Friday, August 31, 2018

Muse. by Ashley Cooke

My angel of muse
a generous lover when she is mine
but soon vanishes from my grip
I follow her through my abandoned mind

A light tip toe from  a corner nearby
diverts my eyes to her
I chase her rapidly desperate to catch her
every step of mine becomes louder

as I pound the floor in pursuit
following her every step
She vanishes further
with every claw of my arms

she slips into another hallway
flaunting a journey
in which I am uninvited
I open doors that lead to nowhere

Pieces of my mind collapse
I dig desperately in the rubble
surrounding my feet
the hunger begins.

Ashley Cooke is a creative writing major attending Long Beach City College. She is from Long Beach, CA. She works at a hospital and at a music venue. She is currently working on her first poetry collection. 

Do you remember when we spoke of swans? John Fingleton

The seasons pass so quickly,
While age passes so slowly,
It seems like only yesterday,
That I was there.
I can still see the colours
Of the sunshine on the lake,
I can still see the white cob,
As he rose.
‘Do you remember when we spoke of swans?’
(Now I’m talking to myself,
That’s a sure sign of getting old)
I told you that they loved just once,
And when their partner dies,
They were destined to live on the lake alone.
You thought that was so very sad,
And I, at the time agreed,
Not knowing all those years ago –
I was talking about me.

© Fingleton (Feabhra 2018) (Löst Viking)

John Anthony Fingleton: He was born in Cork City, in the Republic of Ireland.  Poems published in journals and anthologies in, Ireland, UK, USA, India and France as well as three plays produced. Poet of the Year (2016) Destiny Poets International Community. Poems read on Irish and American radio as well in Spanish on South American broadcasts. Also on some blog poetry websites.  Contributed to four books of poetry for children.  Has poems published in numerous national and international journals, reviews, and anthologies.  First solo collection ´Poems from the Shadowlands´ was published in November  2017.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Paradise Is In The Moment. by Scott Simmons

I’ll often collapse into my bed completely unable to move or think.
And then eventually cry I myself to sleep without shedding a single tear.

This internal sadness can’t be satisfied nor can the emptiness ever be filled.

There is often a secret pain behind the laughter of a raving madman.
Yet there is seldom another soul that will ever know it.

For these words can only go so far to be able to explain my true meaning.

Scott Simmons is an aspiring poet and humorist from Texas who is also the editor of The Dope Fiend Daily. He is quite possibly insane and some of his works can be seen on Duane's Poetree and Horror Sleaze trash. His"artwork" can also be found at 

Short Order Minds. By Kevin Ridgeway

we cough from the secondhand 
smoke in all the truck stop gravel 
voices, a side of french fries to 
nurse our premature 3 AM hangover 
on the drive home from that party 
in Pico Rivera where we waited 
a drunken eternity for our friend 
Shaggy’s reggae band after they 
got too stoned to remember what
they learned during what must have 
been an unmemorable rehearsal,
welcoming the clarity inside the 
fresh brewed coffee of our greasy 
spoon after party attended by 
midnight roadside strangers who 
had nowhere to go other than 
the Ralph's supermarket
whose meat section
of pig snouts and chicken feet
we pretended to browse and
be the lookout while our 
brand new tall Amazonian blonde 
friends stuffed wine jugs down 
their pants, all of us cooling down
from the heat of our vices fortified 
by an early breakfast or late dinner 
we neglected in the turn-on ogle of
a busy waitress running back and
forth long enough to not realize
her slip was teasing me from 
the short skirt behind her apron, 
and Rickie Lee Jones sang down 
and out music to accompany the 
realization that we didn’t have 
a solitary dime to cover our bill 
right before the night manager 
served all of us a complimentary
pair of black eyes for dessert.  

KEVIN RIDGEWAY lives and writes in Long Beach, CA. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Slipstream, Chiron Review, Nerve Cowboy, San Pedro River Review, The Cape Rock, Spillway, Up the River, Suisun Valley Review, KYSO Flash, Home Planet News, Cultural Weekly, Big Hammer, Misfit Magazineand So it Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. He is the author of six chapbooks of poetry. His latest book, A Ludicrous Split, a collaboration with fellow poet Gabriel Ricard, is now available from Alien Buddha Press.

Messiah by. Adam Levon Brown

Dead feet
in drugged snow-

reminisce rigor mortis
in shallow pools,

originally made for wishes.
Therein lies a snapping turtle;

jaws of unyielding teardrops clench memories-
crucifixions in the name of empire.

Sodden teeth dot the floor with death dust,
where sand and blood are fused into sacrificial 

Adam Levon Brown is an internationally published author, poet, amateur photographer. He is Founder, Owner, and editor in chief of Madness Muse Press. He has had poetry published hundreds of times in several languages, along with 2 full collections and 3 chapbooks. He also participates as an assistant editor at Caravel Literary Arts Journal. He has been published with publications such as Harbinger Asylum, Burningword Literary Journal, and Five 2 One Magazine.

