ISSUE #150: Jennifer Fliss, Colleen Blackard, 2ndHand

Posted: Monday, October 2, 2017 | | Labels:

Issue #150 Guest Editor Joy Baglio is founder and director of Pioneer Valley Writers' Workshop in western Mass., which offers one-day and multi-week workshops in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as well as community literary events. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, The Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, New Ohio Review, PANK, Tin House's Flash Fridays, and elsewhere. Within the last year, she was runner-up in Ploughshares' Emerging Writer's Contest, winner of F(r)iction's winter flash fiction contest, and a finalist for scholarships and fellowships from Tin House, Bread Loaf, and Smokelong Quarterly. She has been an editor and reader for a number of literary magazines, including Conjunctions, LIT, and Slice. She's currently at work on her first novel. Visit her at, and follow her on Twitter.

Art by Colleen Blackard

by Jennifer Fliss

Though I knew it to be my street, there was something unfamiliar that I could not grasp. I found myself looking into shuttered windows and tripping on uneven concrete on the ill-lit block, brick facades hovering above and to the sides and in front of me. The sidewalk narrowed so that I found it necessary to step into the street to move forward. Even so, I carried on toward my house, where I could at least be on more familiar ground, or perhaps, before then, I would bump into one of the neighbors and I could ask them for guidance.

Issue #150 soundtrack: 2ndHand "At Long Last"

When I shuffled down the street, however, I encountered no one, and I decided it would be best to approach one of the houses, ring the bell, ask what was amiss, and perhaps they would recognize me.

I stopped in front of number 52. The door appeared ajar with a sliver of light pouring from the perimeter of it, though as I got closer, I could see the door was not, in fact, open at all. It was closed, but I could hear muffled voices and unclear conversations. I was about to manage the steps when someone behind me said, “Hello.”

I turned to find a young woman of indeterminate age, dressed as if going to a party, standing under the dull streetlamp, her hair a fluorescent red, her face in shadow.

“You're early,” she said. “We were told you wouldn’t show up until eight.”

“Is that so? Well, I'm sorry. I wouldn’t want to be late.”

“You're Bernard, right?”

“Yes,” I said, somewhat perplexed.

“Andrew told me about you. He said we’d get on quite well. We’re all very excited.”

“I'm surprised someone would think we’d get along well without me even being aware of the situation,” I said. “In fact, I’m not aware of any party. Is it for anything in particular?”

“Well it can’t be so important an event if you don't know about it,” she said and patted my arm with her delicate palm.

“I know of many important parties,” I said. “But I don’t know of one this evening.” I looked up at the closed door of number 52 when a rat scuttled right over my feet. I stumbled back ungracefully.

“Rats,” she scowled. “A surprise on such a lovely street.”

“Yes, a surprise,” I said, and I carefully walked up the five steps toward the door and turned back to the girl.

“It will be a great party,” she said. “I am sure of it.”

I knocked on the door, my own hand feeling somewhat disconnected from the rest of me. I looked down at my hand, turning it this way and that. The small bit of light that I had seen from behind the door was now extinguished, and the door finally did open, but only slightly. A faint din issued forth and a large eye framed in thick curling lashes appeared at about four feet, glaring first at my chest, then up to my face.

“Bernard. You're early, you know that?”

“I've only just gotten back to the street and noticed it was quite dark and empty and wondered if you could help.”

The eye thought about this and abruptly shut the door. Shortly thereafter, the murmuring in the house silenced entirely. With the exception of the buzzing street lamp, the only sound was a gurgling issuing rather embarrassingly from my stomach.

I turned back to see the girl still standing there, by the streetlamp. She lit a cigarette. The small burst of flame settled into a brief glow every few moments. The streetlamp above her haloed red hair buzzed and then flickered out and then back on and then kept up its quivering, leaving only a single, steady lamp on the street running a few doors down. Then the door of number 52 opened wide, but the owner of the eye and short stature had disappeared. Even still, I left the girl behind and pushed into the house.

A diaphanous light filtered into the high windows from the unreliable street lamp. The light was dim, but I could still recognize the space as my own. It was a small, circular room with a large wooden table in the center. Two piles of mail stacked at attention-- one stack of envelopes, one of catalogs and magazines-- all with the right corners lined up, and next to these was a small pewter link bracelet. Instinctively, I grasped my wrist and found only short wiry arm hairs and the pliant leathery skin of an old man.

I could still sense something wrong, but had to run through my walk-through, despite this sense of uneasiness. Beyond the staircase were the doors to the kitchen and dining room, and I could see a light from under them, but that would have to wait. I entered the room to the right, off the foyer, to find my living room. I walked immediately to the fireplace and redirected all four photo frames to a forty-five degree angle, as somehow they had been moved and were all intersected incorrectly.

I ran my fingers along the top of the sofa, straightening the woolen blanket that lay across the top. As I made my way to the study, something softly crunched underfoot. I leaned on a chair and struggled down to find under my loafer, a leaf, a brown autumn leaf, now crushed into the rug, and as I looked, I saw another, and another, and still another leading to the dining room. Nevertheless, I could not abandon the walk-through and so tabled the mystery and stepped toward the window. Now I would open the curtains, and as I did, I saw the girl, still standing under the streetlamp, her cigarette now most likely abandoned on the sidewalk beside or beneath her.

I thought to open the window and call to her, but I was interrupted by someone clearing their throat in the room.

