Table of Contents

Fall 2007

Short Stories

Bus Stop

Deep Freeze

In the Ditch

Missed Connections

My Bedtime Buddy

On Silent Feet

Out of Service

Ric With No K

The Rorschach Affair

The Years of the Wicked

Under the Blanket of the Sun

Upon A New Road

Reviews

Ammunition

Bad Thoughts

Beating the Babushka

Bloodthirsty

Hidden Depths

Pay Here

Play Dead

Poison Pen

Silence

Who Is Conrad Hirst

Profiles/Features

Bronx Noir

In For Questioning

Together We Write

Profile: Derek Nikitas

Pelecanos Country

Interviews

George Pelecanos

Robert Fate

Rick Mofina

Kevin Wignall

Short Story: MISSED CONNECTIONS by Kaylea Hiscall Champion

My throat tightens. She’s moving shyly along one side of the shop, a playful smile on her face, balancing her coffee and a muffin in one hand, clutching a red leather purse in the other. Her blond curls bob as she giggles and talks over her shoulder to the counter staff.

Angela. It has to be you. Your hair has never been curly before, but women are always changing their hair. You’re walking toward me. Of course. I’ll look up, our eyes will meet, you’ll smile, you'll pause. Oh, Angela!

But she keeps on walking.

I wait and wait. I wait four hours for her, trying to read a book to pass the time. But I couldn’t focus. I don’t even remember to turn the pages. I just keep staring at the little dance of ants across a crumbling sheet of paper. Where is she? I shove the book into my jacket so hard I could hear the seams straining.

I walk down the street, and I was just slipping into a sweet little vision of her warm soft hands curled around mine, her blond fluffy curls scattered around her face like a crown, and –

SCRRRREEEEECH – red car bright lights street sidewalk what the hell?!
Breathe. Nothing broken. I’m ok. What was that?

I shout at the car as it roars past – “Pedestrians have the goddamn right of way!” Some freaky chick in an orange junker had come inches away from running over my foot! The car tore away down the street as fast as it had come around the corner. An oval charm dangling from the rearview mirror swung from side to side, flashing in the streetlights.
I hurry home and sit upstairs in my chair, the hard wooden one by the window, tearing a small square out of the back of the newspaper. I bend over the ragged-edged paper and write very slowly and carefully, staining my fingers with ink. I’m not going to give those newspaper people any excuse to make mistakes this time. This one was going to work.

---------------------------------------
Clark Street Coffee Shop, 12/9. You:
blueberry, mocha, and bouncy curls —
blue eyes, green sweater. Me: Cranberry,
auto-drip, flattop — dark eyes, black down
jacket. Our eyes locked, but I was too shy.
Coffee? Match #7345
---------------------------------------

I watch myself from ten feet in the air; watch myself turn further toward her. I cock my head, ever so slightly, towards the empty table next to mine. She doesn’t see the movement. It was so subtle. But somewhere in her brain, the gesture must have registered. A sign for ‘come this way’ has been projected – and she will come. She won't know why, but...oh, turned away. I give another little head-cock, a little less subtle. She doesn’t see it.

The table I chose for us is broad, so she can spread out a newspaper if she wants to read, and the purple velvet chair beside it is perfect for relaxing. Angela likes purple. She has a backpack with her this time – homework? Angela, when did you go back to school? The back of the chair I picked for you faces the fire. A fake, gas fire, but it projects warmth, and your scarf fringes are dripping with slush. It's just the table you'll like.

She’s just dithering around up there! Pointing at the menu, pretending to consider other options. Playing with me, pretending she can't decide. Just order the mocha, Angela. You always order the mocha. She talks to the guy in line behind her, the one who held the door for her and brushed the snow from her bangs.

Wonder what happened to her curls. Hair with darker streaks than before. That Angela, always messing with her style! Can't she see that she is perfect just as she is, just as she was before?

Two skinny vanilla lattes, blond and blonder, take a seat by the window. My stomach turns over, and my teeth hurt I’m clenching them so hard. I want to get up right then. I want to tell her to wake up, that it’s me. I want to tell him that she’s mine. But I can wait a little longer.

---------------------------------------
Clark Street Coffeeshop 12/16
Sky-blue scarf, purple pack, hair like
sunshine. Me — red cap, brown hair/eyes.
The guy you were with — brother, friend?
A star fell outside as we watched, you
rushed to the window. I talked about the
trajectory and acceleration, should have
asked for your number. The heavens adore
you, let me join them. Match #8142
---------------------------------------

I was late – she must be here already. I look around, but I can’t see her anywhere. I need to buy my coffee first, then I will belong here, and then I will be able to see her.

“Wouldyouliketotry our special Gingerbread Man Mocha? Plus a cookie, just $4.99 plustax.”

Pain shoots through my eyes as they roll up into my head. Why do freaks always work in coffee shops? And ALWAYS with the monotone voice. How could she eat with that thing in her tongue? Nasty. “Coffee, no damn room.”

I sit against the wall of windows, my breath snorting out in clouds as it strikes the frost-scrawled windowpane, staring at the condensation as it spreads and shrinks across the surface of the glass. I run my fingers over the place I marked for her in the table, grooving the varnish with her name. ANGELA.

