Because we like to come out and flash, too

Storytelling from your editors…

Michelle Elvy, John Wentworth Chapin, and Walter Bjorkman contribute to twentysix with creative non-fiction. Following each of those, you’ll find two of their stories from Weeks 14-26, as selected by their Co-Editors. 


Michelle Elvy, Co-Founder & Editor


August 2010

Down South was always home, mint tea and my brothers and me skipping stones in the creek behind Papa’s house, while Patti knitted sweaters for winters that never got too cold. Now the world’s on its head; tea is dinner and Papa is dead. The creek is dry, the house is sold, and I’m skipping birthdays ’cause I feel old.

I bought a map and drove all over but I still don’t know if I’ll ever get used to looking right and shifting left, or finding the sun obliging obliquely as she squats low, old and tired, to the North.

My birthday’s tomorrow. It used to be we’d suck crablegs and chug Rolling Rocks. Now I’m wearing extra socks. In this place down South means August cold snap and a winter gale roaring my wool cap off my head. Tomorrow I’ll celebrate my birthday with a runny nose. I’ll grumble at the misty skies and maybe even shout at the persistent rain. I’ll dream of summer while I drink my bourbon and hear the ice in glasses, tink-tink, as I picture my ma pouring one more Julep from her cracked pottery mug, for me.

But today, while I’m smelling mint and stuck in memories of Papa’s mud and an entire lifetime up North, you squeeze my hand and whisper, you wanna stay?

And I think, yes. Kia Ora, as they say.


The Chair (from week #25 – Least favorite)

“It’s time to move the chair,” said Grandma matter-of-factly. I knew what she meant: time to put the old green easy-chair on the curb, the one with the saggy seat and fraying arms, the one which smelled of oil and sweat and Old Spice and also old age and even faintly of forbidden cigarette smoke. I knew it was time to take it away but dreaded it. That chair had been Grandpa’s favorite. I came home from school every day and found him sitting in his chair. After short happy days at primary school, I would climb into his lap and read him books about farm animals. In later years, I scratched my homework notes sitting cross-legged at the coffee table while he concentrated on crosswords. “Maisy, what’s the world’s tallest building?” he might ask. The Chair was as constant in my life as Grandpa. Prom dates were cross-examined, college friends were greeted from the chair, occasionally asked, “seven-letter word for hairy?” Once I was lectured about smoking from the chair, but I knew Grandpa occasionally snuck outside to grab a Pall Mall – I’d discovered his pack hidden in the coffee table drawer way back during my algebra years.

In the end, the hospital trips were dreadful, the funeral was bitter. But removing the green chair was my least favorite task. I rescued Grandpa’s last pack of Pall Malls from the coffee table drawer, half-carried and half-pushed the chair across the lawn, and chain-smoked his cigarettes ’til dark.


I was never good with people but I had a friend, once (from week #26 – Bad haircut)

This is a story about a skinny girl named Penny. We climbed the monkey bars after school because my dad was usually late to pick me up and her parents arrived even later than my dad. So even if we didn’t exactly intend to be friends, we were — after school, at least, since during school she was the kind who didn’t dodge the red ball, and I was the kind who threw it hard because I could. I reckon I wasn’t the nicest kid, but Penny saw past such flaws and became my friend anyway. I didn’t realize we were friends until one week she didn’t turn up at school and I didn’t talk to or play with anyone or even try hard in gym class. So when she showed up again on the following Monday, I asked her name and we became friends – probably even BFF’s except I didn’t know such cuteness and I had a keen sense that forever was bullshit. When we had an outbreak of lice at school Penny took me to her house and we shaved our heads with an electric razor. My teacher called my dad for a conference but he wasn’t a conference kind of guy so he never showed. We kept our hair short all through that spring. But by the following September, Penny had moved away and my hair had grown out. Everything was the same again — except I stopped throwing dodgeballs at skinny girls.

John Wentworth Chapin, Co-founder & Editor


1972 tunafish is actually a fish in a can

1973 singing makes me happy

1975 if you ignore your brother when he’s mad, it makes him more so

1976 church is boring

1977 there probably isn’t a god

1978 even if you pluck pubic hairs, they come back

1979 pretty girls like you if you’re funny

1985 my parents are imperfect

1988 relationships don’t just happen

1992 being organized is better

1997 it is totally okay to cry and you shouldn’t trust people who believe otherwise

1998 it is easier to lie but only in the short term

1999 if you don’t take care of your body, it will fall the fuck apart while your back is turned

2002 nobody made me make all the bad decisions i’ve made

2005 it’s okay to give up

2007 there can’t be a god

2010 the more you give, the more you get

2011 …


Lineage (from week #23 – Long lines)

Her bleached hair pulled into a dark-rooted ponytail, the girl in pajama bottoms pushes a stroller over a patch of brown weeds in the sidewalk and shouts upward, head tilting slightly, the arc of her invective presumably aimed at the little boy and girl ambling halfway down the block behind her, but this foghorn of animosity broadcasts widely and blankets the block with a simmering layer of teenage bile. She pushes her biracial toddler past me and her voice gets even louder; not a Doppler effect, but some insidious sociological one which demands that this childmother make up for in volume the dominion she cannot claim in life, particularly when being observed. The pair behind her shout back, half-laughing and half-mumbling; this is no argument. This symphony is joined by a new instrument a few moments later, the bellowing of the girl’s mother decrying travesty unseen. I trudge up my stoop as this long line walks by. I turn and survey them, backwards and forwards, seeing the invisible grandmother far behind, and her mother as well behind her, seeing into the future the unavoidable stroller pushed by a scowling teen scouring the same landscape with the same howl of failure born of the longing for the line to break.