“Would you like to go now or later?” the voice asked, which I now attached to the four foot eye, and it was in fact, I could see, a small man, perhaps of 20 or 30, either really, as both ages were indistinguishable to me, and both fell under the category of “young.”

“Well, I am still in search of finding out what is quite wrong here. Something is very clearly wrong. Awry. Amiss. Afoot. You see, there are no lights in any of the other houses. Or there are only very few. And I’m used to seeing many people out and about, on the front stoops or in their windows, but it’s strange that I have seen no one.”

“No one?”

“Well, except for that girl.” I pointed out the window.

“There shouldn't be a girl out there. Perhaps you are mistaken.”

“No. You can see for yourself that there is a girl out there,” I said to the young man. “Here, look,” and I parted the curtain a little more to make room, but the man did not move from where he stood in the corner, in the obscurity of the dark. He was only a shadow, though his shoes were illuminated by the light streaming from under the door.

“Say, are those your dress shoes?” I asked.


“Why are you wearing your dress shoes on so quiet an evening? Don’t you save them for special occasions?”

“I do,” he said, but then said nothing more as he opened the door to the dining room. I begrudgingly took leave of the window, and the woman on the other side and followed the small man.

Now in the dining room, I could see my arrival had interfered with a certain course of events. Silver foil wrappers crunched into balls and utensils were strewn on the table, which I recognized as my own, as they had the letter “R” for my surname engraved on the handles. Forks and knives were up and down, down and up, and they had a way of disorienting me. I have a tendency to be very particular, to like things in a certain way, and when they are not that way, I get a little thrown off course. I immediately set to lining the utensils up correctly when the small man placed his hand up on my shoulder, for which he had to stretch, for I am a tall fellow, even stooped: six feet at last measurement, down three inches from my younger days.

“Do you think you are ready now?” he asked. I could not say yes, for I had no idea what I would be ready for. At this age you are ready for everything and nothing.

“Who is that young woman?” I asked. “Outside?”

“There is no one important out there,” he said. I put the utensils back on the table and left them there. Most were properly lined up, though not all, and I twitched at the thought of leaving them there like that, tines up, sharps down. It was not in my nature to do so. As I contemplated fixing them, I heard a thump from above, though could not be certain I heard anything at all.

“What was that?” I asked.

“It is not anything,” he replied, and at that moment, in the sparkling yellow light from the chandelier, a flash of recognition shot through me. I knew this young man, although perhaps only as an acquaintance or a character of the neighborhood.

This shot must have flashed outwardly, for he took his hand off my shoulder and stepped back into a corner of the room, his face again obfuscated, though it was not necessary, for he was familiar to me now.

He edged along the wall and indicated I should follow as we made our way out of the dining room, through to the kitchen, which had also seen an incident that left quite a mess that made me feel a bit sick. I was led out the door, down the hallway towards the foyer where the mail was stacked, and then up the stairs. Each step’s particular creak was as familiar to me as my own, and as we went I wondered why I had knocked on the door at all. I usually preferred when there were fewer people on their stoops, shouting as I passed, talking loudly to each other and to no one in particular. I liked the solitude that I was usually never privy to in such a large city. Why did I need to stop to ask what was the matter?

Once we reached the top, at the landing, I saw that all the doors to the rooms were open but one. It was the most beautiful room in the house, an open space with sconces and a large crystal chandelier. The walls were paneled with maple and oak wainscoting, and tall windows framed with gilt cornices looked out at the street and vice versa. It would be a good room for entertaining, but now only held storage for me, old paintings and supplies, inherited furniture, and dusty rugs. Behind the door came a loud humming, and then the white noise was punctuated by a woman's laughter. It sounded horse-like and not at all as I imagined the woman on the street would sound if she found something comedic.

I started to consider the short man my host for the evening, but did not say so. He and I approached the door with the humming on the other side, and he pushed the door open with a large grin. Inside were many faces, and I could immediately tell the owner of the neighing, with her long face and droopy eyelids. Other than that, though, the faces all looked the same, astonished and aglow, and then they shouted, though I could not make out what was being said. I was handed about from one person to another, each more enthusiastic than the last. As I said, I was popular once, but now, all these people made me anxious. Despite the humming, which was louder now, and the occasional horse laugh, I could only make out, above all else, a man in a vest and mustache, looking somewhat like myself in my younger days, in the corner asking where Melinda was.

“She went out for some smokes over an hour ago. I wanted to introduce her to Dad,” he said, but then everything else was clouded in my mind.

“You are okay here,” the small man said. “They will take care of you.” He left me and disappeared into the crowd. The lights were brighter in here, though to tell the truth, I could not determine any of the faces any better and preferred the darkness of the street below.

Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in PANK, The Rumpus, Necessary Fiction, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. For more, visit and follow her on Twitter.

Colleen Blackard is a Brooklyn-based artist and current recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. She received a BA from Hampshire College, and her drawings have been shown in London, Moscow, Tokyo, New York City, and more. Her work has been featured in such venues as Fountain Art Fair, ACA Galleries, Rush Arts Gallery, Family Business Gallery, Owen James Gallery, and Brooklyn Fire Proof. Her work combines natural, celestial and man-made elements in occasionally surreal compositions to explore light, memory, consciousness and change. Her signature style uses continuous, circular, intersecting lines to create a luminosity that clarifies the subject and gives life to every detail. Whether in ballpoint pen, archival marker, ink washes, or monotype, she is constantly pushing the envelope on the types of atmospheres and effects she can create with these dynamic lines and their interstitial light. Find her online at

2ndHand makes music in western Massachusetts.