March Issue #14, 2021

Hello and welcome to the 14th issue of Penultimate Peanut. This latest addition is bursting with the drama of claiming one's own space. Pacasai's poem "My Identity" shows the beauty in saying "no" and establishing boundaries  Rosko Tzolov's story "The Car Deal" highlights the friction between the inner and outer self battling for control. And Ann Marie Potter's story entertains a struggle for her characters who are stuck between who they are and who they are going to become. This issue is all about self-discovery, becoming grounded, and even a little change. 

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Table of Contents

Humidity

Poetry by Jerri Bourrous

The Car Deal 

Fiction by Rosko Tzolov

My Identity 

Poetry by Pacasai


 

Inquest

Fiction by Ann Marie Potter


Blossom A Woman Set in Motion
Poetry by Timothy Hudenburg

The Resolution

Fiction by Peter Trainor

Morning Song 

Flash Fiction by Lily Kardon
 

The Humidity is Oppressive in October 

by Jerri Bourrous

 

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able

to breathe the air in this humid town

without thinking of you – dog food,

wet ground, and something else just there

that I struggle to define, even though it sits

in the back of my throat, bitter

like tin foil or the Dramamine my mother 

used to crush into orange juice on long drives.

 

My date last week wanted to play

mini golf at that outdoor course with the mismatched

décor that’s only open six months out of the year,

the one we used to go to on muggy autumn nights.

The faded dapper rat—“the British one,

because you Brits are fancy,” I joked—

in his three-piece suit watches over 

the tenth hole, his back turned to the stout mouse

who hides his eyes beneath his hat brim a few feet 

 

away. My date put his arm around me, rested

his hand on my back, but you used my back 

for a hard surface to write on as you tried to total

our scores. I knew you were winning.

When I mentioned your workplace’s characteristic stink,

you replied, “Smells like a paycheck to me.” I hope you add

that company’s numbers better than you did ours.

 

The spring wind was blowing just right and I thought

of that night last October, when the air

was perfect and you were there, your hair 

tousled, and I loved you and there was the subtle,

salty hint of Star Pro, dampness,

and something unnamed 

that’s made a home on the tip of my tongue.

Jerri Bourrous

She is a graduate of the MA English program at Stephen F. Austin State University where she now teaches. She currently reside in Shreveport, Louisiana, with her boyfriend and two dogs. Her work has appeared in The Helix, Havik, Silver Needle Press, Apeiron Review, and The Art & Words Showcase in 2020. 

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Car Deal 

 

            “How about the tires, are they new?” the father, a sixty-year-old man, asked. “Ah, they are alright, almost new, very well preserved,” I lied. I don’t know if he heard me. It was very noisy in the car. We had pulled the windows down so the air could circulate in and out of the coupe. I was also wearing a mask, which muffled my voice. We’re in the middle of a Coronavirus epidemic, after all. We were driving through the dense web of streets on the West Side of Binghamton on a cold and gloomy Tuesday in late October. I was freezing, sitting in the back seat of the Lancer. 

            The man’s daughter, a twenty-year-old blonde who was driving somewhat recklessly, struggled with the manual gears. I felt that was precisely why she had answered the advertisement to sell my old Mitsubishi; she likes a challenge. She was a student at the university in the town, she’d said. The Lancer was a perfect car for her. It would keep going for a year, maybe a couple, but most likely not. Anyway, I was selling it for just eight hundred dollars.

            The young woman behind the wheel seemed to be deliberately hitting the potholes, and the uneven spots on the road. I was worried that a shock would go through the chassis, or the engine would fall off. The bottom of the car was very rusty. “How old is the car?” the father asked. As if I had not told him already numerous times.“Sixteen years.” I replied. “It’s old...” the old man quipped back. “Eh, it’s not in bad condition,” I stated. “Hmm...” he uttered.  

            We had introduced ourselves to each other, but as usual, I had already forgotten their names. It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to know their names to sell them the old jalopy. “Does it burn a lot of gas?” The man asked, after looking at the fuel meter where the light next to the empty signal was now lit up. Principally I never instill much fuel because there is a gasket that has been leaking, but now, I had forgotten to put even a little gas, and at any moment, we could end up stranded in the middle of the road. Otherwise, the car was burning a lot of gas – the engine was in bad shape. It was burning oil as well, and I had to even add to that from time to time.

