“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.

“John’s” by Ken Romanowski

Over ninety modest row homes occupied the two and three-hundred blocks of East Sheldon Street. Situated between C Street and Rising Sun Avenue, the homes formed a continuous line on either side of the street. The houses across from us were older, taller, and had a small flowerbed in front, whereas our homes, newer and smaller, had a small lawn in the front and back. Our block was flanked by C Street to the north and Rising Sun Avenue to the south.

Before we moved to Sheldon Street, we lived a few miles away on a block of even smaller row homes. It was there that Mom began to send me on errands. So, around five years of age, I started riding to the corner grocery store on my tricycle. Holding my little sister, Mom stood in the doorway with her red bandanna, light cardigan, and dark-colored slacks and watched me. I would ride my bike in my rolled-up dungarees and tee shirt and return with the goods in a basket secured behind me.

As I grew older, I graduated to the next level of independence and responsibility. So, when it was time for me to get a haircut when I turned eight, I could walk to the shop by myself. Nevertheless, there would be an impediment to reaching the barber shop — Rising Sun Avenue. John’s Barber Shop occupied a small storefront on Albanus Street near the other side of the Avenue. Albanus was not very wide, and its one-way traffic emptied onto Rising Sun, which was three times as wide as Sheldon with heavier and faster traffic. Driving it proved challenging to all because two sets of trolley tracks dominated its center lanes. Mom didn’t drive, so walking was my only option.

At one time, John cut hair at a hotel, but now, he was on his own in our neighborhood. An ebonite ashtray with the hotel name, a memento from times past, graced the ledge of his shop along with the instruments of his profession.  He posted his motto on a small sign on the store-length mirror: “It Takes Your Head to Run My Business.”

The day of the haircut, the plan was for Mom to call John and tell him that I was on my way. Mom and I would then walk along Sheldon Street until we came to Rising Sun Avenue where she’d make sure that I crossed safely to the other side. When we finished, John would briefly leave his shop and customers to watch me safely scamper to the other side of the avenue. I’d then head back to Sheldon Street.

Our plan didn’t unfold as we’d expected.

To find John’s number, Mom pulled out the phone book, which in Philadelphia was about two and a half inches thick at the time. Those White Pages were the go-to listing for telephone numbers and addresses. Mom proceeded to look for John’s, eventually coming to the right page and gliding her finger to the listing for what she thought was John’s Barber Shop. Mom was not wearing her reading glasses when her finger landed on John’s.

She called the number, and John answered.   

“Hello, John’s!”

“Hi, John, how are you doing?” Mom asked.

“I’m fine, thank you,” he said.

“I’d like to send my son over in a few minutes,” Mom said.

“Ok,” he said.

“And when he’s finished, could you help him across the street?” Mom asked.

After a brief moment of silence, John responded, “Huh?”

“Is this John the Barber?” Mom asked confused.

“No, this is John’s Bar!” John answered.

Both had a hearty laugh when they realized what had happened.

Mom then called John’s Barber Shop, made the proper arrangements, and proceeded to walk me toward Rising Sun Avenue. I safely crossed the busy thoroughfare and was on my way to getting my haircut by myself.

Mom guided me in those early years when I needed her most. Years later, we laughed as we remembered Mom calling the wrong John that day. That day was part of the process of many steps to maturity. I would eventually cross Rising Sun Avenue on my own, and years later, drive the family car along its embedded rails. When I became a parent and helped our daughter cross her own avenues, I fondly recalled the times when Mom was there to see me cross my own.

Ken Romanowski is a person of many and varied interests. Capping off a 45-year career in the business world, he is on the adjunct finance faculty at Rosemont College. Here he has found fertile ground to develop his teaching and writing skills. His love of the arts has been nurtured since childhood, and more recently, his inspiration is his wife, Linda, who recently completed her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction at Rosemont. He concentrates on non-fiction, especially as it relates to early American finance and lifestyle. He is also a regular contributor to online finance publications MoneyGeek and WalletHub.

