Dr. Hurley’s Digest: Vol. II, Week 5

We continued our First Ever Short Story Contest this week, with entries from some new authors and a previous contributor. Check out the entries below, and stay tuned for more this week.

Short Story Contest

Photographical

Fictional

Artistical

More photos, fiction, and short story entries this week!

No Man is an Island

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t all started at home, like everything does. As a child, he surveyed the edges of the land and, eventually, came to the conclusion that it was finite. The rocks that peppered the edge of the grass behind their garden; the stones that ran in sequences of two, then five, then hundreds and more, laying idle on the beaches to the west; the old stone towers, fissures wrinkling their surfaces with age, standing desolate on the northernmost promontories. All of these signs pointed to one thing: his was an island home.

At first, he left his circumscribed world by boat. Though his home had been made on Sarnia, he had plans, and he had to start somewhere. Nestled alongside Sarnia were its sister islands; several larger and two smaller. First, he set his sights on the bigger though more sparsely populated Angia, whose cliffs of limestone rose jagged and tall out of the English Channel. After a week on Angia, he rowed to the other islands, each in turn, making notes in his journal on the features and topography of each: outlines of coast and untouched beaches he had the fortune to christen, the types of stone that lay underneath the grass and the fish that jumped across the water’s surface.

On the beaches of the smallest of these islands, Herm, he made camp for several months. The sheer quality of the island’s light burned premature crow’s feet into his face, but he was happy, for a time.

At the age of 16, he made the decision to visit all of them. When he explained his plan to a Herm native, the man laughed and turned the sides of his mouth up in disbelief.

“Ludicrous,” the man said. “Visit every island in the world?”

“All two hundred and seventy three,” he replied.

At dawn the following day, he swam out to a small canoe that he had purchased from the old Hermer, and rowed until he hit the shipping lanes of the Channel. Like so much salmon, he was hauled aboard and tossed beneath deck. Several days later, he disembarked at a small outpost in the center of the Atlantic.

The Northern Hemisphere was his favorite, at least for the first twenty years. When Iceland grew dark, he took a biplane south to Uguntu, and marveled at the temperate climate this close to the equator. Greenland intrigued him, and he spent a year investigating its cities and glaciers, learning four types of Greenlandic in the north of the island and falling in love with the snowfall that kept the ice sheets from melting apart. It was so different to the other islands that he had visited.

Then, after living among the Kalaallit for eight years, he moved on.

His youth was spent swimming, flying, sailing from icy sheets that passed for islands to small tropical Edens where he laid his head for months. He spent a year marveling at rock pools on the shores of Hokkaido, talking with the marine biologists whose mission it was to save the native mussels that were so mysteriously important to their electronics industry.

But his final and favorite stop in the north was Attilan.

The Attiliac jungles lay in valleys between the hills, and multicolored birds drifted out and surveyed the land as the bright Pacific kissed the coastline. The heat strengthened his bones and the sun, not sheer like Herm’s, but warm and glowing, made his skin tan and taut. He felt that he would live forever.

The biplane that bore him south into new territory was rusty but comfortingly solid. At the age of 38, his skin had wrinkled some but his mind was as sharp as ever. Crossing the equator felt like a betrayal, but the list in his journal still had 139 names left unchecked.

The Southern Hemisphere was different; blue like the blood behind his skin. The plane landed in Madagascar and he decamped to the forests that infringed upon the beaches. But the weather didn’t suit him, the humidity keeping his skin—like the broad leaves of the jungle—constantly bedewed with sweat.

After a year in the mercifully dry heat of Tasmania, he took a week to hop from one Micronesian island to another, finally resting up for six months under the wide Tungan trees in the Indian Ocean. As his notes grew longer, his list became shorter. One by one, he was scratching small check marks next to the remaining insular destinations: Christmas Island; Falls Rock; each of the Balleny Islands; Jødhut.

He cooled for several months in the Antarctic waters, and, during his second week in the Wyatt Earp Islands, frostbite set in. Helicopter blades whipped the tundra into a frenzy as the medics from the Australian base across the border treated his blackened hand.

“For a man of 57, you’re lucky not to lose these fingers,” they told him. He smiled—after all, what did fingers matter?—and waved as the rotors floated them away, back toward their glacial territory.

At 78, he was weaker and slower, but no less determined. In twenty years, he had visited more than half of the rocks in the southern oceans, and settled in the abandoned harbor lighthouse in Port Vila. He loved Vanuatu. The Polynesians were laid back, and he had slackened his pace to match.

But in the small journal, there was one name left unchecked. He sent for maps, picking them up at the post office, and purchased a small husk of a boat from a trader who owed him a favor. From the giant, incomprehensible maps, he tore a single square—the only square he needed—and climbed into the boat with a creak in his bones.

The final island. It took hours, but he made it. Pulling the map out of his jacket, he switched the motor off, letting the boat drift forward with the current. A constellation of points and rounded edges signified No Man’s Island, the smallest in the Pacific, and two hundred seventy third of two hundred and seventy three. But scanning the ocean around him, all that he could see was water, flowing idly to the back of the boat and pushing him on.

He lay back against the stern and stretched his arms out so that they balanced on the wooden hull to either side of him. The tides lilted back and forth, unsure which way they wanted to send him. In the sky, a single cloud. Wisps at either edge broke off and disappeared into nothingness.

