Yellow Mama Archives II

Cindy Rosmus

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SULFUR

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

          You sit quietly, sipping your beer, while around you, all hell breaks loose. 

The Yanks are winning; you could care less. Metallica blasts on the jukebox.  Over at the pool table, he’s just won . . . again. The cheers and claps are more for him than the Yankees, though except for you, they’re all diehard fans.

          Plenty of coke-bucks on this game.  He sees to that.  There is nothing seedy, or self-destructive that he’s not in charge of.  The pool games, too.

          Over those cheers and claps comes that laugh: hearty, near-maniacal, and so loud, you swear he’s right next to you, standing over you, looking down at you, instead of over there, dancing by his winning table.

          He’s always dancing, always laughing . . .

          Always winning.

          Why me? you ask yourself.  Why only me?  Why can’t they see it, too?

          The Devil.  You’d think he’d be handsome.  Brad Pitt, or Johnny Depp-looking, instead of scrawny, with that too-curly black hair.  A wig, it looks like, though who’d choose a wig like that? And those black pop-eyes.  “Hellzapoppin’ ” eyes, like twin doors to hell.  Like behind them, demons hurl themselves, trying to break out.  No wonder he wears glasses.

          And those teeth. Needle-sharp, though only you can see that.  To the guys, they’re just too many long, white teeth. 

          But you’re a chick.  Maybe that’s it.

          No.  There’s Kate.  The beautiful, blonde barmaid.

You need a drink. Wearily, you wave her over, but she doesn’t seem to see you.  It’s like you’re dead. The way she’s clapping for him, you’d think he was this stud-ly, Brad Pitt-looking thing. You’d never know she’s head-over-heels for her own boyfriend, Butch. 

          Where is Butch? you think.

          “I ate him,” this purry voice says, right in your ear.  You turn, but no one is there.  “I bit clean through his bones, swished his flesh around in my mouth, then swallowed him.” 

 

          Wildly, you look around.  Over by the pool table, stick in hand, he’s grinning right at you.  “Mmmmmmm,” you hear him thinking. He licks his lips.  No one but you sees his tongue is forked.

          “Santos!” Kate calls to him.  “It’s on Richie!”  Another free drink.

          Richie holds up his own beer for a toast.  “Good luck!” he tells Santos.

          What nerve, you think, to name himself that.

          “Can you think of a better one?”

          You jump.  He really is beside you, now, pool stick in hand.  “You play,” he tells Richie, but he’s watching you.

          “But it’s your table, man!” Richie’s a beefy biker.  His face looks like a rat’s been gnawing on it.

          “S’okay,” Santos says.  You cringe, as he lights a cigarette.  Sulfur, you smell. Smoking in bars was outlawed in Jersey, but he does as he pleases.  “I’m talking to Magdalena.” 

          An exorcist, you think.  That’s what you need. Somewhere you could find one.  Write to the Pope, or something.  Or, if all else fails, do the job yourself.  Wearing a giant wooden cross and a garlic necklace . . .

          “Not a chance.” Santos looks almost sympathetic.  “I could live on camerones ajillo.  Somebody’s been feeding you a line of bull.”

          “Kate,” he says. 

Chin in hand, Kate is watching him, closely.  Red, swirly contacts, she wears now, for him.  Her real eyes are brown.

“Two shots,” he tells her. 

The look she gives you makes you instantly cross yourself.

“It won’t help.” Santos can’t help smiling.

But you’re not beat yet.  You, with your cheap gypsy earrings and chipped nail polish.  You, who’ve been “connected” to The Other Side since birth.  Wasn’t it dead Grandma Tucci who’d stopped you from falling out of your crib? Mama had screamed as those sheer batwings arms caught you in mid-air.

You, drunken slut or not, are the Chosen One.

“Yes, you are,” he says, right into your brain. “ ‘The Chosen One.’ ” His glasses are ice-cold against your cheek, his purry voice tickles your ear.  You almost like this!  “I’ve chosen you . . .  for my queen.”

You bolt your shot.  Shut your eyes tight against him.

Around you, guys are cheering the Yanks, ignoring both of you. It’s like neither of you exist.  You feel you’re floating, in your stools, a few feet above the floor.  “Aw, shit!” Richie yells, as if from a great distance.  He smacks the stick down on the table.  Laughter is muffled.

 

You open your eyes.

Santos . . . he’s changed. You’ve never seen anything like him.  Deep-set dark eyes, high cheekbones, a kissable mouth.  Those Harpo curls are gone: his dark hair is wavy, tousled.  Like he’s been in a windy place.

You are, you realize.  Both of you stand at the edge of a cliff.  Like a glowing red Grand Canyon, all around you.  You’re scared to look below, but the smell finds you. . . .

Like rotten eggs, and too-sweet cologne.  You realize you always smell him before you see him.

Holding his shot, he backs toward the edge, smiling.  The fangs are gone.  He has such a beautiful mouth: perfect, even white teeth, and lips you are dying to kiss. . . .

Blood, you smell now, as it gets closer.  The shot-glass brims with it.  Coppery, and meaty, you feel hungrier than you ever have in your life!

His shot he holds to your lips.  Still backing up.  Any moment you’ll both be over the edge.

“It’s worth it,” he purrs.

With all your strength, you smack that shot into him.  A maniacal howl rends the air.  Louder than the biggest bomb.  You’re torn in half.  Cracked ribs split, bleeding heart tumbles over and over!  You’re falling. . . .   

Screaming. . . . 

“Maggie!” It’s Kate.  Her brown eyes are warm, concerned.  Around you, the guys, all Yankees fans, are watching you instead of the TV screen.  “Are you okay?”

You open your mouth, but nothing comes out of it.  That’s when the door opens.

As he creeps in, you wonder where he got that hair.  Is it naturally curly, or did he sit for hours in curlers, in some old lady beauty parlor?  And for what? His glasses are so thick, you wonder how he can see where he’s going.

Somebody snickers.  You relax, a little.

When he reaches the bar, he throws down a bill.  Smiles nervously, all around.  “Buy the bar!” he tells Kate, in this reedy voice.  

And that’s how it begins. 

 

 

 

“Sulfur” originally appeared in Black Petals Issue #44, Summer 2008.






GOBBLE, GOBBLE

  

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

What happened was, Rudy fucked up.

He knew the zombies were out there. It being Thanksgiving, he should’ve stayed inside. The aroma of roast turkey vs. stench of rotting flesh? Come on.

But he felt sorry for them.

“Zombies,” he told me, “have rights, too, ‘Einstein’.”

That’s what he called me, ‘cos I was smarter than him. A college grad with a crappy job, but I knew lots of answers on Jeopardy. Knew other shit, too, like how to stay inside, when the zombies were outside, chowing down.

Home, I was, cooking our Thanksgiving dinner. As Rudy staggered to my door, a fight was going on, out in my hallway.

“Fuckin’ leech!” Lisa-from-next-door yelled at her boyfriend. “You thievin’ fuck!”

I peered out the door, not seeing Rudy, yet. Even as he clutched his throat, blood and rotting tissue peeping through his fingers.

Lisa’s boyfriend wore a jacket, hoodie, and a nice coat no doubt he stole. Out of his backpack, I glimpsed two drumsticks, poised like an acrobat’s legs. Like he’d crammed the whole turkey in there, straight from the oven.

“Where’s the stuffing?” Lisa demanded. “You take that, too?”

No answer. His cheeks were all puffed up, like before you puke.

I slammed the door.

Above the delicious aroma of turkey was a noxious smell, like giblets from last night’s garbage.

Rudy, I realized. Somehow, he’d slipped in, past me.

Something—either zombie ooze, or his mangled flesh—was stinking up my place.

“One of them . . .” Even with shades on, he looked dizzy. “. . . got me!” He was ready to cry. “And I was only trying to help.”

I reached out, hesitantly.

God, I loved him. In a sick, overwhelming way. That pale, brooding rebel; eyes hidden behind dope glasses. Who always put my needs first, sexual, or whatever. Damn, he was great between soiled, wrinkled sheets.

Obsessed with injustice, he was. Always fighting something. Even for the rights of …oozing, murderous zombies.

If Rudy . . . my dad once said, jumped off a cliff, would you . . .

My smile had freaked Dad out.

I’d been to hell, and back, with Rudy.

But this, I realized, fingers inching toward his wound, was a new kind of hell….

The doorbell saved me.

“Baby,” I said, “Go sit down.” The bell buzzed wildly, as he shuffled away.

What if the zombie had followed him here? And brought friends?

I thought hard: Machete, bowie knife, .38 special. Which was the best zombie killer?

If I used the machete, would the severed parts keep moving?

The head . . . would the runny eyes still see, rotting teeth keep chomping on both Rudy, and then me?

Or, would beheading the zombie do the trick?

 Did the .38 need silver bullets?

“No,” Rudy murmured, “That’s for werewolves.”

