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Neon Literary Magazine Issue Forty-Three

Neon

A Literary Magazine

 

Issue Forty-Three

 

Neon Books

 

This compilation copyright © Neon Literary Magazine (2016).

 

Do not copy or redistribute without permission.

 

All content copyright © respective authors (2016).

 

Authors may be contacted through the publisher.

 

Cover image copyright © Eleanor Leonne Bennett (2016).

 

ISSN 1758-1419 [Print]

 

ISSN 1758-1427 [Online]

 

Edited by Krishan Coupland.

 

Published summer 2016.

 

Subscriptions and back issues available from the website.

 

Shakespir Edition.

 

 

FORTYthree

 

 

Contents

 

Juliet Kinder

Empty Frames

 

Lucas Shepherd

So Falls Wichita Falls

DADT

Basic Training

 

Thea Hawlin

B-R-E-A-K

 

Lynn Hoffman

Afterlives

Anastasia Steele

Harry Potter

Inspector Maigret

Penelope

 

Stephen Devereux

Car Wreck

Hoover Bag

House Shadow

DNA

 

Karina Evans

Building

 

Kelly Muskat

It’s Spring And I Should Leave

Wolves

Roadborn(e)

 

Lydia Armstrong

The November We Are Fifteen

Switch Hitter

The Doctor

 

Faye Moorhouse

The Cat Ladies Of Czechoslovakia

 

Robert N Lee

98 Ianthe

 

Postscript

Contributors

Supporters

 

 

Empty Frames

Juliet Kinder

 

They are in a field in one of the two town parks. This is the larger, nicer park, and so this is the park they like to take their children to on the weekends so that they may soak up the things that magazines say they should be soaking up. Children like jumping in colorful leaves, throwing Frisbees, and eating a perfectly arranged picnic off a blanket, the magazines also say. The photographer crouches in front of them. The knees of his pants are stained by the grass.

 

They have a boy and a girl. Boy has Husband’s eyes. Girl has Wife’s. The children look like them and they look like each other and it is such a brisk, yet sunny, day. Perfect for light, pastel sweaters.

 

On days that are not weekend days, one of them works and one of them stays at home. You can guess which one does which. There is no tension. They are exactly where they want to be in life. They wear khakis and reading glasses. Much of their life is furnished with Pottery Barn. Sometimes it is hard to see because the stock photo logo obscures their vision, but they manage.

 

You can use their image. They are for use.

 

Boy and Husband will play catch after this photo. Or maybe soccer. Whatever is more fashionable for boys and dads to play. Girl will read a book with Wife, flipping the pages with doughy toddler fingers. She will never smear her hand against the ground and bring dirt to her puckered lips. Boy never did that either. Neither of them ever cried. They were spooned mashed up fruit from mason jars on the white couch and never spilled. They were star students at their baby Mommy and Me swing dancing classes. They have the photos to prove it.

 

Husband majored in finance and found a career just out of college that allows him to be home at five o’clock each day, brown suitcase briefcase swinging from his hand. Sometimes he hums on the way home. Sometimes he listens to the radio. He is an informed man. He reads the newspaper while sipping coffee from a white mug in the mornings. For breakfast he eats an English muffin with jam and a banana. He packs himself a lunch. Hums. Kisses Girl and Boy on the forehead. Kisses Wife on the lips. In his free time, he putters around the house. He does projects with wood. He is not good at projects. Wife has had to replace most of the things he fixed. He has never noticed.

 

He only fucks his male boss when the stock photo camera is focused on Wife reclining on the white sofa with Boy and Girl reading, reading, reading. Sometimes she feeds them. Sometimes she does yoga with them. Sometimes her smile strains against the sides of her cheeks and she makes fingernail indentations on her palm in the out-of-focus edges of the frame.

 

Motherhood is a beautiful commodity. She sits with her children coloring beside her while she bakes brownies for the PTA meeting. Her hair is twisted above her head, some strands slipping out for effect. Her children dutifully complete their artwork, never once kicking one another or growing bored. They will color until told to do something else. Boy draws a fire truck. Girl draws a flower. They have only ever seen other white people because that’s just how it is. It’s never occurred to them to think about that.

 

Yesterday, Wife started her affair with the cameraman just to get him to put down the camera. Still, sometimes he has to do his job. He alternates. Every time he picks it back up, her ribs grind together and she imagines killing him by pressing the camera against his eye until it crushes through.

 

The cameraman has never been a stock image.

 

Yesterday she did a do-it-yourself activity with the kids. It was so simple and fun. It took time, yes, but she has time because Husband is at work and the house is always immaculate. Anyone who doesn’t make the time is a bad mother.

 

Husband is at work fucking his boss in a supply closet. He wrinkles the other man’s suit and leaves splotchy bruises on his neck. He bites. Wife has a magazine open to an article. It is on the benefits of juicing. Maybe her family should start only drinking juice. Maybe they would be healthier and more whole. They can start making arrangements out of the leftover orange peels.

 

The cameraman touches her softly. He moves hair behind her ear and then lets it fall back. He kisses her temple like a whisper. He would be very surprised if he knew she wanted to scratch down his back until she drew blood. She is so lovely. The sun dances against her face. She has never been in a poorly lit room. He gingerly moves against her. Slowly. She is too delicate to be careless with.

 

Husband tightens his tie around his neck. His boss is panting against the shelves and Husband turns on his heel. The cameraman is going to visit him at work for his promotion. He is going to shake his boss’s hand with two hands, one on top, to connote intimacy. He and his boss have a positive working relationship. He gets days off for holidays without any interruptions so he can sit by the fireplace with his kids and smile at his lovely Wife.

 

The cameraman has set up a tripod in front of them in the park that he crouches behind. They all stand in a field, Wife, Husband, Boy, Girl, and camera. The cameraman wants to be where Husband is. He believes that he is in love with Wife. He says smile. The whole family smiles. Boy and Girl are on their parents’ backs and they are not too heavy. Husband and Wife press their cheeks together. Cameraman doesn’t just want to make love to her anymore. He wants to be Husband and press his cheek into her and play catch with Boy and have a pastel picnic on the grass. He wants to Photoshop his face onto Husband’s body, but already knows without trying that he wouldn’t fit the image.

