Fiction

It’s You, Not Me

by Mikel Miller

The tomato plant looked like it needed attention—still in its little plastic container; root bound, spindly with withered leaves, not even twenty inches tall. It had one marble-sized tomato, one pea-sized, and half a dozen tiny yellow blossoms.

She brought it with her when she moved into the apartment next to me. We transplanted it to a big clay pot on the balcony, with potting soil and good drainage, giving it room for roots to take hold in its new home.

“Maybe it’ll like it here,” she said, helping me drag the heavy pot to a spot in the full sun. “If we take good care of it, maybe it’ll bear fruit someday.”

I was cutting off some of the shoots between the branches and the trunk the next day when she interrupted me.
“What are you doing?”

“Getting rid of the suckers,” I said. “They won’t bear fruit, and all they do is suck energy from the rest of the plant.”

“I never heard of that. Are you sure?”

“Yeah. My mom used to do it back on the farm.”

Some leaves were still withered after a couple more days, so I cut off some of the lower branches and trimmed others to get rid of the curled leaves.

“What are you doing now, farm boy?” she asked.

“Pruning,” I said. “It’ll help the healthy branches grow.”

“Your mama teach you that too?”

“No; just figured it out on my own.”

“Well, Mr. Horticulture, my mama’s tomato plants had lots of branches and shoots and leaves, none of them withered. She used Miracle-Gro®. I think I have some for flowers.”

She found a pouch of timed-release Miracle-Gro® in a box of her garden stuff, the kind for potted houseplants. I jammed two of the thimble-sized suppositories into the tomato pot. With water in the morning and water in the afternoon, and sun most of the time, the plant showed signs of new life in a few days. Droopy branches showed strength, with more yellow blossoms. I got two more thimbles from the pouch under the balcony sink.

“How many of those are you plan to use?” she asked, interrupting me.

“As many as it takes,” I said. “It’s like the electric paddles paramedics use to shock a patient’s heart and get it beating again. Stand back, woman.”

“Did you read the instructions?” she asked. “Maybe it says how many to use and how often.”

“Duh, we’re in Mexico—the instructions are in Spanish,” I said, jamming the suppositories into the soil.
Within a couple of weeks, the original marble-size tomato was almost the size of a golf ball. More pea-sized tomatoes appeared on the top two branches, along with more blossoms.

“Some of the leaves are still curled, and the stalk looks weak, like it’s going to fall over,” she said, frowning. “Maybe you should Google tomato plants and see what it needs.”

“Google probably uses teenagers in India—what do they know about tomatoes in Mexico?” I said. “But I’ll get some Miracle-Gro® just for tomatoes, with instructions in English. And a cage to hold it up.”

Home Depot had the right stuff, in English, the kind you mix with water, for $5.28. The only wire cages were four rings tall—another $3.78.

“Don’t you have anything smaller?” I asked the clerk. “This cage is ‘way too big for my plant. Besides, nearly ten bucks to grow a few tomatoes seems expensive.”

“One size fits all,” the clerk said. “Besides, some plants grow big and bushy, four feet tall or more, with lots of tomatoes.”

Chemicals and cage in hand, I returned home and installed the cage in the pot. It was top-heavy and leaned to one side.

“Didn’t they have anything smaller?” she asked. “It’s ‘way too big, especially since you cut off the bottom branches and ripped off the little suckers on the others.”

“Do we have a problem”? I asked. “Seems like you always criticize what I’m doing with the tomato plant, no matter how hard I try. Is something wrong?”

“Nothing wrong with me,” she said. “If anybody has a problem, it’s you, not me.”

I found some wire pliers and cut more than twelve inches off the cage prongs below the bottom ring. The cage didn’t lean as much but was still two rings higher than the plant. A dose of the new chemicals seemed urgent, so I mixed a batch.

Neighbors came for dinner on the weekend, and we sat under an umbrella, sipping drinks at the table on the balcony. It was hard to overlook the scrawny plant nearby.

“What kind of tomato plant is it?” one asked. “I’ve never seen one that looks like topiary, with branches cut back and only a few leaves. Is it going to be all right?”

