The Back of the Bus — by Nicholas Rys

Amanda Pratt, the first girl in sixth grade to grow boobs, was my locker neighbor. That winter, there were Friday ski trips. My family had no money so I wore my older sister’s hand-me-down ski jacket that was purple with pink accents and raced down the slopes as fast as I could.

During my first lesson I got divorced from the group and accidentally found my way onto a black diamond. I fell every two feet but I got back up and made it to the bottom without taking off my skis and walking, like many of the other kids who fell did.

That night on the bus ride back to town Anthony Jacobs said, “Hey, Jeffries went down a black diamond today, did you see it, Dan?”

He made sure to say it loud enough that I could hear him although he wasn’t directly addressing me. I was expertly pretending I hadn’t hit pause on my Walkman at the sound of my name.

“Hey Jeffries?”

“Jeffries, I’m talking to YOU!”

“Oh, what? Hey…”

“We saw you go down the black diamond today, took balls. Even though you fell like a sonofabitch, you made it down. Play truth or dare with us.”

The only thing that scared me more than pretty girls was truth or dare. Everyone knew you had to say dare or else you were a wimp. I had to say yes just like I had to make it to the bottom of that black diamond.

I moved to the back of the bus and there was Amanda Pratt and Heather Phillips and Diana Nichols and there I was with them, playing truth or dare.

First Diana asked Dan who chose truth. Anthony laughed and called him a pussy. Dan punched him in the shoulder as Diana asked if it was true that he and Anna Kembler kissed with tongue at the Boy Scout Dance last week. Dan displayed his best-rehearsed smirk and shook his head, yes.

This went on for a few rounds with the occasional dare to flip off a passing truck after the chaperones had dozed off. As we approached home it seemed I had somehow avoided being picked.

But then Anthony said my name.

“Hey Jeffries, truth or dare?”

I felt everyone’s eyes on me and my sister’s purple ski jacket that I had bunched up against the window and took as little time as I possibly could to say, “Dare.”

“Alright, Jeffries, feeling brave after yer black diamond run, I see.”

“Shut up, Anthony,” Amanda said.

“Jeffries, I DARE you to kiss Amanda.”

Everyone went silent. Amanda rolled her eyes but before she could object and before the warm feeling in my gut made its way to my throat and just before we made it to the first stop light in town, Anthony added, “Oh, I almost forgot. First, you’ve gotta lick the floor of the bus!”

Dan and Anthony’s laughter made a new and eviscerating sound. But all I could think was that Amanda hadn’t opposed the kiss, was this my chance? If I had to lick the floor, was it worth it to kiss the first girl in our grade to grow breasts?

Everyone stared at me. I still remember the smell of stale, prepubescent sweat and the metallic citrus of rust and snowburned skis coming from the very last seats because the rich kids wouldn’t put their expensive skis under the bus like the rest of us. I remember lowering myself to the floor of the bus and seeing the globs of gum and cigarette butts from the eighth graders and the strands of hair from beautiful girls and the grit of the cinders and blacktop that clung to our snow and ski boots and found their way onto the floor. I remember thinking that I was going to show them, show all of them. I would do what no one expected; I would lick the floor of the ski bus, kiss the beautiful Amanda Pratt and then I would be like them. I would be accepted into their club and the rest of my days in public school would be filled with high fives and seats reserved in the back of the bus.

But then we pulled into the middle school parking lot and the bus came to an abrupt and final stop and Dan said, “Looks like yer off the hook, Jeffries!” and Anthony said, “I knew he wouldn’t do it,” and before they high-fived Amanda said, “You guys are such jerks.”

But I’ll tell you the biggest secret of all. I DID lick the floor of the bus that night. I put my stupid smalltown tongue right there on the floor of the bus and licked the dirt and grime and grit and cinders and asphalt and cigarette butts and lapped up the dreams and hopes and truths and dares of the kids in the back of the bus and the kids up front, of the chaperones and the bus driver, and I laughed. I laughed when I went to bed that night because I had grown a new skin. I laughed the next Monday in homeroom because I learned that it doesn’t matter if they see it or not, only that you do it and that you know. And I knew. And I’d never forget.
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N. Rys Photo
Nicholas Rys lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio where he writes and makes music. His work can be found online at such places as Entropy, The Molotov Cocktail, Fanzine and Hobart. He makes music under the moniker Norma Desmond and can be found on Twitter.

