Fiction: Looking at Pictures

Issue 1.2

by Janet Mason

(May, 1926)

Tina looked at the image in front of her and wished she still had her camera.

She was walking along the deepwater port looking into the hold of a ship that had backed up to the cement pier. She could see both levels. Initially she assumed that first class was on the top and that steerage was down below.  Then she noticed that the people below were almost all women and children.  They looked like immigrants from Europe wrapped in their drab shawls and holding their squalling infants.  None of them looked up.

On the top level, in what looked like first class, men in their bowler hats waited for the sailors to open the gang plank that in a few minutes would be secured on the dock.  To the left a man with a banded panama hat bent forward over the rope railing. He looked like he was lighting a pipe or cigar. He was going to smoke while he waited.  The top of his white straw hat against the brim formed a circle within a circle.

Between the two levels of steerage and first class, a plank ran diagonally through the scene.  Behind the plank, a wide metal chimney came up from the floor of the ship bottom in steerage behind a woman huddled with two children. The effect of the line of the chimney cutting behind the plank made a triangular space in the upper part of the ship where the men and their bowler hats stood.  To the right, the plank and the chimney framed the women and children in the bottom of the boat.  The horizontal line of the second floor and the stairs on the low right leading to the second floor of the ship further divided the image into another triangular space.

Tina recognized that the scene in front of her was as cubist as a Picasso or Braque. It was as mesmerizing as Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase.”  It was the perfect image.  The women in steerage, with shawls wrapped around their heads and shoulders, looked like they were from the old world.  Even the young ones stooped slightly.  They were probably Germans — maybe from Bavaria.  The men too – in their dark caps and bowler hats – looked German. They were European immigrants who had come to Mexico to flee persecution, to be with family (for there were so many Germans living here), to find work.  Tina grimaced.  If they were coming to find work, they were in for a surprise.

Maybe instead they would find the Mexican Communist Party – like she had, like Diego and Frida had, like everyone Tina was fleeing.  She wouldn’t miss them though – Frida and Diego.  She wanted to put them as far out of her mind as possible.  She would miss the Party.  It had become her life. She never thought about leaving her beloved Mexico, her sunny country filled with romance and tropical fruits.

But then she had met Peggy and she convinced Tina to return with her to Europe.  So Tina sold her camera and bought her passage on the RMS Alcantara.

Peggy was right.  Tina would find more opportunities for her photography in Europe.  But she would miss the land, the people, the Mexican Communist Party.  She would miss Frida. No!  Frida was the reason she was leaving.  The thought made her look away from the scene she had been hungering for.  It wouldn’t be right anyway.  The men in the caps and bowler hats looked indifferent.  They were just waiting to come to a new country.  They wouldn’t care if they were photographed.  But the women were different.  Most had shawls wrapped around their heads but not all.  One had her fuzzy head exposed.  They probably had been at sea for weeks — and Tina knew how women felt about fixing their hair. Plus, they had children with them.  The women would most likely not want to be photographed.

Tina ran down the walkway and reached the gangplank at the end of the dock to the liner, just as Peggy called to her from aboard the ship.

“I thought I had lost you,” she yelled to Tina.

“I’ll wait for you up here and then we can find our rooms.”

Tina threw back her shoulders as she stepped up her walk.

Janet Mason is an award-winning creative writer, teacher, and blogger for The Huffington Post. Her radio commentary airs worldwide on This Way Out, the LGBT news syndicated based in Los Angeles. Her book, Tea Leaves: a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012), was chosen by the American Library Association for its 2013 Over the Rainbow List and also received a Goldie Award. Janet’s short stories have appeared in many literary journals including the Brooklyn Review, Sinister Wisdom, and Aaduna. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Fiction: Hole in the Wall

by Neal Steichen

He sat on the couch with his legs kicked up, his pillow supporting his arm, simply staring at the hole in the wall. The room was much quieter now. The only real sound was the hanging buzz of a fly bouncing against one of the working ceiling lights. The air was occasionally punctuated by the German Shepard in 317.

The hole in the wall was only a bit bigger than his fist. It was a poor choice. The cheap plaster concaved when he punched through. He only felt remnants of pain in his hand—more like random nerve pulses around his knuckles—as they twitched and went limp. The small kit he usually hid under the bed was splayed out. With the belt around his arm loosening, he couldn’t feel much of anything except for a small sense of sympathy for the hole.

