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A Bad Place to Be-Fiction by Lamont A. Turner
If the World Never Knows Our Names-Fiction by Craig Fishbane
I'm Not Antonio-Fiction by Garr Parks
George's Personal Big Bang-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
When the Omen Follows You Home-Fiction by Alyson Tait
The Pie Room-Fiction by Dave Kunz
On the Matter of Hennessey-Fiction by Ed Nobody
Proud to Be a Pig-Fiction by Bob Ritchie
Marmalade and Mayhem-Fiction by Bruce Costello
Check Out-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Stanton Harbor Grocery Massacre-Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Seizing Power-Flash Fiction by Tim Frank
Frog Huntin'-Flash Fiction by Gary Clifton
Best Friend Forever-Flash Fiction by Serena Jayne
Bus Stop-Flash Fiction by Jonathan Woods
Doing Without-Poem by R. Gerry Fabian
Another Day-Poem by Ann Marie Rhiel
Don't Say You'll Play the Game If You Don't Know the Rules-Poem by David Centorbi
Why I Stopped Being Me-Poem by John Sweet
Something About Her-Poem by Meg Baird
Only the Good-Poem by James Lilley
Bill's Otherworldly Cafe Across from Cafe Bizarro-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Eating Catfish on the Bank of the Sankuru River-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Post Mortem-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Deer in the Headlights-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
I, Cartographer-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
I'll Paint You a Picture-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
beside wild roses-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
sitting quietly-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
lifetimes-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
All the Way Home-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
like a poem written-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
So There-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Sugar Wolf-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

86_ym_marmalade_llees.jpg
Art by Lonnie Lees © 2021

MARMALADE AND MAYHEM

By Bruce Costello

 

“Let’s go around the circle clockwise. Say who you are and a few words about yourself,” says Hal. He reminds Jocelyn of a garden gnome. “You must all be keen, coming out on such a stormy night!”

     “Some people find it’s hard to speak up in a group,” says co-leader Fenella, smiling around the circle. “But do try.” She is young with a tousled haircut and ethnic beads.

     One by one, the group members introduce themselves. A timid technician, an anxious lawyer, an exhausted mother, an emotionally abused husband, a recently divorced policewoman, an elderly man with a bald head, a young fellow in a wheelchair, a burned-out social worker and a down-in-the mouth dentist. Most speak hesitantly. Some appear close to tears.

     “I’m not so bad after all,” Jocelyn thinks, her tongue moving over the L’Oréal Gilded Pink lipstick she’d applied in the car.

     “I’m a preschool teacher,” she says, when her turn comes around. “I’m twenty-five and tonight I’m wearing lipstick for the first time in my life!” She tosses her head, brushing aside a wisp of auburn hair. “I live with my bossy-boots aunty who treats me like a child and I want to be assertive and stand up to her.”

     Fenella beams. “Well done! And that shade of lipstick suits you perfectly!”

     “It’s great to have a clear goal, Jocelyn,” says Hal, stroking his beard. “You’re off to a flying start.”

     “Over the five weekly sessions, we’ll be teaching you skills,” says Fenella, “like using ‘I’ statements to express feelings, and we’ll have role plays so you can practise using them.”

     “Then,” says Hal, still stroking his beard, “three months after the last weekly session, we’ll have a review session to see how you’ve got on.”

     Down-in-the-mouth Dentist clears his throat with a rasping sound that startles Jocelyn. “I let my wife boss me about for years, till someone said I should stop being a doormat.” He pulls a face. “But when I started sticking up for myself, all hell broke loose. It got very bloody. Now I’m on my own.”

     “Family and friends often prefer us to remain passive,” answers Hal. “Over the sessions, we’ll be looking at ways to handle this.”

     “However,” Fenella says, “do consider, that if you find yourself in a relationship where you can’t be yourself, you might be better off to be by yourself.”

     “Assuming you don’t end up with a knife in your guts,” snorts Recently Divorced Policewoman, short-haired and broad-shouldered.

     “But surely there is a not insignificant, even serious, risk of things going awry, when you start being assertive,” says Anxious Lawyer, crossing his arms. He speaks ponderously, as if choosing his words one by one.

     “Yes,” replies Fenella. “But there’s also a risk in not living while you’re alive.

     Young Fellow in a Wheelchair laughs. “I think most people are more afraid of living than of dying.”