Guest Appearance — by Mark Vinz

I couldn’t believe it when my friend Pete told me that the Lone Ranger was coming to the southside, where I lived. The Lone Ranger was one of my favorites, first from radio and comic books and then from his weekly program on TV, and when I ran home to ask my mother she said yes, she’d read in the paper that the actor who played the Lone Ranger would be making what she called a guest appearance at Powderhorn Park, which was a big park that took up several city blocks and even had a small lake in the middle of it. She said that maybe a few of my friends could get together the next Saturday and walk to the park, but that I should also plan to take my little sister, who was only in kindergarten but who had her own Lone Ranger billfold and cowgirl hat.

Much to my relief, it turned out that my sister went with her friend Donna and her mother from next door, so it was just Pete and me and a couple of the other boys from our class at school, but when we got to the park on Saturday afternoon it was already filled with what seemed like thousands of kids, most of them with their parents, and a lot of them wearing Lone Ranger masks, sixguns and holsters, hats, boots, and whatever else the Lone Ranger people had been selling. After we all waited about an hour without being able to see much of anything, a roar started to go up from the part of the crowd nearest to the lake, and suddenly there he was, the Lone Ranger on his big white horse, Silver, riding along the far side of the lake—which the police had roped off from the crowd. He kept waving his hat as everybody cheered, and a lot of the kids and even some of the grownups started pushing to get closer to the lake so they could see better. But it didn’t really matter because all the Lone Ranger did was ride back and forth a couple of times and then he was gone someplace where we couldn’t see him any more.

One of the boys from my class at school said he heard a bunch of workers had loaded Silver into a truck and driven off in a big hurry, probably to some other city, some other crowd of kids. They also said the Lone Ranger himself had jumped into a big white Cadillac and been driven away, right behind the truck. At first I couldn’t believe that a hero like the Lone Ranger would have done that when there were all those kids waiting just to hear him give a little speech or say “Hi-yo Silver” or whatever, but I somehow found it hard not to believe that kid from school. I decided to tell my little sister that there was big trouble in a town not far away and someone had made a special emergency trip to ask the Lone Ranger to come and help, so he really didn’t have much of a choice. She thought that was probably okay, even if she didn’t get to see him at all because Donna’s mother had decided to drive her car and couldn’t find a place to park and by the time they went back to her house and walked back to the park, they were at the back of the crowd and couldn’t see anything.

The Lone Ranger was really pretty neat, I told my little sister, but I also said I’d heard he’d be back real soon because he felt so bad about having to leave early. As much as I hated myself for all those lies it was better than the feeling I got in my stomach whenever I thought of that masked man, whomever he might have been, over on the other side of the lake where we could barely see him, riding back and forth for two for three whole minutes while all of us in the crowd just stood there and cheered our stupid heads off.

From Man of the House, Scenes from a Childhood in the 50s,
by Mark Vinz, to be published by New Rivers Press, 2017

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Mark VinzMark Vinz is the author of several books of poems, as well as a prose poem collection, Late Night Calls, and the co-editor of The Party Train, A Collection of North American Prose Poems, both from New Rivers, which will also publish his prose poem memoir, Man of the House, in 2017.

The Three Bears — by Molly Fuller

1.
Ursula wakes up late. Her parents have already caught breakfast and are sitting next to each other, their shiny coats sparkling with drops of water. She sits down, takes a piece of salmon. After eating, she daintily licks her claws.

Her mother helps zip Ursula into her human suit. Her legs and arms, tucked in, become long and graceful, her dark ursine eyes peek out beneath golden lashes. Ursula flips her hair, feels it cascade down the back of her red dress.

As she is leaving, her mother says, “Mind your claws.” Ursula holds up pink hands, wiggles her fingers in response. Her mother laughs.

“Watch for hunters,” her father says. She smiles, nods her head, and does a twirl down the blackberry-lined lane. She knows her parents aren’t yet used to the woman version of their little bear.

2.
Ursula walks out of the pines and into sunlight that reflects off her blonde head. Three bears splash in the nearby lake, tumbling the surface of the water.

“Hey,” they call.

She doesn’t recognize them, keeps walking.

“Rude,” says one.

“Didn’t even smile,” says the second.

“Let’s teach her a lesson,” says the third.

“Yeah,” they snarl.

The first bear leaps out in a roar of water. He growls, squats down on all fours in front of her. The other two amble up behind her until she is encircled by large bear bodies. They all grab her at once.

3.
It is early evening as the bears arrive at their truck.

Here, the bears unzip their suits, revealing pink skin. Human hands pass out cans of beer, which they gulp greedily, tossing empties to litter the road as they speed away.

