Key Sticking In

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2021

She felt for the lock in the dark,
coming home late, key sticking in
at the plate,
leaving a mark and a scuff,
click click stuck stuck fuck ugh
– flipped her fist to a strain,
and then
– just –
cold
air through the threshold, through her and then
sense in the skin, not the head.
She got in
good, rest at the bedposts.
Stood on lead pins.
With a tick of the clock she stopped –
she dropped in the dark and got off.

Summer 2020

by Chris Buchanan
Short story, 2021

Two former friends meet up for brunch after everything has changed. They sit and watch the divide.

“Yeah,” I sigh, “Yeah all right, obviously all lives matter.” She throws a little shrug as if to graciously accept my surrender. I hold up a forefinger – let me finish. Her limbs give way. “But all lives aren’t being snuffed out by cops kneeling on their goddamn necks!”

Katie’s expression dismisses me immediately. She raises her own forefinger when a waitress comes over, smiles and takes our coffee cups.

The waitress is Mexican. We’re silent. I pretend to fix my hair and glance at the protesters outside. Katie sees someone get out of the elevators.

Could she hear us? And fuck, why am I embarrassed? Plus she’s not even black. Still.

When she’s gone –

“You know that man was resisting arrest. Amy, he was intoxicated, he was talking back top the –”

“Jesus Christ, shut up! Christ. I don’t want to hear – just shut up!

Katie shuts up. She looks as exhausted as I am, and my raised voice has shaken us both out of it. We hold eye contact but after a little while it’s too much. I hope no-one’s listening.

The bar staff look either Asian or Indian or something. There was a white lady at the front desk, she had an accent. I guess hotels don’t pay too good. The restaurant staff are all super polite. This is why you have to tip.

I suddenly feel a little ill, being served. It was a mistake coming here.

It’s just – they serve real good brunch. Katie and I used to make our dates come along because the place was ours. Safe. We never rented a room, hell I don’t think we ever made reservations for dinner, but we had the place for brunch. Even when we moved out of town and it wasn’t practical, we kept coming back. Right until college.

The front of the ground floor restaurant is just a clean wall of glass, curling around to meet the concrete in five flat sheets at each end, like a geodesic dome. We used to people-watch from here.

I glance outside again. It’s really filling up out there. Young black folks, some whites among them – allies – cool-looking people. I should be there. I didn’t know about the protest. I knew they were going on across the country, I’ve seen the news. I didn’t know there’d be one here, today. Maybe I should get out there. Can you just show up and start chanting?

Lots of signs that look like ripped cardboard – the sides of packing boxes, stuff like that. Slogans on them in Sharpie or poster paint.

Black Lives Matter, obviously. I Can’t Breathe. He Mattered. Silence = Complicity. White Silence is White Violence. Let Me Breathe. Say Their Names. And the names.

George Floyd. David McAtee. Joy Gardner. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Kalief Browder. Ahmaud Arbery. Tamir Rice. Breonna Taylor. Laquan McDonald. Atatiana Jefferson. Mark Duggan. Sheku Bayoh. How Many More.

I hear Katie’s hands in her purse. I open the plastic wrapper of my biscotti, rather than say anything.

She mumbles, “Terrorists,” to herself, loud enough for me to hear. I just close my eyes.

This was a huge mistake. I knew our friendship had suffered. I knew it was my fault. And I knew that it was too late to get it all back once Trump had happened and we had gone our separate ways. Why did we bother meeting up?

We didn’t used to care about politics.

If Katie’s mom were still alive she’d slap her silly for that confederate statue shit on Facebook. What a night that was, reading that god-damn diatribe that just showed up on my phone. I had read a lot of it before I unfollowed. It sounded like someone else. There was so much glee in there. This was a high school bully asserting herself over younger kids, holding heads in toilets and laughing – getting off on the power as she out-argued friends and strangers, winning rightness by superior logic. Maybe she always had that inside her, waiting for the confidence to help it out, but I never saw it.

It’s not the woman who’s sitting across from me, who reached out to me to have brunch again and hugged me an hour ago, before it all started outside. We were just girls in our day. I don’t recognise her hair either. Or the heels.

There’s a loud thud from outside and everyone looks, tenses. There are so many people out there now. And cops. Someone is getting up off the floor – just tripped I think. So many protesters now you can hardly see the street. Should they be social distancing, with coronavirus and all? I don’t know. Maybe this is more important. I don’t know.

As if to mock me Katie speaks up. “Where did all this liberal shit come from, Ames?”

Hell, where did it come from? New friends, I guess. New talk show hosts. New tweets, new channels. Or whatever.

In a moment, the slow-marching river of people outside surges. Suddenly it’s not a march, it’s running, yelling, we can hear muffled voices. Cops on two sides, closing, shields.

And now the cops are running too. Mouths open. Some of them with arms out – trying to say something. Faster when no-one hears.

I wonder if my car is safe out back.

In the chaos, there’s a moment when a woman is shoved into the glass, hard enough to shake it in its translucent fixtures. Her skin is real dark, a varnish of sweat bringing out a kind of hot maroon in the glass, between her cornrows. Inside our hotel lobby, there’s a silence. This woman has a shield pressed into her back and her arms are sticking out at painful angles. She looks dazed – her head is what shook the glass – but she’s scanning all of our eyes.

