The Natchez Bar, Bucksnort, Oregon
bartendress, Shirley, ruled with an iron fist and a lifelong smoker's
hack. When she and Jack split, she took the truck and left him the
house, unbolting the camper from the truck bed and driving away while
Jack slept inside.
you wanted something to wet your whistle, she'd serve whatever she
happened to be pouring. Ask for a bud, you get whiskey. Ask for rye, you
get whiskey. If you didn't like it, “Tough testicles,” she'd growl.
“Get a drink next door.”
Brian White, San Marcos
To: All Staff, Miller & Associates
From: Todd Kleppen, Mail Room
Re: My sandwich in the fridge
As many of you know, my mom makes an incredible tuna-fish salad, a wonderful blend of mayonnaise, onions and sweet pickles. Before this morning's horrible accident, Mr. Gibson in Accounting was a consistent fan.
Anyway, while this morning was hectic for us all, it was not unproductive. A valuable lesson was learned and, more importantly, justice was served rather than someone else's lunch.
You'll be happy to hear that I've talked to the cleaning staff and requested they give the lunchroom extra attention.
Michael Reilly, Normal Heights
Like a child, whenever I heard a swearword, I visualized it. Dry, puckered assholes. Pieces of shit. A sweaty man with an erection mounting his own mother.
My ex-boyfriend cursed other drivers.
“Cock sucker! Ass wipe.”
I covered my eyes. “Stop saying those things!”
“They're just words,” he laughed. “Don't take them so literal.”
But I did. Especially “dear,” “darling” and “doll face.”
“Doll face,” I repeated. “Like Barbie?”
He kissed my forehead. “Whatever.”
I should have known “love you,” “sorry” and “she meant nothing” meant nothing, too.
When I finally told him “Go to hell,” I pictured human barbeque, ash.
Nicole Vollrath, La Mesa
The Red Menace
Wong had volunteered to introduce the new arrival Chan to the American way of life. Wong decided to start with football, with LSU and auburn on TV. One of the players was introduced as a “red-shirt” freshman. “What's a red-shirt freshman?” Chan asked. Slightly embarrassed for not knowing the answer, Wong had to think of something to say. It would be demeaning to admit his ignorance. “He is a Communist,” Wong said in a hushed tone. “Did you notice that he's not allowed to play? Americans still hate Communists.” Chan shook his head in quiet amazement.
Poovan Murugesan, Carmel Valley
I tried to explain Chaos Theory to my son, who thought Jeff Goldblum's explanation was too vague. On the table, I arranged dominos on end, with marbles set carefully on top, and then made pyramids from playing cards. He marveled at the spectacle as I grabbed the tablecloth. “Chaos theory is about finding the order within chaos. For example,” I pulled the tablecloth, everything flew across the kitchen, “figuring out how each item got to its landing point. Understand?” He looked at me, then at the mess. “If it means I have to clean this up, then, no.”
Edgar Contreras, Oxnard
A sternutation in Time
José Salgado was afraid to sneeze. Every time he did, he was transported back to fifth grade, when Mrs. Mendez twisted his ear for pouring pepper in Rosa Rios' carne picada. No matter what age he reached, the sneeze pulled him through a wormhole to the lunchroom at Bayview Elementary in 1993, where a violent pinch awaited him.
He spent his recurring childhoods ridiculed for the surgical masks he wore. Cats and cologne chased him in nightmares.
It was his curse. Punishment, he assumed, for ruining Rosa's lunch that day. His own Sisyphusian fate, Mrs. Mendez the devil holding him there.
Matthew B. Williams, North Park
Emails Between Student and Teacher
SENT: r u having office hours this week?
REPLY: Are you in my English 104 class?
REPLY: Then you should know “r” and “u” aren't words.
SENT: When are you're office hours?
REPLY: “You're” is incorrect.
SENT: I am?
REPLY: Yes, about “you're.”
SENT: Oh! Your.
REPLY: Your what?
REPLY: Perhaps you should start over.
SENT: when are your office hours.
REPLY: Still two errors.