            “Ah, burning...it’s a small car. Economic.“ I lied cheerfully. That geezer was getting on my nerves. What is with the thousand questions, I wondered incredulously to myself. It was evident that I was selling the car so cheaply because it was a beater. I would have explained  everything about the car’s issues, but quite frankly, I felt like he was a dishonest man. He asked questions that he already knew the answers to so that he can sabotage the deal. If it were up to the girl, the deal would have already happened. It was clear that she liked the little gray Lancer. 

            I would have told her what kind of repairs she needed to do and how to maintain it to keep it working for a while, but that geezer was picking a fight. I was lying for the sport, but it seemed that those lies didn’t amount to much anyway. One way or the other, I wouldn’t be able to sell the car, so I decided to relax. I sank in the back seat, wrapping myself in my jacket. It felt strange to ride in the back seat.                     There was plenty of room despite the small coupe. 

I felt like I was observing myself from the outside – I had been agitated. “Why was it so important to sell the car for eight hundred dollars that I have to lie like that?” I wondered silently to myself. I would make it without the money. Isn’t this world full of liars? Does it really need another one – me? If it were only the girl, I would have given her the car for free at that moment, I felt so moved by my thoughts, but that old geezer – out of spite, I wouldn’t give him even the smallest discount for the Lancer.

            "Winter is coming - you need good tires," the man said, presently. “The tires are okay,” I muttered, defeatedly from the back. Although the girl in the driver’s seat was driving quite fast, I relaxed in the back seat, and like countless other times these days, I felt like meditating. A sense of calmness and warmth engulfed me. I looked out of the car window. So many things were going on out there in the world. We were quickly passing by buildings, intersections, people with dogs or just people, pedestrians and bicyclists, and passing cars on the street. So many fates, each one hurries for somewhere, I thought then...or was it only us? We passed by a black guy sitting on the curb, smoking. Our eyes met as we passed him by with wild speed. Some form of connection appeared between us. Both he and I were observers in that crazy whirl of motion; we were like pylons of tranquility in the middle of the hurricane. 

Looking at him smoking so calmly, I wished for a cigarette although I am not a smoker. I thought that if I were driving, I would have pulled over and asked him for a cigarette. We would have talked friendly, not like enemies, as I spoke with the geezer in the front seat. I would be honest. I would be myself. I would ask him what he thinks of  Covid-19, social distancing, and when he believes it will pass if it ever even does, or will something nastier come our way?

            I would ask him how we will survive capitalism. Crisis after crisis, each one worse than the one before – will everything break apart in the end? Was he feeling well? Were the people in Binghamton racists? Do they mistreat him because of the color of his skin? I knew the answer to that question. What does he think of our president? That guy seemed so wise, sitting there on the curb. He would surely know about all these things I would ask him, and he would give me correct sensible answers. We would talk soul to soul, nothing like how I talked with that geezer; me lying to him, him lying to me, and because of it, my chest felt hollow.

            “Drive slower,” it seemed as if the father said to the girl. I was far, somewhere too far away from the car to hear him well, I was on a strange journey within myself. We were passing by buildings, cars, and people. Why should I care about the buildings and cars? I cared about people. Society – isn’t the treasure of the society the people that build it? Not buildings and cars that people sell for money? Here we are, ready to grab each other by the throat for a beater. Let them have it – I thought. I decided that I will give it to them for free. We needed to help each other, push each other up, not drag each other down. The rubbish Lancer didn’t deserve my lies. I didn’t care if I lied as long as I lied about something I care about. 

            “See how it slides in the corners; its tires are worn out, “ the father said, the car indeed slid in a turn. He shouted something, and we drove directly against a pickup truck, side-swiping it. There was a scream and then a crash, dull thump. For a second, I lost consciousness. When I came to my senses, my ears were ringing, and my forehead hurt where I had hit the back of the front seat. I touched my face – there wasn’t any blood. I tried to examine my neck – it wasn’t hurting too bad. 

            I opened the door. The car was pretty badly smashed, and the motor was hissing quietly, letting out some steam from the punctured radiator. The girl in the front seat was fighting the airbag, which had been deployed. I shouted to her loudly so she could hear me, “Don’t move your head. Look ahead and lean back.” she listened and leaned back on the seat. The driver of the pickup truck got out. He was shouting, “Idiots! She got into my lane, the little bitch...”

