The Way We Move

by Kathleen Harris

I’ve never punched anyone in my life. Nor have I slapped anyone. I don’t believe in spanking children. I’ve defended myself with a quick mind and a sharp tongue. My family moved out of Queens before I reached the requisite age of teenage girl hair-pulling fights on the Q29 Express bus. I’ve almost never had to use my hands to get out of trouble.

Just once, actually. Twenty years ago, I’d been fêted by colleagues with drinks on the last day of my job. A lot of drinks. Lost-count-of-how-many-drinks kind-of drinks, at the kind of goodbye party where your colleagues are no longer your colleagues, and feel comfortable telling you the dirtiest details of their lives, now that everyone’s guard is down and you’re a few bottles into the evening.

By fête’s end, it was just my newly-ex-boss and me, sitting on padded stools in a bar in Chelsea. We’d just ordered another God-awful round of drinks. He had a drinking problem. I knew that from Monday morning meetings. I just didn’t know how bad his drinking problem actually was.

I lit a cigarette and waited for our order. He looked at me, and asked why I was leaving him, in a mock-sad voice with a pouty face. I smirked. What the hell was he talking about? I had explained all of this when I resigned. My husband had a job opportunity in San Francisco. I had to go with him. There was a ring on my finger. I loved the man.

He stared at me. He repeated himself, this time in a colder, more serious tone. Why are you leaving me? And then he slapped me across the face. Hard.

I was stunned. Literally stunned, as every person in the bar moved before me in psychotic slow-motion ballet. I’d been hit across the face. A man hit me. That had never happened before. That had just happened. The mind registers such events out of sequence.

I turned back to him, my face frozen in the open-mouthed position it had assumed when his palm struck my cheek. He was sneering at me, and he actually raised his hand to me again. He actually had it held up in the air to strike me a second time.

I caught his wrist with my left hand as it came down — my good hand. The one still holding the cigarette. High school softball drills surfaced to defend me. I held his wrist between my thumb and first two fingers in a vice-like grip that I didn’t know I was capable of. I felt surges of blood pulsing in the veins between his weak wrist bones. Maybe it was from my own fingertips. I couldn’t tell. My heart was erupting out of my blouse.

I  held his arm on the bar. I didn’t cry from the sting. The alcohol must have numbed the pain somewhat. Instead, I told him, quietly and plainly, that if he ever did anything like that again, to me or any other woman, I’d leave a cigarette burn so deep in his hand that he’d never forget me. Ever. I’d do it right then and there if he thought he couldn’t keep that promise. I stared at him until I watched tears form in his eyes. I was bluffing. But I had to seem as if I meant every word. I had to make him stop.

Our drinks arrived just then. Somehow, the bartender had missed the slap. I let his arm go, walked out of the bar, propelled by a tsunami of adrenaline, and hailed a cab.

About the author

Kathleen Harris is a writer, native New Yorker, wife and mother living in northern New Jersey with her husband and two children. Some of her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Creative Nonfiction, The Rumpus, Full Grown People, Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Literary Mama, and Family Fun Magazine. I’ve also been named as a Glimmer Train Press short story finalist, and as a three-time finalist at the Woodstock Writers’ Festival Story Slam.

Binky Atop the Ideal Diner

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The author

by Thadra Sheridan

It was me, Terri,
my best friend Binky,
and whatever guy she was dating at the time.
I think it was Chad.
On a nondescript summer evening
We loafed about our
sleepy midwestern college town, where
nothing ever happens around here,
GOD!
Someday we were all going to
get the hell out of this place, but
tonight
we were sixteen years old
and there was nothing to do.
Chad, let’s call him Chad,
wanted to impress us all
with his urban exploration skills, so he said,
You want to see something cool?
He took us around back of the Ideal Diner,
where they’d kicked us out for cramming
eight teenagers in a booth every day after school to
split a single basket of fries and make a
general nuisance of ourselves.

It was really dark back there.
The weed colony
obscured a vast collection of
furniture skeletal remains and
unidentifiable rusty objects.
Chad scaled a drain pipe on the back of the building like
a monkey
or Spiderman
or Evel Knievel,
and we three girls looked at each other
in doubt and trepidation
and dare.
I’ve never been too good with heights,
but I’ve always considered myself
macho
Binky,  the girlfriend,
had to go first.
That’s just how it was done.
I followed her with false courage,
Terri brought up the rear.