“I don’t know what kind,” she told them. “It had a lot more branches and leaves when I moved here. He’s trying hard, but I don’t know if it’s going to work out.”

My routine of watering, watching, waiting, and weekly doses of chemicals seemed to pay off. More blossoms appeared. More blossoms became pea tomatoes. More pea tomatoes became marble tomatoes. The plant had seventeen potential tomatoes, counting all stages, but marble size tomatoes didn’t seem to get bigger than golf balls.

“You want to see what a tomato plant is supposed to look like?” she asked about a week later in frustration, leading me to the community garden. A dozen or more tomato plants flourished on one side of the small plot—short bushy plants, lots of leaves, and none of them curled. Some long branches were like vines almost touching the ground.

After another week, our plant had new blossoms and more golf balls. I gave it another dose of chemicals. It grew taller, reaching for the third ring up, with sprawling branches we had to bend and tuck inside the cage. The soil turned dry in the warm summer sun, and some of the leaves had ends that turned brown, so I used coffee grounds to mulch the soil.

“What are you doing?” she asked, seeing me dump the morning grounds a couple of days later. “No wonder the pot and the balcony are crawling with ants—they love coffee grounds.” I got a spoon and dug out as much of the grounds as possible.

“Put some dried bay leaves in there—ants stay away from them sometimes,” she said. “And use a shredded coconut husk for mulch.” I covered the soil with bay leaves, covered them with coconut husk, and poured on a pitcher of water.

“I think one tomato will be ready soon,” I said a week or so later. I pointed to it, almost the size of a racquetball, turning from green to yellow. Over a week or so we watched it turn from yellow to orange, and then to red. After a couple more days, I couldn’t wait any longer, and I wanted to pick it.

“I’m not sure it’s ready,” she said.

We picked it anyway. She opened her mouth wide when I offered her a taste, savoring the meaty fullness and juiciness.

“That was good,” she said. “Is there more?”

We shared several more tomatoes, experimenting by adding a dash of olive oil and a bit of soft cheese topped with fresh basil sprigs. She offered some parting advice before leaving on a two-week trip back home.

“Just wait for the rest of the tomatoes to ripen before you try to pick them. And watch out for tomato worms.”

By the time she returned, one worm had arrived, about an inch long, skinny and bright green, humping its way along a leaf. I captured it and tossed it over the balcony. The Internet was minimal help in identifying the creature; it showed pictures of larger tomato worms, fat and dark green, with little horns on their heads. A few days later we noticed an invasion of tiny white bugs–aphids, maybe, or tiny flies just hatching–all over the undersides of the leaves. Wanting to avoid pesticides, I sprayed them with dishwashing detergent. It didn’t work.

“Maybe there’s something more effective, and still an eco-friendly solution,” she said.

Searching the Internet for eco-this and green-that, I found a few options from the Google guys in whatever country. None of those options were available at Home Depot in Mexico, so I bought the non-eco stuff. It produced results within a day: tiny white carcasses like ash littered the balcony tiles under the plant.

I continued watering the plant, and the plants in the community garden too as a Plan B. It grew beyond the top rung of the metal cage, long branches sticking out the sides, loaded with ripening tomatoes. To keep the cage from tipping over, I had to fasten it to the balcony railing with a bungee cord. More tomatoes grew bigger in early August, shining in the sun on the balcony, big enough for neighbors to notice during walks.

While I was back in the USA for a quick trip, we texted almost daily about nurturing the plant and dealing with more aphids. “I’m trying to fight them off,” she said. “But they just keep coming.”

When I returned after Labor Day, we ate a few more of the red ones, but she was never really sure they were ready to pick.

A month later, she decided to move to another place, with only a few tears about leaving. Just packed up her stuff one afternoon, piled everything into her car, and drove away. I don’t remember if she waved goodbye.

Maybe she was right. Maybe it was me.

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

I’m never certain what to say about myself in an author bio. Here it is in less than twenty words: I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing, decided in college to become a journalist, and now I’m an “indie” author. (My college English professors would cringe at using three verb tenses in one sentence.)

