Thread

Round and round Ana wound the thread, bright turquoise running between her fingers. “If you would just let me explain…” she tried to say.

“You’re not going,” the older woman announced, not even glancing away from her work on the loom. “There’s no point discussing it.” Her fingers danced like a harpist plucking the strings, but hers was a song of color and patterns that would take weeks to complete. Ana marveled, not for the first time, how someone as severe as her mother was capable of creating such beauty.

Every thread in its place.

Round and round, Ana spun the thread, her grip on the shuttle so tight her fingers started to hurt. Her mother continued weaving. “You don’t really need me here, Ana remarked.

The answer came automatically. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I do.”

No thread out of place, Ana thought. The last of the turquoise thread slipped through her fingers. The shuttle was ready. But instead of handing it to her mother, Ana slipped it into her pocket and said, “Mother, I think this will be your finest work yet.”

Ana meant what she said, but her mother simply scoffed. Ana didn’t care. She was leaving.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Underwear (II)

“Hey, you alright?” Kit asked.

Sam’s face was twisted and scrunched up as he contemplated the dead body they had found. “I have that same underwear,” he repeated.

Kit rolled her eyes. “And yesterday the chick in the stall next to me was wearing the same shoes I was. It’s not worth flipping out about.”

A corpse, body gone cold and white. The blood that had sprayed onto the wall and pooled beneath the body and congealed into the elastic waistband of those boxer-brief’s that matched the very same ones he felt gripping his hips. Shouldn’t that be significant somehow? “But—”

“Look,” she said with a bit more attitude, “where do you buy your underwear?”

“Uh, Wal-Mart.”

This time Kit grimaced. “First off,” she said, “I must reiterate that you can really do better when it comes to how you take care of your—”

“Kit…”

“And secondly, hasn’t it occurred to you that someone else might have picked up one of the millions of identical packs of underwear that Wal-Mart sells?”

Still flustered and uneasy, Sam finally looked away from the corpse and said, “A dead body is different than some random person in the next stall. He picked out that underwear and then he died in it. You never think about what your corpse is going to be wearing when you pick out your underwear. I mean, this could have been me. If I died in a pair of gray boxer-briefs, what would that say about me?” He knelt down to look into the face of the dead man. “This guy is—oh shit!” Sam had been so distracted by the underwear, that he had not yet taken a look at the victim’s face until that moment. “You know who this is, don’t you?” he asked.

Kit crossed the room to see the man’s face, studied it a moment, and shook her head. “Should I?”

Sam’s mouth was dry. “This is Rupert Polbrock,” he said, pronouncing the name with deliberate care as he felt old wounds threaten to tear themselves open. Kit still showed no sign of recognition. “He’s a . . . a real estate developer,” Sam continued. There were so many other words he could have thought to use, but like a good cop, he tried to stick to the facts.. “He buys out cheap properties and ‘renovates’ them. Gentrification, that sort of thing.”

“So our dead guy’s rich,” Kit said, though she still didn’t seem very impressed.

“And he’s wearing my underwear.”

Leaving

She should have been mad, but she just felt tired. So very tired. Much too tired to spend another night fighting, especially since she no longer knew what she was fighting for.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay?”

“Okay,” she repeated. “I’m leaving.”

“What? Hold on; you can’t just leave.” She didn’t answer. She just walked to the closet and pulled out her coat and a pair of shoes. “Where are you going?”

She shrugged. “Away.”

“Well stop,” he growled. “I’m trying to tell you I’m sorry.”

A vague nod as she walked to the door. “You told me.”

Helpless with fury, he cried, “Why are you punishing me?”

She stopped, hand on the nob, and turned. Her eyes crashed through him like a brick through glass. Nights of rage, nights of grief, nights of wondering and of regret had condensed into a dense, dark abyss that sucked all further words from his throat. “Punishing you?” she echoed softly. “Believe me, I’m not doing this for you.”

And then she was gone.

The night was cold, her feet ached, and she had no idea where she was going. She should have been scared. Instead she felt the wind stirring.

She followed it.

Underwear (I)

Samuel Farnsworth’s hand was closed around grip of his gun and steady as steel. The door was ajar, but he rang the doorbell anyway. There was no answer. He beat on the doorframe three times with his fist. “Is anyone there?”