LIFE LINE. by Chani Zwibel

My father took
my sister and I fishing
and never complained of getting daughters
instead of sons,
we must find a tree
somewhere on the riverbank.
(We are not boys
and cannot just stand up
to go pee outside.)
We always stopped
at the bait shop run
by two nice old people
who always gave us suckers,
the tart kind with the bubblegum inside.
Dad gets the meal worms
in a Styrofoam cup full of dirt.
 He jokes “YUM”,  
as we question the container’s contents.
On the bank of the Youghiogheny,
Dad shows us how to know a fish is on the line
when the bright bobber sinks.
We catch the little fish.
They swirl around in the last sloshes
of river water in a bucket.
He says they are too small;
He unhooks them gently and releases them
back to the green brown depths
to wait for next time
While we wait for bigger fish to bite,
we play dinosaurs.
I like to imagine the plastic Brontosaurus
placed on a flat rock,
up to his neck in shallow water,
staring out on a primordial scene.
Dad never seemed to mind in the inconvenience
of me or my sister or our toys.
Girls can learn a fisherman’s philosophy just the same.
 Dreams are down there,
last small puddles in the fish bucket.
Small fish are free,
even though the dreams are not free,
any more than the bobber is free from the line.  

Chani Zwibel is a graduate of Agnes Scott College, was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but now dwells in Marietta, Georgia, with her husband and their dog. She is an associate editor with Madness Muse Press. She enjoys writing poetry after nature walks and daydreaming.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Sorrow’s Sailor. by Mela Blust

and if you want
to drown, drown
there are those who will throw you
 a rope -
while laughing or saying
"just be grateful"...
this rope is your noose.
let the sallow drops seep
and croon you to sleep
a love spell only your lungs
will understand
there are those
who will wade in with you
just enough
and extend a hand
that hand
is your anchor
when you are ready
you'll remember how to stand
don't forget the sea
in which your troubles swam
down there in the wreckage
lie a thousand more answers
beauty is born of pain,
never ease

Mela Blust is a writer and artist from the south, who currently resides in rural Pennsylvania. She has always had an affinity for dark things. Her work has appeared in Nixes Mate Review, Califragile and Little Rose Magazine, and is forthcoming in many publications.

BON APPETITE. by Jay Passer

So fascinated with murder,
the dead people our dreams
gastronomically speaking.

Painting restricted to the walls of houses
rated only in relation to sexual preferences
and worth the climb.

Scandalize me.
Paint me into a corner.
My body proves time travel erroneous.

Jay Passer's work has appeared in print and online since 1988. He is the author of several chapbooks and has appeared in a bunch of anthologies. His latest collection, they lied to me when they said everything would be alright, from Pski's Porch, is available at Amazon. Passer lives and works in San Francisco, the city of his birth.

The reason I hate you is me. by Alfred Gremsly

I want you
But you’re beautiful
So, I’ll run you down
until you hate me
just so I can hate you back

but in truth
I love you
And I think of you everyday
And it kills me to know
that you hate me

because you’re beautiful
I never took a chance
I only assumed
because I wasn’t what you were
that you would hate me
So I gave you a reason

Alfred Gremsly was born and raised in west Tennessee. Mr. Gremsly began writing at a very early age and would often sell home made chapbooks to anyone willing to buy. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines and most recently 10 of his poems were published in ‘Mask are not enough’ a collaboration with 9 other poets and artist Marcel Herms. (Alien Buddha Press) He currently is the author of one mini book’ When Dead is Dead’ and 2 books to be released later this year. A 150 page collection of poems collaborated with the photo work of Becky Narron (Between the lines of Hope) and a poetry book aimed at Mr. Gremsly’s own struggles of living with anxiety and depression. (Therapy for the Mentally Wellas born and raised in west Tennessee. Mr. Gremsly began writing at a very early age and would often sell home made chapbooks to anyone willing to buy. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines and most recently 10 of his poems were published in ‘Mask are not enough’ a collaboration with 9 other poets and artist Marcel Herms. (Alien Buddha Press) He currently is the author of one mini book’ When Dead is Dead’ and 2 books to be released later this year. A 150 page collection of poems collaborated with the photo work of Becky Narron (Between the lines of Hope) and a poetry book aimed at Mr. Gremsly’s own struggles of living with anxiety and depression. (Therapy for the Mentally Well

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Book. by Wanye F. Burke

my sister, the nurse
was a legend on the
maternity ward
she loved to work
spent her holidays
at the hospital
we never got along
growing up together
she stayed in her room
at home
only later did we
in emails back & forth
she bought and read each one
of my published books
and then
she died
and in the dream I had
came back to sit beside me
on a couch
snuggled close
and read to me
from a book she held--
something that she never did

in "real" life.