He’d read my mind. Was he even still human?

The buzzing was replaced by persistent knocking.

Machete behind my back, I edged toward the door. Then threw it open.

Old Mrs. Delancey, from 1-B stood, holding an empty cup.

“Christine.” Her voice was thick with dirt, and maggots. “Can you spare some flour?”

I slammed the door, heard the zombie’s head crack. A loud screeching followed.

From the couch, Rudy moaned in pain.

Using almost super-human strength, I held the door shut. Heart racing. More of them were out there. Jabbering, and howling.

My feet slipped like mad, but I kept shoving the door back. God! I prayed, help us! Wondering how long till the wood split.

If Rudy wasn’t . . . wounded, he might’ve saved us.

          But zombies had rights.

          I seethed with hatred. This was all his fault. Now, we’d be the Delanceys’ Thanksgiving feast.

Rudy slumped off the couch.

Sick as it was, the fear that he’d died, coupled with the dread of being eaten alive, gave way to panic that our dinner was burning! Turkey would be overdone; potatoes bubbling in too-little water, never to be mashed.

If the wine was opened, I might’ve disinfected Rudy’s throat, before gulping the rest, myself.

Might’ve, I thought, bitterly.

“Einstein,” he whispered, trying to sit up.

On days like this, I kept the kitchen window shut. To keep both the chill, and zombies out. But not today. Our only chance was the fire escape.

Machete in hand, I leapt across the room, toward the kitchen.

The door burst open, and the zombies stumbled in.

The stench made me gag. I glanced back to see Rudy, my poor, wounded love, half-sitting, looking so defenseless.

As they tore into him, he howled. His shades went flying, as Lisa-next-door, a zombie now, devoured half his face, with one “kiss.”

The rush of jealousy terrified me.

Still, I climbed out the window.

The sky was a freaky gray, like rain could help. I imagined it washing all the zombies from this world.

Maybe one, just one of them, would drown.

Easing myself down the fire escape, machete held close, I feared this might be my last Thanksgiving.

I recalled that cliff I might’ve jumped off, for Rudy . . .

.Before landing on my feet.

And stealing away.

 

 

 

“Gobble, Gobble” originally appeared in Dark Dossier, Issue #30, January 2, 2019.






GUNS AND MISTLETOE

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

          Well, it’s V-Day.

After months of trying, Lew was back with his wife. Red cardboard hearts, I’m hanging, all over Scratch’s. Beneath the neon beer signs on windows, on the new mirror behind the register. Right across from his Desert Eagle .44. Lew’s so lovesick, I bet he forgot it’s there. But not how to use it.

It’s thanks to me, they’re back together. Though I didn’t do much.

On Christmas Eve Day, Wifey invited Lew over for lunch.

“What the fuck . . .” he asked, as I sliced limes, “does she want?”

I shrugged. “Go,” I said. “Find out.”

He reached for the Jack Honey, then changed his mind. “Gotta buy her something? Like, nice?”

To Lew, “nice” meant perfume from the dollar store. Ask me, a chick asking you to Christmas Eve lunch meant she was either dumping you or loved you. She’d already dumped him. 

His phone pinged. “Aaah, she’s cancelling,” he said, without checking the text.

“You sure?”

He checked his phone. “Junior. He’s on his way. On time, for once.” He sounded disappointed.

I tried not to laugh.

“So, it’s Christmas Eve,” he said, slowly pulling on his jacket. He’d seen shit most people just watched on TV. Maybe worse. That gun under the bar was loaded . . . usually. Don’t ask how I knew.

But till now, I’d never seen him scared.

“What the fuck,” he said, on his way out, “does she want?”

 

*

“Fucking liar,” I told Junior, when he strolled in late, as usual.

“Had to get rid of him.” He smirked. “Mom wants him for lunch.” He’d blown his hair dry instead of letting those curls run free. His sweater was nice and tight.

“Late lunch.”

“Yup . . .”

Thanksgiving Eve we’d fucked, in the ladies’ room, after closing. He was hot for Round Two. But I was cooler than his other chicks. We hadn’t even kissed.

In a half-assed way, we welcomed Christmas. A fake tree near the pool table people backed into, each time they took a shot. Mistletoe, who-knows-where, as I was trashed when I hung it. Red and green Jell-O shots I’d made, for later.

So far, the place was dead. Snake had stopped in, in a “Bah! Humbug!” mood. Then a few bikers. Now some drunk guy in full Santa gear playing “Jingle Bell Rock” on the jukebox. “Ho, ho, ho!” he said, with each fresh drink.

Junior eyed Santa, then the ladies’ room door. “C’mon, Shel,” he said, “before it gets crowded.”

From outside came loud female voices.

“Aaaah, shit.” Junior turned away.

The voices got louder. It was déjà vu, all right. Without seeing them, I knew these chicks were trouble.

Lightning, I realized, as they came in, would strike twice.

It was them. That tiny chick and her huge, Madonna-haired lover.

They were dressed for the holidays, Big Madonna in a red sequined pantsuit with matching bag. Her bulb earrings flashed on and off like Christmas lights. The tiny one’s getup topped even that: a red and green tunic with striped leggings like you’d only find in Oz. Her elf’s cap had bells and pointy ears.

But this was no “Whistle While You Work” elf. Her round face looked as mean as the day she’d held up Lew and me with that “Barbie” gun, two years back.

Then Big Madonna heaved her into the ceiling fan. But she lived. On their way to jail, they made up.

“June!” I said, when they sat down. But Junior was doing Jell-O shots with Santa.

Lew, I thought. I’ve gotta tell Lew. Except . . .

Mom’s having him for lunch.

The chicks weren’t speaking. Casing the joint? I wondered. Finally, the “elf” beckoned me over.

“Mistletoe cocktail.”

“A what?”

Annoyed, she counted on her fingers. “Vodka. Cranberry. Honey . . .”

“No honey,” I said, but she kept going.

“Mint.” Like this was the Kentucky Derby, and Mint Juleps were flying. Then, “Ginger beer.”

“Or ginger ale,” Big Madonna said. “I like that better.”

“Fuck you!” the elf said. “Now you don’t get one. I’ll drink two Mistletoe cocktails, but you won’t get any.”

“But . . .” Big Madonna was tearing up. “It’s Christmas.”

“Yeah?” The elf smiled. “Well, I hate Christmas.”

That huge fist could’ve smashed my face. Expertly, the elf blocked it.

“But . . . that’s when we met!” Big Madonna wailed. “It’s . . . our anniversary! Tomorrow…” she gasped out between sobs. “I thought . . . I was getting . . . a ring.”

“Fat chance!” the mean elf said.

Big Madonna got up. “You making that drink?” the elf asked me.

“Junior!” I yelled, as the scorned lover ran over to Santa.

“That nasty bitch says . . .” She shook him, knocking his cap off. “She hates Christmas!”

“Good!” Santa tried pulling away. “So do I!” Junior laughed, drunkenly.

That strange déjà vu feeling, again. Recalling the time this elf-like chick pulled a “toy” gun . . .

“Open the register,” she said now. “Gimme all the money.”

This gun was bigger. Out of that sequined purse, it must’ve come. With both hands, she pointed the gun at me, then at Junior.

At first, he and Santa were too trashed to catch on. Then, laughing nervously, Santa put his cap back on. “Man,” Junior said. “I should’ve peed.” My guts felt like those Jell-O shots.

“The money,” the elf told Junior. “I want all of it.”

“But it’s Christmas,” Santa said.

“Not yet.”

Junior inched along, behind the bar. Whether he’d open the register, or grab Lew’s gun, I wasn’t sure.

          “You hate Christmas,” Big Madonna told the elf. “I bet you hate me, too.”

          “Shut up,” the elf told her.

          From behind her, Big Madonna said, “Well, now I hate you!”

          Like a grizzly bear, she overpowered her. As they went down, a barstool snapped, and the legs went flying. The gun went off, shattering the mirror behind the register. Glass was everywhere.

          Junior had sobered up fast. Lew’s .44 was out and ready. “No cops,” he said. “Just get out.”

          For a few moments, Big Madonna just stared. Then, she picked up the elf like a broken doll. “Get off me!” The elf shoved her away, shook out her legs before bending and retrieving the gun.

          “Now.” Junior sounded just like Lew.

          The elf slipped the gun back into the purse, and she and Big Madonna hurried out the door.

“Me, too?” Santa said.

          “You were never here,” Junior said.

          Behind the bar were chunks of broken mirror, between liquor bottles, on the floor. Glass was stuck to our clothes. Somewhere back there was a spent casing we’d have to find. A big mess to clean up.

Better than picking bullets out of each other.

Not till I’d found the broom and dustpan, did he put the .44 away. We both smiled. You knew what was coming.

As Junior locked the doors, Lew’s text came through.

