After a couple of incidents I got a reputation as someone who couldn’t look after kids properly. Bad things tended to happen. I had no explanation for it. 

I could have made more from the menial work the agencies offered, but that wasn’t the point. I liked to take the bus over to the other side of the lake, the parliament side, where my mother worked when she wasn’t sick. She was a night cleaner at the National Library and a day cleaner in people’s homes. I told people she worked in personnel. 

Here, the houses were nicer and the children were easier to handle. Their parents were embassy staff, museum board chairs, firm partners, acting-directors. During the summer, magistrates had heart attacks on the jogging paths. Now it was winter and the gardens were humble with frost. 

Finishing their homework was simple and graceless. I was allowed to declare which rules were unimportant. I told them whatever facts came to me, and they would listen,as long as I called them whatever nicknames they wanted. 

‘Drinking sea water is disgusting and will drive you insane,’ I told Julie. 

‘Ok,’ said Julie. 

Their parents left me money in glass jars along with invitations to eat whatever I found.These people would let anybody into their home. 

Depending on their spirit, I would have to keep them from hurling themselves down a flight of stairs or visiting their eyeball with the burning plane of a hair-straightener. There were three of them and all came to harm. 

 

It was the early morning in Kabukicho. The sun was only just up and everything was weird and tinted blue. The breeze pushed a piss smell from the gutters. There were cigarette butts in puddles along the curb. I was alone in front of a Family Mart. I didn’t know why I was alone. The morning light continued to open the corners.

A group of prostitutes talked and smoked near some drink machines. They wore long, padded puffer coats, mom jeans and white running shoes. They always dressed like that. Like Midwestern moms from the early nineties. I never figured out why, but it was consistent. We thought they were Chinese, but who’s to say.

Two of the girls looked at me and laughed.

I tried to smile back, but my smile was a failure.

What’s so funny, I thought.

 What do you think of men in general?

I don’t believe you can generalize men. Or, women. They each have their own brand of quirk.

 

You wrote a novel called What Drives Men. Did you write it from a male or female perspective? Since technically you are a female.

Technically speaking, it’s written from a male perspective though the various women who appear in the book have plenty to say about how they view things. Technically speaking again, Russell, a Gulf War vet, is my primary protagonist.

 

[The following is an excerpt from Shane Jones’ new novel, Vincent and Alice and Alice, now available from Tyrant Books. Get your copy today.]

 

§ § §

 

“You look like Bert, from Bert and Ernie,” says Alice when I walk into the apartment. It appears she hasn’t moved today, the apartment surrounding her looks untouched. She’s dressed in what she wore last night. 

“Thank you.”

“It’s the shape of your head,” continues Alice, who sits on the couch with her feet up on the table. The TV shows a man in a leather vest and American flag bandana with his outstretched arm aiming a gun at a crowd of forest-green ski-masks. In the background is a storefront framed in fire and people running in and out. Holding up one hand toward my jaw Alice pretends to turn my face in a deep study. “I don’t know if it’s because you’re getting older, but your head is longer and has a pinched quality to it now.”

“Like Bert’s.”

“Exactly,” she replies satisfied. 

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-One

 

A cloud was born over the Cape of Good Hope. It was first seen at sunrise by an ostrich staring out at the ocean waves breaking on the rocks. The ostrich often stood watching at first light hoping to see the Flying Dutchman, a spectral ship full of the spirits of sailors damned forever to fight that rough current at the tip of Africa. The ostrich saw no ghost ship, only a solitary cloud hovering over the sea in fair weather, and was disappointed.

The new cloud said googoogaga, but it was so high up the ostrich couldn’t hear. The ostrich didn’t speak cloud anyway. The cloud rolled over in the sky and cried for its mother and father but it had no mother or father. It had been born by warm air rising and expanding in the atmosphere, which, after rising high enough, had frozen into ice crystals that’d bonded with dust and pollen. But the cloud didn’t know this. It looked around for its mother and father and, finding none, it panicked and cried. No tears came. It was so young and inexperienced, it didn’t know yet how to make rain.

 

i had a son over the weekend

 

i have a son and he’s three. he has chestnut hair. the thing is i just haven’t been fertilized yet. but once i am, once he’s born, and once it’s been three years, i’ll have a son who’s three.

The following is an excerpt from Noah Cicero’s new novel, Give It To The Grand Canyon, which is forthcoming from Philosophical Idiot.

 

On the bus heading down the west rim, six in the morning, looking out the window. Barely anyone on the bus. I decided I would hike down to the bottom of the canyon. I hadn’t done it in over a decade and knew I had to do it again. The shimmering green world had always haunted me. I had to get back. The Grand Canyon had something to say to me, some truth, I knew it was down there, I just needed to get to the bottom.

The bus stopped at Yaki Point, the sun barely up, a pale light. I went over to the water bottle filling station and loaded up six bottles, put them in my backpack. The bag was heavy on my back, but I knew I had to carry it. There was no water on Kaibab Trail. There wasn’t going to be any water until I got to Bright Angel Trail.