Wayne F, Burke's poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications. He has published five full-length poetry collections, 4 with Bareback Press, and one with Alien Buddha Press. Plus two poetry chapbooks with Epic Rites Press. He lives in the central Vermont area, USA.

TO PERISH. by R.T. Castleberry

It’s not a bad thing to die
on a dark road returning home.
The sky grown wide enough,
receptive to your damaged plea.
Stars are cold dizziness.
Moonlight’s strike on the tip of a tree,
intersections dazed in haze yellow light
are the lyrics that haunted you young.
There’s a cop on a sleepy side street,
a feral cat on its prowl.
Your tongue tastes a sweeter bourbon,
the bite of English tobacco.
It’s not a bad thing to die
on a dark road returning home.

 R.T. Castleberry's work  has appeared in Roanoke Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Comstock Review, Green Mountains Review, The Alembic, Silk Road and Argestes. Internationally, it has been published in Canada, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand and Antarctica. My poetry has been featured in the anthologies: Travois-An Anthology of Texas Poetry, TimeSlice, The Weight of Addition, Anthem: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen and Blue Milk’s anthology, Dawn. My chapbook, Arriving At The Riverside, was published by Finishing Line Press in January, 2010. An e-book, Dialogue and Appetite, was published by Right Hand Pointing in May, 2011.

Monday, August 27, 2018

L. cohen alive in the machine. by Rob Plath

yr jukebox song
gets sandwiched
between two really
shitty tunes
& yr surrounded
by the dead who
somehow balance
upon the barstools
but you have this
triple shot of whiskey
neat & when yr song
comes thru it lifts
you across hours
of stale music  
& hollow men

Rob Plath is a 48-year-old poet from New York. He has published 20 books so far. . He is most known for his collection A BELLYFUL OF ANARCHY (epic rites press). Rob was once a student of Allen Ginsberg for two years.  He lives alone with his cat and stays out of trouble. See more of his work at 

Patriots by Julian Gallo

Independence Day, 1979

The weed we smoke stinks to high heaven and I keep my eye on the roof door to make sure no one comes through. Tad and Carlo are busy trying to keep the joint from ‘canoeing’ as the fireworks burst over the Manhattan skyline in the distance.
We aren’t supposed to be up there, of course, but we know how to get the door open and lord knows the fire alarm never worked. We have to slip a rock or a piece of wood to keep it from closing and stranding us up there. This twenty-four story building is the tallest in the neighborhood, rivaling the college’s Student Union building which looms over the campus like a monolith. The building we’re on top of lords over the modest homes and the apartment complexes owned by the electricians union. 

