Carol Murphy ~ Mike Priest ~ Rebecca Rhodes
Jack stared at his miserable image in the murky entry-hall mirror, their last joint purchase. His right hand held his wedding band while his left clutched the legal documents. Had it really come to this? His attention moved to their wedding photo next to Angie’s cell phone and keys, left nightly on the long table beneath the mirror. The picture showed such happiness, such promise, feelings Jack could barely remember now. What happened?
Shower sounds seeped from the master bathroom as he stared again at himself in the mirror. A memory surfaced.
The antique shop filled his mind. It sat back off a street near a renovated Victorian hotel that looked just like the day it opened. They had spent their fifth anniversary inside that hotel, languishing every morning with fancy room service breakfasts, then exploring the small quaint seaside town and surrounding countryside every afternoon. He starkly remembered the hotel owner’s answer when he asked about the nearby antique store.
“Not open,” he answered quietly without looking up from the register, adding, “Nothing much in there anyway.”
“We’re redecorating and looking for older pieces. What day or time might it be open?”
“Maybe later” seemed to be the only information he’d provide.
Later turned out to be 3 pm, but open only till 5. Only two hours? Maybe the shop’s owner had another business he had to run. No matter. Angie and Jack strolled over at 3.
Even with the August sun streaming outside, the shop was dark and cool, at first a sort of relief after their earlier hike. It took several minutes to adjust to the dimness.
“In the back,” came a splintered voice through wispy light.
Angie drifted away into an invisible section at Jack’s left. He was alone speaking to an unseen proprietor.
“Do you have any wall mirrors?” he called out. It’s hard to see much in here.” A chill swept over him. “Angie, where are you?”
“Over here, Jack. I think I found the mirror.”
Finally, Jack’s eyes adjusted, and he spied her silhouette several feet away. He came up beside her.
“Look,” she said, pointing at their reflection.
The glass held their dual image fully. It was large, oval and decorated on each side with intricately carved lizards that seemed to be running down the sides of the mahogany frame.
Jack stiffened. “Lizards? Come on, Angie. Do you want something like this in the hallway, the entrance to our house?”
“Everything in the house has a nature theme. Lizards are part of nature.” She reached out her hand to touch a leering lizard and then turned to grin at him.
Every time she smiled, he felt lighter. Not this time. “Okay,” he said reluctantly. He looked again at the mirror and thought he saw a lizard’s tongue move in and out, a shadow maybe.
“How much for the mirror?” he said to whoever was in the back.
“$150.00, on sale.”
“Sold,” answered Jack as he moved to the back of the store, reaching for his credit card.
The owner appeared suddenly. “No credit cards,” he stated. “Check or cash.”
The owner was a slender, grayish, man with pointed features and darting dark eyes. He stood too close. Jack flinched and stepped back. “Angie, did you bring any checks?”
“I did,” she answered from a distance. Then she was there, writing a check.
The mirror was heavy, but they managed to carry it out to the car and slip it in the rear, covering it with a beach towel. Jack felt its weighty presence during the long ride home along the ocean highway. Wind gusts tried intermittently to move the small car and made moaning sounds as it moved through a tiny crack in the back window.
Their first fight happened as soon as they entered the house.
“Let’s put it right here.” Angie pointed to the space above the entryway table. “They’re made of the same wood.”
“How about tomorrow? I just drove miles.” Jack’s exasperated tone was also a little too loud.
“Don’t talk to me like that!” Angie snapped, picked up her suitcase, went down the hallway to their bedroom and slammed the door.
That night they slept in different rooms and in the dreary morning, things had not improved. Jack went off to work without saying goodbye and when he came home the mirror was hung above the table. He gazed at it. Now that it was up, he knew he hated it. The lizards seemed entwined, their heads bent at odd angles and their tails curled over the top of the frame. The glass appeared darker than he remembered. Even the lizards seemed changed, viler somehow.
Sighing and regretting their argument, he walked down to the kitchen and touched Angie’s arm as she opened the refrigerator. She jerked, sending a plate of raw meat onto the white tile floor, oozing blood into the grout. “Now you’ve done it!” She turned on him. “What’s the matter with you? You can clean it up.” Once again, she went straight to their room, slamming the door.
That was the last time they fought, but it was also the last time they really talked. Now, as he looked again at that hideous mirror, he wondered what really went wrong.
He tried to recall their first date, her electric touch and the gold flecks in her eyes. Maybe there was something salvageable, maybe tonight they could discuss things without the terrible scowling, turning away or banging doors. Maybe even screaming could help.
Angie’s cell phone vibrated, breaking into Jack’s musings. Slowly he picked it up. The text was short. Meet for coffee at 8, Brent. The shower stopped. Jack sighed. Carefully he placed his ring with Angie’s phone on top of the papers, glanced at their photo and walked to the front door. He looked once more at the mirror, his mind reeling from anger and sadness. Did a lizard nod?