Family Circle (from week # 25 – Least favorite)

They all held Christmas back in Pemberton. Only old Mick Turner and FJ – one of the middle sons – still lived in Pemberton, but the far-flung Turner boys and their broods descended upon Pemberton like locusts. The clan had long since outgrown the pine dining room table with its single leaf; FJ set out four long plastic folding tables on the lanai. The old pine table sagged with aluminum trays of meat and soft vegetables. The Turner boys loved the homecoming and their women graciously tolerated it. Family is what it is.

When the hour grew late and the supply of whiskey dwindled around the circle, each prodigal Turner boy lamented his state. Each past holiday was farther back than the distance between the previous two. One brother spoke of his desire to return to Pemberton, to give the finger to the fast lane and come home. The other boys grumbled in agreement: FJ had it good here. FJ grinned and nodded into his cup.

Old Mick Turner struggled not to weep: all this flesh from his own, longing for home. But in two days’ time, he would be alone again with this loathsome sponge who reminded him daily of his failure to have loved enough as a father. FJ might drown or disappear, something painless and eternal, but such freedom was a hopeless dream for Mick.

Walter Bjorkman, Editor

Kill Allan
Inspired by M. Elvy’s Bird

I wanted to kill my brother Allan when we were seven and out in the woods carving a fishing pole out of a birch branch that he had me hold below a stub he was hacking off, slicing my finger to the bone.

I wanted to kill Allan when we were riding in the black limo to my Dad’s burial and he said “boy, people must think we are millionaires” although I was the one seventeen months younger.

I wanted to kill Allan when on my wedding day the best man that he was took a check from deep in the book so when I got to a strange city with my new bride all of my savings were gone.

I wanted to kill Allan all the times when he was on the verge of success because of his incredible talents and drive, then would always do something to fuck it up, winding up worse than before.

I wanted to kill Allan even though he, at age ten, was entrusted to raise his young brother while our mother worked days and often nights to keep us afloat as long as she did and it was impossible when there was no one to raise him.

I still want to kill Allan, because he now is unseen, unheard from and probably dead and I would do anything to tell him I want for us to be, again, kids in the woods cutting fingers.


Something Jazzy (from week #23 – Long lines)

At the top of the subway stairs a line took him down into the depths of the tunnel, musky grays with vile creatures darting out of corners. It proceeded out into a sky of late Autumn sun desperately clinging to life in a shroud of winter air. It veered up five flights to a sweltering summer night on the roof, Sande in his arms, the barely moving air holding back suffocation from rotting streets below. It climbed a ladder to the stars where he rode a moonbeam to other galaxies. On the other side of the universe it took him to a tropical beach with piñas and niñas waiting for his delight. It boarded a catamaran sailing him back to the city, now in a Cuban-Chinese on eighth avenue, ropa vieja on his chin as fat ladies danced in the laundromat next door. It boarded a bus that clanged its way up to a bucolic meadow where people laughed, threw frisbees and fucked out of sight of police. A pelican picked up the line, drawing lazy patterns in the now gloriously blue sky, swooping him back to the station.

“Hey, pal — you gonna buy a token or just stand there like a looney from Bellevue?”

He dropped out of the token line and threw a twenty into the saxophone case of the player that layed down the solo line. Took off his coat and tie, dumped them in the trash, headed to Central Park to look for a moonbeam.


café cubana bliss  (from week #16 – Busy at work)

Kat is Haitian and makes
the best, never produced one
without the required
head of sugar-foam

and the two headed
Caridad-Adriana duo
they take turns
in my present department

but when the going gets tough
and Kat’s on a sales visit
and our filter is broken

I descend the Juan Valdez
ladder to purgatory
down to the fourth level for
Gilda, an ex-boss
who started the tradition
around here

if she is not around
it is down to the lowest
level of Hades
the ground floor
cross the caféteria Styx
on the way
and have to (shudder) pay
75 cents for an automated
machine made
café cubana

(ever made any yourself?
stirring the sugar into a frenzy from the first few drops?
then adding a bit more and whipping it up in a froth?
then pouring the rest in with quick flicks of the spoon at the end
so you create a transition from the slightest bit of coffee at the top
to the rest, with just enough sugar to cut the bitter?)

it can be religious

I did it twice
the first was actually
café cubana bliss
the second a total disaster

I needed total concentration
they are talking business, or joking
while sub-consciously doing it

it is like when you master a song
and it becomes part of you
we all do it for work
typing, eating on the phone

but when the sub-conscious
act creates
café cubana bliss
what could be better

I got my fix

3 Responses to “Because we like to come out and flash, too

  1. […] Do remember to check out the editors’ flashes! […]

  2. I really enjoyed the re-reads. Thanks for organising this. May be now I’d better get n with some work. I’m exhausted after the Christmas break! It’s too hot here and too cold in England. Who cares? Live’s still good.

  3. Really enjoyed reading these!

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