Stage

75

She had to take slow, careful steps to reach the center of the stage, but her pain disappeared as the applause reached a crescendo. This was why she kept performing; not for the applause, but for the audience. For a chance to create something meaningful.

50

A trophy, gleaming gold. Lights shining in her eyes. Faces turned toward her expectantly. “Thank you,” she began. They would think she meant for the award. How could she let them know it was for so much more.

35

The audience had been thin and the performance had been exhausting. Bad reviews had scared people off, and they had never managed to turn it around. Each night she asked herself if it was worth going on, not just with this show, but with the whole damn career.

When she left the dressing room that night, a wide-eyed girl lingered in the theatre lobby. “It’s you,” she said. There were tears in her eyes. “Thank you”

25

She stood in Times Square, dizzy and delirious, staring up at a her name on a marquis.

20

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

“It won’t be easy.”
“I know. But maybe it will mean something.”

Taxidermy

Sharp teeth of a snarling cougar, a tray full of glass eyes, animal skins hanging from hooks. Phillip looked nervously over his shoulder to see Liza offering an encouraging smile. Then the door shut, and Phillip alone with Isaac, his girlfriend’s father.

“I could spend hours working out here,” the older man was explaining. “I find it very thought provoking, especially about politics.”

Liza had tried to warn him, but nothing could have prepared Phillip for this. “About . . . what sir?”

Isaac smiled just a little too eagerly at this invitation. “Well just look at our governmental system. Maybe it was alive and thriving once, but now it’s just a carcass. A relic from antiquity, stuffed with clay and mothballs. And no matter how well we prop it up and preserve it, no one’s going to be fooled for long.”

“I guess . . . it’s hard to nice to have something recognizable to hold onto,” Phillip offered. In the corner, a taxidermy mouse was preserved forever beneath the paw of a hungry looking coyote. Phillip envied the mouse.

“But don’t you see? That’s the problem! I once put wings on a groundhog. I could put a lizard skin on a chicken frame and make a dinosaur. It takes vision. A willingness to experiment. And a very sharp knife. Few people have all three.”

That’s when Phillip finally noticed the tools in the room. He had been so distracted by the animals, he hadn’t noticed the needles, shears, knives and other sharp implements spread out on the workstation. “Are we still talking about politics?”

“Your eye’s twitching, Philllip.”

“I’m very uncomfortable, sir.”

Isaac nodded. “Arrangement of skin,” he declared. “That’s the literal meaning of taxidermy. Putting it like that, we’re all taxidermy. Keep that in mind, and you might be worthy to date Liza.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Listen

“Wait,” she said, panting, “stop for a second.”

“Huh, wha—” he said, growing still above her. “What’s wrong?”

“Is that . . .”

“I know,” he said bashfully. “I was trying something I read—”

“Not you,” she said. “Quiet.” Then after a moment’s consideration, she whispered, “but you should definitely keep going with that in a minute.”

“Okay, great!” he whispered back. “But then why—”

“Goat.”

“What?”
She paused a moment longer, then nodded confidently. “It’s definitely a goat.”

He looked beneath the sheets, “It’s a . . . I don’t . . .”

“Just listen.”

And how could he refuse that playful smile or the twinkle in her eyes, especially when she was naked beneath him. So he listened. He waited. He heard the pounding of his veins and the quiet music he had put on earlier, but nothing else. “What am I—” And then he heard it, an unmistakable bleating.

“Goat,” she repeated. “We gotta check it out.”

“But . . . now?”

They disentangled, gathered the blankets around them, and peaked through the blinds above the headboard. Sure enough, standing in the apartment parking lot was a brown LaMancha goat staring directly at their window.

“I don’t like that,” he whispered.

“Do you still want to . . .”

The goat bleated.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Effervescence

Effervescence came rushing past her, airy and prismatic.

It burst.

Martina stopped short on the park sidewalk, uncertain whether she had even seen the bubble. She was just about to give up and continue on her way when another of the delicate spheres drifted past.

Silly little things, Martina thought to herself. She looked in the direction from which it had come, over a low, grassy hill. As she did, she saw several more bubbles drift over the top of the hill, though they popped before reaching. Silly old woman. She left the path and began climbing the small slope.

Over and down into a small cluster of trees. Bubbles were thick there, radiant with captured sunset and reflected green. She descended,. The bubbles rushed to meet her, then burst like kisses on her hand, like tears on her cheek, like whispered wishes.

“Hello Mom.”

She had stumbled out of the cloud of bubbles beside a young woman who had her same eyes.

Martina smiled. “I thought I’d find you if I just followed the—”

The bubble burst.

“Oh, but you’re . . . does that mean I’m . . . ?”

A somber nod. “I’m sorry.”

“No, darling,” Martina answered, eyes glistening with captured sunset, “I’m ready.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Music

They moved with bright steps through the night, bouncing to the rhythm of songs that still flared in their ears.

“I told you!” Lena cheered

“I had no idea,” Gwen laughed. 

“I told you!”

In the parking lot around them, there were people singing and people fighting, people pulling and people kissing. The music had gone quiet, the light show had ended, but the air was still electric. They barely noticed, too caught up in their own euphoria. 

“That was amazing,” Gwen said,  curls bouncing as she shook her head. 

Lena’s face was suddenly illuminated by the glare of her phone. A few swipes and taps and music started to play, the same song they had just heard live. “She really is brilliant. And people don’t talk enough about her lyrics.”

They walked close together, bodies colliding between energetic strides. “I’m sorry no one else could come,” Gwen remarked.

“They’re missing out,” Lena agreed.  

