Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dope Fiend by Richard Jay Goldstein

Now Dorothy looks back and what she sees is her husband Charles packing and leaving her. How she comes in the front door after work and there is Charles coming down the stairs with a suitcase in one hand and an envelope in the other.

“What’s up?” she asks. “Are you going somewhere?”

“I was leaving a note,” he says, holding up the envelope.

“A note,” she repeats.

“A note,” he repeats.

“Where are you going?” she asks again.

“I’m leaving,” he says. “It’s all in the note.”

And she sees him hand her the envelope and jerk out the door like a cartoon on fast-forward, and she sees twenty-two years of marriage fly from him like dust.

“Who is it?” she asks, loudly, at the door. She drops the envelope on the floor.

He stops and turns and frowns and glances sideways to see if any neighbors are listening, but there is nobody out on the street because it is not a weekend. “It’s nobody. It just isn’t working anymore. It’s not worth the fighting and all. It’s all in the note.”

Now she knows it was somebody, and she knows in six weeks Charles is living with a woman who is many years younger than she, Dorothy. She throws the note away before Charles has even driven down the driveway, and so has never read it and doesn’t know what it did or did not say.

* * *

Now, remembering, she is forty-five years old, and in sole possession of a house in Torrance, in LA, with the green Pacific on one side and the humming Harbor Freeway on the other, although she does not notice these things often anymore. She also has a job she hates as office manager in a busy cosmetic surgery practice with six busy cosmetic surgeons.

Now she knows she saved her life by taking two weeks of the many weeks of vacation she has never used. She packs up some clothes carelessly and drives north in her newish Toyota Rav4. It is already evening, and she has always left on trips early in the morning. She has a vague idea of visiting Justin, her twenty-one year old son. It’s been a few months since Charles cartooned out the door and she has not told Justin. She has no idea if Charles spilled the beans. Perhaps he left a note somewhere.

Justin lives in a cabin in Palo Colorado Canyon on the Big Sur coast, with his girlfriend, whose name is Willow. He works collecting trash and cleaning up campsites and restrooms at Andrew Molera State Park. As part of his job he gets to use a state pick-up truck.

Dorothy calls Justin’s cell phone from a motel in San Louis Obispo to tell them she is coming. They are surprised.

“Is everything okay, Mom?” Justin asks.

“Everything is perfect,” she tells him. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll leave here early.”

But of course everything is not perfect. She is frightened and lonely. There is an empty ache in a place always filled with family. She is afraid she does not really know Justin, not the grown-up Justin. There has been a distance between her and Justin in the past year, because Charles did not approve of how Justin was conducting his life. She does not understand what it means to be the parent of an adult. She has never even met Willow.

She heads out on Highway 1. She passes San Simeon and soon the land falls away on her left, giving way to vistas of the Pacific. She feels like she is clinging to the cliffs that rise from the gray ocean. Grassy brown hills surround her, stands of dark Monterey pine and tall eucalyptus. Curtains of fog and mist rise and fall behind, patches of blue sky and wide shafts of sunlight. Wide beaches suddenly appear below, strewn with boulders. The sea hammers and foams at them. But she feels numb. She knows there is beauty and grandeur, but it passes over her like the fog, like the mist.

The coast unreels. Her arms are stiff from steering around the curves and switchbacks. The sun heads toward the western horizon. She just wants the drive to be over.

She crosses the Bixby Bridge, set like a kid’s toy across its rocky gorge, and then there is Palo Colorado Road. She takes out the map she drew on the back of an old receipt when she talked to Justin.

* * *

Justin and Willow’s cabin is at the end of a steep dirt road, nestled in a grove of coast redwood and bay laurel. Ferns dot the hillside behind the cabin like green eyes. The cabin is built of stout planking with a mossy shake roof. Justin’s state pick-up is parked outside. Dorothy pulls up beside it, her car in four-wheel drive for the first time since she bought it. Shadows pool under the thick trees, flow toward her as the sun sets.