“The Eagle and Mrs. B.” by Linda Romanowski

Many a Philadelphia area college student spent those post-Thanksgiving/Pre-Christmas days working at one of the “Big Three” department stores in Center City: Strawbridge & Clothier, Lit Brothers, or John Wanamaker’s. Due to my mother’s influence, I thought working at Wanamaker’s was the best of all worlds. After all, who could resist the classy interior and exterior window displays, the jagged mountain range stroke of the owner’s signature on the side of the building, and the transportation proximity?

Two other striking figures claimed the store’s signature distinction: the Wanamaker eagle and the annual Christmas fountain and light show. The serene and imposing gilded bronze aviary statue was the focal point for gathering, for claiming  “lost parents,” and for bon voyages until next time.

Lifting one’s eyes to the sights, sounds, and waving fountain streams of the hourly Christmas performance stopped shoppers in their tracks and delighted the minds of wide-eyed youngsters who rarely cried during those few minutes of awe. My first recollection of seeing the aqua wonder made me fearful, thinking at any moment, the fountains would fall from their upper stage perch and drown the audience below, extinguishing the prancing lights in the process.

Not every pair of eyes welcomed this holiday diversion. My first Christmas working season in the children’s department in 1972 provided a novel view of the saleswomen employed at the makeup counters. The daily music grinding of “Frosty the Snowman” did nothing for their business. No cash registers rung in harmony with “O, Christmas Tree.” Gazers leaned on their pristine cosmetic display cases; their backs turned away from the porcelain faces of Estee Lauderettes, who resorted to makeup remover to erase the handprints and elbow marks on their precious encasements of promised beauty and glamour. No allure of scented bottled blossoms could overpower the lofty sounds and scenery above the audience. It must have been the bane of their existence, their dreams of pocket money ruined by lit-up distraction. One year, I counted viewing thirty-six performances of Rudolph’s very shiny unpowdered nose glowing across the ceiling.


Every college student on Wanamaker’s holiday payroll hoped to work for the main floor supervisor, Mrs. B., known for her kindness. She was a smartly dressed, middle-aged Jewish lady, brownish-black hair coiffed to perfection, with no-nonsense eyeglasses attached to a pearl chain that hung elegantly around her neck. Her high-heeled pumps that coordinated with every outfit gave her an acceptable height, appearing taller than she was. Her trim figure clicked in tandem with her stride. Mrs. B. took the time to acquaint herself with several of us. One afternoon, during the height of the Christmas rush, she announced that she would retain us for the week after Christmas. We were delighted, as it meant money for next semester’s textbooks would be less of an issue. All we needed to do was follow her instructions without variation.

When we punched in on the time clock on December 26th, Mrs. B. led us to an unfamiliar store area, one at a time. We were placed separately in obscure areas of dressing rooms and stock areas, out of the view of the “suits” who might sniff through the aisles looking for post-holiday imperfections. There were close calls, but none of us were spotted. Had we been “caught,” we would say we were Christmas shopping to maintain our ruse. During that week, Mrs. B. was ubiquitous, her eagle eyes surpassing that stony sculpture’s glance on the first floor. We functioned seamlessly as the suits paraded the aisles, praising Mrs. B. for her diligence and attention to detail. I’ll always wonder if the Wanamaker eagle suspected her and kept the secret, among all the others, under its ornate-clad feathers.

Linda M. Romanowski is a graduate of Rosemont College, in 1975 with a BA in Psychology and Elementary Education, and this past May as an MFA graduate in Creative Non-fiction. She was assistant editor of Non-fiction for Rathalla magazine, Rosemont’s literary publication. Her Italian heritage-based thesis, “Final Touchstones”, earned with distinction, is scheduled for publication by Sunbury Press within the coming months. Several of the essays from her pending book were published on City Key, Ovunque Siamo and the Mario Lanza Institute Facebook page. She recently reviewed Ellen Stone’s poetry book “What is in the Blood” for the online Philadelphia Stories 2021 Fall issue. Her poem, “Seen In Translation” was selected for inclusion in the Moonstone Arts Center Protest 2021-100 Thousand Poets for Change.