 

She wants to fuck him into the picnic blanket. She wants to murder him so graphically it will have to be blurred out in the resulting photos. She wants to crush the stock photo logo between her teeth.

 

Husband smiles. Wife smiles. Boy and Girl smile. There is a special on families. Buy now.

 

 

So Falls Wichita Falls

Lucas Shepherd

 

Anyway, it was the Ides of June and

the air-conditioner made saltshaker noises.

Our dorm room window was propped open

with someone’s boot and outside

flowers popped on laurel trees smelling

just the way grape Kool-Aid tastes.

And I was like a kid wanting to leave a finished meal

because someone in the 362nd had seen an armadillo

past the base chapel and near the T-38s’ yawning hangar.

An animal as rare in Texas as a fox is where I’m from.

But I had to wait on

my roommate Kyle,

who was being told via cell phone

that his grandfather had terminal cancer.

Kyle kept saying “okay” but it got shorter

and shorter each time, lopped off and pruned until

eventually it sounded like he was saying “oak,”

which is of course my favorite brand of tree.

It’s much better than the Texas mountain-laurel,

whose seed pods can cause hallucinations.

I thought about the way freshly fallen

walnuts make your hands smell like green.

 

*

 

DADT

Lucas Shepherd

 

My best friend in the Air Force was gay;

she separated eighteen months before DADT

became NOYFB. She worked in the base

hospital; I worked the flightline. Once

on a frosty October morning, tumble-

weed skeletons piling up on the perimeter fence,

I walked into her clinic. She wore her BDUs

well, I thought. With blue gloves she lifted

up my shirt sleeve. Earlier that summer we camped

at Bottomless Lakes in Roswell; she was alien

to me. I tried to kiss her. No, I wasn’t that

drunk. And no to your second question.

It was so windy our tent blew away. She

administered my flu shot on one of those days

in October that you’d swear you’ve lived before. How’s

the flightline? Fine. Sorties. Smoke pit. Fireball 8.

Nothing exciting? Even with the gunships?

I told her about the 30mm dangling

from a Lockheed AC-130W Stinger II’s waist.

Close to the fuselage, shaded under its wing. In order

to deliver new gen heaters and floodlights

and an old mule that leaked hydraulic fluid,

I had to park near this cannon. Did you

touch it? No, I said. I wouldn’t dare.

 

*

 

Basic Training

Lucas Shepherd

 

It was Zero Week when they rattled

our heads up and down like Etch A Sketches,

erasing lines and dissolving connections,

but only later did I realize how

significantly we all changed.

At the time I thought I knew

what was happening because

men always believe they’re in control.

The changes were subtle, like how

you’re enjoying a beautiful sunset

when suddenly you look around

and it’s dark outside.

 

Image by Toby Penney

 

B-R-E-A-K

Thea Hawlin

 

Slip

Stream

Up and under

Your mouth

Open

Breaks

Jam

And

Thunk

 

I did not think you would break so easily.

 

The crash could not be helped.

 

That was what the policemen had said.

 

The crash could not be helped.

It couldn’t have been helped.

 

The damage was done, the metal bent, the road sign flattened, the snow fallen, the ice half melted, the light dim, the tyres old and almost flat.

 

It couldn’t have been helped.

 

Those words shifted up and into the head again and again, it was if he was ramming them through her, again and again. Couldn’t be helped. It was fate. It couldn’t have happened any other way.

 

I never want to be the one that you forget. You always want to stain the minds of those around you. You want your consciousness to bleed freely through to theirs. I did not think you would break so easily. I did not think your skin would split like a soft thing, I did not think you would fade so fast.

 

He and me never said that this would last, said the days would pass said the circuit would fuse and that all this would end.

 

The crash could not be helped.

 

Stop.

Drip.

Drop

 

On repeat.

The tap keeps going.

Should have got it fixed.

Tried to turn it back and back and back

but hands were cold and the water kept on going drip

drop

 

so maddening that the sound was out of control and all she could think was the

water was

so loud

 

and how can water make a sound

so loud when it’s such a fragile slippery translucent

thing?

 

It’s a

Drop —

A man made dew lingering on the rim of a tap and the moment it decides to

pluck itself +

fall

into the sink it brings with it a sound so

 

loud

 

so large

 

that she’s almost ready to start crying at the re–

–lent–

–less–

–ness

of it.

 

The crash could not be helped.

 

Let. Me. Go. Okay.

 

That is her voice doing his voice in her head. His voice telling her everything will be “okay”

 

“A-OKAY

 

He used to say it like that with the over-exaggerated smile and wide eyes and she’d roll her eyes.

 

It was one of those many habits they had formed, the reflexive displays of emotion that had spun between them of

responsive motions and emotions that reflected and bounced off each other in pleasingly familiar patterns.

 

If he said “A-OKAY” he knew she would roll her eyes. It was her traditional reaction; the right play, the expected and desired response.

 

A-OKAY = Eyes roll.

 

They had trained each other in this way throughout their time.

 

They had learned the mannerisms of each other, learned how to track the plays of each,

even the patterns of speech.

 

They could tell all these things without talking now, it was an unspoken language between them of reciprocal actions, plays that each put forward for the other to take.

 

Except now she is alone and here and his

“A-OKAY

is not.

 

He is far away, along with his over-exaggerated sighs and clipped tell-tale coughs.

 

He has vanished from her life through these small acts, these

small notions.

 

up

He has built himself

 

in her life through these motions and now they have been

stripped away

she has found that he has taken her with him.

 

Melted like the snow.

 

The crash could not be helped.

 

She is Me of course.

 

Need to get a grip.

 

Need to step out of this repetition.

 

These destructive cycles of what ifs and what buts and how comes and no don’t do this and stop stop stop stop stop stop stop me at the point at which I can’t breathe any more at which I can’t wish to see anything but your face and I don’t even know why

this face

is the one that has come to linger in my mind.

 

Why yours/ Why now?

 

Is it possible to be haunted by the peak of a nose?

 

The narrow slant of an eyebrow.

 

I did not think so before. I did not think so before.

 

Now I make lists.

 

I sit down and recite the things that I wish to say, that I wish to do, that I wish to forget. I break the day to make it through. I break my life apart one item at a time. I become a series of pieces, a list, my life one long process of crossing out.

