Tag Archives: Slipstream

Appreciation for Falling Stars a Must

We fell for each other.


Like stars, it seemed.

Had I thought about falling stars then, how they’re just bits of space dust burning up as they hit the atmosphere, it likely would have taken some of the Zing! out of my romantic illusions.

But I didn’t think about it.

It was like we’d been made for each other, something I did let myself think even though I knew the cliché was only half true. I was as I’d always been. She, though, she’d been made for me.

By me.

It was a simple enough process. I’d designed every bit of her, filling in all the blanks and boxes on the Realationship™ site. And when I say design I don’t just mean the parts you might think. But everything. Down to the shape of her toes, the curve of her eyebrows.

I remember sitting at the keyboard, my fingers caressing the track pad, working my way through eye color and skin tone. Each drop down menu needed a carefully considered click, like a little nudge, a little push. Each choice opened a window to more, with all of them weighed against the ones that had come before.

And there’d been myself to consider as well–measuring my lips to match against hers, moving my hands in just the right way to see how they’d feel on the small of her back, following the prompts to upload my image so I could see how my brown eyes would reflect her blue. Finished, I’d just needed to click on all the agreements, debit my account, and wait for delivery.

The night I lost her, we lay in the back yard, a blanket between us and the ground. She rested her head on my arm, her blond hair threatening to make me sneeze as it tickled my nose. Our sweat had already begun to dry from the summer breeze, and if I moved my hand just a little I could trace the swell of her breast. It would have been perfect if we had seen a falling star then, but the cloudless sky yielded nothing but familiar constellations.

“What time is it?” she asked.

I’d designed her to disregard the tech she ran on. Occasionally, I’d hear a servo spin somewhere in her body, but if she ever heard the same, she ignored it. And so, though her operating system included a perfectly accurate internal clock, it was instinctive of her to ask me the time or to check the delicate watch I’d given her on our one-month anniversary.

She wasn’t wearing it now. Or anything else.

“Almost ten,” I said after raising my wrist and blocking out part of the sky for a moment.

She seemed to take a second to process the information, then sat up, leaving my right arm and whole right side suddenly cool as the night air touched the skin she’d just been pressed against. I smiled at the sight of her naked back.

“I’m leaving,” she said.

My smile faded.

“Leaving?” I asked, nonplussed. My turn to process.

“You,” she added.

Then she was up. Off the blanket and picking through the clothes scattered on the lawn.

“What do you mean?”

“What I said. I’m leaving you.”


Original painting by Candice Mancini

“Da? Da, look what I can do!”

I frowned at the monitor and the columns of numbers that refused to add up. “Not now, Becca. Da’s working.”

“Look, Da.”

I could try to ignore her and not get anything done, or indulge her for a minute and salvage the remainder of the afternoon. I turned around in my office chair, and my heart went cold.

My six-year old daughter pirouetted in mid-air, a flutter of wings between her shoulders where this morning there’d been only rose print pajamas and strawberry blonde curls. She smiled at me and spun again, arms outstretched. “I’m flying!”

“Yes, yes you are.” I tried to clear the anxiety clotted at the back of my throat; it wouldn’t budge. “Where did you, um, where did you find those?”

Aggie came in from the kitchen, saucer in one hand, dish towel in the other. “Here now, I told you to leave – oh!” She dropped the towel and saucer, the latter landing on the former, so no harm done to the dish at least.

Becca flew higher and rapped the ceiling with her knuckles. “Look, Mum!”

“I see.” The words trembled on Aggie’s lips. She lowered herself to the sofa and I joined her, putting a hand on her knee. Her words weren’t all that trembled. “I haven’t seen those since before Da and I got married.”

Our daughter flit close, hovering right above the floor. “Really? Are they yours?”

“Once upon a time, yes.” Aggie looked at me then, so wistful and sad it all but broke my heart. “Let’s have a closer look.”

There was enough of the mother voice to the request that Becca did as she was told, but not without: “You’re not going to take them, are you?”

Aggie answered before I could. “Not at all.” She motioned for Becca to turn around.

With both feet flat on the ground, Becca showed us her back. Uneven slits perhaps five inches long had been cut in her pajama top so the wings could poke through. A small part of my attention allowed that we would have a sit down about when, and on what, we used scissors, but not this moment. What mattered most was how the wings caught the blue of Aggie’s eyes, the blue of the summer sky over Niarbyl Bay, or perhaps the other way around.

Marie Eau-Claire: Parts 4 – 7

Click here to read parts 1-3 of Caroline Miller’s Marie Eau-Claire.

