“A Quality of Silence” by David M. Rubin

Slumped on a ratty couch three feet from the fifty-five-inch screen, Kovlov sighed along with Ryu. His cell buzzed and he hit green to Elaine’s midflight yelling that he had better Venmo $1200 as she had to pay her rent. Kovlov grunted, tapped the red icon, and refocused on the movie where an elderly woman, a middle-aged man, a young woman, and two young children sat on individual tatami mats around a low wooden table. The elderly woman scooped rice slowly into bowls. The doorbell rang. Kovlov’s roommate Sal popped from the kitchen, crossed between him and the screen. He opened the door to a man in a suit who queried, “Eugene Kovlov?” and dropped a sizable envelope on the floor. “Consider yourself served.” The family held their bowls, gently shoveling at their portions. A teapot marked the foreground.

Sal closed the door and kicked the envelope toward the couch. “Kovlov, you’re wastin’ away. Maybe eat some Ramen or something.”

When the movie ended, he clicked off the TV, headed into his room and flopped onto the futon.

Moonlight guided a SEPTA train as it emerged from underground and clanked up onto the elevated tracks that ran alongside Route 95 above Northern Liberties, Fishtown, and Kensington row homes, soot blonde brick schools, and entropy riddled factories.

“Wakey up!”

One-eye took in the clock which was mostly hidden behind tipping piles of Japanese cinema books. Why the hell was Sal waking him up? A red neon 1. Maybe 1:00 PM? Could be 10, 11 or 12? Or maybe any hour at all and the one a minute’s digit. He’d hold still within the warm comforter, thwarting any consideration of least bad choices that would hurl him into the world. He might wait until the 1 changed to a 2, which meant waiting on average 30 seconds to 30 minutes, but his concentration broke and he slipped back into oblivion.

“Kovlov! Wake up and listen good. You owe me $1400.”

Thoughts of the Twilight Zone where Burgess Meredith lucked out when a nuclear war eradicated his tormentors, leaving him to pile up books to be savored for years to come. Unfortunately, the show’s karma boomerang smashed its character’s glasses. Immediately after their daughter died, Elaine had kicked Kovlov out, claimed their friends and most of both families. Then Sarge Clatchy got hit by an Uber so goodbye to man’s best friend and even small talk with other dogwalkers. Painful silence chased each negation. Maybe his unique path would one day make sense.

“You missed the bus. What now… if you have no job?”

Morning Philly stretched tall buildings. Steel and glass reached high into the air, long ago surpassing bronze William Penn atop city hall. An endless cacophony of wires, cords and crossed poles and beams blocked the view of those scurrying to work and bothering to search for sky or gazing up at Penn sculpted to look like he was holding his pecker, forever relieving himself upon the city.

Loudmouth Sal was right about losing his job in The Gap’s inventory room, and then a lightning storm of black and white images fired about his mind. He bolted from beneath the covers.

At Khyber Pass, Kovlov pointed up at the rows of glass bottles. The bartender pulled a Knob Creek but he kept his finger pointed at the soft yellow label of the Yamazaki 12 long enough for the bartender to correctly triangulate. He guzzled his shot and pointed again. Guzzled and pointed again. Guzzled. He slapped $100 on to the walnut bar, leaving nothing. In the Giant supermarket parking lot, he Incredible Hulked a shopping cart over the metal divider poles and pushed it back to the apartment.

“Kovlov, why the fuck did you steal a shopping cart?”

He loaded up the cart with hundreds of books that he had accumulated over the past four years during his Purgatorio; piles of screenplays, essay compilations on cinema and television.

The Schuylkill River ran heavy along the snake of Route 76 with its green metal white letter signs and dyslexic web of on and off ramps. The landscaping, recently terraformed for joggers, strollers and to connect a Balkans of neighborhoods, followed quietly along past the enormous Greek columned art museum and lit up boat house row.

One wheel of the cart spun about its axis gaining no traction on the sidewalk as the piles overflowed, causing him to stop and pick up the fallen. The Book Trader on Second and Market offered $120 for the fraction of books they might re-sell. He pushed the remainder to a makeshift thrift store squatting in an abandoned building on Front Street, and, despite the sign to not leave donations outside, he piled the remaining books under an awning. His phone rang as if Elaine was going to chide him to read the fucking directions and add that only a moron doesn’t read the labels on food at the supermarket. He powered it off and stomped it to bits.

On his way back to the apartment he stopped in the Kyoto Grill, walked past the tatami rooms to the bathroom. There was no alarm system. Adjacent to the kitchen a back-alley door with a bolt and doorknob locks.

His bedroom window looked out on the bricks of the adjacent building and down three flights to the dumpsters. He ripped from the walls the paintings by art school friends who wrote him off long ago. He garbage bagged them with his trilobite fossils, superhero and wrestling action figures, and tossed the bags, book shelves and futon frame out the window.