The cabin door opens and there is Justin, tall, bearded, his hair trimmed short, dressed in jeans and boots and a red flannel work shirt. Behind him is a young woman, and she is actually willowy. She has long dark hair, and is dressed in a long skirt and a green turtle-neck. Tears spring into Dorothy’s eyes when she sees them. Who are these bright young people?

Inside, the cabin is warm and close. A fire pops and wavers in a big stone fireplace. Justin stands proudly, a big grin on his face. “Mom, welcome to my home,” he says.

“Yes, welcome, Mrs. Pardue,” says Willow, and hands her a stoneware mug of wine, and gives her a peck on the cheek.

“Willow, thank you.” Dorothy takes a sip of the wine. It’s a cheap red, astringent, but it doesn’t matter. “Willow, please call me Dorothy,” she says. Then she thinks of something, realizes something. “I’m going back to my maiden name,” she tells them. “I’m Dorothy Kramer now. Again.” She turns to Justin. “I hope that’s okay.”

Justin shrugs. “Dad told me what’s up,” he says. “It is what it is.”

* * *

Dorothy, Justin and Willow sit at the table, a heavy trestle made of redwood planks, which Justin built. They sip more wine. They have just finished eating, brown rice, stir-fried veggies. Justin and Willow are vegetarians.

Justin starts to get up, hesitates, sits back down, then gets up again. He takes a wooden box from a bookshelf, returns to the table.

“Justin,” says Willow.

“It’s our house,” says Justin. He opens the box, takes out a little pipe and a tin box full of dried leaves and tiny buds. He fills the pipe, lights it, takes a deep drag, holds it out to Dorothy.

“Justin,” says Dorothy, “is that what I think it is?”

Justin nods and grins.

“I didn’t know you smoked marijuana,” says Dorothy.

“Of course not,” croaks Justin around a mouthful of smoke. “You’re my mom.” He and Willow break into giggles.

Dorothy takes the pipe, inhales cautiously. The taste seems familiar somehow, sweet, campfire, spice. She hands the pipe to Willow, waits for something, something new, something changing or challenging. And waits.

The pipe goes around and around. They talk. They laugh and laugh. And laugh. Dorothy leans back in her chair, holding her stomach. “Stop, no more,” she protests. “I can’t laugh anymore. My stomach hurts.”

Silence descends.

After a moment Dorothy looks around. “I don’t know what the big deal is about pot,” she says. “It doesn’t do anything. I mean, when’s it take effect?”

Justin and Willow look at each other, splutter with more laughter.

“What?” says Dorothy.

“We’ve been laughing for an hour,” says Willow.

“Really?” Dorothy looks around as if she is seeing the room, Justin, Willow, herself, for the first time. “Do you have anything for desert?”

“I have some chocolate,” says Willow.

Later, the walls lean in, coals tick in the ashes of the fire. Dorothy lies on a pad in front of the fireplace, in a sleeping bag. She smiles, drifts into dream.

* * *

The next morning Justin and Dorothy have climbed the ridge behind the cabin. It is Justin’s day off.

Hills thick with trees surround them, a distant glimpse of the Pacific.

“It was fun,” Dorothy says. “I’d do it again. But I don’t know if anything changed. I’ve been married so long. It’s hard to think of what comes next.” She tosses a rock down the hillside. “But I shouldn’t be talking about this with you.”

“I’m a grown-up now,” says Justin. “And so are you. People get together, people split up. It happens.”

“But we were married twenty-two years,” says Dorothy. “That’s not just getting together.”

“I know something that could change things,” says Justin.


“Taking acid.”

* * *

Now Dorothy knows she is crazy, around the bend, driven mad by regrets. She has agreed to take LSD with Justin and Willow. She calls in to work, to tell them she is taking another week off.

“Well, we’re covering the week you asked for,” says Dr. Berman, the senior partner in the group, Dorothy’s boss. “But another week? I can’t promise anything.”