I only notice that my body has frozen stiff when I try to move my neck. As I sit there with my biscotti between thumb and forefinger, wobbling a touch, I panic.

Everyone in the restaurant is fixed on this, but backing up. There’s a lot of murmuring, people getting scared.

I should –

The shield relents. The woman gets up and throws herself like a doll, between a white couple with a big sign – wood, not cardboard. They instinctively let her through the gap and brandish the sign like a shield of their own. She’s gone. Someone else is yelling something a few feet further up, but I can’t see them. By now the protesters are moving off of the high street and splitting up, spilling randomly into side streets. Faster and faster.

It just goes on, like the news, while we watch.

And then it eases. It’s passed us.

I relax my fingers once enough people have dispersed. The police are calming; they’re no longer giving chase.

Katie says my name.

“You wanna go home?”

The Giraffe-Necked Woman

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2020

Pretty sure no-one else can see
the giraffe-necked woman.
She only sees me:
she looks no-where else,
waits for me motionless behind blinds,
walls, trees, the dark, closed eyes,

her lids are relaxed, always as if amused,
lazily leaned into laughter lines
and her open mouth smile
so distended, her jaw
must be long broken, lips long gaped to
sticking that way, fastened, aching
long open, cartilege stiff,
the look never breaking,

Sometimes I meet her eyes,
stare her down, scrabble for the magic words.
Her reaction is resting there ready,
on me before I speak.

The neck is so I can’t forget, I guess:
she’s never explained any of it.
I get the impression I wouldn’t get it.
Or it’s funnier if I don’t know.

Kong Versus the New Dogs

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2020

I saw them first, the dogs
with the eyes gone white,
eye muscles taught with fright
and hunger til they plinked, snap, flapped back
and couldn’t get back
the right way

I saw them at steel turnstiles
teeth bared at nothing,
nothing I could see, look locked on
at anything that didn’t turn back,
show its belly,
tails bristling, breaking brittle, little knuckle cracks
almost
like a laugh
just like in the history books

and I ran

charging, screaming past words, fighting like an ape,
powerful, King Kong pulling back the jaws,
taking in the claws, fresh wire shooting black to cover the scars
whatever

and I stomped them down and threw them downriver,
cracked their backs and watched them sink, slack,

breathless and done for
now and forever
and they’re gone

no not really

Big Red Dog

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2018

It’s dog eat dog eat dog eat dog eat dog eat dog

up there and the last dog is massive,
pained with the weight of it, outstrained
and bleeding out, impassive.
Red seeping through and thickening the mane,
a Clifford of sin,
breathing breaths so deep to tear the skein,
stretch the skin.

One day blood will pour down redwood bark,
tons of it,
pour through the scratches and rain down thin

’til the ground is filth and the skies are clean
and the seas are filmed, filtered red
like the backs of breeching sharks
and the wings’ll be all too heavy to reascend –
unsolemn silence will smother the holes we open up –
and when no-one comes to help
no-one will cry again.

Horrid Spider

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2018

Me dad he said
the horrid spider
comes
and takes your head.

Me dad he told me
it spits on your lips
then the horrid spider slides
its bulb from behind,
saliva squeezing hips
tight.

Horrid spider babies feed
inside you,
masticating rot, imbibing
dead snot, loosening clots
and lots of babies are freed.
Nose bleed.

Me dad he drew
his fingers through,
smells
of day-old dew.

Me Manifesto

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2017

Here’s a manifesto for the crowd
who’ve come to clap it –
and the rest of you can clock it
between laugh tracks and ad traps
and bulletins and sleep and shifts
in re-tweets and clips –

I’m a strong leader-

That’s basically it. I’m strong, like a bull
and full to the brim with it –
fit and trim, heavy with lustre so
big up my bluster and sing with it –
trust me –

Love me and I will love democracy –
stick with me and maybe
I’ll do something new –
lasso the moon and bring back the past –
lower your taxes too – maybe
whatever it is that you want –

You’ll see –

The Boy from the Badlands

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2017

Rob McFadden, he’s a bad un –
he’s a nasty, gone-off pasty
full of sweaty brawn and internet porn.
Steer clear of his beery back streets
and his alt-right tweets.

He’s a bad lad
an his dad said he’s a mad ed.
I’ve seen him eatin cod and chips
with skeevy teeth and rotten lips.
He dun’t have salt and vinegar –
he just has crack and poppers –
and his eyes are bleedin beadier
than Roy fuckin Cropper’s.

Rub McFadden’s lamp an he’ll chew you
in his greasy gums –
do you in the slack of the black eye
and keep the good un for your mum.

30 Flash Fiction Prompts

Nancy Stohlman

Need a little mid-winter inspiration? Try one of these flash fiction prompts:

1: Write a story in which something transforms into something else.

2: Write a true story that is so ___________(insert adjective here) that no one would believe it’s true. But it is.

3: Find a story you’ve written that isn’t quite working. Chop it down to exactly 100 words. Give it a new title.

4: Write a story that is based in or uses elements of mythology–any mythology from any culture or time period.

5: Bibliomancy–open the dictionary to any random page, place your finger on any random word and poof! That is the title (or part of the title) of your next story.

6: Write a story from the point of view of someone much older than you.

7: Write a story about or featuring a body part. (Heads out of the gutters, people, there are other…

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