Paul Weidknecht, Co-editor
An effective adjustment might be to write shorter, at least temporarily. Flash fiction or flash essays (works usually classified as running 1,000 words or less) can serve as stand-alone pieces for immediate consumption or as the start of longer works such as novels, novellas, or screenplays. In either case, the writer is back at the writing desk, moving forward, creating. One of the appealing aspects of writing short is that after several hours of writing, another or so of polishing, you have a completed piece of work, something whole, an achievement. The same can be said of poetry writing. The change of genre might seem awkward, even intimidating, to fiction and nonfiction writers, but the compact nature of poetry compels the writer to "get to the point," to engage the reader sooner rather than later. Again, the writer has a complete piece of writing from which other ideas and concepts may emerge. In other words, as writers, we do that which primes the pump.
While on the topic of writing short, it might be a great time to take advantage of the extended deadline for our Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award. Until April 30, we will be accepting entries of 2,000 words or less on the subject of "Paranormal.” First place receives $200 and possible publication in the next print anthology by the Bethlehem Writers Group.
However numerous or ambitious our writing aims may be, whether we are racing ahead of them or painfully behind schedule, the ultimate goal of every writer should be to find a way—no, make a way—to sit in that writing chair, because once we get there and stay there for a while, good things are bound to happen.
In this issue: Our featured author is BWG’s own Diane Sinovic, whose short story “In the Delivery” suggests there is more to delivering pizza than making sure the pie didn’t run and getting the right change. The interview for our spring issue is conducted by BWG’s Kidd Wadsworth, profiling the multi-talented Kate Brandes, who talks about her debut novel, The Promise of Pierson Orchard. John Grey shares his poem, “Feedback” with us, and in &More, Melodie Corrigall and BWG’s resident world traveler, Jerry McFadden, present their short fiction.
Dianna Sinovic writes fiction in her off-hours. She has been an editor for most of her career, and currently manages a team of writers and editors for a marketing company that focuses on healthcare information. She’s originally from Kansas City, Mo., but now lives in Upper Bucks County with her husband. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking or paddling her kayak. In the realm of fiction, Dianna writes short stories and is working on a novel.
In the Delivery
The right rear tire blew just blocks away from his second stop of the night. Julius heard the rubber flapping against the pavement and cursed his bad luck. He was already running late and still had a third pizza to deliver.
It was a fitting end to a trying day. He’d overslept and missed his first class, flunked the calculus test because he’d blown off studying to attend a friend’s CD launch party, and now a flat. With only about fifty bucks left in the bank, he’d have to ask his dad for a loan. Your brother never has to ask for money. Yeah, well, Miles is perfect and I’m just average, as you so often remind me.
Julius pulled into the driveway on Highquarters, one half of a brick duplex. He opened the back door of the car and lifted out a large box of sausage and onion pizza. The steam rose from the box against the evening's chill.
He shivered as he pushed the doorbell. From inside, he heard the thunder of TV explosions, interspersed with thumps, crashes, and loud dialogue. "Pizza!" After a moment with no response but another splintering crash, he pounded on the door. Sherilee and her husband, Roy, were regulars. Every other Friday, one large pie, sometimes hamburger, most times sausage. Sherilee always gave him a five-dollar tip and a warm smile. Roy was usually yelling from the living room for Sherilee to bring the pizza in before it got cold.
Julius pulled on the storm door but it was locked. This wasn’t like Sherilee.
He pulled out his cell phone to call Giustino, his boss, but it was dead. "Shit!" If he left for the next delivery, this pie would be too cold to bring back. If he stayed much longer, the other pie would cool past the point of return.
He walked next door and rang the bell. The light overhead came on and the door opened cautiously. A thin man, perhaps in his sixties, in a blue bathrobe, looked out at him.
"Sorry to bother you, but I'm trying to deliver a pizza next door."
"No one is home." The man in the bathrobe spoke with a slight accent. Was he a Turk? Italian? Julius couldn't tell. The room behind him was dim and quiet.
Julius explained again about the pizza. He gestured with the box and his free hand, as if that would give his words more meaning.
"They are not at home," the guy in the bathrobe insisted.
"The hell they aren't," Julius said, exasperated. "Excuse my language but Sherilee gets a pizza every other Friday. This is their Friday. They have to be home." It was useless to go on. "Okay, well, thanks." The door shut behind him as he turned away. He tried the door bell at Sherilee’s one more time. Still just the explosive soundtrack. Giustino would be pissed, but it wasn't his fault.