Carlo and I have paper routes there, as well as in this building, which makes it easy to gain access. In fact, we both have a customer on the first floor, a deaf couple, whose lights flash whenever someone rings their bell on the intercom in the lobby. They just buzz you in. From there, we take the elevator up to the sixteenth floor to Shannon’s apartment. Shannon is our contact for weed.
Another burst. Green and yellow sparks cascade down towards the East River. Again, I turn my eye towards the door. I keep thinking that the building’s residents must come up to the roof on the 4th of July. It’s the best vantage point for watching the fireworks, that is, if you couldn’t or didn’t want to bother cramming in with everyone over in Manhattan, but no one comes up and Tad speculates they’re probably watching from their balconies since every apartment in the building has one. I hope he’s right.
Tad passes the joint to me and I take a deep toke, hold the smoke in my lungs and exhale just as another explosion of fireworks lights up the evening sky, this time Red, White and Blue. We’re awaiting the finale, which is always a spectacle. Meanwhile, some of the neighborhood boys are setting off their own fireworks, pitiful things in comparison to what we’re watching, usually sputtering out before they even reach the fifth floor of the building.
I pass the joint to Carlo, who takes it without a word and tokes on it, looks out over the skyline, observes the next burst of fireworks — glittering white, flashing and slowly disappearing before they even reach the ground. Carlo is unusually quiet, pensive. He isn’t himself. I’m not sure if it’s because of the weed or if it’s something else. Ever since we left Shannon’s apartment with our score, he’d been acting a little strange. I’m not sure Tad even notices.
When Shannon answered the door she looked at Carlo and smiled. Tad and I know Shannon is sweet on Carlo but he would never be interested in a girl like her. Short, fat, pear shaped, she wasn’t quite Carlo’s type who were usually much thinner and more athletic. A lot of guys in the neighborhood were into Shannon but none of us could understand why. She had huge tits, perhaps that was it. Nevertheless she’s kind of trashy, abrasive, with a voice as rough as sandpaper. Tad and I are too overly obsessed about the girls in our junior high school to care about Shannon. Besides, Shannon is about two years older than us, as is Carlo. They’re already in high school.
The weed starts kicking in. I’m not sure what kind of weed it is but the weed we usually score from Shannon is particularly potent. It doesn’t take much for me to get high from it. Tad, who smokes weed much more than I ever do, needs a bit more to get high, which is why we always buy two from Shannon. I never need more than a couple of hits before I start feeling it. As Tad sets fire to the second one and passes it to me, I’ve already had enough so I pass it to Carlo, who, cloaked in shadow, takes a long pull, sending tiny sparks off the end of the joint and into the night sky. Again, I turn my attention towards the roof door.
I wish we had some music, Tad says. I should have brought my box.
    Better that you didn’t, Carlo says, turning to look at the next burst of fireworks — blue and white, cascading. We’d have been busted for sure.
    Carlo passes the joint to Tad.
    Don’t bogart that joint, my friend, Carlo sings, alluding to one of the old songs we listen to on Tad’s box.
    Pass it over to me... Tad sings.
    I lean back against the wall of the roof’s fire exit, again keeping an eye on the door. The explosion of fireworks rumble across the New York night; whistling chasers squeal and burst; mats of firecrackers all set off at once; bottle rockets pop off like sad little gunshots; the occasional M-80 or Blockbuster echo in the canyon of the apartment buildings. Yes, it’s a typical Independence Day but we aren’t all that interested in doing anything more than getting high. The fireworks are secondary. Afterwards we plan on going down to the park to hang out and drink some beer which we can easily score from the deli. They never check IDs.
After Carlo taps out the last of the joint against the wall, he slips the ‘roach’ into his wallet. He collects them, keeps them in a jar in his bedroom. This way, if we can’t score any weed — which is rare — we can roll them all up and get something out of them.
    Are you all right, Carlo? I ask. You seem kind of quiet tonight.
I’m okay, he says, his knees drawn up to his chest, gazing out over the next explosion of fireworks. Just a little tired, that’s all.
    Are we going to the park? Tad asks. I could use a nice cold beer.
That’s the plan, Carlo says, and to be honest, I could use one myself. It’s hot as balls, nearly eighty-five degrees, humid, and it’s beginning to drizzle. In a way I hope it starts pouring so it will cool things off a little. We’ve been out all day and I feel grimy, my neck perpetually slick with sweat.
    The rain feels good, Tad says, turning his face towards the sky, looking for God knows what.
Carlo doesn’t say anything, gets up and walks over to the railing, looks down. After a while he comes walking back over to us. My mother and sister are in the front yard, he says. They got sparklers.
    Remember when that’s all our parents would let us have? Tad says.    
    That’s all my parents would let me have when I was little.
    I used to like to make sizzlers out of the spent firecrackers, Carlo says.
    We’d all done that, as well as search the neighborhood for duds, trying to see if we could set them off. There were always a lot of spent fireworks around after the 4th. A lot of them wound up in our back yards, making July 5th a clean-up day, by order of our fathers. That’s the one thing I never liked about the holiday. Sometimes the projectiles wound up on our roofs.
Remember last year when Raymond set off that blockbuster? Tad says. Holy shit, that was something else, wasn’t it?
    He’d been bragging about that for months, Carlo says. I didn’t believe he really had one but when he brought it out that night, I was amazed. I had no idea where he got it from.
    Chinatown, probably, I say. My cousin goes there every year, comes home with bags full of fireworks.
    His dad must have bought it, Tad says. My parents would never let me have that. No way.
When Raymond brought out the blockbuster last year, he lit it, set a coffee can over it. Everyone on the block ran, staying clear from what we all thought was going to happen — imagining shrapnel going everywhere. I ducked behind a car because that was precisely what I thought was going to happen. When it went off, I felt the concussion in my chest and it made my ears ring. The can blew a good five feet in the air and crashed back down to the street, full of dents, smoke pouring out of its opening. For the next couple of days he wouldn’t shut up about it, bragging and boasting of his one moment being the popular kid.
    It was much easier when we were little kids, wasn’t it? Carlo says.
    It’s not so bad now, Tad says. I mean, we have a lot more freedom.
    True, Carlo says. And isn’t that what we’re supposed to be celebrating today?
    Tad laughs. Man, you are high, aren’t you?
    You know what I mean, Carlo says. Don’t be a dick.
We don’t speak during the fireworks show’s finale; a steady stream of explosions, bursts of light, and a rumbling you can feel in your chest. We’re a good eight miles from Manhattan and it amazes us that we can still feel it. The neighborhood fireworks begin going off in unison.
    The Russians are coming, Tad quips.
    Shit, imagine? Only I don’t think it would sound like this, I say.
    No, man. One big flash and we’d be vaporized. Just like that.
    Fucked up.
    We’d never knew it happened, Carlo says. If it ever does, I want to be at Ground Zero so I can just be vaporized and be done with it. Imagine living through it?
    Yeah, man, Tad says, pulling at his eyebrow, a curious tick of his, I wouldn’t want to have my hair start falling out, my skin peeling off, my eyes melting.
    I don’t know why but I laugh when he says that, laugh so hard that the two of them look at me as if I’m crazy.
    Good weed, Tad says, laughing. What the hell’s so funny?
    I don’t know, I just imagined you looking at me and your eyeballs begin melting down the front of your face.
    And that’s funny to you? Tad says, incredulous.
    But I can’t stop laughing. It’s good weed.