Part IV

Though Geraldine arose early the next morning, as was her habit, Steven had already left the apartment. There were no traces of any activity in the kitchen so she presumed he chose to have breakfast somewhere along the boulevard. She had the place to herself but felt uneasy. What were his plans for lunch? Would he be in or out?

Her morning routine stretched before her exactly as it had done for years, but the rooms she entered seemed empty, as if each was holding its breath until Steven’s return. Of course, she understood she was projecting her feelings upon the cream-colored walls, but they seemed to reflect her emotions with an unaccustomed intensity.

The hours wore on at a tedious pace, each second punctuated by the ticking of the mantel clock. For once, it came as a relief when it was time to collect the mail. It gave her something to do besides think about Steven. But the little box contained nothing of interest. Even the newspaper seemed filled with the same reports she’d read the day before. There was trouble in the Middle East, the economy was in a slump and the politicians were hurling accusations at one another as the coming elections approached. Each day’s turmoil seemed indistinguishable from the last. If one were to depend upon world affairs as evidence of time’s passage, she grumbled, one would be lost.

The hour of noon was approaching when Geraldine, having nodded off, was awakened by a rustle at the door. A key was turning in the lock and she heard voices, one male and the other female. Rising from the settee, she had just enough time to give her reflection a quick glance in the mirror over the mantel before she heard that dreadful nickname being called out.

“Hello, Gerry?” Enid’s voice entered the hall before her followed by Steven’s deeper tones. Soon after, the pair entered the parlor, the nephew carrying an armload of groceries. He greeted his great aunt cheerily then headed for the kitchen with his burden while Enid flopped down on the settee. Her lips twitched with her approval of the new man in residence but she said nothing, as if she expected Geraldine to crumple beside her like a giggling school girl.

Geraldine did nothing of the kind but slid into one of the overstuffed chairs, taking a moment to observe her friend’s apple green dress with its white piping at the collar. The color struck her as unbecoming but far worse, the garment was sleeveless and exposed Enid’s wrinkly arms. Though Geraldine’s appendages were smoother, she never made that mistake. No matter the weather, she always wore long sleeves or draped a silk scarf over her shoulders. How like Enid to be oblivious of her defects her friend thought.

It was true. Enid had no notion of the poor impression she was making and seemed all too eager to discuss the new arrival. She leaned toward Geraldine as if to share a secret.

“What a handsome young man this nephew of yours turns out to be, Gerry, and how wicked of you to keep him all to yourself… though I can’t blame you. I’d probably do the same thing…”
“I’m not keeping him to myself,” the dancer objected. ‘He’s just arrived…”
“Yes, yes. Never mind that,” Enid interrupted. “Tell me all about him. How old would you say he is? Twenty-four? Twenty-five? And, oh, what a gorgeous pair of dark eyes — so sad and melancholy, as if he were harboring a tragic secret, perhaps the loss of a great love. Women will absolutely swoon for him, I warn you.”

“Don’t be so silly, Enid.” Geraldine crossed one leg over the other and looked annoyed, though it troubled her that her friend had seen that same haunted look she’d observed from the outset. Was her relative hiding something, after all? Had he come to Paris for a reason but refused to tell her? She tried to distract her doubts by staring out the window. “He has an interesting face.” That was the only truth she was willing to concede.

Edith gasped. “‘An interesting face?’ Are you blind? He’s utterly gorgeous. Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed. I’m sorry, Gerry, but I can’t allow you to keep him to yourself. There’s a younger generation that must have a peek at him. You’ll soon see I’m right.

“Please, Enid, don’t take him under your wing…”

“Too late, darling, I’ve invited him to the theatre this evening…”

Geraldine said nothing but uttered a loud and prolonged sigh. Seeing that she’d ruffled feathers, her visitor spoke apologetically.

“I don’t see the harm in it. I met him outside the concierge’s offices and guessing who he was, I introduced myself. Why not? As we were both coming here, I had to make conversation. He’s very easy to talk to, more friendly than his brooding look might suggest. Handsome men are usually far too pleased with themselves to take notice of anyone else. But this darling nephew of yours…”

“I’ve decided to make omelets for lunch.” Steven stuck his head into the room, unaware that he’d been the topic of conversation. “I’m pretty good at it, so I hope you plan to stay, Enid. You won’t be disappointed.”

“Dear boy,” Enid purred, “I can’t imagine ever being disappointed with you.”

“Yes, well, the trouble is, I can’t find a frying pan. You do have one don’t you, Geraldine?” He cast an appealing glance in his great aunt’s direction. Disarmed by it, she sat for a moment, thinking.

Of course she had a frying pan. But where did she keep it? She hadn’t a clue. Ah yes… she remembered. “I think it’s in the pantry beside the cooking oils.”