I also manage book projects at EgretBooks.com, a small independent publisher that specializes in publishing eBooks for out-of-print literary fiction. Two of our projects have won prestigious national awards in the USA from the Independent Book Publishers Association. For both, I was the managing editor from start to finish.

After helping launch EgretBooks.com in Mexico in 2012, I moved from the Baja to Guadalajara–the country’s second-largest metropolitan area–with its European cultural heritage, robust modern economy, and one of the largest book festivals in the world. In 2014, I became an administrator for the Facebook group Mexico Writers, which spotlights books by authors who live and write in Mexico.

As a member of Publishers and Writers San Diego, and the Ajijic Writers’ Group at Lake Chapala, I divide my time between the United States and Mexico.

When I’m not writing, I’m available for hire to help authors with the nitty-gritty of editing and self-publishing books. If you’re interested in help with your book, just send an email to mikel.miller09@yahoo.com.
¡Viva Mexico!

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Sally11

Lakeside Lounge

photo by Sally Davies

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Fiction

work in progress

by Steve Benson

 

CHAPTER 1

 

1

          “You full of shit, marshal.”

          “How’s that?”

          “Look, I know you got a job to do, but aint no way a U.S.  Deputy Marshal gonna put his life on the line for me.  Face it.  I’m just a punk to you; a worthless little fly on your shoulder.  If they put the moves on me, the first thing on your mind would be your wife and kids.  You got kids?”

          No reply.

          “Your wife then.  How long you been married?”

          “None of your business.  Now finish your breakfast.”

          “OK, I get that too.  The less that scum like me knows about you and your family, the better.  All I’m saying is that you have your priorities.  And I don’t blame you for that.”

          U.S. Deputy Marshal Joe DeMaio washed down his last bite of toast with a glass of orange juice.  He stood, walked across the hotel room and opened the door as far as the chain would allow.  Two Muskogee police officers looked back over their shoulders at him.  Joe nodded and shut the door.  He looked back at Leon Fix who was now standing in front of the mirror, wiping crumbs from his tie.   “Let’s go,” Joe said.

          “Gimme a minute to get presentable.” Leon replied.  He put on his suit coat and brushed at it the same way he did with the tie.  “I got to look good for the judge.”

          You’re gorgeous,” Joe said as he opened the door.  “Now let’s go.”

          Both officers turned and looked into the room.  “Stay behind Mr. Fix here and don’t be shy about keeping your hands on your weapons,” Joe said to the officers.

          The four of them walked down the hallway, Joe in the front, Leon in the middle and the officers bringing up the rear.  Leon strutted down the brightly colored carpet, seeming to enjoy the convoy of law enforcement that surrounded him.

          “It’s the same with these two cops here,” said Leon.  “Lucky if they making forty grand a year, and now their chief tell them to guard me with their lives.  With their mother fucking lives!  Aint gonna happen.”

          “You sound like you’re expecting trouble,” said Joe as he continued to walk toward the elevator.  “Anything I should know about.”

          “Naw, just talking.  That’s all.”

          Joe stopped and turned around.  “Then shut up and get serious,” he said.

          “I am serious marshal.  Just want to make sure you are.”

          Joe turned and continued on; the others followed.  He hoped that there would only be one day of testimony.  He’d had his fill of Leon Fix.

 

2

          The group arrived at the Muskogee County Courthouse and entered through a nondescript side entrance where they met Chief Bailiff Stewart.  Boxes of court records teetered halfway to the ceiling of the small musty room.  Stewart stood next to the only desk in the room; his face craggy and suspicious.  Joe had met with Stewart the day before so there were no security check points or metal detectors.  Stewart did a quick pat down of Leon and then signed off on the police officer’s escort papers so they could leave.

          “We’re going to leave through that door,” said Stewart as he pointed his meaty finger.  Joe noticed a dried splotch of shaving cream under Stewart’s left ear.  “We’ll make a right and two lefts.  We’ll enter the courtroom through a wooden swinging door with a small window in it.  Fix, you sit with your attorney and Deputy Marshal DeMaio will sit behind you in the gallery.  Any questions?”