“Kinda slow for Christmas Eve,” Junior said, when he saw it. “That’s what I’ll say. But for a while, we were busy.” He got really close. “Right?”

“Maybe.”

I remembered now. On that mirror that shattered, I’d hung mistletoe. Now lost among shards of glass on the floor, crunching beneath our feet.

Squashed, with our first, hot kiss.

 

 

THE END




STARS

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

Why write about them?

Seen any lately,

in Jersey?

Not long ago,

that sky was plum velvet,

or barbecued orange,

from toxic waste.

You could smell it.

The stars stunk, too,

I bet.

 

Sorry . . .

You can’t get

a candlelit,

girly-girl poem

out of me.

 

Not about stars,

or that sneering sea

The Titanic sunk into.

 

Not about love.

Only “crimes of passion”:

cheating fools’ hearts

spilling out

of their ripped tees

like chopped chuck.

 

It should be yours.




SINGERS AND SINNERS

  

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

          Yeah, that’s right. Tony Z. Outside my house, by the Padre Pio shrine.

And don’t act like you don’t know.

          The whole town knows. Like they all knew Tony Z. At least, people who liked cheap drinks down the Lodge and who lived for Saturday Night Karaoke.

          Tony Z., that smug-faced fuck who came prancing in, at midnight, once the place was jumping. Off-key regulars up my ass, with song requests. Like Bananas, who tortured us with Journey. “Susie,” old Nelly begged, “Can I do ‘Crazy’ next?” It’d be the sixth time she sang.

          “Umm . . . no,” I said.

          “I,” Tony Z. announced, from the door, “am in the house!” And assholes cheered, like Elvis himself had up and walked in, from the grave.

          But he already had. Donny Dugan was there. Our town’s official Elvis impersonator, who did shows down the Senior Center. Sometimes he showed up in gold lame and greasy wig, but not tonight.

Donny wasn’t cheering. Clutching his Scotch, he glared as Tony Z. grabbed the mic out of Nelly’s hand. “It’s my turn,” Tony Z. told me, “Put on ‘Suspicious Minds.’ ”

Donny’s signature tune. What he was singing next.

“Gotta wait,” I said. “Donny’s ahead of you.”

They loomed over my booth. Tony Z. smirking, Donny stone-faced, as they both clutched the mic from opposite sides.

Like oversized brats, they acted, though both were pushing sixty. And neither was what they seemed to be.

A big gambler, Tony Z. owed people big-time. But he loved his Italian mother more than life, itself.

 

Donny was more than an Elvis wannabe; he was a ruthless bookie . . . 

Who could make you disappear.

So how does St. Padre Pio fit in, with all this? In our town, he’s our favorite Italian saint. He worked lots of miracles. Since he took his first steps, Tony Z. was devoted to him. So when his old mom got sick . . .

Who did he beg, for a miracle?

And why outside my house?

Years back, when she’d beat melanoma, my mom put up the shrine in the front yard, behind the pansies. St. Padre Pio had the kindest eyes. At least, the statue’s did.

From all over, people came to pray. All types: Weepy Mrs. Fratellis, with their black veils and rosaries. Junkies, politicians. One drunken night, I’d staggered home to find ex-Mayor Piccolo kneeling, before the shrine. Hey, it saved his marriage.

When my mom passed, I got the house, the bills, and the shrine.

“Saint Padre,” I prayed, “Send me a job.”

I was broke as shit. What he sent, was the worst job, ever: tending bar and running karaoke at the Lodge. My boss, Googie, had three chins and watched me like a hawk. “No freebies,” he said, in his gravelly voice.

 Still, I was blessed.

Till I lost it. One minute, I was between Tony Z. and Donny. Fists were flying, and I got splashed with blood.

Next, I was outside, pleading with cops. “They’re like brothers,” I lied. “They’ll make up.”

Tony Z.’s lip curled. He had some shiner. But he could still sing. Glaring at him, Donny spat out bloody teeth.

 Please,” I begged one cop, “don’t tell my boss.”

“Thanks to you,” Googie said, next day. “Tony Zaino’ll never come in here again. Why didn’t you just let him sing?”

“It was Donny’s turn.”

“You know how much money Tony drops?”

“He drinks two-dollar Nips,” I said.

“Says it’s you, or him. Let’s see, lemme choose . . .” He fingered his third chin. “Moneybags, or Grumpy Cat?”

Moneybags won.

Till he disappeared.   

“No,” Bananas told me, at 7-11. “He didn’t really disappear. I don’t think.” We both peered around, like Donny was hiding behind the Slurpee machine. “His mom’s real sick. Shit, she’s over ninety.”

 

Outside, Bananas waited for me. “He’s hiding,” he whispered. “From Donny.” Again, he peered around. “Didn’t think he owed him that much.”

In case Tony Z. was gone for good, Googie took me back, bartending. But not for karaoke. That, he did himself, next Saturday night. “Hey!” he yelled, to Nelly. “Sing that shit, bitch!”

Donny showed up, just to drink. “No songs tonight?” I said.

His open mouth showed missing teeth. How could I forget?

“And I’m still pissed,” he said, in a muffled voice. “That song-stealing mother-. . .”

I hid my smile.

“He ratted you out, Susie,” Donny said. ‘Cos you sided with me.”

A hundred-dollar bill appeared on the bar, next to his empty. “I like that you sided with me.”

 It was your song,” I said. But this was about more than karaoke.

This could lead to something big.

‘Cos of Tony Z., I’d lost my job. And if he came back . . .

I watched Donny, carefully, as I slid the hundred across the bar. “His mom’s real sick,” I said. “Almost dead.”

No reaction.

“They called the priest. But Tony . . .” I poured Donny a double Scotch. “He wants . . . a miracle.”

Donny’s eyes gleamed.

“Maybe he’ll find one.” Donny closed his hand over mine, which still clutched the bill. He squeezed, tightly.

How the killer knew when Tony Z. would be there, nobody knew.

But when the bullets shattered the back of his head, he was on his knees, before the shrine. Bloody chunks of skull, and brain flying all over, onto the grass, and pansies.

I mean, that’s what the M.E. must’ve told the cops, later.

Hey, watching from my window, they could’ve got me, too . . .

But they didn’t.

 

 

THE END



“Singers and Sinners” originally appeared in Rock and a Hard Place Magazine, Issue 2: Winter / Spring 2020.



GRANDFATHERED

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

          “Samantha?”

          Kate, the crossing guard. Her saying my name like that, from behind me, made me nervous.

          I checked if the bus was coming before facing her.

          This look she had, like she knew something. Or wanted to. Nosiest bitch on the block, Bingo Joe always said.

          “Georgie’s selling the building?”

          “What?” I said. “No!”

          She smirked.

          Georgie, our landlord, was Bingo Joe’s boss. Mine, too, since I wasn’t working. That bus I was waiting on was for a temp agency’s skills test.

          “Where’d you hear . . .”

          “There goes your bus!” Kate said, as it flew past me.

          Against the light, I hurried across the street. “Hey!” she yelled.

          “Nah.” At the kitchen table, Bingo Joe smoked a joint with his Fruit Loops. “Georgie ain’t selling.” He passed me the joint. “Thought you had some test.”

          “You sure?”

          “Would’ve said something last night, on the phone. And, so what if he sells? Been down Florida two years now. I’m doing the shitwork.”

          “What if the new owner doesn’t want you?”

          A shrug, and deep toke, in response. Like “’The Dude’ Lebowski,” ‘cept Puerto Rican. Nothing fazed him.

But that rumor sent my brain spinning.

“We’ll be . . .” I choked on the word. “Homeless!”

 Outside the abandoned A & P, we’d be camped out, our five cats the “new kids” in the feral colony. Eating out of dumpsters. Sharing wine out of paper bags.

“Those big, red Salvy boxes?” he said, grinning. “Where people shove clothes?”

Itchy the gray tabby clawed his ankles, and he bent to rub his ears.

“Knew a guy lived in one. Didn’t like shit they threw in, he’d throw it back out.”

          Almost crying, I ran out.

Upstairs, like some psycho, I touched the lobby walls so I’d remember what they felt like. We should’ve watered those dying plants more. Packages, mostly from Pet Place, were piled up beneath the mailboxes. Two huge ones for old Miss Roberts in 1C.

Kitty litter for Sunshine, her huge gold Persian.

“NO PETS,” the current lease said. We’d all ignored it. The building was crawling with cats, rabbits, even a snake. Laying on the beach in Florida, Georgie wouldn’t know.

But the new landlord . . .

“Stop crying!” Back downstairs, I flew into Bingo Joe’s arms. “Aww, baby. It’ll be OK.” I squeezed him so tight, I probably hurt him.

“You promise?”

He grabbed the water pitcher before Noodles shoved it off the table.

“The plants!” Bingo Joe said. “I was just gonna . . .”

Sighing, I trudged upstairs with the pitcher.