            I left him shouting and went to the other side of the Lancer. The geezer had hit his head badly in the column of the car and was bleeding. “Don’t move your head! Lean back. Don’t get out – wait for the ambulance!" I instructed him. The other driver shouted a bit more, then started inspecting his truck with a solemn look on his face. The truck was badly damaged. 

            I was observing myself again from a third-person perspective. In the middle of the scene, my car radiator was steaming, the two in the Lancer facing forward with a terrified look on their face, and a crowd was starting to gather around. The black guy who I’d seen before appeared. He approached, took off his face mask, and used it as a gauze on the old geezer’s wound. I don’t know if that was the smartest thing to do, but it was some solution to the situation. It wasn’t long before the ambulance came. The father and the daughter got in the ambulance, and the other driver and I waited for the next. They even turned on the siren when they were giving us a ride to the hospital.

            There were many people wearing masks in the ER waiting to be examined, looking at each other with suspicion. It was as if they were trying to guess who had Covid and who didn’t. I had an X-ray done, then a nurse told me that I could go home. I also spoke to the police officers waiting outside, and told them what happened as far as I could remember. 

            I then took a cab and went home. It was dusk, getting dark out quickly. I felt like I was freezing cold suddenly. I had been feeling cold for a while, but I had blocked it till now. I also felt drained. I thought that now the geezer would pay me the eight hundred dollars for the Lancer. After all, it was his daughter who caused the crash. What was more important was I hoped the girl and her father were alright, even if they might decide not to pay for the crashed car.

            I looked down the street, which disappeared in the darkness, for the last time, then went home.

Rosko Tzolov

Tzolov was born and raised in Sofia, Bulgaria and immigrated to the US when he was twenty years old. his parents remained in Bulgaria. When he arrived in New York, he found an apartment and then went through half a dozen of jobs - a cook, a construction worker, a delivery guy, a Subway restaurant employ, a nanny and before the year ended he landed a job at a Wall Street company through friends he had made through that year. After several years in the City, he moved to Binghamton New York to study biochemistry. he also rediscovered an old hobby of his - writing. He graduated in 2013 and since then has been doing the same as before going to college - working odd jobs. Currently, he lives in Binghamton taking prerequisite classes for the Nursing School at the University here, working construction, retail and data entry jobs. 

My Identity 

by Pacasai 

 

Please,

do not touch my hair.

 

A worshipper possesses no temerity 

to touch the crown upon a sovereign’s head.

 

A rookie officer dares not handle

the weapon of his chief advisor. 

 

A system unfamiliar with

coils and edge control

bestows upon you no authorization.

 

Deconstruct your inclination to skim

your impure phalanges through

these exquisite pili.

 

Your progenitors deem them

unprofessional.

 

But my hair is full of life

like the Atlantic Ocean in 1619,

 

strong with history like the

unedited version of Jefferson’s constitution,

 

and polished like freshly

uncapped honey. 

 

See my worth and

respect my hair’s history

 

but please,

do not touch my hair.

Pacasai

Pacasai was born and raised in Norfolk, VA. You can she what she's up to on Instagram. 

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Inquest 

by Ann Marie Potter

 

            Her slippers didn’t match. The left was brown and matted like the fur of a muddy puppy. The right, an obnoxious lima bean green, was as ugly as the day she’d bought it. Whatever possessed her, out of an endless array of colors, to buy slippers the color of snot? Patricia bent over to pick up the newspaper and wondered if the neighbors would notice her bizarre footwear. She unfolded the newspaper and decided that the neighbors could go to hell and take their nasty smelling casseroles with them. 

            She studied her own face on the front page of the Clarence River Gazette. She looked like a middle-aged zombie from one of those dreadful movies Jaime used to watch in the middle of the night. With textbooks spread out across the bed and horrible screams coming from the flickering television, it was a wonder he’d managed to learn anything. But he’d sailed through college as effortlessly as he had high school, making high honor roll every semester but the last. The first week of his final semester, he’d discovered a pretty redhead named Amy. Two days later, Patricia had discovered a drugstore receipt for a lifetime supply of condoms in his trouser pocket. Patricia gasped at the sudden rush of memories. She pictured the drugstore with its coupon machine and stacks of cheap bottled water. Bubble gum balls and earache medicine had given way to car magazines and acne pads. Then, a few years later: children’s vitamins and brain matter on aisle two.