 

At times they are simply slips on unfolded, unlicked and unsent envelopes, other times they take up reams of paper that slide out and over the confines of my narrow desk and onto the lino-ed floor.

 

It becomes a habit all of its own, the lists that I make from sun up to sun down.

1. Get up

2. Brush teeth

3. Eat

4. Walk to the Bathroom

5. Brush Teeth again

6. Dress

7. Check emails

8. Read emails

9. Reply to emails (but only if necessary)

10. Return to bed

 

And so the lists go on, each moment of the day scheduled into submission, every waking hour divided into a beauteous series of sixty minute intervals each with their own tasks, their own endless ticking clocks. It turns out life is very easy to break into even the smallest of pieces, the most minute of actions.

 

There is one list that I have glue-tacked to the side of my bathroom mirror that I look into as I brush my teeth and it simply says “Breathe” but I have written it out as a list, an endless repetition of words to ensure that I do not forget the most simple of tasks.

 

1. Breathe

2. Breathe

3. Breathe

 

The crash could not be helped.

 

One day I add another:

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Breathe (but only if necessary)

 

 

Afterlives

Lynn Hoffman

 

Anastasia Steele

 

it took a while, a bit of hanging on the cross

to see that Christian was a tedious bit

to hold between the teeth

a gag at which i couldn’t always laugh.

 

it was easy, young, to be blind, folded

up against the rule of all to come.

i was lazy then, composing off the cuff

an antiphony of moans and gasps

i found me easy, he found me hard.

 

today, i walked the dog along

a philadelphia street and counted

all the men (and women too) with whom

i might trade the power and the color

of transformations personal, and in no way gray.

 

*

 

Harry Potter

 

I was charmed and happy after graduation

I spelled the spell for the perfect baby name

(same number of syllables first and last:

Ha ree Pah ter, Brad Pitt )

 

I conjured two hit movies, a Broadway musical

Supernaturally, I consulted: investing, security

‘ til the magic failed then- nightmares, headaches, terrors

and the Curse that killed my parents spoke to me like

a snake. “Dark arts” he said “are all your own”

 

The curse was lying, like curses do

Dark arts are all around, mortal and imm–,

I burned my book of spells, lost the wand,

threw the rock at the snake and laughed and belched

and then it all disappeared, as if by magic.

 

*

 

Inspector Maigret

 

The overcoat he gave me swaddled in

the home I carried onto the Paris street.

The pipe was his, the gentle drinking too

All fires against the chill of Simenon.

 

Ten thousand lovers? He gave me one

and from that one I sighed and stroked

a gravity that held me in beloved orbit,

my circle in ellipse so singular, his so vague

so clichéd in newness, so sadly plural.

 

Art imitates? My evidence is sadly

otherwise and the other, wise in his ways,

I see him, frantic, chasing continents concupiscent

always restless, a peeping Georges at my window

in the Place de Vosges, wishing only the art to imitate me.

 

*

 

Penelope

 

Homer, silly dickless blind boy singer

sold my story out for the sake of rhyme

and meter and a bigger tip and stronger wine.

(I would have done the same some nights.)

 

It wasn’t twenty years, just three,

A tour of duty, a vagrant jaunt

and I was thrilled to weight the wait,

to be the man and spurn the men,

nurse my son and strum my belly’s Attic song.

 

He came home, there was the bed and bow

but mostly the dog, he, the Argus

who waited with me and now,

Ulysses dead, the shroud well-wove, again

I wait for him and him and sometimes howl.

 

 

Car Wreck

Stephen Devereux

 

They’d had to cut the top off to get at him

so that his roomy family saloon resembles

a sporty coupé. The lack of a roof and

windscreen exposes his private fate to the

stares of slowing motorists whose kids

squeal at the sops of blood on his white

shirt, across his face and glasses.

 

He looks straight ahead still, his stiff posture

illuminated by the florets of the flashing lights of

police cars, fire engines and ambulances.

His white hands still grip the wheel to make

the turn towards his home that killed him.

 

*

 

Hoover Bag

Stephen Devereux

 

What is it that you throw in the bin?

An ounce of your own skins (powdered),

an ounce of your own skins (flaked),

two handfuls of hair (one brown, the other grey),

half a cup of carpet wool, ditto fabric fibres,

a bucketful of powdered soil (from garden and

from streets beyond), traces of dandruff and

tooth enamel, hairgrips, some crumbs of bread

and cake, a scoop of soot, shreds of a page from

your diary, some dead woodlice (and droppings of),

a billion assorted spores and germs,

the parings of your fingernails (mixed),

traces of steel and rubber from inside the

hoover, a balloonful of breathed air, a

palmful of tear salt, a fistful of dried blood.

 

*

 

House Shadow

Stephen Devereux

 

Beneath the house a shadow

of absolute darkness.

No memory of sunlight, of living cells.

 

Just a few feet lower, no smashed pipes,

no brick rubble, no leaking sewage.

It reaches down through the dead soil

to the rocks beneath, cools magma,

darkens the earth’s molten core.

 

I sit indoors, staring at the floor

and imagine a man on the other side

who has come across an oblong shadow

on the sand. The sun does not lighten it.

It is colder than space. He dare not walk over it,

but turns away, flees for his life.

 

*

 

DNA

Stephen Devereux

 

I hear my father’s cough in mine–

at the outskirts still, but heading

inwards, inexorable as an arrow.

 

And his nose grows through me too,

spreads feelers up into my brain like

some ancient obscene mollusc.

 

And I hear her tut along my

exasperation, her terror spread

its cataract across my eyeball.

 

 

Building

Karina Evans

 

Previously published by Storgy.

 

The building is old. It smells a little musty from every aspect, every corner. Dust settles on vertical windows and mould creeps into not-quite-right-angled corners. It creaks and sighs. The building is split into flats. Doors face forwards and sideways and backwards. Letters are put in holes. Fragile connective strands hang, taut in the air. Two, three, four, five, six flats. One is underneath. One is forgotten. Inhabited by silence, except the odd mouse you hear if you go to check the gas meter in the basement and put your ear to the letterbox. Maybe two mice. No point in one mouse squeaking alone; everyone needs someone to communicate with.