Later they will return, with guns, to hunt the bears that killed a young girl.
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Molly FullerMolly Fuller is a Teaching Fellow in the Literature program at Kent State University. You can find her prose and poetry in NANO Fiction, Union Station Magazine, Potomac, and 100 word story. Her flash sequence “Hold Your Breath” is in the Marie Alexander flash sequence anthology, Nothing to Declare. She is also the author of three chapbooks: The Neighborhood Psycho Dreams of Love, Tender the Body, and All My Loves (forthcoming). She lives in Ohio.

Flash in July: A layer cake, an orange jumpsuit, and a non-ghost story

Where to read, hear, and meet your favorite Flash Flash Click contributors:

negativespace-13Don’t miss Wendy C. Ortiz’s reading for the Poetic Research Bureau on July 9 in Los Angeles.

Maureen Gibbon’s tribute piece about James Salter was published on Lit Hub!

The next Roar Shack reading happens July 10 in Los Angeles. David Rocklin hosts!

Enjoy Lauren Becker’s new work in Juked!

Molly Fuller’s micro fictions, “Discovery,” “No Denying It,” “Scarecrow,” and “Layer Cake,” were selected by writer Eric Anderson for Lit Youngstown‘s 2016 Storygami project, which is part of Youngstown’s Summer Festival of the Arts.

Carol V. Davis’ new book of poetry Because I Cannot Leave This Body will be published by Truman State Univ. Press in early 2017. A poem from that collection will be featured in American Life in Poetry, ed. by Ted Kooser in fall.

Enjoy Mary Milstead’s essay, “This Is Not a Story About a Ghost,” at the Rumpus!

Read Wendy C. Ortiz’s new work at Drunken Boat, FANZINE, and Hobart!

Pamela Hart’s poem, “On the Orange Jumpsuit,” was selected as a finalist for the Auburn Witness Poetry Prize honoring Jake Adam York and will be published this month in the Southern Humanities Review.

Rank Strangers — by Maureen Gibbon

For a little while before my divorce came through, I dated a guy who washed dishes. Zeb. He was good-looking and he brought me comfort. He was also a big drunk, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want anything more than to lie beside his body on Saturday nights.

When my mother found out I was seeing him, she said, “That’s all right for now, Larue, but you don’t want to end up with someone like that.”

I didn’t tell her that I didn’t care Zeb came to see me after working, stinking of grease, smoke and rotted food. I didn’t say we sometimes screwed as soon as he walked in the door, there in the kitchen with me standing up, my arms on the window sill, the Sapphire gin beside us. Most nights we waited until he had showered in my bathroom and wrapped himself in one of my pink towels, but sometimes I lay in his smoky, stinking embrace and kissed his rotting-cabbage mouth. It wasn’t anything I ever held against him. Soap and water cleans us all.

“He’s good enough to eat my pussy, Ma,” I said instead, and she didn’t bring him up again.

A few months later, I was at Zeb’s place when I told him I was leaving him. He got so upset he shoved his hand through the glass aquarium where he kept his ex-girlfriend’s guinea pig. Of course he was drunk, but I think the emotion was real.

“It just scooted behind the sofa,” I said after the worst of the commotion was over.

“What?”

“That little pig went behind the sofa.”

But when I went to move the sofa away from the wall, Zeb stopped me.

“You’ll just scare him,” he said.

“Why would I scare him? You’re the one who broke his house.”

“Still. He doesn’t know you.”

I made him go into the bathroom then, and I washed his cut and bloody hand for him. I wrapped it in the cleanest towel I could find in his dump of an apartment, and then I sat with him and held his other hand. I thought maybe the guinea pig would come out in the quiet, but he was a no-show. I waited until Zeb passed out from his drunk, and then I got up and went home. That’s all I did for him.

When I told my sister Cary the story, I called Zeb “The Bleeder.”

“Oh no, Larue,” she said. “Now that guy is forever going to be known by that name.”

“No one knows it but you and me,” I said. “Besides, it’s true.”

“The Bleeder. That’s awful.”

“No one told him to put his hand through glass,” I said.

Still, I felt bad about Zeb. I figured he’d live a few more years and then the alcohol would kill him. I thought that when I washed the splotches of his blood out of my shirt, but there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
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Maureen Gibbon
Maureen Gibbon is the author of the novels Paris Red, Thief, and Swimming Sweet Arrow, and the prose poem collection Magdalena.