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Phantom Pain-Fiction by Phillip Thompson
I'm a Fat Policeman-Fiction by William Kitcher
The Mass-Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Circle Quirk-Fiction by John J. Dillon
Every Night I Tell Him-Fiction by Bobby Mathews
Closure-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
All That Glitters-Fiction by Bruce Harris
Klepto-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Big Nasty-Fiction by J. B. Stevens
Pendelton Products, Inc.-Fiction by Michael Dority
The Apprentice Thug-Fiction by A. Kanach
The Invitation-Fiction by Michael Steven
Your Time is My Time-Fiction by Walter Giersbach
Charity Begins at Home-Fiction by David Hagerty
Stay on the Path-Flash Fiction by Daniel G. Snethen
Killer's E-Mail-Flash Fiction by Andrew Ricchiuti
The Family Business-Flash Fiction by James Blakey
Weird Reasons to Be Grateful-Flash Fiction by Dini Armstrong
The Disappearance of Snethen-Poem by Daniel Snethen
Boom FM-Poem by Mark Young
Dwindling Knight-Poem by Michael Keshigian
Landlord-Poem by Michael Keshigian
A Day-Poem by Marc Carver
Idiotka-Poem by Marc Carver
Kent Railway Station-Poem by John Doyle
Jennifer-Poem by John Doyle
The Door in the Old House in Bizarro County-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
The Season of the Apocalypse-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
A Boy in a Graveyard-Poem by John Grey
Poem by the ManWho was Shot by His Wife-Poem by John Grey
The House on Wellington Court-Poem by John Grey
Close Your Eyes-Christopher Hivner
Say My Name-Poem by Christopher Hivner
When the Sun Turns to Sorcery-Poem by Christopher Hivner
Fading Twilight Sky-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Landlocked in Dry Dock-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Like a Child's Drawing-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
As a Dark Shadow-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
Strange Gardens
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No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

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Art by Sean O'Keefe 2021

Every Night I Tell Him

 

Bobby Mathews

 

Tony Charles made his run on a Friday night, when the jukebox was belting out Jason Isbell, the lights were low, and the cigarette smoke was thick as a band of low-lying clouds. He was slugging down Jack Daniels like the distillery was on fire, and I was at one corner of the bar with Kat. She had her hand on my leg under the bar where no one else could see, and occasionally she’d give me a little squeeze.

I couldn’t tell if I was frozen or on fire. I had loved Kat since the day I’d met her in ninth grade. Twenty years, and all of a sudden it was like she’d noticed me for the first time. She pulled away when her husband, Scott, shambled out of the men’s room. His shirt hung untucked over his gut and sweat stood clearly on his high, sloping forehead. He bellied up to the bar and ordered us all another round, despite the fact that Kat and I had barely touched ours.

“What are you two smiling about?” He asked. “Y’all are thick as thieves lately.”

Kat’s smile widened.

“Lanny’s trying to get me to run away with him again,” Kat said. “You know, same as usual.”

I nearly choked on my beer, setting the heavy mug down a little harder than I meant to. I watched their reflections in the mirror behind the bar and didn’t say anything.

Scott stared hard at Kat, his eyes red and misty from the beers, and she returned his look with a level gaze, her lip quirked in that killer little go-to-hell smile that I loved so well.

“Yeah,” he said, and laughed. “Right.”

Kat turned her head back toward me.

“Every night I tell him, and every night he doesn’t believe me.”

Thank God.

About that time Tony swaggered down the bar and asked Scott if he’d like to shoot a little pool. Scott said yes, and they settled on a dollar a game. It wasn’t high stakes—it never is around here—and we expected Tony to lose anyway. That’s what Tony Charles was: a loser. He’d been a loser ever since we’d known him in high school, and we all kind of dismissed him. Tony was all right, I guess. He was always there on the periphery of things. But you wouldn’t notice if he was gone. You’d just assume he was around somewhere.

But this night was different.

They flipped for the break, and Tony won. He sank the two and three balls off a shot that cracked like a whip. We could hear it over the sound of Alannah Myles singing “Black Velvet.” He ran the table with a sure hand that belied his very nature. Scott’s face was waxy white. He couldn’t believe it.

Through it all, Kat and I leaned our heads together, taking turns to whisper in one another’s ear. Ideas and plans and sweet nothings. Things I’d only ever dreamed of us saying to one another.

Tony and Scott stayed at the pool table and each time, Tony won going away. Scott barely got a chance to put his cue on the worn green felt of the table, and pretty soon it got to him. I bought us all a round, even one for Tony, because it was such a change to see him win.

Scott didn’t understand what had happened. He came back to the bar and ignored the beer I bought for him. Instead he ordered a double bourbon on the rocks, lots of bitters. It didn’t take long for him to start getting mad.

“Fucker ran the table on me,” he said. He was having a little trouble separating his words, so that on me came out as one word.

