Yellow Mama Archives

Paul Beckman
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mommetthenewneighbors.jpg
Art by Noelle Richardson

 Mom Met the New Neighbors

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

The new neighbors moved in while we took the weekend off, camping. My mother went over with a plateful of her cookies but my father stayed in front of the TV. He’s not so social.

 

Mom came home and told Dad that the new neighbors would be coming for dinner Friday night and Dad grunted his displeasure.

 

“Just because we’re in Witness Protection doesn’t mean we can’t socialize,” Mom said.

 

Dad looked out the bedroom window and saw the couple walking over. He told me to hurry up and get his “gear” and since he doesn’t kid around about that, I pulled up my closet rug, opened the trap door, and got his long, hard case and scurried back to him.

 

“Get downstairs with your Mother,” he said while screwing the silencer onto his rifle. Then, in a flash, he had on the scope, slapped in the magazine, jacked one into the chamber, and slid the window up a couple of inches.

 

The man and wife both looked up at the same time.  He tossed the wine bottle; she, the flower bouquet; and both pulled out their pistols.

 

Dad dropped the woman with one shot just above her right eye and the man looked up, nodded, and holstered his gun. He turned and walked back to his house, got in his car, and drove off.

 

Dad saw the look on my face. “She’s the one I ratted on that got us in the program,” he said. “We’re safe now. Her boyfriend is FBI and the one that placed us here.”

 

Minutes later, the ambulance showed up and carted her body off and the next day, the moving truck came and loaded up.

 

Dad didn’t say much but I knew he wasn’t looking forward to sending Mom out again to check the new neighbors when they finally moved in.

 




“Honey” & “Darling”

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

 

I hear them whispering to each other over dinner. My dining area backs to theirs and for some reason, in one small section of the wall I can hear everything. I found it by accident with one of the previous tenants. Perhaps when the building was built, the insulation was left out or the builders did something intentionally to cause this.

 

It only works one way—them to me—I’m sure of that and would bet my life on it after living here through four other tenants.

 

He calls her “Honey,” and she calls him “Darling,” and their mailbox name slot is blank. They are cautious and only talk to each other in whispers. Obviously they must know that the walls in the building are thin but they can’t know how thin in this one spot. I might as well be in their room with them. I keep my table next to the wall and eat my dinner when they have theirs, listening to them share their days’ experiences and more.

 

I heard Honey tell Darling about a company that her company was about to buy so I bought stock and made several thousand dollars. She’s the boss’s secretary. Another time she told him about a stock that was about to tank and I shorted it and made even more. There have been others and I don’t go crazy on these tips because I’m not greedy and don’t want to bring suspicion down on my head. Besides, they keep coming.

 

Darling is a gangster. He lends money, breaks legs, pulls heists and worse. He tells Honey everything. I hope to write a gangster book one of these days so I keep my laptop on the table during dinner. At times I’m so busy listening and writing, my meal gets cold.

 

At dinner this evening, I listened as Darling said that he had to leave for a bit and take care of a problem. “I have to squash a bug,” he said, “but I won’t be long,” and I heard him push his chair back and walk to the door. I heard the squeak of it opening.

 

Then, I heard a knock on my door.

 



Finally a Mother Daughter Conversation

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

 

“If you're going to slit your wrists, do it the right way,” Bette’s mother told her.

“If you lay in a tub and blade across the wrist, of course you'll get blood and sympathy. If you do it the right way, cutting the vein top to bottom, you’ll still get blood and sympathy, but you'll also get peace and resolve.

 

“Decide what you want, because I’m tired of having your stomach pumped only to find Tylenol, when there is plenty of Oxy around. I’m sick to death of these bathtub razor skits and far from impressed at your jumping onto the tracks of a subway, when there’s more than enough time and people to save you.

 

“Do you understand? If you want to yell ‘Help,’ and you mean it, then do so and your father and I will put you in the best facility to help you. Otherwise, go about a normal life, or do the deed right.”

 

Bette, her nineteen-year-old daughter, nodded and left the room, returning from the kitchen with a long, thin deboning knife.