At the top, Chad beckoned us to follow as he
slid across a narrow ledge that ran
along the brick wall that lined
a seemingly bottomless courtyard that came
between us and the rooftop
where Chad now stood.
He’d done it so fast
like a tightrope walker or
a monkey.
But we were teenage girls, not gymnasts,
so we lined ourselves up holding hands,
me in the middle,
our backs to the wall,
facing the bottomless courtyard
from which grew an elm tree
not three feet in front of us.
We sidled along this tiny ledge,
just a few inches wide,
our toes hanging over abyss
very
very
slowly.
There was nothing to hold onto,
but two hands.
I pictured plunging into the darkness onto
rusty shapes or dining room chairs
or whatever lay below,
so that’s what I did.

I tipped,
unable to stop,
ever slowly forward,
watching myself tumble to unknown.
At the last moment before my feet lost their purchase,
I grabbed the tree.
There was no coming back from this,
no reverse momentum I could imagine.
I hung at a 45 degree angle from the wall,
feet gripping the ledge,
hands clutching feeble branches,
Binky, whom I’d inadvertently pulled along with me,
hanging from my arm over the chasm.
As I accepted that she would surely soon fall to her death,
and I might be able to swing out to the tree,
but I’d most likely fail, she said,
Hey, there’s another ledge down here.

It was not twelve inches below us;
a good couple of feet wide.
You could walk it leisurely facing forward,
for chrissakes.
She let go of my arm,
just
standing there,
and I dropped down easily,
death faced and overcome.
Chad, when challenged,
admitted he knew about the other ledge, but
That one’s not as fun.

When we reached him,
I choked him to death.
Or at least I pretended to.

And we all looked out over the cornice
of the Ideal Diner,
two floors above the street
at the cars below.

There wasn’t really much to do after that.
We didn’t stay up there long.

 

About the author

Thadra Sheridan is a writer and performer from Minneapolis, MN.  Her work has appeared in Rattle, The Legendary, Specter, Blotterature, The Pine Hills Review, Abyss & Apex, on Upworthy, HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, Button Poetry, and in several anthologies.  She is a recipient of the Jerome Foundation’s Verve Grant for Spoken Word and a past weekly columnist for Opine Season.  She reads her live stories regularly at live storytelling shows nationwide such as The Moth in St. Paul, MN and Story Showdown in Oakland, CA.

Parking Garage Late at Night

By Valerie Maloof

image credit: slog.thestranger.com

image credit:
slog.thestranger.com

A man grabs you by the waist. You don’t know this man. He pushes you against your car, and then it’s your turn. All your years of taking self-defense classes and watching Charlie’s Angels was to prepare you for this moment. You are ready.

Your mother always knew this moment would come. Every time she talked about life she talked about the bad parts. During a thunderstorm she strapped your hot pink Velcro sneakers on so tightly, so that if lighting struck the house you could run to safety from your burning childhood home. Field trips across state lines were nothing but bus accidents. Steak, pork and ribs were nothing but choking hazards. Men were nothing but people to avoid.

You are going to annihilate this man who has grabbed you. Applause breaks will come out of nowhere. Perhaps in this garage there are security cameras that will capture you smashing your pointy elbow into this man’s face and you’ll be on the evening news. Your keys are already poised between your knuckles because how else should a woman walk through an empty parking garage? You’ll clasp both your hands like a little kid praying and you’ll swing your hands like a baseball bat, you’ll get more momentum than a punch and you’ll also protect your chest. The evening news will have never seen such a swing.

You have grown up to be a very confused adult. Tall buildings could collapse, and what’s really holding those windows in place, don’t get too close to the edge, are thoughts you keep to yourself as they eat you up inside. What kind of Mother are you going to be? Your husband will most likely be wimpy. You just know this to be true. Maybe your kids will revolt by eating uncooked fish or riding with friends in the bed of a pickup truck. Or maybe they’ll do something worse. Something you haven’t thought of yet. And that will scare you the most.

The man’s hands are still on your waist and you are still pinned to your car. That’s why you scream. You scream specific directions for him to get off you, for him to leave you alone, for him to go away, and you almost consider begging and saying please, but you don’t, and then you pant loudly while you flail your limbs like there is something crawling all over your skin and you can’t get it off you unless you flail and scream and maybe even beg.

About the author

Valerie Maloof graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in Creative Writing. She is also a student of the Grub Street writing class.

Fifty Years Later

Since we opened our doors nearly 3 years ago, Tell Us A Story‘s mission has been a simple one: to publish stories about “true things” once per week, every week. We loved that model, and the way it allowed us to focus on one writer’s story each week.

But as we begin year 4 of the blog, we wanted to try out a new approach: we are shifting to a quarterly format. That means we will still be bringing you the best true stories we can find, but we will publish these stories 4 times per year: in the fall, winter, spring and summer.