“I have several weeks of vacation coming,” replies Dorothy. “I’m with my son and I intend to stay another week.”

“I can’t promise anything,” repeats Dr. Berman. “We may have to replace you.”

“I’ll contact you when I’m back in LA,” says Dorothy, and that is that. Now she’s an official doper. She’s smoking pot, she’s about to take LSD, she’s blowing off her job, she’s crashing with her son. What’s left?

She spends the next couple of days getting ready. She takes long walks. She drives down to the coast, to Rocky Point, sits on rocks watching the pounding of the sea. While Justin is at work she helps Willow clean the house.

Then it is the day. Justin and Willow make a ritual of it, bringing the LSD capsules out on a tray, with glasses of water. Dorothy feels her heart pounding, but she swallows hers.

Willow puts on some music, classical Indian, Ravi Shankar. The three of them sit in the sunny clean cabin.

Dorothy does not ask this time when it will take effect. She waits.

In time, her body begins to feel heavy. In time the walls appear to be breathing.

* * *

Now Dorothy looks back, and what she sees is her mad self turning and turning beneath towering sequoias like a bird, and she sees herself hearing the liquid voices of the trees, and the dry voices of the ground, and the airy voices of the sky, and the dark voices of the hidden sea, and all these voices make an endless song, of which her voice is part. Looking back, it seems to her that this song is something she once knew but had forgotten.

Dorothy the Dope Fiend, sings Dorothy, dancing alone.

Richard Jay Goldstein lives in Santa Fe, where it’s nice and quiet, thanks. He’s a retired ER doc, has been writing for about 20 years, and has published 40-some stories, essays and poetry in the literary and sci-fi/fantasy/horror press, including a few anthologies. His wife is percussionist Polly Tapia Ferber.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

For November!

I'm chiming in a bit late here, I know.

November's titles will be captions from the Great Illustrated Classic's King Arthur. Like always, e-mail at your earliest convenience for a title.

Stories will be due November 20th. That's right, less time. But you're a crack squad of word thowin', sentence swingin', punctuation pushin' die hards, right? Right.

- dan

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

At Sea by Chris Deal

For many years, Nora had an answer at the ready for whenever someone would ask why she was alone, why she always babysat for family and friends instead of having any children of her own, why she lived alone. The answer was always on her lips and floating around her heart. She would say it hundreds of times a day, either aloud to whoever asked or in those silent and evil nights where the time from dusk to dawn stretched on forever. Alone in their bed, she would repeat the answer until sleep would take her away. She had never seen the ocean that her husband left her for.

The men her husband worked for came by the house a year after he left. Large men in gaudy suits, hair cut close to each skull, all perfect in their authority. None of them had an answer for where her husband was. The waters were dangerous. The lifeboat wasn't found. There could be survivors. She pressed her lips tight together and nodded. He could still be alive, they told her, each man the same as the other. One mouth moved in speech and the words come from another's body. She nodded and they left her with a check and a promise for more.

Every year she grew older, her words more rare. Neighbors and sisters would bring their children to her house. A child with brown hair the color of a cornfield in the winter asked why Nora had no husband or children and Nora smiled, her lips losing all severity. "I do have a husband." When the child asked where he was, Nora told her the answer.

Some nights were better than others. On the good ones, she would relive their last night, alone together. The morning would bring separation. He was to board the ship and neither of them would know when they would see the other again. Sleep was an absent thought. They made love fast and slow, desperation propelling each closer to the edge again and again until they couldn't move. As the sun breached the horizon, they were wrapped in each other's arms, memorizing the warmth. When he couldn't stay any longer, he prepared for the day's journey. Before he left, he leaned over the bed she refused to leave and kissed her softly on her lips, lingering, telling her through the contact how much he wanted to stay home, to not ship out, to spend his life in bed beside her.