 

She sat across from her mother, passing the knife from hand to hand while her mother cautioned her about getting blood on the white furniture and carpets. “At least let me get you some plastic sheets,” her mother said.

 

“Goodbye, Mother,” Bette said. “I wished you’d have kept me home and not in boarding schools. And I wanted so badly to have mother-daughter talks about boys, and school, and getting my first period, but you were off traveling, and I was only a vacation visitor with an open bank account and no-limit credit cards to be the good little girl and not bother you.”

 

“Nothing ever satisfied you,” Bette’s mother said. “Nothing at all.”

 

“This will.” Bette lunged forward with the knife, twice plunging it into her mother’s chest.

 

And against everything she believed in, her mother stained her precious white carpet and couch red.

 

 

 



Long Story for the New Bride

 

by

 

Paul Beckman

 

 

 

 “Here we are, out of money, low on gas, down to our last few packages of Little Debbie’s, and now the radio gives out. Pull into the next gas station or convenience store we see, and I’ll change our luck and theirs.”

 

“Fill the tank with high test and I’ll go take care of the rest,” I tell my wife, actually my new bride since we’re officially on our honeymoon.

 

I grab a hand basket and load up on Cokes and Dr. Peppers, Little Debbie’s, premade sandwiches, and when I fill the basket, I put it on the counter and tell the pimply faced clerk, “Give me a carton of Kools and one of Chesterfields,” and then I begin loading the other basket with pretzels, prepackaged bologna and ham, hamburger rolls, mustard, and anything else that catches my eye.

 

I walk back to the counter holding this basket with two hands and say, “Bag these for me, Buddy.”

 

“I’ve got to ring ‘em up first,” he says.

 

“No. You don’t have to do that,” I tell him.

 

Licking his nervous lips, he asks why not, and I tell him that I have no money, and since I don’t want to hurt him or anyone else, he should just be a good boy and do as I tell him. I reach behind my back, under my coat and pull out a pistol.

 

Without hesitation, Pimply Face takes a basket, walks around the counter, and goes and puts everything back, and comes for the second basket.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I ask.

 

“Putting away your dreams,” he says. “We sell stuff here—we don’t give nothing away.”

 

“Don’t you see this gun?” I ask, waving it in front of him.

 

“Sure do, but I know you have no plans for using it, and by the way, I turned off the pump before it hit six dollars, so you owe me six dollars worth of labor in return. Grab the mop and bucket and take the key to the bathrooms and clean them. If you do a good job, we’ll call it even for the gas. If you don’t, then we take other measures.” He points to a closed-circuit TV on the wall where there’s a man sitting with a shotgun looking down at them both. “Other measures like meeting my father.”

 

“What took you so long?” my bride asked. “Where’s the food?”

 

“Long story,” I say. “Long story.”

 

 

 

 

Holiday Shopping

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

 

Call me a sentimental fool, but if you know what’s good for you, you won’t leave out the word “sentimental.”

 

I talk tougher than I am. Some people believe I’m connected, made my bones and all the rest that goes along with it, but truth be told, I’m only a hustler and one without a conscience. I’ll watch an ATM until an old lady or a really old man makes a withdrawal and sees where they stash the money and follow and take it sounding all Brooklyn when I demand it and show my shiv. Old people are more afraid of a knife than a gun. It’s the pain thing because everyone’s been cut with a knife and few geezers carry a bullet hole.

 

I’m out today getting money for a V-Day present for Roxie. She thinks I’m out selling insurance and in a way, that’s what I do. I’ve clipped two purses and lifted a box of chocolate covered cherries—her favorite.

 

I saw a gold heart on a chain in Walmart that would be perfect. It’s very stylish, with the heart being thin and long pointing down to cleavage and Roxie is nothing if not proud of her cleavage. I need one more score to get the $75 to buy this. I asked the saleslady to hold it for a couple of hours. “I’ll let my replacement know about this and you.”

 

I head over to my “go to” joint for easy money, the supermarket. Ladies push their carts around with their pocketbooks in the baby carrier open so they can get at their coupons. They’re always turning their back and the best spot is the deli section when they’re trying to get the ham sliced thin enough to read through and taking a taste of everything they order. A free lunch, they think, but I show them there’s no such thing.