We feel this new format will better accommodate submission cycles as well as our own busy lives.

We will close out year 3 with a few of our favorite recent submissions, then we’ll be back in the fall with our new quarterly schedule. Next up? “Fifty Years Later” by R. W. Haynes, first published on January 13 2016:

***

Fifty years later, the writer reflected that it might not have been such a good idea to drop acid before the high school graduation rehearsal, but, by then, there was nothing more he could do than remember and regret, if regret is the right word, because there was some curious pleasure in recalling the consequences of that decision, if decision is the right word.

He remembered the ceremony itself, with Billy Bonstead*, who had also missed the rehearsal, marching a few students ahead in line with an air of having marched toward academic excellence many times before. And he remembered how the principal growled fiercely, his glassy eyes bulging with vindictive vindication, standing there with that pathetic diploma case as though it held all happiness, all futurity, all the silly bullshit that academic (if that’s the right word) bureaucrats pretend they have a death grip on.

As the writer told his students long afterward, he had replied with two words, the second of which was “you,” but the first of which was not “Thank,” even if it ended with the same letter. It happened that there fell one of those unexpected moments of total silence just as he reached the principal, so his words sounded like a war cry on the ancient steppes of Russia and were followed by a horrific gasp from the audience. He had taken the half-extended diploma case from the furious principal and walked on off the platform, noting with embattled pleasure the smile on the face of John Quincy, the student walking just ahead of him in that glorious parade.

index

John was one of the first black students to graduate from Suwanoochee High School, and he had had a fair amount of hell from the rednecks and the administrative stuffed shirts. There had been a kind of lifting of shadows at that moment, possibly for many present, but as surely for John as for himself. As the closing invocation began, John lifted up his resonant voice in a powerful farewell to the school and his persecutors (more gasps), and it was easy to tell he had much sympathy among his fellow students as he announced at some length he was signing off.

What was most memorable about the night which had produced the outrageous non-attendance at the rehearsal was that on the radio was played again and again a strange song which seemed to reach to and from an unanticipated world. “The Israelites,” by Desmond Dekker and the Aces was the first Jamaican song extensively aired in the region, and it appeared to have hypnotized one or more of the late-night disc jockeys on local radio stations. Perhaps chemically-stimulated susceptibility lent it a mystical profundity that made the antics of school administrators loom even smaller than those of ants (or ticks) and inspired defiance of petty tyrants in stoned brains.

Outside the football stadium where graduation was held, the writer had parked his father’s Ford station wagon, his parents having come in the family’s other car, and he headed briskly for it, meeting Billy on the way. It had been reported that the head football coach had encouraged some of his players to give graduation haircuts to some of the more visible hippies, and Billy was evidently mindful of the need for all deliberate speed as he extended his hand in congratulation. Billy also had Desmond Dekker stuck in his mind as well, as he danced a step and sang “We don’t wanna end up like Bonnie and Clyde….”

“Watch your back,” said the writer, and Billy replied “Always.” The writer went on to the station wagon and got behind the wheel. He reached down and took up the double-barreled 16-gauge, opened the glove compartment and took out four #4 shells, loading one into each barrel and putting the others on the seat beside him. He waited about twenty minutes before he realized that no one was coming. “Good thing nobody did,” he said to himself, fifty years later.

*All names have been changed in this story.

About the author

R. W. Haynes is a professor at a South Texas university, where he teaches Shakespeare and Early British literature.

Note: “Israelites,” written by Desmond Dekker and Leslie Kong. Recorded by Desmond Dekker and the Aces. Trojan Records, 1968.

My Face

Since we opened our doors nearly 3 years ago, Tell Us A Story‘s mission has been a simple one: to publish stories about “true things” once per week, every week. We loved that model, and the way it allowed us to focus on one writer’s story each week.

But as we begin year 4 of the blog, we wanted to try out a new approach: we are shifting to a quarterly format. That means we will still be bringing you the best true stories we can find, but we will publish these stories 4 times per year: in the fall, winter, spring and summer.

We feel this new format will better accommodate submission cycles as well as our own busy lives.

We will close out year 3 with a few of our favorite recent submissions, then we’ll be back in the fall with our new quarterly schedule. Next up? “My Face” by Brandon Antonio Smith, first published on October 28. 2015:

***

My Face

The Face in question

A child, sitting in the passenger’s seat

While my father drove,

I’d do my best impression of

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s

Peculiarly raised eyebrow

In the rearview mirror,

However silly that may sound.

