Friday, May 12, 2017


First appeared at CommuterLit.

The shadow of your smile when you are gone. Janelle continued singing the song. Her audience--a few sitting at tables, heads down, perhaps asleep; others walking the halls talking to themselves--appeared bored. One gentleman dressed in pajama bottoms and a Yankees t-shirt read from the bible and yelled "Amen" in random outbursts. Janelle ignored them all and strummed her fingers up and down, her left hand playing the chords on a make-believe guitar.

For years, she sang the song a second time to the rhythm of a tango, making the context more hopeful, as if the absence was temporary. She didn't today. It wasn't appropriate. She paused and tried to remember why.

A chair alarm chimed when a member of her audience stood, bringing Janelle back to the present. She sang louder, felt her stomach tense up. She wanted to scream for everybody to hush and let her finish. Imbeciles.

After the song ended, she looked around. This wasn't the type of place where she usually performed, she mused, not with the beige walls and bright lights on all the time. She was used to darker rooms with couples in various stages of intimacy snuggled in booths kissing and fondling each other, or sitting at cozy tables holding hands, or perched on barstools simply getting to know one another.

She'd lost track of how many sets she'd performed and how many times she'd played this song. By the reaction of her audience, most likely too many.

Janelle watched a tall black woman with short, blonde hair split on one side by a purple streak and dressed in a navy blue pantsuit come toward her, maybe to tell her she was singing too loud. Janelle lowered her head, willing the woman to walk past.

"Hi, Miss Janelle. That sure is a pretty song you're singing for us. Just like always."

"Thank you," Janelle said. She stared at the white rectangle pinned to the woman's blouse. The top line read "Allen Mental Health Spa." The woman's last name was Wilson. Janelle couldn't pronounce the first name. Underneath that was CNA. She gazed into the woman's eyes. "Do you think the others liked it?"

"I'm sure they did." The woman helped Janelle stand. "It's time to go to your room and check to see if you need a bathroom break. Shall we put your guitar on the piano?"

Janelle pulled her hands away."No. Someone will steal it. I can't leave it here by itself."

"Okay, Hon. How about if I carry it for you?"

After a pause, Janelle said, "I guess that is okay."

"Can you walk for me today, Sweetie?"

"Sure," Janelle said and shuffled down the hall. She stopped and turned her head. "Do you think Carol will come see me today?"

"Oh, Honey. You still don't remember the plane crash."

"Plane crash?" Concern etched itself on Janelle's face. "Is everyone okay?"

"I'm afraid not," the woman replied. "But like the doctor said, it wasn't your fault."

"Not my fault."

"That's right. You got snowed in on your vacation."

"I remember. Too much snow." Janelle stared out the window as a robin landed on a grassy part of the enclosed courtyard. "I hope they found another flight attendant to help Carol out."

"Yes, they did," the aide said.

"Good. It's too much work for one person." Janelle watched the robin strut around and peck at the grass. He snatched a worm and held it in his beak. "She's my best friend, you know. We've been roommates forever." Janelle resumed walking and didn't say any more. She closed her eyes, looked for a face, Carol's face. The screams made it hard for her to concentrate. Just as Janelle was about to join in, the voices stopped. An eerie silence followed and then that song again. The shadow of your smile when you are gone.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

If At First. . .

First published at Aphelion.

Evelyn saw him enter the restaurant from the table where she sat and somehow knew it was her next first date. There had been six since she started dating again after a five year hiatus following college to concentrate on her career as a market analyst. None had led to a second. She hoped number seven might be different but hadn't been able to dispel her fear he wouldn't.

He wore tan Dockers, a pastel green shirt, brown loafers, and brown socks with yellow stripes. She wondered if this was the way he normally dressed, or if he was showing off for her. She imagined him in a gym wearing shorts and a muscle shirt and felt a twinge deep within her. She inhaled a deep breath and blew it out. Her initial trepidation lingered.

He smiled and spoke to the hostess. The young woman in a short dress and cowboy boots pointed in Evelyn's direction and led him to the table for two.

Evelyn smoothed her skirt, mostly to wipe her sweaty palms. After first date number three led nowhere, she took another break from dating to lose thirty pounds and have plastic surgery to tighten loose skin on her face, throat, and belly. She also started a three-times-a-week workout regimen.

She stared at her iPhone, acting like she hadn't seen him yet. When he arrived at the table, she smiled and leaned forward to shake his hand--and provide him a better view of her breasts.

He introduced himself as Franklin. She looked him over and decided the name was an alias, just like in those crime novels she liked. Not that that bothered her, since her name wasn't Evelyn. The local paper classifieds weren't picky about names.

Besides having been overweight and plain-looking, Evelyn wasn't much of a conversationalist. She spent time at home practicing with her cat, but it wasn't the same. She stumbled along, letting Franklin do most of the talking, until she'd finished her second glass of Riesling. Then she relaxed and let herself go a little. She felt the rest of the date went well and hoped Franklin did, too. He appeared to be enjoying himself.

She declined dessert, but said he should feel free to have something. "I'll pass, too. Gotta watch the old waistline," he said and asked the waitress for the check.

Outside, Evelyn felt uncomfortable, not sure what to do next. She clutched the strap of her purse, cleared her throat, and asked if he would like to have dinner again. He lowered his eyes for a few seconds, as if in prayer, and said he didn't think so. "You're nice, and all, but not what I'm looking for."

Evelyn felt her heart sink and her stomach knot, just like every other date. He asked if he could walk her to her car. She thanked him for offering, and the two headed toward the garage on the corner of 8th and Grand.

As they approached her car, Evelyn listened for the sounds of other people. Not hearing anything, she bent over, lifted the hand holding her purse to her stomach, and groaned. Franklin didn't see her reach into her purse, nor did he see the utility knife in her hand when she rose. He barely felt the blade slash his carotid after she spun him so his blood wouldn't spatter her dress. He didn't feel his blood flow onto the concrete floor, nor smell the odor when his bowels emptied.

Evelyn watched first date number seven die, rage covering her face. She knelt next to his body, hiked up her dress, and rubbed the three scars on her right inner thigh she thought of as notches. "All you had to do was say yes to a second date, you slimeball."

She wiped the knife on a cloth napkin she'd put in her purse at the restaurant and tossed the bloody material under the car to her right. She placed the point of the blade on her thigh next to the scar closest to her knee and sliced a fourth, shallow two-inch gash. Blood pooled on her skin and dripped to the floor mixing with date number seven's. She pulled an ace bandage from her purse and wrapped it around her leg.

Evelyn crossed herself before standing, then headed toward the entrance at the opposite end of the building. She wasn't concerned about video surveillance. According to a recent article in the online version of the local newspaper, this place was the oldest parking facility in the city and had yet to be retrofitted with cameras. She dropped the knife in a trash barrel and headed north to the lot where her rental car was parked. She didn't care about leaving prints or DNA. She wasn't in any police database. She only cared about finding first date number eight--and catching her 9:30 flight.