Everything had to be done “just right” now. Hallway floors should be spotless and shiny. No waiting to mop till after the drunks puked. And buff, I thought, wearily.

No leaving the trash till the last minute. Take the cans out at 5 PM sharp. And no mixing beer cans with cardboard recyclables.

Or with real garbage, I thought, cringing. Like eggshells. And used condoms.

Like Bobby-G, in 2-B.

I was watering a brown plant when the back of my neck felt strange. Like someone was watching me.

I looked around, but no one was there.

Bobby G., I thought. Lurking around, with those creepy eyes. And two tenants dead, right after . . .

“You guys leaving?”

I screamed, and the pitcher went flying.

Out of nowhere, he’d appeared. Bobby G. picked up the pitcher and handed it to me. Both the floor and his jeans were soaked.

He was smiling. “So, Georgie sold the building?”  

“No!” I backed away. “Says who?”

“La Roche!” The door to 1-D flew open. “That’s who’s buying it.” Mrs. Dietz kicked her laundry basket into the hall.

“Who?” I asked.

“La Roche.” Bobby G. jammed an unlit cigarette in his mouth. “The ‘Roach King!’”

 “Roaches?” Cradling Sunshine, Miss Roberts came out of 1-C. “Who’s got roaches?”

“Us!” Mrs. Dietz said, “If that slumlord buys this place.”

“He’s buying up buildings all over,” Bobby G. said, through the cigarette.

“Not ours,” I said.

“Wanna bet?”

“How do you know?” Miss Roberts asked.

Smirking, Bobby G. jerked his head toward the front door.

My heart sunk. “Kate?” I asked. “The crossing guard?”

“Take a shit on Mars, that bitch can smell it.”

I felt like puking. Would serve Georgie right, if I left it there. How could he sell to the “Roach King”? And not even tell us!

Footsteps, we heard, shuffling up the stairs. Still in his slippers and pj’s, Bingo Joe clutched his phone. “Georgie just called.”

“Tol’ja,” Bobby G. said.

Miss Roberts asked, “When does the ‘Roach Prince’ take over?”

“‘Roach King.’”

Bingo Joe sat on the bench, next to the packages. “La Roche don’t want it.”

We looked around, relieved, but not meeting each other’s eyes. How shitty was this building, that even that scumlord didn’t want it?

Miss Roberts shifted Sunshine to her shoulder. “Well, that’s . . . good.”

“But someone else does.”

Except for the plants dripping water, it was dead quiet.

“Name’s Cowell. Georgie’s flying up to meet him.”

I sunk to the floor. For Georgie to leave “Margaritaville” . . .

“I hope Mr. Cowell likes cats,” Miss Roberts said.

“You kidding?” I wanted to kick Bobby G. “They’ll be the first to go.” When Miss Roberts squealed, he added, “After these two.” Meaning Bingo Joe and me. 

“Think your pets are grandfathered,” Mrs. Dietz said. “If you’ve been here a while.”

“Not them.” Again Bobby G. meant us. “And if I read the lease correctly . . .”

My head on my knees, I thought back to those two crazy nights. In February, right around Valentine’s Day, Looney Toons in 1-E hung herself. Then, in August, Kissy-Face in 2-D drowned in the tub.

But maybe Kissy-Face had help.

Maybe they both did.

Six months apart, but both times Bobby G. had been right there. Knew more than the cops, it seemed.

If you shit on Mars, I thought, he would smell it.

Both were blondes. Maybe that was his type.

If death came in threes . . .

Who would be Blonde #3?

Suddenly, Bingo Joe got up. “Gotta mop these halls,” he said, “before they get here.”

 

*   *   *

 

Four o’clock, they would be there, both Georgie, and Cowell, the new owner.

“‘Wannabe’ owner.” Bingo Joe cracked our last beer.

At the kitchen table, we’d sat, glumly, all afternoon. In his cereal bowl from this morning, two sad Fruit Loops floated in milk. One pink, one blue.

“Georgie flying up,” I said, “that’s not good.” He nodded.

Itchy jumped up on the table, nudged my face. I buried mine in his.

Why couldn’t we be “grandfathered”?

When Bingo Joe’s phone rang, we jumped.

“Georgie’s flight’s delayed,” he said. “Says can we hang out with Cowell till he gets here.”

Disgusted, I got up. “I’ll go get a six-pack.”

Upstairs, the lobby floor shone so, I saw my face in it: a nasty mug, with too much eye makeup. Those damn plants had perked up. I wanted to spit in them.

Since the packages were gone, I stretched out on the bench and shut my eyes.

Old Miss Roberts, I thought. When Cowell took over, how much longer could she keep Sunshine? That fat cat was her whole life.

And our cats . . . Itchy, Noodles, and the other three . . .

And Bingo Joe . . .

They were my life. They were all that I had.

Tears burned my eyes, and I felt my mascara run. But I couldn’t stop crying.

Why us? I thought. We weren’t the worst supers. At the building I grew up in, those supers robbed all the tenants. This young husband and wife, said the landlord wanted the rent in cash, as of now. My Pop lost his whole paycheck to them.

We’d never screw anybody. Neighbors were neighbors.

When the front door opened, I wiped my eyes and got up.

Behind the glass lobby door was a lady, in a Fruit Loop-blue suit. Blonde hair, like a golden waterfall. Rich-looking, like she’d come here by mistake.

Not the way she strutted in.

“Who,” asked a voice from behind me, “is that?”

For once, he didn’t catch me off guard.

Before she could ring the bell, I opened the lobby door, smiling. “May I help you?” I asked, in my grandest temp-agency voice.

“I’m Melody Cowell.”

As he came around, I realized I’d never seen Bobby G. look so good. Almost handsome, in business casual: nice jeans and a shirt that was the same blue as this lady’s suit.

He admired her long, blonde hair. “I’m so happy to meet you,” he told her.

“Pleased to meet you, too,” she said, smiling. “George.”

When he glanced over at me, I looked away.

Looney Tunes had been a bottle blond. When the EMTs cut her down, I bet her dark roots were visible.

And in that vanilla bath, Kissy-Face’s locks would’ve trailed like a washed-out mermaid’s.

But Melody Cowell was the real deal.

As she and “Georgie” went up the stairs, I remembered I had a six-pack to get. Maybe I’d hit every liquor store in town till I found the cheapest.

Or let everyone think I did.

 

 

THE END




“68”

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

 

“It’s a family curse,” the client, Sandy, said. “They all died at 68.” She looked down at her hands. “Now it’s my turn.”

She didn’t look 68. Just crazy. With those wild eyes and dyed black hair pointing in all directions. Hat hair, but with no hat in sight. Just an ugly purple purse. Those hands she was staring at didn’t look old, only chapped.

“Please!” she said, when she’d walked in through the beaded curtains. “I need your help!”

“Who . . . died first?” I said now.

What else could I say? Madame Julia, I called myself, since that morning.

My grandma was the real psychic, but she went to Atlantic City with her “Golden Girl” pals. I was filling in. I wasn’t even a Madame: I’d just turned 18, but the purple satin robe and turban smelled as old as Grandma.

“My mom’s parents,” Sandy said, “went first. Nonna had breast cancer, so 68 was lucky for her. But Nonno was so distraught . . .” She fingered her spiky hair. “He got hit by a truck!”

I nodded. “Sixty-eight, too.”

“The next day, he would’ve turned 69.”

That robe was hot, even with the A/C blasting. The turban made my scalp sweat. “He almost broke the curse. Who else?”

“My dad’s parents died years back, before I was born.”

“In the old country?”

Her eyes narrowed. “No!” she snapped. “In Newark! Their bar was held up, and they were shot dead.”

Shit, I thought.

“Which ‘old country?’” She sneered, getting up. “Which did you see in the cards?”

I jumped, like I’d been burned. Grandma had left the Tarot cards spread out on the table.

I didn’t know much, but I felt it was the Death card that’d zinged me.

“The cards say nothing.”

She sat back down. “They were both 68, too. Twenty years ago, they found my Pop . . . he’d left us way back . . . dead at 68, in his house. Drowned, in his own . . .”

I waved that away. Now I felt nauseous.

“At 68, my mom died in jail.” When I didn’t react, she said, “For poisoning my stepfather.” She smiled. “I found out she was doing it. And you know what I did?”

Nothing, I thought.

“Watched her stir anti-freeze into his cocktails. Squeeze a little lime, add some sweet vermouth.”

I gathered up the cards.

“She’d taken a fat insurance policy out on him. Once he was dead, we could get away.”

I shuffled the cards, even though the Tarot wasn’t my thing.

But I could read palms.

“He wasn’t a bad guy,” she said. “We just had . . . to . . . get away.”

I reached for her hand.

“Hey!”

“You want my help,” I said, “or not?”

Last year, in senior bio class, I’d stroked a boa constrictor. Minutes later, when Mr. Landers fed it a live rat, I ran out, sobbing.

