Pops

by Alan Zacher

The bus hit another bump in the street, and I looked down again at my car in my hand and shook my head.

I had really, really liked my car, but not now. It’s a ’58 Chevy, and red, with a white top—just like our real car.  My toy car has a spring or something in it that makes the back tires move all on their own. Last night, I turned the car upside down to see if I could see what makes it move, but I didn’t see nothing. My car moves really fast. But, like I said, I don’t like it anymore. My dad gave it to me last night, after he came home from work. It wasn’t my birthday or anything. He just got it for me. He’s always doing things like that. I think it’s because he’s always so tired after getting home from digging ditches all day and doesn’t feel like tossing the softball around and all. When he gets home from work, all he really wants to do is eat supper and watch TV—I Love Lucy and such. He always likes it when Mom and me watch TV with him, but I don’t feel like doing that anymore. I want to be in my room reading my comics or magazines about the Army. Mom never watches TV with him. She likes to be in their bedroom knitting.

Dad bought me a bike last summer and learned me to ride it. It’s not a new bike, but it’s great. I can ride it real fast. Well, Mom won’t let me ride it nowhere but in our crappy backyard. She’s scared I’ll get hurt.  I hate that. She won’t let me do anything. I’m eleven, and she won’t let me do anything. I hate it, and I hate how she sometimes tells me that Dad’s stupid. He’s not. Like last summer, he was cutting the grass in our front yard—it’s a hill, our front yard. Well, he gets tired of going up and down it with the lawnmower. So he goes to Mr. Murphy’s store at the corner and buys two clotheslines. He ties them to both sides of the handle of the lawnmower. This way, he can just stand at the top of our front yard and lower it down and pull it back up. Pretty smart, huh?

They argue all the time, too. I hate it. A couple of nights ago, they were arguing about me going next year to public school. Dad said that he can’t afford it no more for me to keep going to St. Paul’s Elementary, and Mom told him that I wasn’t going to no public school with those rough kids where I might get hurt. I’m not afraid of those kids. Dad—on the hush, hush, you know—showed me some boxing moves. I’ll knock the stuffing out of those kids.

I don’t know why they argue anyway. Mom always wins.

I had soft-pedaled it around Mom all day. Our car needed brakes and after Dad got home and we had supper, he was going to take the car to Mike’s and leave it there. Then, Dad was going to get back home by taking the bus, and I wanted to go with him. He would have just dropped it off after he had gotten off of work, but Mom needed him to drop off a load of wash that she did today for Grandma.

She knew I had wanted to go, because I told her that I wanted to go. She made all the usual excuses of why I couldn’t go: “You got school tomorrow.” “It’s too cold.” I got angry and gave her the ‘silent treatment.’ At least that’s what Dad calls it when he gives it to her.

I didn’t think she’d let me go, but guess what, she did. After Dad had packed away two large baskets with Grandma and Grandpa’s clothes in the car, he comes back into the house and says: “Com-on. If you’re going, let’s go.” So I got to go.

I don’t know if they fought about it. Mom made me put on my winter coat, cap, and earmuffs, though.

It was real dark by the time we got to Mike’s. Grandma and Grandpa kept wanting us to visit; kept wanting Dad to have another cup of coffee, and kept wanting me to have more milk and cookies. I took my car out of my coat pocket and showed it to them. They really liked it; said it was cool.

I like going to Mike’s. Things get fixed there. The place ain’t much to look at. It’s just an old brick building with two large garage doors. The place, like Mike, always smells of grease and oil. One of those doors has a mail slot near the bottom of it, and Dad bent down and tossed the car keys in it.

“There,” he said, getting up, “that takes care of that. Let’s get to that bus stop and get home. I’m cold.”

At the bus stop—which was nothing more than a sign on a pole that said BUS STOP and an old wooden bench painted white years ago—we sat on the bench and waited for the bus to come. I was excited for the bus to come, because I had never rode a bus at night before. We waited and waited, but the bus never came. I got tired of waiting for it and took my car out of my coat pocket and began playing with it on the bench.

