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Bruce Costello
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Art by Steve Cartwright 2018

Away from Home


Bruce Costello


One warm evening during Orientation Week, a former student called Jennifer, now working as a check-out operator, exits a dilapidated, vermin-infested villa.

 She pauses at the gate and stares back at a red, hand painted sign “Slippery Lips Inn” erected above the front door by the other tenants.

 Clutching a plastic bag, she sets off for the house where ex-boyfriend Webster McIlroy lives with several other young men, nine hundred and seventeen footsteps away on Jekyll Street.

 Jennifer is a tiny girl in her late teens, her features doll-like, round and white, with rosy cheeks, dimpled chin and cute button nose. Her blonde hair is long and unruly, looking like it needs a good wash, and she walks hesitantly, seeming to stagger. Her blue eyes are glassy, as if she is dazed or feverish.

 For two days, she has not eaten and has not left her room, even to use the toilet.

 Jennifer’s parents run a dairy farm in a distant province. They have rung her several times recently and left messages, but she has not answered their calls.

To listen to her parents’ concerns and admonitions keep away from alcohol, save yourself for the right boy, study hard, make sure you eat properly – no, no, no! She’d rather go wrong in her own way than right in theirs.

 The thought makes her grimace and her face blushes scarlet. Jennifer has not told her parents she is no longer a student, that she gave up university at the end of last year after failing her exams, which she sat for just after Webster McIlroy did the dirty on her.

 Students crowd the footpath outside the Admiral Hook Tavern waiting for half-price happy hour. It is not yet dark, but many are already drunk. Vomit decorates the doorways of neighbouring businesses. A black-haired girl wearing mauve lipstick squats on the road between two parked cars and a rivulet of urine runs down to the gutter.

 Webster had seemed different than other boys. The son of a prominent surgeon, he spoke with an upper-class English accent and hadn’t demanded sex on the first date.

 On the second date, after the shagging, Webster cuddled Jennifer for over half an hour, whispering love.

 A tsunami of memories floods Jennifer’s mind. A sob escapes her lips. An odd sensation comes over her, as if she is no longer herself, but someone else, floating high above the crowd with its drunken physicality, stinking of sweat, beer, cigarettes and wacky-baccy.

 “Watch where you’re going, why don’t ya!” A greasy-faced fat boy with ears like table tennis bats bends down to slobber into Jennifer’s face. “What’ve we got here?” He grabs her bag and peers into it. “Shit!” he shrieks, and leaps back, a hand clasped to his nose.

 Jennifer picks up the bag and continues, soon arriving in Jekyll Street, where the Orientation Week Street Party is underway. Two couches and a double bed are in flames on the footpath. Broken bottles are everywhere. Music blares. Students dance and prance about, oblivious to traffic. Burly youths pick up a small car, lift it over a low brick fence and heave it onto a flower garden, all the while singing the Song of the Volga Boatmen.

Webster McIlroy, wearing a toga, is stomping up and down on a veranda roof, screaming obscenities and throwing beer bottles at a female police officer below, who is bellowing at him to get down before the whole thing collapses and someone gets killed.

 Webster lives in an ancient rambling house, barely visible behind trees and overgrown shrubbery. The back door has been left wide open and the lights are on, but nobody is home.

 Jennifer strides along the hallway to Webster’s room, empties the contents of her plastic bag into his bed, and ruffles the blankets to disguise the lump.

 She dances a little jig, stands back to admire her accomplishment, her face rippling with laughter, then leaves.

 On the street the party has become quiet. The music has stopped. Students huddle in small groups, crying, as police, fire fighters and ambulance officers dig into the rubble of a collapsed veranda.

 Jennifer skips home to the Slippery Lips Inn, humming softly.



Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2019

Doctor in Distress.


Bruce Costello


Out is out and there’s no way back in. It’s like having a baby.

          When you’re in a position of professional responsibility, you have to be careful what you say, to stay within your role. You’re there to provide a service, not to amuse yourself, or entertain your patients.

          I guess we all mess up occasionally but, once words have slipped out your lips, there’s no way you can suck them back in again.

          I haven’t a clue why I told the woman I’d had a funny dream about her. A weird gleam sprang into her green eyes.

          “Do you know anything about dream interpretation?” she demanded.

          “Not a lot. Do you?”