I started hiking down, there were tourists at the beginning, all bumbling around holding one bottle of water. I walked by them telling everyone good morning, hello, have a nice day. I smiled and felt good.

 

I wake. I reach for my watch. I press the light button on the watch. I shut my eyes and try to fall asleep. I can’t. I get up. I sit on the toilet. I try to pee while I sit on the toilet. I brush my hair while I sit on the toilet. I wash my hands and brush my teeth. I dress. I go into the kitchen and prepare breakfast. I let the cat out. I let the cat in.

Karen

By Daisuke Shen

Short Story

 

One thing about Karen that you should know: she is a good person. Sure, she has her faults, like ordering catering for the office from Applebee’s. Even Steel wouldn’t eat it, and he usually eats everything.

 

Home Depot Harvey says when it comes to entryways you can’t go wrong with a pergola. The culturally appropriated East Asian architecture in rot-resistant cedar suggests a certain refinement of spirit, i.e. “Why, yes. I did read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in college,” while simultaneously declaring, “Here is the front door. This way. Come inside. Relax.” I buy lumber and a DeWalt cordless framing gun and put them on VISA. Between my Chase and Alaska Airlines Mileage cards, my limit is $10,000. I haven’t been watching my purchases.

It’s Saturday. Lawnmowers cry from front and back yards. A house finch shoots out of an Oregon Grape and nearly kills me. I google “How to build a pergola” and watch a tutorial on YouTube. This is going to be trickier than Harvey let on.

Anne sticks her head out the window. “What are you doing, babe?”

“Pergola,” I say.

 

At the gas station, I wanted to disappear. A ghost made of tissue paper twisted from a tree branch. There wasn’t any wind, just normal air. It smelled like springtime, but it was October.

A man fell over on the sidewalk. He caused such a mess, it appeared eggs had fallen out of his pockets. I looked away.

An hour earlier I’d signed a lease on an apartment by the beach. The broker’s office had wood paneling. The world was scattered with long windows I couldn’t see through. Plastic batted against glass. Everything was a little smoke-damaged.

An SUV pulled up. A woman stepped out, messed with her purse, then got back in and drove off.

I paced a bit, picked a quarter off the ground.

I thought about trying to steal the gun from behind the counter. But what if they didn’t have a gun? I wanted to commit to something. I wanted it to be obvious.

Good Luck: Episode Twenty-One

Read the first part of this story, “Birds,” right here.

 

The man from New Jersey is woken by gunshots in his apartment. He is lying on the living room couch, facing the buttoned sofa back, and here is another shot, behind him. He rolls off the couch and covers his face, cowering, “Stop.” His wife is standing in the doorway, tears streaming down her face. Out of bullets, she drops the gun on the floor. Down the hallway she flees; barricading herself in the blue room. She calls the police.

Birds

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Twenty

 

A bird flaps by, trapped inside the building. The man from New Jersey looks up, sees it land on the blue pipe where the gas comes in. A crow, big and fat. He puts his wrenches down and walks away from his coworkers who are busy calling each other cocksucker. The bird flies off again, circling over the vats and drums. He walks through white powder. The crow lands on the electric conduit and turns its eyes on him. He steps over to the door to the outside world. A sign on it reads: Door Must Remain Closed Building Is Pressurized. He enters the code, steps outside, through the doorway, and holds the door open so the bird can’t see he’s there. A minute later it flies past, takes its place in the sky. The man from New Jersey walks back to his job. They say to him, “Where’d you go, cocksucker?” He says, “I let that bird go.” “What bird?” They would never notice a bird.

 

I’m at the wedding of a guy I work with. Bill, another guy I work with, who’s older than me, gives me advice.

 

He says: Now that you’re almost thirty, one thing I would tell you is this—and everyone I tell this to says, Bill, man, you were right—that if you’re interested in somebody, just let them know. Say, hey, I’m interested in you, you seem like a person worth getting to know, let’s get dinner.

 

And then he clenches his jaw and slaps an invisible ass in the air and says, quieter: And man, have some damn fun with it.

 

I say: Thanks Bill.

 

I met Richard at a local bar. He sat alone in a corner booth and brushed my hand as I walked by, on my way to the restroom.

My friend, Whitney, had gone home for the night. I decided to stay for another drink. Richard offered to pay for it.

“Thanks,” I said, puzzled by his charity. I agreed to sit with Richard, despite the fact that he looked thirty years my senior and was dressed like an old yuppie.

Richard told me that he’d recently moved to Grass Valley; that he’d rented a three bedroom house with a creek that ran through the back yard. He said that he liked the clean air and evergreen trees, and the fact that his money went further in the small town than in New York, where he’d earned his small fortune.

“What about you?” said Richard.

“What about me?”

“Tell me something about yourself.”

“I work at the department store downtown,” I said.