 

I got two wallets in a matter of minutes and headed back to Walmart. A different saleswoman was there and asked if she could help.

 

She kept staring at me and smiling. “Oh the heart,” she said. “It’s so lovely that two other people asked for it, so I put it in the back room for safekeeping.” She patted my hand that was on the counter and told me she’d be right back.

 

She was back in five minutes, which I guess to an old fossil like her was right back, and she offered to wrap it and I said, “Sure,” and I paid with my wad of bills and before she had finished wrapping, I had my arms twisted behind my back and handcuffs slapped on.

 

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” she said. “We met earlier this morning outside the bank where you stole my money I was going to buy my granddaughter a Valentine’s present with. I’m sure she’ll love this heart,” she said as the detectives led me away.

 

 

Here’s the Way I Keep My Job

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

I come in early, leave late, eat my lunch at my desk in my neat cubicle and monitor my boss’s email and text messages on the sly.

 

I was called in for my annual review last month, and I knew it was going to be deadly because my work output is meager and of poor quality. The company changed systems and I can’t grasp the new one. I didn’t wait for my big shot boss to get off his “sorry to let you go” speech. I struck first.

 

“I saw you at the Hilton a couple of weeks ago,” I said, knowing he’d be there from his email. “In case you saw me and wondered why I didn’t say hello, it’s because I didn’t want to bother you and Mrs. Erskine. You were in the corner of the bar and were talking and I figured that if you came this far away from the office to confer, you didn’t need me interrupting. I was right, wasn’t I?”

 

He stared at me, and I knew he was trying to vaporize me with his eyes, but he’s not the big boss for nothing, because he said, “William, you need to catch up on our new system. How about if I send you to the company school for a week in Orlando?” He closed my file and forced a smile.

 

“Would I have time to spend at Disney World or will it be 24-7 of classes?” I asked.

 

“I can arrange it so you stay at the hotel of your choice and classes only four hours a day instead of full days. How does that sound?” he asked.

 

“Four hours every day?” I asked.

 

“No. No,” he said. “Just three days a week for two weeks and weekends off. Of course you’ll have a pass to the Park and a company credit card for meals and incidentals. You’ll come back all fired up and rested and ready to bring your work up to par.”

 

“Am I in your office because my work isn’t up to par?”

 

“With the old system it would be, but you need some fine-tuning on the new system, and you’re not alone in needing to catch up, but since you’re a valued employee, we are using you to try out our new “catch up” program. What do you think?”

 

“If it helps the company, then I’m all for it,” I said and reached out my hand to shake his, but he couldn’t seem to unclench his fist, so I did a two-handed shake around it and walked out of his office humming, “It’s a Small World After All.”

 

 

 

Heist

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

I’ve had enough. How much can a person take? I’ll tell you how much. Use me for example, I can take a full side of beef, a case of King Crabs, two large bags of rolls still warm from the baker’s oven, and the daily newspaper lying in front of the store.

 

I can and did take that, except I forgot the newspaper, I was so busy wrangling the side of beef into the trunk with my golf clubs and beach crap, that I left it where it was thrown.

 

It was when I left the trunk open and stooped to pick up the paper, that the cop came around the corner, and since he does this as part of his rounds, five days a week, I was out of place and out of bounds. I would’ve been gone and safe if I didn’t go back for the paper. Now I know why they say no one reads the paper anymore.

 

I’m out of options. I have one phone call and I don’t want to waste it on my wife who’ll just throw my ineptitude up to me, and it’s too early to call a lawyer, so I think I’ll save it for when I really need it.

 

“Guard,” I call.

 

“What is it?”

 

“Can I have today’s paper to read?”

 

 

 

Movie Lesson # 1

by Paul Beckman

 

Grover saw the man in the hat again.

At least, he thought he did. He crossed the street and walked a bit, stopping every once in a while to look in store windows, attempting to use them as mirrors, like in the movies; trying to catch the man he was sure was tailing him.

It didn’t work; the sun was too bright. He should’ve done this across the street, in the shade.

Quickly, he ducked into a blind alley and realized it was a dumb move, so he turned around to leave and saw with certainty he no longer had to worry about being followed.