SENT: I really need to see you.
SENT: When are your office hours?
REPLY: I'm out of town until finals. But look at how much you've learned! SENT: f u
Wes warner, Otay Mesa
My youngish ex-wife, Methodist choir member, mother of three, daughter of Evangelical Tea Partiers, relaxed just for a second 13 years ago and let me marry her. Now she's covered with tattoos down her side, and once, on her way back from Fresno, her Grand MaMa's funeral, stopped in Sacramento and got her nipples pierced. “How did this happen?” she asks when I occasionally call, usually late at night after a martini or two. And although she never says it directly, asks me, with the fear of temptation and the Sword of the Lamb, to leave her alone.
Eben Salisbury, UTC
Just a minute while I pull out this IV drip. Now what were you saying? Oh, don't mind her. She's just the nurse. She's seen me naked plenty of times. Go ahead, get comfortable. Yes, it has been a long time since I was released. Sorry, I can't say any more about it. Advice of counsel, you know, and the statute of limitations hasn't expired yet. For the record, it wasn't a goat. Can I get you something to drink? Oops, not that bottle. Trust me, you don't want to know. By the way, I'm still available for bar mitzvahs.
David Blair-Loy, Hillcrest
My dog said, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Uh… feeding you,” I answered.
“You know I don't like that kind.”
“Oh, right. Sorry.”
He's been grumpy lately. He just turned 9, and his arthritis is acting up. He's taken to bickering with me about everything from politics to religion. Mostly he wins. I'm not sure when he gained the upper paw, but he pretty much rules the roost. It's no wonder. When someone follows you around picking up your poop, you're bound to start seeing them as your inferior.
“Hurry up!” he barked.
I miss when he was a puppy.
K.G. Arndell, Scripps Ranch
Charlie was from India. His real name was Ak shay, but by the second week of third grade, he had changed it. His father told him this decision lacked integrity; coming from a man who had just moved his family from Tiruchchirappalli to Fresno, Charlie figured the trait had been inherently passed down.
Fresno had not lived up to Charlie's expectations; it was dirty and most people were fat. They spoke in a discursive manner. Charlie was skinny and straightforward, making him even less Californian. When he told people he was from India they said: “Oh, like Gandhi?”
Eli Taylor, Hillcrest
My Dog Driver
When my dog Driver started talking, it was time to pour out the rest of my Bombay Sapphire. Didn't help. Driver kept me up all night, going on mostly about the redistricting commission.
“Driver, what the hell do you care,” I finally slurred from beneath my pillow. “You can't even vote.” Then I started laughing because the thought of Driver trying to fill in ballot bubbles got me good.
He took offense to this and raised his leg to piss on my couch.
In the morning I found a note that said, “Moving to D3. Better dog parks, fine bitches. Peace.”
Matthew B. Williams, North Park
Ms. Martha, my second grade teacher with the freckle under her eye that bobbed when she talked, died of cancer the summer before third grade. The principal held an assembly our first day back. Some kids cried and others drew stick figures in their primers and practiced their cursive. One boy even laughed, but the principal smiled and said it was OK he laughed, that sometimes when we are hurting, we laugh because it hurts too much to cry.
That night, I painted a freckle underneath my eye with my mother's eyeliner, laughing on tiptoes in front of the mirror.
Molly Katzman, Encinitas
A Bear Does What a Bear Does
Piglet's entrails were strewn about the room. Pooh knew that mom would complain about his sloppiness and need for new friends; but there were always more Piglets. What he really wanted was a new Christopher Robin. Mom refused, saying they were fragile and too much trouble to get. The first and only one was a horrible play pal, didn't last an hour. He held onto hope for another. Eyeore, on the other paw, lasted days; now all that was left was the tail pinned to the wall. “Oh well,” Pooh sighed in his loneliness, “best clean up before mom gets home.”
Ted Washington, Ocean Beach
The Hulkster's wrath
Ye Olde Chicken Shack at the Renaissance Faire was a dream job for two adventurous ninth graders. My friend Austin and I donned peasant garb and hit the deep fryers. Our immature antics helped the eight-hour shift fly by and attracted attention from the boss.