She had left a pair of shoes, though. Nothing impressive. Two little brown chunks of false leather and plastic. They were coming apart at the bottom, the stitches unraveling. They were to the left of the hole in the wall, teasing him out of the corner of his eye. They rested against the wall, almost in a little teepee, one pointed up and resting on the other.

He looked away from the hole in the wall and saw a drop of blood on his pillow. There was a thin, watered-down line that traced the bend of his elbow. He went to the sink, gently falling forward rather than walking. He grabbed a dishcloth from the sink and ran it under cold water. His hands lingered, enjoying the sensation and the sound that drowned the out the emptiness. Turning the water mostly off, he walked with heavy feet back to the couch.

He could hear his mother’s voice in his head, telling him to blot and not wipe to get the blood out before it became a stain. He tried, bending awkwardly at the waist, hands like slabs of uncooked steak. He failed and smeared it, gracefully though, as the spot mixed into the fabric to make a brown tinted patch. It felt permanent now. He let the cloth fall out of his hands and onto the floor as he took his position back on the couch.

The German Sheppard barked.

He felt his eyes close. He was not sure if he was blinking or sleeping, but he was roused by a knock at the door. He waited to see if it was his imagination or just mishearing the German Sheppard, but the knock repeated. He rolled off the couch and made it to his feet, shambling towards the door. He left the chain on, but open it a few inches.

It was his landlord. He couldn’t quite see all of her face. It was backlit by 1960s sconces covered in not-always-yellow glass. Her slippered foot tapped on the unfinished hardwood hallway. She said that he was late last month by a few days, which was true, and wanted to remind him that she wouldn’t hesitate to put him out on his ass next week if he forgot again or was short. He wasn’t sure if that was true, but he nodded and mumbled, closing the door when it seemed like she didn’t have anything left to say.

He didn’t mention the hole in the wall. He could fix it himself, maybe. That would cut into his rent money. He didn’t have anything set aside, except some reserved funds for necessities. He could always take some of his stuff to the thrift store or pawnshop, get some cash up front.

He picked up the milk crate that used to act as his bedside table when he had a bed frame. He went around the apartment, picking up whatever he could live without that may fetch a fair price. A radio clock. A large pot. A box of four, new light bulbs he never got around to installing.

He found himself back at the hole in the wall. Looking past the blackness, he could see a rim of cracked yellow paint underneath the eggshell overcoat and on top of the plaster. He looked away, not wanting to get preoccupied with the inside contents of his walls, as grotesque and intriguing as the likely were. Instead, his eyes drifted back down and to the left, onto the broken leather shoes.

They were probably not worth anything. She had them for what seemed like ages. He first saw them when they went to the movies, he legs kicked up on the safety rail in front of them. Whenever she visited, she kicked them off hard, but they always seemed to fall together gracefully. If he looked hard, he could see where the fabric had tightly warped around her feet.

He set the crate down on the floor and fell back onto the couch. He rolled in and out of wakefulness. When his eyes were open, he felt them rotate around the room. The hole in the wall. To the fly in the ceiling lights. To the hole in the wall. To the shoes. To the crate. To the hole in the wall. The German Sheppard barked. To the stained pillow. To the belt and needle. To the shoes. To the hole in his wall.

His hand walked up his arm and to the crook of his elbow, prodding gently.

He needed more money. He needed to fill the hole.

He looked to the window. It was still daylight.

He stood and walked to the door, bending down to pick up the milk crate. He stood up, breathed, and bent down again. He grabbed the brown leather shoes by their hanging heels and dropped them into the crate, and he went down to the street. He regretted grabbing the shoes, but his feet kept falling.

Photo by Ville Miettinen

Neal Steichen is a fiction writer, editor, and teacher living in Chicago. Currently studying as an MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago, he finds himself drawn to writing about the darker sides of humanity. Whether it is the hubris of technology or the enticement of the mystical and unknown, Neal seeks to unravel truths about people and their capabilities. You can follow him on Twitter at @neal_steichen.

Glimmer Train Press

Glimmer Train Press offers one standard category ($2 fee) and four contest categories.

Currently they are accepting submissions for the January/February Short Story Award for New Writers contest. Their submission fee for this contest is $18.

Prizes include:

  • 1st place wins $2,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 10 copies.
  • 2nd place wins $500, or, if chosen for publication, $700 and 10 copies.
  • 3rd place wins $300, or, if chosen for publication, $700 and 10 copies.

Typical submissions are between 1,500 and 5,000 words but they accept any up to 12,000. Samples of previously published work are available on their site.

Visit their submission page for more information!