            She sat down heavily on the front steps, not caring if her gaping robe gave the world a view of lumpy, glue colored thighs. She looked at the newspaper picture again. She’d forgotten to wear the earrings that matched the rose blouse and her eyebrows needed to be plucked. Beside her, closer to the camera, Stewart looked as perfect as always. Did a man really have to trim his nostrils every day? If he took the weekend off, would he be dragging little brown hairs through his clam chowder? Patricia felt a surge of rage against her husband. God-damn him for being so strong. Yesterday had been horrifying. Stewart sat stiff and straight as a mannequin, but she’d felt like screaming the moment the first witness opened his mouth. 

            “After the top of the skull is removed with the saw, the face is pulled forward and down.” The words were delivered with professional detachment, but for Patricia, the images were as animated as a video clip. That horrible little man had cut off the top of Jaime’s head and peeled his face down like a stubborn tomato skin. The attorney had tried to prepare them for the medical examiner’s testimony but stopped when vomit began spilling through Patricia’s fingers. Stewart helped her to the kitchen sink and patted her back while she sobbed and washed brown slime from her wedding ring. He didn’t say a word, but these days, neither one of them wasted words nor the energy it took to speak them. 

            The courtroom was cold, and freezing air blew from a vent directly above their heads. When they’d arrived, men wearing sneakers and Channel Four windbreakers had been setting up sophisticated looking cameras in two corners. Patricia felt a wave of resentment. It was Stewart who had insisted that the inquest be televised: a part of his strategy to win. Win what? What would be accomplished by turning their private grief into a low budget talk show? The judge entered the courtroom through a rear door and sat behind his microphone. Too young to be trusted with anything important, Patricia decided. What could he know about finding a dead child’s lip balm in your purse? The court reporter and a female bailiff approached the judge’s desk and the three shared a private joke. Their laughter was like a slap in the face and Patricia’s eyes got wet. She put her head down in case the camera pointing at her was already on, stealing her soul one red blink at a time. As if any of the Ken and Barbie sycophants behind the news desk gave a shit about her feelings. 

            Choosing the jury had taken nearly four hours and the tubby court reporter yawned widely and inspected her nails throughout the process. “Sorry if the death of my child is boring you,” Patricia thought. She wanted to shake the woman until her fake blond head fell off. But she fought to keep her face blank, knowing it would be on the evening news and in the morning paper. People fed on the misery of their fellow humans, and if she cracked up in public, they’d gorge, regurgitate, and gorge again. She hoped the nitwitted, TV-addicted, bloody-chinned hyenas choked. 

            Nothing could prepare her to face the man who had turkey carved her only child between coffee breaks. He was a plain man, middle aged and dressed in a wrinkled beige suit and scuffed loafers. No wedding ring, Patricia noticed, staring at his hands. Those hands had torn Jaime’s heart from his chest cavity and emptied his head of everything that had made him human. The medical examiner had interrupted his droning recitation of entry and exit wounds to pour himself a cup of water. He had fat, wet lips and the microphone picked up a slurp as he drank from the Styrofoam cup.

            Nine bullets, seven of them potentially fatal. One of the cops had been behind Jaime and his third bullet had torn through Jaime’s right buttock. Summers at Virginia Beach, Jaime had browned everywhere except under his swim trunks. His beautiful little bottom stayed as white as Atlantic sand. Patricia wondered if Stewart noticed the little things about Jaime that she had memorized with wonder. Probably not. He hadn’t changed diapers or wrangled a squirming little boy into the bathtub. He was at work on Jaime’s first Halloween, when Patricia dressed him in a cat costume and drew whiskers across his cheeks with eye liner.

            Patricia refolded the newspaper and looked at the flowerbeds that she’d tended with joy for thirty years. Weeds had invaded her begonias, but she didn’t care. She doubted if she would ever touch a flower again. It had taken a long time to get Jaime back from the coroner. She hadn’t had the where-with-all to deal with the mortician and cemetery, so Stewart had handled it. For a man who didn’t know a rose from a rutabaga, he’d done okay. She’d been too out of it to notice who showed up for the funeral, but she’d never forget the astonishing arrangement on top of the casket. She wondered if she’d forever weep at the sight of baby’s breath. 