. . . . . .

Later that evening we pick up a six pack of cheap beer and head into the park as planned. We call it a park but it’s really more of a playground — handball courts, large softball field, basketball hoops — and on the other side, benches, swings, see-saws, monkey bars, a sprinkler which was never turned on, and what we called ‘the park house’, which used to be, in some other age, the bathrooms. It’s now just a crumbling wreck which we use to take a leak.
We’re sitting at the chess tables with Marcus and Janet. Marcus is one of the older guys. He thought himself the neighborhood philosopher, always pontificating about deep shit that’s always over our heads but we’re always so high that he usually holds our attention as we try to contemplate these half-baked ideas of his. You can never be invisible, he said to us once, because if you were all your molecules would just float away. At the time we thought that the most profound thing we ever heard. We didn’t know he was just one of the neighborhood drug addicts.
Janet on the other hand is a girl who had once been a greasy, acne ridden mess who, seemingly overnight, completely transformed herself. She suddenly began wearing make up, fixed her hair, started wearing tight jeans and blouses. Even her voice changed, going from the typical Queens drawl into that of what she thought was a soft-spoken sophisticate. She sits beside Marcus, hangs all over him in fact, and knowing Marcus, he probably fucked her already. Janet is the same age as Tad and I. Marcus is at least three to four years older than Carlo. You do the math on that one.
Did you guys see the fireworks? Marcus asks us, lighting up one his Marlboros. Janet and I were down at the college. There’s a good open spot there on campus where you could see everything.
    It was beautiful, Janet says, gazing up at Marcus with what she thought was her come-hither look.
    Marcus looks right down Janet’s shirt, then puts his arm around her, the alpha dog marking his territory, as if we’d even consider being with Janet.
You know, it’s kind of weird that we’d be celebrating Independence Day when you consider how much our government has us by the balls, Marcus says. It’s all fear, man. All fear. They try to keep us afraid, making us think that at any moment the Russians are going to wipe us off the face of the earth. I mean, what about the Russian citizens, just like us, man. They’re probably scared to death of us. We could wipe them off the face of the earth just as easily.
Fuck ‘em, Tad says and I begin to laugh, again, not knowing why exactly. The combination of the weed and the way Tad says it.
    Yeah, fuck ‘em, you say, Marcus says. Right now there are kids just like you, probably hanging out in their version of this park, scared shitless that they’re going to be wiped out any second. Doesn’t it bother you that today could be your last, that you can go home tonight and without warning be turned into ash? That’s not how we’re supposed to live, man. It’s our leaders. They control everything, they don’t give a shit about us at all.
Except for election time, Janet says, again giving Marcus the come-hither look.
    I don’t know why but I suddenly become extremely agitated and disgusted with Janet. No shit, I thought. Nothing peeves me more than when someone says something just to say it, even when they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
Marcus goes on and on about all this political shit, stuff none of even think about. It’s hard enough just being a kid. What do we know about any of it? All we care about is music, getting high, and having a good time. Marcus is starting to bum our trip.
    Then Shannon shows up, walks into the park with that pigeon-toed walk of hers. She’s wearing a tight red shirt, showing off her massive tits. Her jeans are so tight I can’t figure out how she even got them on. She runs her fingers through her feathered brown hair and bellows Carlo’s name.
    Ah, Jesus, Carlo grumbles, what the fuck does she want?
    Ask her if she’s got anymore weed, Tad says.
    She approaches the table and says hello, bullshits with Marcus and Janet for a moment, then squeezes in next to me, squashing me between herself and Tad, her cheap perfume turning my stomach.
    Did you see the fireworks? she asks, her gravely voice like nails on a chalkboard.
    We tell her that we did and she tells us that she watched them from her balcony with her brother. My parents are at my grandmothers, she says, so me and my brother toked up on the balcony as we watched them. Then she looks at Carlo. Can I talk to you for a minute?
    Can it wait? Carlo says.
    It’s important.
Tad and I give each other a knowing look as Carlo follows Shannon across the park.
    They talk for quite a while. As Marcus goes on and on with this pseudo-philosophical bullshit, I tune out, keep an eye on Carlo, who looks as if he wants nothing more than to get the fuck away from Shannon. Something’s going on, that much is obvious. Shannon looks serious, grim; Carlo can’t even look at her.
By the time he returns to us, Shannon left to join her friends in the handball court on the other side of the park. He looks troubled, though he’s trying putting up a good front. Marcus and Janet can’t tell anything’s wrong but Tad and I know.
    Marcus begins talking about Nietzsche, a name that isn’t even on my radar. Still on about the Russians and the government, he says, People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.
    Makes sense, Tad says, pulling at his eyebrow.
    Ah, but who’s truth? Marcus says. Who’s to say what that truth is? We have our truth, the Russians have their truth. Who’s right? Janet swoons, lays her head on Marcus’s shoulder. Marcus picks up on the subtle clue and gets up. Think about what I’m saying, man,” he continues. Seriously. Once you begin to realize that all of this — he waves his hand through the air — is bullshit, the more you’ll begin to understand. Later, dudes.
    We watch him walk away, Janet on his arm, towards his Camaro which he has parked just outside the park.  
    I think he’s high, Tad says, laughing.
    Any idea what the fuck he was talking about? I say.
    He don’t even know what the fuck he’s talking about, Tad says.
    Carlo doesn’t say anything, his thoughts a mile away.
    I look across the park to see Shannon repeatedly looking over at us.