 

Mice in One. Listening. Inquisitive. Ears cocked, squeaking at the sighing.

 

A girl in Two. Trendy, pregnant, alone. Slamming doors indicate visitors. Doors slam and the building creaks. Ceilings shake. She shouts, “I don’t love you anymore. I can do this alone.” Sobbing. Kicking. Screaming.

 

Four people in Three. Closing their ears. Someone else will call the police. They drink wine and the children drink organic juice. Organic juice means they are cared for. The shop assistants look impressed as they buy it. They can get babysitters at the last minute, if they feel like taking some cocaine from the stash under the cupboard behind the curtain. Looking at the sea, sighing, pretending to be deaf.

 

A man in Four. He looks at porn. Sometimes porn he thinks he shouldn’t look at. Legal, but too close to the bone. He is fifty-six. He is alone. He cries. When it’s over, he angrily strips the sheets and feels guilty. He washes sheets. The washing machine rattles and the floors shake. The building sighs, but not in judgement. If he tilts his head inquisitively as he climbs the steps, he can see through the window of Two. He feels ashamed, alone, depressed, dirty. He tries not to look. It’s not easy. One day she might thank him, if he sees something and breaks down the door. He thinks it is her he heard screaming.

 

A policeman and his wife in Five. They want a baby. At least, she does. She too looks through the window of Two, as she climbs the steps. She does not pretend not to; if Two can’t be bothered to close her curtains, then she must want Five to see her caressing her swollen belly and cleaning broken glass off the floor. The only time Five couldn’t see Two was when Two’s windows were boarded up. “Don’t go down there,” she had whined to her husband, the night she heard the faraway screaming and the shouting and the smashing. “Don’t leave me, she can sort herself out. Fuck me.” That always worked. He had fucked her, the headboard squeaking like mice, banging the wall, chipping the paint, slowly, reluctantly, and the building winced. He grunted but he didn’t come. She didn’t know he was fresh from fucking the probationer in the car.

 

The bloke visited Two again today. The restraining order didn’t restrain him. He thinks it’s pretty cool. Romeo and Juliet. Montagues and Capulets. Never let it be said that he is not a romantic. He knows he can be kind to her, if only she would STOP letting him go.

 

Six is up for rent. Restraining order keeps the bloke away. What a lovely view, through the freshly cleaned window. Not ideal for a family, too many stairs. Would the Asda delivery man carry the shopping up there? Ninety-eight steps. Never get the wardrobe around those corners, but does it matter? What a lovely view.

 

One is not up for rent. Needs fixing and pest control. If it was up for rent, the bloke would move in. He used to live in Six; that’s how he met her. Picking up post off the floor. Small talk. Big talk. Love, cohabitation, disaster. He is not allowed near her now, but he could break down the splintered, sharp door of One. Live with the mice and underneath Two. Staring at the ceiling staring at the floor. He would be able to hear if she had any visitors pinning her gently to the bed. The thought makes him angry. Nothing stopping him moving into One, though, is there? Squatting. Nobody will know. Six years and squatter’s rights. Or five? Or four? He can’t be sure. Word on the street goes round. Squatter’s rights don’t exist. A myth, or history, he can’t remember. He can’t Google because his smartphone screen is cracked. Dropped it, drunk, stamped on it. Voice activated dialling works if he depresses the Home button for long enough and shouts in an accent. That’s how he contacts her. Sometimes he plays a game. Ring. Ring ring. “Hello?” Hang up. Ring. Ring ring. “Hello?” Hang up. Once, he did this four times in a row. But now she knows, because he had spoken. He still phones, she cowers, the room shrinks, nobody answers.

 

Now it is summer. It is meant to be, but the weather makes everyone talk. They laugh. They say, “Bloody British weather,” shrug off their kagouls and dry jeans on radiators. The building swells and shrinks, and the smell of warm washing powder emanates from radiators in every flat, except One and Two. One can’t get the gas connected. Or the electricity. He washes in warm water at the sports centre, before the swimmers come in. He gets his post sent to Mum’s and collects it once a week. She doesn’t mind if he signs on from her address. She will do anything to make him happy. She buys him food and cries when he says she can’t visit him. “But I’ll visit you, Mum. You don’t need to see my little flat.” Casseroles and chocolate cake and cups of tea. He doesn’t drink anymore, which is a relief. Buys his coke from organic guy in Three. When he was younger, he told his Mum he wanted to go away to live with his Dad. His Dad was cool; he wore jeans and waistcoats and smoked joints. His Mum bought him a bike and some fags, so he stayed.

 

Two can’t afford to keep putting the heating on. She is saving money for the baby. Eight days left and she has a hundred and eighteen pounds. It’s cold, despite the month. She lives in one room with one blanket. The room feels larger when it’s cold, and the draughts rattle her through the window that looks out onto the steps. She plans that when the baby is born, the baby called Eva or Sonny, she will put the heating on all day if its skin feels cold. She will put it in its Moses basket, feet at the end so it doesn’t wriggle under the blanket. On its back. Forehead thermometer every two hours, just in case. When its skin heats the top end of the green section on the thermometer, the heating will go off. Nobody will judge her. She is only seventeen, but she will bathe her baby twice a day.

 

She doesn’t need a pram. She wants the baby close to her skin. Under a jumper, or in a sling, so she can see it breathing. Feel it breathing. She can’t understand why people face babies away from them. Strangers coming at them, smiling, gap-toothed, staring. Baby needs Mummy’s face and Mummy’s heart.

 

Five are not all at home. He went to work. She doesn’t know that he doesn’t work anymore. Leaves in his white shirt and black trousers, returns in his white shirt and black trousers. He says he has a locker at work. Epaulettes, hat and jacket in it. Safe. A week now. He told her he is doing day shifts this week. Ten till six. What happens next week when he is meant to be working nights? He was suspended on full pay, investigation pending. Pretended he was on leave. Six weeks it took. After two weeks, he told her he was stressed. Took his sandwiches to the park when he said he was at the doctor’s getting signed off. He couldn’t pretend to be stressed forever, even though he was. Stressed because he was not stressed. Soon she will notice they can’t afford anything. She will notice the letters down the back of the fridge, turning at the corners, dried and pointed, grey with damp from the wall. Creeping and contaminated. Name and address in black. Red lines poking under the envelope window. FINAL DEMAND. The water will go and the electricity will go and her dream will go. All because he got caught fucking the probationer in the car.

