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Venom!: Fiction by Pamela Ebel
A Case of Paracosm: Fiction by Bruce Costello
There's More then One Way to Catch a Bank Robber: Fiction by Roy Dorman
My Addie: Fiction by Daniel G. Snethen
Trans/Figure: Fiction by Michael Steven
Secretary to a Serial Killer: Fiction by Robert Jeschonek
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Sooter: Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Heidi: Fiction by Tony Ayers
A Spider Among the Flies: Fiction by Gary Earl Ross
He Wore a Purple Heart Inside a Gray Uniform: Fiction by John C. Mannone
So Bright They Were, So Bright: Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Coyote-Murder-House: Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Spring Cleaning: Flash Fiction by Mikki Aronoff
Chuck Cody: Flash Fiction by Fred Zackel
While My Mother Dreams of Judge Judy: Flash Fiction by Tina Barry
Snoopy: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Afternoon on the Beach: Poem by Elizabeth Zelvin
crowbars and middle fingers: Poem by Rob Plath
Lavender: Poem by Cindy Rosmus
Insouciant: Poem by KJ Hannah Greenberg
Fire: Poem by Bernice Holtzman
7 ways of Seeing a Scar: Poem by Jack Garrett
Freddy on 14th Street: Poem by Jack Garrett
Peace, Baby: Poem by Meg Baird
The Light: Poem by Meg Baird
The lunatic equation and the lemon revolution: Poem by Partha Sarkar
A knife with three wheels: Poem by Partha Sarkar
Belle in the Bottom: Poem by g emil reutter
Glint: Poem by g emil reutter
Marathon Key: Poem by Damon Hubbs
Pretzels: Poem by Damon Hubbs
Times Argus: Poem by Damon Hubbs
Phillip: Poem by John Doyle
The Indiscretion: Poem by John Doyle
The Sadness and Beauty of Car Boot Sales: Poem by John Doyle
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Bruce Costello: A Case of Paracosm

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Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg 2023

A Case of Paracosm

Bruce Costello

 

When my estranged son heard a cardiologist had given me three months to live, he paid me a visit, the first in forty years.

He moved my single bed into the sunroom looking out over the harbor and here I spend my last days, gazing across the grey water to the grey hills with their dismal shroud of winter cloud.

I can still get up to the loo, but the effort tires me, so I always wait till I’m busting and sometimes don’t quite make it.

I live alone and see few people. The meals-on-wheels lady comes daily. The district nurse comes fortnightly. A caregiver woman comes for half an hour each afternoon. A few friends and old colleagues drop by occasionally and try to cheer me up, but they piss me off with their hail-fellow-well-met joviality, and I’m rude to them, so they’ve mostly stopped coming. Except for one old buddy who brings my whisky. I must admit I like a drink now and then. More now than then, to tell the truth.

My son stopped coming after he asked about his inheritance, and I told him everything was going to the Salvation Army. He muttered something under his breath and took off—discarded me for the second time. At least his mother, my third wife, only discarded me once.

I’ve often thought that dying would be easier than living, but I’m not so sure now.

The idea of death frightens me, but life confuses me. Half the time I don’t know whether I’m Arthur or Martha, whether I’m coming or going, what’s fiction and what’s truth, what’s fact and what’s fantasy, who you can trust and who you can’t trust.

My only safe place is the space inside my head.

But there’s one doctor who visits me quite often that I really love: Denise Donaldson. She’s not my own doctor, just somebody I knew before she became a doctor. I’ll tell you about Denise shortly.

I don’t think I’m afraid of actually being dead. At worst, it will feel like it did before I was conceived. And at best… well, I often think of Virginia, my mother’s younger cousin, who died decades ago with a serene smile on her face and a Bible in her hand. These days, I think about Virginia a lot.   

Apart from Denise and Virginia, I can’t think of anyone else I’ll regret leaving behind when I die.

Basically, after a lifetime of people, I’ve had a gutful.

People wear me out with their expectations, their demands and manipulations, their brutality when they don’t get their own way.  

But I often daydream about Virginia and imagine her hand on my forehead, like when she lived with us when I was a boy, and I suffered severely from asthma.

I’d wake up in the night, wheezing and gasping, couldn’t breathe, and Virginia would always calm me down with her gentle touch, as not even my mother could.

Sometimes I wish I were a little boy again and often I actually feel like I am one, though the reality is, I’m over 80. I think I’m going soft in the head.    

But I must tell you about Denise, my doctor friend.

