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FOUR STORIES

ONE

I can remember the day this photo was taken. I was only eleven when grandma Lucille had her seventieth birthday party at the ocean house. Something had caught grandpas eye, causing him to wonder to the edge of the dock.

He had been a gentle man, with much more patience than anyone else I’d ever known. I had always wanted to see him scream or curse in front of me, especially when my siblings had done something stupid.

That’s what had caught his eye, too. They had been standing at the dock and throwing their salami sandwiches to the seagulls there in the left-hand corner of the Polaroid. But like always, he met them with patience. 

The wind had picked up and caused the little hairs grandpa had left atop his head to rustle and grandma’s colorful balloons to bounce on the wooden rail. 

Grandpa walked slowly, down each step of the stairs carefully to reach where the kids had been standing along the rocks. He used everything as a teaching moment, and somehow grandpa could whisper and all ears would find a way to hear that he had said. They had all lowered their full hands to hear, “Birds do not eat salami kids, but look at ‘em, they sure do like it, don’t they?”

Sometimes, I’m afraid one day I’ll forget what he was like, how his voice sounded, and even the way he’d laugh through his nose. Or even the different colors of track suits that he owned. I wonder what happened to those when he passed. 

If I try really hard and look back at this photo- I can remember it all.

Story by Abbigale Overbay

TWO

The thing they never tell you about Southern California is the smell. That’s all I could think of my entire time there. It was everywhere, in the hotels, whispering off the food, within the warmth of the people’s’ breath, in the recycled air of the taxi cab blasting through the highway at speeds unimaginable just two-hundred miles north, at every single ocean vista, spilling out of the waves in a rolling effluvia that to this day I can not forget.
Why my son ever decided to move there will forever remain a mystery. Whoever can survive that intrusive smell every ever-living moment for a majority of their existence is fucking psychotic.
You listen to me, don’t ever throw a child’s birthday party on a pier, like my idiot kid did for my grandson. Imagine this awful ocean wind mixed with a smell so prevalent, so just utterly there, like it was a by-product of each and every single atom that made up the place.
Fuck. The poor kid cried the entire time. The balloons were filled with regular air instead of helium, some shortage they’re worried about down in L.A.. Yeah, I don’t know.
What really topped the whole thing off, outside of the smell of course, was a seagull dove in and decimated my piece of the ice cream cake. The bastard didn’t even get any, he just tore it to shreds. Birds are no good, no good at all.
My poor grandchild, cried the whole time. Couldn’t stop. How could she, it was horrendous. I swear, I saw more smiles during Vietnam.
You know what, I don’t know where the smell came from. But honestly, everywhere I went it followed, every single place. Fuckin a’ man.

Story by Mason Ahrens

THREE

Sighing and staring off into the distance, Howard heard the familiar click, click whir of the Polaroid camera. Posing was so forced and he was out of practise. People didn’t want to take his photo very often and he was glad, but this was a special occasion and if Heather didn’t get a photo or two he’d never hear the end of it. It’d been like this for a long time, on special occasions. He couldn’t see the appeal himself, it’s not like there wouldn’t be other birthdays but if it pleased her, he guessed he’d go along with it.

The meal was a birthday present, paid for by his daughter, Susan, but mostly her lawyer husband, Mike. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t touched. He wasn’t the type to accept handouts but it would have been rude not to and when he saw Heather’s eyes light up, well, that settled it.

She’d asked him to step outside, to look out at the ocean, and he’d obliged. He needed the fresh air.

It was odd, socialising with these familiar faces, acquaintances, all of a certain age. He was suddenly very aware of his own mortality, not that he needed reminding, his creaking joints were proof enough of that. Getting old was all he thought about these days.

Secretly, he resented the polite conversation. It was all a little too comfortable, all a little too safe. It was like everyone was just going through the motions. Somewhere along the line they’d forgotten to live.

Sometimes, he’d think back, to that other life, the one that had been his before getting married to Heather, the mortgage and the kids. He still thought about her sometimes but the memories had started to fade years ago, now he could barely see her face. Still, it didn’t do much good to reminisce. Those choices were made a long time ago.

For now he had the view, Heather and Susan and all he had to do was smile.

Story by Kat Ward

FOUR

I remember thinking he looked far away that day.

“No more than usual,” Ann muttered through a mouthful of jam sandwich (white, crustless). I always hated the way they spoke about him.

I glanced around, mid-conversation, fully-bored, and caught him propped up against the railings, frozen like a mannequin.

I remember thinking about Elvis, and the time I saw him at Madame Tussaud’s, mid-thrust, chin titled to the ceiling. I remembered wanting to grab both of his lifeless wrists and twist together, to push my stubby fingers into his parted pearly whites and pull out a little more conversation.

“Smile, Granddad!” squeaked someone small.

For a second, I could’ve sworn he was readying himself for a jump, his spine curled, frame yearning for the horizon. We all watched. Maybe he changed his mind.

“He can’t hear you, love.”

Flash.

I pulled up next to him, pointlessly slapping my shoes against the stone-slabbed promenade so as not to startle him. The tide was going out as the sea reclined back into the sky and, with our faces to the wind, the party sounded like a muffled sitcom through a plasterboard wall. We stood for a minute or two, me flicking an orange balloon from side to side with my thumb and forefinger.

I could hear him gulping down the North Sea air like a hungry baby. I listened, grateful.

“So beautiful…”

Startled, I turned to catch his words, but by the time I’d got there, they had gone. He had gone; his blank, lipless mouth a curved crack in a distant desert where no light fell.

But I heard him. I was sure I heard him…

Everyone said it was probably just the gulls.

Story by Jennifer K. McGowan

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