Then, suddenly, my dad says: “Here comes the bus. Hurry. Hurry.”

The bus looked like a mean dragon, spitting out smoke from its belly. The two doors opened with a gush of hot air.

Dad dropped some coins in the metal box that was next to the huge steering wheel. Dad then gave a nod to the driver. He was a fat Colored man. He was wearing a gray uniform and matching hat. I had never been that close to a Colored person before. It was kind of scary.

Rocking back and forth, like we was on a rollercoaster, Dad gently pushed me down the narrow path between the seats.

Except for an old man, the bus was empty.

“Let’s sit at the back, Dad,” I said.

We sat in almost the last seat. I was going to sit at the window, but it was so dark outside that I couldn’t see nothing so I changed my mind and let Dad sit there.

The bus moved real fast. I liked that. Then, it came to a sudden stop, almost knocking me against the back of the seat in front of me. Then, I heard the bus driver say, “You boys put them cigarettes out ‘fore you gets in here.”

“Yes, Sir, chiefy,” I heard someone say.

I looked to the front and saw three teenagers getting on. They looked mean. They sat in the seat behind us. Then, they started kicking the back of our seat. They kicked it so hard that I dropped my car out of my hand and it rolled off the seat onto the floor. Then I saw a hand scoop it up.

“Hey!” I yelled after turning around and jumping up on the seat. “That’s mine,” I said to the one in the middle, who had my car.  “Give it back.”

They just laughed, like snakes.

“Dad,” I cried.

Dad got up, real tired-like, turned around and said: “Give him his car.”

The one in the middle got up and says: “Make me—Pops.”

Dad stared at him for a long time, and then he said, like he was real tired, “Just give him back his car, will you.”

“And I said,” the guy said leaning over the back of the seat, “‘make me—Pops.’”

Dad shook his head, like he was real disgusted, and then he grabbed that guy by the throat and screamed: “Just give my boy back his car!”

Then everything moved real fast, like in a dream: the bus came to a STOP that almost threw me off of the seat; the guy on the end of the seat raised his fist and was about to hit Dad; I saw someone grab that guy’s arm and spin him around like a top.

“Who you gonna punch, punk?!” yelled that bus driver, holding him by his shirt and shaking him.

Dad stopped choking that guy and that guy grabbed his own throat and began rubbing it hard like he had a sore throat.

“This is my bus, and you ain’t gonna punch nobody,” that bus driver then said.  “You, punk,” he then said to the one Dad had choked, “give the boy back his toy.” He did. “Now, all three of you, get off of my bus.” They did.

After they left, Dad thanked the bus driver. They shook hands and everything.

Those guys stood outside of the bus next to the curb under a street lamp and, as the bus pulled away, they make gestures to my dad with their fingers and said things like: “I’ll remember you—Pops.”

I saw my dad’s face in the cold, frosted window. It looked old and tired. And something else: scared. I couldn’t believe it. He was scared. I didn’t know him. This wasn’t my dad. My dad was strong and brave. I hated it. I looked down and saw my car in my hand, and I hated it too.

 

Alan Zacher has self-published three novels, A Ghoulish Good Time; Murder, Vampires and Leprechauns; and For They Shall Wait. In 2012, Post Mortem Press published his murder/mystery novel I’M NO P. I.

Cowbird

by Nels Hanson

The drab cowbird with gray,
some dull brown on throat
and breast, hops on cement
patio selecting fallen seeds
among black poison nuggets
from the red and yellow four
o’clocks from Peru. It lives
by its own obscurity, unlike
brilliant waxwing, changing
ruby-throated hummingbird
glinting with diamond flecks,
green and silver, or the pushy
scrub jay with bluest pinions,
navy slash on white neck. My
vague bird is not the rainbow,
more shadow of discarded tool
left years in rain, forgotten in
a shed by window facing only
winter light like my doorbell
with spider web. Anonymous,
the small black eyes are large
enough to see how this world
works. Six morsels taste fine,
a mockingbird starts new aria
as cowbird scurries for dusty
hedge its sanctuary, to find or
lose itself again in darkness.