 

Kiss Kiss 

 

by Paul Beckman

 

Grandma will be wearing a mask when we visit, so don’t you kids be alarmed.

How will we know it’s Grandma under the mask?

It’s just a mask that covers her mouth so she doesn’t breathe in germs.

Grandma’s scary. Can we cover our eyes with a mask so we’re not afraid?

Is she going to take off her mask when she gives us her squishy wet hello and goodbye kisses?

No kissing this time. Germs. Grandma’s now afraid of germs.

What about the money? Will she still give us money if she doesn’t kiss us?

Maybe she’ll say kiss, kiss and give you a check. She doesn’t touch money anymore, since she read that money’s covered with germs from many people.

Can we wear masks too? We can say kiss kiss and hand her pictures we’ve drawn.

Is she going to cook that stew again she always cooks?

No. We’ll stop at a restaurant before we go to her house and get lunch. We’ll bring her lunch with us from there, also.

You can show her your pictures, but if she’s not wearing doctor’s gloves, she won’t touch them. Remember, say hello and then go out in the yard and play, and I’ll come get you when it’s time to leave.

Why don’t we stay home, and you tell grandma we’re waiting in the car, so we don’t bring in germs?

If she doesn’t see you, she probably won’t give you any money, and you know we’re broke and need money.

Can’t you just tell that to grandma?

No. grandma likes to play this game so we have to go along with her.

Do you still want me to go into her bedroom and look for jewelry?

Yes. Remember, only one piece and try to remember that it should have diamonds.

What about me? What should I look for?

Look for cash in the usual places. Under the mattress, in her underwear drawer—poke around the room and if you find any, take it all so she’ll think she forgot where she put it.

Is Grandma going to die?

We’re all going to die.

Should I still take her pills and put aspirin in the pill bottle?

Just in one pill bottle.


baldbaby.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2017

Bald Baby

by Paul Beckman

 

When I was four years old, I got a beautiful bald baby doll for my birthday. My father brought it home from a business trip to Europe. My seven-year old sister Doris wanted to play with her but I wouldn’t allow it. A couple of weeks later, Bald Baby Doll disappeared from our vacation trip to the mountains and I never saw her again and I wouldn’t play with any other dolls.

Last week, our families, after years of estrangements, were together for Christmas, and Doris gave me an identical Bald Baby Doll. She said she’d been looking for one for the past forty-plus years and finally found one on eBay.

Tearing up, I hugged Bald Baby and went off to be alone. I noticed a little bit of red nail polish on two of her toes and remembered I had painted Bald Baby’s toenails and parts of her toes with Mom’s nail polish. When my husband came up to bed, he teased me for sleeping with a doll at my age.

Early the next morning, I was sitting with Doris’s four-year-old granddaughter, Dory, on the top step of the stairs. I was painting her toenails bright red. When I finished, I kissed her cheek and told her we should stand on the step on our tip toes, and bend over and look at her bright shiny nails.

I held on to the railing.

 



An Editor’s Rejection Mistake

by Paul Beckman

 

I’m having a bad streak of luck—another story rejected today. This was a sure thing so all I can figure is the editors have it out for me.

I’m Mikey “the Blade” Morgan, six months out on parole when this story came back. Not even an attaboy or personal note. It was the standard fuck you—your story doesn’t fit into this issue at this time but consider buying a subscription or hire our editing service. The Editors.

Write what you know and I did. I wrote about slicing a guy open because he didn’t pay the vigorish he promised me last week. My character, Slim Tim, broke into the weasel’s house and took everything of value, filled a pillow case, and poured himself a glass of rotgut bourbon and sat in the comfortable leather chair to wait and then dozed off.

Jimmy “the weasel” woke him closing the door when he got home about midnight and Mikey confronted him and got his attention by pushing the button on the switchblade. In out in out in out.

I was waiting in Editor’s house drinking Chivas when he got home. His wife went up to the bedroom and Editor went to pour himself a drink. I was standing in the shadows holding the bottle.

“The Weasel” swore he’d have the money in two days and Slim Tim glared at him pushing the knife button so the blade went in and out. “I swear on my children On my wife On my mother I’ll have the money in two days.”