On the bad nights, she would dream of him, older, skin loose on his bones, in the port of a distant land she would never see. His arms would be around a girl, beautiful in the innocence the dream man was prepared take. He would lean in and lick her in a way he never licked Nora. They would shift to an unlit bedroom and Nora would wake praying not to remember what was seen.

After forty-seven years, a lifetime spent alone, Nora woke and when she opened her eyes, there he was, his hand on hers, his face the same as the day he left. His eyes were not milky like hers, his skin was not blemished or wrinkled. He was as beautiful as the day she vowed herself to him. He smiled and it glowed in the night.

“Where have you been?”

When he replied, it was her words coming from his lips, her answer: "At sea. I was at sea." He leaned down and kissed her, lingering like the last time their lips touched.

Her eyes closed and when she opened them again, she saw the ocean.

Chris Deal writes from Huntersville, North Carolina. Find him at

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Round 5

Welcome back boys and ghouls! Title Fights has risen from the dead to bring you our next round, and since it's October, that means one thing: Middle-Aged Women's Health Awareness Month!

As such, we will be turning to the seminal Self and Sex Series, specifically What a Woman of Forty Five Ought to Know, authored by Emma F. Angell Drake, M.D. (pictured below).
So, for a selection of titles culled from Dr. Drake's wisdom, email for a title, and for all the ladies out there, stay healthy! (and submit to Title Fights too)

Monday, October 4, 2010

This One Will Be Coming Back By Jimmy Callaway (The last for Sept.)

“In my jungle, you’d be just another asshole.”
-The Dogs of War (1980)

Hughes was walking past that enormous fig tree they’ve got in back of the Natural History Museum when he got biffed in the back of the head by a Nerf boomerang.

Hughes bent down for the thing, less thrown off by its thumping him than by the fact they still made these things. He and Susan used to fight over theirs all the time when they were kids. This one might have even been theirs for all he knew: the bright green was flaking off all three arms of it, the foam all kind of cracked, like it’d been left in a puddle over night.

“Uh, sorry,” the kid said, “Sorry about that.”

Hughes looked down at him and smiled, careful not to bare his teeth. The kid looked kinda squirrelly already, and Hughes knew, what with his beard and his wide shoulders, what he probably looked like to the little guy.

“Don’t sweat it, man,” Hughes said, “If that’s the worst thing to nail me today, I’m doing fine.”

The kid smiled politely at him, took his boomerang, and ran back across the grass.


Inside the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, Hughes removed his sunglasses and let the air conditioning cool the sweat under his eyes. The place was pretty empty for summer, even for a weekday. One little old man sat in the snack bar area, chewing on a sandwich. A blonde kid was behind the register, head in hand, staring out the windows.

Hughes walked up to him. “Hey, man,” he said, “Lemme get a bottle of water.”

The kid rang him up without looking at Hughes. Hughes handed him the money, opened the water bottle and drank the whole thing. When Hughes was about halfway through, the kid finally noticed he was there. Hughes looked him in the eyes as he finished the bottle off.

“Ahhhh,” he said and handed the kid the empty bottle. The kid took it from him, a little smirk on his face. He tossed it in a can beneath the counter. When he looked back up, Hughes snapped his fingers.

“Oh, hey!” he said, “You’re Hunter!” Hughes stuck out his big paw to shake.

Reflexively, the kid stuck his hand out as well. Hughes’ hand swallowed his. “Yeah,” the kid said, frowning, “Who’re you?”

“Oh, I’m Daniel,” Hughes said, giving the kid a firm shake. When the kid began to pull his hand away, Hughes gripped it tighter. He leaned forward just a bit, smile still on his face. “I’m Mardi’s uncle,” he said.

The kid tried harder to pull his hand back. He failed.


“What the fuck were you thinking?” Susan said.

“I just had a chat with the kid, that’s all,” Hughes said, puzzling over the document she’d handed him as soon as he walked in. “I didn’t do nothin’.”

“Oh, nothin’, huh? Then how did Mardi get kicked out of school?”

