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Belle Crawford / Maryann Miller / Len Kuntz

The Bed Wetter

Belle Crawford


The first time is awkward but easy to ignore if not forget. The first time is almost funny - an excuse to poke fun and harass, in a flirty, good-natured, but domineering, controlling sort of way. The first time is amusing because you can still sort of imagine yourself making the same mistake. You lie still in the night-filled room, thinking about ‘reciprocity,’ hoping that if the roles were reversed, you’d receive the same patience and kind understanding you were able to give at such a moment. Inching your body away from the adult-sized spread beneath you, you understand that shared humility is one of the many prices one pays for the experience of real love. The first time, that is.

The second time leaves you speechless. You more or less want to roll over and pretend you are still asleep. But you know you can’t pretend because of your obviously wakeful reaction just moments prior. You want to murmur a quick “don’t worry about it” and close your eyes. And this is actually what you do until you hear the sound of quiet sniffling. You know the person lying next to you doesn’t want you to know that he or she is crying. You know he or she doesn’t want to ask you to hold him or her if you don’t want to do it on your own accord. That’s when the self-hatred creeps in. The desire to go sleep on the sofa or eat a bowl of cereal instead of comfort the one whose discomfort has made you so uncomfortable. But what about reversing roles, you ask yourself? What about reciprocity? What about the next time you feel alone, scared, freakish, and in need of anyone who will understand and console or validate you enough to get you feeling again like the acceptable person you know yourself to be? What then?

So you hold the person while he or she cries and you fight the urge to patronize. You listen to his or her fast-paced heart beating next to your own. You try to bring that thumping rhythm back to a nocturnal cadence so you can both float off again to never-never land, where sex is never dissatisfying, where selfishness never wins, and where it’s never cold, wet, and dirty.

Then there is the third time.

You lie still, eyes wide, your limbs stiff as wooden boards under the sheets. Your breath is  deliberately slight in an attempt to keep the inevitable next second from taking shape. The person next to you is finally beyond tears, the two of you completely beyond words. Soon, without speaking, you both stand, clean yourselves off, and get dressed. Never mind that it is three-thirty in the morning. Never mind the state of the sheets or the faint animal-like smell that’s also somehow, weirdly, also like the smell of popcorn.

You grab your coats and follow each other through the front door. You descend the long flight of steps and exit the building into the parking lot. You keep going, out onto Bowling Avenue, which is, at this hour, deserted. You pass the New Brooklyn Tavern and Dino’s Dance Club, humming from deep inside, a low techno drone. You pass Howard’s Hardware and continue through Olympia to the outskirts of the neighborhood, where you come out on the banks of the Saluda River.

The water is beautiful at this time of night. It reflects the moonlight and the neon glow in the windows of the all-night riverside cafes. The billboard over the bridge on Huxley Street advertises a beer that can actually make you thinner while you drink. The homeless man sleeping on the giant rock by the tilted willow reminds you of the sunbathing seal you saw with your brother on pier 39 in San Francisco last summer. You walk past the spot under the deck of Langston’s Seafood where, two months ago, you and the person walking next to you shared a plastic thermos of bourbon and coke and talked all night about the birth of the universe. But that night was all before the first time, you think, when things were unspoiled, virginal, good.


Belle Crawford received her MA in creative writing from Manchester University. Her fiction has been long-listed for the Bristol Short Story Prize and her novel was one of three finalists in the annual fiction contest sponsored by Mulcahy and Conway Literary Associates in London. She currently lives in South Carolina.

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The Last Supper

Maryann Miller


            Mel stood in the doorway of the diner and glanced around until he spotted Rube at a table in the corner. Damn long way for an old man to have to walk. But then, maybe Rube had picked it on purpose. They both kept saying how much they needed to get more exercise.

            “So how’s it hanging?” Mel asked when he’d crossed the room. He folded his walker and leaned it against the end of the table, then eased his stiff body to the seat.

            Rube made a so-so gesture, “It’s just a pisser now.”

            Mel laughed at his friend’s joke, made more amusing to him by the fact that he didn’t have an enlarged prostate. The only good news he’d gotten this year from Doc Nelson. So if he was to meet the right woman and she was willing, he could possibly even get it up without the aid of a pill.