     Elderly Man nods his bald head. It makes Jocelyn think of a boiled egg. “It’s living that’s the hard part,” he says, in a crackly voice.

     Jocelyn pulls a tissue from her purse. “Fenella, you said that if you can’t be yourself in a relationship, you might be better off by yourself, but...”

     Fenella leans forward. “This is very emotional for you, isn’t it, Jocelyn, but keep going. I can see you’ve got guts.”

     “Me?” says Jocelyn. “That’s just it! I haven’t. I couldn’t cope if I ended up by myself. I don’t think I’ve got a self to be by.”

     Hail begins to beat against the windows and a thunderclap shakes the building.

 

 

The lights of oncoming traffic are dazzling against the rain that bounces from the tar seal. Jocelyn squints to make out the white road markings.

          Arriving home as the storm strikes, she presses shoulder and hip against the front door and just manages to push it shut.

          Something frenzied and desperately unhappy flings itself against the house. It bellows and paws, then charges headlong at the door, but locks and hinges hold firm. The beast batters all night, sobbing and cajoling, until its power is spent and it ambles away.

 

Jocelyn’s aunty is tall, long-necked and flat-chested. She leaves the house only on Sundays to go to church, and spends hours every day vacuuming the carpet or abusing the piano in the lounge, poking the keys like the eyes of a discarded husband. She always stomps about the place in podgy black shoes, her upper body thrust forward.

          “You were such a stupid girl, Jocelyn,” she growls, crunching down on toast over breakfast, “dressing up like a tart and going to that ridiculous group thing after I told you there was a storm coming! This assertiveness nonsense just teaches people to be selfish and breaks up families. God first, others second and self last, that’s what I say. Where would you be today, eh, if I hadn’t sacrificed my own life to raise you when your parents were killed?” She thrusts her chin forward, pouting. “Is there any marmalade left or have you scoffed the lot?”

          Jocelyn pushes her chair back and goes to the pantry.

          “I feel... angry when you call me stupid, Aunty,” she blurts out, plonking a jar on the table.

     “Angry? Why on earth? You’re such a sensitive girl. I’m only trying to be helpful.”

     “Yes, Aunty. Sorry, Aunty.”

     “That’s all right, dear. You must be tired.” The corners of Aunty’s lips straighten into a smile like a stretched rubber band.

 

 

When Jocelyn arrives at Rainbow Pre-school that morning, her colleague Deborah, a young woman with curly dark hair, is nestled in a beanbag, reading Rumpelstiltskin to a medley of toddlers. A child in a thick, tawny-coloured jersey is perched beside her like a baby owl in a tree.

          The horrid man got really angry,” Deborah reads “and stomped his foot so hard it made a hole in the ground, then he spun around and around and the hole got so big, he disappeared down it and was never seen again!” The children clap and cheer.

     “Thanks for stepping in, Deborah,” says Jocelyn, when the noise subsides. “Sorry I was late.” She turns to the children. “I think nasty old Rumpelstiltskin got what he deserved, don’t you, children?”

 

“How did the group go?” Deborah asks Jocelyn later, over lunch.

     “Sort of okay, I think.”

     “You’ll keep going?”

     “I’d better. I nearly lost it with Aunty this morning. She didn’t even ask how I got on! Just spouted her own opinions!”

     “It’s all about her, isn’t it?”

          “Is it that obvious?”

          “To an outsider, it sticks out like a boy bulldog’s bits. What’re the others like in the group?”

          “Well, it’s the first therapy type of group I’ve ever been in,” Jocelyn muses. “The male leader Hal strokes his beard all the time and I find that really irritating. The other leader, Fenella, keeps looking hard at me. And some of the people on the course are sort of...odd.” She pauses. “Maybe I’m just too quick to judge.”

 

 

At the start of the second session, Hal asks the participants how their week has been.

          Emotionally Abused Husband speaks up. He’s a stocky man with a hairline that makes Jocelyn think of Friar Tuck, and a white polar neck only heightens the effect. “I’ve been feeling...really angry inside.”

     “Angry,” repeats Hal, stroking his beard. “Anything else?”

     “Ah, frightened, I guess.”

     “Uhuh. Tell us about your anger first.”

     “Well, my wife’s easy to get on with, as long as you keep agreeing with her.”