Hughes looked up. “She got kicked out of school?”

“This Hunter kid’s parents are on the board of supervisors, Daniel! Do you know how hard it was to even get her into that place? Do you have any idea?”

Hughes had every idea, but he kept his smart mouth shut. He held up the paper. “Is that what this says?”

“Oh, no, baby brother,” she said with a smile he did not like at all, “That little piece of paper was served to me today. At work. In front of my co-workers. In front of fuckin’ God and everybody!”

“Well, what is it?”

“We’re being sued, you goddamn idiot! This fuckin’ brat’s parents have sicced their lawyer on us because you assaulted him!”

“Assaulted. I had a chat with him, that’s all.”

“A chat!”

“Yeah, a little man-to-man, that’s it.”

“Mardi says his hand’s in a sling, for fuck’s sake!”

“Look,” Hughes said, “All I did was, I had the day off the other day, I took a walk around the park. I knew that kid worked there, so I went in, I told him to leave Mardi alone. That’s it. Maybe I shook his hand a little, y’know, tightly, I gave him a squeeze. That’s all.”

“No, Daniel, that is not all,” Susan said, and ran a hand through her hair, “Now we’re being sued, Mardi’s gonna have to change schools again, and you’re more than likely gonna go back to jail. That is all.”

“If he was gonna have me arrested, he woulda. He didn’t, ‘cause he knows this is all bullshit,” Hughes held up the paper, “No judge in the world would give this lawsuit a second glance.”

“That may be so, Daniel, but we’re still gonna have to get an attorney to even contest it. This kid’s family is filthy rich! They can do this all they want! Look around you, for chrissakes! Does it look like we can afford any of this lawsuit bullshit?” Susan sank to a chair and held her face in her hands. Hughes waited while she gathered herself.

“Look,” she said finally, “I know you were just trying to help. I appreciate that, I love you for it. I don’t like some slimeball punk trying to cop a feel on my daughter either. But there are rules here, Daniel. Rules we have to play by. I don’t like it any more than you do, but there it is”

“All right,” Hughes said. He stood up.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m gonna go say hi to the kid, and then I’m gonna go see about getting you a lawyer.”

“Daniel, I don’t want the help of any of your friends—”

“Hey, c’mon, I’m trying to do the right thing here. I’m sorry I got Mardi kicked out of school, I’m sorry about all of this. Let me try to help like you wanna. By the rules.”

Susan fetched a heavy sigh. “Fine. Just…do whatever”

“All right.”


Hughes didn’t even have to knock. He shoulda known Mardi would be listening at her door. “What’s up, Big Time?” he said.

“Hey, Uncle Daniel.”

“Why the long face? You and me both know you hated that fuckin’ school. Hell, I shoulda thought of this sooner.”

Mardi tried to smile.

“C’mon,” Hughes said, “What is it?”

“It’s just…” Mardi began, “I dunno.”

“Yeah,” Hughes said, “I know what you mean.”


Hughes called up Denna. They exchanged pleasantries, blah blah blah.

Hughes said, “How’s that job working out?”

“Yeah, pretty good,” Denna said, “They promoted me to night manager.”

“Oh, huh. Yeah, that is pretty good.”

“Yeah, I’m really making my way in the world.” Her tone practically dripped from the receiver.

Hughes chuckled a little. “You’re not much into this job, are ya?”

“Not much, no.”

“Would five hundred bucks make you a little more into it?”

“Indeed it would.”

Hughes told her what he had in mind.

“Oh, I hate that fuckin’ snot-rag,” she said, “Only works there ‘cause it looks good on his transcript. Whole family’s got money coming out their ass.”

“So you’ll do it?”

“Fuck yeah, I’ll do it! Shit, I woulda done it for a six-pack.”


The next night, Hughes went to his downstairs neighbor’s place and banged on the door. A Crass record blared out of the windows.

The door opened and a skinny dude with a lip piercing stepped out. “’Sup, Danny?”

