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Vol.3. No. 3. April - June 2010





Barrie Darke
Bruce J. Berger
Chad Norman
Christian Ward
Chuma Nwokolo Jr
Claire Askew
Colin Gallant
Davide Trame
Gary Beck
Ivor W. Hartmann
Katie Metcalfe
M C Hardwick
Michael Conley
Minna Salami
Pete Court
Roger Elkin
Warren Paul Glover
George Freek




Jelly Bean

Second Prize Winner, SLQ Short Story Competition (April 2010)

Ain't no thing but a jelly bean.  If you say it just right it comes near enough t' rhymin' t' sound good.  Supposed to make light of something big, something folks are impressed with.  Supposed to let folks see how modest you really are.  Catch a pop-fly outta th'sun, win a card game, pick the right horse - ain't no thing but a jelly bean.

Bean sounds more like bing and thing sounds more like theen.  Somewhere in between, anyhow.  Blow your finger nails clean, wipe 'em off on your lapel.  No big deal.  You just play it cool, play it real.  Folks don't dig on a show-off.  You never wanna be a show-off.

Like this one time.  Would have to have been ten, maybe eleven years ago.  Summer, hot and stinkin' the way it is 'round these parts.  Like sweaty gym socks left on the registers.  Folks like where I come from don't got none of that central air.  Lucky to get a patch of shade under the porch.

But I was sittin' there down by the water.  Billy was there, his fishin' pole in the mud, as was mine.  Sam Jackson (we called him the by the whole as there was four Sams livin' out on our patch - Jackson, Thompson, Fuller and Moon) was there too.  Not much for fishin', not much for anything, Sam Jackson had his pipe and a greasy Styrofoam cooler from which to dispense bottles of his own wheat brew.  We had a pint or two 'a the 'Shine - kept handy for medicinal purposes, a' course.

The river was slow an' lazy that day - that whole summer, I recall.  So thick with grit you could sand-blast a car before anyone knew it'd been sunk.  Not much t'catch but still we had t'try.  It was mostly about sittin' there.  A week's work was done.  My dogs was barkin', but a few a' Sam Jackson's home brew (and a tug or two a' the 'Shine - for medicinal purposes, a' course) an' the pain went far away.

Just sittin' there did it.  Booze might a' helped, but the sun an' that breeze off the water - an' that ol' camp chair a' mine - did the trick.  My back just melted into that chair.  Sweat pricked and chilled.  I was just feelin' good.  Didn't care if nothin' came for a nibble at the pole.  Clara had burgers in the ice box an' we coulda had them.

I could hear the kids playin' down the way.  Ours was too young to be out, but Billy's little Sandra woulda been nine then.  Figured she was just a-lordin' it over the pack.  She was good at that.  Don't know 'bout fair - but good at it all the same.  Sam Jackson was a bachelor.  Always was, always would be.  A few of the older boys was playin' ball in the common.  Most had gloves.  Those that didn't - well, they had calluses.

Just another Friday evening.  No different than any other.  Cares were simple.  Stress?  That's a city word.  We had our worries but they amounted to naught but water under the bridge.  We got by.  Even when times was tough, we got by.  I could always put a pole in the mud.

Sam Jackson was talkin'.  He was always talkin', on account he had no one but a three-legged mutt to yak at when he got home.  We listened - or he thought we listened.  He was hard t'follow at times, having lost most a' his teeth with the years.  An' he only had so many stories t'tell.  By the time I was a father for the first time I'm sure I heard 'em all enough times t'make up a baker's dozen.

I was kinda listenin'.  Mostly I was just wide open to the whole town.  That crack of a bat an' ball, Sly Preacher up yonder, strummin' on his guitar.  Carried like woodsmoke.  No voice to speak of, but, dang, them hands could work the guitar!  There was traffic out on the Interstate.  That would be near to two miles and just a drone, but it was there.  Rich folks goin' home from their offices to their Suburbs - infill, we called it.  Swamp'd be back soon enough.