“In the pantry?” Steven raised one eyebrow in disbelief. “That’s an odd place for it.” He didn’t wait for an explanation but hurried from the room as if making an omelet had something to do with preventing World War III.

Enid tossed a cat-like grin in her friend’s direction. “And he cooks, too.”

Marie Eau-Claire: Parts 1 – 3

Part I

Geraldine Hoffman was an American who had lived in Paris over forty years, having become an expatriate in 1966 when she was thirty. While she retained a dual citizenship, she’d always thought of herself as a guest in France. She enjoyed the country’s slower pace, a place where people put a value on art and culture. Some might have said she was a snob, but she didn’t agree.

Unmarried, the former principal dancer with the Oregon Ballet Company and later with the Paris Opera Ballet, she’d lived for her art and when, at the age of forty-three, dancing was no longer a joy, when she feared she could no longer attain the perfection she demanded of herself, she left the stage and turned her hand to writing poetry. But living for art didn’t make her an elitist.

To be honest, her writing was of modest quality but she did publish in several journals, and had one slim volume of her works released when she was in her fifties. The book attracted the positive attention of a few critics, but she suspected the praise was more a transfer of allegiance from those who admired her as a dancer than to her skills as a poet. She recognized her talents were limited and, over time, she fell more to reading — a habit which led her to a life of quiet solitude.

The Purifier

I was one of three foremen who ran the Purifier for the General Secretary before and during the upheaval. Those were dark days for all of us, and anyone who can sit in a rocking chair by the fire, warming his fingers and talking about those times, is lucky. Lucky to be alive, lucky to have his fingers still, lucky to have his tongue. But not everything about those times was evil. Like all times, in all places, I suppose, some bits of light make life worth living, grim as things might get.

The light for us, back before the Upheaval, was the Secretary’s Science and Projects Liaison. Now, I’ve been accused once or twice of being a bit of a dreamer. But understand, everything I have to say about the Liaison is pure truth. Heaven knows how a woman like that ended up with that position. She wasn’t dumb, exactly. In fact, as models go you’d consider her rather intelligent. She was in her mid twenties, and we all recognized her from various men’s interest magazines that were in circulation before the Secretary took full power and the presses were shut down. I guess that put her out of work. Maybe the Secretary hand-picked her for the job, maybe he felt guilty for putting her out of business. You’d think that picking a beautiful woman with no scientific background for Science and Projects Liaison would be a terrible mistake, but really what her job entailed was keeping us workers in line. And that was something she could do with a flick of the wrist and a bat of the eyelashes. She even was able to keep the women workers hard at work with barely any effort at all. It wasn’t just her beauty, she had an aura about her – call it charisma, or leadership, or maybe just confidence. Anyway, we saw her about once a month, which was more than most other facilities and projects could say. The Purifier was very important to the Secretary.

The Purifier was a marvel of human ingenuity and engineering. I wish, now in the twilight of my life, that I could claim I had helped to build or design it. But I didn’t. I just came on after it was finished, with my wrench and my hammer and the rest of my toolkit, and I made sure the other mechanics didn’t screw anything up. Not to say that this wasn’t hard work. A number of my men died or became too sick to work because of leaks in the reactor. The fact that I’m still alive, after all the years I spent at the Purifier, is a testament to something. Probably my great reservoir of dumb luck.

I never used to believe in luck until I got stuck in the elevator with the Liaison. The elevator was on the side of the Stack, which was a fifty story, eighty foot radius chimney stack. This was how the Purifier released the water back into the atmosphere. This was how we made the clouds. The Liaison and I were riding up to check on some repairs that were underway two thirds up the Stack. Most of the deaths were from people being knocked off by gusts of wind, so needless to say, being that high on the Stack, once you got out of the elevator, was dangerous. But the Liaison never shied away from danger. She was utterly fearless in fact.

99-Cent Dreams

After some deliberation, Libby decided to buy the ability to draw. “This one,” she said. “I’ve never been able to manage anything more than stick figures. This would be nice.”

Alfred Corrigan smiled at her. “Yes. Very good.” He coughed before continuing in his high, papery voice. “Let me remind you, however, that this only guarantees the ability to draw recognizable pictures, not the talents of a master artist. These are only–”

“–ninety-nine cent dreams,” she finished along with him. It was the name of the store, and he had given her the patter when she had first come in. Ninety-nine cents could only buy small dreams, not miracles.