I was enthralled by

What was known as

The World Wrestling Federation

At the time.

I would imagine having his face.

I found it attractive, unlike my own.

I detested smiling in school pictures.

To this day I’m still not fond

Of smiling in pictures in general.

My hate amplified when

Puberty debuted in my life.

Pimples soon bulged from

Every corner of my face,

And I’d scratch at them menacingly

Until they bled sometimes.

Blots and polka dots are the remnants.

I could see myself in a character like Shrek.

One of the first stories I wrote

Was unconsciously based on the ugly duckling motif.

It was about a dog with only three legs,

Aptly titled The Weird Dog.

The original was lost and I rewrote it

From an opaque memory in Mrs. Aldridge’s

Creative writing class when

I was a freshman in high school.

That version was lost too.

 

In hindsight, I realize

The weird dog always

Represented me

About the author

Brandon Antonio Smith is a 23 year old homebody from Tampa, Florida struggling to embrace himself. Thus far he’s been published in The Stardust Gazette. Writing is the closest he’ll ever come towards freedom.

This is NOT Another Dead Cat Story

The story of Orangie was another favorite of ours for the 2015-6 year. Jen Stiff’s story is one of resilience, hope, and a cat with more lives than his human counterparts. Enjoy. . .

by Jen Stiff

Orangie lounging in the sink

Baby Orangie lounging in the sink

When my mom was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 1997, my older brother Ryan brought home a cat for her. We were devastated, and desperate for a distraction from the daily routine of chemotherapy, doctor visits, and the heartache that comes from knowing you’re about to lose your favorite person in the whole world. We knew that bringing my mom flowers or her favorite burrito from El Pollo Loco just wasn’t going to cut it. We had to do something BIG, and in our young adult minds, a kitten was just the answer.

We knew that our mom loved nothing more than cute, cuddly, boy kitties (she thought girl cats were stuck up bitches). Though my dad detested cats, he let him stay. He would’ve done anything to bring even a sliver of joy into my mom’s life. Plus my brother and I promised to take care of the cat full time. To prove it, Ryan and I took our mom’s new kitten to the vet for shots. “What’s the cat’s name?” asked the receptionist. “Oh, we’re not naming him.” I said. “Well, your cat can’t just NOT have a name. Obviously I need to write something down in his chart.”

“Fine,” I said. “Since he’s orange, just write that.”

The truth is, we’d intentionally avoided naming the cat, because our family’s cats had a long history of disappearing after six months. We figured if we named him, we’d get attached, and we didn’t want to lose anything else we loved. Every time we lost a cat, our mom sat us down and lovingly reminded us that boy cats needed to sow their oats. “The cat just moved up the street to be special friends with the neighbor’s new girl cat. I’m sure he has a really great life there!” This explanation worked until we were in high school, when we finally took note of that vast canyon behind our house…the one filled with coyotes and mountain lions.

Nope. Not a mountain lion. . .just Orangie in a tree

Nope. Not a mountain lion. . .just Orangie in a tree

***************************************

I’ll never forget the first time Orangie died. And then came back to life. It all started my junior year in college, late one night when I was home visiting my family for the weekend. There I was, sitting on the living room couch with my roommate, Angela, trying to figure out how to score some wine coolers, when I glanced over at the footstool and noticed that Orangie was rolled over on his back with all four legs sticking straight up into the air, eyes rolled back in his head…stiff as a board. Angela, being a third year biology major, knew exactly what to do.  She calmly kneeled down beside Orangie and pretended to check his heartbeat and listen to his breathing, but we both knew she was full of it. No response. Me, being the communications major, had a better idea. “Oh fuck!” I said. “We should really call someone.”

Though we didn’t know how to conduct a thorough medical examination on a cat, we were sure Orangie was dead. I was also pretty sure this was somehow my fault, because when you’re 18 years old and your mother constantly reminds you that your brain hasn’t fully formed yet, you’re bound to make lots of mistakes…like forgetting to clean the litter box, feed the cat, and leave the toilet seat up so he could find water.

After wrapping Orangie in a fleece blanket (because I know enough about dead things to know they get cold) we frantically jumped into the car with our lifeless kitty and sped away to the local animal ER. All I could think was, “My mom is gonna be SO mad at me!!” This was the first cat we’d had who’d hump blankets on the area rug during family movie nights, who enjoyed floating in the pool on a boogie board, and who cuddled on purpose. My mom, being rather eccentric herself, adored Orangie for his quirks.

