Editors' Notes

Maria Damon and Michelle Greenblatt
Jim Leftwich and Michelle Greenblatt
Sheila E. Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt

A Visual Conversation on Michelle Greenblatt's ASHES AND SEEDS with Stephen Harrison, Monika Mori | MOO, Jonathan Penton and Michelle Greenblatt

Letters for Michelle: with work by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Jeffrey Side, Larry Goodell, mark hartenbach, Charles J. Butler, Alexandria Bryan and Brian Kovich

Visual Poetry by Reed Altemus
Poetry by Glen Armstrong
Poetry by Lana Bella
A Eulogic Poem by John M. Bennett
Elegic Poetry by John M. Bennett
Poetry by Wendy Taylor Carlisle
A Eulogy by Vincent A. Cellucci
Poetry by Vincent A. Cellucci
Poetry by Joel Chace
A Spoken Word Poem and Visual Art by K.R. Copeland
A Eulogy by Alan Fyfe
Poetry by Win Harms
Poetry by Carolyn Hembree
Poetry by Cindy Hochman
A Eulogy by Steffen Horstmann
A Eulogic Poem by Dylan Krieger
An Elegic Poem by Dylan Krieger
Visual Art by Donna Kuhn
Poetry by Louise Landes Levi
Poetry by Jim Lineberger
Poetry by Dennis Mahagin
Poetry by Peter Marra
A Eulogy by Frankie Metro
A Song by Alexis Moon and Jonathan Penton
Poetry by Jay Passer
A Eulogy by Jonathan Penton
Visual Poetry by Anne Elezabeth Pluto and Bryson Dean-Gauthier
Visual Art by Marthe Reed
A Eulogy by Gabriel Ricard
Poetry by Alison Ross
A Short Movie by Bernd Sauermann
Poetry by Christopher Shipman
A Spoken Word Poem by Larissa Shmailo
A Eulogic Poem by Jay Sizemore
Elegic Poetry by Jay Sizemore
Poetry by Felino A. Soriano
Visual Art by Jamie Stoneman
Poetry by Ray Succre
Poetry by Yuriy Tarnawsky
A Song by Marc Vincenz

Join our Facebook group!

Join our mailing list!

by James Alexander

Neelam pressed a pen between her lips, poised over a list written in a bubbly cursive, in purple ink, of her monthly expenses from most to least important:

She plugged in the numbers and double checked but there was no way around it; the rent would have to be put off until Roland came up with his share. Actually, he didn't know yet that he owed her since technically he still lived with his parents. But since he always spent two or three nights a week at her place, the past week being an exception, she figured he owed her, like a regular transaction. And besides, after they got married they would of course split everything, and, even without a promise ring, their engagement being public knowledge more or less made them as good as married, so they might as well start acting like it. She called to let him know. This time, instead of going straight to voice mail, an auto-message crackled that the number was out of service. He hadn't paid the bill again.

"O, Roland," she said.

She decided to go shopping.

Titusville covered a wide swath of upstate New York, nevertheless it hardly showed on maps. Its largest demographic was the basswood tree. Detached houses that were being tucked into shady corners at a steady pace were decades away from critical mass for overtaking the leafy green. A motorist passing through, drowsy from the monochrome sameness of hill and valley, might think they were dreaming a bald patch flashing by, with luxury townhouses and sidewalks and everything, withering in the full glare of the sun, a forced habitat as out of place as an African zoo exhibit. Titusville boasted four such bald patches; two for luxury townhouses; one for a seventies era apartment block; and one for the Monster Mart.

Neelam drove from the apartment block, where she had a studio situated among storage units in the basement, to the Monster Mart. She was in the first year of a ten year payment plan for a late model two-door with leather interior, an electric moon roof and the premium audio package. Chirping its alarm still made her proud. At the entrance doors opening and shutting like choppers she passed a stub of a man, too wide for his height, who seemed to be waiting for someone, though to just stand there doing nothing struck Neelam as weird. Of course his eyes found her. She was dressed for the two to ten shift at the adult toy store, an unpainted clapboard ruin on Route 373 that, not having to go head to head with the Monster Mart, managed to just stay afloat (though not for long, her boss said, what with online competition). Her hip hugger shorts and dangling half shirt came from the junior miss racks, and her sunglasses, which she kept on in the store's colorless wash, eclipsed her face with lenses the size of beer coasters.

She made straight for the jewelry counter to have a look at the promise ring Roland was going to get her. It, or one just like it, was still there. She checked out a revolving display of earrings, perhaps fifty sets mounted on cardboard squares dangling from pegs, and pulled off a pair of hoops. In a deserted side aisle she slipped the cardboard square with the hoops into her purse. At the register an old man cashier glanced three times at her exposed belly and at her high breasts, and she smiled for him. No one saw her take the earrings; she hardly gave them a thought. As far as anyone could tell, she was an ordinary customer paying for a square of soft cloth about the size of a flag, and a four ounce jar of petroleum jelly, and walking out through the chopping doors with her purchases. The store's profit on what she bought would easily cover the cost of the earrings, since everyone knows that stores charge ten times what their products cost them. In a sense, the earrings were a reward for always spending money there.