 

Right now, he is eating his sandwiches on a park bench. He is under a raincloud. It’s a shame that his favourite view is the sea; he can’t eat his sandwiches by the sea. She will peer from the window and there he will be and the game will be over. He hasn’t considered the local press. They jump on the police, ever since the police failed to catch the man who tried to touch up children in the play park. The police are shit. Still on the run. The police are fucked. Fucking paedo. The police are corrupt. Look at this one! He fucked a probationer in a police car. Spunk on the seats. Fired. Eating sandwiches, staring unblinkingly at his second favourite view. Water gone. Electricity gone. Life gone.

 

Three are out. Not all of them. The adults are out. They’ll be back by nine. Their niece will babysit. Sixteen. She will text her boyfriend and tell him that she wishes she was with him instead. She will eat biscuits while she texts him filth. She will stare at the wall while thinking of adjectives. She will notice the painted cracks they thought had been hidden.

 

The adults went out because they wanted a meal. A silent meal. Their food is piled high, garnished with something that can’t be eaten. No noise from the mouths of babes. Babes who climb from their beds wanting a cuddle. Time thieves. Independence thieves. Shoo them back. If only we had a nanny. A nanny in the daytime to show them pebbles from the beach and get paint on her skirt. A nanny at night to let the adults have their beauty sleep. Ugly inside. Look at the children’s beautiful faces. Let his hair grow. Buy him red trousers. She can wear tights and a swishy skirt and people will coo. They are so beautiful. So beautiful. So demanding.

 

It’s the next day. Two hadn’t noticed him watching. Didn’t know he had been watching for a week. Planning a cliché. “If I can’t, no-one can!” But she had felt a bit on edge. Put it down to tiredness. Baby had been heavy and pressing down on her pelvis, making her ache. Head engaged, she couldn’t sleep. Excitement and weariness. When she had opened the door, at ten past ten in the morning, she expected the postman. Not the bloke. The last thing she expected was to be stabbed.

 

Five had seen him watching her. The bloke. Five had seen the bloke three or four times in the same week. Emerging from the basement, feral. Unkempt. Weeds from the ground staining his white shoes, tainting a blank canvas. Anger in his walk. Disjointed hips, perhaps. Side to side to side, swinging shoulders, chin in the air. Too big for his boots, the little runt. Today, sunny-at-last today, Five saw him again. Marching with purpose. His police nose twitched, then he remembered he had to pretend to go to work. None of his business, right? He pretended he had no time. Sandwiches had to be eaten. Swans and pigeons waiting for crumbs. Looking. He could see glistening in a waistband. Reflecting. Could be a belt, sun glistening on a belt. But that walk. That bloke. That watching. A knife? Five walked to the park.

 

The adults in Three nursed hangovers. They had been late back last night, bunged the niece an extra twenty, like that made it ok. This morning the beautiful children made noise and the adults held hands over ears. She looked at the beautiful children, then looked out the window. Saw the window frame first, spotted with mould, taking over. She saw the bloke she had seen before. The bloke who had made Two scream. She rolled her eyes. Focused again. He was walking, swinging his arms. She saw his hand, his hand, his hand, his hand, a knife. Saw a knife. No. He wouldn’t. Probably visiting. Unpacking baby stuff. Opening boxes. She suppressed her panic.

 

Four feels ashamed, dirty, unworthy, loathed, unloved, detested, marginalised, ostracised. He is a bad man. Still, that doesn’t stop him looking through the window of Two when he comes back from the shop. He had seen running, a man running. Not a jogger. Perhaps a crime. It ties together when he sees her lying there. Holding her stomach. Eyes open. Terror. Fright. Fear. Hatred. Panic. Love. Blood. He has his keys. He opens the first door. It lets him in. Barges through the second door, which relents on the third attempt. Stems the flow of blood. Whispers words. Comforting words. Strokes her head. It will be ok, yes. The baby will be ok, yes. Don’t worry, my love. Don’t worry. Fumbling fingers, stemming blood, dialling for help, stemming blood, waiting, waiting, waiting.

 

Sirens and voices and machines.

 

Five is in the park. His wife is at home. He doesn’t know she finds out today. She sees the police, police she knows. Scene guard. She’s part of the police family, you see. Been to Christmas parties, flirted with Inspectors, worn glittery dresses and gold boleros. She is pleased to see them. Inquisitive. Is someone else’s life ruined, she asks. I can’t say, they say. Bad news about your husband, my love. You still together. Yes, yes, we are. You’re a better woman than I am, Mrs. Why is that, then. No philandering man would ever put his slippers under my bed again, certainly not, no. A probationer too. A shame. Lost his career and hers too. I’m so sorry.

 

They stemmed the blood, cut out the baby, heard it cry, rested it on her. She is prone, unconscious, but they think she will stay alive. They will look after her. Her mother will travel down, break the silence, take her back home. She will add Four on Facebook and say thank you when she feels better. A knife in the gut is never not going to hurt. It still twists, but she is full of hearts and flowers and her soul sings as she hears crying in her sleep.

 

 

It’s Spring And I Should Leave

Kelly Muskat

 

The wolf awoke this morning

and mumbled something as she left.

Something about the forest,

and it being spring and all.

She won’t be back

until the end of the season.

Needed to find something, she said.

Something she had lost

and that had been buried in the snows;

and that she hoped it was still there.

It’s spring and I should leave.

My door is always open.

And all the windows too.

If you should happen to stumble in through them,

door or window,

be kind and keep them that way

open

until I come home again.

 

She sees the trees and wonders

if the world began in the forest.

Surely it must’ve.

And it shall return to the forest

long after she and I are buried in the snows

and lie on our backs in the meadow

counting the stars through the bare branches of the trees.

 

*

 

Wolves

Kelly Muskat

 

“teach me how to draw wolves,” he said,

and I did,

and I watched as they ran across his page and consumed

all that had once been white, turned it

into a dark smear of fur and claws and eyes. soon

the wolves did not look like those

I had taught him to draw, his somehow

leaner,

sharper,

wilder.