He may have lain there for minutes or months. He wasn’t sure. Eventually, his hands grew numb, and he felt a huge weight pressing down on his torso. To either side, the boat had calcified into rock that now held steady and unperturbed against the waters of the Pacific.

Above, the sky was growing bluer, then white, then as clear as the waters of Herm. Around him—though he could no longer see anything—sand and stone coalesced and drove the waters back. Following the outline of his prone form, the stones increased his size by two times, then five, then hundreds and more.

Soon, all that remained was a rough approximation of a person, surrounded by rock and stone, grains of sand the size of pinheads, and the finite lines of No Man’s Island.

* * * * *

DLR is editor and cofounder of Snake-Oil Cure. He likes writing for fun, and writing for money. He likes his dogs to have beards, and his bourbon to have poise. His other Snake-Oil contributions can be found here.

Impression № 046: Mr. Teeth

Artist Gaetan Vanparijs brings us “Mr. Teeth.” We like to think of this gentleman as a wannabe politician.

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A native of Brussels, Gaëtan Vanparijs is a young independnt illustrator. He frequently exhibits and enters competitions to help share his universe. Through “l’étrange vie des autres” (“The strange life of Others”), he inserts a touch of the absurd into scenes of everyday life, leaving each reader to his own interpretation. He has just finished working on a book about illustrated Monsters’ Biographies,”Monstrueusement  vôtre”. He is influenced by movies and the Belgian surrealism that surrounds him. More of his work can be seen at Flickr.

His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Danny’s Blood

This story is part of Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure’s First Ever Short Story Contest.

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t must have been summer. There weren’t any clouds, or not many anyway. We were young, just kids. Danny’s front garden had a tall tree in it, the sort that has a long curved stem and leaves right at the top, splaying out all over the place. Like a palm tree, I suppose, right in the middle of the lawn.

I remember he had called to my house and we’d gone out onto the road. It didn’t take much to convince me to go out. It never did, then. By the time we got to the McAvinues’ house, Danny decided that we needed to inject a little urgency. I remember him smiling at me and then he set off running very fast into his driveway and diagonally across the front lawn, his hand raking along the palm tree as he headed towards the side passage of the house. I started running as fast as I could, but he had a good head start and the total distance to be covered was so short I knew I would never catch him, but if I could just keep him in my sights it might not be so bad. Then he disappeared around the corner of the house as I jumped over the flowerbed onto the grass. I could hear him giggling as he ran, that mix of breathing hard and laughing I heard so many times in those days.

By the time I got to the corner of the house the laughing had stopped. Danny was standing by the back door, hunched over, breathing hard. As my run slowed I wondered why he didn’t go inside. What was he waiting for? I stopped at the bin when I saw the blood. Danny was wheezing and I was scared then, confused. I couldn’t see where the blood was coming from, but it must have been coming from him, it must have been coming from Danny. Something had happened in those seconds between him disappearing around the corner and me reaching the side of the house.

I saw him reach up and put his hand on the handle of the back door. His fingers were stained with his own blood, but they didn’t tremble. The opening of the door seemed to break a spell and I could move again. I slowly made my way to the steps leading into the kitchen. Danny was standing framed in the doorway, just starting to sniffle. His mother and father were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and reading newspapers. I suppose they didn’t look up immediately because it was just one of their children coming through the back door, as probably happened every ten minutes during the holidays.

From where I was standing it was hard to see where the blood was coming from, but I could see it dripping onto the kitchen floor. I was mesmerised by the red fluid that was flowing out from some hole in my best friend. It seemed – or it seems now, the memory of it – like everything was in black and white except for that stream of vivid colour pouring onto the floor. His father glanced up from the paper and seemed to freeze for a moment, as if he too was transfixed by the brilliant red liquid his son was spouting. Then both parents shouted different things and leaped up, grabbing Danny, dabbing carefully at the source of the blood. His father made an effort to gently but hurriedly wipe his face, wrapping him in a rug, bundling him up like he was a toddler. They asked me questions – what happened? how long ago? – but  I couldn’t answer them. I just stood there watching as they carried him out the front door, shouting to me or anybody else that might have been in the house, put him into the car with urgent tenderness and drove away.

I wasn’t sure what to do then. I was standing in front of the two steps that led up to the open back door. They had blood on them. There was blood on the concrete where the wall joins the doorway; that must have been where the impact happened. I didn’t know whether or not I should close the door or leave it open. I was still standing there wondering what to do when Brendan, Danny’s older brother, came into the kitchen to see what all the fuss was about. He looked a little confused at first by the empty room with the open exterior door. Then he saw the blood and then he saw me. I could tell he assumed the two were connected somehow. I must have been the cause of this bloodletting on his kitchen floor. He asked me what had happened, but I still seemed unable to speak, as if Danny’s head injury had affected my power of speech. I remember feeling cold. It must have been getting late in the afternoon.

Brendan stood in the kitchen looking at me, standing out in the passageway. We were separated by his brother’s blood. I wasn’t looking directly at him, but I knew he was looking at me. He wanted details I couldn’t give him because I had been struck dumb. He started to get angry with me because of my silence. I felt the tears coming before they started streaming from my eyes. He was still shouting when I turned and ran away, back the same way I had run in with Danny only a few minutes before, when it was still summer, when there was no blood.