Nels Hanson grew up on a small farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California and has worked as a farmer, teacher, and contract writer/editor. His fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and Pushcart nominations in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. His poems received a 2014 Pushcart nomination, Sharkpack Review’s 2014 Prospero Prize, and 2015 and 2016 Best of the Net nominations.

Two poems by Gale Acuff

“Shot”

How easily he could’ve thrown me down,
my father, in the photo of him and
me, mostly him, when I was just a few
months old–smack on the walkway that leads to
the house where I grew up, or tried. But how
could he have gotten away with it? Watch

the birdie, perhaps Mother’s saying, if
indeed she was behind the camera
–if so, then she still is, I can see her
as easily as I see Father and

me, stone-still, taking the photo even
now. I’ve seen this picture a hundred times
but only now has something clicked,
that, in real time, when the image was caught,
Father approached Mother, the camera
still pointed at him, more at him than me,
I hope, until they exchanged baby for
machine and, in fact, that’s the very next

photo in this family album, this
time with me in Mother’s arms but struggling
less, if one can judge of still-life that way.
And I suppose that if I didn’t know

better, she, too, could destroy me, raise me
over her head and then with both hands and
wrists and elbows and shoulders and arms dash

my still-stiffening skull on the stone where
I’d explode like a firework–I wonder
what I’d have sounded like? And can you take
a photograph of the sound of nothing

lost? I think that I’m glad that they didn’t.

 

“Understated”

Miss Hooker says that when you’re dead you feel
more alive, if you’re in Heaven that is,
if you’ve been good, if you haven’t sinned more
than you have to and you sort of have to
because Adam and Eve did and passed sin
on to us so the best we can do is
cut back, Children, don’t let Jesus have died
for nothing on the Crucifix, think of
all His pain and how it must hurt Him when
He looks down from on High on you and sees
you sinning. Miss Hooker’s our Sunday School

teacher and we’re all ten years old and if
I don’t get saved before I croak then I’ll
go to Hell and I shouldn’t want that be
it Eternity or not and it is
but not the kind Miss Hooker says I’d be
happy in. And that’s an understatement,
she says–I’ll be tortured forevermore.
When I got home from Sunday School today

I told Mother what she said, Miss Hooker
I mean, about feeling more alive in
Heaven, Hell too, I guess, but anyway
Mother said that that was a paradox,
to be dead but feel alive and it was
clever of her to say it, Miss Hooker
that is. Yes ma’am, I said, I’m not sure why,
but anyway she makes me want to die
does Miss Hooker, she makes me want to kill

myself and if I could stand the sight of
blood, I just might do it but then again
I could drown or hang myself or jump out
a high window or off a building or
throw myself in front of a train or car
but it had better be moving pretty
fast, the car that is, I mean I would die
so suddenly I’d never see any
blood at all–that’s suicide, I forgot,
and it’s a sin, it would only get me
Hell, not Heaven. Plus no more paradox.

 

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Coe Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber: The Contemporary West, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008). He has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

The Chairman Goes Swimming

by Quin Nelson

He waits unsteadily at the banister
Perhaps feeling his age, swept in
a swift wind with the expanse
of the river before him
The photographers hold,
No greatness to be captured
in the tentative moments
And then with resolve,
He lowers himself and
the water gives way
In such a vast body,
Displacement acts as disappearance
You meet him at the car,
You clutch his arm
He feels despondent, depleted
At dinner he eats little
And drinks too much
And in bed you try to speak
And he presses his forearm
at your throat,
and he insists you give like water

 

Quin Nelson works as a teaching assistant in Portland. He likes to read and write and draw and play pickup basketball, and his housemate has a cat named Spoon.