I watched as their eyes grew hungry, and soon,

they consumed him too.

 

*

 

Roadborn(e)

Kelly Muskat

 

we were born on the road

the glue black of asphalt and we hit the ground running

the good ones never forgot how to run

like wind rolling off the back of slick silver chevy

and the sunshine lines keep us true.

we were born on the road.

chrome spokes rusted by the dust of exhaust

exhausted, we keep on driving

until our tread knows no home

and the sun in our eyes.

we were borne on the road.

 

Image by Toby Penney

 

The November We Are Fifteen

Lydia Armstrong

 

Previously published in Crack The Spine.

 

The November we are fifteen we run away and the boys around the block put us up in a motel room on the turnpike that has a hole in the door so we can see everyone’s sneakers shuffling past.

 

We write poetry and eat potato chips all week and one night I sit on the chipped-tile bathroom floor and feel my mind break apart and the pieces get sucked up into the air vent.

 

On Thanksgiving the Arab at the front desk calls and says in broken English no one’s paid the bill for the night but we understand clearly when he says, I’m calling police.

 

We hide our bags in the woods and use the last of our change to call the boys from the pay phone at Waffle House and the ringing just trills through the ear piece like a jungle bird.

 

We tell the waiter behind the counter we don’t have money and he watches us the way my father looks at sick dogs.

 

After an hour he gives us coffee and after two hours he goes over to the gas station and buys us cigarettes and after three hours he puts sopping plates of smothered hash browns in front of us that we can’t eat.

 

Two boys with slick white smiles and a car say we can go with them and the waiter behind the counter keeps wiping the same spot and watches us go out into the dawn, where everything is soft and blue at the edges and we are glad the night has passed.

 

The slick boys have keys to an uncle’s barber shop and say, here sit on our laps, and we look at each other like maybe this is exciting, maybe something is happening.

 

Something must be happening because the lights are off but the room is still glowing and the only thing holding us onto these bony knees are the arms slung over our hips.

 

But it’s hard to tell because we are weak from hunger and sleeplessness and the blunt passing through our hands and all we want is home.

 

The problem with a strange boy’s lap at dawn is that it shrinks your hearts, like how eating potato chips for a week shrinks your stomach, and when someone tries to give you something real, there isn’t anywhere to put it.

 

*

 

Switch Hitter

Lydia Armstrong

 

I’d been drinking whiskey alone in my kitchen

All night before you came over.

The dawn rose grey above the sidewalk,

We smoked cigarettes on the porch.

I don’t know where you’d been all night,

There was that time I found you coming out

Of the woods with an older man

Down by the pump house where they said

Men liked to go like it was still illegal,

Your face sheepish

Your hello too quick.

You said you were done

And I said you’re not done,

No one gives up that easy.

That needle is a siren song

That needle draws you into the trees,

Hiding what your body craves.

I shut the door in your face,

Felt bad about it in the morning

But didn’t call you because I’d tried my luck

With junkies that switch hit.

You called me from the mountains,

Some place I’d never heard of,

Said I was right, you’d gone back.

They always go back,

Until their veins rot out and their blood runs black

And the ground they walk on is sinkholes.

They go back until their hearts are cooked yellow

And their heads are just skulls,

And your skin was too bright

In the grey dawn of my porch

To be done.

 

*

 

The Doctor

Lydia Armstrong

 

This guy I dated in my twenties

Gave me a bullet

Said he found it on the street

Put it in my hand tenderly like it was

A lock of his long curly hair

Said, I’m going to California

Said, I’m going to be a doctor

Said, I’m coming into my inheritance,

Come with me.

I’d met him the week before.

He made steak in my kitchen and

We drank a ten year old bottle of grocery store wine

I’d been saving because

I stole it from someplace special.

The doctor to be broke my best green wine glass

On the concrete of my balcony

Said, I’ve never been sober.

He made a really tearful goodbye about it,

Hugged my dogs he’d met just once but I understood,

I have really special animals.

I think now he must be standing over someone’s

Broken bloody body,

His hands shaking,

Feeling in the pit of his stomach like the rubble

On the table below him.

 

 

Image by Toby Penney

 

The Cat Ladies Of Czechoslovakia

Faye Moorhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

98 Ianthe

Robert N Lee

 

You used to be in the band; now you work on the asteroid. People you have to work with, they ask about it all the time when they find out. And they always find out – somebody always tells them. They all want to know what that’s like. “You used to be in the band? And now you work on the asteroid?”

 

They always think they’re the first ones to ask. You can tell because they always start with “You must get asked this a lot…” and nobody really ever means what they say – they always mean the opposite.

 

-

 

“Didn’t you save any money?” That’s the next question asked by approximately two-thirds of those who want to know what it’s like, being in the band and then working on the asteroid. They don’t really want to know that, though. They already know you didn’t save any money, or you wouldn’t be working on the asteroid, even if you weren’t still in the band. It’s not really a question, so much.

 

What they’re really saying is, I would have saved some money. It’s all over their faces, although they probably think it looks like concern. Or pity.

 

It just looks like reverie and scorn.

 

Whatever, they bought the record. They spend their money on one hit wonders because the song was in the surprise hit feel good groovie of the year and everybody everywhere played it all year long and there were kisses and fucks, and it was the last year of college.

 

But sure, they all would have saved some money, some of the leftover-after-I-go-buy-the-same-record-as-everybody-in-the-known-universe-this-summer money.

 

That money.

 

-

 

Things move so fast, here in the future. As humans age, so also goes humanity and as the peak of a race’s existence is hit and passed – time seems to speed up on the downhill slope. It’s inevitable.

 

“It takes a thousand years to go from one to twenty-one, the rest is a rocket slide,” you saw in a burst yesterday. Attributed to Einstein. It had a date and everything.

 

Everything is attributed to Einstein, especially online. Einstein said we only use ten percent of our brains and if we’d use the other ninety, we’d all discover Jesus through science, plus cleanliness is next to godliness.

 

Einstein never said that. It doesn’t matter. Somebody said it, and somebody else copied it and used it to tag a burst, a unique quote to express their common individuality with 876,453,667,981 other humans throughout the galaxy using that quote to tag their bursts.