This old bitch’s hand felt snakelike as I turned it over, lightly touched her pinky. “So many lines,” I said, “in the middle joint.” I let that sink in.

“What does that mean?”

I didn’t answer. I enjoyed how sweaty her hand got as I turned it over, staring at her palm, poking the heart line. My smile might’ve looked like hers when she said she’d helped kill her stepfather.

“You’ll be fine,” I said, dropping her hand and getting up. “Actually, you will break the curse.”

“Really?” she said. “I won’t die this year?”

I shook my head.

“How long will I live?”

“If I knew numbers,” I said, “I’d be in Atlantic City right now.”

We both laughed.

She gave me more money than I bet she would’ve given Grandma. Maybe more than Grandma had won, or lost, at the casino today.

“Thank you!” Beaming, she left through the beaded curtains.

Maybe I was the real thing.

I couldn’t see the number, but someday, when she was older, and gray, walking down icy steps, some kid jonesing for crack would push her down most of them. When her skull cracked on the sidewalk, he’d snatch her purse.

That ugly purple one from today.



“NOYB”

 

by

         

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

“’N-O-Y-B,’” I said, laying down the phone. “‘None of your business.’”

 

 “Oh, yeah?” Marco smirked. He was doing a cut when the text came through. “Everything’s my business!”

 

The client cringed. Marco was always pulling hair.

 

Not everything, I thought. Everybody’s. “Section Eight,” he said, after one lady left. Eighty bucks for a color but she got free rent.

 

Twenty years I’d worked in his shop. It was OK, with clients of all ages, some real old. Vintage perms, they wanted. The solution burned my nose and eyes.

 

 “She’s worth like five mill,” Marco said, as a nonagenarian was shuffling out the door. Like she was deaf. The guy with her, maybe her son, gave Marco a dirty look.

 

As the door shut behind them, Marco said, “Bet he can’t wait to collect.”

                                                                  

“Oh, shut up,” I said.

 

Owner or not, he still wore his curly hair as long as when he sang in a Zeppelin cover band. He was still starved for attention.

 

“È pazzo!" he said, about some clients. Crazy or not, one guy took back his tip.

 

“Cheap fuck,” Marco said, in English.

 

“You,” I said, “talk too much.”

 

He did mostly cuts, left the shit-work to me: frostings, two-tones, those dreaded old-lady perms. But when Himself was swamped, I also did simple colors.

 

“Gina, please . . .” Last week, a regular squeezed my arm till it hurt. “Redo my color! Saturday . . . he missed . . . the whole side of my head!”

 

“Wow,” I said.

 

Saturday he’d been too busy trashing the client before. Theresa, this married chick he was hot to fuck.

 

“She could’ve had me,” Marco said, “Anybody but her would’ve dumped him by now. That . . .” He looked around the shop before saying, “finocchio.” His wrist went limp. “Can you believe it, Eddie Mangione takes it up . . .?”

 

Silence, all over the shop. Nancy, the pink-haired shampoo girl, just stared.

 

Eddie Mangione was once famous, in our town. Owned restaurants that went broke. A bar that got busted for serving minors. People said he’d hit rock bottom. And, lately, we heard he was sick.

 

Marco had never met him, but trashed him, anyway. Once, years back, he’d seen Mangione’s picture in the paper. Chubby-cheeked, with blond hair longer than Marco’s.

 

“Meat Loaf!” Marco had laughed.

 

“Someday,” I told him, that day I redid the lady’s color. “The wrong person will hear you.” My hand shook so, I squirted dye everywhere but on her head.

 

“Sorry!” I told her.

 

“Watch!” Marco yelled. “Blue-black’s expensive.”

 

Big inkblots I had to clean up, mostly on the lady. “It’s OK, Gina!” she told me.

 

What was up with me? That shit I’d said, about the wrong person hearing him, had come out of nowhere.

 

Later, like 3:30, not long before closing, I saw Nancy pack up to leave.

 

“Where you going?” I said, and she jumped.

 

“Um . . .” She slid her phone in her purse. “My son . . .”

 

Son? She looked like a sixth grader.

 

“There’s one more cut,” I said.

 

“He . . .” It was like lightning had struck her face. “He shouldn’t have said that.”

 

“Who?”

 

But I knew.

 

N-O-Y-B, I thought.

 

“I’ll wash his hair,” I said.

 

The guy had called earlier, with a mouthful of marbles. Like Don Corleone from The Godfather, he sounded. “Last-minute gig,” and “haircut” were muffled. The clearest words were “Only Marco.”

 

Only Marco could cut his hair.

 

“What’s his name?” Marco asked me.

 

As Nancy rushed out, the guy walked in, as if neither saw the other. Strange, especially ‘cos of her shocking-pink hair, and how he looked like Death took a holiday.

 

He was so thin, his bones nearly creaked. Face was familiar, but at the same time, not. Like it would’ve been, but something was different now. Hair real long, like an aging rock star’s, some blond, mostly gray. Something big bulged in the black leather jacket.

 

He walked right up to Marco.

 

“Sit down, bro.” Marco pulled out his chair.

 

“My niece said, you said I take it up the ass.”

 

          Marco froze. For the first time, he was shut up good. His face worked, like he was struggling with something.

 

          Nancy, I thought, my heart racing.

 

That meant her uncle was . . .

 

          “Only way you would know that,” Eddie Mangione said, “was, it was your dick in there.”

 

          “Huh?” Marco looked nervous.

 

          I started edging backwards, toward the door.

 

          “If my Theresa thinks . . .” Mangione reached in his jacket. “Your dick was in me,” he said, “I’m blasting yours off.”

 

          “Please,” Marco begged. That fast, he was crying. “I’ll shut up.”

 

          Should’ve done that way back, I thought, getting closer to the door.

 

          “Please!”

 

          On my way out, Mangione started shooting.   

 

           “Help!” I yelled, but couldn’t hear myself. The shop shook with the impact of giant bullets. I ran. A cop car passed, and I flagged it.

 

          It was horrific.

 

What a mess that huge gun made: mirrors shattered, bottles of perm solution, color exploded. Like a bizarre mural, blood, guts, and cellophane colors streaked the walls.

 

On the floor lay Marco, his bottom half drenched in blood. His top half close by . . . that mouth shut up for good.

 

Mangione turned the gun on himself, but the cop I’d flagged yanked it away.

 

*

 

Mangione tried pleading Man 1 but got twenty-five to life. I mean, he’d brought that monster gun with him. His face alone could scare you to death.

 

Bet he gets out, though. They say that wife, Theresa, sticks by him.

 

          Some say Marco was killed in a lovers’ quarrel. Others say, “Shit, he and Mangione were made for each other.”

 

          I say, “N-O-Y-B.”


 

 

 

KABOOM

  

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

          Yeah, it was me. And so what? He deserved it. Three Christmases, RJ ran off with our gifts. Missy’s doll house, Patty’s Legos. This time, it was the baby’s stuff. Year-old Lulu. His own kid. With the same cold, almost black eyes. Like bullet holes on those shows where the bad guys always win.

I knew he would do it. That one present, that’s the one I rigged. The prettiest package, wrapped in silver and red foil, with the little stuffed kitten sticking out of the bow.

          That’s the only thing I hated, about doing it. The kitten got blown up, too.

          Never mind why I did it. Why’d he keep stealing our presents? Sold them, to get high. And Mom always let him. With that hopeless look she got, when my brother Markie took another dump in his pants. And he was no baby. We were all fucked up, all five of us.

          Me, I was supposed to be dumb. But at the same time, smarter than some grown-ups. How else could I build a bomb? A special kid in a special school instead of a real sixth grade class. Nobody was allowed to say why I was weird. But toy companies made special dolls for kids like me. Just for girls, I guess. The one girl in my class kept spinning around, but could recite all the presidents, backwards.

          An old mousetrap, I found, in the basement. The storage area. Our building is super-old, with lots of fun shit, all over. Wouldn’t have been fun for the poor mouse, though. Glad I found the trap, first. And more fun shit, on the other end.

That weird guy upstairs, I think they were his. The shotgun shells.

All those shows, on like the true crime channels. You learn a lot. They’re so stupid to give directions. Not everybody who watches wants to blow something up. But there’s always one kid . . .

Who’s sick of the shit . . . Like his mom’s eyes all swollen, more often than not . . . Who busts out crying, when she’s nuking mac n’cheese, or wiping ass.

When the pretty foil comes off, and box opens, the bar on the trap hits the primer . . . 00 buckshot. Nine per shell . . .

A nice, big mess. . . .

You’d think Mom would be glad. But when the cops came—

the lady cop looking like that weird redhead comic—Mom screamed, and screamed. Chunks of RJ mixed with chunks of the dealer, the cops said, so you couldn’t tell who’d worn the Giants cap. You couldn’t tell who was black, and who was white.

