It sounded as if a jackhammer was about to burst through Moira’s bedroom wall. She sprang up from her yoga mat where she performed her early morning poses for her cat, Tiny Man. She spun down her winding metal staircase. Tiny Man mewed at the front door. Poor thing. The jackhammering affected him as much, if not more, than Moira. When she yanked open the door to see where the noise was coming from, Tiny Man ran for his life.
The teeth-bending noise came from next door. Moira had moved from the converted Ali Baba Motel in Costa Mesa, California, to this multi-level Irvine condo complex with twisty-turny walkways and man-made streams filled with surrealistic aqua water. She needed to get away from the nightly Barry Manilow, salsa, and acid metal music the motel residents played, but noise followed Moira like a stray dog. Irvine was advertised as a quiet city, but the gardeners wielded leaf blowers like swords.
Moira threw a hot pink bathrobe over her black roller skate-motif pajamas, slipped into her orange flip flops, and marched next door. Her neighbor, Tom Fields-Jackson, leaned on the outer wall of his living room, bracing himself against the planter.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” she yelled through his metal gate.
He wore noise-cancelling headphones as he watched a laborer with a trimmed goatee tear apart his patio.
Tom glanced at Moira through heavy-lidded eyes.
Again she shrieked, “Answer me. What is wrong with you?”
His eyelids fluttered as if dust lodged there.
He was a jerk--a hot jerk, dammit. He had a five o’clock shadow, wore skin-tight jeans, a tee shirt a size too small, and green hi-top Converse. His hair was dyed black like hers and tats made his arms look as if they were covered with a fine silk patterned fabric. He had no flaws she could see except for his last name, Fields-Jackson. Hyphenates made her want to scream.
He was her perfect man, which made his lack of neighborliness intolerable.
Tom Fields-Jackson looked right through her. He always looked right through her. She bet he was the kind of guy who liked women who didn’t like him. She once had a boyfriend like that. He said she looked great when she was mad, so he always made her mad, the idiot.
Moira bounded through his gate, pulled one noise-cancelling ear pad away from his head, and yelled, “Anybody home?”
He jerked away and the ear pad slapped his cheek. The jackhammer stopped. The morning fell as quiet as a church.
Tom Fields-Jackson fluttered his tan fingers, decorated with silver bands halfway down his thumbs, at the laborer to ignore her and to keep working. The worker grimaced.
“I take break now,” said the worker, who laid down the tool, fetched his Thermos, and disappeared through the gate.
As the gate clicked shut, Tom said, “But you just started.”
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s short fiction is in USA Noir: Best of the Akashic Noir Series. She hosts Writers on Writing on KUCI-FM 88.9 in Southern California, podcast on iTunes. She teaches at Gotham Writers Workshop (online). Her book, Pen on Fire, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
This part of the river is popular for suicide attempts. But if you go early, it’s not very busy. And, yes, Josef K lived somewhere in the area, debt-ridden, detested, abandoned by everyone, communicating only with pigeons in the park. Just up the street, I encounter a wild-eyed woman walking in circles. “Please help, please help, please help,” she keeps saying. The air around us swarms with particles of ash and smoke, as if bodies are constantly being fed into industrial-size ovens. In point of fact, modern homes burn 8x faster. There are so many fires you can’t even see the sky.
Howie Good is the author of The Loser's Guide to Street Fighting, winner of the 2017 Lorien Prize. His latest collection is I'm Not a Robot from Tolsun Books. He co-edits the journals UnLost and Unbroken with Dale Wisely.
“Run,” the note said. “3:00, run,” it said. “Five of us,” one said. “There are five of us.” That one, this one, those ones and I. That one is not here just this one and those ones. 3:00 “Run,” I said. “Wait” said one. “Run,” said I. We ran. That one? Who knows. Left behind bereft of hope that one. Not that the other ones ever had much hope.
The first gate was still locked. Waited until it unlocked. “They are almost here,” one said. Locked the gate behind us with bits of twisted wire. To the infirmary where we found death waiting. One of us, the doctor, this one, said, “wait.” “Run,” said I. “No time.” “Wait,” said the doctor.” We three ran. This one, the doctor, stayed behind doused in death. Keen the footfalls forced the knock on that one’s mortal mansard roof.
The last door. A large one waited to knock one bloody. One of those ones was bloody and knocked. “Run,” said I. The two of us ran. The barbed wire waited. “Now crawl,” said one. We crawled. Barbed wire bit bloody leaving lacerations still last.
Past the wire barbed less bruised more broken. “What’s that on the hill?” said one. “Faux salvation for foe’s salvation,” said I. “In tree line is where hope lies.” One of the ones and I cut the path diagonal. Slogging in ankle mud slowed our deliverance. A pace set strange; a listless limp left lingering doubts of our hegira’s success.
Let loose were the demons. Howling heralded their decampment. I and the last one of the other ones waded in the weeds. Trees not as distant as one once thought. Our feet freed. “Run,” I said. “Through the trees is that building. The one about which that one wrote.” The other ones was fleet, but the howling demons outpaced. They came baying with bared teeth. I said nothing. Silence was my salvation as last one’s redemption came through desecration.
There were no ones left. Just I and the buildings broad door with its big brass banger. “Ignore,” I said. The demons closed and the door would not dissuade. The stairs spiraled and up was the only way. “Run,” I whispered. Steps skipped quickly past the floors once inhabited by ones unknown in times uncounted.
At the top, the last door, light shone through its stained glass. A portcullis protecting the space beyond. “3:00, wait” I said. Unlocked the glass with bars no longer barring entry. Through the devil’s eye, rays danced on the dark lectern. The demon’s calls echoed up the stairs decibels giving notice of their advance.