“Precisely. That said, your satisfaction is guaranteed. You shouldn’t find yourself reverting to, ah, stick figures. One moment, please.” He shuffled through the door in the back. Libby kept her eyes on the catalog, not wanting to watch the way he moved. He was a young man, clean-cut and broad-shouldered, but his slow, fumbling movements reminded her of her grandfather; the way he’d limped toward her when she first entered the store had almost caused her to mumble an excuse and go outside again.

She flipped through the pages idly, glancing at the glossy stock pictures of laughing, photogenic couples and families. All items just 99¢! Make your partner a dog person! Item 13A. LIMITED TIME ONLY! Maintain weight over the holidays–LOSS NOT GUARANTEED. Item 13B. Have the baby sleep through the night once a week. Item 13C.

That picture was of a sleeping baby, his little mouth relaxed into a faint pout. Libby bit her lip–she’d been doing a lot of that in the past month, and it was starting to taste chapped and bloody–and rested her fingertips on the baby’s face. In the back of her mind, she could hear Sasha screaming, “If you want kids so fucking much, find a man! I’m not your goddamn brood mare!”, could hear the glass bowl shattering against the wall behind her head. Sasha had apologized in tears the next day, of course, and Libby had forgiven her, of course, and they had made desperate love and promised that they would never fight again, just as they always did. But that time it had been true, because now Sasha was gone.

She had to turn the page. Blindly, she flipped to the tab in the back. FREE SAMPLES!

“Here you go.” Corrigan’s dry voice made Libby jump. She turned and saw him holding a cobalt blue bottle about the size of her little finger. “Stir this into a beverage and drink it just before going to bed. I’ve found the flavor complements an English tea wonderfully.”

“Great. Thanks.” She gestured at the page of samples. “What are these?”

Corrigan peered over her shoulder, and she saw his eyes go bright. The eyes were old, too, she thought; it wasn’t just his gait. There was a tired, stretched look around the edges, and she hadn’t even noticed until that eager brightness took it away. “Ah. These are from my new supply. Ninety-nine cent dreams fill a necessary niche, but my current stock is rather, ah, modest. I’m hoping to expand. I haven’t dealt in larger dreams in a long, long time.”

“Can I look?”

“Of course.”

She turned the page. This was more what she had expected when Corrigan had explained to her that he didn’t run a fancifully named dollar store, but a shop dealing in dreams themselves. Regain sight for the blind! Item 47A. Recover a missing heirloom! Item 47B.

She turned the page again, and her heart swelled to a huge size in her chest. She couldn’t move. All she could do was stare at the page, hands trembling. It was a generic photo of a man and a woman embracing in front of a sunset. Bring back the affections of a lost love! Item 47C.

Sasha. She could bring Sasha back. Oh, God, if this place was for real. . . . She imagined the faint, spicy smell of Sasha’s shampoo, the way she hummed in the back of her throat when she was falling asleep, the rich alto of her voice as she sang along with Libby’s cello. All the times in the past month with she’d felt frightened and she’d known that having Sasha near her would make her brave, because without Sasha she was just a timid little mouse. All the times she’d seen bridal magazines or women with strollers and thought, That’s not for me, that’ll never be for me; it’s what drove Sasha away, but she’s the only one I’d ever want to have any of it with.

It could have been a thousand dollars and she would have taken it. But a free sample…

“Ms. Morell? Did you find something of interest?”

Libby had almost forgotten that Corrigan was there. She looked up and saw him smiling benignly. “This.” She pointed to the picture. “This is free?”

He glanced down. “An excellent choice. A simple modification of Item 7D, stop your lover’s passing attraction to another. It should run wonderfully.”

“Great. I’d like to buy it also, please.”

Corrigan twiddled his tie between two fingers. “I should warn you, Ms. Morell, that the word ‘free’ is misleading. There’s no monetary cost for these dreams, but . . . well, I have to get my supplies from somewhere, especially if I want to upgrade. It’s a trade. A dream for a dream.”

“So you’d stab out my eyes so a blind person can see?” It would almost be worth it.

“No. A dream, Ms. Morell. You don’t dream of sight. You take it for granted. I’d want a dream from you.”

Libby bit her lip, tasting blood again. Sasha… “Let me–let me try this one and come back if it works.”

“Of course you may. And it will work, I assure you. I sell no monkey’s paws.” He punched a few numbers into the chunky gray cash register, and it thought for several seconds before displaying “$1.05” on its screen. “Tax, you understand.”

“Right.” Libby fished through her purse and placed the money on the counter.

Corrigan smiled blandly, a smile that didn’t touch his old, old eyes, and handed her a receipt. “Thank you, Ms. Morell. Enjoy your dream.”