“You’re a fuckin’ massive psycho! But at least you’re showing some initiative. Dude, to kill yourself you’re going to need a higher window. If you jump from here, you will just break your ankles unless you land on your head. You know that, right?”

When the room was empty except for a knee-high table and a green futon, he slipped into the stairwell and hid up one flight, waiting for the superintendent to race up the stairs in response to calls complaining about some lazy fucker throwing trash out the window. Jansen passed, and Kovlov slipped down to the basement and into the unguarded office. He grabbed a box cutter, a Silky Zubat stainless steel handsaw, a wrench, and a box of garbage bags, and headed back out with the shopping cart.

He pushed along Chestnut, back on Walnut, and then back on Locust, stopping at garbage pails to pull soda cans and beer bottles. When he filled two bags, he sat on a stoop till the restaurants were cleaned and locked up. He headed east along Locust and then south on 2nd to the alley behind the Kyoto Grill.

It had been one of those Philadelphia days that pivoted through every season. Morning crowds crisscrossed lush parks and colorfully packed parking lots, Bruegel-like Phillies caps dotted the spring tapestry red. By noon a summerish sun flexed, forcing off coats and jackets. By early evening a brief fall drizzle until temperatures steadily dropped into the low 30s. Backlit by a full midnight moon, the massive cloud banks covered the city wintry gray.

Box cutter and credit card slid open the deadbolt. He clasped the wrench onto the doorknob stem and jumped his weight to crack it open. Once inside he passed a shelf with a stacked fleet of all-you-can-eat wooden sushi boats. To avoid being seen through the front plate glass by late night strollers he hunched-over headed for the backmost tatami room. He gathered and piled four earthy igusa mats and dislodged two bamboo posts and beige paper screens of Zashiki Hakkei prints and calligraphy. The hand saw and box cutter gently sliced the screens into sections. On his way out he grabbed a red teapot. The collection was gently placed into the cart and covered with the bags of empty cans and bottle. Within a block of his house, Kovlov pushed the cart and bags into an alley and grabbed the teapot, mats, and posts and screens to be re-assembled.

That night after a warm bath, Kovlov walked back to his bedroom and opened the door. Ozu waved a bamboo stick to enter. The stick settled back perpendicular to a pencil-thin mustache, creating a cross. To the master’s right, bespectacled Noda cooly palmed a lit cigarette. The red teapot was set in front of his tatami placed among a family scattered about a low table. Ozu looked at the one empty tatami, a sign for him to sit. Chishu Ryu sighed. Up close Ryu glowed a monk or maybe an angel. Setsuko Hara, wistful, understated, angled grace despite carrying a far too heavy burden, welcomed him with a modest glance. Atsuta calculated the presence of Kovlov and re-squared the shot. Kovlov had no lines but what matter in this simple space, to abide in nourishing silence.

David M. Rubin has a Ph.D. in biology. His stories, poems, and essays appear in After Dinner Conversations, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Café Irreal, ffraid, Last Stanza, Maudlin House, Moss Piglet, The Nabokovian, and The Smart Set. Links and connections to be found @Six18sFoundry.

“The Rocks Beneath the Same River” by David M. Rubin

Steven Rothstein perseverated four sub-stories, base code for his translation.


Dad handed Stevie, 8, and his brother Mark, 5, two one-dollar bills, enough for the Sunday New York Times and either two packs of baseball cards with cardboard flat sticks of bubblegum or two comic books. They would walk an unimaginably long distance along West 5th Street past three high rise apartment buildings and turn left into the strip mall. They would pass six stores, walk in the Village Stationary, browse the comic book carousel for new Captain America, Invincible Iron Man, and Mighty Thor comics. They would pick up a perfectly arranged Sunday Times from among the many stacks on the floor, carefully check for the presence of each section from Arts & Leisure to Travel. They would go to the counter, if they had chosen no comic books grab two packs of waxy baseball card packs, and pay. They would walk back home without dilly-dallying. Intimidating but doable. They would then be free to watch Bugs Bunny and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Everything went according to plan. Long walk. Check for new comics. None. Pick up and inventory a paper. Grab baseball cards. Pay. Walk home. They made it back to West Brighton Avenue, where a monstrous clanking rollercoaster D-train crossed above, and Stevie shifted his grasp on the paper that must have weighed as much as Mark. The massive construct called a New York Sunday Times slipped free and pages from every section caught the unforgiving ocean wind and fluttered into the street and parking lot. He remembered glancing at happy-go-lucky Mark mid bubble, carefully gripping baseball cards in each hand; it would be hard to blame him for this fiasco.

Stevie sort of remembered crying on the elevator ride up to the apartment, a smack in the head, another smack for good measure, and being called a moron who can’t even do one little simple fucking thing like get a paper. He definitely remembered having to spit out his bubble gum and throw the baseball cards down the incinerator shoot, though he hid in his underpants waistband the rare Lerrin Lagrow that completed his 1975 Topps set. He was given money to get a new paper and bring back the fucking change.