Other ones, once numerous now gone, nothing but a note left behind. In my hand, that piece rests. I walked to the window through which one’s widows once wailed. The archway let the demons pass. In my hand the paper sits open inked with words “3:00, jump”. I fall fast. Preservation through destruction was my life’s lone ambition. Ones I miss most.
J.D. Moberg is writer based out of Huntington Beach, California. His work has appeared in The Minneapolis Star Tribune and Every Day Fiction. He is an MFA candidate at Augsburg University.
When I was in eighth grade, I told my mother I had a genealogy project that had to be completed during Christmas break.
“How far back do you have to go?”
“The teacher said to our great grandparents. What about my dad?”
“It’s not your dad I’m worried about, Wolfie.” she said.
“What do you mean? And you know I like Alejandro, not Wolfie.”
“Yes, I know you do. Well, your dad and I met in college in Miami. He was a great guy. Handsome fellow, like you. Dark hair. We loved each other, planned to get married. I wanted to take him home to Argentina to meet my family.”
“Did you ever take him there?”
“No, son. He died before you were born, and I never knew his family.”
“Didn’t you want me to know my aunts, uncles, or grandparents?”
“Yes, I wanted to.”
“Then, why didn’t you take me to meet them?”
“It’s not that easy,” she said, something she said a lot, something that I found annoying.
“I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t. Look. I’m a Catholic. I grew up that way in Argentina. I didn’t know until later that your dad was Jewish. His family wouldn’t accept me or you.”
“Why not? I don’t mind that. You don’t mind that.”
“Of course, I don’t. It doesn’t matter. We’ll create a genealogy for you. In a sense, it has already been done for us.”
“What do you mean? Even though you don’t know dad’s family, you know yours.”
“Yes, I do know mine. Both. Our name isn’t Perez. In fact, when I came here, people thought I was related to the wealthy Perez family of Argentina who are deeply invested here in Miami. We aren’t. In fact, Perez isn’t our name at all. I’ll tell you the truth, but I want you to bury it somewhere inside. If you talk about it, it wouldn’t be good for you.”
“What do you mean?” Mom walked over to the coffee maker, poured herself a cup, sat down.
“Alejandro, I don’t know where to begin. Let me show you some photos.” She came back with a box and opened it. She smiled. “This is me and my sister playing at our home in Argentina. These are my parents, your grandparents.” They were sitting in Adirondack chairs.
“They look older and your dad looks familiar.”
“Yes. They were older when we were born, and it was when I was at the university here when I got a call my father had suffered a stroke and died. I had to go home. Your dad wanted to go with me, but I simply couldn’t take him there.”
“Because he was Jewish? Did your family not like Jewish people?”
“No, they did not, but not because they were Catholic. Alejandro, they were Nazis.”
“What were they doing in Argentina?”
“Many of them escaped capture in Germany in the final days of the war. Some of them went on u-boats or submarines. That’s how my parents got there. So, there are a lot of former German Nazis in Argentina, and when you learned about the war at school, you never heard about that, or anything positive about them, did you?”
“No, I didn’t. Did you hate my dad?”
“Oh, no, I loved your dad.”
“Why did you let him go?”
“I couldn’t make him stay with me, once he knew the truth.”
“That your family were Nazis?”
“Yes, he simply thought we were Argentinian.”
“That makes sense, mom, but why do we need to make up another genealogy?”
“Because your grandfather was Hitler, Alejandro. I nicknamed you Wolfie because you
reminded me of him when you were little. In his old age, he didn’t seem the tyrant history painted him to be. He was always good to us, gentle with my mother, went to church, and seemed to regret the way things turned out. I believe he actually came to regret what he did to the Jews. At least I believed that. Nonetheless, he always had former soldiers over, serving him and talking about the good old days. Seemed to be contradictory.”
“Okay, mom. Remind me not to ask you anything in the future. So, what do you think we should make up? Perez family. Exiles from Cuba. How about Mexican migrant workers?”
“I guess it doesn’t matter. No one would believe it if you told them the truth. Most people think mom and dad killed themselves before capture. Today, DNA would prove otherwise.”
“In fact, they could simply match your DNA to the great nephews, my cousins in New York, or the family of my aunt who still lives in Germany. We never had contact with them. I guess he wanted to perpetuate the myth of suicide.”
“But what good would proof be, mom?”
“None, unless you want the negative attention to haunt you the rest of your life. I don’t. I prefer to keep the positive memories I have. I don’t have a lot of money from my parents, but I would honestly give every dime I had and my own life to make up for what they did to the Jewish people, and others.”
“I understand, mom. Don’t worry. I’ve always felt an affinity for the Cuban people and believe our genealogy will show that history.”
That night, thirty years ago, I didn’t sleep. I tossed, turned, and wondered if the genes I carried in my own body had it in them to do what my biological grandfather had done. I don’t believe I had the capacity, but in reading about his life, I am surprised he had that ability either. I was able to spend time with some of my dad’s family before they were gone and that was nice. I never reached out to any of the descendants in the states or in Germany and I never again went to Argentina for fear of someone discovering who I was. Though I never did anything wrong and have lived a simple life in South Florida, the history haunts me. I often wanted to find Stalin’s family in America. I felt they were the only ones who could relate,
but in the end, it wouldn’t matter. I never would fully actualize as Alejandro because I was damned to be Wolfie.
Niles Reddick is author of the novel Pulitzer nominated Drifting too far from the Shore, a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in eleven anthologies/collections and in over two hundred literary magazines all over the world including PIF, Drunk Monkeys, Spelk, Cheap Pop, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Slice of Life, Faircloth Review, With Painted Words, among many others. His new collection Reading the Coffee Grounds was just released.