It was 1997, before normal people had cell phones, so I couldn’t even call my mom to ask her what to do. But I had left her a note on the kitchen counter, like any responsible daughter would do, and told her the cat had died and that we drove him to the vet to get a check-up.  As I screeched into the animal ER parking lot, I expected trained medical personnel to run outside, rip Orangie from my arms, and calmly tell me everything was going to be ok, because that’s what happened to dead humans on that show that was popular at the time. But instead, we ran inside to find a bored receptionist, glaring at us over her trashy magazine. Clearly we had interrupted something. “What’s your pet emergency?” she asked sarcastically, looking at the undead kitty in my arms. You see, the minute we walked through that door, Orangie rolled over in my arms, meowed nonchalantly, and started giving himself a facial with his little pink paw. What the fuck? Angela and I looked at each other, shocked. The irritated receptionist didn’t believe me when I told her Orangie was, in fact, dead, just moments ago, but she also didn’t hesitate to “…bring him back to check his vitals,” either. This was just the first of Orangie’s fake little feline death games.

****************************

The second time Orangie died happened when Ryan ran him over with his white Honda CRX. Ryan was returning home from community college one afternoon and failed to see Orangie sprawled out in the driveway, sunning himself, oblivious to the world. As Ryan drove his car up the driveway and into the garage, he heard an excruciating shriek and felt a thud under his tire. Ryan got out of the car, horrified, to find Orangie lying in the driveway, lifeless. “Mooooooom!!!” Ryan screamed like a little girl… “I just ran over Orangie!!” My mom and I ran outside, panic stricken, expecting to find a bloody mess of a cat. Instead we found an intact Orangie, slowly beginning to wag his tail and stretch his arms and legs out like he was just coming off of his afternoon nap. What the hell? We looked at each other in disbelief. Orangie stood up, looked at us condescendingly, and sauntered off into the backyard, not a care in the world.

For a few months Orangie didn’t die at all. We kept expecting something to happen to him, especially because he liked to tempt fate and stay outside all night cavorting with the creatures of the canyon. And sure enough, we were woken up one night by the screeching of a cat fight. My dad peered out of his bedroom window into the backyard and saw Orangie fighting with a “small mountain lion.” I still don’t know if I believe my dad’s description of the perpetrator, but Orangie definitely fought another creature, and it surely wasn’t another domestic shorthair. He was beat up and bloody, with tufts of fur missing from his little body. But he didn’t give a shit. He licked his wounds and walked it off.

*******************************
 Our amazing mom died in 1998. We all wished that she had 9 lives but she didn’t. She made us kids promise to look after Orangie for the rest of his life, which, she was sure, would be short. “Don’t worry, mom. We’ll take good care of Orangie. He’s going to live forever!” I reassured her. Orangie bounced around from apartment to apartment as we settled into our adult lives, until he finally moved to Seattle with my brother in 2007, where he fit right in with people who always kind of want to die.

My brother called me a couple of months ago to tell me a really funny story. My 5-year-old niece, Annabelle, had decided to play dress up with Orangie the night before. Annabelle, not being one to neglect accessories, gave Orangie a “beautiful necklace” to wear. When Annabelle ran up to my brother and tugged at his hand, saying in her sweet little Minnie Mouse voice, “Daddy, Orangie is sleeping funny…,” Ryan suspected shenanigans were underfoot. He found Orangie, lifeless, under Annabelle’s bed, with a very tight rubber band (I mean, beautiful necklace) wrapped around his neck. Ryan removed the rubber band, patted Orangie on the back, and wouldn’t you know it,  Orangie sauntered off into the living room, not a care in the world.

OrangieOld man Orangie still not giving a shit

About the author

Jen Stiff lives in San Diego with her mountain man of a husband and the world’s two most adorable creatures – pugs named Frankie & Beans. She just recently figured out she likes to write, even though she’s technically old enough to be a grandmother. She spends her free time writing for a local animal rescue, traveling, and beating everyone else at yoga.

Eat Crow

Since we opened our doors nearly 3 years ago, Tell Us A Story‘s mission has been a simple one: to publish stories about “true things” once per week, every week. We loved that model, and the way it allowed us to focus on one writer’s story each week.

But as we begin year 4 of the blog, we wanted to try out a new approach: we are shifting to a quarterly format. That means we will still be bringing you the best true stories we can find, but we will publish these stories 4 times per year: in the fall, winter, spring and summer.

We feel this new format will better accommodate submission cycles as well as our own busy lives.