The Homeless Man of Greater Zimbabwe

The fish were made of silver. So were the terns. The fish swam in the clear blue sky, leaving little ripples as they weaved a course through the heavens. Beside the school of fish, the gleaming birds flapped in formation. All of them moved with singular purpose to a silver half moon that was bright despite the day, a moon that matched the creatures’ ethereal gleam.

Smack! The fish, the terns, the moon, it all unraveled.

Mums was in the shop, rubbing the back of his woolly head, his daydream supplanted by dull pain. Fat Man was giving him that stern look, pointing at him with a long ebony finger.

“You’ll be sixteen in a week, a man by any nation’s measure. You must stop these flights of fancy; those things are for boys and liars.”

Stupid Fat Man, Mums thought. He nodded.

“Keep your eyes about the shop. If someone as much as steals a sausage, you’ll find food missing from your plate tonight.”

There was no one even in the shop. He could argue that but it would likely earn him another smack to the head and a stern lecture about due diligence. So he nodded again.

This was the worst time for diligence and the best time for his mind to wander. It was right after midday, so very few shoppers came into the store looking for dinner meats until later.

Fat Man’s shop was a typical zimba, larger than most but still built of the mortarless granite stones that gave the city of Dzimba-dza-mabwe its name. And while Fat Man had painted the granite walls and ceiling of his zimba with festive blues, yellows and greens “to pull the customer’s eye,” as he put it, it did little to make Mums feel festive. He was not a customer; and any joy he had once gotten from the design was long gone after spending most of his childhood in here looking after rows of various meats.

Mums put his elbows on the counter and propped his face into his brown fists, getting comfortable while he watched over the gazelle steaks that were advertised on sale.

“No no no, boy,” Fat Man said. “That’s how I found you when you earned that smack. Now earn your board and daily bread. Check the temperatures.”

Mums grumbled but did as he was told.

The Nightmare Eater

The dim overhead light intensifies the shadows beneath my eyes until they become like bruises. Little pockets of darkness I carry my nightmares in.

I want to sleep, but I cannot. The few hours a night when my eyes are closed bring me visions of Japan and my last days there. The face of my patron twisted in pain haunts me. The feeling of his blood seeping over my fingers will not leave.

I yearn for rest—for peace.

The war between my country and the United States is over. The war inside me rages on.

Storm of Change by Karim Heatherington

There are two men at table three, with dates. They are the only customers in the Good Luck Bar, and I am the only waitress. The girls look at me with narrowed eyes, suspicious. The men have the cocky bearing of sailors, but only one of them seems to undress me as I set down their beers.

“Hey there, Miss Saigon,” the one with the roving eyes says. “My buddy here just got back from the far East. Hey, Jerry, how do you say hello in Nip-speak? Coneychee? That right?”

“You sound like an idiot,” Jerry says.

Baka no hito.

“Konnichiwa,” I say. The first man guffaws, slaps his thigh. His other arm slips around the girl’s shoulders.

“Did you hear that? Say something nice for my girl.” He looks at the girl. “How about it, honey? What do you want her to say?”

“Come on, Pete,” Jerry says, fingering his bottle. “My beers getting warm and my foods getting cold.”

“I’m a paying customer,” Pete says. “Go on, hon. Tell her what to say.”

The girl chews on her lip, leaving flecks of red lipstick on her teeth. “Tell me how pretty I am.”

Pete pulls her closer, laughing. “That’s my babe. Always fishing for compliments.”

“Uma ni niteimasu. Kamiga kusso mitai ni kusai desu.” Sugar drips from my words as I describe the girl’s horsey features and dung scented hair. She giggles. Jerry covers his mouth to hide his own laughter, and my stomach twists. He understood me.

His eyes catch mine; his smile softens and then turns dark. I turn away and hurry back to the bar, feeling exposed.

I tuck my tips into my bra: two dollars and ten cents—half my weekly rent. It still feels strange, paying for my own living. In Japan, when I was young, the geisha house took care of me. Then, my patron—but I do not think of him.

George grunts a goodbye as I walk out of the bar and into the cool night air. I pause for a moment to take a deep breath. Car exhaust, cigarette smoke; it is nothing like home. My heels click on the pavement as I walk.

The cigarette smoke comes from a man leaning against the wall, a few feet from the bar entrance. My heels click faster; my heart begins to flutter. His cigarette glows red as I approach.

“Hey,” he says.

“Bar is still open.” I say, not stopping.

“I’m not looking for the bar.” His fingers brush my sweater. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

I turn, and recognize him: Jerry, without his friend or his girl. My heart flutters again, but not in fear.

I realize I’d been hoping to find him, too. He drops his hand away from me, and I follow him down the street.