His parents never filled out his birth certificate, so the state was forced to name him (blank). In school he was often teased: “Hey, what’s your name? My mind is drawing a blank,” “Is you’re name Phil, Phil-in-the-blank?” But over the years, he got used to it, not having to write his name, not having to sign anything. He’d say, “My name’s Blank; it rhymes with Flank.” People accepted it, thought it was British. He ended up writing mystery novels, each one revolving around a missing word, a detective with an unloaded gun. When he died, they left his gravestone _____________.
Nothing fazed him, they said.
He didn’t care (it seemed) that his dog got killed, or that his lovely wife ran off with a family friend. But then his son—an only child—became extremely ill, and his despair was obvious to all. Suddenly (to everyone’s surprise) he loved the raucous calling of the crows, the tender sprouts of spring. Tears in his eyes, he yearned for his long-lost wife, his gentle dog—and (finally) showed his heart. Until the very end he nursed his son, and mourned him forever after.
What’s wrong with him, they said. He should move on.
By Clay Fulghum
Con Two has great assignments. Doctors, engineers, and lawyers ride it down to the classy steel and glass spacescrapers downtown. Joey looks past their white lab coats and leather briefcases, past the astronaut’s helmets and rock star’s bass guitars on Con One, down into the conveyor control room. The Con Men sit there idly in their dark sunglasses and black uniforms, sending people where they need to go. Joey waves feebly in their direction, no one waves back. So composed and professional they are.
“One day,” Joey says.
He grips his shovel tightly as Con Three turns away from the city.
By Peter Ngumbah
It was Christmas.
I saw this boy of 7 or 8 years wearing a man’s overcoat that covered him from neck to toe. The sleeves of the coat were cut haphazardly to match the boy’s arms. I went to a nearby shop. As I had a son of same age, I knew the sizes. I bought a suit of clothes, with matching overcoat. Wearing Santa’s hat, I went back and gave the new clothes to the boy. The joy on his face from the unexpected gift thrilled me.
Unplanned charity brings a sense of contentment that mere money can never buy.
By Thriveni C. Mysore
Watching beheadings turned Mathilde on.
Villars said he loved her. She demanded he prove it by offering one of his men for sacrifice. He duly complied. Ten minutes later the sacrificial man knelt before her. Villars and the headsman waited. The man, unrestrained and innocent of any crime, trembled but did not waver. Like Villars, his loyalty to his Queen was unquestioned. Even if it meant losing his head for her.
Her excitement grew. The men waited for her word. The headsman raised his blade. She cried out her assent and climaxed as the sacrificial man’s head fell for her pleasure.
A man walks into the Writing Center. He wears ragged jeans, a tattered stocking cap, half of a cigarette tucked behind his ear. Around his neck hang layers of wooden beads, braided hemp, and an embellished silver crucifix. His teeth are yellow. He smells like sweat and smoke and piss.
His notebook is weathered but his handwriting immaculate; he needs help with his autobiography. ‘Hobo Metaphysics’ chronicles life on the streets: Hitchhiking cross-country. Heroine overdoses. Sexual violence. PTSD. Dinner from a dumpster. He writes of friendship and love and spiritual transcendence.
I read aloud, pausing: “You need a comma after ‘homeless’.”
By Taylii Rae Hopkins
Everyone Dies Alone
I’ll be in Intensive Care. Sad-eyed loved ones will gather. I’ll rally to coax a smile, but they’ll be relieved to leave.
I’ll long to have my life back, but in the stillness of three am, I’ll accept my fate. The cycle of pain will return. I’ll reach for the nurse’s call button, the source of soothing morphine. In the dim yellow lights of the vital-signs monitor, a lady in blue will appear. My thumb won’t press the button. The lady will beckon; I’ll reach for her.
Life is precious, until it’s not; but I won’t die alone.
By Joseph Giordano