The kitchen stunk. Markie had shit his pants again. For once, the cops came with good news. But nobody but me was happy. Not even Lulu. And it was mostly for her, I did it. She looked at me all mean.

With Mom wailing in the background, and the other kids holding each other, that lady cop kept her eye on me.

The only one smiling.

I hooked my pinky around Lulu’s fingers. In her baby face, RJ’s eyes told the cops that yes, I was special:

More grown-up than kid.

 

 

THE END

 

 

“Kaboom” originally appeared in Shotgun Honey on April 5, 2019.




JELLY BOY

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus


For Danny M.

 

 

Hard as he tried, he couldn’t stay clean, like her.

Clean or not, cancer ate her up, inside out. Billy watched as bulging pink leggings shrunk to loose pantyhose on skeleton thighs.

“Gotta . . . meeting,” Vee said hoarsely, trying to get up.

“You won’t make it,” Billy said.

Wish you could, he thought.

A.A., N.A., she would hit both. That’s how serious she was. Years back, she was as bad as Billy. That’s how they’d met, in his friend Butch’s cellar. The night Butch ODed.

Damn, Billy thought, she’s cute. While the shit cooked, he checked her out. Long hair, dimpled cheeks. Tiny titties he wouldn’t mind sucking on. Maybe later, he thought.

After they smoked . . .

But they all smoked too much.

“Shit!” he said, when Butch’s heart stopped. Vee tried CPR, but they were too fucked up to save Butch. Hand in hand, they ran upstairs.

Outside, hearts racing, they stopped a few blocks away. Above, the moon looked like a round coke rock. At least, to Billy.

“Poor Butch.” Vee grabbed Billy’s sweaty hand. “That could’ve been . . .  us!”

They made out like they were scared to stop.

They’d been together since.

When she got clean, they drifted apart.

While she was out at meetings, Billy puffed on the stem, right in the window. When he didn’t have stuff, he was a damp, shivering mess.

So he watched from the window.

Over the Chinese deli, their place was sleazy, roach-infested. Sometimes the fuckers crawled on the stem while he smoked, and he flicked them off. Their window faced Broadway. Some assholes ran into the deli for smokes, or Trojans, leaving their motors running.

That was his chance.

Like lightning, he shot downstairs and into the car. Took off, faster each time, hooking left toward the Turnpike. Then changed direction.

The chop shop was in Newark. For parts, Tiny Tim (who was six feet-six) paid in blow.

Fine with Billy.

Even with Vee not working anymore. Behind in rent, power shut off every other month, Billy still took crack over cash.

Sad, Vee’s Recovery pals must’ve told her. Just one drug away . . .

. . . from never being clean. Never, ever.

No food, either. Just three cans of SpaghettiOs in the roachy cabinet. Before the cancer ate up Vee’s guts, the fridge was stocked. On top of it was every junk cake going: Ding Dongs, Snowballs. And, occasionally, Vee’s favorite: fresh jelly donuts from the deli downstairs.

“Mmmmm . . .” Vee devoured the donuts. Face ghost-white with powdered sugar, jelly oozing like her mouth bled. Since kicking drugs, she craved sugar bad.

Their Chinese deli, Renko’s Bakery, every place that stocked donuts, Vee went, to feed this new addiction.

“Keeps me,” she told Billy, “from picking up. And . . .”

“Yeah, I know. From smoking.” Damn, he was itchy. Soon as she left, he’d cook the last of Tiny Tim’s stuff.

But that was when she could leave.

He couldn’t remember the last time she left, even for treatments.

In huge letters on her charity care report, “TERMINAL” was written. Her “free” chemo was cut off, like it was a luxury: a juicy steak instead of Ramen noodles. Or SpaghettiOs, Billy thought, bitterly. The roaches would outlive them both.

“S’okay,” Vee said hoarsely. “Treatments make me sick.”

Her cheeks used to be full, dimpled. Her broken nose had never healed from her scumbag ex, but her gap-toothed smile was beautiful. That night Butch Oded, years back, Billy remembered thinking that.

Now she was all big eyes that couldn’t focus. Cancer had torn through brain, throat, lungs, and more. For Billy’s sake, she wore the wig: feathery blonde waves like a country star from the 70s. Dolly Parton without the titties.

“Can’t eat,” Vee said. “I’ll . . . puke.”

Billy shook out painkillers for her. Maybe too many. If so . . . so what?

If he met her eyes, he’d bawl.

How, he wondered, could I live without her?

Even as a junkie. Deep down, his love was so strong, it terrified him. Made no sense. A shit boyfriend, who lived for crack, but there was nothing he wouldn’t give her, nothing he wouldn’t do, to save her.

Or, he thought, to prove his love.

Big deal, so he was hooked on crack!

If she could quit, he could, too. At least try.

The last car he stole, he nearly got caught. In the rear-view mirror was a cop who’d stopped for coffee.

“Maybe you should change jobs,” Tiny Tim said, later.

Mr. Ng, the deli owner, was acting suspicious. Outside, looking up at the sky, like the car thief might jump from a plane.

Last night, Billy sat up till dawn, still trying not to cry. Watching as Vee mumbled in her sleep.

“But Mom,” Vee said, when he got back from peeing. “Bill is clean . . . in his heart.”  

He sat down, heavily.

Vee’s Mom was long dead. Was she joining her, soon?

“Know what I’m dying for?” she said, then. Billy looked around, wildly.

“A jelly donut!”

Fuck it!, he thought.

More than ever, he had to get high. Right now.

He raced into the kitchen, tore through cabinets, drawers. He laughed. Any stuff he’d had was gone by now.

He would take it, from somebody.

In the dish drain was a knife.  

Outside, the sky was pale pink. All had been quiet till now, but the rumble of a vehicle pulling up was music to his ears.

From the window he saw the driver leave his white truck for the deli.

Downstairs, Billy jumped into the truck before realizing the motor was off. No keys were in the ignition.

Something sweet, he smelled. Behind him were rows of cardboard boxes. Pastries, cookies. Donuts.

A bakery truck.

“I’m dying,” Vee had said, “for a jelly donut.”

Was she dreaming? Billy thought. Or . . . rallying? Right before, weren’t dying people suddenly their old selves? Wanting sex? Pizza?

Jelly donuts?

Get out! he told himself. Before he got caught. Without keys, he couldn’t drive off.

This time he was fucked.

Still, he crawled into the back of the truck, grabbing box after box of donuts. One of these, he thought, has to be jelly.

“Hey!” the driver yelled from the passenger side.

“Busted!” Billy said.

He jerked open the back door, fell into the street.

He was killed instantly. The car that struck him was doing eighty. Ran red lights till it hit a bus.

Clumps of Billy struck parked cars, even blocks away. Bits of brain and entrails mixed with crushed cake, so his blood seemed thick as jelly. Only the M.E. could tell the difference.

All over town, lights flashed. Cop cars, ambulances. The ghouls were everywhere. By rush hour, some had gone back to sleep.

Upstairs somewhere, a girl woke up starving.

 

 

“Jelly Boy” originally appeared in the 2021 Summer/Fall Issue of The Raw Art Review.






“Final Notice”

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

          “How could ya?” Dad asked me. “All the jobs out there, ya take that one?”

          I shifted, in those uncomfortable pumps. My feet killed me, from walking up and down that building’s old marble stairs. The Eden Apartments.

“Maybe,” Mr. Smith had said, “we’ll put in an elevator.” His eyes shone, picturing how much more rent he could charge.

My new boss. If “Smith” was his real name. Al Pacino, from The Devil’s Advocate, I thought of. But younger.

“Greedy bastard.” Dad poured himself a shot. “Work hard yer whole damn life, justa pay more rent? So that fuck can get richer?”

My face burned. “It’s just a job,” I said. “I’ve got to start somewhere.”

Squeezing senior tenants till their hearts popped.

Dad sloshed his morning coffee into one mug, then into another. Back and forth, he was so mad. In the pan, bacon burned, but we both ignored it.

“Dominique Daria,” my laminated card read, “Property Manager.” Unreal, after last year’s layoff. My mom’s death from one heart attack . . .

My card . . .

“Commands respect,” Mr. Smith’s eyes blazed. “These people need to know who’s in charge.” Again, I thought of The Devil’s Advocate.

  Young Investors’ Group, they called themselves. YIG. But my card had just my name, cell number, email address. Like a lone gunman’s. Like all this hounding, this squeezing blood out of old stones, was my idea.

“If they had protection,” I told Dad, “Their rents would stay low.” I shifted back and forth, sore foot to sore foot.  “Some of them . . .”

Paid less than $600. Till YIG jacked up rents. Insane fees on top of everything! For using the laundry room they’d always used. For pets. . . .

“Which tenants have pets?” I asked Mr. Smith.

“Ask them,” he said. “They may try hiding them. But you’ll know by the smell.” He wrinkled his nose. “A dirty litter box, or wee-wee pad.”