“Jack?” Angie called as he silently closed the door.
Carol Murphy, MA, is a writer, consultant and Speech-Language Pathologist who has written essays, interviews, stories and poems about children, language development, learning disabilities, the therapeutic and almost mystical influence of animals, and the many ways language, or a lack of it, colors life’s experiences while often emphasizing themes of the unexplainable. Besides serving eight years on the CA State Licensure Board in Speech Pathology, she has had many professional articles and stories published. Her first book, Slits, came out in 2017 and she is currently working on another book within the magical realism genre. A favorite quote is “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein) Her website is www.carolmurphy.org.
Mike Saw A Tit
The room spun and dread filled the air. It was all over. Mike had worked here fifteen years. His best fifteen years. His walls hung with awards, citations of merit and other trophies of a job well done. But not anymore, it was all meaningless now, because Mike looked at a tit.
The elevator doors opened from across the hall and there they were. Stepping off the elevator they began their march in unison. He knew where they were going, right to his office.
Life as he knew it was over. Where was he going to find a new job? Who would hire him after this?
The human resources personnel overflowing with job security stampeded into his office taking no notice of the awards or even the walls. They weren't going to check his resume or ask about his accolades. His boss was with them, cowing in the back with the sad disposition of a man who knew the inevitable.
No use trying to explain, they were already holding paperwork. So much paperwork. Too much paperwork for them to have come up with in fifteen minutes. They must have premade forms where they typed in the major details.
Name: Mike Fraser
Infraction: Looked at a tit.
They weren't going to ask. They didn't care. Their job wasn't to arbitrate but to execute. She wasn't there, of course, she was upstairs on the fifth floor, on their floor, in their offices with a box of tissues, their minions kissing her ass while waving a different set of paperwork.
Name: Katrina Gerning
Reason: Please don't sue us.
Complacency caused this error. Complacency and small laptops that made marketing people have to lean in close to read salespeople’s screens during pointless presentations. She chose to wear that low-cut blouse. Men's shirts came in three different styles, button up with collar, button up without collar and pull-over with collar. There were literally over a million different types of blouses to choose from and she chose the one that sent her breasts swinging out when she bent over the chair.
Of course, he looked. Anyone is going to look when they see something out of place like a breast at work. The same way the eye is compelled to look as some runner's sweaty junk falls out of his high-cut jogging shorts. Yeah, he looked, without pleasure or intent yet...
"Were you looking at my tits?"
Everyone else in the room dove into whatever corner they could find far away from the action. A bomb had just gone off and no one wanted any piece of the shrapnel.
"You were! You pervert!" And she stormed off to collect her prize from human resources. Her attention, her perks, her job security. She'd been violated and discriminated against, had her identity as a human being reduced to that of a solitary floppy tit. It surely had nothing to do with the fact she'd been the most under-performing member of her department and was close to receiving her own walking papers before today. Not to worry, a promotion was no doubt in her future now.
The security guard who escorted Mike to the door told him he could come back to the front desk to pick up his things tomorrow. They'd be boxed for him.
Ryan Priest is a screenwriter who wishes he were a novelist. His work has appeared in RAGAD, Danse Macabre and the Menda City Review.
It had taken Liam three years to work up the courage to admit he despised and genuinely feared Charles. Charles was no longer a respected member of Liam’s family, let alone a tolerable roommate. Liam had finally realized that it was a matter of safety--he needed to get rid of Charles through any means necessary, so he took to Craigslist.
“Seeking to sell Charles, a sixteen-foot-long Burmese python.” Liam, with his fingers nervously hovering over the keyboard, dared to glance at the corner of his room, where the inch-thick glass tank held back Charles. The snake opened one eye and its slitted pupil seemed to focus on Liam. Charles flicked his tongue lazily as he stared at his owner, and Liam got the distinct impression the snake was sizing up his next meal.
Trembling slightly, Liam stared at the screen of his computer and continued typing his craigslist ad, though now he instinctively angled the laptop screen away from Charles, as if he was afraid the python would discover his plans. He looked over what he’d written, hoping it could make Charles seem like a family-friendly pet, but no matter how much he wanted someone else to free him of the snake for good, Liam morally couldn’t bring himself to omit certain information from the ad. Hesitating, he typed, “Charles needs his dinner at exactly eight-thirty pm. Otherwise he gets vengeful and weasels his way out of the terrarium to take matters into his own hands.” Liam shuddered, remembering how his landlord had already lost two chihuahuas to his snake’s hunger-fueled wrath, and he left the warning in.
He glanced up at the snake once more to see the rectangular eyes still boring into his neck. Liam wiped drops of sweat off of his forehead and finished the ad with “all reasonable offers accepted. No offer is unreasonable.” He posted the ad and continued staring at the laptop screen, waiting for responses that would never come.
Rebecca Rhodes is a graduate of the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology literary arts program, and currently attends the University of Redlands in Southern California. She is from Baltimore, Maryland.