We will close out year 3 with a few of our favorite recent submissions, then we’ll be back in the fall with our new quarterly schedule. First up? “Eat Crow” by Jaen Hawkins, first published on August 30. 2015:

***

October 31st, 2013

6:15 am

I woke up an hour earlier than usual to soak a few head bandages in blood and hot glue a crow to a purse. I sat at the kitchen table, mixing corn syrup and food coloring to find the best ratio for realistic clots. The cheap gauze I used kept sticking to itself and would either absorb too much blood or not enough. The pattern couldn’t be splattered and nondirectional. It had to be congruent with an entry wound from a sharp, slightly-curved beak that had just penetrated my scalp.

While the bandages were drying I poked two holes into the top of a beige plastic purse. I’d gotten it the day before from a thrift shop across the street from my apartment. It had the clean lines of a mid-century coffee table, and thankfully a thin but sturdy inner lining. I untwisted a crows wire feet from the branch stand it came attached to and threaded them through the holes. The wires were sturdy enough for the bird to stand on its own, so I’d heated up my glue gun for nothing. A structurally sound Halloween costume with no glue whatsoever? I couldn’t really believe it either.

unnamed

6:45 am

My roommate left her Marilyn Monroe wig out on the kitchen table for me. Its styrofoam head support base donned 2-inch false lashes and red glittered lips. She was dashing, and one of dozens from my roommate’s extensive burlesque wardrobe that occupied the entire third bedroom of our Brooklyn apartment. The curls weren’t the exact look I was looking for, but the blond effect was there, and no one who pulls a highly conceptual costume together in twelve hours can be picky.

My hair was in the flattest bun possible and pinned to my crown. I cut a nude stocking at the calf, pulled it tightly over my head down below my ears, and looked like a baby conehead. I wiggled into the wig and discovered that blond is not my color. Luckily the hairline far enough down my forehead that the bandages could hold it in place without pins, so I started wrapping the cotton in different directions across my face.

I never appreciated my natural beauty as much as when I tried to make myself look glamorous and nearly dead. Can this much blood come out of my forehead? Does my coral nail polish clash with the blood clots hanging from the birds’ beaks? Is that a good thing? We should bring back this early ‘60s powder-blue eyeshadow look. Does the blood give me enough color or should I wear blush, too? Should I powder my face and risk matting-down the blood, or hope that my natural grease/sweat enhances the look? I wonder if Tippi Hedren had huge pores. Is there a difference between crows and ravens? Do I have time to make a fake eyeball to hang off the side of my face?

After securing the bandages with cloth tape, I took my favorite crow (the one with an open wingspan as to appear in mid-flight) and threaded the feet and wires through the wig’s lace scalp. I secured it with bobby pins on the top of my head and, after a vigorous headbanger test to System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!”, decided it would last through the day.

7:35 am

I concluded that the most effective costumes for any occasion are the simplest ones, because they allow you to finish so far ahead of schedule that you can cook steel cut oats for breakfast. While I was waiting for the water to boil, I walked out on our roof deck to watch the sunrise. The sky was orange over the row houses, silhouetting a pair of sneakers that dangled over the street from a power line strung between two buildings. Our neighbor came out onto her roof to water her browning herb garden. She me staring over the cityscape covered in blood and birds, and walked back inside. I felt my tummy rumble and did the same.

7:50 am

I hopped up onto the kitchen counter to eat my oatmeal. I always liked sitting there, because it made me feel tall. Our kitchen was a six-inch step up from the living room, and with my feathery friend atop my head, I could almost touch the ceiling. It was the tallest I’d ever felt.

8:05 am

I packed my work computer and coral lipstick into my bag and looked at myself one more time in the mirror. Tippy Hedren, about an hour and fifteen minutes into The Birds, no mistake.

I took a deep breath. What if I got my dates mixed up and today isn’t actually Halloween? Or what if this is the year everyone gets super serious and doesn’t dress up at all? I refuse to accept that I may be too old for this. Wait, what if everyone is terrible and has no idea who Alfred Hitchcock or Tippi Hedren is or what birds are? Luckily my neighborhood wasn’t very busy in the morning, so I could decide to abort at the last minute without too many social catastrophes.

unnamed (1)

8:08 am

My first encounter was with two guys walking a hotdog. All three were wearing neon trucker hats. Perhaps I wasn’t caught up on my pop culture references, but I couldn’t understand why a dog quite clearly dressed as food would need a hat on top of his relish and mustard.

“Yo, that’s dope,” one of them said. The other took out his phone and took a picture. And then another picture. And then another. He took a photo of me every second as I was walking by. “That’s goin’ on Facebook, man. Happy Halloween yo!”

Okay, date confirmed, so far so good.

8:10 am

An old man with a long gray beard was sweeping Twizzler wrappers off the sidewalk outside of his deli.