My father’s dirty green Land Rover was parked inside the gate and I had to step onto the lawn to get past it. He didn’t like me or my sister walking on the lawn, but when his big car was in the way, there wasn’t any choice. I hoped he wouldn’t see me, but even if he was watching and getting that brittle look he used to get on his face, it didn’t matter. All I really wanted to do then was get inside to my own room and try to breathe without rasping.

My mother was in the kitchen, sweeping the floor, I think, when I came in the back door. The same sort of back door that Danny had staggered through earlier. I was not dripping blood all over the lino, but I was probably more anxious than Danny had been bleeding in his kitchen. My mother looked up and asked me to mind the pile of dust on the floor – I think it was the pile of dust she mentioned – but I kept walking through the kitchen doorway into the hall. I was at the bottom of the stairs when I vomited.

I don’t know how long I was there for. I never worked it out. I remember my father looking worried as he dragged me by the hand up the stairs to the bathroom, but I didn’t know if he was worried about me or the carpet. I could smell the puke on my face and my clothes. The smell made me dizzy and I thought I might vomit again, but I managed to keep my mouth closed against the wave that pushed up into my throat from my stomach. My arm where he held me got sorer as we crested the top of the stairs and burst into the bathroom.

My father held my head down, in case I spewed anywhere but in the bowl. This made my neck sore, but the vomit didn’t last long. He let me go and I sat on the toilet floor briefly, feeling sore inside and out. I wanted water. My father pulled me over to the sink and threw water on my face. Then he told me to brush my teeth and get out of my clothes. I wanted to tell him that I needed a drink of water, but he was already walking away. I was shaking a little bit, as I started taking off my clothes. And I didn’t know whether I should put the clothes straight into the laundry basket or if they needed to be rinsed first. I didn’t do much rinsing of clothes then. Not like now.

My mother came into the bathroom as I was running water on the pukey clothes. She wasn’t happy. She told me that I shouldn’t be standing in my underpants in the bathroom because I’d get cold. I shouldn’t be rinsing dirty clothes in the bath. She didn’t touch me, though. She took the last stitch of clothes off me and put me in the shower and scrubbed me with an un-soaped facecloth. I didn’t cry, I don’t think. Or if I did, I suppose she didn’t notice because of the shower running.

Her drying was pretty aggressive. She told me my father would talk to me before I went to bed. Then she told me to get into my pyjamas. I wanted to protest that it was too early to go to bed and how come my sister didn’t have to go too, but instead I told her that I didn’t want my father to come and talk to me, I didn’t feel well. She stopped drying me and told me to get into my pyjamas right away.

I was trembling as I put on my pjs. My father would talk to me and my sister – but mostly me – whenever he or my mother decided we needed to be spoken to. I was always jealous of Danny because when his parents said they wanted to talk to him, they actually meant talk. Even if they were cross, it was still better, better than the wordless talking that my father was on his way up the stairs to do with me.

I thought about Danny. I wondered if he was in the hospital or back at home. All that blood, even my parents might be worried. When he was finished with me, my father had that look in his eye, that crestfallen look he always had right after. I suppose now it might have meant he felt guilty or a little bit sorry, but he never said anything. He just walked out of the room slowly without looking back.

I dreamed that Danny was being buried in a little white box. I still had some blood, but all of his had spilled out on the ground, the kitchen floor, the car. While the coffin was being lowered into the hole, the lid opened and inside I didn’t see Danny, I saw my father, all twisted up to fit into such a small space. He had that look on his face. I was smiling.

I woke up and saw my sister asleep in the bed across from me. She was smiling too. We must have both been having the same dream. I walked out into the bathroom. I didn’t need to turn the light on, I knew where my father kept his razor. I tried to climb into the bath to keep the blood off the floor, but my arms hurt. Then I started crying and wishing that I had just stayed in bed. I went down stairs, trying to catch the blood dripping from my arm.

The road was lit by the two streetlights between our house and Danny’s. I walked slowly, probably leaving little drops of blood and tears behind me, until I got to the back door of Danny’s house. It was hard to tell in the dark, but I think his blood had been cleaned up from the steps. I sat down, feeling sorry that I was spilling more blood and wondering what I should do. The door opened and Danny’s father was standing there with a big black bin bag in his hand. He nearly stepped on me.

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Niall Ó Sioradáin is from Dublin, Ireland. He has written for the stage, radio and television. In 2011 he was short listed for the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. Recently he was long listed for the Fish Publishing International Short Story Contest and was awarded third place in the Doire Press International Fiction & Poetry Chapbook Competition. This is his first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

Exposure № 074: Parkinson’s Photography II

Photographer Dennis Smith shares with us some more of his his Parkinson’s Photography (or “what you get when you can’t hold your camera steady”).

Northern Lights:

This photo was taken late at night at the Canberra, Australia airport. It is a shot of the landing lights on the main runway. I just gently moved my camera in an arc from top to bottom to get this effect. It was taken on a Kodak digital camera, not a DSL.

I usually name the photos to describe what I see. But everyone usually sees something different in each image, they are what you see. Often the images look better upside down or rotated ninety degrees. The image is printed as taken, with no editing or image enhancements.

