Bruise

“Oh Valerie!” Eddy’s sing-song voice called out.

“What, you still can’t manage to give yourself a black eye?” I grumbled.

Eddy leaned back with a smug grin. “Clumsy fingers. Besides, Valerie loves working with me. Don’t you, Val?”

And then she was in the dressing room with us. “I really don’t mind,” she said, moving briskly to arrange makeup supplies. I busied myself with tying my cravat so I wouldn’t end up staring at her.

“See?” Eddy teased. Even without looking, I knew he was grinning at me.
I had tied the cravat wrong. Frustrated, I undid the knot and started over. “You’re exploiting the poor girl,” I said.

“Nonsense,” Eddy declared, “I’m giving her life purpose, isn’t that right, Val?”

In spite of myself, I was staring and saw her shoulders shrug as she worked. “I really don’t mind,” she insisted.

Eddy suddenly grabbed her hand, lowered the makeup brush, and leaned forward to whisper. “Perhaps you could powder his nose so that he doesn’t feel left out.”

Her lips pressed together, mouth crinkled, but the laugh escaped anyway.

My face went hot. I rushed out of the dressing room, suddenly desperate for the refuge of being someone else.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Spill

Ted did the math in his head while his truck compacted a block’s worth of garbage. If he finished the route by five, he would have time for a shower and maybe even a bite to eat before visiting. He made a mental map of drive-thru’s on the way to the hospital.

Thump.

The truck’s robotic arm had knocked over a bin, spilling garbage across the sidewalk. Biting down curses, Ted jumped out of the cab and righted the bin, refilling it with the bags and loose trash so that he could dump it correctly. Sloppy. But he’d be fine as long as he stayed focused the rest of the route.

Three stops later he knocked over another bin.

So maybe he would settle for a granola bar from his locker. He could skip the shower, but mom always wrinkled her nose when he smelled like work. He couldn’t risk ruining the visit, just in case the doctors were wrong.

Thump.

Ted stared in disbelief at a mess of garbage he had just spilled into the street. His hand fell from the controls. Loose papers and Styrofoam cups danced in the wind. Ted did math. It was all slipping away.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Wait

“Another cocktail?”

The woman hesitated, checked her phone, examined the lipstick stain on her glass. “Whiskey. Neat. Something with bite.”

The bartender nodded. Her movements were effortless fluid as she replaced the empty cocktail glass with a fresh tumbler and filled it with a rich golden liquor.

“Thanks,” the woman replied. She took a long, slow sip of the whiskey, then sighed. “I’m wasting my time, aren’t I?”

The bartender shrugged. “It’s not that late. You’ve got a great smile, killer curves, and that dress! Honestly, I’ve been thinking about trying to get your number, except it seems like you’re waiting for someone.”

A sad smile “You’re sweet.”

“Nah, I’m just a sucker for red lipstick. What’s the story?”

Another long drink. “I’m here for a conference. He told me he’d meet me at my hotel while I’m in town, so I gave him the address and everything, but . . .” she trailed off into a sigh, then drained the remainder of her whiskey in one long gulp. Moments later her glass was full again.

“On the house,” the bartender smiled. “This guy, is he worth waiting for?”

Her lips twitched. “I thought so.”

“And . . . would he wait this long for you?”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Fragment

I unlocked the door with my spare key. “Nora?”

“Fuck off.”

Undeterred, I continued into the apartment. The air was dry and smelled like sour dirt. Something cracked beneath my foot: a fragment of painted clay. They were everywhere, scattered among boxes, papers, scraps of plastic, piles of clothes and other debris. I didn’t stop to examine any of it on my way to the spare bedroom. “Nora?”

A growl.

A crash.

A stifled sob.

I found my sister at her worktable, surrounded by a stack of unpainted pottery and a sea of colored shards. “Fucked up glazes,” she said.

“Nora.”

“Ruined my brushes, but the new ones are shit too.” I trudged through the ruins of her grief to stand beside her. She reached for another pot and said, “Gotta keep working.” Then, moving with a manic fervor, she scooped up brushes, moved between different jars of glaze, dabbed, brushed, and swirled the colors, creating a masterpiece right before me.

A pause.

“FUCK!” She hurled the vessel at the wall, shattering the unfinished piece.

I put my arm around my sister, and she sagged into my supporting embrace. “It’s all fucked,” she lamented.

“I know, Nora. I’m so sorry.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Schmincipal

“Do you think this graham cracker is okay to eat?” I asked.

Your eyes darted away from the snowy road only briefly. You frowned. “Where did you find that?”

“The glove compartment.”

A sigh, “Would you stop pulling apart every corner of this truck? I don’t want it to fall apart before it hits 100,000 miles.”

You were trying to joke, but I could see the frustration underneath. “I just thought everyone keeps snacks in their glove compartment. I didn’t think you’d mind if I checked.”

But my gambit to lighten the mood didn’t stick, and you answered, “I think a man’s entitled to a little privacy in his own truck.”

And then I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “What—are you hiding something?” I asked. “You didn’t even know about the cracker.”

“It’s the principal of the thing.”

“Principal, schmincipal,” I snorted. “You’re going to have to get used to me poking around in your life.”

The truck stopped. You shifted into park and said, “You mean, once we’re married?”