“Hey!” he said, “It’s The Birds! That’s neat.” Not neat enough to stop him from sweeping, though.

Okay, I’m on a role here. I’m killin’ this shit. Best costume of all time. I win Halloween.

8:12 am

I was one block from the train station when I recognized a man. He was tall and black, with a lot of aged acne scars on his nose and cheeks. He didn’t appear exceptionally overweight, but his hands were interlaced below his belly and it looked like he was supporting a sack of yams underneath his baggy t-shirt. He’d followed me home from the subway two nights prior, whispering details the whole way about how he wanted to be my “ass-pussy king” and “fuck me all night hanging from the rafters.” As if anyone’s apartment in Bushwick had visible rafters.

I’d like to say that encountering this goose was an isolated incident – a blip during the playback of my roaring early-twenties in New York. But he was only one of many sexually-charged stalkers who thought it their solemn duty to tell every trans or gender non-conforming person they saw how sweet their ass-candy was, often so aggressively that we’d rather spend 20 minutes inside a bodega than lead them to our apartment buildings, where they’d no doubt break in and hang us from the “rafters.”

I turned my head and looked across the street so that he couldn’t make eye contact. I hoped that in the harsh light of day he’d be distracted by my crows and their gory mutilation of my body.

“Woah, that’s crazy,” he said. “Those birds ain’t real?”

Okay, he doesn’t recognize me. I didn’t answer and walked around him.

“Girl, that’s the best costume I’ve seen all day, and that’s still the best ass I’ve seen all week.”

Oh, my, gods. I need someone dressed as a pizza slice to walk by so that he’ll look away for two seconds and I can disappear behind one of these parked cars.

“Damn that’s a tight-ass skirt on top of a tight-ass ass,” he said. “Let me eat that ass-pussy for breakfast.”

I turned red and clenched my jaw. I contemplated taking my backup vile of blood out of my purse and smashing it into his right eye socket.

“I’ll let you fuck me, too, girl, after I lick your hole all day.” He stuck out his tongue and made a horrific slurping noise, not unlike Anthony Hopkin’s tonal description of human liver with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti.

This was always the case with these overgrown turkeys; they’d say phrases like “I’ll let you fuck me” and “give me that ass-pussy” to infer “I know you have a penis and I literally want you to put it in my ass after I give you oral and put my tongue in your butt.’”But they could never actually say that, because it would be too gay and uncomfortable and embarrassing and humiliating to say those specific words to a stranger on the street.

8:13 am

All I wanted to do was get away from this loon, but a garbage truck pulled up and blocked the crosswalk to the other side of the street. He stepped closer, talking about my “sweet nectar ass-juice” so aggressively that a drop of his spit landed on my left forearm.

With no means of escape, I turned around, stomped my heel to the ground, and yelled, “THERE IS A DEAD CROW INSIDE MY ASS RIGHT NOW, SIR. DO YOU REALLY WANT TO EAT A BLOODY CROW OUT OF MY ASS FOR BREAKFAST? RIGHT NOW? HERE? ON THE STREET?”

A few people within earshot turned their heads as they walked by. The man seemed offended, appalled even, clutching an imaginary set of pearls atop his collarbone.

“Yo, that’s nasty, you fucking faggot.”

He walked away, hugging his sack of yams.

8:14 am

I stood on the corner and cried. I don’t think anyone noticed the tears, because people generally cry when they’ve been assaulted by crows.

I had programmed myself to fear only the men who hated me for being feminine. I never thought men would pursue me for sex, let alone so aggressively and in public spaces. They started following me home and touching me on the train and dive-bombing me on the street. At first I thought it was a blessing, because I’d rather be called ‘sexy’ and have my ass grabbed than be called ‘tranny’ and punched in the face. But now it felt dirty and destructive, like ­a strategic invasion and declaration of war on my body.

I shook and couldn’t breathe. When is this shit going to stop?

The train roared on the elevated tracks above my head. I closed my eyes and let the sound of scraping metal drown out everything around me. I tilted my head back and pictured Tippi looking up to a sky blackened by swarms of birds. The flocks were threatening and infinite. She squinted her eyes, pressed the wound on her temple, and said, “Don’t they ever stop migrating?”

About the author

Jaen is in her mid twenties and splits her time between NYC and Raleigh. She forgot to finish college and has yet to accept her status as an adult. You should read her blog and watch her YouTube videos.

 

 

New Schedule, New Format

Hello dear readers!

We’re back from our spring break with news of some exciting changes at Tell Us A Story.