            Maybe Sally’d oblige an old man, he thought as she approached the table. God knows they’d joked about it often enough.

            “The usual for you gentlemen today?” Sally cocked one hip and held her order pad ready. It had been the same pose and the same question for all the years he and Rube had been meeting here for lunch twice a week. Was it ten now since Addie had died? Mel did the math best he could. It wasn’t as easy as it used to be. Hell, nothing was as easy as it used to be.

            And used to be his mind didn’t go off on strange paths when he’d been asked a simple question.

            Mel looked up at Sally. “How’s the meatloaf?”

            “The cook outdone himself.” Her reply included a wink that was as much a part of the routine as everything else.

            “Then I guess it’s meatloaf today.”

            She turned to Rube. “And the same for you?”

            “No. I was thinking about the porterhouse.”

            Mel damn near dropped his teeth on the table and Sally looked like she was shell-shocked. Rube was supposed to say, “Yes.” He always said “yes.”

            While the waitress recovered her professionalism and asked about sides and how did Rube want his steak cooked, Mel watched his friend. He tried to penetrate an expression that included a smile that was just a bit too broad to see beyond. Whatever was driving this strange behavior, Rube was keeping it well hidden.

            “What?” Rube asked after Sally plodded back toward the kitchen to put the order in. “Can’t a man break routine once in a while?”

            Mel took a small swallow of his ice water. “We always have meatloaf on Wednesday.”

            “So, sue me I want to be different.”

            “You haven’t been different since you thought you were queer in junior high.”

            “I never did.”

            “Of course you did. We both wondered.”

            Rube laughed. An action that caused his whole round little body to shake and ended in a harsh coughing jag that drew looks from the other tables. He pulled a rumpled handkerchief out of the back pocket of his polyester slacks and carefully contained the product of his cough.

            “You okay?” Mel hoped the bright flush would leave his friend’s face as quickly as it had come.

            “I never said I thought I was queer.”

            “Hell, we figured if we said the words out loud they’d be true.”

            “You better take it easy with the jokes, Mel,” Sally said, setting their coffee down. “Wouldn’t do to have Rube here drop dead from laughing.”

            “No worries.” Rube shoved the handkerchief back in his pocket. “I wouldn’t upset your routine that way.”

            When Sally left, Rube sipped his coffee, glancing at everything except Mel. If his intent was to steer his friend’s curiosity to some other subject, the effort failed miserably. Mel studied the other man, really seeing him for the eighty-plus years instead of automatically superimposing the twenty-something image over the wrinkles and liver spots. Christ. They were both getting old. Did he look that bad?

            “You okay, Rube?”

            “Sure.” He still avoided eye-contact.

            “Ain’t holding back on me, are you?”

            “Why would I do that?”

            Mel was graced with the same guileless expression Rube used to wear when he took Mel’s lunch money out of the locker, then swore he didn’t know what happened to it. He used to forgive him that. It couldn’t have been easy to grow up poor and hungry, but the friendship had grown beyond circumspection these past thirty or so years. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d suspected Rube of lying.

            Until today.

            “You hear from Billy lately?” Billy was Rube’s misbegotten son. Someone who always created havoc in his father’s life and Mel was certain that if anything had happened recently to upset his friend, Billy would be the culprit.


            Further conversation was delayed by the arrival of salad and the effort it took to spear the lettuce without the pile of croutons cascading across the table. From the first time Mel had said how much he liked them, Sally had piled them on like she was building a freakin’ mountain.

            When Mel glanced up from his efforts it was to see Rube pushing greenery around his plate with little enthusiasm.

            “Not going to eat that?”

            “I’m saving myself for the steak.”

            “Since when did you save yourself for anything?”

            “Since when did you become my keeper?” There was just enough of an edge to Rube’s voice that Mel knew to back off. That had been the beauty of their friendship from the beginning. It lasted as long as Mel knew when to stop pushing. He’d resented it at first; a normal adolescent attitude. ‘I don’t back down from anybody.’ But the need for acceptance and the security of at least one true friend had kept the bluster to a minimum; just enough to save face.

            Then Mel had finally reached a point where he didn’t feel that deep need to save face. He just had a deep need to hang on to what had become as comfortable in his life as his favorite old chair. On the surface it wasn’t much. But he didn’t know what he’d do without it.