          “Yeah, I got one,” said Fix.  “What a nigga gotta do to get a cup of coffee?”

          Stewart’s flat top haircut seemed to bristle at Fix’s question, like a dog whose fur had been stroked the wrong way.  He sighed, looked from Leon to Joe and spoke.  “He does know he’s white, right?”

          Joe couldn’t help but chuckle at Stewart’s question and the unexpressive way he’d asked it.  “I think they call it race confusion,” Joe replied.

          “Shit.  I know I’m white.  I’m just being who I am.  Ghetto aint got no color.”  Leon smiled wide revealing two gold plated canines.  “It’s all attitude.”

 

3

          A bailiff, a Deputy Marshal and a low level meth transporter walk into a courtroom.  As Joe looked through the small window on the side door to the courtroom, he thought of this joke setup but couldn’t pin down a good punch line.  The jurors were already out and sitting at the opposite end of the room.  To Joe’s right was the judge’s bench and to his left were the prosecution and defense tables with the gallery directly behind them.  Leon’s attorney sat with the prosecutor while the defendant and his attorney chatted back and forth at the other table.

          “Show time,” said Stewart.  He pushed the door open and held it as first Leon and then Joe walked in.

          Leon sat down next to his attorney.  Joe stood for a moment, looking at the people seated in the gallery.  The first row was filled with suits and stern faces.  He guessed DEA.  The others seemed to be a mix of media and curious members of the public.  One small group on the back row of the defense side of the room had him concerned.  He recognized them as relatives of Marco Trujillo, the defendant.  Two armed bailiffs stood behind them on either side of the main courtroom entrance, so Joe was somewhat reassured.  He walked to the first row of the gallery and stared at two men until they both scooted in opposite directions, opening up a spot directly behind Leon.  Joe sat down and noticed a strong odor of cologne on the men who sat on each side of him.  Yep, definitely DEA.

          “All rise,” said Bailiff Stewart from the front of the courtroom as the judge entered through the chamber door.  “The Honorable Judge Thomas Stoffers now presiding.”

          Joe noticed that Stewart’s eyes were darting around the courtroom as the judge made his way to the bench.  He hoped that the bailiffs at the back of the courtroom were as serious as Stewart.

          “You may be seated,” said Judge Stoffers as he sat down.  He placed his glasses on the end of his nose and began reading a file on his desk.

          From behind him, Joe could hear the beginnings of a commotion.  A male voice spoke in irritated tones.  “He was set up.  He didn’t do nothing.”

          The outburst was followed by a female voice shushing him.  Joe assumed it was members of Trujillo’s family.  Bailiff Stewart moved several steps toward the gallery.  His eyes were on whoever was making the disturbance.  Joe could again see the dried shaving cream under Stewart’s ear.  He smiled, realizing that Stewart was just too damned imposing for anyone to tell him about it.  The male voice at the back of the courtroom grew louder but Joe, unlike the DEA Agents who surrounded him, kept his head forward.  What happened behind him was the bailiff’s business.  His business was currently sitting in from of him wearing a mustard yellow suit and scratching the back of his shaved head.

          “Bailiffs, please escort that gentleman from the courtroom,” Stewart said.  Joe could hear the footsteps as the bailiffs did as they were told.

          “Get the fuck away from me.  I’m gonna be heard.  My brother didn’t do nothing!”  Stewart stepped forward even further, he was now standing between the defense and prosecution tables.

          “Bailiffs, get him under control!” he said.  Joe could now hear shuffling as the bailiffs grabbed at the man.  A woman began to cry and plead with the man to calm down but he continued.

          “Get offa me cops!  I can say what I want!”  One of the gallery benches scraped across the hardwood floor as the bailiffs wrestled with the man.  Stewart was now standing at the gate that separated the gallery from the front of the courtroom.  He opened the gate and stepped through to help the other two bailiffs.

