|Portrait of Al. A. Money (buy this for $220)|
“Al?” There was only one person in the world who still called him that. Alfred set the sidecar he'd been sipping casually from back down on the bar and turned on his stool to get a good look at her. She was wearing clothes that fit her better, with her strawberry hair done in some style that flipped out at the ends. Like two whale fins growing out of her head, she would have said with disdain, but that was years ago.
She shifted her weight uncomfortably. Clearly the pumps were a new addition to her aesthetic repertoire, as was the diamond ring on her finger. “Can I sit down?” she asked, motioning to the empty barstool next to her.
He looked at her straight in the eyes, then shrugged.
“I don't know. Can you?”
The stool scraped noisily two inches to the left as she scooted it away from Alfred's. Typical, like the scotch and soda she ordered as soon as she was situated. The air between them was leaden, static even while they drank their respective poisons, trying to think of something to say. On the small stage at one end of the club, some smooth piano piece accompanied the soft singing of a pretty-boy crooner. Alfred wondered if the man realized that all he was good for was background noise for people trying to lose themselves in booze and meaningless pity from strangers.
His mind wandered over to the woman to his left. There were more lines on her face than he remembered—not that he remembered much of her face other than tight-knit brows and nostrils flaring in rage—and her eyes that used to burn with a passion for just about anything that struck her fancy were now quiet.
It wasn't like her to be so demure.
“How have you been, Al?”
“Better.” He paused for a moment before remembering his social graces. “You?”
Christine nodded, looked down at her glass, then back up at him. “I've been good. I'm—”
She smiled sheepishly. “Yeah.” He's great, and really good with the kids. He's a doctor, buys me everything that I ask for, and even stuff that I don't. And he's home every night, that's the important thing. He's everything that I ever wanted from you.
She didn't have to say it aloud; he could read it in her eyes. Always could, always will. She'd been his first, after all. Three hours later, and it was last call, but she was still talking about how the kids had been doing, lying to him about how much they missed him. It was from the bottom of her heart. He knew a part of the each of them was still very much in love.
Suddenly he smirked, then put on his fedora and set some cash down on the counter for both his and her drinks. “It was nice seeing you, Christine,” he said, one last time.
Alfred walked out of the club and into the cold Chicago midnight with a smile on his face, hoping that she'd gotten what she came here for.
This competition was filled with art school slackers, low rent gigolos, low end lawyers, marginal millionaires, private dicks and aging sex kittens. All straight out of the genre of B level noir flicks. These undesirables circle like vultures around the dead carcasses of failed ventures and relationships that they really didn’t want or need in the first place.
Elisa Bandy and Patrick Nelson both dealt with Al’s world by creating a noirish kind of story complete with the clever turns of phrases and verbal fencing that you might expect from barflies. I’ve actually sat at a bar and had a similar buzzed conversation with an ex-girlfriend that Bandy described though the ending was a little different but not much better. Nelson’s story was a sort of a young art student’s self loathing rush into a relationships that was out of his depth. Both Bandy and Nelson’s stories had the ring of truth and I think a lot of guys have gotten stomped by their own personal femme fatales the way Nelson describes. I think that Bandy takes prize because she nails the story in the fewest moves with the most punch. (I think in the catalog I may publish both of Bandy’s and Nelson’s stories together.)
As in Bandy’s story I think sometime Al get’s the better deal but maybe I’m wrong. Sometimes, Al thinks he’s come up smelling like a rose but smells like fertilizer instead. For example in “SCRUBBED UP SOMETHING NICE” by Dee Turbon there’s a cheap lothario version of Al who just might get himself out of the frying pan and into an inferno. I think the same is true of “The Phoenix” by Gigi DeVault and D. Bellenghi’s Al who’s an attorney. (I’m actually surprised that I didn’t anticipate that he might be an lawyer in some of the stories! What was I thinking?) I think that DeVault’s ending is really worth great!
In a league of their won and much more playful were “A Nice Suit” by D. Charles Florey, “Where, Oh Where?” by Royce Ratterman and “May it Please the Court” by Helen Chapman. These stories shared some fun pun-ish kind of names that really relate to the spirit of this project such as the firm of Slique, Cheatham & Howe. Both stories had a strong sense of an era in which divorce hearings matter and the characters leave in a Ford Fairlane. Ratterman’s story was a cute bait and switch that turns the genre in on itself. Chapman plays with “Slique” characters and Mormon elders. Some of the alliterative dialog was worth a sly chuckle as Al tries to weasel his way out of another fix or in the case of Chapman, Al might just ease into the next best thing.
You guys all rock! Thank you so much for writing these stories.
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