Peloton Down:

This photo was taken in Canberra, Australia. I used a point and shoot Kodak digital camera, not a DSL. I drove out to a large parking area near the Airport and just waved my camera around in a random pattern. I can see people falling off their bikes so have named it Peloton Down.

The name reflects what I see, but everyone usually sees something different in each image, they are what you see. Often the images look better upside down or rotated ninety degrees. The image is printed as taken, with no editing or image enhancements.

* * * * *

Dennis Smith is an Australian poet and photographer. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in May 1999. Prior to this he had no interest in poetry. He believes that the disease has been responsible for ignigting a creative streak that was probably hidden deep within him, and since then he have written about 400 poems covering a great variety of subjects, and continues to work on his Parkinson’s Photography series. His contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Pigs, Chickens

This story is part of Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure’s First Ever Short Story Contest.

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e were only eighty miles outside of Tulsa, our destination, when my pregnant cousin demanded that we stop at the next restaurant, gas station or rest stop. It was 3:30 and she was hungry, never mind we had just had lunch less than two hours ago. My mother, who was driving this shift, crinkled up her face and looked in the rearview.

“We just had lunch, Marianna.”

“That was like five hours ago,” my cousin whined.

Aunt Lelia leaned forward and joined us staring into the openness of I-40. “Just a quick bite, Charlotte. She’s pregnant.”

As she reclined back into the seat, Aunt Lelia lifted Marianna’s shaggy bangs away from her forehead with her tanned pinky finger.

“Next place we see, okay?”

The words were still hanging in the air when Marianna bolted forward and pointed at a billboard we were fast approaching.

“Look! There’s one! Next exit, Aunt Charlotte,” she yelped.

My mother squinted at the sign. The blue and white paint was chipping and the words were barely readable. I could make out a plump, pink pig dancing around a chicken holding a banjo. Did that say…

“Pick-N-Chickens? Oh, honey I don’t know if that place is going to be open,” my mother said.

Here comes the temper tantrum, I thought. Marianna is one of those clichéd tragedies, a stat you hear about on 20/20, the story entitled “Babies Having Babies.” She’s sixteen and her boyfriend Tommy “got her” pregnant. (I love this saying, ‘got her’ pregnant, like he wiped his cooties on her lunch box or sneezed in her direction). One would think she was carrying the Christ Child in there, and it was only August–we had four more months to go. Whenever she didn’t get her way, she reverted to being three years old. Yep, babies having babies is about right. I’m only a few years behind her and if I had a dime for every time my mother said to me, ‘Don’t you dare end up like Marianna!’ I’d be filthy rich. There’s another one: ‘End up’ pregnant. How can the female race ever get the respect it deserves as long as there’s males around to ‘get us’ pregnant, so we’ll tragically ‘end up’ with a pack of kids we had nothing to do with?

Although I was nowhere near hungry, I decided to nip the tantrum in the bud.

“That looks good. Exit 65,” I said as my mother shot me a glance that could have impressed Medusa. Marianna had already heaved her fat self between the seats in anticipation of a fight but my bud-nipping worked. She kept quiet and eased herself back down into the seat as Aunt Lelia started rummaging through her purse.

“It doesn’t look like the kind of place that takes Visa. I’ve only got…seven dollars and some change. What have you got, Charlotte?”

“Oh I never carry cash, never,” my mother said with robust surety. I fished through her bag and found three twenties in her billfold. I fanned them out in my lap and shot her a sideways glance.

“Shit,” she murmured as she looked down at the money. She reached for her cigarettes which had spilled out onto the floorboard. Exit 65 was now visible and as she steered the caravan onto the ramp, she punched in the cigarette lighter.

“Charlotte, we haven’t been smoking around Marianna,” Aunt Lelia said.

“Well, we’re almost out of the car. Just relax.”

Pick-N-Chickens was not closed and as we turned into the dusty parking lot, Aunt Lelia sat upright and said what we were all thinking.

“Uh-oh.”

“What?” Marianna asked.

“Well, unless it’s a glass of boiling water, I don’t know if you want to be eating here–might get tuberculosis or something.”

“Hep C, more likely,” I chimed in.

“Shut up, Ruth,” Marianna said.

“You want me to keep going, hon?” my mother asked as the van slowed and she lit her dangling cigarette.

“No, no! I’m just about to throw up back here and all I need is something on my stomach. Y’all don’t know what it’s like!”

As the van came to a stop, Aunt Lelia opened the sliding door on her side but then slammed it shut when she heard her daughter’s lament.

“Who doesn’t know what what’s like, Marianna Hope McCall?”

Silence. I could tell Marianna was deciding between a temper tantrum or a few crocodile tears. Her breathing was loud and exaggerated. She blinked at all of us, one by one, and settled on the tears. As they welled up and distorted her face, she began twisting a stray curl. Aunt Lelia had seen this act before and although she stood up for Marianna about ninety-five percent of the time, that five percent when she didn’t was brutal.

“Because there’s two women in this here car who’s been pregnant–more than once, and given birth, more than once. And we’re still standing! The world didn’t come to end ‘cause we got pregnant. Now, if you’re saying ‘we don’t know what it’s like’ because we weren’t stupid enough to get ourselves pregnant at sixteen years old, well yes, you’re right sugar, we don’t know what that’s like. Why don’t you tell us all about it? Tell us how you worked in getting laid between going to the mall, downloading music to your i-pod, and playing beer pong with your friends? Because Aunt Charlotte, Ruth and I have no idea how hard that must have been!”