“You have two minutes,” Slim said wiggling the blade under the Weasel’s chin.

“Who are you?” Editor asked and I told him and I let him know that like my character, Slim Jim, I had no conscience and didn’t think much of his rejection letters and rejection in any form.

“Maybe one of my interns made a mistake,” Editor said. “They’re always fucking up. Come into my study and I’ll pull it back up on the computer and take another look-see.”

“Hey, Mikey. This is a fine story. I don’t know what that bitch was thinking about. I’ll add it right now and call it our feature story of the month. Whaddaya think? Sound good? Say, would you pour me a drink while I insert your story. I’m also sending you an acceptance letter asking to see more of your work. Sound good, Mikey? All good, huh?”

Slim flicked his blade in Weasel’s nostril and the blood gushed. “Feel like Jack Nicolson?” he asked. Then he slashed Weasel’s bicep and Weasel began begging, making quite the racket, as he was crying. “I’ll give you the money,” Weasel said. “It’s in the kitchen, in the refrigerator freezer. Cold cash. Okay? Like that—cold cash? Get it?”

Weasel pulled the cash from behind the Hungry Man TV dinners and held it out to Slim just as Mrs. Weasel who’d been awakened by Weasel’s screaming and crying stood watching in the doorway. As Slim held his hands out for the cold cash after putting his blade down on the table Mrs. Weasel, with a two-handed police stance holding her 9mm Beretta took out Slim with a double tap right above his ear.

“There,” Editor said. “Take a look. How do you like it—framed right on page one? It’s a beaut and my readers are going to love your story.”

As Mikey was looking at the large display on the desktop, he thought he saw a reflection on the screen of a woman in a nightgown holding a rifle.

 


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Art by Hillary Lyon 2017

All for the Love of a Good Burger

by Paul Beckman

 

We’re walking down the street, bumping hips, a hand in each other’s back pocket, and life is good and has been, since we met on the Greyhound last week.

Becky wanted a burger, so we left the idiot box on at the motel and strolled down Rt 1 until we saw a sign in the window of The Widowmaker’s Bar & Burger Joint, so in we went and had beers and burgers, and they were some fine burgers, big and juicy, and we both got ‘em with lots of fried onions, and they didn’t have fries but came with big ripple chips and bread and butter pickles.

It was kind of quiet, and after we took a table, I walked over to the bar, got our beers, and the bartender took my order. He gave a whistle when they were done, and I took the plates to the table and brought our glasses back and got another pair of beers.

We were almost to our room, walking through the motel parking lot, kicking up the stones, when a door opened, and this bruiser comes out, yelling that we were kicking stones at his truck and scratching it.

We wouldn’t do that, I told him, and he asked, was I calling him a liar, and I said I wouldn’t do that either, and he said, so you were kicking stones at my truck, and I could tell he was drunk, and a mean drunk to boot, so we kept walking, and he yelled for us to stop, and I guided Becky over to our room and unlocked the door, and quick locked it, and we looked at each other and shrugged, and we both knew we dodged a bullet, and then the mean drunk kicked our door open with one kick.

We didn’t have a back door, and I told Becky to go lock herself in the bathroom and try to crawl out the window and get some help, and I said howdy to the mean drunk, and he took two steps in and tossed me around like a rag doll, and then he belched and fell over on our bed and went to sleep.

I whispered Becky out of the bathroom, and we got our stuff and started walking away from the motel, and drunk guy’s door was open, so I peeked in, saw his keys and wallet, and we had ourselves a ride to the next town and a couple of hundred dollars and two credit cards to boot.

We ditched the pickup when the sun was coming up and walked back to the Greyhound station we’d passed and bought two tickets to New York, and had an hour wait, but just before the bus pulled in, the drunk guy blasted through the waiting room door, gun in hand and shot Becky.

She was hurt bad but still alive, when he told me to give him his keys and his wallet and tell him where his truck was.

I did all that and then I saw the bullet coming at my head in slow motion and heard the noise, and that’s the next to the last thing I saw.

 


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Art by Bryan Cicalese 2018

The Jarvis and Mae Team

by Paul Beckman

 

Jarvis left early, skipping his breakfast coffee.