     “And if you don’t...?”

     “I gave up disagreeing years ago. For a peaceful life.”

     “And your anger?”

     “I keep the lid on it.”

     “Is that what you’re frightened of? What could happen if you let the lid off?”

     Emotionally Abused Husband shifts uneasily on his chair.

     Hal smoothes his whiskers. “Anger’s like the pressure in a steam boiler. If it’s not vented regularly, it builds up and explodes.” He stops talking and lets silence fills the room.

     “Anybody else want to talk about suppressed anger?” asks Fenella, after a while, gazing around. “What’s happening with you, Jocelyn?”

     One of Jocelyn’s sneakers, resting on the other, is tapping audibly. Pressing her stomach with one hand, she balls the other into a fist, which slides down her jeans to rest on her knee.

     “What are you feeling, Jocelyn?”

     Jocelyn takes a deep breath. “I used to think my aunty was like Rumpelstiltskin, that she’d fly into a rage if I stood up to her, and then die. But now I think ...”

     The others in the room lean forward as her voice fades to a whisper. “It’s about me being the steam boiler. I feel I could so easily explode and God knows what I’d do.”

     Exhausted Mother exhales noisily, raises a finger and then lets it drop. She crosses and uncrosses her legs.

     “Do you want to say something to Jocelyn?” Fenella asks her.

     Exhausted Mother runs fingers through greying hair, long and straggly, as if she’s just got out of bed. “I dream about throttling my husband. He gets into such shitty moods, treats me like crap, but he can switch on a good mood just like that,” she says, clicking her fingers, “when his mates come round.”

     “How does that make you feel?”

     “Like a puppet. As if he’s toying with me.”

     Burned Out Social Worker twists in her chair, which makes a screeching noise on the floor. “Controlling you, I’d say! No wonder you’d like to throttle the bugger!”

     “It’s normal to have these types of thoughts and good to acknowledge them,” says Hal, his blue eye twinkling. “but possibly not a good idea to act them out. I think throttling is still rather illegal in this country.”

 

 

Piano playing greets Jocelyn when she arrives home that night. She tiptoes to the kitchen. The music breaks off, and she hears stomping in the hall.

     Aunty’s face appears in the kitchen doorway.

     “Making yourself a coffee, are you? The only person you think about is yourself!”

     “Trying not to disturb you, Aunty.”

     “Totally selfish, that’s your trouble!”

     The phone rings and Aunty runs to answer it. “Hullo? Oh, how are you?” she says, jovially. “Fit as a fiddler’s elbows, I hope?” A lively conversation begins and Jocelyn sneaks off to her bedroom.

 

 

“You’re looking chirpy today,” remarks Debbie, next day. “That course must be doing you some good.”

          They are sitting on an old railway sleeper alongside the sandpit, watching children play.

          “The people on the course are ...I don’t know what it is,” Jocelyn replies. “A strange feeling...we’re all so different, some a bit irritating, but it’s as if...we’re together in the same boat... being tossed about by a storm...all different, but alike in how we feel. There’s a sense of belonging I’ve not had....since...” She chokes back tears.

          “Since before your parents died?”

 

The dream is like a video in which she herself is the main character. She knows she’s dreaming but can’t stop watching.

          Fenella speaks. “We’re having role plays tonight. Who’d like to go first?”

     Jocelyn sees herself perched on the edge of her chair. She sees her hand shoot up, punching the air. “Me!” she calls out. “I want to practise telling Aunty I’m leaving home.”

     “Alright, Jocelyn. Who’d you like to play the part of Aunty?”

     Jocelyn turns to Burned Out Social Worker. “Would you mind?”

     They rearrange chairs and face each other inside the circle.

     “Well, Aunty,” Jocelyn says to Burned Out Social Worker, “I’m twenty-five now and ready to leave home. I’m going to look for a flat.”

     Burned Out Social Worker glares at Jocelyn through narrowed eyes. “I’ll be pleased to be rid of you,” she shrieks. “And you know damn well you haven’t the guts to stick it out on your own!”

     Jocelyn watches herself crouch lower in the seat, sees her own face contort with rage and her lips hiss hate. She watches herself spring into the air, bellowing like a wild beast, and charge headlong at Burned Out Social Worker. She hears a scream and sees Burned Out Social Worker writhing on the floor, a carving knife protruding from her neck.