I looked over at my mother smoking her cigarette. She took a deep, slow draw and shot out a plume of smoke like a jazz musician. Was she grinning? You could hear a fly fart, and I wanted to say something to break the silence. Marianna finally asked for a tissue. I scrambled through the glove box and pulled out two or three, stretching my arm back to her.

“Let’s just go in. I’ll get a cup of soup or something and it’ll be real quick. Thanks Ruth,” she said as she took the tissues and blew her nose.

My mother threw her half-smoked cigarette out the slit in the window and my aunt jerked the sliding door open again. I took a deep breath and apparently let out an audible sigh because my mother turned to me and patted my knee.

“It’s alright. Tiger’s still in the cage. Did you take your vitamin C this morning?” she asked.

“I took the whole alphabet, thanks for asking,” I said to the cadence of all four doors slamming shut.

*

.
ords cannot do justice
to the roadside attraction of the Pick-N-Chickens. In fact, justice may have left this stretch of I-40 and Oklahoma to its own devices long ago. The eight Harley Davidsons were all parked at forty-five degree angles to one another, the scorching sun shining down upon them, their chrome blinding. Galileo himself could not have made a straighter line.

We strode single-file into the building, my mother leading the pack. From the side, I’d like to say we looked that one Beatles album, all long-legged strides crossing a street, the happy sun on our shoulders, but think of the opposite of that image and that’s more like it.

As we got closer, I felt my stomach dance a bit, in a reaction similar to that of a rabbit who’s just seen a wolf cross into her terrain—a frozen worry. I peered in as the door opened and a blast of country music smacked the air around us. Since it was August, none of us had a whole lot of clothes on. I am a full-fledged tomboy anyway and never cared much what I looked like but felt the need as we stepped into the Pick-N-Chickens to run back to the car and grab my Clemson sweatshirt–a wearable foxhole. My mother rolled in to this den of grease with her own defense: 5’11” and willow-like, she bunched her blonde hair up in a scrunchie on the top of her head, making a hair fountain and poof! Her 5’11” frame transformed into 6’2″. Aunt Lelia brought up the rear and was probably timing how long we should stay. Three and a half minutes if we could get something to go, ten at the very most if we had to sit. She exaggerated her yell to my mother as soon as we were all inside, no doubt to announce that is was her opinion that their jukebox was too damn loud.

“DO YOU SEE THE MAITRE D’, CHARLOTTE?”

I snickered, then turned to Marianna, whose regret at not holding out for a Hardee’s or rest stop vending machine was clearly evident. She glared back at me and let out one of her pregnant sighs, which was always accompanied by her left hand falling to her belly.

“Y’all can wait in the car, I’ll just get something to go, alright? Jesus!”

“Oh, no, shug. We ain’t leaving you in here by yourself,” Aunt Lelia said as she moved further into the seating area.

From the outside, the Pick-N-Chickens looked much bigger than the diner we were standing in: a modest counter with five or six stools reminiscent of an ice cream parlor, six or seven shoddy tables with menus stuck next to the paper napkin dispensers, and a tray of hot sauces—a sign you were still in the South. The smell of fried food was only slightly more pungent than the smell of cigarette smoke, and the mix of both only slightly less nauseating than the stench of a mop pail hiding some place out of sight.

The entire room of customers–three leather-clad bikers, an elderly farmer and his wife, and a single man at the counter wearing way too many layers of clothes for summer–looked up as our entourage fumbled in. A cook wearing a waitress uniform stood over a grill where two hamburger patties sizzled in harmony. She motioned with her spatula toward the tables, instructing us to sit anywhere and as she did the grease from her spatula dribbled a semi-circle around her.

Aunt Lelia moved closer to the register and scanned the room for any other employees.

“Excuse me, but we’d just like to get something to go?”

The waitress-cook had turned her back to us and was smacking the burgers. She began chopping some onions that were on the grill with the side of her versatile spatula. As Mariana shifted from foot to foot, I noticed my mother had attracted the attention of one of the bikers.

Aunt Lelia’s question got as far as her throat, as the waitress-cook ignored us. We gagged in the air and the heat of the place, and watched the biker walk toward us. It was as if he forged a telepathic contract with my mother, not taking his eyes off of her. I guessed it said, ‘I would throw you on the back of my motorcycle right now if you didn’t have those trolls with you.’

As he brushed past us he said, “Scuse me, m’am,” to which my mother sassed out, “No problem, sir.” At that point the waitress-cook whipped around, clutching the ever-handy spatula.

“Y’all gonna sit down or whistle Dixie out yer pie holes? ‘Cause we ain’t seen that one in a while. Don’t make no difference to me, hmnf, Eddie?” she winked at the single man sitting at the counter.

Aunt Lelia turned back to us and shoved a menu into Marianna’s hand.

“I guess we’re sitting, unless of course, you’re in the mood for whistling out your pie hole. Make it quick. I’ll be right back.”

She went in the same direction the big biker had gone, and my mother steered us over to the counter, where Eddie—as the waitress-cook had called him—was bobbing up and down. A half-drunk strawberry milkshake with two straws poking out of it and a huge plate of Tater Tots sat in front of him–not home fries, not french fries, Tater Tots.