Mae took the bucket of cleaning supplies into the bathroom and began scrubbing. Two hours on the bathtub alone, and extra on the spigot and faucets. After the bathroom sin,k she ate some milk crackers and drank a beer.

She finished the sink in minutes, since there were only spots of spray and not layers like the tub. She started on the tile floor, had another beer, and then on the grout, which took three toothbrushes and a couple of hours.

When Mae finished, she saw a couple of sprays on the tile wall and got those off in no time.

After putting the cleaning bucket back, she set about making dinner for Jarvis. He always liked comfort food after a job, and she made a damned fine stew, if she said so, herself.

At eight he showed up with the banker all trussed-up and duct-taped. Jarvis tossed him in the tub, saying dinner first.

Mae wished he wouldn’t bring his work home with him, and that he lay more plastic down, but she said nothing and watched a little TV, while Jarvis was busy hacking away.

 


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Art by Ann Marie Rhiels 2018

Squatters

by Paul Beckman

 

The Russian had Uber drop him off at Long-Term Parking at Newark Airport, wandered around until he found an older Lexus that could be hotwired. He popped the lock, hotwired it, and drove off, paying the eighty-two-dollar parking fee.

He made it to New York in forty minutes and double-parked on E. 49th, next to Dicey Meyer’s car.

He found the right key on the ring and opened Dicey’s trunk. He pulled out the rolled-up rug with Dicey inside and popped the trunk on the stolen Lexus. 

A streetlight illuminated a pajama-clad couple—gypsies. They stared out at him from their prone positions. A flashlight shone on the floor between them, lying in front of two Bergdorf shopping bags with clothes spilling out. The man held an open container of hummus and a bag of pita chips. A bag of grapes sat at the ready. The woman was busy flossing.

The Russian motioned for them to get out of the car. They didn’t budge. The man wiped his mouth with the napkin tucked into the neck of his pajama top. The woman rinsed from a water bottle and spat out into a chipped cup with a broken handle that read, “I Heart da naştere.”

A police car, lights flashing, rounded the corner.

 


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Art by Steve Cartwright 2018

Knucksie

 

by Paul Beckman

 

Quinn, after dinner, while sipping brandy with his wife, Mary Elizabeth, and talking about their respective days tells her that he’s moving out of their New York apartment and taking  a new job in California. Mary Elizabeth puts her glass on a coaster and rushes to him, sits on his lap, and begins kissing him.

“I’ve always wanted to live on the west coast in warm weather, Quinn. What a great surprise. When are we going?”

“We’re not,” Quinn says. “I am. This has been a nice five years together but I want something better than nice. I want exciting.”

Mary Elizabeth hops off his lap, furious at herself for acting the fool. She walks around the room. “Is there anything we can do to make our lives together more exciting for you?” she asks, picking up the fireplace poker. She pokes the logs. Sparks drift up the chimney.

“You don’t have exciting in you,” Quinn says. “It’s no one’s fault. You’re sweet and lovable and we get along fine, but I want more.” He drones on and Mary Elizabeth’s mind goes to her safe spot—the ball field.

This is for all the marbles—deuces wild, two balls, two strikes, two men on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and Mary Elizabeth is facing a mean knuckleballer with World Series written all over him.

Mary Elizabeth holds her hand up and the ump calls time.

Knucksie yells something from the mound I can’t repeat on TV.

Mary Elizabeth tightens her gloves, takes a couple of cuts with her Louisville Slugger and steps into the batter’s box again.

Knucksie throws, and Mary Elizabeth fouls it off.

Three more pitches and three more foul balls.

Knucksie is frustrated and starts ragging on Mary Elizabeth, and she dashes off to the mound, and they go at it.

The umpire walks out, breaks up the jawing, and walks back to home plate.

Knucksie turns his back on Mary Elizabeth; she stands, bat resting on her shoulder, prepared to follow the ump back to the plate.

She turns, steps into her home run swing, and connects with Knucksie’s head.

“How’s that for exciting? Mary Elizabeth asks, as she drops the bloody poker on the carpet next to Quinn’s head.

She picks up his brandy and takes a sip.