            Patricia looked at the lawn, browning in huge patches under the September sun. Stewart had always spent his weekends outside, puttering around in the yard and babying the grass. These days he shut himself up in the den and the grass rotted. Everything was rotting. Even Jaime was rotting. The “For Sale” sign tilted forward, as if losing the strength to hold itself up. Stewart had called the realtor without consulting her, but she didn’t fuss. They couldn’t stay here. Jaime’s elementary school was on the next block and the junior high football field was less than a mile away. She’d stayed away from most of the games, terrified of seeing Jaime get hurt. Now she’d wished she’d collected those moments of his life, along with the rest.

            She had to drive halfway to Bridgeport to get her blood pressure medicine. Even if she could bring herself to walk into the drug store where Jaime had died, they’d probably have her arrested. Stewart’s grief had converted to rage before they shut off life support. While the nurses unplugged monitors and pulled out needles, Stewart and his snippety little attorney had been discussing who to sue. While Patricia cried herself out under the bed covers, Stewart prepared statements for the flesh burrowing grubs at the news stations. He’d never been in the military, but suddenly he was General Patton, heading into battle. For Patricia, the battle had already been lost. Jaime had been lost. 

            The attorney told them what to expect at today’s inquest proceedings. First, the pharmacist would identify Jaime as the man who had pointed a gun at her and demanded drugs. Next would come the police officers who had pointed their guns at Jaime and commanded him to lie face down on the floor. Finally, the jury would hear statements from the customers who had watched Jaime ignore those commands, choosing instead to point his gun straight at a policeman’s chest. The pharmacist, petite, pretty, and pregnant, would engender the jury’s sympathy. The customers, four of them elderly, would project their own decrepit vulnerability. But the cops would be the real stars of the show. The public servants who pumped nine bullets into her child would tell the world why they were justified in killing a boy they had never known. They’d say that Jaime had given them no choice. If she believed them, would it be high treason? A betrayal of Jaime’s trust? Stewart would listen to the testimony with that same stupid, defiant expression he’d worn yesterday. Maybe someday he’d ask himself the questions she’d been agonizing over. When had Jaime started using drugs? Why hadn’t they known? Had Jaime wanted to die on that beautiful summer morning, or had he simply been too doped up to know what was happening?

            She couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t sit behind Stewart and pretend that any of it mattered. She would go into the house and tell him she wasn’t going today. He wouldn’t argue, but he’d take it as disloyalty to the great cause. He’d wonder how her absence would be portrayed by the press and perceived by the public. No matter what he was thinking or how he was feeling, though, he’d give her a condescending pat on the hand and tell her he understood. She was shit and he was stone and she hated him for it.

            Patricia heaved herself off the concrete step and went inside. Stewart was done in the bathroom and sitting at the kitchen table, staring into his coffee cup. He’d had a bad night and he looked exhausted, lost, and profoundly sad. His shirt was buttoned unevenly and he’d missed a patch of whiskers on the left side of his face. Patricia was stabbed by another memory. She saw Stewart and Jaime standing side by side at the bathroom mirror, their four skinny legs sticking out of identical boxing shorts. She heard Stewart’s voice, soft with tenderness for the only child he would ever have. “Careful on the cheekbones, Jaime. Take your time or you’ll cut yourself.” Patricia left the newspaper face down on the kitchen counter, poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat down beside him. “I think I’ll take a sweater this morning, honey. It was chilly in there yesterday.”

Ann Marie Potter

Potter is a PhD student in creative writing at Oklahoma State University. Her fiction has been published in The Storyteller and her poetry published in The Ghazal Page and Caterpillar.  

blossom a woman set in motion

by Timothy Hudenburg

(unto us something beautiful born)

when (where) people gather 

eat their bread 

think themselves fortunate  

with an additional tab of butter or honey

 

wash it down with a jug of cold water 

and in the evening drink their steins of beer

ah to tell you the truth—

they think themselves better still

 

ah but the rose

the rose you let wilt

upstairs in the small delft vase 

high up on the dusty windowsill 

 

not long ago it was budding 

and you cut yourself

impatient on her thorns

and every other secret of beauty

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Timothy Hudenburg

T. M. Hudenburg a poet from Northern Virginia is very pleased (as punch) to have this piece find a home at Pen Pea.

 
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The

Resolution

by Peter Trainor

 

            Bill stood at Jeff’s desk.  “I crunched the numbers, boss.”