Silence.

His partner, Kit McKinney, spoke into their radio. “No answer at the front. What’s the perimeter look like?”

“Quiet,” Collins’s voice crackled in response. “No signs of movement inside or out.”

Sam knocked again. “This is the police,” he called out. “We’ve received reports of gunshots in the area. We want to make sure everyone is safe.” Still no answer. He made eye contact with Kit. She nodded. “We’re entering,” she announced over the radio.”

“Covering the rear.”

One heartbeat.

Two.

Three.

Moving in unison, Sam and Kit burst into the small, dingy house. A flurry of high strung procedure followed as the officers moved through each room, determined that the house was empty and danger past, and then returned to the blood-soaked body on the living room carpet. They checked vitals, but already knew it was going to be too late. Jones and Collins went to call it in and to establish a perimeter for the crime scene. Sam and Kit remained to assess the scene.

It wasn’t easy to relax in the same room as the dead man, especially because the flabby body sprawled on the floor was wearing nothing but grey underwear, bullet wounds to the chest clearly visible.

“What a way to go,” Kit said with a wry grin, trying to lighten the mood. “Though it’s still not as bad as that guy we found dead on the toilet. Remember that one? He had been there for a week.”

“Yeah I try to forget that one,” Sam answered. He still had a hand on his gun and a furrow in his brow. He enjoyed Kit’s banter, but his mood was perpetually pulled down by the weight of the badge on his chest. He knew he was making the sort of stern expression that Kit loved to tease him about, but he couldn’t help it. After surveying the room, he took a closer look at the body and then froze in place. “Oh my god,” he said, “I have this same underwear.”

“Really?” Kit said, taking a closer look at the blood-spattered gray boxer-briefs on the corpse. “Huh,” she said with a shrug. “I always thought of you as a briefs man.”

Sam grimaced. “Why would you—never mind. Yes, boxer-briefs. Same brand and everything. They come in a four pack – two gray, two black.”

“Yeah, I’m still going to picture you in tighty-whities,” Kit said chuckling.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” he said dryly.

Warmth

She gave a knowing smile as I studied her. “You’re . . . not what I expected,” I finally admitted.

“People seldom are.” I wasn’t sure that applied in her case, but wasn’t brave enough to say so. “And what was it that surprised you?”

I knew how ridiculous it would sound, but I had no other way to say it. “Your warmth.”

Her laugh was somehow both mirthful and merciless. “Perhaps you don’t know who you’re talking to after all.”

I shrugged. “Christmas lights, coming inside from the cold, the way snow sparkles; all of that is you.”

She grew melancholy, though her smile remained. “I have little to offer that anyone would want,” she said. “But in the cold and the quiet and the long dark, the smallest scrap of color is a treasure, a fountain of life. I may offer my children only the hope of light, but perhaps that is more valuable than light in abundance.”

“Your . . . children?”

She nodded. “All those who have received my gifts are my children, whether loss and loneliness, fear and freezing, or darkness and despair.”

“Isn’t that just . . . everyone?”

Winter’s eyes were sad, dark, and lonely. Still, she smiled. “Yes,” she answered, “everyone.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Hope

“Are they fresh?” I asked. A colorful flame danced in each vial, but many flickered fitfully in a way that made me nervous

The man at the cart clutched his heart with a practiced gesture that illustrated how wounded he was. What do you take me for? You think I would set up here on the corner to sell delusions or mania, something like that?”

He had named my exact fear, disarming me. Of course Hope could be incredible, exultation tinged with the risk of despair. But everyone has heard stories about what happens to a person with a bad Hope. I fidgeted, not wanting to linger here playing games. So I said, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“They’re good, the vendor insisted. “I picked them up from the Dream Docks this morning.”

It was as good a source as you could ask for if it was true. That was where I had sold my last dreams all those years ago. “Fine,” I grunted.

“So you’ll buy?”

I almost walked away then. Maybe I should have. But it had been so long since I had any Hope. Colors danced within the glass, dangerous and inviting.

I picked up a vial.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Chivalry

“For your great acts of service to the throne, I hereby dub thee—”

Thprrpt.

The flatulence echoed in the soon-to-be knight’s armor and resonated further in the vaulted stonework of the chamber. For a brief moment, the throne room was silent. Then a cough. Then a series of chuckles.