“Lips Boudreaux” by James Knipp

The fat guy at the bus stop reminded Leonard of Tug Rooney.  He didn’t especially look like Tug.   The fat guy was tall and white and had the well-fed jowls and loud, bright voice of a suburban Rotarian, while Tug was short and gimpy with ashen skin and an asthmatic wheeze brought on by breathing decades of smoke.  It was more in the way they both could spin into a tale, the way the audience leaned in expectantly, especially the ladies, and how each always ended with a flourish, riding a wave of laughter through the finish.  Leonard had once asked Tug how he did it, how he commanded such attention. 

Tugs had put one hand on the back of Leonard’s neck and drew the younger man closer so he could smell the stale beer and cigar smoke that seeped from his pores.  He pointed at Leonard, the ever-present stub of cigar wedged between his fingers and said in his broken, sibilant croak, “Lips, you believe in what you say, people will follow, understand?”

Leonard, not quite a whisker past twenty at the time, didn’t, but he nodded all the same.  That was just how he was with Tug, when he asked, you nodded.  He had that way of making you agree.

The Rotarian at the bus stop finished his story and the ladies around him cackled laughter.  A bus growled up to the stop, belching diesel, and he strode away.  The ladies watched him leave with bird-like avidity, their eyes bright and admiring.

“He’s so nice,” one of them whispered.  The others nodded approvingly.

More buses came to the stop.  Brakes bellowed mournful whale song.  One by one, the ladies folded behind hissing pneumatic doors to be carried away to kitchens and dinner tables in Cherry Hill and Collingswood and Washington Township.  To husbands and children and houses that would soon grow dark and quiet as the winters night settled slowly around them and their day came to an end.

Leonard pulled his coat tighter and shivered. It wasn’t as cold as it should be, not for January, but it was cold enough.  He should head to the shelter.  They would put him up for the night, make sure he had something warm, but the bench held him fast.  The traffic along Broad Street thinned.  He watched long shadows stretch from the giant paintbrush, a silly and gaudy thing that sat next to the Fine Arts Academy and thought of Tug, and the club, and how he used to make that trumpet say things he never could in his own voice.

“Lips, you wouldn’t say shit even if you had a mouthful,” Tug would holler from his seat by the bar.  And Leonard would nod, and then Buster would start plinking that piano, and Milo tap on that snare, and Leonard would raise that trumpet to his mouth and he would disappear, and Lips Boudreaux would fill his spot. Only then would he speak, the wailing notes letting everyone at The Trap know about pain and loss and redemption.

“Don’t listen to him, hon,” Billie had said.  “That old fool been talking shit so long, he don’t know how to shut up.”  They had been naked when she said that, wrapped together under dingy sheets in his apartment above the club. The flickering neon sign cast them into discordant reds and washed out white.  Tug owned the sign, the club, the apartment Leonard rented.  Hell, he owned Leonard himself, courtesy of the contract Leonard signed the day he arrived in Philly, a battered, all-but-empty valise in his left hand, his trumpet case clutched in his right.  Tug had heard him play, had taken him out to buy a steak, and a new suit, even a woman; and then he had laid the crispy, white contract before him and urged him to sign.

Leonard had read it, or tried to.  The words swam before him, blurred by liquor and obscured by the promise of $50 per week, a king’s ransom back in Holmes County.  “What does ‘perpetuity’ mean?” he had asked.  Tug fixed him with rheumy grin, clapped him on the back, and said, “It means until you don’t want to play no more, son.”  Leonard had nodded and signed.  He had his doubts, his mother didn’t raise a fool, but to not sign meant getting back on that train to Mississippi and he couldn’t do that.  He had failed in New Orleans, he damn well wasn’t going to fail up here.

Bright light pulled him from the past.  A police car pulled to the curb, its searchlight speared the darkness and pinned Leonard to the bench.  He stiffened, and remembered a time when this might lead to billy clubs and beatings, even in the so-called enlightened north.  He never got caught up in that, and when the earnest young men would appear at the club and urge him to lend his voice to a cause, he simply demurred. People were people, and nothing he said could change that. Milo went to the rallies, sometimes came back with blackened eyes he wore as a badge of honor.  “What’s right is right, Lips. And this ain’t right.”  But Leonard would just shrug, and play on.  He supposed the abuse still happened today, at least that what the papers left on his bench said.  The light flicked off and a voice called from the darkness

“You’re not planning on sleeping here?”