            “I’m not your boss.” Jeff did not look up.

            “I crunched them so much it just looks like a thick black line now. Turned on its side, I guess it’s a one. What does it mean?”

            “It means you’re probably not getting much work done.”

            “So you’re saying crunch more numbers?” 

            “You’re two minutes earlier than yesterday. People are starting to notice.”

            “Well they’ve said nothing to me. And if it’s not said, it doesn’t count.”

            “Not much truth in that sentence.” Jeff typed an email. Bill read it aloud in an attempted cockney accent.

            “Fine, but we’ll need to come back earlier.” Jeff stood up and lifted his jacket. “What’s your endgame here?”

            “I’m just fascinated by the potential outcome. 20 to 25 minute breaks could always be overlooked or justified if needed, but 35 is a power play.” 

            “You’ve been at this company four months. Are you sure it’s time for power plays?” 

            “It’s different for you. You missed your chance to make a big splash.” In truth, Bill hoped they would reprimand them, give him a second warning and then fire him. He had been out of work for a while and enjoyed not being forced to do things he didn’t want to. In his school days, when he stopped trying, his grades worsened, his dad was informed and he had to deal with the fallout. Work was easier. He could tell Natalie he had tried his best, turned up on time and completed the tasks they gave him. All of this was true, so he would not have to worry about her digging something up. It may have looked like he was not trying at all, but he felt that if he tried harder he would burn out. Natalie told him to think about his career. He was several decades away from retirement, and needed to start bringing in more money if they were ever going to be financially secure. Each word in that sentence felt like another bar on a jail cell window. 

            Jeff was a data analyst and Bill was desktop support. Both their contracts stipulated 15 minute breaks. Walking from his desk, to Jeff’s desk, to outside took at least five. Therefore, it was recommended that employees took their breaks at their desks. When the woman across from him opened a bag of chips at 10.30am and another at 3.15pm, he felt angry. Her expressionless face taunted him on a personal level. He had attempted conversation with her on three occasions and concluded she was both a lost cause and a warning sign. No matter where he sat, he always found someone to draw threads of anger out of him.

            Bill and Jeff walked through the business park. By the time they reached the café, they would have needed to turn back right away to stay within their 15 minutes. The others who frequented the café took their orders to go, and some even ordered ahead by phone. Everyone else seemed to adhere to the rules. He was unsure whether his supervisor did not notice or did not care. What he did not tell Jeff was that after their breaks, he would use the bathroom and sometimes go to the break room. The longer he did it, the more he dreaded going back to his desk. 

            The transition from call center to non-call center had been challenging. The more call center experience he attained, the more agencies wanted to place him in call centers. One day he had what he described as a full mental breakdown. No doctor would support this claim. The conclusion was that he had experienced regular, sustained stress which had led to depression. Although he refused to take any antidepressants, a leave of absence was arranged, after which he did not return. He tried other jobs, convincing himself it was the office environment, the corporate environment or the general drudgery that made him feel miserable. Not only white collar jobs had this effect, but blue and pink collar ones too. When he tried to articulate it to Natalie, the main irritant was the supporting of meaningless tasks. She tried to inspire him into taking management classes on the basis that a manager would be able to change the structure of the meaningless tasks and even eliminate them if he could prove they were indeed meaningless. He enrolled and attended the classes, but could not shake the feeling that he was learning and regurgitating common sense information in an academic way which would only impress a select group of people who he had no interest in impressing. Although these studies were part-time, he used that to justify the fact that he was out of work. Around then he worried that he would not have the energy to keep Natalie happy for the rest of her life. The thought kept him awake at night, yet he could not talk to her about it, because he knew how she would react. It would involve her bringing out the list of all the things she had done for him, the emotional and financial debt he owed her. This figurate ledger had been drafted and redrafted with each argument. Admitting to one more weakness could jeopardize their upcoming marriage. 