“Everybody gets lucky sometime,” Kat said. She slurped the watery tequila mix from the bottom of her glass and cast a meaningful glance at me through the veil of her thick eyelashes.

Tony downed his whiskey and pushed off of the bar, heading back to the pool table. I don’t think he ever put his cue down. He schooled a couple of college-age kids, beating them as steady as a metronome. Tony swung by us, his grin splitting his face from ear to ear.

“Didja see that? They wanted twenty bucks a game. I cleaned ’em out!” Tony bought us a round, even Scott. He was as gracious in victory as he usually was in defeat, but by this time Scott had mostly quit drinking. His face was sullen, and he was breathing hard through his mouth.

“I bet you can’t do that again,” Scott said. His eyes were down to pinpoints somewhere beneath that sloping Cro-Magnon brow.

Tony smiled at him. “Sure I can,” he said. He had the supreme confidence of a guy who knows he’s on a run, that his luck will hold.

“Prove it,” Scott said. “I got a hundred.”

Tony balked, just for a second, but I saw it. So did Scott, who grinned a wolfish smile. He reached his wallet and pulled out a Benjamin. Kat put her head face-down on the bar.

“Jesus,” she said. “Not again.” She sighed and pushed up from the bar, all dramatic-like, puffing out her cheeks and blowing her hair out of her face. She grabbed her purse and looked at me.

“You coming?”

I put a hand on her forearm, said wait a minute. I don’t know why I didn’t leave with her right then. I guess I just wanted to see what would happen. Maybe somewhere deep inside me, I thought Tony’s streak was about to end.

“Lanny’ll hold the money,” Scott said, and handed me the C-note. “That alright with you?”

Tony nodded. He handed me a mix of twenties and fives and ones from the money he’d won that night. I tucked it into the breast pocket of my work shirt, and they moved to the green felt.

Tony sank the fourteen off the break, and then ran through the rest of the stripes before dropping the eight into the side pocket with a kiss as soft and chaste as a nun’s prayer. Scott never even touched the table. I handed Tony the money and glanced at Kat. She shrugged into her leather jacket. I pulled on my navy pea coat, and we headed for the door.

“Goddamn it,” Scott said behind us. “Make it double or nothing.”

“What an asshole,” Kat said, her words nearly drowned out by Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.” I didn’t say anything, but we turned around to watch.

I wish we had kept going. Maybe things would have turned out differently. Maybe we’d still be together. But we didn’t leave. Instead, we went back to the bar, put our backs to it, and watched the game.

Scott demanded the break this time, even though it was Tony’s by right. Tony let him go for it, though, and Scott whiffed on it. When Tony tried to move in and take the shot—which was his right—Scott shoved him back a couple of paces and positioned the cue ball again.

Tony let it slide.

Of course he did. That was Tony Charles in a nutshell. You could insult him, you could push him around. Tony wouldn’t do anything. When we were in high school, Scott rescued Tony one time when a couple of football players were intent on giving him a swirlie in the boy’s bathroom on third hall. I came along and helped at the end of things, making sure Scott didn’t get jumped after the fact. So maybe Tony felt like he owed Scott something. Whatever debt there may have been had been forgotten a long time ago, at least by Scott.

He couldn’t stand the sight of Tony mooning around us, and a couple of times things had gotten physical. Nothing serious. None of us were tough guys. None of us were mean, except for Scott when he’d been drinking. But when things did get out of hand, Tony was the one who ended up with the bruises and the cuts and the scrapes at the end of the night.

Scott took his second shot, and whiffed on that one, too. The racked balls sat there, a triangular island in the middle of a sea of green felt, undisturbed as the cue ball fluttered past and found the rail, rebounding and spinning away like a lost child.

I turned around and put my drink to my lips to keep from laughing, but nothing could have disguised my shaking shoulders. Kat leaned against me, and I could feel her silent trembling laughter, too. In the mirror, Scott glared at Tony. He lined up the break for the third time, and this time the cue ball struck home.

Nothing dropped, so Tony approached the table. Scott stood his ground, his shoulders hunched, and his head lowered like a pit bull about to bite. Tony took no notice, and Scott faded back toward the bar. Kat and I straightened up and turned around to watch Tony work the table again.

It was more of the same, as clean a game of eight-ball pool as you’d ever see, like watching the pros on TV, I tell you. That night, Tony didn’t know how to lose. For one glorious moment, the cosmic laws that had cast him into his eternal downtrodden state were suspended by whatever perverse gods may rule us.

And then he missed.

Scott surged forward to the table. It was the opening he’d been hoping for. Tony had left a clear path to the two and the six, and Scott was able to knock both of those down. On the next shot, though, his stick wandered and bumped the eight. It rolled across the sea of green felt like an ocean liner on a collision course with an iceberg and dropped into the side pocket.