Leonard jumped.  The voice that called out from the cruiser was Milo’s.  He’d know it anywhere.  Then he remembered that Milo was in Jersey, buried next to his wife.  He tried to peer through the open window of the vehicle and a face swam out of the void.  Not Milo at all, just a young cop making the rounds.

“Sir, you can’t sleep here.  Snow’s coming.”

Indeed, flakes had already begun to fall, coating the bench in a thin layer of cotton.

“Yes, sir,” Leonard called. His voice cracked in the frozen air.  He pointed towards city hall and the shadowed bus that lumbered around the corner. ‘I’m just waiting on the 400.”

The cop shrugged.  The car pulled away.  Tug, dead these passed forty years, stood beneath the giant paintbrush across the street, nearly obscured by the falling snow.  Leonard shook his head, rubbed his eyes and Tug disappeared, replaced by the plastic dollop of paint that completed the sculpture.  Oldenburg’s Paint Torch they called it.  Milo would have called it a giant pile of Day-Glo dogshit, and laughed that crazy laugh.

Milo had been the one to introduce him to Billie.  She was his wife’s cousin. He brought her in to watch them play, and when their regular singer that summer – some college girl who had run off to get married and left them hanging like forgotten laundry – Billie had stepped in. She stopped the world that night, her voice a huge and living thing that filled every corner and made people forget their drinks, their conversations, to turn their head and just listen.

Tug had been there with the contract before she even finished that first set, that same rheumy grin he laid on Leonard four years earlier.  Billie had taken one look, and laughed that smoky laugh that singed every nerve ending in Leonard’s body.

“Take that thing away, Mr. Rooney.  You want me to sing for you, I’ll sing, but I ain’t signing my name to nothing that don’t involve records.”

The contract disappeared, never mentioned again.  And Billie King became their regular singer.  For seven years she belted out the favorites.  For seven years she brought people in, from Philly, of course, but also from Jersey, and New York, and Baltimore.  Leonard didn’t remember exactly when they became lovers. They got along immediately, fell into each other’s cadences and rhythms.  He instinctively knew when to let the horn fade, to let her voice carry the song, and knew when it was time to step forward and let the horn do the talking.  And then one day they shared a bed.  That simple.  No pronouncements of love or devotion, they just slid into place, like they belonged.

“You know the best thing about you, hon?” She often said, while his head lay on her breast and her fingers traced fiery trails through his scalp.  “You know when to step back and let a girl shine.”

That was of course before the big fight.  Before the record man came with his promises and lured her away to California.

“Come with me,” she urged.  “You can play horn out there, too.”

He had gone to Tugs.   Told him he didn’t want to play for him anymore and was heading to California.  Tugs pulled open the drawer of the decrepit filing cabinet crouched in the corner of the office behind the bar.  Metal scraped against metal in a discordant screech and Leonard winced.  Tug retrieved the contract, slapped it on the desk, and stabbed one stubby finger into the center.

“See this word, ‘perpetuity’, it means ‘till I don’t want you here no more.”

By then Leonard had known what it meant.  Until then, he’d had no reason to care.

 “You can’t stop me from leaving, Tug.”

Tug had grinned, and Leonard knew in that moment he’d lost.

“Sure I can’t stop you, but I can sue you.  No one likes a contract breaker, Lips.”   Tug had paused, clouded eyes fixed to Leonard’s face.  He shook his head.

“Ah, hell, Lips.  I don’t care about the goddamn contract.”  Tug sat back in the chair.  The springs squealed. He blew smoke towards the ceiling.

“Billie’s going to be big.  Too big for you.  She’ll leave you in a year, and then what will you do?”   He turned back toward Leonard, pointed towards him with the cigar.  “And if she don’t, you’ll hold her back.  You gottta see that, right?”

Leonard had nodded.  Of course Tug was right.  Billie King didn’t need a second rate trumpet player to back her up, not when she could have a Kenny Dorham or a Chet Baker, or even a Miles Davis.  Leonard was small time.  He had failed in New Orleans, and had no guarantees he’d do anything good in California.  Philly was where he belonged, and in Philly he had to stay.