I surveyed the seating. There were only three stools beyond Eddie, then the wall. There was a single stool on the other side of Eddie however the stools were stationary. Unless my mother planned on one of us standing, somebody was going to have to ask Eddie to move down one, and then sit next to him. I figured that somebody would probably be me so before my mother could say, ‘Do me a favor, Ruthie,’ I tapped Eddie on the shoulder.

“Sir? Would it be too much trouble to ask you to move down one? There’s four of us.”

Eddie gave me the once-over, sucked his teeth then turned back to his milkshake. He stared straight ahead, as if waiting for some guidance from the waitress-cook. Then I’ll be damned if she didn’t look over her shoulder, sling that spatula in the direction of the vacant seat beside him and say, ‘Go on, it’s okay’ to which Eddie moved his bottom and his plate of Tater Tots all in one fell swoop. He faked-smiled at me as I slid him his milkshake. Marianna was next while my mother took the safety seat next to the wall leaving the remaining stool for Aunt Lelia, who was returning from wherever she went.

“Why aren’t you eating yet?” she barked at Marianna.

“Mama, we just sat down. I need to go to the bathroom first anyway. Where is it?”

“You’re gonna have to wait, sweet pea.”

“What for? Is there a line?”

“No, just wait, Marianna Hope. I thought you were hungry!”

“Jesus Christ I never seen such fussing! Come on, I’ll go with her,” my mother said as she bounced off of her stool and grabbed Marianna’s arm.

“Charlotte, wait! I wouldn’t do that,” Aunt Lelia said. Then, to me, “Do not use the bathroom here, Ruth. Do you hear me?”

I nodded yes while picking up the vibe of Eddie’s bobbing which had started up again as my mother and Marianna marched past him. The waitress-cook turned to face us, welding her ever-loving spatula and fishing deep into her apron pocket. Kool 100’s. Of course. She lit one and leaned against the grill.

“What’s it going to be, ladies?”

Neither Aunt Lelia nor myself were looking at menus; I figured I should get something just to give this woman something to do. Aunt Lelia was not so generous, and squinted at the waitress-cook as if she had just witnessed her pick her ass.

“We’re not eating. My daughter’s the one who wanted to stop here. She’ll be right out.”

“I’ll have a milkshake,” I blurted out as I gazed over at Eddie’s. “Do you have chocolate?”

Aunt Lelia’s jaw dropped as she turned to me, followed by the same expression she had used on the waitress-cook.

“Hep C, Ruth, Hep C…” she sang.

I rolled my eyes at her, pretending to forget it was my idea originally.

“Eddie, make this little ginger a chocolate milkshake, will ya?” the waitress-cook said as she stacked the burgers onto their toasty buns, ashed her cigarette into her apron pocket with a jerk of her head, and finally lined the plates up her left arm, leaving her right hand free to grab the bottles of ketchup and mustard. Off she went to the farmer and his wife.

Bobbing Eddie slunk off behind the other side of the counter. He spun a shiny, silver cup on his elbow then planted it down in front of me. It tinged and I could hear my Aunt Lelia say, “Oh, lord” over my right shoulder. He bent down behind the counter then popped up again, plopping several scoops of vanilla ice cream into the silver cup. He pulled a vat of chocolate sauce up from below the counter.

“You like it real chocolatey, or just average?” he asked.

His voice didn’t sound as hill-billyish as I’d imagined, and now that I was his audience of one, he looked kind of cute, despite the Oklahoma clothing emergency. His tanned, veiny hands held the ice cream scooper and the silver cup, giving off some sort of milkshake confidence, like he was a master. The Master of Milkshakes.

“Um, pretty chocolatey, but not overboard,” I suggested.

“Um hmm. Almost deluxe chocolatey but pull back a little bit, right?”

“Yes! That sounds good.”

My mother and Marianna returned from the bathroom as Eddie started his creation. Marianna’s wicked laugh was interrupted by her number one mantra, ‘Oh my God/Oh my God,’ and my mother’s face was beet-red as she kept telling Marianna to hush. They sat down, my mother as if she had ants in her pants, Marianna in her slow, pregnant descent.

I looked at her with keen curiosity. I hadn’t seen Marianna laugh in a very long time. Cry, yes. Whine, yes. Bitch, yes. But laugh?

“What is so funny?”

“Marianna, shut up. Ruth, don’t worry about it,” my mother said. Aunt Lelia was smiling her big pie face at my mother while Marianna continued her ‘Oh my God’ line ad infinitum.

“Is it really gross or something?” I asked, still enraptured by Eddie’s handiwork with what I knew was going to be the best milkshake I’d ever had.

The waitress-cook returned to her post in front of the grill not saying a word but awaiting Marianna’s order. She seemed a bit aggravated since Aunt Lelia had mentioned hepatitis. Eddie had gone around the corner with the silver cup, and as I craned my neck, I saw the makings of my milkshake starting to spin on the milkshake caddy. The noise of the machine forced the waitress-cook to yell at Marianna.

“What’s it gonna be, barefoot?”

Marianna settled down and blinked at the menu.

“Let’s see. Well, what’s the doctor order?” Marianna asked.