“Laugh not!” the king warned, glaring sternly over the assembled nobles. “For who among us is not made of flesh and blood and thus prone to any and all of its weaknesses. And yet it is by sacrifice of the selfsame flesh and blood that this man has demonstrated that nobility too is woven into the very fabric of his being. And it is for that reason, that I name him—”

Pppbtht.

This time no pause preceded the laughter, but it was once more silenced by the commanding presence of the young king. “Who among us smells ever fragrant? What mortal heart has never been besmirched by some foul thought or deed. Yet by the grace of God are we redeemed. And with that same grace I now elevate this squire to—”

Pffffrbrbrbrrrt.

“Sorry m’lord.”

“I give up,” the king sighed. “Rise, sir Butts, a knight in the name of God.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Knife

A knife in the dark.

When do you fight?

“Please,” Cori whipered, “we don’t want any trouble.”

A hand on her shoulder. “Stay behind me,” David said in a calm, even voice, “and be ready to run.” His eyes carefully tracked the blade between them and the other end of the alley.

“Your purse and your wallet,” the mugger repeated, voice harsh and scraping

David’s sensei had said, “Never get in a fight you can’t win.” Now David took slow, deliberate steps toward the stranger.

“David what are you doing?” Cori hissed

But his eyes were fixed on the figure ahead. “I’m need you to put the knife down,” he called.

The blade slashed threateningly. “Don’t come any closer!” The hand holding the knife was shaking.

His sensei had also said, “The best way to win a fight is not fighting.”

So when do I fight?” David had asked.

“David please, it’s just money.”

The hand holding the knife was shaking.

Hopefully,” David’s sensei had answered, “you never have to fight.”

David lunged. Cori screamed. Bodies collided. David had flawless technique, but the mugger had nothing to lose.

A body on the asphalt. Blood on a knife in the dark.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Memory

Olivia’s memories were a heap of soggy brown leaves. Gone were the bright colors and sharp edges. Instead her mind wandered through decomposing mush.

Someone was looking at her. Olivia stared into those keen hazel eyes, groping for recognition, but the detritus of long years crumbled away in her grasp. My sister, she thought.Maggie? Do you need something?”

The expression twisted into concern, and Olivia realized her mistake.“Joanna,” she said, correcting herself. “I’m sorry. Sometimes it all just gets a little . . .”

“I know, mom.”

Her daughter spoke compassionately, but with a pitying note that turned Olivia’s stomach. Or maybe that was actually something she ate. She had obviously eaten some of the turkey and potatoes that had been piled on her plate, though she couldn’t remember it. A child ran past. Whose kid? She had no idea. But they were at her house, so they must be related to her. There were people moving all around her, a cacophony of voices, a swirling current she couldn’t keep up with.

Life, vibrant and clear, and growing in the midst of it – love.

“Mom? Is something wrong?”

Olivia’s eyes were clear and shining when she answered, “I’m just so thankful.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Vegetables

“I hate you,” Joan announced, walking out of the kitchen.

Tabi’s eyes went wide eyed at the plate of crackers and dip her girlfriend carried. “Holy shit,” she said, “You’re insane.”

Joan just glared back. “I’m insane? What kind of a sicko puts googly eyes on a tomato?”

Tabi at least had enough sense to restrain herself from snorting with amusement, but still said, “When you told me you wouldn’t eat anything with a face, I didn’t think that included fake faces.”

Joan settled into the armchair with an emphatic flop. “Well when you said you like my ass in skinny jeans, I didn’t think you’d suddenly start sabotaging my waistline by turning all the vegetables into adorable little fridge friends.” She punctuated her retort by shoving a fistful of crackers into her mouth.

Crunch!

“It was a joke. I thought it would be funny.”

“Maybe it is,” Joan replied, “but I still end up feeling like I’m the joke.”

Silence.

Crunch!

A sigh.

“You’re right,” Tabi said. “I’m sorry. I’ll go chop some vegetables.”

“No,” Joan insisted. “Let them live their lives.”

Tabi’s eyes narrowed. “You named them, didn’t you?”

“It’s not my fault! You made them too cute.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Image: Keri Lee Smith on Flickr