A bus stopped.  The woman sitting next to him, a shapeless shadow bundled against the cold, hurried towards the open door.  She paused and looked back, and in the warm inviting light spilling from the bus he saw Billie’s cocoa skin and aquiline nose.  Soft trumpet emanated from within the bus, a little Stella by Starlight. She smiled, stepped onto the bus and disappeared behind the polarized glass.

“I should have gone with you, Billie,” he murmured.  The snow fell harder and he pulled his jacket tighter.  Miles’ trumpet continued from somewhere in the darkness, echoing off silent buildings.  Stella had always been their favorite.

He had brought her few small bags to the car the record company sent.  They looked lost in the cavernous trunk of the new Eldorado.  She had waited for him by the back door, silent, eyes damp, beseeching.  She touched his face.  “It’s not too late.”

He put his head down. “I can’t leave.  This is where I belong.”

 Billie sobbed softly and slid into the back seat of the Cadillac.  The car pulled away and he watched until it disappeared down Broad Street.

Her first record came out a year later.  Then a second and a third.  He had bought them all, filled the apartment with her voice.  Some nights he pulled out his horn and played along.  She never got to play with Miles, but the trumpets that accompanied her were accomplished enough.  He saw her once, briefly, on the television, her hair done up in a style she’d never worn back here, some outlandish fur draped around her shoulders.  She had been sitting with a man he did not recognize and they both laughed uproariously as the camera caught them.  That laughter never touched her eyes though.  In that brief moment, it seemed to Leonard that something essential was missing.

And then she was gone.  Stolen by a demon that lived in a needle. Ruined by men that drained every last drop of spirit from her and cast her empty shell aside. That night at the club he launched into the solo they had worked into Stella by Starlight and kept going, his horn shouting over that year’s singer.  She muttered “Lips, Christ” but he continued.  One by one they stopped playing around him.  Buster’s piano tinkled to a stop, Milo gave one last hissing tap on a cymbal.  Silence fell over the club and he felt the weight of four dozen eyes fall upon him. He kept blowing, pouring everything into the horn, lamenting promises broken, wailing into an indifferent world for everything lost and forgotten.  And when he was finally spent, when the last note faded into the smoke-tinged darkness he had stood, panting on the stage, and thought that one is for you, Billie.  Always for you.

“You played beautifully that night,” Billie said from beside him.  Leonard started, snow sliding from his shoulders.

“Best I ever did,” he answered to the empty bench beside him.

Tug died the following spring, the cancer that had sprung from his throat spread through his body like the kudzu back in Holmes County.  Leonard sat by his hospital bed and watched captor and friend disappear beneath a confusing array of tubes and wires.  Milo came by several times and together they talked about twenty years of shouts from the corner of the bar, of singers come and gone (After Billie, Juanita had been their agreed upon favorite), of the places the music had taken them.  Tug’s sons, sober young men without a note in their soul stopped by, checked in, and left, often without saying a word to the two old musicians sitting bedside.  Leonard often wondered if they even saw him.

The boys sold the building and The Trap joined the parade of jazz clubs that disappeared from Broad Street –  Zanzibars,  Checkies, Suede – all buried under concrete and glass monstrosities that urged people to buy, buy, buy.  Drugstore chains and clothing stores piping ersatz music that spoke to no one, and concert halls that no one could afford.

He sometimes stopped on the corner, using his trumpet to tempt loose change into the old case, until someone – a manager or a cop – told him to leave.  He found jobs, especially in the nineties when the Jazz scene began to make a comeback and the clubs sprung up in the North East, but work was sparse now.  No one really wanted a tired, old horn player.

A flourish of trumpet and light flared from the empty convention center behind him.  He turned, amazed at the crowd of people, sitting in twos and threes around tiny tables that had sprung out of nothing.

“I hope you ain’t sitting here feeling sorry for yourself, sugar,” Billie said.  She grabbed his hand and placed it against her warm cheek.  “You’ve had a lot of good, too.”

“That’s right, Billie,” he whispered.  “And you was the best part of it.”

“Hey now,” Milo laughed from beside him.  “You and me had some times together too.”