“Get over here.”

Stevie, 13, held out the subway pass that moments earlier Sheryl Kahn flashed to get through the gate. She had walked up the two flights of stairs, past the F to the D platform, and tossed the pass out over the back fence. Stevie picked it up from the dirt, walked innocently into the station, and flashed it to the woman in the booth. He did not see the cop like a hunting lion hidden off to the side.

“Hey, you think I’m stupid?”

Stevie thought, “Why oh why did Sheryl make such a catastrophic mistake acquiescing to this idiotic pass scam and why didn’t she notice the cop and abort the mission.” He never saw a cop this close up and was shocked by how young he was. It felt like being in Alan Conseletorre’s apartment when his older brothers were deciding on wailing dead-legs or force-feeding hot sauce till someone puked; where he figured out when no move was possible, winning meant simply not crying. His mind jumped ahead to a cascading checkmate. Sheryl would not have the decency to claim her pass was lost and would tell the school and both sets of parents on him… blah blah blah Stevie cajoled me each miserable morning in the elevator and on our schlep to the station, ranting on and on that it was a crime for him to have to pay if we can both use my pass… which meant suspension and that his and Sheryl’s father were both going to kill him. Stevie slid the pass into his pocket and shuddered.

“Wooooo, stunatz, give me the pass!” Stevie sheepishly handed it over. “Says here your name is Sheryl. You some kinda femminuccia?”


“What’s your religion?”


The cop ripped Sheryl’s pass into bits and flipped it in the trashcan. “Get out of my station and don’t come back… walk to school from now on.”


Steven, 15, and friends Chuck and Jeff entered Dougherty’s Liquor on Kings Highway and X as it supposedly didn’t proof. They beelined for the carousel of pre-mixed drinks in plastic bottles, spun it a few times, and decided the smart move was to buy six screwdrivers as mixing different types of alcohol was said to make people puke.

At Dekalb, Steven puked between D train cars, and wobbled back to a seat. “How many screwdrivers are left cause mine is on the tracks?”

Chuck answered, “You guzzled both of yours so you’re all done, rummy.”

Jeff shook his head. “Puking by 4:40 and Cheap Trick goes on at 9. Way to pace your first concert.”

For Steven everything blacked out between Trick and the cops beating his arms and legs in the Radio City Music Hall orchestra pit while he reached down for a souvenir. When he awoke the next morning, feeling like he was hit by a D train, he pulled from his pocket a Cheap Trick Cheap Trick Cheap Trick guitar pick.


“Hello, Sir. Hello.” Steven, 17, pleaded with a guy who was nodding out while trying to pull a copy of “Return of the Native.” The guy’s arms were scabbed over tracks and he hadn’t showered in forever, stinking up a radius from Classics to Poetry to Self-Help that would stay customer free till closing. The shame of the stink attached to Steven. The guy, who was a little older than Steven, leaned away from the shelf and stopped after having pulled the Hardy out a quarter of an inch. Then like a drunken metronome, he nodded forward, pushing the book back in place. This went on for several excruciating minutes.

Alone on the floor, Steven tried to figure out the right move for someone making $2.85 an hour. It was definitely not enough compensation to touch the guy’s elbow to gently lead him out of the store and risk being sliced across the face with a box cutter like what happened to Marjorie. If Steven told Mezner who was getting high in the back office to call the Port Authority cops, she would tell him to let her know if an actual crime was committed. If he just watched the guy fall through the shelves he would risk being fired, and no way he was losing a hall pass to getting let out after third period to take the N to NYC.

The guy groaned and nodded forward with a crash, dominoing Classics into Poetry. Books flew about. Most customers kept right on browsing, some made for the exit, some still holding whatever they were browsing. The guy had soiled himself, releasing a sickly junkie odor that Steven even decades later couldn’t clear from his nostrils.

At that moment Mr. Bendakis, the bookstore’s owner, entered the store and asked Steven where everyone was. He shrugged like an imbecile, and watched Bendakis open the back-office door to Mezner desperately spraying Lysol into billows of pot smoke. Bendakis fired everyone except Steven, who had fortunately taken his bong hits first and was back out on the floor.

Forty years of stories accreted like water torture, blasting a mild hunched posture and modest grimace. He recalled these four stories over and again and thought of flies and spiders. Spider webs designed by something far worse than a spider. He understood his stories on such a deep level that if ever asked he would say, “You know what I mean. You know. You know. You know what I mean?”

David M. Rubin has a Ph.D. in biology. His stories, poems, and essays appear in After Dinner Conversations, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Café Irreal, ffraid, Last Stanza, Maudlin House, Moss Piglet, The Nabokovian, and The Smart Set. Links and connections to be found @Six18sFoundry.