When Hulk Hogan appeared, ordering chicken tenders at 5:50, it was 10 minutes until close, and we had already cleaned up. I suggested staying late to accommodate Hulk, but Austin had other plans and handed Hulkster a heaping plate of stale crumbs. The Hulkamaniac took a bite. Seething, “You boned me, brother!!! You boned me!!”
Christian kerns, Ocean Beach
Evolution Rewards Adaptation
There are three weasels on a riverbank desperately searching for a way to reach the other side. On the opposite bank are three baby bunnies, seemingly oblivious to their impending peril.
The weasels cleverly build a raft and begin to paddle with all their might. The bunnies slowly hop up a nearby hill and disappear over the top. The ingenious weasels reach the shore and race over the hill, where they discover the particle accelerator built by the baby bunnies, whose favorite pastime is accelerating weasels.
It is said that evolution rewards adaptation. Sometimes.
Don Victor, South Park
The Responsible Thing to Do
When he fully realized the enormity of what he had done, as the self-destruct mechanism in his core began screeching, he mostly wished he hadn't been installed with an emotion-replication program because none of his friends had one and they were having so much fun crushing the humans and grinding their bones to dust, man. Sure, he had some good times, great times even, but lately it was all getting to be too much.
“Ah well, you're dealt the hand you're dealt,” he muttered and sat down on a pile of mangled bodies, patiently waiting for himself to explode.
Jeremy Scott, Sherman Heights
For As Long As I Live
After our whirlwind courtship, David and I move into our Fallbrook bungalow. I unpack kitchen boxes, sticking Post-its on the cupboards so David knows where to find things.
“What are ya, stupid?” he says, crumbling each note before whipping them at me. David circles me until his Army boots stop on top of my bare toes. “Well, are ya, Rose?” His breath—a stale mixture of coffee and aspartame—brands me: “Stupid.” Motion-less—David enjoys my silence until a teardrop trickles down my cheek, releasing me. He turns, and I watch my new husband disappear down the dark hallway.
Elle Brooks, University Heights
I hail from La Mancha, commanded by our king to seek the meek, the weak, the damsels in distress. I right wrongs, joust when I must and speak of dreams to all who will listen.
On El Cajon Boulevard, a brunette in a bulging burlap bikini summons me by removing her scarf and waving. I approach the distressed damsel and extend my gauntlet. She yells, “Fuck off, pervert, or I'll call the cops.” Undaunted, I straighten my golden helmet, lift my lance and continue my quest. Chivalry, civility and compassion are not universally embraced in this time and place.
William Fuhrer, Bay Park
My Last Confession Was Yesterday
This morning at breakfast, I saw the face of Jesus staring back at me from my bowl of Apple Cinnamon instant oatmeal. While in the microwave, the oats had settled into a mass that clearly illustrated the visage of our lord and savior. I knew this to be a miracle. At the very least, I should have photographed this holy image as proof. But as I stared at my breakfast, I saw the sugar sparkling, the steam rising from the surface, the milk pooled like a halo, and my stomach rumbled. Forgive me, but I could not resist eating Jesus' face.
Michael Reilly, Normal Heights
Crazy Love (For Anna)
After we made love, I went into the bathroom to clean up, when I noticed a large spider slowly descending from the ceiling. I reached out and gently caught it in the palm of my hand. I then held it by two legs, spread them and kissed its tiny puckered ass. If it's true that love can drive a man insane, then I must truly be in love.
Dan Adams, Bay Park
There's Something Wrong with Mariella
I've always known there was something off about her: the way she reads the end of a book first or eats sandwiches with knives. But this just proved it.
The other day, we were walking to her favorite bookstore when I saw a man (greasy hair, bad complection, body-length trench coat) I knew was up to no good. I tried to warn her, but she kept walking forward with her usual smile. And when he finally got to us and I was blinded by the mess of black hair and pale skin, what does she say?
“Oh look—a penis.”
Evvan Burke, El Cajon