 

The human race is well past drinking age. Humanity has already sobered up and is settling in for a soft descent into fading quietly into a good or bad night. Everybody knows it, like an old dog knows it: time to go. Past time, maybe.

 

“Great minds think alike,” Einstein said that, too. Or he didn’t. It doesn’t matter, no one ever says what they mean or means what they say.

 

-

 

The shifting slopes of language, the treadmills that render words blasphemous one day, innocuous half a generation later – they go faster, too. Here in the future. The name of the band was the name of the asteroid, and back then, all those months, mere days ago, that was a risk.

 

The name of the band was the name of the asteroid was the name of the massacre. The massacre reigned in young hearts and minds, supreme and bright and loud. You didn’t know that would happen. It was just dumb luck. The band played that kind of music, dark and driving and angry about things to be angry about, and the singer was a wannabe Altairan and a poly sci major, so he heard about 98 Ianthe way before anybody else. He wasn’t that smart, he wasn’t a songwriting or music playing kind of lead singer, his boyfriends did all his homework for him – but he came up with a dilly of a band name. You had to hand him that.

 

It worked. People asked about the name, found out about the massacre. The band started bursting at shows, infodumps with images of the asteroid branding them. The band raised consciousness. The band got on some politically-oriented festival lineups. The band got signed. The groovie happened, the same time another groovie about the massacre became very big for ten minutes or ten days or ten months.

 

That was two weeks ago, or two years, or two decades.

 

Now it’s just an asteroid again.

 

-

 

Wars are like bands. They come and go throughout your life, large and small. It’s impossible to remember them as they pile up, dragging behind you as you march toward the bright future when no bands play for no wars.

 

Some very few bands and wars stick around, become legend. There are so many songs and so many groovies about them, people start making songs and groovies about how there are too many songs and groovies about that band or war.

 

Most bands and wars do not stick around. 98 Ianthe was that kind of band, and that kind of war. You used to sing harmony on songs about the massacre, you co-wrote one of them, and now when you go out to the craters and look at the signs on the monuments, the basic details of the story seem new. Then you remember, oh yeah, and a piece of once-dear lyric, a shocking, bloody image emerges from the past and you smile or wince.

 

I remember that. I remember dancing to that right before John or Jane got killed in that.

 

Or I remember drinking to that a year or a hundred years before John or Jane came back from that and it was another thousand years before John or Jane ever danced to anything again.

No wonder we forget so much, no wonder we speed the time along the longer it goes on.

 

-

 

You would kill yourself, sometimes, under the crushing weight of all the dancing and wars and John and Jane you’re speeding away from. You have a weapon that would work. You could go out to one of the craters you first saw one day the last year of college, when another twenty-two year old with richer parents and surgically sculpted ears and eyes that almost looked Altairan passed you the pictures. You could use the weapon. It would work.

 

It would be appropriate. So appropriate you can’t, you can’t face the thought of 98 IANTHE MEMBER ENDS IT ALL ON 98 IANTHE. You didn’t even tell your friends and family you were working here for a year or maybe seventeen months or seventeen years, it’s the last thing you want in your obituburst.

 

The last thing you want to do is die here.

 

-

 

The third question that isn’t a question is: “You must hate it when you hear the song.” This one comes up close to one hundred percent of the time when the song plays at work or in a vehicle going to work. The song comes on, and you catch your breath and hope somebody who knows won’t say anything, but somebody does.

 

No, you don’t hate it when you hear the song.

 

You hate the question.

 

You don’t usually add the second part of that. When you do, they look at you like you were in a war, not a band.

 

-

 

Out on the edge of one of the craters is a bench for sitting and reflecting. You are supposed to reflect on what happened in that crater four centuries or four millennia ago. Or four months. When you do that, you start seeing a giant bloody bowl full of baby Altairans who look like seals who’ve just become angels.

 

The baby seal head pointy-eared angels, in your mind, are at first glance Altairans, and then they’re not really, they’re Altairan-shaped bits of breakfast cereal, soaking in blood instead of milk. Around the bowl are grinning human children faces, going YUM YUM! in what was at the time a very kitschy, retro typeface from a different war and band logo, eight hundred years or eight hundred days before.

 

The drummer drew that picture, his girlfriend made it a poster, it became the first t-shirt, the first EP cover, the first thing that got the band yelled at in papers and extra-frisked and busses torn apart at border crossings.

 

It was compared, famously, to toddler wall scribbles in poop and Warhol and Scooby-Doo and Guernica. Everybody burstargued about it all the bursting day long for ten minutes or ten weeks.

 

The sprint to a groovie soundtrack was pretty much on the first time the band was compared to Hitler and Che in the same minute by 5,639,593,842 people.

 

-

 

There are some Altairans working here. Not many, and they work on the other side of the asteroid. You have no idea what they do over there. They come sometimes and stand on the edges of the craters, their silky seal-angel heads bobbing. They don’t talk to each other, but they are talking anyway, you know this. They may be pointing with those tentacles, they may not be. You can’t remember, and you used to know so much about them.

 

The band had to meet some Altairans, once. The lead singer grilled all of you for weeks on what this or that meant. Or his boyfriends did while he freaked out and primped.

 

The pictures burst everywhere, with the manager-planted headline 98 IANTHE OFFERS AID AND COMFORT. It was the end of the very short, short ride, and the government and the uber-nationalists you hoped would react didn’t have time to take the bait.

 

The pictures were faked, the band’s PR summit with the Altairans never happened. The Altairans heard the song about the massacre, apparently, or… did something like hearing the song, and pulled out at the last minute. They didn’t like it. The label or the manager or the band decided that the meeting would happen, anyway. In manufactured burst pictures, at least.

 

It came out.

 

A legend can survive martyrdom, even in these last days. Fake martyrdom and get caught, though, and the whole universe unbursts you.

 

That’s true, anyway.

 

-

 

A cluster of Altairans at the craters approached you, sitting on your bench, exactly once. They didn’t want to know if you’d saved any money or did you hate the song when you heard it – they wanted to know why you’d lied about them.

 

They waved tentacles around and you didn’t know if they were pointing at you or not, and you didn’t know what to say, either. So you just stared and they waved tentacles and bobbed angel-seal heads with pointy elf ears and finally they went away sad.