Tony whooped in triumph, dropping to his knees in relief. Sweat stood out on the back of his blue cotton button-down shirt. He stood up, a little shaky now, and stuck his hand out to shake, but Scott slapped his hand away. The jukebox wound down. No more quarters, no more music. A dark cloud crossed Tony’s face for a moment, but only for a moment. He came over, his cue dangling from one hand, and held out the other palm to me. I fished into my pocket for the thick wad of bills. His winnings.

There was a crash over my shoulder. Tony’s eyes widened, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I looked behind me, and the back-bar mirror was shattered. Beside the billiard table, Scott grunted with effort. He was firing the remaining balls from the table at Tony like he was Nolan Ryan and the World Series was on the line. The five-ball missed us all, but it took out a bottle of Bulleit bourbon and a fifth of Jameson. The next ball—I think it was the one—struck Tony square in the forehead.

He went down like he’d been shot, and a huge goose egg began to sprout immediately, stretching Tony’s white, waxy skin. His hands and feet flailed against the floor like an epileptic having a seizure, and his eyes rolled back in his head. Scott rushed forward and dropped to his knees beside Tony. He still held a billiard ball in each hand.

“Fuck,” he said. “Fuck, help him.”

Kat moved at the same time I did. She took the balls away from Scott, and I elevated Tony’s head off the floor. I have no idea if that was the right thing to do or not. I don’t know CPR. But he was coming around a little, saying something I couldn’t quite catch. His brain and his mouth seemed disconnected somewhere, like when you watch a TV show, and the soundtrack isn’t quite in sync with the picture.

Scott fell back on his haunches, but he was so drunk that he couldn’t stay there. He slid back onto his ass on the floor. Tears clouded his eyes, and he kept saying oh I’m sorry I’m so sorry oh I’m sorry I’m so sorry over and over again until the words faded into the background and were meaningless noise.

Tony’s eyes finally fluttered open, and a few seconds later they began to focus. He grabbed Kat’s arm with one white-knuckled hand and asked, “What happened?”

“It’s nothing,” I said. “Stay still. You’re gonna be OK.”

Tony tried to sit up. He rolled onto one elbow and threw up onto the sawdust. His boot-clad feet scrabbled at the floor as he tried to get them underneath him to stand.

“Maybe that’s not a good idea,” I said, and tried to guide him back to the floor.

“That son of a bitch,” Tony said. I think I was the only one who heard him. He grabbed his cue and hoisted himself up. He listed to one side like a ship about to sink. “I won, dammit. I won.”

None of us saw it coming. Scott was still down on his ass, trying to scramble back, to give Tony some room. But Tony lashed out with the fat end of his cue stick, cracking Scott in the face. His nose exploded, showering us all in blood. The cue shattered from the force of the blow, leaving long, jagged, wickedly sharp stakes of wood. Tony picked one up and went after Scott. I tried to hold him back, but he slashed at my eyes, and I fell away.

They went down in a heap, and it was the only fight I ever saw Tony win. He used the shards of his cue to slash and spear skin wherever he could find it. By the time Tony got both hands around Scott’s throat, Scott was beyond help.

Tony’s hands were slick and red with blood by the time he began to choke Scott, and by that time, there was nothing we could have done, anyway.

The bartender finally came around the bar with a sawed-off Louisville Slugger. He didn’t waste any time or motion. He cracked Tony across the back of the head, and our resident loser collapsed on top of Scott, shuddered twice, and lay still.

By the time the ambulance got there, they were both dead. No losers and no winners now. Kat stared, unable to tear her gaze away as the EMTs zipped the bodies into the black plastic bags, closing their faces off from the light of the world.

“Do you want to ride with them?” I asked. She nodded and got into the ambulance. She never looked at me, and I never spoke to her again.

When the ambulance left, they didn’t use the siren, or the blinking lights. There was no reason to hurry.

 

THE END





Bobby Mathews is a writer based in Birmingham, Alabama. His checkered past as a journalist, investigator, PR flack, bartender, and roustabout often finds its way into his fiction. His short stories have been published in All Due Respect, Bristol Noir, Close to the Bone, The Dark City, The Sandy River Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Shotgun Honey. His novel, Magic City Blues, will be published in February 2022 by Close to the Bone. His story “The Handyman” appeared in Issue #84 of Yellow Mama.





Sean O’Keefe is an artist and writer living in Roselle Park, NJ. Sean attended Syracuse University where he earned his BFA in Illustration. After graduation, Sean moved to New York City where he spent time working in restaurants and galleries while pursuing various artistic opportunities. After the birth of his children, Sean and family move to Roselle Park in 2015. He actively participates in exhibitions and art fairs around  New Jersey, and is continuing to develop his voice as a writer. His work can be found online at www.justseanart.com and @justseanart on Instagram.



In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2021