I can see her easing her way into the seat, smiling and a little flustered with all her jackets and bags and useless outer layers, peeling away everything that separates us until she sits before me in a little tank top – pink, she likes pink, I’m sure she likes pink because she has to, doesn’t she? Yes, pink. Tank top. And then she was really there, just inches from me. She had tried to sneak past me, the clever minx. But no, I looked up in time. The tiniest of vibrations could alert me.

It is Angela. She’s plumper, shorter. But she is still Angela.

I wait, watch, wait. She sits down in a cushy chair on the opposite side of the shop. I’m such an idiot, I should have sat there, I should have known that she would want a comfortable chair after her long day, and here’s our table with only hard chairs beside it, no upholstery in sight.

I keep my eye on her, watching her little movements. When she is ready to leave, I know it as soon as she does. I stand up at the same time, and make it to the front door just a few steps before her. Perfect. Oh, it’s more perfect than perfect. I hold the door open for her, and then it is time. I am ready. I seem to slip on the ice under the awning, just a little, and bump her off-balance. But I won’t let her fall; I wouldn’t. I reach for her hand, but only skim her knuckles, managing to clutch only her sleeve. Soft, her hands are so soft.

I laugh a little at our predicament, and she responds with a genuine giggle, brimming with affection for me. My other hand is very quick. Her glove disappears into my pocket, and my book nestles itself deep into her open tote when I bend to retrieve it, apologizing for knocking it into the snow.

I put my arm across her back, to make sure that she was steady, to keep her warm a moment longer. But she must have somewhere to be – that Angela, always so busy! – and she rushes away. She glances back at me a few times, though – that’s how you know, when they glance back, that’s how you know for sure. And so I stand there in the cold, watching her walk away, my hand in my pocket, fingering her purple glove.

Contact.


---------------------------------------
LOST: Autographed copy of ‘Lords
Of Seleucia’. Inscribed to James from
the author. Great sentimental value.
Reward. Call 773-541-6232, leave msg.
---------------------------------------

No one calls me for three days. I don’t go out. I just stand at my window and wait. I am standing there, staring down at the street, when I see something that makes my blood boil. Dropkickable poodlething on a red leash. What do you know, a goth chick enslaved to a fluffy white dog. She'd better not let him on MY lawn. I pound on the window, pointing with one hand and drawing my other hand across my throat, except what I mean is that it’ll be his throat. Actions have consequences. She has to know that. Don't even try it. Wave your little baggie at me all you want, smirk, whatever. Everyone knows what you'd do if you weren't watched.

“Liketotrya sweet almond latte? Special today, $2.99 plustax.”

Did they THINK I wanted one? Did I ever order anything but coffee, black?

“They'regreatforwarming you up on a colddayliketoday. Regular price is $3.39. Youcansave ten percent!”

I conjure up the blankest, most baleful stare I possess.

Another cheerful voice rings in; the other counterbot is getting into the pitch now too, taking my irritated pause as a sign of indecision. “They're really good. Doubleshot espresso, steamed milk, good dose of syrup. Smothered in whipped cream...yum!”

Is that her coming around the corner? I relent. No time. “Sure, whatever. As long as it's fast.” Have to get to the table, have to settle in and look natural. Faster not to argue.

Deep sip. Another sip. The coffee is bitter. That makes me laugh, on the inside anyway. Apparently sweet almond didn’t really turn out that way. I should’ve gotten the drip. I take a deep pull from the cup, willing the bitter stuff into my stomach, feeling the caffeine flood my veins.

I wait. Another blonde walks in the door – no, that one’s a fake. I notice that my leg is bouncing. That makes me look anxious. No one likes me when I look anxious. I try to look comfortable.

A voice behind me. “James?” Did I miss her approach? I crane my neck around, as casually as I could. A strange girl in little black braids and a flashy eyebrow piercing was smiling at me.

“Yes...?” Who is this, and why is she here? What if Angela sees her here? This is going to ruin everything. All she’s doing is standing there and smiling at me. She has one of those awful tongue-bars and she clicks it against her front teeth. She flips those black braids around, looking nervous. What is this? Then she slides a book across the table. I open it. Yes, this is mine. But this is not Angela.

“You're not....” I try to speak, but I’m feeling so angry now at this imposter, this freak. She gives me this big smile, so big I can see that tongue-bar again and the glisten of her big horse teeth.

“Do you have my glove? I think I lost it when you bumped into me the other week... I didn’t introduce myself, I’m sorry. I’m Angela, Angela Todd.”

An oval nametag hangs around her neck on a thick chain reading “Rose M.” under the coffee shop corporate logo.

I can barely read it – my eyes are all wrong, and the room is starting to twist and reel around me. My legs and arms feel heavy. I have to squint and strain to keep my eyes open. One thought thuds through my brain. I have to get out of here.

I stumble a little but I make it to the door, bells going off all around me, no jacket. I think I can make it, get away, get somewhere else, but the ice is thick and I am so clumsy all of a sudden. I fall heavily against a faded red junker parked crooked and halfway up on the sidewalk.

I try to look up, but I can’t see anything, can’t move, can’t scream, can’t – I feel someone bending over me. One whispered sentence crawls into my ear as I lay there, blind and bleeding in the snow. “If I can’t have you, then none of your damn Angelas can either.”

About the Author:
Kaylea Hascall Champion is a Chicago-area writer. Her chief vices are buying more literary journals than she can read and growing more tomatoes than she can eat. Her fiction is forthcoming in The Literary Bone.