            They sat at their usual booth. In busier places it was impossible to have one. For that reason his loyalty to the café was conditional on it never becoming a successful business. They ordered. A song played on the radio. Bill recognized it but did not know why. Jeff knew the song name, band name and year of release. It was non-essential trivia, yet Bill envied Jeff’s ability to store information for later use. 

            “You know who made this song popular?” Jeff asked.

            “No.”

Jeff named and gave some background information on an apparently legendary radio DJ.

            “Yeah, I know the guy.”

            “He played anything and everything, regardless of genre.”

            “If he played anything and everything, why was he so legendary? I could play anything. Just go online and pick a song at random. Radio DJs are like crazy old men who’ve stolen your records and will only play them if you listen to their stories.” 

            “The difference was that he played good ones.”

            “He probably played a lot of bad ones too. All I’ve ever concluded about that guy was that he worked in one job for a long time and occasionally got the scoop on some dumb song like this one, which may or may not have been a hit anyway.”

            “Great mood you’re in today.”

            Bill shrugged.

            A waitress brought two coffees and a plate of pancakes to their table. She also left them with a flyer for their latest promotion. Jeff picked it up. “'Buy 5 coffees get 1 free'. Then in small print below, 'Get your card stamped with every coffee'. Then in even smaller print, 'Now applies to free coffees'.”

            “They’re getting really desperate, aren’t they?”

            “They might as well offer free coffee with every purchase of nothing, as long as you ask nicely.”

            “And if you smile while you do it, your pancakes are free too.” Bill squeezed a maple syrup bottle. “I should really stop eating so many pancakes. Though I might as well leave it till the New Year. That way I can eat whatever I want for months.”

            “Why are all resolutions about losing weight? Is there nothing else we want to achieve with our lives?”

            “Do you know what my resolution was this year?” Bill leaned back and picked up his fork.

            “Trick question.” Jeff leaned forward. “You didn’t have one.”

            “Wrong.”

            “Well I guess you didn’t stick to it.”

            “Oh I’ve stuck to it.” 

            “Okay. Let me think. After ten months I’d expect to have noticed something. Did you start in January or wait till last week or something?”

            “Close. I made a New Year’s resolution of self unimprovement.”

            “Self unimprovement?”

            “Yes.”

            “Why and what?”

            “To see if anyone would notice.”

            “So you’re intentionally gaining weight?”

            “Not really. Just trying not to try, giving myself a year off.”

            “Natalie didn’t say anything?”

            Bill shook his head. 

            “She must have noticed though. I mean, you have gained weight.”

            “A little, but not much. Considering the amount of effort I put in to look marginally slimmer, I’m saving a lot of time.”

            “And what are you doing with this saved time?”

            “Who the hell knows? When you’ve got a job and a long term relationship all you do is go between various rooms, watching various screens and falling asleep.”

            “So you’ve given up, is that it?”

            “Not given up, just stopped guilting myself for not doing yet another thing that I don’t give a crap about.”

            “I’ve lost track, Bill. Is there anything you currently care about?” 

            He shrugged. “I exercised and ate healthy for years and no-one noticed. So why not just let everything slide? Work, personal life, relationships.”

            Jeff shook his head. “Yet you are somehow maintaining all of those things.”

            “You could meet your wife today and have a kid in nine months, or sooner if you consider kidnap.”

            “I don’t know why I always have to reinforce my stance on kidnap.”

            “Well you can meet a girl, go on dates, you know? You’ve got options is what I’m saying.”

            “I feel obligated to date because of pressure from couples.”

            “You should feel obligated. We live vicariously through you.”

            “That’s because you think it’s fun and exciting. It’s just painful.”

            “Not all the time.”

            “Pretty much all the time.” 

            “You should sue them for emotional damage. Take all your exes to court. I think you’d have a strong case.”

            “As much as I admire your legal mind, I think I’ll pass.”

            Bill ate the rest of his pancakes and checked the time. If he sprinted back he would only be seven minutes late.

            “What do you do when you’re single? I barely get a minute alone a day. It must be a different world.”

            “It’s too much free time. I even tried taking up hobbies, building model planes and all.”

            “How was that?”

            “A dull waste of time.” 