 

You thought they were sad.

 

You were sad.

 

They probably don’t say what they mean or mean what they say with those tentacles, either.

 

-

 

A couple years ago, or maybe it was twenty, there was a tribute record and the current clump of college twerps named after some newer war on a bigger asteroid with even more pathetic and adorable alien victims wanted to cover the song. They flew out to the asteroid, the lead singer and guitarist, and they were not at all like you eighty thousand years ago. They were earnest and passionate and they were totally down with that old school vibe, but they wanted to take the old and mix it with the new, yeah?

 

It was darker, it was harder, like all the new music you didn’t like anymore, and they changed the lyrics so they were about the new war and the new massacre and the new asteroid, and what a bunch of sellout assholes you were. They would never be like you, the song promised, their hearts were truly woven to thousands of babies who looked like talking Christmas trees with clown shoes, freshly dead in fresh craters.

 

In their ironic, anti-retro t-shirt design, though, they were that band from twenty million wars and bands ago, they were dressed as you, force feeding bloody baby Christmas-tree-clown-shoes cereal to weeping children going YUM YUM? in the same typeface, which was now so un-retro it was retro.

 

Again.

 

-

 

Last week or last year, you exchanged private bursts with the bass player, and he said something you’d been thinking, but not saying. You said oh my god, I’ve been thinking exactly that.

 

He said maybe ten million years ago, for the ten seconds the band and war lasted, you were, the band was, on the wrong side of that fight. Look at how things are now, they’re everywhere. They’re taking over. Did you think it would be like this?

 

You never thought it would be like this.

 

-

 

That’s what it’s like when you were in the band named after the war named after the massacre, and now you work on the asteroid.

 

Image by Toby Penney

 

Contributors

 

Juliet Kinder grew up in a small town in New Jersey and recently graduated from Washington University in St Louis with a double major in Psychology and Spanish. She is currently teaching in Spain. Her work has appeared in Duende.

 

Lucas Shepherd’s work appears in The Atlantic, Colere, Rockhurst Review, Razor, Little Village Magazine, Daily Palette and Sliver Of Stone. He was the 2015 fiction judge for Scribendi’s Western Regional Honors Council Awards. From 2006-2010, he served in the US Air Force. Find more of his work at lucas-shepherd.com.

 

Thea Hawlin is a writer from Oxford. She recently graduated with a BA in English Literature from The University of Cambridge and is currently an intern at Literary Review. She writes reviews and features for publications such as Litro and The London Magazine. She likes excessive amounts of paper.

 

Lynn Hoffman was born in Brooklyn and lives in Philadelphia. Among his published books are Radiation Days – a comedy about cancer and Short Course In Beer, a very serious but tasty book about ales and lagers.

 

Stephen Devereux has had poems published in magazines in the UK, Ireland, Austria, Germany, the USA and Australia. He has also had short stories and essays published, and written scripts for theatre groups. He has won several prizes and been shortlisted in many competitions. He lives and works in Liverpool.

 

Karina Evans, born in East Sussex, doesn’t like writing biographies in the third person. She will, however, do it this once. An author, writer, editor and social media obsessive, she lives by the sea and still occasionally edits the book she finished writing in 2006. Find her on Twitter @InactiveRebel.

 

Kelly Muskat currently attends St Francis High School in Mountain View, California. She will be attending Loyola Marymount University in the fall as a film production major. This is her first publication.

 

Lydia Armstrong lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she is active in the spoken word community and helps facilitate Slam Richmond. She collects bugs, drinks copious amounts of white tea, and has a cat named Birdie. She is working on her first novel. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @cr0ssmyfingers.

 

Faye Moorhouse is a British Illustrator living and working in St Leonards-On-Sea, East Sussex.

 

Robert N Lee was born in New Jersey and has lived all over the place since, including Vietnam, Hawaii, and Florida. He now lives in the Columbia River Gorge with his dog, Otis. He writes and designs and draws things, and can be found online at http://www.awesomedome.com/.

 

Toby Penney is a southern artist working in paint, photography, printmaking and multiple sculpture media. You can usually find her sharing her studio with her enchanting five-year-old daughter. Learn more at www.tobypenney.comand via social media, @TobyPenney.

 

Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a critically acclaimed artist, photographer, senior editor and content creator. She is the CIWEM Young Environmental Photographer of the Year 2013, as well as the winner of the UK National Geographic Kid’s Photography Contest 2010.

 

Supporters

 

This issue of Neon would not have been possible without the generous support of:

 

Jennifer Steiert

Christina Callaghan | christinacallaghanblog.wordpress.com

Stephanie Hutton

Joanne Blondin

Ann Blackburn

Al Kratz

Mary Stone

Vik Shirley

Jonathan Huston

Georgie Hurst

Caroll Sun Yang

John Rose

Daniel S Duvall | www.danduvall.com

Jason Andreas

Andrew Shelley

Giles Goodland

Rodney Wood

Catriona Carson

Nicola Koh

David Calder

Jessica Barnett

AnnElise Hatjakes

Charles Herbaut

Elizabeth McGrath

Julia Robinson

Ellie Stopp | @EMS351073

 

To find out how you can help support the magazine, please visit the website.

 

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Neon Literary Magazine Issue Forty-Three

This issue of Neon has everything, from Faye Moorhouse’s beautiful graphic short story “The Cat Ladies Of Czechoslovakia” to Lynn Hoffman’s poetic investigation into the post-literary lives of various fictional characters (just what did happen to that Potter kid after the magic dried up, anyway?). Stories range from hard sci-fi (“You used to be in the band; now you work on the asteroid,” writes Robert N Lee in his story “98 Ianthe”) to poetic meditations on stock photography (Juliet Kinder’s “Empty Frames”). Other featured creators in this edition include Lucas Shepherd, Thea Hawlin, Stephen Devereux, Karina Evans, Kelly Muskat, Lydia Armstrong and Toby Penney. The cover image is by the award-winning young photographer Eleanor Leonne Bennett.

  • Author: Neon Books
  • Published: 2016-08-12 21:35:14
  • Words: 9916
Neon Literary Magazine Issue Forty-Three Neon Literary Magazine Issue Forty-Three