He put the pie in the insulated bag out of habit. It was already cold, and the other pie wasn't exactly hot by now. Then he remembered the flat tire. He got out the flashlight he kept under the driver's seat to find street numbers at night. The right rear tire was sitting on the rim. He lifted out three boxes of books he was keeping for Tavy and found the jack, but the spare was flabby. The whole night was going to be a wash. Maybe Giustino would spring Alessandro to finish the route. Sandy would rather be driving his Mustang around town than busing tables, but his uncle knew better than to turn him loose for a whole evening.
Julius rang the bathrobe guy’s doorbell again. After a moment, the door opened a crack, as before.
"They are not at home," the man said. He was barefoot and still wearing the robe.
"I know. I'm not here about the pizza," Julius said. "I have a flat tire." He spoke each word distinctly, trying to get his point across. "I need to use your phone. I need to call someone for help."
"I let you use the phone, you leave the pizza." The man was matter-of-fact.
"Well." Julius was surprised. In the two years he had worked for La Italia, he had never bartered for payment. Dead-beats, yes, people a buck or two (or three) short, prank deliveries, but not a trade. "I'm not sure I'm allowed to do that." The man didn't respond but continued to look out the door at him. Julius ran through the rationale in his mind: If he didn't hand over the pie, he would have to walk at least half a mile to the gas station at the corner of Highway 42. It might be closed for the day. He could try another house in the neighborhood, but it was already late. "I'll be right back," Julius said.
Inside the house, Julius set the pizza box on the kitchen table, and the man handed him a portable phone.
"I'll just be a minute," Julius said. He held out his hand. "By the way, I'm Julius."
"Spiridon Petalas," the man acknowledged, then opened the pizza box.
Julius called Giustino. Sandy had just left with three pies but would pick Julius up on his way back. Then he called Tavy.
"Julius!" she hissed. "I'm supposed to be taking reservations. You know this is the crunch. We're backed up and I'm getting dirty looks from the wait list."
He told her about the flat. He couldn't talk about the weird delivery, with Spiridon standing in the same room, eating Sherilee's pie.
"I'll get you at Giustino's when I get off. You're sure you can't get the flat fixed tonight?" She sounded halfway annoyed. He heard her muffle the phone to answer someone’s question. Then she was back, her voice softened to almost a whisper. “I’ve gotta go, babe. But be careful. And don't lose my books."
"Not a problem. They're safe." He handed the phone back to Spiridon. "Thanks."
"You want a piece? I share with you. You sit down, wait."
Julius was not in the mood to hang out with a stranger in a bathrobe, making small talk and eating pizza. He wanted to put the day behind him, to forget the flat, the bad grades, the doubt that ate at him when he talked to Tavy.
She had sat next to him in Econ 101 the second week of class and they shared a laugh as the guy in the next seat over started snoring. Later, she confided in him her dream – to own her own restaurant. She had her path already planned: work as a server and learn the ropes while getting a degree in business. He admired her ambition and fell for her gray eyes. Now she wanted to move in with him to save rent money – they both would, she reasoned. But did it go beyond that? He just couldn’t tell.
"Thanks, but I need to get the spare on. Then I can move the car out of the driveway."
"Your name is Julius," Spiridon said, slipping another pizza slice from the box. "Like the emperor, Caesar."
"He wasn't really an emperor."
"Wienie, weedy, witchy."
Julius shook his head. The night was getting weirder.
Spiridon repeated the words, with a knowing look. He pointed at Julius' right wrist, at the small, tattooed words veni vidi vici.
Julius felt his face flush. "Just a stupid thing to do, I guess."
"You inscribe the words on your body because you would like to think you are Caesar, yes?"
"Of course not." Julius was embarrassed to realize how easily this man who did not know him could uncover his fantasy. He was tired of competing for his father’s approval. Miles was always first – the older son, the better son, and Julius was forever second rate. Someday, he would show both of them, when he was at the top of his game. If he could only figure out what that was. He envied Tavy’s assurance about her future. He daydreamed of making the next big tech breakthrough, of leading the IT industry with his mastery, but he’d never get there if he couldn’t even pass math. "Caesar ruled the Roman Empire. I deliver pizzas and go to community college. There's no comparison."
"But you dream." Spiridon took a bottle of clear liquid and two shot glasses out of a cupboard. He poured a small amount of liquid into each glass. "To your dream." He held up his glass and motioned for Julius to pick up the other.
"I'm not supposed to—" Julius started, but the man looked at him so fiercely that he fell silent and held the glass up. Spiridon drained his glass in one swallow, his eyes closed, and Julius followed, his eyes tearing up at the intensity of the alcohol. The man refilled the glasses and led the way for round two. Julius gasped as the second shot burned his throat, and he put his glass down. "I need to go now," he said before Spiridon could refill it again. "My friend will be by any minute." Sandy wouldn't hesitate to rat on Julius if he got drunk.