            “Makes sense.”

            “It worse after a breakup because it’s such a lifestyle change, but at this point I’ve lived alone longer than with a girlfriend.”

            “Living the old bachelor lifestyle.”

            “That’s me.”

            “Dinner for one and no-one to tell you what to do.”

            “Also correct.”

            “Staying at home the entire weekend and no-one on earth being any the wiser. Living an insignificant existence that affects nobody but yourself, and even then...”

            “I get the picture.”

            A woman in her early twenties entered the café. 

            “This is a sign,” Bill whispered. 

            “If I was just ten years younger, and significantly more attractive.”

            “If you were ten years younger, you’d be twelve.”

            “Twenty one actually. What age do you think we are?”

            “Stop making me sad and go up to her. Ask her if she’d like to have a soulmate, but do it real casual as if you worked here and you were taking her order.” 

            “I won’t be doing that.” 

            Jeff checked his watch as they left the café. “We've really pushed it today.”

            Bill shrugged. “I just realized that I don’t really ask people for advice anymore.”

            “Not even Natalie?”

            “No, I search it online. Isn’t that sad? I actually felt sad when I realized.”

            “What advice is this?”

            “Just like how to cook things or how to find the time for job interviews without current employers finding out.”

            “And how do you do that?”

            “Try to take it as vacation, and if not just tell them it’s an appointment because apparently they can’t ask for details.” 

            “Well most advice is fairly obvious anyway. Like ‘Should I try to please everyone all the time? Should I gamble more? Should I stay in an abusive relationship? Should I drink excessively?’ And just so there’s no misunderstandings, I’d like to state that the answer to those questions is ‘no’.” 

Peter Trainor

Trainor was born in Northern Ireland and has lived in various countries around the world. He is interested in stories of people forging new paths in unfamiliar places, and the consequences of that choice. He is influenced by American writers much more than Irish ones, especially Marcy Dermansky, Lorrie Moore, JD Salinger and Truman Capote.  

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Morning Song

by Lily Kardon

 

We sing each morning to salute the laying of the great golden egg. From our perch in the treetops, we have views of the mother’s belly, round and vast. We’ve never seen her face but we know the mother hen by her loud shrieks when she weeps, and everywhere around us waters pour down and we bathe and delight in her tears because she weeps for us, her children, that we might clean our feathers and frolic in the water. 

 

And we know her every morning when she lays the great golden egg. 

 

We wake from our nests as the bats return home. We wait patiently in the treetops. We gaze at the rotund line of her belly, way out in the distance. And we sing. Softly, at first. We sing to her.

 

We know she hears our songs because, every morning, we see the golden egg begin to peek out in the distance. Birth can be messy, especially with such a large egg. So, the sky stains orange and red, mother hen’s blood smears the clouds. We cheer her on. It’s beautiful to see. 

 

The humans begin to wake, move about in their cages. Sometimes, we watch them through the glass. They are strange creatures. They never really notice the egg. They leave the cages. The egg floats through the sky, all day. Golden, glowing, blinding to look at. The humans begin to trudge home to their cages, they look tired even though they’ve been sitting on perches in other bird’s cages all through the day. Then we know it is nearly time, the golden egg is going to crack.

 

As the egg begins to crack, the sky, again, is smeared in blood. It always returns to the great mother’s belly. It never becomes a bird. It cracks in red and orange on the mother’s belly and little bits of shell scatter out into the night sky shining, twinkling overhead til the bats begin to stir and the whole thing starts all over again. We don’t know if she’s sad but it does seem like an awful lot of loss. 

Lily Kardon

L. Kardon is writer living in Philadelphia with her young child.

This has been rough year from every way you look at it. Here at PPM, editors have conflicting time schedules, readers have shifting responsibilities, and generally chaos and lots of prayer has become the norm. However, we did pull through. And though this issue is much later than scheduled, we do apologize, we are very glad that we were able to push forward and still have an issue to present. It is good to know that in the midst of difficult times, we still find wonderful writers and poets that we need to share with all of you, dear readers. This would be a very dark place without the words and artwork of some amazingly talented souls. Thank you to all the editors, bless you. And thank you to all the writers and poets and artists that submitted work to this issue. 

                Sincerely,

                Penultimate Peanut Magazine


 

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