When I was in hospital for my last dose of surgery, Denise happened to walk past my bed to see one of her patients. She recognized me at once, though she hadn’t seen me since her high school days, thirty years before, when I was her form teacher and she was a right little so-and-so.

We chatted for a while and when I got out of hospital she turned up at my place one day and started to visit frequently.

I enjoyed her coming, because she was lovely to me and I could talk to her about anything—not just about the weather, but about the important life and death stuff. She was not into airy-fairy reassurances and glossing over of realities. She was just what I needed.

And somehow I thought she needed me as well. There was a loneliness about her, a particular flavour of sadness.

She never talked about her private life. At least, not directly.

Once when I was telling her about my third wife, Denise quoted that famous Russian writer, Anton Chekhov, who famously said: “If you are afraid of loneliness, don’t get married,” and she laughed, as if it were a great joke, then fell silent.

“It’s just so unfair, what’s happening at home,” she blurted out, after a while, the words just sliding from her lips. And the look on her face! I wanted to reach out and touch her, but you don’t do that when you’re an old man or people might think you’re a dirty old man.

Anyway, she resumed chatting and stayed for longer than normal, as if reluctant to leave. When she finally stood up to go, she hugged me long and hard. I asked what she’d meant by that quotation, but she just laughed. 

Anton Chekhov, she told me, was always just joking around. The same writer who said, when somebody asked him how he was feeling, “I feel like a donkey, with a stick in my mouth and a carrot up my arse.”

Denise was laughing as she walked out the door and I could still hear her laughter as she walked down the path.

*

A week later the district nurse tells me that Denise is dead. I ask her what happened, but she can’t or won’t tell me, and it’s obvious to me she’s making it all up for some reason. She’s lying. Denise can’t be dead - that’s unthinkable.

And sure enough, Denise’s visits resume. She reappears in my room about a week later, sits on the bed and talks to me as if she’s never been away. After that, she starts turning up any time of the day or night and next thing I know, she’s living with me.

She sits beside me during the day and at night she slips out of her clothes and slides into my bed. It’s no big deal. We cuddle all night and that’s all we do.

It’s the best relationship I’ve ever had. No sidetracks. No tangents. No kids. No marital minefields. No expectations. No social life. No sex. Nothing to go wrong.

I tell her about me, and she opens up and tells me about her. We talk about who we are, what we think about life and how we feel about each other. We talk about crappy things from our pasts, shake them around, toss them about, then forget about them. We live in the present tense.

And then, would you believe it, Virginia, my mother’s cousin, who used to babysit me, Virginia whom I’d thought had been dead for decades, turns up out of the blue, looking soft and serene, just like I remembered her from when I was a kid.

I introduce her to Denise and the two get on really well, like best sisters. Virginia is at a loose end in her life and has nowhere to stay, so Denise suggests we ask her to move in with us. Virginia accepts instantly.

The pair set about tidying my room. They start by taking down the musty old net curtains and cleaning the windows inside and out. Light and colour start to pour into the room and this makes such a difference.

And now with my two favourite women caring for me, I start to feel better. My health is returning.

I think it’s probably the district nurse who arranges for the cardiologist to call around and check me out. A tall American wearing a bow tie, sunglasses tucked in his top pocket, he is gobsmacked to find my heart is on the mend, that I’m actually going to live.

“It’s a miracle,” he says. “Fantastic. How did you manage that?”

“I’ve been well looked after,” I say. “There’s nothing to equal the curative love of a good woman and when there’re two of them in your bed, you’re on a winning streak.

“Well, whatever you’re doing, and however you’re doing it,” the cardiologist says, raising his eyebrows, “keep doing it.”

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 152 short story successes— publications in literary journals (including Yellow Mama) anthologies and popular magazines, and contest places and wins.


KJ Hannah Greenberg is eclectic. She’s played oboe, participated in martial arts, learned basket weaving, and studied Middle Eastern dancing. What’s more, she’s a certified herbalist, and an AP College Board-authorized teacher of calculus.

Her creative efforts have been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, once for The Best of the Net in art, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty-five books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals. Channie’s latest book is Eternal not Ephemeral, Eternal not Ephemeral: Greenberg, KJ Hannah: 9798852494016: Amazon.com: Books, a collection of fifty tales, including "Absinthe for Aliens," "Isabelle," "Transitory Unease," and "Special Teeth," which were originally published in Yellow Mama or Black Petals. 


In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2023