elia had their relationship and wine and literature, discussions until five in the morning, what plays to perform, what movies to direct.  When the discussion of art could transport them back to their days at Yale Drama, crowding each other on the frosty wooden floor of his apartment.  Elia discussed the acting he’d trade in for directing.  Molly mused about the plays never to be written, abandoned for a career as mother and caregiver.  He struggled to help his wife with her plays, but her mind was fragile, never happy with the words written, always fretting over the worse.

When a new project surfaced, Elia would be whisked away back to Broadway.  He followed his films to Salinas and New Orleans while Molly stayed behind.  She received clippings along the way, local coverage of her husband riding through Monterey with James Dean or fighting alongside Emiliano Zapata in a fake Mexican village.  Everything she’d see but the photos from filming in Greece or his time in Mississippi.  Never with Barbara, who followed him and took care of her lover on the road, when he worked too hard and didn’t eat his meals or keep to certain responsibilities as a producer.  Barbara wanted good coverage for the local press.  She incorrectly identified herself as the director’s wife.  She didn’t lie when she displayed their son Leo.  Soon enough Barbara would have the title for her own, Leo could officially be cast alongside Elia’s other boys and their other life could be accepted by the public in the way so many indiscretions get justified.

The apartment Elia and  Molly once shared has been altered to accommodate Barbara.  Their artwork and manuscripts have been filed away in a storage unit in lieu of Barbara’s personal decoration.  The photos throughout the home have been distributed to Elia’s eldest children so they, as Barbara says, ‘can remember their mother.’  Baby pictures of Leo hang in the far end of the hallway, a wedding photo of the couple.  Barbara shows guests the only picture in the living room, of herself as a child riding an elephant.  Elia look at the walls and can only chronicle his life starting as a middle-aged father of one.

After the mixer, Barbara asks if her husband discussed Harold Prince’s proposal to do a musical.  Would Elia humor a proposition for another ‘Streetcar’ revival?  “I’m far too young,” she cooes, eyes gazing to a distant Tennessee Williams script she will never perform, “but I think Broadway is due for a new Blanche.”  She clomps across the kitchen in her four inch heels, draping her body across the counter, giving recitations like a Vivien Leigh impersonator.  She strays far from the view of the pictures.

He can’t help hating Barbara even though she didn’t make him leave Molly or kept him cheating all those years.  Elia passes the blame to anyone who isn’t himself, not willing to accept the loss he’s responsible for, the only woman he really loved.  He’ll resent Barbara who did nothing he couldn’t have stopped himself.

Elia collects the stray mouthfuls of wine from the leftover glasses, pouring them out into Leo’s sippy cup he found under the couch.  He drinks down the backwash of two dozen party guests, slumping in his recliner to think.

“Whatdoya say, Gadge?  Do I have the part?”

________________________________________________________________

Charlie Riccardelli teaches at the University of North Texas where he also studies in their PhD program. His stories and articles have appeared in the American Literary Review, Wilde Magazine, Lamplighter, Rivercraft, and Essay Magazine. He is currently writing his first novel.

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