My mother, Aunt Lelia and Marianna howled once more, my mother slapping her hand on the Formica like she was in a jug-band. My aunt stammered, “Stop! I’m gonna pee my pants!”

Eddie returned with the silver cup. He pulled a fancy soda-fountain type glass from below the counter and set it in front of me. He carefully poured the chocolatey-deluxe-but-pulled- back-a-little milkshake into it.

“Whipped cream?” His eyebrows shot up quizzically as he took in my family.

“Yes, please. And excuse the laughing hyenas,” I said.

The waitress-cook who was nodding her head, lit another cigarette and rested her gray eyes on Marianna.

“I know what you need,” she said with a thin smile.

Eddie, considerate thing that he was, tore off all but the tip of the paper on a straw and stuck it in the center of my creation.

“Enjoy,” he said then returned to his seat beside me.

I took a healthy slurp and mixed the whipped cream a bit with the straw. I was right: that was the best goddamn milkshake I had ever had.

“So, where y’all headed?” Eddie asked.

“Tulsa. To see my sister. This is really delicious, thank you.”

“Your sister? She ain’t your sister?” He twirled his almost-gone milkshake in Marianna’s direction.

“No. She’s my cousin. But she’s really good friends with my sister Angie, on top of being her cousin too. That’s why she’s got to come with us–they’re real close,” I said.

“Off to Tulsa, huh?” Eddie grunted.

“We’re having an intervention. My sister’s in a bad situation,” I said, as if I knew how interventions worked. I looked up to see the waitress-cook shaking out a mess of fried circles into a paper bag. She shook it gently, threw in some salt, poured them out on a plate, then placed it in front of Marianna.

“Thousand Islands, Ranch or both?”

“Are these fried pickles?” Marianna squealed.

“Just what the doctor ordered, darlin,’” the waitress-cook said as she turned back to the cooler and brought out the two containers of Thousand Island and Ranch. Marianna asked if she could please have a decaffeinated soda.

As Aunt Lelia and my mother adjusted the time frame of arriving in Tulsa and Marianna scarfed down her pickles, I contented myself with my milkshake and Eddie’s company.

“Do you work here?” I asked, knowing he must.

“Yeah.”

“Is there something funny about your bathrooms?”

“No. Not that I can think of,” he said.

“‘Cause for some reason, my mother and my aunt do not want me to use them.”

Eddie sniffed, sucked up the rest of his milkshake and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

“Makes you want to go to the bathroom, don’t it?” he asked, not a tinge of malice or smart aleck in his voice. He was right.

“Yeah, I kind of do, even though you know, I don’t have to go,” I confessed.

“Well, this here’s a small operation. And the bathrooms are shared by the bar. This is a roadhouse, did you know that? We get all kinds of good bands in here Friday and Saturday nights. I mean, this? This is just to keep the drunks a skosh soberer by feeding ‘em.”

I looked around. That’s why it looked so big from the outside, because it was–it was a Road House. With some vast dance floor somewhere, probably a riding bull too. And pigs and chickens playing banjos and God knows what else. I looked over at Marianna in her pickle heaven and then to my mother and Aunt Lelia. They had invited the waitress-cook into their calculations, all three with consternated looks on their faces. My mother was smoking one of the waitress-cook’s Kool 100’s.

“I’ll be right back,” I whispered to Eddie, leaving my state champion of a milkshake on the counter.

I ran through the tight maze of tables and down a darkened hallway. There were two doors. On one door, there were three cartoon cats: a gray one, a pink one, and an orange one. They were fluffy and curvaceous with eyes at half-mast. A cartoon bubble hung over the mouth of the orange cat and painted inside was the word, ‘purrrr.’ On this door read the word ‘Pussys.’ On the other door, there was a black cat equally frisky-looking sitting on her haunches. Standing above her was a cartoon boy-cat wearing a white lab coat and glasses. A stethoscope ran from his rascally ears down to the black cat’s chest, his cat lips pursed in a whistle.

On this door read the words, ‘Pussy Doctors.’

“What the?”

This was what was so funny? Bizarre, yes. A bit disgusting. But they made out like it was the funniest thing they had ever seen, something that might make Aunt Lelia pee her pants. As my hand touched the door to push it open, a figure appeared at the opposite end of the hallway. I tried to make out who it was but before my eyes could fully adjust, Eddie was standing right in front of me.

“Hey. I see you found the bathroom alright,” he blurted out and with one hasty push of his arms, he and I were stumbling through the ‘Pussys’ door.

“So what do you think of the bathroom, Ruth?” Eddie’s strawberry breath was hot in my face. I blinked at him, my palms starting their ancient flight-or-fight sweat. He was close enough to count freckles and then, out of my peripheral vision, I noticed the walls of the bathroom. They were plastered floor to ceiling with pictures of naked women and men doing all kinds of stuff. And not drawings or paintings but magazine pages.

I looked back into Eddie’s face, knowing that in a matter of minutes, seconds perhaps, my mother would be storming through the door.

“How’d you know my name?”

“I heard the laughing hyenas talking about you.” Eddie’s face inched ever closer but his hands hung safely by his side.

“Did you like the milkshake?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, my voice cracking.

“What other kinds of things do you like, Ruth?”

I laughed nervously and stepped back into the wall, a photo of a purple-veined penis inches from my nose.