It woulda happened right about when Sam Jackson was draggin out the Mason jar again, gettin' ready t'pass it around.  I came to hear the silence from yonder ways.  Them kids was all just quiet-like.  Made my skin prickle hearin' it - not hearin' it, rather.

Now, if somethin' bad they knew happened, It woulda' bin' all screamin' and hollerin'.  That I could do with.  I'd fetch up there and find me a young buck with a fist full a' snake or a baby gator too small t'more'n break the skin.  I give 'em a rap upside the head an' get back t'my pole.  But that's Friday evenin' for ya.  Same as any other.

The hush of 'em kids was different.  It meant somethin' different.  I got up, just then realizing Sam Jackson's gone an' hushed himself.  He's listenin' too.

"What's all that about?" Sam Jackson says.  He ain't gotten up yet, but you c'n see him thinkin' on it.

"Dunno," I says.  I started up that way, up the cut.  Through a break in the houses I could see the kids - A dozen, an even baker's dozen, standin' in a tight, little knot.  Put a jump in my step, I tell ya.

Billy came next, Sam Jackson close behind, movin' well for a fella near as wide as he was tall.  There we was, truckin along the cut like we had a purpose.  Didn't quite know we had a purpose 'til we drew near.  Seemed it took forever, but we got there.

I saw them legs stickin' outta the pack, jus' twitchin'.  Found that purpose.  Wasn't much of a runner, not then, not in years.  But I managed a good clip over that last bit.  I hollered something 'bout clearin' a hole and busted right in there.

There she was.  Little Sandra.  Face like wax.  Eyes just buggin' right out of it.  Chokin' on somethin' or other.  She was just seconds away from it.

"I didn't do nothin'!"

I heard the protest but wasn't in the blame-layin' game jus' then.  Saw the candy wrapper on the grass an' I knew it wasn't comin' out.  Didn't think.  Just acted.  I looked up just as Billy and Sam Jackson caught up.  Billy was blubberin' something but Sam - he just stood there, eyes like fried eggs.  I saw the jar in his hand.  Two inches from empty.

"Gimme that knife a' yours, Billy!" I barked.  It was somethin' I hadn't done in years, givin' a command like that.  Back then I was used t'the boys snappin' to when I did.  Still had the trick of it. "A dollar to the first one a' y'all can find me a straw - a good fat one!"  The kids, down to just a dozen, jumped at the chance for a whole greenback.  They scattered an' I figured I was down t'no more'n fifteen seconds.

Billy had his knife out, slapped it into my palm like a real, honest to God, surgery room nurse.  I could hear running feet; the contest for my dollar was nearly won. "Sam Jackson, gimme that, there jar!" My next command.  It was snapped to just as crisply.

Beth Andrews won my dollar with a yellow and white wonder straight from the nearest McDonald's.  I splashed Sam Jackson's precious Moonshine over the blade a' Billy's knife - one I knew to be kept sharp enough t'shave with - and more up and over the straw.  I spared some for my hands and the dregs went over little Sandra's throat.

Now, I never had done this before myself.  I'd seen it done back in the service - twice in fact.  Don't recall what the doc called it but that don't matter.  Billy's little girl was turnin' a shade of blue just not natural on a living thing.  Her legs were still moving some, but it was her hands that was gonna be troublesome.  Grabbin' and such at her own face.

"Billy," I says in that same tone, "you hold 'er steady now." And, bless him, he did.  Didn't say nothin' neither about me with a knife sharp enough t'shave with over his little girl's neck.

I made the cut -  just a small one - and I waited for the bubbles.  They came real quick.  And just like the doc, I turned the blade t'open it.  Stuck the straw right in there before pullin' Billy's knife out.  Easy as pie.

Now Sandra, she managed a breath.  Then another.  We held her steady.  Kept her calm for the ambulance.  An' that was that.  They tried t'give me a plaque.  I just said, Ain't no thing but a jelly bean.

Meant every word of it.

The end.



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