          Just as the gate swung shut, Trujillo stood from his seat at the defense table.  Joe was the only law enforcement officer who saw him get up.  The bailiffs were still trying to get Trujillo’s family out of the courtroom and the rest of them were watching the show.

          Trujillo ran toward the front of the prosecution table, he was staring directly at Leon Fix.  Joe put his hand in his jacket and grabbed his gun.  There was something in Trujillo’s right hand but he was moving too fast for Joe to see what it was.  Trujillo came to a stop in front of the prosecution table.  The judge, who could also see what was happening, yelled for Stewart, but he was too far away to do anything.

          Joe leaned to his left and pulled his gun out.  He was practically laying on a DEA agents lap.  Trujillo pulled back his right arm, meaning to stab fix.  Joe could see it now, Trujillo was holding a pen.  Joe aimed at Trujillo’s chest and pulled the trigger.  The pen, which was halfway to its target, fell onto the table while Trujillo fell backward to the floor.  The Muskogee County Court emblem on the front of the judge’s bench was now coated with a layer of Trujillo’s blood.

          Joe could again hear a commotion behind him, this time much louder.  The thirty or so people in the gallery were now trying to run through the double door entrance to the courtroom at the same time while Trujillo’s family screamed and cried.  Joe jumped over the railing to the front of the courtroom, grabbed Fix by the back of his collar and pulled him to his feet.  They exited through the same side door that they had entered through earlier and didn’t stop until they were again in the room where Stewart had met them.  Joe pushed Fix into a chair in the corner of the room.

          “Sit down and keep your mouth shut.”  Joe pulled his cell phone out with his left hand while still pointing his gun at the door with his right.  He called the first Deputy he saw in his contact list, U.S. Deputy Chuck Miller.  Miller answered on the first ring.

          “What’s up DeMaio?” Miller said.

          “Miller, listen up.  There was an attempt on my witness’s life.  I’m currently in a storeroom in the Muskogee County Courthouse.  I need backup ASAP!  I shot the perp, it was the defendant.  Get someone here as soon as you can.  Bailiffs tend to get itchy trigger fingers when you shoot up one of their courtrooms.”

          Joe ended the call and looked down at Fix.  “Are you OK?  Any injuries?”

          “No,” said fix as he patted himself, looking for stab wounds or bullet holes.

          “Good, just sit tight.  The cavalry will be here soon.”

          “Hey marshal, thanks for proving me wrong,” said Fix.  “You still crazy for doing it, but thanks.”

          “Just my job Fix.  You’re court property and I’m protecting it.  Nothing more.”

          Fix slowly nodded his head.  Joe thought that it was the first time he’d seen anything close to a deep thought in his expression.

          “Still…thanks,” said Fix.

 

 

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

Steve Benson was born in Corpus Christi Texas and has lived most of his life in the American Midwest. He currently lives in Merida Mexico with his wife Jill. Steve has collaborated with Jill on writing and creating two short films. They are currently working together on a feature length script, a ghost story set in the 1870’s. Imagine Cabin in the Woods meets Little House on the Prairie. This is Steve’s second novel.

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Sally4

Remedy Diner by Sally Davies

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Poetry

The Vietnamese Restaurant and other poems

by Zach Fishel

 

The Vietnamese Restaurant

For Ammon

The soup always comes out and steams my friend’s glasses.
Intricately painted bowls and tiny saucers of basil and peppers
are simple planets we orbit as the slurp of our spoons halt all talk.
This isn’t an intricate planet, but a nightmare god walked out of without
waking from. My friend thinks that’s why he never answers.
I add Sriracha and fish sauce to the broth, as the broken English of
our old waitress stares across the counter. She knows each week we
arrive to watch the tendons and tripe float around like our own organs
in the broth. We’re dressed like dirty laundry,
covered in textbooks and grading sheets,
rubrics on what qualifies for passing.

 

Settling in Toledo, OH

Once the payphone on Collingwood Boulevard
Started ringing like the woman on fire who leapt

from the nunnery I slept in for two bitter winters.
We would crush PBR cans and launch them past

Victorian chandeliers coated in minimum wage
and regret above the theatre that housed countless runaways,

hobos, and hookers who slept with bruises.
When the woman on fire knew everyone

was putting her out I watched the houses rot
like out of season farmers markets. The weeds grew

in the parking lot as she claimed to understand Icarus.
You can still see the crack looking down from the east wing.