Since we opened our doors nearly 3 years ago, Tell Us A Story‘s mission has been a simple one: to publish stories about “true things” once per week, every week. We loved that model, and the way it allowed us to focus on one writer’s story each week.

But as we begin year 4 of the blog (year 4!!!!), we wanted to try out a new approach: we are shifting to a quarterly format. That means we will still be bringing you the best true stories we can find, but we will publish these stories 4 times per year: in the fall, winter, spring and summer.

We feel this new format will better accommodate submission cycles as well as our own busy lives.

We will close out year 3 with a few of our favorite recent submissions, then we’ll be back in the fall with our new quarterly schedule.

In the meantime, we encourage you to keep reading and please keep sharing your wonderful stories with us:

All submissions must be less than 2000 words and must be based on something that actually happened to you (not to your friend or your cousin or your high school math teacher). We are also interested in very short stories (flash [non]fiction), experimental stories, poems, or plays as long as they are true. When possible, we’d like you to send us a scanned photograph or document that correlates with your story, because those kinds of details are nice.

Please send submissions as an editable attachment (no PDFs please!!!), along with images, and a 100 word (or less) biographical statement to tellusastoryblog@gmail.com.  Put “TUAS Submission” in the subject line. Please submit only one submission at a time (unless you are sending poetry).

A woman and her dogs

by Kate Feld

I am sitting in the cafe by the cathedral. I am at the little table in the window where I always sit, looking out. A woman approaches, walking down the paving stones from Cathedral Gardens towards Blackfriars. She is striding along with two enormous dogs trotting beside her. One on the right side. One on the left side. Flanking her. In perfect formation.

These dogs are huge, powerful beasts. They are white with black spots, but they are not Dalmatians. No. They’re much bigger. They have red collars around their thick necks. They are not on leads. There is a sign but she doesn’t care. She is walking through the public spaces of the city with enormous, threatening dogs who are not on leads.

I look closely at the woman. She isn’t young, she isn’t old. She’s wearing glasses and her long brown hair blows behind her, blown back by the force of her passing. Her clothes are stylish and unconsidered at the same time.

She pauses in her step and dogs pause with her. She doesn’t need to lay a hand on a dog’s back. They know.

But there is something about her face.

You look at this woman and you understand at once that she has no intention of putting her dogs on leads. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

I stand up so fast that I knock over my chair. The crockery clinks and the ladies at the next table look up in alarm. “I love you” I say, to the woman and her dogs. I say it too loud, for these ladies and this café. I watch her until she and the dogs have rounded the corner. Then I pick up my chair and sit down.

 

About the Author

Kate Feld is a writer of essays and short fiction whose work has appeared in Neon, Caught by the River and is forthcoming from Litro. She runs creative nonfiction journal and reading series The Real Story in Manchester, UK, where she also works for Manchester Literature Festival and teaches journalism at Salford University.

Dia de los Muertos

by Sharon H. Smith

©WakelyOaxaca11501

Photo Credit: David Wakely

Lupe kneels on the cool red-tiled patio floor

loosening orange petals, divining

a journey of flowers out her door, out of

her courtyard, out the front gate.

Debemos de guiara los espíritus.

The air warm, pungent. Smoke lingering

from last night’s mesquite fire. Lupe,

her husband, and their two young girls erect

an altar: marigolds, magenta cockscombs, bowl

of papaya and mango. Shelves with lit candles,

photographs, abuelitos, amigos. The children

line up small sugar skulls that sit like soldiers’

helmets, glistening with hallowed eyes

in the candlelight. Lupe

sets out a bowl of rich chocolate mole

made for the spirits, a glass

of water to quench their thirst. In my hands,

a silver-framed picture of my mother

dressed in her 40’s fitted blouse,

mid-calf length skirt and pumps. “Aquí,

ponla aquí,” Lupe says, opening up

a space on the altar. I hold the photo tight

for a moment, then set it in the place generously

made for her and me. I look up at her there

in the community of beautiful Oaxacan

faces. Light glints like a firefly

off the frame.

 

©WakelyOaxaca11502

Photo Credit: David Wakely

 

About the Author:

Sharon H. Smith is curious, seeks out new experiences, and has a drive to share them. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and frequent collaborator, architectural photographer David Wakely. She is a writer/poet and also savors the city restaurant scene and enjoys cooking, traveling, drawing and co-leading writing retreats at her weekend home in West Sonoma County. She co-edits Birdland Journal, featuring pieces written by retreat participants. Her poetry has been published by Haunted Waters Press, gravelmag.com, Laguna Writers of San Francisco, and Juddhill.com.