. . . . . .

I spend the next morning cleaning up the spent fireworks in my yard as per my father’s orders. Armed with a garbage bag and picking up the seemingly endless bits of spent bottle rockets, whirlybirds, and other various debris, half the morning is already gone.
As I sweep up in front of the house, I see Carlo up at his house doing the same thing. We wave to one another but we each keep to the task at hand, which is stealing the whole day away from us.
    At some point he comes down the block towards me, leaving his garbage bag and broom by the gate to his yard. He’s smiling, so that’s a good sign.
    How you feeling? he asks.
    Okay. A little fried, I say.
    Yeah, me too. Hear from Tad?
    He called me this morning but I told him I couldn’t hang out, that I had to clean up this shit. He wanted to go to Mike’s Comic Hut. I’d much rather be there than here right now.
    That’s the truth, of course. I’m more interested in picking up the latest issue of Spiderman than I am anything else. I’d been waiting to go since I began collecting on my paper route that week and I still have to do my route on top of everything else. Carlo delivers the morning paper, I, the afternoon. Carlo and I have more or less the same route, even some of our customers are the same so we sometimes go collecting together. It’s great to always have money in our pockets on top of our allowances. This means we’re always going to be able to score some weed. Weed is so widely available in our neighborhood that it’s virtually impossible not to score some. However, there are some kids who won’t sell any, at least not to us, which forces us to have to deal with Shannon, who naturally loves it whenever Carlo’s around and she’s more than happy to oblige us. We already planned, the night before, to cop some more from Shannon.
After some usual small talk, Carlo suddenly gets serious. He looks around, then peers  at my house to see if anyone is at the window, says, I need to talk to you about something. It’s important.
    What is it?
    When you’re done here. When I’m finished. I’ll come down and call for you. I don’t want to talk about it here, okay?
    I agree and watch him trot up towards his house to finish off his chores. I go back to mine, eager to know what could be so important that he couldn’t just tell me right there and then.

. . . . . .

With five bucks in my pocket I’m eager to get to the comic book store. I figure if Carlo wants to talk he can take a walk over there with me. The store is far from my house, a good mile or so, and since I don’t want to waste any money taking the bus, I usually walk. For the price of bus fare one can score at least seven to ten comics from the used bin.
    Carlo finally calls me and I tell him the plan which he thinks is a great idea since we’d be far from the neighborhood.
    I meet him outside my house and we begin walking. It isn’t until we’re sufficiently away from our neighborhood that he begin to open up.
    You can’t tell anyone, understand? No one. Not even Tad. Especially not Tad. I’ll never hear the end of it.
    Okay, I won’t, I say.
    Promise me.
    I promise.
    About a month prior to the July 4th holiday, Carlo had run into Shannon while running down to the pizza place for something to eat. He had just finished his collection rounds and wanted to get some lunch. While he sat at his usual booth, eating his usual two slices with a bottle of Sunkist, Shannon saw him through the window and decided to go in and join him. They sat there bullshitting for a while, mostly gossip about the kids in the neighborhood, and when Carlo finished eating, he got up, ready to leave. Shannon didn’t want him to go, naturally, and removed a joint from her pocket book as a way to entice him to stay. 