 

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Art by K. J. Hannah Greenberg 2019

Guns and Rose

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

She appeared to be swathed in her entire wardrobe, while sitting on a folding chair in front of a modest storefront on the Lower East Side, in front of two neon signs:

 

Fortunes Told.

 

Ask About Your Future.

 

 

I was slow walking the New York streets, seeing the sites, as I approached her. She stood and parted the curtain in the doorway and asked if I’d like to know what my future’s going to bring.

“Isn’t that something you should already know?” I asked, pointing at the neons.

She said, “The gun. Don’t you want to know about the gun?”

          I patted my pants pocket and walked by.

“It’s worth ten dollars to know about the gun—don’t you think?”

I turned and followed her inside. She switched off the neon lights, locked the door, and pulled a curtain closed on another doorway, exhaling the smell of boiling cabbage, as she lit watermelon-scented candles around the room.

 She pointed to the chairs around a small, round, wooden table. “The seat you pick will say a lot,” she said.

 “In that case, why don’t you pick out the chair for me?”

“That’s not how it’s done,” she said. “My name’s Rose. What’s yours?”

“Shouldn’t you know that, also?”

“I don’t know what you’re calling yourself, but your birth name was Myron.”

“That’s the name I go by,” I lied.

“No it’s not,” she said and got up and took a cigar box from a bookshelf and said, “Put your gun in here, and I will tell you all you need to know.”

I took out the unloaded, rusty .22 caliber and left the bullets in my pocket.

She dimmed the lights, put both hands on the box, centered it on the table, and moved them over the box, as she hummed a song from Fiddler on the Roof.

          “This is not a lucky gun. It was used to hold up several bodegas, and it wounded a policeman. This will only bring you bad luck, and you should have left it, when you saw it lying in the curb.”

 Rose stood, indicating the reading was over. “I suggest you leave the gun here for me to dispose of, for you.”

I paid her the ten dollars and then lifted the top of the cigar box to get the .22. It was empty.

A large, mustachioed man entered the room, brushing the curtain away, and stood with a menacing look. He had a Bowie knife in his belt and the .22 in his hand.

“I told you this was not a lucky gun,” she said. “Now give my husband all your money and your wallet.”

I did what I was told and backed to the shadows of the entry door, while reaching behind my back. “You were right, Rose, that’s not a lucky gun. It’s unloaded, but this 9mm is lucky and loaded.”

I pointed it at her and her husband and took my money and theirs.

Then I took the cigar box for good measure.

 

 



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Art by Daniel Valentin 2019

Huddled & Crying

by Paul Beckman

 

Lola cried when she was happy. She cried while watching a sad movie. Her mother cried at the same things and at the same time when they were together. Lola’s husband laughed at her for crying and teased his mother-in-law for it, also. Lola’s father was more of a weeper. Cutting into a fresh melon and smelling its fragrance could cause him to shed a few tears. Lola’s husband did not dare tease or laugh at his father-in-law. He knew better than to make an enemy of this short, stick figure man with Popeye muscles, who had a ruffian’s reputation on the docks where he was a longshoreman.

Lola’s son was another story. He wanted to be like his grandfather and be tough, and like his father and not cry, but he was fifteen and his father took too much pleasure in kicking his butt for minor infractions of their house rules, or any delay in getting his chores done in a timely manner.

Ethan, the fifteen-year-old, would spend as much time as possible at his grandparents’, and neither one of them would yell at him, much less hit him. Once he stayed away for a week after talking back to his father and getting the buckle end of the belt on his back and face.

When Lola came home from the store and saw the blood splattered on the kitchen linoleum, she went up to her son’s bedroom and held him while they both cried themselves out, and then she ran a tub for him and dried him off, adding salve to  his open wounds. She brought him up a bowl of cereal, and he slept as she went down to the basement and got his baseball bat and sat holding it in the dim light of the living room, waiting for her husband to come home from the bar.

The next day Lola called her father, who said he’d be right over.

Lola and Ethan were sitting on the steps leading upstairs. Her husband’s car was parked on the lawn with the driver’s door open, and Lola’s husband leaning half out of the car.