"One more, one more," the man said, pouring a third round. "Then you go. You give me pizza, I must be a good host."
"I can't. I appreciate it, but—" Again Julius stopped in mid-sentence. Again the two men, one old, one young, swallowed the fiery liquor. The warmth spread through Julius' chest and into his arms. "Thanks." He walked to the front door more gingerly than he had come in.
The man was behind him. "Julius, you know the date for today, yes?"
"It's Friday, yeah. Have a good weekend, Mr. Petalas."
"I mean the number on the calendar."
"March fifteenth." His head was swimming, but the date finally registered. "Shit, it's the Ides."
"Watch yourself, Julius. The day is not over yet."
Julius took Tavy's books back out of the trunk, heaved out the spare and set up the jack. Four lug nuts came off with some effort, but the fifth would not budge. He took a rock from Sherilee's flower bed and began pounding on the wrench, hoping the extra force would loosen the nut. His head buzzed from the alcohol and he sat down for a moment, leaning against a low stone wall that edged the driveway. The ground was cold, but it didn't matter. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, his thoughts slip-sliding into one another. He woke when it began to drizzle. He pushed himself off the gravel and moved Tavy's boxes into the trunk once more. He kept hammering on the lug wrench with the rock.
Alessandro pulled up, his high beams on. "Hey, Jules, let's roll. I got to get back. My uncle's bitching 'cause I'm taking too long."
"I've got to get the car out of the driveway." Julius pounded on the wrench.
"Let me try."
Julius handed him the rock. "Be my guest."
Sandy stepped closer and sniffed. "You're drunk."
"No, I'm not."
Sandy grinned, which in the glint of the flashlight made him look especially sadistic. "You're gonna get canned."
"Fuck off, Sandy. Just see if you can get the nut loose."
Sandy worked with the wrench for a few minutes, cursing when he lost his grip and brought the rock down on his thumb. "It won't move." He threw the rock down. "You're stuck here. You want a ride or not?"
"Hey! What's going on here?" A woman stood at the front of the car, anger in her voice. She was silhouetted against the duplex’s porch light, and Julius couldn't see her face, but he recognized her voice.
She stepped closer to the two men. “Who’s that?” she demanded.
“Pizza delivery. You didn’t answer your door.”
“Oh, the pizza.” She laughed, a short bark full of sarcasm. “Of course.”
"Do you still want it?" He prayed she would say no. Her pie was on Spiridon’s kitchen table, half-eaten.
"I think I broke every plate in the cupboard," she said.
"I threw one and it felt so good to see it shatter, that I threw another, and another.” She was talking more to herself than to Julius.
"What?" The night had shifted from off-kilter to bizarre.
"I pictured his face on the wall and I aimed at it. That bastard. Orders a pizza, then delivers the killer—he’s leaving.” She almost spit the last two words.
"She offed him?" Sandy said, loud enough for Sherilee to hear.
"Shut up." Julius said. This night was more than he’d bargained for.
“He said we were a mistake.” Sherilee spoke slowly, with vehemence. “A mistake!” She gave another short laugh. “He’s going to Aruba with someone he met at work."
Sandy whistled in appreciation. "It's nice there. My cousin and his friends went a couple of years ago."
Julius turned the flashlight on Sandy. “You are truly a moron.”
“Whatever," Sandy said, his hands up. "I gotta get back. You coming?”
Julius turned back to Sherilee. He had to find out something first. Gently he asked, “Is Roy okay?”
The faint mist turned back to a steady drizzle, and the wetness seemed to defuse Sherilee’s fury into bitterness. “I hope the hell not, wherever he is. I hope he’s hurting big time.” She pushed her damp hair out of her eyes and sighed. “I think I’ll just go back inside.”
“Is there someone you can call? I can stay here until they come.” He’d never get back to the restaurant at this point. “Anyway, my car’s not going anywhere tonight with that flat.”
“Suit yourself,” Sandy said. “I’m not hanging around.”
“Tell Tavy to pick me up here, will you?”
At the same moment Sherilee pulled open the car door. “I’ve changed my mind about the pizza.”
Julius felt as though he had fallen into a strange continuum of time, one that started and stopped in jerks. What had Spiridon said about the Ides of March?
"I’m sorry, but I gave yours to someone else. I’ve got one with pepperoni, though."
"You gave somebody a free pizza?" Sandy said, almost gleefully. “Wait ‘til my uncle finds out.”
"Don’t worry, I’ll pay for it."
Sherilee hesitated. "But Roy doesn’t like pepperoni."
"You said he left! Is he gone or what?"
Sherilee began to cry.
"That was smart, Jules." Sandy said.
"I'm sorry, Sherilee. It's been a long day."