          “I most certainly do. And the meaning of your dream is perfectly clear. The Cornish pastie you tried to give me is symbolic.

          “Oh, really? Of what?”

          “You may be a doctor,” said the woman, sitting up, “but you’re also a disgusting old bugger who gratifies his sexual needs by having sexual fantasies about his female patients. I shall complain about you to the Medical Council.”

          With a look on her face that would freeze an Eskimo, she sprang off the examination couch, tripped and fell to the floor, exposing her shapely backside with its heart-shaped tattoo. She jumped to her feet, leapt into her jeans, and stormed from the room, head held high, snorting like a bulldog with Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome.

           Maybe I’d thought a touch of humor would help her relax, lighten things up. Or maybe it was to relieve my own stress, because doctors aren’t made out of steel, you know. We feel things, and sometimes use humor to distract ourselves. Especially when we’re tired out, last patient of the day, sort of thing.

          Or perhaps there was no reason, deep-seated or otherwise. Just something I said, spur of the moment, without thinking.

          Does everything have to have an unconscious motivation? I could navel gaze until I’m blue in the face, but it wouldn’t get me anywhere. I’m not what you’d call a self-analytical type, though I think I’m quite insightful about myself, as self-aware as most men.

          Of course, I could be wrong in thinking that, and if I am, how would I know?

          Where do I go from here? Time to retire, maybe? At sixty-three, I’m near the end of my working life. I’ve had a distinguished career, both in general practice and as a regular guest lecturer at the Medical School.

          I can’t understand why her reaction has upset me so much. If she does make an official complaint, it’s bound to be dismissed as frivolous. I’m sure of that, having served on the Complaints Panel myself on numerous occasions.

          Anyway, I asked my lawyer to make some enquiries about the woman and he found out she had a doctoral degree in psychology. She’d written her thesis on Sigmund Freud’s theory of dream interpretation, but, for reasons he couldn’t uncover, had never been registered as a psychologist.

          I spoke to a prominent Freudian analyst whom I happen to know rather well. In his opinion, the woman was way out of line reacting to my dream in the way she did.

          “Silly as a hatful of arseholes,” was the quaint expression he used.

          Why am I so bothered? I’ll never have to see her again. She probably won’t make a complaint and if she does, it wouldn’t stand up. I’ve nothing to worry about there.

          But it hurts. It just bloody hurts. You live an honest life, work hard, wear yourself out trying to do your best for your patients, then you innocently say something better left unsaid, and get shafted by the person you’re trying to help. Or that’s how it feels, anyway.

          Maybe I need to increase my own medication.

          I’ve got lots of patients, but not much family and few friends. I did have a wife once, but she sent me packing thirty years ago for reasons that had little or nothing to do with me.

          A man’s got to be fairly robust to survive a long-term relationship with a female and I don’t think I am, so I keep to myself. There’s safety in solitude.

          I must say, though, at times I do yearn for feminine warmth in my life, the softness of a woman cuddling up, someone to talk to, laugh with, weep with.

          It’s especially hard for me as a doctor, because two thirds of my patients are female, constantly reminding me of what I don’t have. It’s like being famished and standing outside a restaurant with open windows, wafting with the aroma of roast lamb—for other people, but not for me.

          What that patient said seems to have really hit home for some reason, though there’s not a grain of truth in it. Not a grain.

          You must admit the story does have its amusing side, I tell myself, but I start thinking about the strange gleam in her eyes. There’s a knocking on my front door and I wonder if she’s found out where I live.


The end.

Bruce Costello lives in the seaside village of Hampden, New Zealand. After studying foreign languages and literature in the late sixties at the University of Canterbury, he spent a few years selling used cars. Then he worked as a radio creative writer for fourteen years, before training in something completely different and rather weird and spending 24 years in private practice. In 2010, he semi-retired and took up writing to keep his brain ticking over. Since then, he’s had 126 stories accepted by mainstream magazines and literary journals in eight countries.

Ann Marie Rhiel is the Assistant Art Director for Yellow Mama Webzine. She was born and raised in Bronx, New York, presently living in New Jersey. She reconnected with her passion for art in 2016 and has had her work exhibited in art galleries around northern New Jersey ever since. She is a commissioned painting artist, who also enjoys photography. Her work has also appeared in Black Petals and Megazine Official.

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