 

Thanksgiving in New Jersey

For Mike D’Agnili

The city yawns behind the cold
streets of North Jersey as a confused

flock of turkey meander through
curbside recycling, the blue boxes little

pieces of the sky as a joint is passed
around the outdoor fryer.

Inside laughter rises from the chimney
as sisters and aunts mince onion

with gossip. Italian hands
working odds and ends

into family traditions,
pointing at Black Friday deals

in between clinking glasses of red wine
spilling on the unworried carpet.

 

Janesville, PA

The sixteen year old boys dreamed of girls
and paychecks from the paperbag grocery store.
Casting lures out into the black, the splash just the sound
connecting them to the lake. The fish were out there
listening to their blood run its course, their questioning of
how to find big water as fireflies sought the right connection
to continue living. Eventually the fish pulled the line,
forcing them to pull back against their own tensions.
Shirtless on the rocky bank, seeing the night come undone,
holding the fish by the jaw. They didn’t imagine
what it meant to grab life and drag it home.

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

Zach Fishel is an outdoor guide, poet, and educator currently living on a reservation in North Dakota. His most recent book, Blue Collar at Best, is available from Words Dance. Recent work has appeared in Red Paint Hill, Fox Chase Review, The Lindenwood Review, Blast Furnace Review and Night Ballet Press.

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Sally2

Rear View Nude in Window

photo by Sally Davies

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Photography

Photography by Sally Davies

Sally8

Carmine and Taurice

Sally3

Paris Sweeper

Sally10

Noodle Shop at Christmas Eve

Sally1

NYC Subway

Sally9

Three Girls Texting

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A native of Winnipeg, Canada, Sally Davies has called Manhattan home for 33 years. She achieved her first public attention in NYC in the mid 90’s with her “Lucky Paintings” and “Lucky Chairs” exhibits, with the OK Harris Gallery and the Gracie Mansion Gallery in New York’s East Village. Her art has been featured on HBO’s “Sex and the City,” Ted Demme’s film “200 Cigarettes,” and her Lucky Chairs have been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and “Sex in the City.”

Her photos can be viewed at the Bernaducci Meisel Gallery in New York City.

Davies has been photographing NYC for 33 years.

http://www.sallydaviesphoto.com

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Q&A:
1. What artists have influenced and/or inspired you?
Tom Waits, Diane Arbus, Steve Earle, William Eggleston, Helen Levitt, Carolyn Newhouse, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, William Boroughs, Jim Cuddy…and so many of my contemporaries…street photographers out there every day now, doing really good stuff.

2. What inspired you to start photographing?
My Dad was a weekend photographer. He gave me my first camera when I was in my young teens. I’ve taken photos ever since. I graduated college with a degree in painting. I was an ok painter, but eventually it didn’t work for me. I stopped painting and started photographing full-time around 2000.

3. Can you describe a bit about the process? Do you stand there waiting for the perfect shot till it happens?
No. Never.
I don’t leave my home without a camera in hand, even if it’s a quick trip to the corner store. It’s all about walking around. Paying attention to whats going on around me. I live in the east village of NYC. It’s a 24 hour situation. There’s a million stories going on out there all the time.

4. Are they ever staged?
No Never. Except for obvious portraits.

5. How do you get the humans to be such a perfect part of the whole?
Not that sure that I’m looking for perfection, ever. And perfection is in the eye of the viewer anyways. So that’s a waste of psychic time. And in the end, it’s our imperfections that draw us to each other. The part of us all that’s broken, that’s the glue.

6. What is your favorite work of your own?
That changes all the time. When you shoot every day and through everything you do, it’s more like a story…that keeps going, not so much an individual image. But I think this week it would have to be “Charles at Church”. Charlie died last Saturday and this feels like his memorial photo. New York City does not feel the same without him.

Sally6

Charles at Church

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