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Spook on Rye-Fiction by Will Bernardara, Jr.
A Study in Loss and Hunger-Fiction by T. N. Allan
Tepid Strawberries-Fiction by Preston Lang
The Ice Tombs-Fiction by j. brooke
Uncle Harry-Fiction by Michael S. Stewart
Run, Robby, Run, Part 3-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Hunting Ghosts-Fiction by J.M.Taylor
SkitzoFreniC-Fiction by Michael Bauman
Candy Man-Fiction by Frank Quinn
A Dog of War-Fiction by Robb T. White
The Retiree's Epiphany-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Reckoning-Fiction by Edward Francisco
Sarcasm's Dream-Fiction by Erin J, Jones
Dishes, Dishes, Dishes-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Angels in Vegas-Flash Fiction by Tom Darin Liskey
An Alto for the Choir-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
A Splash of Red-Flash Fiction by Daniel Clausen
A Slight Disposition-Flash Fiction by James Coffey
Together Forever-Flash Fiction by Bill Baber
Talky Tina-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Play Dead-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Boycott This Poem-Poem by Michael Marrotti
Monaco-Poem by John Doyle
He Dubbed Himself General Custer-Poem by David Spicer
Moment of Madness-Poem by Meg Baird
A Beautiful Chaos-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Phantom Voices Floating...Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Dirty White Girl-Poem by Ian Mullins
Don't Do It, It Ain't Worth It-Poem by Ian Mullins
Cursed-Poem by John Grey
Regarding the Coming of Man-Poem by John Grey
Threshold-Poem by Kenneth P. Gurney
Word Salad With Ranch-Poem by Kenneth P. Gurney
Turnabout-Poem by Kenneth P. Gurney
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

tepidstrawberries.jpg
Art by Cindy Rosmus 2017

Tepid Strawberries

Preston Lang



I like to eat cereal at 3 PM. No, let me try that again: I need to eat cereal at 3 PM. For breakfast I have half a banana, and I bring the other half to work. I also bring two strawberries and a little box of Total. When 3 PM rolls around, I go into the breakroom and do what needs to be done. Cereal, skim milk, half banana, and two strawberries. Two. That’s what must go into that bowl.

One day Dorothy brings blueberries to work.  

“Try one, dear.”

Now, let me make this clear: she has a whole tub of blueberries. I just take one because she won’t shut up, and it isn’t even good. It’s bitter and it’s mushy. The two things that a blueberry absolutely must not be.

“Great, isn’t it?”

“Pretty great, thanks a lot.”

The next Tuesday is one of the horrible days. I still haven’t finished the monthly report, and Mr. K is getting really snippy about it, and the Seattle office wants me to double-check some files, and then we get hit with this surprise departmental meeting that sucks the soul right out of my body. I’m looking around at everyone thinking—the only thing that really makes sense right now is a mass suicide.

I finally get out of that meeting at six minutes to 3, and all I am thinking about is cereal. This is the only thing that gets me through to 5. And I’ve got my Total, I’ve got my half banana, and then Dorothy comes in when I’m cutting up my strawberries. Two strawberries.

“My, those look like good strawberries.”

“Yup.”

“Sure look good. I mean, those look like some really terrific strawberries.”

She’s right. They’re those dark red, taste-the-whole-summer strawberries. She wants some, but how many do I have? Two. If you get a chance some time, put two strawberries on your desk and see if it looks like a lot of fruit. Am I supposed to give her . . . one? Am I supposed to give her 50 percent of my strawberries? I work these things out—half a banana, two strawberries. I know the ratios that I need. I once accidentally mashed my banana on the way to the office. It just about wrecked me. But Dorothy keeps at it.

“Wonder if it tastes as good as it looks.”

But today—of all days—honestly, I can’t even pretend. Dorothy just stands there and watches while I put . . . both my strawberries in the bowl. Just before she leaves the breakroom, she makes a noise, a subtle snort. Like a pig would make. Like a subtle pig would make. By the end of the day everyone is looking at me like I’m some selfish bitch who takes and takes and never gives. I see how you might think that without any context. But this is the context: I need my cereal exactly the way it has to be at exactly 3 PM.

The next day at 3, I go in and the strawberries—my two strawberries—are gone. I search every part of the fridge. Nothing. I eat my cereal with just banana, but it is a complete disaster. Later that day, Dorothy walks past my desk and gives me a look. Not much, but clear. Next day—same thing. Stolen strawberries. So I start to store my fruit in my desk, but six hours in a desk, and you become a tepid strawberry. And that is almost as bad as no strawberry. Three days of this, and I’m going out of my head.

Then that Friday—well, I don’t remember it so well. I do know there was a regular meeting and an interdepartmental meeting. And I know I sketched a picture of myself hanging by a noose from the light fixtures while Mr. K ran PowerPoint.

***

Maybe I’m not always the most socially acute. Apparently, Dorothy hadn’t told anyone about our fruit run-ins. She’d wanted her revenge to be quiet. My coworkers reported no friction between the two of us, but they did report a lot of disturbing behavior on my part. My clear depression, my gruesome artwork, the way I’d always suggest mass suicide pacts instead of meetings. Yes, there was a pattern.

And, of course, everyone testified that I clearly labeled my food. Red-pen block letters on every side of opaque Tupperware. It was obvious that I hadn’t intended to hurt anyone other than myself, but it isn’t legal to bring poison into a communal refrigerator. By the time the cops got around to interrogating me, however, I had it pretty well figured out. 

“Officer, am I under arrest, or can I go home and kill myself?”

They checked me into a psychiatric hospital. Six months of quiet chats with understanding shrinks—all on the corporate dime. Half a year after the event, it didn’t seem to make sense to prosecute me for reckless endangerment or possession of controlled substances, so I moved to Florida with a little resettlement money from the company. I’ve heard Dorothy’s grieving family is suing them for so blatantly missing every warning signal from that freaky, little cereal girl in the office. That’s probably fair.

Eventually I’ll have to find another job, but for now, I walk on the beach, collect shells, sing into the wind. And when 3 o’clock rolls around I make it home. And I get exactly what I need.  


Preston Lang is a writer from New York. His short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, All Due Respect, and Plots with Guns. He also writes a monthly column for WebMD.com. 

tepidstrawberriesf.jpg
Art by Cindy Rosmus 2017

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2017