IN A GESTURE LEARNED FROM CLASSIC MOVIES featuring smoky bars I asked the bartender to buy the woman at the end of the counter, the one with the wilted red rose in her wavy brown hair, with the goddess-like profile, the slack world-wearied posture, the papery complexion, her next drink; I had watched her very red lips for some time, wished I had a cigarette, wished the mirror behind the bar wasn’t stickered obnoxiously with seventeen – yes, I counted, seventeen – no smoking signs, wished the lovely lady with the red red lips and the red red rose would turn to me, smile, or move. The bartender raised his gray bushy eyebrows at me. Said, you sure, sir, you sure you want to buy that lady a drink? I stared back, said yes, you deaf or what? He shook his head. Said, ok, just makin’ sure. There being no other ladies in that direction, in the direction of the counter’s dead end where my lady slumped so statuesquely, I shook my head. Said moron under my breath as the bartender said chump under his. Then he took a few sidesteps, leaned over to my red lady. Buzzed his fat lips near her ear before he shuffled off, to the back, to tend to someone hollering in the back alley, something about a delivery. The jukebox was busted. The resulting silence was smoke-thick. The red lady turned to me with half a creaky stool-swivel. Full front now. And I saw what was on the other side of her face: an eye shriveled shut, gray shrunken skin, burned bleached corroded skin, skin wilted like a rotten piece of fruit, awful epidermal pocket, eyeless socket, an eye collapsed onto itself. But the strangest thing is, that wasn’t what struck me first, that grotesque missing piece of her face: it was the haunted, pained, kill-me expression in her good eye. And her red red red lips.
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AS THE ON-RAMP MET THE SOUTHBOUND HIGHWAY, as a swarm of cars buzzed by, as he merged with the right lane, he said, “There is a Heaven.” The gas pedal succumbed to the increased pressure from his foot. The engine’s four cylinders struggled to carry out his command. “There is a Heaven.” He fixated on the speedometer’s slow advance. He was outpacing the car in the middle lane. But closing upon the semi ahead of him.
He cut to the middle lane.
Who to pass next?
The other drivers had him boxed in.
He smacked the wheel. He reached for the energy drink he had in the passenger seat.
From behind: HOOOOOOOOONK.
The gasp of air when he opened the window elongated to a roar as he stuck his left fist outside the car. The wind breaking against his hand, his hand resisting the wind. His middle finger lifted.
The SUV before him misinterpreted who the gesture was for and accelerated ahead of the semi and got over. This revealed a congested left lane, a monotonous right lane, and a glorious empty stretch in the middle lane.
He returned his hand to the wheel, stomped the gas pedal. The cars surrounding him seemed to give up. They fell behind.
Poem of the Week
who have experienced
on a large
i tell raif
i think my
might be dead
haven't seen her
& her car hasn't moved
for two weeks.
you would smell it
passing me a plate
of triangular shaped bread
slathered in jam.
Story of the Week
DARLEEN SQUEELED into the empty spot as soon as the gleaming white Mercedes pulled out. "We got lucky," she told Montana. "Even on a Monday night, this lot is killer."
Montana rolled her big blue eyes. "Whatever."
The eleven year old had better things to do, like text her friends. Incessantly, as if she had a tic. The kid hadn't wanted to shop tonight, but Darleen insisted. This was their first Christmas without Paulie and the girls needed to stick together. Darleen's ex had been nasty lately and mediation had hit a cement wall. Montana wasn't aware how dangerously close they were to losing access to Paulie's vast and unreported wealth.
Montana sighed dramatically as she yanked open the door of the Porsche Cayenne and tumbled out. She didn't pause in her texting.
Darlene checked her face in the rearview mirror. The most recent fat transfer had been wildly successful. She loved her new lips. Grabbing her Gucci bag, she hopped out of the front seat.
Her daughter trailed her into the mall, thumbs flashing on her phone keypad.