"You're comparing a flat tire to my husband leaving me?"
"Forget it. I said I was sorry." Julius sighed.
Sherilee blew her nose. "I thought I knew Roy, and then I found out things I didn't want to know. He denied them, of course. Then pulls his suitcase out of the closet. He puts a twenty on the table for the pizza and doesn't even say goodbye. Sixteen years and he can't say goodbye."
"So Aruba was a guess?" Sandy said.
"He put it in a letter. The jerk couldn't own up to it in person."
Sandy fake whispered to Julius. “Maybe he’s really lying in there, head bashed in, blood all over.”
"Shut up," Julius said. It was time to finally take charge instead of letting life – his father, Miles, Sandy – walk all over him. “This is what we do. Sherilee, you are coming with us. I’m not letting you stay here, not by yourself.” Not with a houseful of broken pottery shards. “Sandy and I need to get back to work. We’ll drop you at the restaurant, and you can have a pizza on me.”
He moved Tavy’s boxes to Sandy’s trunk, and checked that Sherilee’s house was locked. He settled Sherilee in the back seat of the Mustang next to the pizza bag and then slid into the front passenger seat. Sandy was momentarily subdued. Both he and Sherilee seemed to have accepted that he was in charge. He didn’t know how long it would last, but it felt good. “Let’s hit the road,” he said.
At the restaurant, Julius escorted Sherilee inside and ordered her a pizza. She was smiling, if tentatively, her face streaked with mascara and her hair frizzy from the rain.
“I have a few things to take care of,” he said. “But when I’m done, you’re spending the night with me – us – my girlfriend and me.” Sherilee started to protest, but he stopped her. “We’ve got a couch. It’s no problem.” He hoped it wouldn’t be with Tavy.
Sherilee hugged him. “You’re a good kid.”
He was transferring the last book box from Sandy's trunk to the restaurant foyer when Tavy honked.
"My books?" She took the box from his hands and groaned at the weight. Her face was flushed from the cold and damp. She looked vulnerable, a trait he'd never considered for her. "I forgot how heavy they were."
"Then let me carry them.” At that moment, he knew he could do anything.
"Are you done for the night?"
Julius nodded. "Sandy said he’d take the rest of my shift.” He paused. “Are you sure about this?"
She looked at him, puzzled. "About carrying the boxes?"
"You don't have any dark secrets I need to know about?"
She laughed. "Life is full of secrets. Sometimes you have to take a chance. You have to trust your gut."
Julius let the box of books drop into Tavy’s trunk. What had his namesake said before he crossed the Rubicon? The die is cast? "Stay right here," he said. "Two more boxes to go."
Springtime: The snow finally melts into pools of mud, and the earth is reborn in 50 shades of green. These days, I live in a rural setting, but I’ve also welcomed spring in the city and watched my family’s fruit trees blossom as a girl in suburbia. Spring in the country is the best, I think. Here are some reasons why:
1. Purple crocuses. Yes, this is the stereotypical first bloom of spring. In my yard, the small, cupped flowers keep spreading each year in an ever-wider swathe from my front door.
2. Longer days. Minute by minute, day by day, evening recedes a bit more, and dawn arrives a tad earlier. I don’t have to drive home from work in the dark.
3. Spring beauties. These tiny white flowers (Claytonia virginica) shout, “Spring is here!” But you have to look closely to see them, nestled among the other foliage.
4. Tapping woodpeckers. The downy and red-bellied woodpeckers have been around all winter, but in late March and early April, they begin hammering on hollow trunks, their steady drumroll a mating call.
5. Scurrying chipmunks. The weather is finally warm enough to entice these striped rodents—could they get any cuter?—from their dens to forage for birdseed and the almonds we put out on the porch step—just for them.
6. Roar of mowers. After a winter of dormancy, the grass barely has time to turn green before Team Scythe fires up their engines.
7. Pollen count. In April, the pines lining our driveway make their own clouds that drift across the lawn, the propane tank, and the car windshield, until a yellow scrim has settled over all.
8. Odiferous olives. Invasive Russian olive shrubs, that is. Some people enjoy the intense smell of their flowers, but it turns my stomach. Another invasive, multiflora rose, might be a sly thorny troublemaker, but at least it has a delicate scent.
9. The Bluebell Trail at BWHP. One of Bucks County’s hidden treasures, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve is a perfect place to welcome spring back to the landscape.
10. Wood thrush. I look forward to May 1, when the wood thrushes, catbirds, yellowthroats, phoebes, and other migrating songbirds return to Pennsylvania. I revel in their early-morning chorus, but it’s the wood thrush’s trilling, flute-like song that stops me in my tracks every time.
is still open.
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