            Sally brought steaming plates to the table and Rube abandoned the salad for his steak. Mel watched his friend methodically cut pieces and put them in his mouth. When he chewed, he closed his eyes.

            “You having an orgasm over there?” Mel asked.

            Rube chuckled and opened his eyes. “Jealous?”

            Mel smiled, then concentrated on his food. For just a moment, he wished he had the guts to be different, too. He could afford the two bucks extra for the steak.

            After mopping the juice from his plate with a hunk of bread, Rube leaned back, patted his stomach and reached for the check. “My treat.”

            Mel dropped his fork with a clatter. “This is October. Last time I checked, my birthday was in April.”

            “Who says I can only buy your lunch on your birthday?”

            “You going senile on me, Rube? We agreed. Remember? Didn’t want to be like a couple of old biddies fussing over who paid last.”

            He paused, hoping... Not even sure what he was hoping for. That Rube would just laugh and throw the check back down. Tell him it was all a joke. That he’d just decided to rattle his cage a bit. And not to worry. Everything would go back to normal. Next week he’d even order the meatloaf.

            But Rube didn’t say anything. He looked at the check in his hand and kept his mouth shut.

            “What’s with you?” Mel asked.

            “Already told you. Ain’t nothin’ wrong.” Rube dug in his back pocket and pulled out a scuffed leather wallet. “And if you don’t stop with the questions, I’m not gonna let you win at poker Friday night.”

            Let me win? You never let me win at anything.”

            “Little do you know, Buddy-Boy.” Rube grinned. “I took it easy on you ‘cause I know your estate is smaller than mine.”

            Mel had to laugh. Estate? They wouldn’t know what an estate was if it bit them in the ass.

            “So I’m to believe you just want to buy my lunch because of the poor condition of my finances.”

            “Believe what you want. I gotta get out of here. Getting’ about time for my nap.”


            At home, Mel putzed around the kitchen, washing up the bowl and spoon from breakfast. He didn’t know why he did this. Hell, he had enough dishes to throw them away if he wanted to and never use them up before he died. So why couldn’t he let them pile up at least a couple of days?

            He knew the answer to that even before the question finished forming. Because Addie would come back down here and bust your chops.

            Mel smiled. People used to think she was the worst bitch for harping on him all the time. But he knew better. If she was passionate about cleanliness, she was doubly passionate about other things, and those folks would’ve changed their opinion if they’d seen her in action.

            The memory was pleasant and created a stir he didn’t think his body capable of. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said, contemplating going to the bathroom to see if there was anything there to finish. But he didn’t want to set himself up for disappointment.

            Plus, he recognized what he’d been doing since he’d come home. Anything to avoid thinking about Rube and his odd behavior. Even the moments he’d been trying to be just Rube, always with the wise-ass remarks, it hadn’t felt right. Something was just a little off about the whole thing.

            So what are you gonna do? Sit around and worry it like a dog with an old bone?

            Mel sighed, then walked into the living room where the old secretary stood in the corner. Papers bulged out of the cubbyholes and spilled across the open flap. Addie would really be pissed about this. But Mel knew where things were. Digging in one horizontal slot, he pulled out the paper that had the emergency contact numbers for Rube. They both had papers with the numbers of next of kin. Never knew when one of them might need to be making phone calls.

            The place for Billy’s number had been written over so many times, Mel had finally started putting the newest number on a sticky note and pasting it to the page.

            He took the paper and went back to the kitchen where the phone rested on the side of the table where Addie used to sit. He pulled it close and dialed.


            The voice on the other end sounded garbled and Mel wasn’t sure if he’d woken the man or if he was merely drunk.

            “This is Mel. Mel Haverwitz.”


            “Your father’s friend.”

            “I know. Whadda ya want?”

            “I’m worried about your dad.”

            “What has the old fool done now?”

            “Nothing. It’s just, uh...” Suddenly words failed him. How could he voice to Billy what he’d not even said out loud to himself?

            “You still there?”

            “Yeah.” Mel cleared his throat. “The deal is. I’m concerned. He’s acting kinda down in the dumps.”

            “So you called me?”