“I’m kind of glad though. Tonight has been so…”

“I know, right? Just incredible. I love her.”

And Gwen said it. “I love you.”

“Oh,” Lena stammered. Clarity cut through their electric daze. “Oh,” she said again,  more softly. The music swelled. Lena began to smile. 


Story by Gregory M. Fox

Reserved

Jane rushed down the apartment steps, tense and flustered. “I don’t want to hear it,” she announced without even looking toward the man from apartment G.

Heavily lidded eyes glanced at her sidelong. An eyebrow rose with exaggerated slowness. “So you do know that it’s my month,” he said dryly.

Lights flashed as Jane unlocked her car. “It was an emergency,” she explained.

Ned’s expression and voice remained flat as he lingered outside. “There’s a schedule for a reason,” he remarked

She flung her purse into the car. “I know, I know. It won’t happen again.”

“That’s what you said last time,” he called out as his neighbor dove into the shelter of her car. With the door firmly shut and Ned’s lazy admonitions muffled, Jane let out a tense sigh. She started her car, glanced in the rearview mirror, and then—

“Ned!”

“Yes?” Was that a grin on his dour features?

“What the hell is this?” she asked gesturing at the Saab parked directly behind her car.

“Chaos, Jane,” he said. “That’s what you get when you abandon the system.”

Though both residents apologized for what happened next, neither was ever allowed to use the reserved parking space again.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Terra

I used to marvel at the way stars passed. Then galaxies began to fade into the distance. The universe, vast as it is, can still become tedium when I have to watch it pass alone.

I keep moving. I try to keep my promise

There are moments of brilliance of course. Not all wonder has been lost. Stars burst and are reborn. Nebulae swirl. Color and light. Void. Dust, debris, and emptiness.

Sometimes the darkness seems endless. Distant pinpricks of light offer little comfort, no matter what worlds may orbit around them. Still I move forward – until I reach new lands. Ground beneath my feet, air to breathe, a sky. A place where I can plant the seeds and try to keep my promise.

For all that I have seen, a sky can still be a vast and wondrous thing. In such moments of solidity, I can find myself. I can even begin to find meaning. I forget which stars I have visited, which galaxies I have abandoned. I see only a sea of new constellations that yet have no names. As life takes root, I write our story in the stars. I let myself remember.

I let myself hope.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Roar

I know this beach. The thought strikes suddenly, and I pause my steps to look about. Don’t I?

“Something wrong?” you ask.

The waves sweep in, tumble over themselves and slip away. I try to find a landmark. Sea-foam surges; pebbles scramble around our feet, then fall still. I can’t find anything I can recognize or latch onto.

“Nothing,” I say. “Just déjà vu.”

We keep moving.

The wind whistles, rumbles, howls. It dances, it dies, it whips and thrashes. You move close enough that we bump and jostle each other as we walk. Waves come and go. Rolling, churning, crashing. My hand finds yours.

Then I remember.

Sand shifts. Waves throw detritus at the land and drag away whatever they can grab. Wind blasts away stick and stone and piles up slow, lumbering hills of grit. People build, abandon, tear down, start again.

I have been here before, I realize, Just not with you.

It roars in my ears. The endless advance and retreat, the constant change, always and never the same.

Our footsteps have already vanished behind us, and I feel the waves pulling sand from beneath my feet.

I grip your hand as tightly as I can.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Tea

He approached the fire cautiously, homemade spear outstretched. You never knew who you might come across in the bombed out streets. “Who’s there?” he called.

The bony figure was hunched over the dancing yellow flames suddenly unfolded itself, straightening up into the shape of a woman who turned to face him. “Tea?” she offered.

. . . . . . . .

“I thought it was the end.”

“Must have been quite embarrassing to realize your mistake,” she replied. They sat on opposite sides of the fire. She stirred sugar into her cup while he stared blankly into the fire.

“We all did,” he said. “Apocalypse. That’s what everyone said.”

“Frightfully overused word.” She took a careful sip and sighted contentedly. “Not a very helpful one either.”

“Not like it matters,” he grunted. “Nothing matters now. Everything’s gone.”

She shrugged. “You’re not gone. More importantly, I’m not gone. Though the tea soon will be, so you better drink some before I finish off the whole pot.”

His gaze drifted to the cast iron pot. “What’s the point?”

“Same as it was before, I imagine.”

Slowly, dully, he poured steaming liquid into his cup. He smelled chamomile, mint, orange blossoms, lemon grass. He breathed in, then out. He breathed.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Hardware

“You’re looking for something,” Harry said, both a statement and a question, a lifeline for the newcomer who scanned the rows of shelves without seeming to see them at all.

The man blinked rapidly before focusing on the clerk in front of him. “Hello, yes. I need tubing and some compression fittings.”

Harry gave a confident nod and marched off toward aisle 3. “We’ve got a pretty good selection, all your basics. What’s it for. Air? Water? Gas?”

“Something like that.”

Harry paused mid-stride and spun to face the customer. “Something like that?” he asked arching a bushy gray eyebrow. “It makes a big difference. Are we talking about anything corrosive here? Or any high-pressure flow? Even if it’s just water, it matters whether it’s for drinking or not.”

“I see. Probably something for hydraulics then.”

“Probably.” Harry squinted at the stranger unsure if he was being evasive or just clueless. “Can I ask what exactly your project is?”

“I can show you,” he answered. Harry expected the man to withdraw a cellphone and show pictures or schematics. Instead, he unzipped his jacket. A chrome rib-cage. A tangle of wires, gears, and tubing.

“Oh…” Harry said. “You want Aisle 7.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox