“Across the Alley” by Raymond Miller
Thursdaze (because the weekend won’t come fast enough) features original flash fiction modeled after our Drug Chronicles Series. Each story is an original one, and each encapsulates the author’s fictional experience with drugs. Our print series has anthologized authors writing about marijuana, cocaine, speed, and heroin, but contributors to the web series can focus on any drug, real or imagined, controlled or prescribed, illegal or soon-to-be legalized. Submissions to Thursdaze will be judged on an author’s ability to stylistically emulate his or her substance of choice. Submissions are also limited to 750 words, so try to focus. (They have a pill for that.)
This week, Raymond Miller looks at one grandmother’s encounter with her neighbors across the alley.
When Cold-bone described beating his girlfriend unconscious because she threw up on his shoes while giving him a blowjob, Burnadette decided that she wasn’t hungry after all.
It took her most of the evening to get her grandkids bathed and in bed. She allowed them to eat first, even as her stomach grumbled, and took her meal from what was left. She looked forward to her fried bologna, collard greens with mayonnaise, canned corn, and fresh onions, and even took the time to reheat her food on the hot plate because the burners on the stove no longer worked.
She pushed her meal aside. Maybe the kids would eat it in the morning.
Her neighbors, Cold-bone and his cousin Webby, sat on their front porch as they had almost every night. Their rental house sat on the other side of a gravel alley, but seemed to be right outside Burnadette’s living room window. Even with her television on, she heard every curse word and every fart.
If they could hear her, they never said anything.
She’d moved to Little Rock in ’64 to get away from a stepfather who was too quick with a belt. The town, barely a blip on map, no longer existed. By the time Reagan became president, the owner of the lone gas station had unceremoniously closed his doors for good by flipping his cardboard sign one last time. Even then, the town didn’t have enough people to fill a school bus.
Harsh words erupted. A woman wanted drugs, but she was three dollars short. Burnadette thought she recognized the high shrieky voice as one of the girls who stood in line with her at the welfare office.
The woman, now begging for the three dollars, was becoming a nuisance. In a few minutes, Cold-bone would grab her by the hair and shove her down the front porch steps. If she were lucky, she would break her neck and be out of her misery.
The woman made an offer and Cold-bone took her to the alley where they could have as much privacy as could be had under a street light. “Don’t be messing up my shoes, bitch,” he said, “cause imma fuck the shit outa them tonsils.”
After the boys moved in two years ago, Burnadette stormed out on her front porch and gave them a piece of her mind. What kind of person keeps all that racket up on a Tuesday night? Decent people got to sleep.
Webby cursed at her something awful. Cold-bone pulled a gun and fired five shots. Her three hanging pot plants exploded, spraying her with water and dirt. She didn’t remember pissing herself, running back into the house, or calling the police.
She did remember the frantic search for a new place to stay.
But there was no place for her, and Cold-bone was back on the street in a few weeks.
She was trapped with them. The boys didn’t go to church, had no care for their mothers, and no future to worry about. There was nothing for her to appeal to and nothing to use as leverage. They might as well have been ghosts standing outside her door.
And after her grandkids moved in, dirty and half-naked, possessing nothing but a piss-stained blanket and an empty suitcase between them, she had even fewer options.
She woke abruptly. The sunlight told her that she was already late. The kids were lounging in bed, talking and giggling, but had not bothered to do anything to get ready for school. Getting them out the door was like pushing a pickup truck with four flat tires through mud.
With only minutes to spare, she washed her face and ran a comb through her ever-graying hair. If she could catch the next bus, she would only be an hour late. She could not lose this job; no one else would hire her to clean anything.
She almost tripped over the body curled on her porch. Burnadette knew the face from the welfare line. The girl, now without makeup, looked so young. The clear glass pipe was still in the girl’s hand.
Evidently, Burnadette was not as smart as her grandkids. They had seen the body and went about their business. Instead of hurrying to her bus stop, she turned the opposite direction, hoping the pay phone at the liquor store still worked.
RAYMOND MILLER works as a technical writer by day and writes fiction by night. His short stories have appeared in numerous national and regional literary magazines. Presently, he is seeking an agent to represent his first novel, The Roof is on Fire, a street lit tale set in Little Rock, AR. Learn more about Raymond at: www.raymondmiller.com
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Thursdaze flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your submission should never have been published elsewhere.
—Your story should feature a drug, any drug, and your character’s experience with it. We’ll consider everything from caffeine to opium, and look forward to stories ranging from casual use to addiction to recovery. Stylistically, we’ll respond most favorable to stories that capture the mood and rhythm of your drug of choice.
—Include your drug of choice next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected], and include THURSDAZE in the subject line. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
About the Drug Chronicles Series: Inspired by the ongoing international success of the city-based Akashic Noir Series, Akashic created the Drug Chronicles Series. The anthologies in the series feature original short stories from acclaimed authors, each of whom focuses on their fictional experience with the title drug. Current releases in the series include The Speed Chronicles (Sherman Alexie, William T. Vollmann, Megan Abbott, James Franco, Beth Lisick, Tao Lin, etc.), The Cocaine Chronicles (Lee Child, Laura Lippman, etc.), The Heroin Chronicles (Eric Bogosian, Jerry Stahl, Lydia Lunch, etc.), and The Marijuana Chronicles (Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Linda Yablonsky, etc.).
Posted: Mar 6, 2014
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