Not being one to ever turn down weed, especially free weed, he agreed to go get high with her, insisting that he had to go afterwards, that he couldn’t hang around.
    They went into the handball courts, the back court, so the wall that divided the court would hide their illicit activity. Shannon lit up and the two of them stood there smoking through the joint. The more they talked, the more flirtatious Shannon had become — touching him, complimenting his looks, pressing herself up against him, whispering softly in his ear.
He didn’t know what happened, whether it was the weed or just a sudden case of teenage horniness but he became aroused. Once he became aroused, Shannon didn’t waste any time helping things along. She reached down the front of his jeans and grabbed hold of his cock, began stroking it, messaging it. Before he knew it, he kissed her and soon they were all over one another.
    Behind them was a hole in the fence. Beyond the hole was a small green area which went up on an incline, between the park and the parking garages for the apartment buildings up the hill from the park. Somehow, Shannon managed to convince him to go up there, where they would not only be hidden by the handball court wall but by the dense foliage which the Park’s Department never bothered to landscape. Hidden away from any and all prying eyes, Carlo dropped his pants, yanked Shannon’s buttons open and shoved his hand down the front of her jeans. She was so wet that he could feel the moisture on the inside of her thighs, which, according to him touched together due to her weight. She kissed him like a wild woman, biting his bottom lip, his ear, and before he knew it, she had her pants down around her ankles and he was inside her.
It didn’t last long, he says, a few minutes at most. When he felt himself ready to ejaculate, she told him to pull out because he wasn’t wearing a condom, he did so, spurting his semen all over her skin just above her vagina. She went down on her knees and sucked him off. Afterwards they hung out for a while then, as he said he must do, left her and went home.
    When I got home, he says, I just lied there, confused. I mean, I’m not even attracted to her! I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what came over me.
    I’m stunned, of course. I hadn’t even kissed a girl yet, never mind fucking one. The way he explained it to me, in such explicit detail, shocks me in a way.
    She’s not a virgin, he says. That much was clear to me.
    How could you tell? I ask.
    He then goes on to explain it to me. My first lesson in the ‘Birds and the Bees’. My parents hadn’t even spoken to me about this yet.
    I heard that she was kind of loose.
    She’s fucked a ton of guys, already, he says. Mainly the older guys from the park.
    I can’t imagine it. Who would want to fuck Shannon of all people? What was her allure? So I ask him.
    I don’t know, he says. It just kind of...happened.
    Okay, so it’s not so bad, I thought. He got laid, something Tad and I were only dreaming of with the girls we go to school with. So what’s the problem?
Remember when she came to into the park last night to talk to me? She’s pregnant.
    I’m floored. Pregnant. I thought he was going to tell me that he caught some venereal disease. Pregnancy was the furthest thing from my mind. The fact that he fucked her was the furthest thing from my mind.
    She wants an abortion, he says. I don’t know what to do.
    Pregnancy, abortion...all of this is well outside my immediate experience. Sure, I’ve heard other kids talking about it but most only talked shit. Most, like Tad and I, never even a woman naked outside of clandestine viewings of Playboy and Swank magazines. I don’t know what to say.
    I certainly can’t go to my parents, he says. They’d kill me. I have no one to turn to and I don’t know what to do. I mean, I’m too young to be a father. I don’t want that responsibility.
    What did Shannon say?
    That she had no plans on being a mother, that getting an abortion was no big deal, that she had a few before.
    That’s what she told me. I got curious and asked her who had gotten her pregnant before. Marcus was one of them, believe it?
    In a way, I can, I tell him. There were two others, two of the older guys in the neighborhood who were already on the path to ruin, one of whom is Theo, the neighborhood bully and requisite asshole, whom we all despised.
    I thought of a way to pay for it, he says, but you can’t say anything to anyone. The paper route. I figured I’d go collecting and I can pay for it that way. The problem is that I probably won’t be able to make up the money to pay off the paper bill. I’m screwed and I don’t know what to do.
    That seems like your only option. I don’t have any money to give you.
    If I come up short, could you lend me some from your paper route?
    Oh, I don’t know, route is kind of small and...
    Please...I’m begging you. I don’t know what else to do?
    How about asking Tad as well?
    I don’t want Tad knowing anything about this! I’ll never hear the end of it. Besides, we’ve known each other since we were little kids. I know I can trust you.
    True. I’ve known him all my life. Only one house separated his and mine. We had been playing together since we were toddlers, even though he was two years older than me. It’s Carlo who taught me how to play baseball, football, and the other sporting games we all played on the block. He even taught me how to tie my own shoes. I couldn’t let him down.
    So what are you going to do in the meantime? I ask.
    I’ve been speaking to Shannon nearly every night, he says. On the phone. She’s a bit stressed out, upset, but she’s doing all right. I’ve been trying to comfort her, letting her know that everything was going to be taken care of. It’s strange but I sort of feel something for her now and I don’t know why.
    You mean like she can be your girlfriend feelings?
    Something like that, but not exactly. I don’t know. She doesn’t seem as repulsive to me as she once did.
    I laugh, once again, not knowing why.