Her father pulled up, looked at his son-in-law, and then went into the house, where he saw the condition of his grandson, both eyes swollen and blackened, with buckle marks on his arms and back.

He told Ethan to go get his father’s belt and hunting knife and bring them in to him and then to stay outside until he told him he could come in.

Lola’s father took her into the bathroom, where between sobs she told him what she had come home to and what she did. He told her that her husband beat her, then closed the door and told her to strip down to her bra and panties.

He proceeded to give her a beating like the one Ethan got, but not as severe.

He then raked his arms and face with the hunting knife and stabbed himself in his side. He ran Lola a bath and walked downstairs and outside, just as the police car the neighbors called, pulled up.

Ethan told the police he got back at his father with the baseball bat he was holding, and his grandfather told the police Ethan was trying to protect him from his father and the knife.

Then Lola came limping out and said that she gave her husband back for the beating he gave Ethan and her the night before.

The policeman told them all to go in the house while they waited for a detective and an ambulance.

When they showed up, they walked into the house and Lola, her father, and Ethan were all sitting on the couch huddled, crying, and bleeding.

 



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Art by Cindy Rosmus 2019

Finally Adopted

 

by Paul Beckman

 

These are some of the things I know and some I wish for:

We’ll be getting new BMX bikes. I hope they’re Tony Hawk models. My new brothers will want to play ball with me and Mikey: softball, hardball, bowling, and pinball. We’ll go to a new school in a nice town and live in a big house with our own bedrooms. We won’t have to beg for food or steal it. And we’ll be able to play on the high school sports teams—that is, if we make the tryouts. I’ll be able to play drums in the school band and my brother Mikey will write for the school newspaper. And we’ll go out on dates, get our driver’s licenses, and use our new father’s car. Our new mother will ask about our food choices when she is making out the shopping list. All this and we’ll get new clothes. But best of all, we’ll never have to see our birth parents’ fists again.

Our new mother and father picked us up and signed the papers. We got in the back seat of their silver Mercedes, and they asked if we were hungry, and asked how we feel about a drive-through, and we told them we were excited about McDonald’s, and it would be one of the biggest treats of our lives. We got two Big Macs, a large fries and shake each, and were careful to not drop or spill anything in the car.

We drove off the turnpike ramp and went through beautiful neighborhoods as it got dark, and finally we drove to a  cul-de-sac, and went all the way to the end, and took the driveway in what seemed forever, to a large brick house that was so beautiful, we both wanted to cry, and our new father opened a garage door from the driveway, and we drove into our new world, which was the basement of this new world, where we were told that we were only allowed upstairs in the house when our new parents invited us.

For now, we must put on the handcuffs with their chains imbedded into the cement and our ankle cuffs. We each had a mattress. They brought us down food after they had dinner. It was left over from their meal, and Mikey and I shared roast beef with bite marks, the same with the baked potatoes, dessert, and vegetables. We were told that at the right time in our training, they’d let us loose to work in and around the house, but it would take a while of good behavior.

Our new mother homeschooled us, starting in the morning, after breakfast of leftover eggs, and toast, and sometimes milk, and once, juice.

We never did get our driver’s licenses or go out on dates, or even have our own rooms, until one day, they were gone all day and came home drunk.

Over time I had worked a big piece of concrete almost loose, and they brought us their doggie bags from the restaurant, and sat watching us eat, while drinking Scotch, passing the bottle back and forth until they got silly, and then a little mean, and finally passed out drunk.

Mikey reached the lady’s pocketbook, snagged the keys and her wallet, undid my locks, and I stood holding the concrete slab high over the man’s head.

After we took care of business, we went upstairs to finally see our new house and raid the fridge.

 

Paul Beckman’s fourth short story collection is Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press). He had a story selected for the 2018 Norton Micro-fiction Anthology and was one of the winners of Best Small Fictions 2016. He won the Editor’s Choice Award in 2016 from Fiction Southeast. His stories have appeared in the following publications as well as many others: Spelk, Necessary Fiction, Litro, Pank, Playboy, Thrice Fiction, and The Lost Balloon. Paul curates the FBomb NY flash fiction reading series monthly at KGB’s Red Room in New York’s Lower East Side.

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