 

 

“I had a nightmare,” Jocelyn says to the group at the third session, “and I don’t remember much about it, except it was something to do with being assertive, and I woke up screaming.” She looks wildly around the room and half stands, reaching for her handbag, but bursts into sobs and slumps back into her seat, covering her face with her hands.

 

 

“I’ve never broken down like that before,” Jocelyn tells Deborah next day. “But somehow it was alright.”

          “Just a melt-down. How did the others react?”

          “They all rallied around. When I really needed them, they were there.”

          “They came to the party...”

          “Warts and all.”

 

*

It’s a hot humid evening, three months later. The windows are wide open. A thrush sings nearby.

          “Welcome to the review session,” says Hal, stroking his beard. “It’s great you’ve all turned up. Let’s go round the circle, and each say how you’ve been doing and what you got from the course.”

          “Who’d like to go first?” says Fenella, gazing around. “Jocelyn, you look excited. How’ve you been? I’m dying to know!”

          “I’ve been pretty good, thanks. I had a talk to Aunty.”

          “You did? How did that go?”

          “Well, I was a bit apprehensive.  We’d both just sat down to watch the news. I said to Aunty, very calmly: I’m twenty-five now and ready to leave home. I’m going to look for a flat.”

          Jocelyn pauses to clear her throat.

          “How did she react to that,” Burned Out Social Worker asks.

           “Not too well, actually,” Jocelyn says quietly, frowning a little. “Aunty’s face went all funny. Then she leapt up from her seat, howling like a mad thing and charged at me.  Luckily, I happened to be holding a carving knife at the time, so I just held it out in front of me.”

          Jocelyn looks around the circle, smiling oddly. “It made a strange sharp sort of a noise as it went through her jacket and into her chest. Blood squirted out where the knife went in and then it started gushing out of her throat.” Her voice rises an octave or two, but remains calm. “It was really odd. And her eyes started rolling around. Her tongue poked out of her mouth, all twisted like, as if she was having a fit or something. It was weird. Anyway, she crashed to the floor, kicked about for, oh, a few minutes or so, and then stopped moving and just lay there, looking like a dead person.”

          She stops talking, Silence fills the room.

          After a minute or two, Fenella asks in a strange voice: “When did this happen?”

          “Just before I came here tonight.  I’m on my way now to tell the Police about it. Just thought I’d drop into the meeting on the way to the station. And you’re such a supportive group, I was thinking some of you might like to come along.”

          Fenella’s eyes open wide and her mouth drops open. Hal lets out a little cry and faints.


In 2010, New Zealander Bruce Costello retired from work and city life, retreated to the seaside village of Hampden, joined the Waitaki Writers’ Group, and took up writing as a pastime. Since then, he has had 135 short story successes – publications in literary journals (including Yellow Mama) anthologies and popular magazines, and contest places and wins.




Lonni Lees is a multi-award-winning writer in both fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.  Her stories appear in Hardboiled magazine, Yellow Mama, A Shot of Ink, Shotgun Honey, Black Petals, Einstein’s Pocket Watch, All Due Respect, and in the anthologies Deadly Dames and More Whodunits. Among her numerous writing awards over the years, she has award-winning stories in Felons, Flames, and Ambulance Rides, Battling Boxing Stories, and her published short story collection, Crawlspace. Broken won first place and is her 4th published novel. Her first novel Deranged won the PSWA First Place award for best published novel. Her next novel, The Mosaic Murder, was followed with a sequel, The Corpse in the Cactus, which won First Place and was published in the U.S. and UK. She won several other writing awards for her short stories, including Grand Prize.

 

 She received both art and a nonfiction Creative Writing Awards from NLAPW, California South branch, an organization of women writers, artists, and composers, and she served as President from 1982–1984. She is a current member of Sisters in Crime, PSWA, and Arizona Mystery Writers, where she was the first writer to win two consecutive awards in their annual short story contest.

 

 Twice Lonni was selected as Writer-in-Residence at Hedgebrook, a writer’s retreat on Whidbey Island. After living in four states and visiting many countries, she’s settled in Tucson, AZ. She fills her spare time showing her art at WomanKraft Gallery, reminiscing on all her travel adventures, illustrating stories for online magazines, and dreaming up new tales to tell.




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