“Hey, Raj,” Hughes said, “Can I borrow your van tonight?”


“Your van!” Hughes yelled over the music, “Can I borrow your van!”

“Wait, hang on.” Raj went inside and lowered the music some. “Yeah, man, sure thing. You’re not gonna do nothing illegal, are you?”

“Not as far as you know,” Hughes said as he took the keys from him.

Raj laughed. “Sounds good to me, man. Come by after you’re done, I’ll pack a bowl.”


Hughes pulled Raj’s van into the parking lot just up from the Starlight Bowl and quickly found Denna’s little Civic. He backed the van into the spot next to hers, so the van’s sliding door was alongside her passenger door. Then he settled in for a little nap in the van’s back seat.

Around ten o’clock, Hughes sat up and looked around. There were still a number of cars in the lot, but nobody was around. After a while, he saw Denna coming towards the car, little Hunter in tow. Hughes took hold of the sliding door’s handle.

As they approached her car, Hughes could hear the kid say, “Why’d you have to park way over here?” The kid’s hand looked fine to Hughes.

“Look,” she said, “I really appreciate it. I just don’t like walking to my car alone.” She unlocked her side. “Hop in,” she said, “I’ll drive you around to your car.”

Hughes slid the door open with a yank. The ratcheting sound made Denna and Hunter both jump.

“What the fuck—?” Hunter said before Hughes grabbed him by the collar and yanked him inside. Hughes sat on him while he slid the door closed again and took his Bowie knife from the back pocket of the driver’s seat.

The smell of Hunter’s urine quickly filled the van. Hughes held the point of the knife an inch from his eyeball. “Make a sound,” Hughes said, “and I finish you right here.”

Hunter made not a sound.

Hughes heard Denna squeal her tires as she pulled out, just like he’d asked her to. Hunter wouldn’t notice now, but tomorrow Denna could claim she’d hurried off to get help. Hughes didn’t think anybody was gonna be questioning her too hard.

Not after the chat he had planned here.

“Hey, man,” Hughes said, pulling the knife back a bit, so the kid would focus on him and not the blade, “You wanna do me a favor? Keep this shit up. ‘Cause, see I’ll level with you: I got a lotta time on my hands. A lotta time. All’s I got is my job, my sister and her kid. And that’s great and all, but y’know, I got a lotta hours to fill. So, please, for me, keep this shit up. Get my niece kicked outta that bullshit private school’a yours. Press this lawsuit against my family. I’m begging you.”

Hughes leaned in even closer, the piss stink filling his nostrils. Hunter whimpered a little, and Hughes couldn’t help but grin. “See, ‘cause then I got something to do. I’ll be on your fucking ass every free minute I got. I’ll be in your back pocket during homeroom all the way until last bell. I’ll punch in with you every day up at the cafĂ© there, and I’ll be waiting for you right when you punch out. You hear what I’m saying?”

Hunter nodded vigorously.

“So keep it up, man. Hell, have me arrested. I’ll be out in ten minutes. C’mon, do I look like a guy who can’t handle jail?”

Hunter shook his head vigorously.

“Now, listen close,” Hughes said, “If you remember nothing else I say to you, remember this: you’re in my world now, sonny. And as big as your world is, with all your parents’ money and everything, my world’s even bigger. And you don’t get out of it until I say so.” Hughes slowly pulled the knife away and put it back behind the driver’s seat. “You got all that, fuckface?”

Hunter nodded again.

“I can’t hear you,” Hughes said.

Hunter’s mouth worked for a bit and then he whispered, “Yes, yes, I got it. I got it.”

“Y’know what, Hunter? I think you do,” Hughes said. He slid the van’s door open. “The fuck outta my sight,” he said with a jerk of his thumb.

He watched the back of the little blonde head run up the parking lot, all the way up to the organ pavilion and beyond. He didn’t once look back.

Hughes wasn’t surprised.