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Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
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No Place Like Home
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Steve Cartwright © 2020

Settling Scores with Queenie


Walter Giersbach


Queenie was still a hundred percent bitch four years since I’d last seen her.  Some hospital worker called and told me she’d fallen.  Not seriously, but bad enough that next-of-kin should be notified to bail them out of any legal hassles.


“They rifled my pocketbook to get your phone number,” Queenie griped after I’d brought her home to her all-white living room.


“I’m surprised you had my number,” I said.  “Getting sentimental in your old age?”  How sweet and daughterly did she expect me to be, waltzing up after all that time?


“I’m fifty-one, Donna,” she barked.


“In dog years,” I muttered.  Queenie was as protective of her private life as one of those CIA spooks. 


She’d been an actress in three films.  Was even nominated for a Golden Globe.  Before Daddy married Queenie, his father said he wouldn’t have his son marrying an actress.  Seeing Queenie in a play, he announced, “Go ahead and marry her.  She’s no actress.”  


“So, I guess you need to tell me all of the dramatic things you’ve been doing.”  Queenie snorted.  “The wondrous men you’ve met, the amusing adventures.…”


“I came back to see whether I’d have to bury you.  Only after you were dead, of course.”  I eyed her enormous living room, the dining room leading into a sunroom before opening onto a terrace that led to an azure swimming pool.  This Spanish-rococo pile of bricks looked like real estate porn on Sunday TV.  After Queenie inherited Daddy’s oil money, she’d become the regent of Beverly Hills.  Queenie no longer had to do anything.  She was a celebrity simply because she was famous. 


Somehow, Queenie had achieved the waxy immortality of a Mae West, the svelte mummy of Rodeo Drive with her size six figure and inflated breasts.


“Well, if you must know, I’m seeing Emilio again.  We have a little place in Pasadena.  And we’re.…”


“Emilio.  Not Emilio Fortunata!” 


“The very same.”  I think I was freaking her out.


“I absolutely refuse to allow you to throw your life away for that jailbird, that perverse stalker and insipid twerp.”


“Queenie, number one, we are in love.  Number two, he’s a published writer who never served time.  Number three, he was just interviewed on ABC-TV.”


“Number whatever — four-five-six….”


“Stop with your insults!  Number four, he provides financial support for an absolutely marvelous youngster.  We’re going to adopt her when we’re married.”


“Well, any man who has an obscenity tattooed on his penis….”


“What did you say?”  My voice squeaked up an octave.  Yes, Emilio has a tat, but I’m the only person who’s seen it.  Well, maybe there were others.  But my mother?


Queenie recoiled, realizing something inappropriate had popped out.  “Never mind.  Change the topic.”


“Queenie, if you know about that tat, you must have seen Emilio naked, which indicates the likelihood you were also naked or close to going jaybird.   For once, are you going to tell the truth?  To stop being two-faced and deceitful and making everyone crazy with your dramatic world?”


Queenie sank deeper into the lounger as years of facelifts dissolved into a roadmap of age.


“I guess I shot my mouth off that time,” she whispered. 


“I’m waiting, Queenie.  Tell me what happened or I may bury you before you’re dead.”  


She exhaled like a whale spouting.  “Once.  Just one time!  You were at school or something.  It just happened.  Once!”


“That’s when you walked out of my life.”  Pieces of the past were building into a hideous structure of lies.  “Daddy was dead, and you left me alone for six months.”  It was coming back.  I was a high school senior and Emilio was studying at UCLA while becoming my first love.  “Do you know I had to pawn paintings from this house to buy food?  That I couldn’t afford school lunches, so I called up people and invited myself to dinner?  It’s called child abandonment, Queenie!”


“I was shooting a picture,” she shouted.  “In Australia.  A commitment that couldn’t be broken.”


California air conditioning flowing over me signaled worse was to come.  “You were supposed to do that studio picture,” I said, trying to line up my thoughts.  “But you were fired.  I read it in Variety.  You stayed in Australia while I scrounged for food!”


“I was pregnant, goddammit!  Don’t get uppity with me, Donna!”


“Pregnant?  And that father was…Emilio?”  It was becoming clear.  My mother was the mother of my fiancé’s child.  I began laughing insanely at the irony of adopting my own half-sister.


“It’s not funny, goddammit!”  Queenie rose from the lounger, tottering toward me.  “Stop laughing.  We’ll figure things out.  My lawyer arranged for your boyfriend to be the caregiver or whatever the hell you call it.  He’s a bleeding-heart schmuck and he’ll be paid.  Emilio doesn’t know Jennifer is his child.  Just that I gave up my mistake at the orphanage.  You didn’t know either a minute ago.”


Is it easier to face life when you’re blissfully ignorant?  Better to believe life is sweeter when you can clap your hands and make Tinker Bell live?  How would my life be different if I hadn’t taken that call from the hospital?  I felt my teeth grinding. 


“So long, Queenie.  I’ll see you in a decade or so.  Maybe when they notify me about your funeral.”


“Don’t go, Donna,” she pleaded.  “Don’t leave me alone.  I’ve been alone so long.”


At the door, I turned.  “The truth hurts.  We’re just sharing the pain.  But we can all get sentimental over it on Mother’s Day.”  Then I almost smiled.  If I couldn’t get rid of the family skeletons, I might as well make them dance.  Emilio and I would have little Jennifer waiting for us. 


I saluted Queenie.  “Jennifer can draw you a picture of what a mother should look like.  I’ll teach her.”


#  #  #

Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance, with a little historical nonfiction thrown in, for good measure. His work has appeared in print and online in over two dozen publications. including Yellow Mama. He’s also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries. He now lives in New Jersey, a nice place to visit, but he doesn’t want to die there.

It's well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our pal Steve Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by mackerel is no way to go! He (Steve, not the mackerel) has a collection of spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, available at Amazon.com.    He's done art for several magazines, newspapers, websites, commercial and governmental clients, books, and scribbling - but mostly drooling - on tavern napkins. He also creates art pro bono for several animal rescue groups. He was awarded the 2004 James Award for his cover art for Champagne Shivers. He recently illustrated the Cimarron Review, Stories for Children, and Still Crazy magazine covers. Take a gander ( or a goose ) at his online gallery: www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry with your response - that mackerel's killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications © 2020