            “Yeah. Thought maybe you could visit. Mend a fence. Cheer him up. Despite all the trouble, he does love you.”

            “Coulda fooled me.”

            A vivid picture of the last time Rube and his son had spoken flashed into Mel’s mind. Rube had asked him to be there when he told Billy he had to quit drinking or get out. It hadn’t been pretty.

            “He only did what he had to.”

            “Yeah. Like always.”

            Mel sighed. “Forget it. Sorry I bothered you.”

            He said the last few words to a dead line.

            Mel stood, hearing the familiar pop in his left knee and eased the stiffness in his back. Seemed to take a lot longer to get upright these days. But now that he was up, he might as well dump those old newspapers and haul the trash out to the curb.

            The chores provided adequate diversion for about ten minutes, and then he came head up on the worry again. If he thought Doc Nelson would tell him, he’d call to see if he’d given Rube any bad news recently. But that would never happen. Doc had more ethics than the Pope.

            Oh, hell!

            Mel went to the phone and dialed Rube’s number. It rang several times and Mel was about to hang up when he heard a click, then a muffled hello.


            “You were expecting someone else?”

            “No. I, uh...” Mel couldn’t figure out what to say. He suddenly felt so stupid. What if he’d just wasted an hour worrying over something that was just in his imagination?

            “You need something? Or did you just call to wake me up.”

            “Geeze, I’m sorry. I forgot. You want I should let you go back to sleep?”

            “Nah. I’m awake now.”

            “Want to come over and play cards?”

            “Poker night’s Friday. This is Wednesday.”

            “So. You’re the one that started being different today.”


            Rube came over that night and again on Friday. The routine was so normal and so comfortable, that Mel told his mind to let go of that little niggle of concern. Rube was just fine. He even showed up at Temple Saturday night and took his usual spot. So there was nothing to worry about, right? Monday they’d meet for lunch, have the chicken like always, and everything would be just fine.

            Mel believed that all day Sunday as he alternated between watching the Dallas Cowboys get their butts kicked and snoozing in his recliner.

            Then on Monday, he headed over to the Leavenworth Grill.

            He stood in the doorway to let his eyes adjust to the dimness inside and had a weird sense of déjà vu. Then he remembered the dream from last night. He’d been standing in this same spot, looking for Rube. Only he wasn’t at their usual table. Billy had been there, disturbing the customers with loud, lewd talk and trying to cop a feel from Sally. The only good part of the dream had been when Mel punched Billy’s lights out.


            He turned to the source of the question. Sally gave him a smile that just barely lifted one corner of her mouth.

            “This came for you by special courier.” She handed Mel an envelope. His name was printed neatly in the center.

            “Where’s Rube?” Did he think by asking his friend might magically appear?

            “I was going to ask you the same thing.”

            Mel looked again at the envelope he clutched in a trembling hand.

            Rube always did have the best penmanship.

            He felt his knees go weak and reached for the edge of a nearby chair. Sally grabbed him. “Here,” she said. You sit a minute. You’re white as a ghost. I’ll get you some juice.

            Not wanting to, but needing to so he could convince himself that he wasn’t just having another bout of overactive imagination, Mel opened the envelope. Fingers shaking, he drew out a single sheet of paper that was filled with words made from familiar, precise letters.


                        Well, old-buddy. You were right. But

                        don’t be too pissed at me. After all,

                        you did get a lunch on me. And I really

                        didn’t want you to do a damn thing to

                        stop me. Nice try with Billy, though.

                        He called, but the decision wasn’t about

                        him, or you, or anybody else. It was about

                        me and getting too damn old to be good for


                        So I hope you will forgive me this last

            little transgression And I hope it won’t

           keep you from sitting Shiva for me.

                                         Your Friend, Rube.


            Mel carefully folded the paper and slid it back into the envelope just as Sally returned with a glass of orange juice. She motioned to the letter. “Is that from Rube?”


            “Is he coming for lunch?”


            Mel drank the juice. He couldn’t be rude and not. But then he stood. “I need to go.”

            “You don’t look so hot, Mel. Should I call someone?”

            “I’m okay.” He patted her hand as if that would convince her. “I just need to go.”

            He walked to door and stepped out into the bright sunshine.