“No, I mean right now,” I said pointing out the window at a row of pine trees. “There’s no way I’m letting you pick out your own Christmas tree.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Gray

I was trying to be happy. Your smile was radiant, and you wore the necklace I gave you for your birthday. Rumbling down the dirt road in your jeep made me feel like a kid again, but then I felt embarrassed for being so old to begin with.

Could you tell what I was feeling? I think you could.

We had the beach practically to ourselves. A biting, misty wind whipped in over the waves. We huddled close together on the pale sand. You slipped your hands beneath my jacket, clung tightly to my sweater. “You’re so warm,” you sighed.

Were you just trying to make me feel better? I’m not sure.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “This was a bad idea.” I felt your body go rigid, felt you begin to pull away, felt everything start to fall apart. No point in putting it off. I lowered my gaze to meet yours.

Your eyes were hard, and I felt myself break against your glare. I didn’t want to lose you. A smile curled your lips. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” you said. “I’m right where I want to be.”

But did you mean it? I believe you did.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Wish

The streak of light had passed in an instant, but Jude kept staring into the sky as though expecting it to reappear. “I’ve never seen a real shooting star before,” he said.

“So what’d you wish for?” Collin asked.

“Isn’t it bad luck to tell?”

“Whatever,” Collin shrugged. “I’ll tell you mine.”

Jude rolled his eyes. “Let me guess, a new Jeep?”

“How did you—”

“Because you mention that you want one basically every day.”

“I guess,” Collin grunted.

“Also,” Jude said, giving his friend a conciliatory pat on the back, “you have no imagination.”

“Excuse me?”

“This is a wish we’re talking about. It should be something big. Something you can’t achieve on your own.”

“Well a new Jeep’s pretty big,” Collin retorted.

Jude shook his head. “Something life changing.”

Collin’s face went serious. “A new leg?” he asked.

Jude blinked in surprise, looked down at the prosthesis supporting his weight. He opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head. “No,” he said softly, looking up with a pained smile. “I wouldn’t wish for something I can live without.”

Jude’s eyes shone in the starlight. Collin stared into them, feeling his face grow warm as he finally understood.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Bradley Allweil on Unsplash

Escape

They were already running, but Kurt broke into a sprint when he heard the sound of that whistle in the distance. Eva staggered as he pulled her along in a white-knuckled grip. They broke out of the narrow alley just down the road from the station and saw the train at the platform.

There was no way could hide until the next train. They had to run.

Steam hissed from the engine of the steel beast as it lurched forward. No time for tickets, lines, or turnstiles; they ran for the fence. Kurt gave Eva a boost to inelegantly clamber over the chain links. An officer had spotted them, but was too slow in reacting to catch Kurt before he too tumbled over the fence. Ignoring the officer’s shouts, they sprinted for the accelerating train. Kurt caught onto a handrail, half-pulled, half threw Eva onto the steps.

Then he leaped…

Slipped…

Fell…

The train pulled away.

Kurt heard gravel crunching beneath approaching footsteps. A pair of polished shoes and a cold voice. “Beneath the mask of bravery, foolishness,” the man sighed. “We will simply pick her up at the next station.”

“No,” Kurt said. “No more. I’ll tell you everything.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Candy

The dolorous ringing of the doorbell woke Stacey from a heavy sleep. He rolled over and tumbled to the floor, only then remembering that he had fallen asleep on the couch watching The Mummy, like he did every Halloween.

“Trick-or-treat!” a thin voice sounded through the doors.

He must have left the porch light on even after kids had stopped coming by. But what time was it? Bleary eyed, he looked for a clock, but couldn’t see the hands on the clock above the sink. He couldn’t find his glasses. Then he remembered to check his phone, which read 00:00. Midnight? It seemed too late.

“Trick-or-treat!” the voice called again.

He staggered toward the door where the mostly empty bowl of candy sat on a stool. For some reason, he felt like he ought to be in costume. With no better options, he grabbed the blanket he had been sleeping under and threw it over his head before answering the door.

Standing on the other side was a small figure, similarly shrouded. “Trick-or-treat!” they said once more holding out a small pumpkin-shaped bucket. Stacey dumped a full sized Snickers into the bucket. “Sweet,” they said. And then the figure disappeared.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Underneath

“What are you doing?” I cried. I had seen my ex-, Trevor, ahead of me on the sidewalk carrying a baseball bat and, curious, had followed him down the alley.

Trevor barely glanced at me before answering, “Hitting this wall.”

I tried to say something else, but was cut off by the loud clang of aluminum striking against cinder block.

“Right” I replied, still jarred by the sound. “But why?”

Another swing of the bat. “I’m trying to see what’s underneath.”

“Under— it’s a wall. Underneath is the inside of the building. Maybe some plumbing or some insulation.”

He shook his head matter-of-factly. “It’s not a real building.”

“Trevor, I’m getting a bit worried. Maybe I should call someone for you.”

“It’s okay,” he replied. “I’m almost through.” Then he adjusted his grip on the bat and took another swing. The bat rang sharply, but there was another sound underneath: a crumbling sigh. At the point of impact, bits of the wall flaked away like eggshell revealing a core of shimmering light.

“What . . .” I began. But as we stood there in the alley, a spiderweb of cracks spread out from the point of impact. Light began spilling into the alley.