"Miss?" she heard, the instant she stepped into daylight.

It was the stub of a man, holding open a wallet with a paper card that said SECURITY. His pink scalp reflected points of sunlight through a bristle brush of prematurely thinning hair.

"Come with me," he said.

"What for?"

"Those earrings in your purse."

"What earrings?"

"Miss, don't make me pat you down in front of everyone."

He guided her by the elbow back inside to a steel door without any sign on it. All the times she had been in the store, she had never noticed it there right up front. The door opened into a small windowless room packed with video recording equipment and monitors displaying all angles of the store inside and out. He ushered her through another door which opened into an even smaller windowless room containing only a steel table and two steel chairs. The room wasn't big enough to put the chairs on opposite sides of the table.

"Sit down," he said.

He opened her purse like it belonged to him and pulled out the earrings.

"Wait here," he said, leaving with her purse and the earrings, as well as her shopping bag, and closing the door behind him.

Without her phone she had no idea how long he made her sit there with nothing to do. She already knew she'd been caught stealing; it was exasperating to have to pointlessly think about it. How would she explain being late for work? Car trouble, probably.

The stub of a man came back, pressing his lips together, bringing all her things back with him, including her earrings, and sat in the other chair facing her on the same side of the table.

"My name is Berkley," he said.

"Pleased to meet you," she said.

"No, you're not."

"I think there's a misunderstanding."

"Let me guess," he said. "You intended to pay for the earrings but forgot they were in your purse."

That's exactly what she was going to say. She could see that Berkley used to work out, but it had been a while. His tight classic tee, pinched at the armpits, was otherwise as smooth as an overstuffed pillowcase on the rest of his puffy body.

"I'll tell you how this is going to go," he said. "The cops will come and take you out in handcuffs, through the front door for everyone to see. You will be arraigned by a judge. You will have to post bail. You will plead guilty as part of a deal with the district attorney. You will have to pay a fine, do community service, and go on probation, at a minimum, and if you've already got a record you could do jail time. All for a pair of cheap earrings."

"I won't do it again," she said.

"Well, if you do, you won't do it here since you'll be trespassed."


"It means you won't be allowed in here again. In fact, it means you won't be allowed in any Monster Mart, ever."

She gasped.

"You can't do that," she said. "It's a free country."

"I can, and this is private property."

"But where am I going to shop!"

"That's not my problem."

She slapped the table. She resettled the sunglasses on her nose. The nearest store that was anything like as cheap as the Monster Mart was thirty miles away, and the gas alone. . .

"I'm calling the cops now," he said.

"Don't! I'll pay you."

"What, like a bribe?"

"A fee for service."

"You have four dollars in your wallet."

"Please. I'll pay you later."

Berkley rested an ankle on a knee and put his fingers to his chin.

"I suppose I could do you a favor, but you'd have to do a favor for me. I mean before we left this room."

So that was it. Why didn't he just say so? Men were dense.

"Stand up," she said.

He stood.

"Come closer," she said.

A bump in his pants was probably why he had crossed his leg. He brought the bump up to her face.

"Keep your sunglasses on," he said.

She hadn't planned on taking them off. She undid his pants and pulled them down, along with his overly tight underwear, just enough to let his erect penis flap free. It smelled of urine.

"Keep it in till I'm done," he said.

"Nh-nh," she said.

"If you don't. . ."

She stopped to say okay and went back at it. When he was done, she waited for him to gingerly pull his pants back up and catch his breath. He sat back down, huffing.

"Well?" she said.

"Give me a sec," he said.

He leaned back, huffing less, as she thrummed her manicured nails on the steel table.

"For that," he said, "you can keep the earrings. Come back whenever you want. I work every day except Tuesdays and Thursdays."

"Thank you," she said, getting up and dropping the earrings into the shopping bag with the soft cloth about the size of a flag and the four ounce jar of petroleum jelly.

She let herself out, her nerves primed for release after being shut up in that airless chamber, like she was getting out after days in a dark hole. She could see all the way to the back of the store over columns of stock rising like stalagmites, and expectant customers lined up at cheerily beeping registers, to her ears like a children's ditty. For such a small favor she would still be allowed to shop there. What a relief. If they had banned her, she didn't know what she would have done, what with a baby on the way.

James lives in New York state. He is a past contributor to Unlikely Stories, and his fiction can also be found at such online publications as Gadfly, BULL, and Sleet.

Pin It       del.icio.us