            It was a ten-minute drive to Rube’s little frame house. One of the reasons they’d settled on the Leavenworth for their lunches. It was close.

            Mel pulled his Buick into the drive and stilled the engine. Then he sat for a moment, not sure if he was up for this. Should he just call the cops? The Rabbi? Billy?

            No. If Rube had wanted any of them to find him, he’d have sent them the goddam letter.

            Mel pushed the door open and eased out of his car. When they wanted to stop, he willed his feet to keep moving until they carried him to the front door. He tried the knob. Locked. Of course, Rube wouldn’t have wanted some thief to find him.

            Mel used his key to unlock the door, then stepped over the little metal rise in the threshold.

            He didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps some odor of death; some sign of distress or struggle. But everything was as tidy as usual.

 Except for Rube lying dead on the sofa.

            Still looking at Rube, Mel sank to the lumpy seat of a Queen Anne chair, careful to avoid the hole left where the spring had come loose. They always talked about fixing that one of these days.

            One of these days.


            No fair. He wanted to scream at his friend. No fair that you got to go before me.

            Respect for the dead kept him quiet, and he stared at Rube for a long time. The lines that were usually tight around his eyes were relaxed and the position of his mouth could almost be a grin. Weird. He looked more peaceful than Mel could ever recall.

            He rubbed a hand across his face, surprised to find wetness on his cheek. Hell. It wasn’t the way he figured Rube would go. But maybe it was better than wasting away a little more each day.

            Mel wondered if it had hurt.


A diverse writer of columns, feature stories, short fiction, novels, screenplays and stage plays, Maryann Miller has won numerous awards including being a  semi-finalist at the Sundance Institute for her screenplay, A Question Of Honor. The Rosen Publishing Group released her non-fiction books for teens, including the award-winning Coping with Weapons and Violence in School and On Your Streets. Other publications are: One Small Victory, a romantic suspense; Play it Again, Sam, a woman’s novel; and Friends Forever, a Y/A novel. When not working, Miller enjoys acting and directing in community theatre, and playing farmer on her little piece of property in East Texas.

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Facts about the Moon

Len Kuntz


He wanted to tell me facts about the moon.   When I didn’t have time, he wrote them down for me on sky blue construction paper using chalk and diagramming solar systems that had once looked familiar but now seemed bizarre, like a picture of one’s self in the distant future when they are saggy-skinned and brown-spotted.

We were young then, my boy and I, though it didn’t feel that way at the time.  Still, now I remember once we ate bananas and stuffed our gums with large chunks of the fruit and something got into me because I made shrieking monkey sounds and scratched my arm pits and hopped all over the couch dancing.  My boy, my boy he laughed so hard he almost choked to death.  When he finally caught his breath, he said, “That would have been a fun way to go,” and I think he meant it.

Tonight when I pulled into our development and saw the long limos and the strapless gowned teens with their wrist corsages and spearmint smiles I wondered what he might have looked like wearing a tux, a rash of acne on his cheek, nervous as all hell but handsome I bet.  She’d have been blonde like Mary, sweet yet sassy, too.  And I would have liked her.

Now I’ve got a drink in my hand and I keep studying my son’s galaxy picture.  There are spindly stars, rockets and oval planets, but the moon dominates.  Luna is a warbled jawbreaker hovering in space, yet drawn with curved edges so that it appears to be spinning right out of its own orbit, its trapped dimension.  I don’t know what any of it means.  I should have asked when I had the chance.

Right as I’m folding the paper up, I notice on the back side something he’s written in pencil at the base, the font a nine year old’s unsteady scrawl.  The lead is faint and smeared.  I hold it up close enough that I can smell the dusty wheat smell.  “Facts about the Moon,” it says.  “Fact One: even when you’re not aware of it, the moon is always there, waiting for you to look up over your head and notice it.”

That’s all it says.

I get up and walk to the window, draw back one of the blinds.  It’s been clear all week but now the night is so stuffed with clouds that nothing else is visible.  I stand like that, looking, waiting for the light to break through, not worried about how long it will take, just waiting.


Len Kuntz started submitting work in early 2009 for the first time and since then has had a spate of good fortune placing pieces in over sixty lit journals such as Juked, Elimae, Storyglossia and others.  It’s a thrill to write and have some success, he says.


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