. . . . . .

Three weeks pass. The summer is coming to an end. Soon we’ll all be heading back to school and a new round of bullshit will begin. Tad and I wound up in the same class so we’re actually looking forward — for once in our lives — to going back for the year. Plus we’re excited to learn which girls were going to be in our class.
    Over the rest of the summer, we carry on as normal — listen to music, hang out in the park, go to Shannon’s to pick up some weed, get high. All the while Tad is clueless to Carlo’s situation. Even when Shannon is around neither she nor Carlo betray anything that would indicate they’d been together and whatever advances she makes towards Carlo seems to be the usual flirtatious things as far as Tad is concerned. I keep my promise to Carlo and never say a word about it.
But gossip, especially among teenagers, is rampant and soon ‘rumors’ start spreading that Shannon is pregnant again and that Carlo is the father. Both of them adamantly deny it and that seems to satisfy most people, even Tad when he confronts Carlo about it, ready to make unholy fun of him over it. It’s Theo, who seems to have taken issue with it but no one can understand why. Theo can pretty much have any girl he wants, why get twisted out of shape over Shannon, who he fucked and dumped him like yesterday’s garbage?
    Carlo and I go on our collection routes together, do our best to get our customers to actually pay without them coming up with the usual bullshit excuses whenever they didn’t want to pay for the week. I think it’s the first time ever that both he and I actually get every customer on our route to pay up.
    Meanwhile, Carlo would sneak off with Shannon some nights, try to comfort her, try to assure her that everything is going to be all right.

. . . . . .

Between what Carlo collects and the money I loan him from my paper route, Carlo finally has the few hundred dollars needed for the abortion.
    On the morning of the procedure, Carlo picks Shannon up in front of her apartment building and the two of them take the bus to the clinic. Everything seemed normal, he later tells me, they were sad but joking around, gossiping about the neighborhood idiots as if they were just going on a daily excursion to the mall. Carlo admits that he was nervous, and sad. He tells me that the night before he had hardly slept a wink because it hit him hard that he was ready to abort a child that was his. He had no idea if it would have been a boy or a girl but he admitted that the idea of his child not being brought into the world bothered him, although he also felt a sense of relief.
    Blame my catholic education and upbringing, he says.
    Still, he wasn’t ready, at fifteen, to take on the responsibility to be a father.
    While in the waiting room, he tried to take his mind off what was going on by reading through the magazines spread out across the table. He said he was more flipping through them than actually reading them, his stomach in knots. He said that the doctors at the clinic didn’t judge them, didn’t treat them with disrespect, as if this was nothing new for them. When the procedure was over, he went in to see her and sat with her, holding her hand as he waited for the anesthesia to wear off. When she came to, she was pleased to see him. She didn’t cry but he did. He couldn’t help it, he says. It was more of the stress of the whole thing and the overwhelming relief that it was all over and he no longer had anything to worry about.
They took care of the paperwork and Carlo paid the clinic in cash, something that he said they didn’t seem to be too surprised at. They spoke to Shannon, what to do, what not to do post-procedure, then Carlo took Shannon by the hand and walked her out of the clinic.
    The moment they stepped outside, Shannon kissed Carlo on the cheek and thanked him, then ran off towards a waiting Trans-Am by the curb, it’s engine rumbling, Theo the Robot behind the wheel. She opened the passenger side door, hopped in and Theo the Robot sped away, peeling rubber.
    Shannon never even looked back.

. . . . . .

Later that night we’re back on the roof of the building smoking through a fat joint which we scored from one of the kids in the park. Carlo seems to be slowly getting back to his normal self, joking around, picking on me and Tad, even laughing about his sexual experience with Shannon. Tad is brought up to speed and, as expected, begins to make unholy fun of Carlo for fucking Shannon in the first place.
    We laugh even more once the weed kicked in.
    It’s a scorching, humid late August night. It’s quiet and we keep an eye on the roof door to be sure that one of the tenants from the floor below doesn’t come up and catch us there. All is normal, although things aren’t.
    At one point, Carlo wanders off to the railing, looks out over the city. Tad and I leave him alone with his thoughts, not really knowing what he’s thinking. Years later he’d go on to tell me that he felt as if he had aged a lot that summer and I told him that, in a way, I felt I had too.
    But tonight, he just stares out towards the lights of the Empire State Building, not saying anything. I suppose he doesn’t have to.

New York City
January 2016

Julian Gallo is the author of 'The Other Side Of The Orange Grove' (Empty Canvas, June 2018) and other novels. He lives and works in New York City.'  

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