Just cats and dogs, I figured.

“People need pets.” Dad dumped the burnt bacon. “Especially old fucks that live alone.”

“And they’ll pay, to keep them!” Mr. Smith smiled.

“But is that legal?” I asked, before I could stop myself. “I mean . . .”

“If they’re scared,” he said, “They won’t ask for proof.” He leaned back in his chair. “Once the lease is signed . . . too late!”

“It’s not fair!” Old Mrs. Cowell in 1-D had wailed from her doorway. In her arms, a giant red tabby stared me down. “I can hardly afford Rusty’s food.”

“Subtract one cat,” Mr. Smith would say, “subtract $75.”

The old lady’s face crumpled. “Does Mr. Brennan know?”

“I’m . . . not sure.”

“Thirty years I’ve lived here,” she said. “Please!”

“I’m very sorry.”

The door slammed behind me.

 

*   *   *

 

Weeks of doors slamming. Tenants swearing. One, Mr. Gonzalez in 2-B, had spat so close behind me, it’d splashed my calf.

“Dan Brennan,” Mr. Gonzalez said, “Won’t take this shit.”

That name again.

Who the hell, I thought, was Dan Brennan?

Squeaky-clean, the hallways were, now. Like a hospital, or prison. All the plants removed from the lobby. Less than ever, it looked like “Eden.”

Only one tenant had been nice. Ageless Ms. Dugan in 3-C. This strange jumpsuit, she had on: a snake print, like in a circus. And lots of makeup. Reading glasses topped her stiff black hair.

 Smiling, she led me into a combination kitchen/living room. The sink was filled with greasy dishes. Empty wine bottles protruded from the recyclables bin.

“Have a seat,” she said.

The table was sticky. As she read the lease, I peered around the room. “I have to ask,” I said. “Do you have pets?”

“Dan Brennan,” she said, still reading. “In 4-C.”

“Huh?”

“You haven’t met with him, yet.” Over her glasses, she smirked. “Or I would know.”

“Brennan!” Mr. Smith snapped. “The holdout.”

Brennan, the nutcase. Who his neighbors loved, but feared. Their hero, who hated change. Who refused to accept that YIG bought the Eden Apartments. Who ignored polite requests to meet about the new lease, and . . . rules.

“HI!” The flyers said, “WE’RE YOUR NEW LANDLORDS!” With an oversized smiley face, like YIG wanted to be your pal, wipe your ass. Taped to each tenant’s door, till they met with me.

Only Dan Brennan’s was still there. “FINAL NOTICE,” it said now.

“Good for him!” Dad said later, smugly.

“I’ll wait to sign this.” Smiling, Ms. Dugan folded her lease.

 

*   *   *

 

          Finally, Dan Brennan agreed to meet with me.

“If he doesn’t sign,” Mr. Smith said, “He’s got to go. It’s like that.”

          “Evict him?” I said. “Doesn’t he have rights?”

          “He has the right,” he said, glaring. “To kiss . . .”

          A bad feeling, I had, about meeting with Brennan. Worse than Gonzalez, who’d spat on me. My insides felt all knotted.

That morning, Dad looked worried. Like he’d never seen me not eat, before. There was something about that look . . . something both familiar, and scary. In my plate, the broken egg yolk had crept over onto the white.

“Hey, watch yourself today,” Dad said. “OK?”

I nodded.

Maybe Brennan will cancel, I thought, scraping the yolk off the white. I lay down the fork.

Or not answer the door.

As I drove to the Eden building, I felt it would be for the last time. And that I’d never drive back.

Watch yourself.

I took my time getting out of the car, not caring if I was late.

Inside, the hallways had never seemed so quiet. Like all the tenants had moved out, overnight.

“That,” Mr. Smith would’ve said, “Would be awesome!”

Soulless fuck. Tearing decent people from their homes. And pets. Lower than anything that slithered across the ground.

Once again, my feet killed me. The stairs seemed steeper than ever. On the third floor landing, I imagined a maniacal laugh coming from 3-C. Like Ms. Dugan knew where I was headed.

As I reached the fourth floor, I thought maybe I’d quit this job. Right after handing Dan Brennan the lease that he would never sign.

I’d turn and run back downstairs, as fast as I could.

So why go through with this?

Something red and slimy-looking, was smeared on Brennan’s flyer. Covering “NOTICE” but leaving “FINAL.” Like someone had finger painted a message to me.

A coppery smell emanated from it.

Before I could turn away, the door opened.

He looked harmless. Short, husky, with shoulder-length gray hair. Behind glasses, he looked bug-eyed. But not from fear of me, or YIG. It was like he knew he had nothing to fear, from anyone.

“Mr. Brennan?”

He just nodded.

“I’m Dominique Daria, from . . .”

When he waved me inside, I hesitated. My heart pounded so hard, I heard it. Then I followed him.

Watch yourself.

Suddenly, I saw Dad’s face. His look at breakfast.

Right before Mom died, I’d seen that same look.

I sat down. Rooms-wise, Brennan had the same setup as Ms. Dugan. Where her place smelled like grease and spilled wine, Brennan’s was fouler, like meat had been left out. Or something had died in the wall.

In this “room,” no walls were visible.

          From floor to ceiling were cages. Empty, except in the one closest to me were the remains of some creature’s once-live dinner. Shivering, I looked away.

          Behind me, I sensed something slither across the floor.

          In a choked voice, I said, “I have to ask you . . .”  

          He watched whatever it was get closer.

          “Do you have any . . . pets?”

“Ms. Dugan,” he said, snickering. “In 3-C.”

“She” coiled herself around my ankles.

 

 

THE END



LAY DOWN WITH DOGS

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

          “You’re having a flea market? I asked Lew. “Here, at the bar?”

 

          “In the back,” he said. “Saturday, like noon.” He’d showed up with lots of shit: his sons’ old clothes, the wife’s antique dolls. Even a percolator, from back in the 60s. Probably his dead mother’s.

 

          “Who’s gonna work it?”

 

          “I’ll watch the crooks. You take their cash. Work the bar, if they feel like drinking.”

 

          I just nodded.

 

“Fuck that!” I would’ve said, normally. “I do enough, already!” But things were different lately, here at Scratch’s.

 

Last month, in Lew’s “secret-SECRET” storage room, I’d found stuff. In a plastic pumpkin meant for Halloween candy were a cell phone and wallet, both the same turquoise-blue as that chick’s hair.

 

          “MISSING!” the flyers said. “SANDRA KOPEC, AGE 25. . .”

 

Sandra Kopec, aka “Bluesy,” was Junior’s girlfriend. Probably Goody Two-shoes Anthony’s, too. Who was I to judge? I’d fucked both Lew’s sons, myself.

 

‘Cept my face wasn’t on every lamppost in town.

 

“. . . MISSING SINCE . . .”

 

          Missing, or . . . worse. Strands of blue hair were stuck to the wallet. When the hair tangled around my wrist, I jumped like a roach crawled on me.

 

That’s when Anthony showed up. Outside, I found him behind the bar, near where Lew kept his Desert Eagle .44.

 

“Hey!” I squealed. My smile didn’t fool him; his said he’d felt that same roach crawling on him.

 

“Your dad,” I said, when he didn’t answer, “Said to decorate for Halloween…”

 

The back door opened, and Lew trudged in. I was never so glad to see him look so disgusted. “Still can’t find them?” he said to me, then turned to Anthony. “Get the fucking streamers and paper skeleton.”

 

As he slunk into that room, Anthony glared at me. You killed her, I thought. And hid her shit in . . .

 

“The pumpkin, too,” Lew said.

 

I looked away.

 

Was he in on this? Did they whack Bluesy, together? A father-and-son payback team?

 

And payback for what? Who cares, if she fucked both brothers?

 

I started for the bar, but not too fast, in case Lew was wondering if I knew. My back felt sweaty, like he was eyeing it.

 

Bluesy was Junior’s girl. Was blood that thick, that they’d whack her for him? Or, maybe it was an accident.

 

Or, maybe Junior whacked her, himself.

 

*   *   *

 

“A flea market,” Junior said, on the Big Day. By an hour, he’d beat me there, sexed-up, in a tight tee, his long curls still wet.

 

“Shelley, can ya believe it?” He hadn’t called me that since we fucked. Usually, I was “babe.”

“What’s so funny?” Behind rows of junk, Lew looked proud.

 

“Ya know what they say . . .” Junior picked up a flannel shirt, too small to be his. “’Lay down with dogs. . .’”

 

Dogs, I thought, shivering. Glad Anthony was home, sleeping.

 

“Wake up with . . .”

 

“’Fleas,’” I said.

 

Lew grabbed the shirt. “There’s no fleas. On nothing in here!”

 

“Fleas?” Our first customer, a foreign lady in head covering, yelled to us. “If there’s fleas, I don’t want.”

