In this month’s stories, characters try to make sense of what has happened to them or what they have done. Loss is their meaning — cold and silent. Perhaps it’s the economy (or my own outlook on life), but the more these characters implode, the more they mushroom out into the world around them.
Submit your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org; 500 words is the maximum, but I’m looking for shorter work. We’ve got so many great, distinct voices here in San Antonio — I look forward to hearing even more of them. — Lyle Rosdahl
An Old Country Songby Jack Flash
It was the song that did him in, the song he wrote for her. The song was good, better than him and better than her, and he could admit now that he’d let it get to his head some, but wasn’t that how it worked in the old days with the troubadours, you know, and that was the romance, and now the romance was dead. He had killed it with the same gun he had killed her, the same gun he had killed her new love, and now he knew his only mistake was that he should have saved the last bullet for himself.
There were no guitars in prison, not on death row, and at first that had bothered him some, but then he had understood. He had grown out of music the moment he pulled the trigger. Life was more real than art, more final. The new chorus was his prison rags, the dust floating through his cell and refracting the light against his musty walls like waves of jewels, like tiny guardian spirits catching the harmony as he learned to sing again for the first time. Only this time there were no words. He had simplified the equation. It was sad and it was true, and all he had to do was wait it out.
Now he was standing, scanning the clean shaved faces of the young men over the barrels of their rifles. They wouldn’t understand the poetry, the couplets of bullets tearing his flesh, the notes that formed in dried blood glittered with dirt, and Maria, she might have understood once upon a time, but she was gone and it was his own doing. That was fine. His stomach was full. His head was empty and his hands were as still as death itself. He never even heard the shots, only the silence: the silence of the music at last.
Redline to Nowhereby Veronica Salinas
Rabbit ears listened as you whispered your dreams in the café. You spoke of chilled Chicago railways glistening fresh with ice and snow. You heard the screeching sound of metal slowing, alerting passengers of an upcoming stop. Onboard the cold grey metal train you sat as your eyes scanned the unfamiliar faces peeking out underneath scarves and overcoats. Magnetically your gaze settled on him. He was just as you remembered. His face was thin but sickly, skin pale and slightly yellowed, his eyes were closed. He was sleeping.
It was your father. Sitting in the same cold metal train as you. You tried to get up to reach out to him but your legs felt numb and lifeless.
You called out to him,“ Dad!”
He sat there, without opening his eyes he said, “Charlie, little Charlie. What have you got for me today?”
The archaic voice, which hadn’t uttered a word in 25 years, dispatched a shuddering echo through your icy bones.
The screech of metal muffled his next words. Passengers got up and blocked your view from him. He was telling you something but his words were distant. You couldn’t move. You thought of ways to communicate with your father.
Wait, please! I can’t get up!
As people were leaving, more bodies piled in. You felt yourself growing smaller as the limbs crowded over you. You could feel yourself start to sweat and panic until a warm hand scooped you out from the towering limbs. You latched on searching to see the face of your rescuer. You swore it was your Dad, you could feel it. You could feel the warmth and gentleness in his hand. You looked up expecting to see him. You tasted the bitterness of consciousness and the moment was gone. You tried to fool yourself back into sleeping, but your nerves knew better.
It was him! I felt him!
You stopped talking into the receiver just then. You got up and walked outside. As you passed, I noticed your brown eyes flickering with sadness in the light as you tried to solve the puzzle your mind had presented. Outside you sat down and with your head hung low, you ran your fingers through your dirty blonde hair.