“You’re not gonna want to be in here when my mama comes in,” I said, finding it hard not to smile. Eddie pushed himself against me. Was it all those clothes? Or did I feel something sprouting in Eddie’s pants?

“How old are you?” he asked without making it a serious question.

“Any minute now. I mean, she’s skinny as a twig but she’s mighty. She’ll kick your ass, man.”

“Is that right.” Eddie pinned me against the porn wallpaper. His strawberry tongue shot into my mouth, almost touched my tonsils. My lips stung a little from the force. Our eyeballs locked when we heard my mother’s voice.

“Ruth? Are you down here?”

“Shit. I told you! Quick, get in one of the stalls,” I said pushing him off of me with a power that surprised us both. He closed the stall door with a snap and I heard him trying to latch it.

“Get up on the toilet seat! Haven’t you ever hid before?” I gasped. The commotion of my mother’s fury masked the sound of Eddie’s bumbling onto the toilet seat.

“Ruth! There you are. I thought we told you not to go to these nasty-ass bathrooms?”

“This? Nothing I ain’t never seen before. The cats on the door are a little weird,” I huffed, crossing my arms over my chest to keep her from seeing my shaking hands.

“There’s PG-13 ha-ha funny,” my mother said, “and there’s R-rated tasteless funny and these here bathrooms–well, they’re in the latter category. Not really appropriate for my fourteen- year-old daughter. Now come on. We’ll never get there in time if we want to catch Angie before her shift.”

“Well, I really do have to pee,” I said.

“You ain’t peed yet? Well go on. Marianna and Lelia are already in the car,” she said, not moving.

I stood there, staring down at my sneakers. Eddie was as quiet as a dead dog.

“Are you going to watch me?” I asked.

“What?”

“I don’t need a babysitter.”

“Ruth.”

“Well, I’m watched like a hawk twenty-four hours a day! You’re so scared I’m going to end up like Angie or Marianna, you can’t let me be me—even a good me or a so-so me. You won’t let me just be me!”

“Ruth, I declare! What in the world!”

“And you know what? I think you might be scared I’m going to end up like you. No, you weren’t sixteen like Marianna but you weren’t far off.”

For that, I should have gotten my mouth slapped but she just stood there, her skinny chest heaving up and down.

“Mama, please. Go on out to the car and let me take a piss in private. I promise you I will not be corrupted between here and there.”

She turned the spigot on full blast, and splashed some water on her face. She stared at herself in the mirror a full minute as I watched the errant spray of water wet the floor. She left the water running and turned to face me.

“Nothing you ain’t seen before, huh?”

I shrugged my shoulders, listening for Eddie.

“That supposed to make me feel better?” she asked, glancing around at the four walls. I walked towards her and hugged her around the middle, pressing my ear against her chest.

“I know I’m your winning ticket, your sure thing,” I said, listening to the wild thump of her heart. “But I am fourteen. I still might be a tomboy but I’m not a baby tomboy.”

My mother started to laugh, then tousled my hair and said, “If you aren’t in that caravan in five minutes…”

“Yeah, okay. Can I have a little privacy?”

“You’ll always be my baby, Ruth,” she said and walked out.

I stood there, trying to figure out how I wanted to spend the next five minutes, since

I knew my mother would be back as sure as my name is Ruth Anne Lancaster. Eddie opened the stall door, walked to the sink and rinsed his mouth out, sticking his whole head in the stream of water. He turned it off, then looked at me in the mirror, as if he knew me but forgot my name, like he was trying to place me. He walked over to me and cradled my neck in his big hands.

“Too bad you’re just passing through.”

“Yeah. We’ve got to, you know, go see my sister,” I said, thinking that must have taken at least two of the minutes.

“Well, maybe y’all will stop in on the way back. If it’s a Saturday night, you can even see my band.”

“Band? What instrument do you play?”

“Drums.”

Three minutes. I looked at the door behind him. I wished he would kiss me again, before I got summoned to the caravan. Eddie must have read my mind, because he did kiss me again, but this time he was careful, like he was trying to pour sand through the eye of a needle. His strawberry tongue, now watered down, moved slowly around the inside of my mouth. Before I could say ‘I gotta go,’ Eddie offered to walk me out to the parking lot.

“Better not,” I said.

“How about to the end of the hall?”

“Um, okay.”

As he opened the door for me, a swoosh of cool air swirled into the bathroom. He grabbed my hand, and we walked down the hallway in silence to the door which led out to the parking lot and the brilliant, hot sun.

* * * * *

M.K. SPAIN is a writer living in South Portland, Maine. Cures for tedium include writing, acting, sword-fighting and spontaneous singing (which, by the way, cures more than tedium). She has a degree in Creative Writing from Colorado State University, and will have a play produced in this year’s Maine Playwrights Festival in Portland. This is her first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Vol. II, Week 4

The first entrants in Dr. Hurley’s First Ever Short Story Contest were posted this week – well, reposted! For the beginning of the contest, we’ve featured our favourite stories from previous contributors, where said Snake-Oiler has nominated their story for entry in the contest.

Check out the featured tales below, plus some Smithsonian goodness and poeticisms too.

Short Story Contest Entrants

Smithsonian

Poetical

Keep checking back this week for more entries – this time, newbies – in our Short Story Contest!