Scattered stains decorated dry grass that bordered the path leading down from a bungalow.
An elderly man sat rocking on the front porch, studying somber clouds across the valley. A tic under his right eye kept time with the motion of the chair. Tufts of white hair stuck out around a battered Tennessee Smokies baseball cap. Faded bib overalls stopped an inch above the tops of work shoes.
“Gonna rain 'fore nightfall - I can smell it," he muttered to the hound napping on the floor. He readjusted the tobacco cud in his left cheek with his tongue, leaned forward and let loose a chocolate-colored stream that just cleared the porch railing.
He rocked back, looked down at the dog, rubbed its head. “Tell you what, Chaser, I’m in the record book and that means I’m still alive. Yessir, batting champion, Southern League, 1974: Hank Jenkins - .369. And that’s who I’ll be until some college kid outdoes me. Some kid who’s squeezin' zits in a bathroom mirror today."
Two small planes droned overhead and banked toward the Mississippi River.
Henry glanced at the crumpled paper on the table beside an open packet of Brown Mule Chewing Tobacco. He rubbed his jaw, frowned, tipped forward and squirted another defiant rivulet over the rail. “By gawd, I’m here 'til something moves me out."
Chaser looked up, yawned, then put his head down on his front paws.
Henry launched a weary sigh. "Wonder what will catch up with me first; that kid or cancer?"
Spokes flash orange under street lights. Tires rumble across pavement cracks. Andrew bats his wheelchair wheels. The tires suck a dry track, picking up chip wrappers and leaves to scatter them in his wake. He doesn’t care that the dogs bark and snap or that children jeer as he passes. He’s headed for the fair.
Music thumps in his chest; red, yellow and blue lights chase across his upturned face. He peers at waltzers, carousels and bumper cars. He licks his lips at the smell of hot-dogs and the sight of pink candy-floss on sticks.
He weaves amongst the crowd, his eyes fixed on the Ferris wheel with its red and yellow spokes reared up on a giant A and decked out with lights. Gondolas grunt as they are hoisted into the crisp, cold sky.
The man with slicked back hair and tattooed arms takes his money and lifts him into the gondola.
And then he rises. Each gondola fills with giggling girls and joking boys. The wheel moves again inching him into the sky.
He’s at the top. From here he can see the town, beyond the docks, across the river’s estuary. Below his empty wheelchair waits.
Stars rain pin-prick light on his face. The man in the moon swims out from a cloud and winks. That solitary cloud, green and ragged like floating seaweed, sweeps inland, bringing the tang of ocean- spray. Closer, it looks like a fishing boat with nets spilling fish and mermaids singing in its wake.
And on the boat will be Andrew's daddy coming home from the sea.
And tonight there will be boiled sweets and angel rides, fish and chips and games by the hearth. Mum will lock the door in the faces of 'uncles’ smelling of beer and Andrew will laugh as he rides on daddy’s shoulders again, arms out-flung, spinning round and round, higher than everyone.
"You aren't really going to wear that, are you?" Annabelle, my sixteen-year-old, feigned a retch.
“Stop being so theatrical," I said, admiring the orange sweater adorned with a forest of red-leaved trees. “Be happy I'm not wearing the one with the battery-operated appliqué." I smoothed a row of knitted trees across my stomach. “Maybe I should switch to the one with the grumpy gremlins, purple pumpkins, and scowling skulls? What do you think?"
“I think I'm gonna spew." Nose and eyes squeezed into a sneer, Annabelle flounced on my bed.
“No spewing in here. Hurl in your own room if you must."
Annabelle smirked. “It's not funny. What if one of my friends sees you wearing that hideous thing? Trust me, Mom. It's not a pretty picture. You look like a ginormous pumpkin on a stick."
“Well, of course I do. So what? By wearing a tacky garment like this, I'm telling the world that I love Halloween so much I don't mind looking like I've spent the year consuming nothing but pecan pies and pumpkin lattes laced with rum."
“Since when have you loved Autumn that much?
“Since never. But that’s beside the point. I just want to look like I do."
“That doesn’t make sense."
“Sure it does. Imagine how surprised my friends will be come January when I've shed these fall sweaters and the December holiday sweaters and no longer resemble a Christmas dumpling. They'll wonder how I managed to lose all the weight over the holidays. I'll be the envy of them all."
“Yeah, riiiiiight." Annabelle rolled her eyes.
“I am right. And you too can be the envy of your friends, regaling them with your own dieting prowess in January, if you wear nothing but stuff like this for the next ninety days."
“You're wacko. You know that, right?"
“I prefer crazy smart, thank you very much."
Annabelle sighed. “So about your ornamental ugly-sweaters. . . do you really think I should wear them?"
“Sure." Static electricity crackled as I pulled the woolen forest over my head and tossed it her way. “A word of advice, though, don’t look in a mirror while you’re wearing any of these fashion nightmares. Might make you spew. Talk about embarrassing."
It’s impossible for my dad to move: overnight he’s turned into a kite.
He lies motionless on his bed, a checkerboard of garish red and yellow panels, such a contrast to the sober greys of his old three-piece business suits.
“First Mum, now this," I say. “What were you thinking?"
“Check me out," he says. “High-performance ripstop nylon sail, graphite spars and an eight-foot wingspan fully extended."
“So what was wrong with your old life?" I ask.
“What, reaching for a hand that’s no longer there? Sitting hollow-eyed in front of the TV night after night? Lying awake alone?"
“You didn't consider my feelings?" I say. “You're the only family I have left."
“Listen," he says. “I'm counting on you."
It’s a fresh October morning. He’s chosen a nearby beach. “Keep your back to the wind," he says, “and hold me up till the current catches my sail."
I do as he says and hurl him upwards. He hovers momentarily before swooping to the ground.
“No use," I say. “Not enough wind. Let's go home, try again another day." But I feel his gaze, so full of lightness and hope.
This time I lay him on the sand and step backwards, feeding out his line from its winder. Fifteen feet away, I wait. The wind gusts and I pull.
He takes off and soars skywards, his long tail streaming.
Not long after, another kite appears. Then another. Soon a dozen or so dot the skyline. One of the fliers approaches and we nod to each other.
By now Dad has climbed as high as his line will take him. He tugs, hoisting me onto my toes. I wave back before letting go, and the sun hurts my eyes as he continues his ascent.
"The Crafts" issue is dedicated to Ray Collins, who died last year. Ray helped establish the magazine, and he was "The Linnet's Wings" Micro Fiction editor from 2007 to 2012, a full obit can be found at the following link.
Set in 19th Century Russia during a time of war
You instruct me to go to the church. Defy the innocents. Rub holy water on my breasts. Put my lips to the lips of God. I stand before you staring at your mouth. Unable to speak. This journey, dear Petrov, will not be my saving grace. Salvation coming from the rocks and streams. The white birch forest. The mountain always in view. Protective. Its great shadow veils the house and what I most fear. Over top the guns fire. I try enduring that sound. Will I outlive the guns and cannon fire. soldier you have no answer. A soldier coated in the stench of war. Though I brushed your coat and scrubbed your boots 'til my hands ached. My sink a font. I bow to what my sink must endure. The birds come back each spring with a troubling regularity. They have the freedom to choose while I do not. I have few freedoms. Which hat to wear. Whether to darn my cloak or go ragged. The saints went ragged I say. Causing you to laugh considerably. Loud and bellowing. Crashing. Knocking your whisky over. I cover my ears and move toward the kitchen.Looking out its one smudged window. Singing a soft prayer: O black birds of Russia I know it isn’t true, the rage still burns bright in you.