 

“Fucking bitch,” Lew muttered.

 

“How much?” The lady held up something that I couldn’t see, from the bar.

 

Lew and Junior looked at her, then each other.

 

“Five bucks!” Lew said.

 

“Too much!” A flash of blue, as she tossed it back.

 

“Three,” Junior said, in a low voice.

 

When Lew said, “Three!,” she nodded. He pointed to me. “Give her three singles. We got no change, yet.”

 

As she came toward me, I froze. In her hand was Bluesy’s turquoise wallet.

 

Both guys watched me, but not with eyes. Like with a shark’s sixth sense.

 

I wasn’t there when Lew set up the tables. Balls, he had, for selling that wallet. Brains, too, I realized. Perfect way to dispose of evidence.

 

Bluesy’s phone was missing. When I’d found it, there were twenty missed calls from the “Mom” who’d since hung flyers all over town. Bluesy herself had just gone missing.

 

But Lew knew I’d seen the phone. He had to trash it fast before the cops zeroed in on it.

 

The foreign lady set down the wallet and dug out her money in small change.

 

“Help!” I imagined seeing scratched in the leather. “Find me! Please!” The tinkle of coins got on my nerves.

 

“Ouch!” I jumped, like something had bit me. I wildly rubbed my arm.

 

“Fleas!” the lady said. “You said no fleas! Forget it! I don’t want!”

 

I grabbed the wallet and held it behind my back.

 

The next few minutes were a blur. Between her screaming at Lew in Arabic; him waving her out the door; Junior coming over with clenched fists; and then the back door flying open, I wasn’t sure what really happened.

 

But I do know who came in: this older, graying version of the girl on the flyers. And the former blonde on Bluesy’s driver’s license.

 

The wallet felt lighter, but I already knew the cards and license were gone. Maybe near her phone and body, down in the bay.

 

As Mrs. Kopec came closer, Junior unclenched his fists, looking as scared as if she had a gun.  

 

“If Sandra was alive,” she told Junior, “you would know it. Sooner than me. She never listened. ‘Stay away from that piece of shit,’ I told her.”

 

Lew was on this, slowly approaching the bar. I knew what he was thinking, what he was coming for.

 

“If she’d stayed away,” Mrs. Kopec said, “She’d be alive today.”

 

Junior looked ready to shit his pants. He backed up as she got closer.

 

With a shaky hand, I held up the wallet.

 

Lew was behind the bar, now. Junior’s face relaxed, as Lew grabbed the wallet from me.

 

He dropped it in the sink with last-night’s dirty glasses, then walked past where where the gun was hid, and waited at the end of the bar.

 

Junior led Mrs. Kopec out the door. “Don’t worry,” he purred. “Next time she texts me, I’ll make her call you.”

 

There was dead silence. Then Lew took three dirty glasses from the sink and poured us shots. I forget of what, but I needed it.

 

I thought of that waterlogged phone beneath the rocks. Tasted the sludgy bay like I was down there, with it.

 

They took turns rubbing my back.

 

 

THE END

 

 

“Lay Down With Dogs” originally appeared in Issue #6 of Rock and a Hard Place, © 2021.



SNOOPY

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

         

          “Jackie? Le Ann?” I yelled. “What’re you up to?” They were too quiet. “Huh?”

          When I got up with my wine, Jackie yelled back, “Nothing, Grandma! Just looking outside.”

          In the biggest living room window, they were huddled, drapes behind them. 

          “At what?”

          “Nothing,” they both said.

          The cat was into everything. All-white, Snowball, or Snowflake, his name was. Nowhere to put my wine, so I stood, drinking it.

          “Baby,” Jackie said, “gimme those glasses.” Le Ann was six, but eight-year-old Jackie still called her Baby. “You had them long enough!”

          “What glasses?” Babysitting was not my thing. Tonight was karaoke at the Post, with cute Oswaldo running it. And Baby John bartending. With my lime-green hair and huge tits, I was still hot shit.

          Zena, my daughter, worked nights at that diner, American Pie. She took after me: a good heart, but bad news. Both girls’ dads even worse. Jackie’s lived out of his truck. “Broke-Dick Willie,” Zena called him. Le Ann’s was in jail . . . again. Le Ann had his same eyes, like wet tar.

          “Grandma!” Jackie said. “Make Baby stop!”

          “Le Ann!” I yelled.

The drapes moved frantically, as they struggled. I gulped the wine and yanked the drapes aside.

The “glasses” were binoculars, which Le Ann wouldn’t give up, even with Jackie grabbing her wrists.

Where the fuck, I thought, did they get those?

“Snoopy!” Jackie called Le Ann, before running, sobbing, out of the room. You’d think she was the “Baby.”

Snowflake joined Le Ann at the window. She stroked his fur as they “snooped” together. I knelt on the couch beside her.

          Outside, it felt later than 9 P.M. Streetlamps did shit. This block was supposedly safe. Nobody grabbed you from behind. Or, at least, it didn’t make the news. Neighbors minded their business.

          “What’s going on?” I asked. “Across the street?”

          “This crazy lady,” she said, “on the third floor. She’s cooking again.”  

          Suddenly, I smelled food. But we were too far away. Zena had left something on the stove, I realized. That I’d forgot to heat up.

          “Crazy, how?”

          Le Ann lowered the binoculars. Snowflake stretched, so his tail was in her face. “Grandma?”

          Something felt off. “Yes, Baby?”

          “When you cook . . .” She smiled. “I mean, when Mom cooks, she uses stuff from on top…”

          “The shelves over the stove?”  

          “Or from the fridge. To make food taste good.” She looked down at the binoculars. “Not from under the sink.” 

          I sat up. “What?”

“Is something under the sink that’d make food taste better?”

Under my kitchen sink . . . Roach spray, bleach, Mr. Clean . . .

“Nothing!”

“In a weird-shaped bottle?” She looked so scared.” Where you screw off the top?”

“Gimme those!”

I jumped. Jackie was back. “She’s doing it again, isn’t she?” She grabbed the binoculars.

My throat felt dry. “Kids!” I croaked.

“She’s putting it in the food!” Jackie told us. “Like today.”

OMG, I thought, looking around for my phone. Where was it?

“After school,” Le Anne said. “We watched her then, too.” She buried her face in Snowflake’s fur.

“The guy . . .” Jackie grabbed at my hoodie. “We watched him eat the food. That she put stuff in.” She handed me the binoculars. “Like he’s doing now. Look!”

I could hardly talk. “Get inside!” I waved them out of the room.   

But I couldn’t look. I hid my face, sunk down on the couch. Behind me, Snowflake’s tail brushed my neck. 

I was shaking. Was this murder? In this “safe” neighborhood? Where nobody saw shit?

But the girls had seen . . .

What . . . had they seen?

And . . . what . . . was going on, now?

I got up on my knees. Half-drunk, green-haired, all “snoopy,” the drapes enveloped me like a shroud.

Through the binoculars, I saw them in the kitchen.

She looked crazy, all right. Laughing uncontrollably.

The guy gagged, then retched. Puke shot out, all the way to their window. Making me gag, too. I’d never seen puke that color.

Except for my hair, not much was.

Then he collapsed.

Where the fuck, I thought, was my phone?

But it was too late.

Like she’d read my mind, the crazy lady leaned all the way over, to make sure I could see her.

And waved goodbye.

 

 

THE END



                                     

LAVENDER

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

 

Always hated it.

That washed-out purple:

Needy, insecure.

That cloying scent,

Like an old lady’s sachet.

Sachets.

Who the fuck uses them?

Maybe in Victorian England

They masked the stench of dead people

Chicks took photos with.

Old chicks.

Your giving me

Lavender soaps,

Candles,

What might be dusting powder,

Makes me puke.

Makes me feel old.

My skin crinkles,

Bones crack.

Just send me to the glue factory,

You fuck.

Like I can’t get laid.

Like I just sit in the window,

Drunk,

Surrounded by cats,

Watching neighbors

Take out the trash.

Even with old cat litter,

Mine smells the best on the block.

(Thanks to lavender.)

Aromatherapy:

If it should calm me,

Why am I scared?

Picturing my death:

Clothes cut out the back,

A satin pillow for

My brainless head.

And, sitting up front,

The Grim Reaper,

In a faded purple hoodie.

But nobody else.
Cindy is a Jersey girl who looks like a Mob Wife and talks like Anybodys from West Side Story. Her noir/horror/bizarro stories have been published in the coolest places, such as Shotgun Honey; Megazine; Dark Dossier; Horror, Sleaze, Trash; and Rock and a Hard Place. She is the editor/art director of Yellow Mama and the art director of Black Petals. Her seventh collection of short stories, Backwards: Growing Up Catholic, and Weird, in the 60s (Hekate Publishing), is out, now! Cindy is a Gemini, a Christian, and an animal rights advocate. 



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