Leonard whirled.  Milo leaned casually on a column, cigarette tucked beneath his lip, a spare drumstick wedged behind his ear.  Tug stood next to him, a trumpet case in his hand.  The convention center doors stood open. A quartet stage set up and waited for the music to start. Buster already sat at the piano.  Milo flicked his cigarette and sauntered inside, his long hands beating a rhythm against his narrow chest.  Billie gave him a lingering kiss and slid away.

“Don’t keep me waiting, Sugar.”

Tug remained outside, his head cocked, cigar clenched in the corner of his mouth.  He raised the trumpet case towards him.

“What do you say, Lips.  You gonna honor that contract?”

“That was never a fair contract, Tug.  You know that.”

Tug grinned and shrugged. Leonard took the trumpet.  The old club owner waddled away in an acrid cloud of cigar smoke.  Leonard unclasped the case and found his old horn, the good one with the pearl-inlaid buttons that Billie had bought him before she left.  He had sold it for rent money.

Inside the convention center, Buster plinked on the keyboard.  Milo beat a light staccato on the snare.  Billie scatted some scales, something she loved to tease the crowd with before each set.  The audience murmured its approval, and Leonard felt sudden warmth blaze in his chest.  His heart pounded, his lungs filled with air and he felt it, the music, coursing through him, waiting for release.   He placed the trumpet to his lips, let the horn wail, his fingers jumping nimbly through notes, making them dance like fireflies in the Mississippi twilight.  Billie gave a primal shout and opened her arms and Lips Boudreaux strode up to the stage.  It was time for him to do some talking, and he had a lot to say. The snow fell and grew into a shroud, covering Leonard in white that would remain undisturbed until morning.  Somewhere from the darkness, a horn wailed, and for a moment the few remaining souls who wandered Broad Street stopped and marveled as the note spoke to them of love and hope and the knowledge that all things lost will someday be found again.

James Knipp is a graduate of Rutgers College with a BA in English. He is the creator of the humor blog KnippKnopp and a frequent contributor to the pop culture site Biff Bam Pop He has had work published in Crypt-GnatsPhilly Flash Inferno and the anthologies Long Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey and In a Flash.  Jim’s first book, Everything you Need to Know About Being a Grandfather (Quirk Books) was published in 2019.

“The Election that Changed the World” by Linda Romanowski

In 1952, ten men assembled in a modest two-story building, in the Spring Garden Section of Philadelphia at Ridge and Callowhill Streets. They worked as technicians for Remington Rand Inc., founded by University of Pennsylvania graduates, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. One of these technicians was my father.

That night, the group set out to do what had never been done before – with six Univac computers spread out on their test floor, they’d predict the results of the 1952 Presidential election. It worked out according to plan – they determined early on that evening that Eisenhower would win the election.

Continue reading “The Election that Changed the World” by Linda Romanowski

“Red Philadelphia Years” by Carlos Jose Perez Samano


Years like bubbles,
leaves, or cups.

Before Market Street
just a plateau,
back in time
those old trees
that now name
our beautiful streets.

Lenape woman,
an Armewamese one,
corn, beans, squash,
three sisters,
daughters of

cousin of William Penn,
son of two good Quakers,
also called friends.

Can you imagine
Richard Saunders
writing in his almanac,
words to the wise,
just to become Benjamin Franklin,
our first American guy?

Coming from Haiti,
a relative of Mackandal,
speaking only Creole.

Summer 1800,
slave 24 years,
from Cuba by boat
waits in Lanzaretto a month.

In 1849
the Moyamensing prision saw
how Edgar Allan Poe
tried to kill himself.

The same year,
some boats,
some Germans came,
the 1848 revolution ended.

By 1984 a guy from South Korea,
with a name hard to pronounce,
came after rolling for years
in the South Cone,
also called South America.

Coming from a wealthy family,
he became poor,
like an Allegheny or Kensington
meth woman dancing
without mouth.
Now his name is Jimmy Pak.

We all came
from different places,
and different times,
and here we go,
the years like empty drawers,
rusty dishes,
broken and dirty dolls,
pieces of me and you.

We all know that brotherly love
is a beautiful image
but Lorraine Hotel was full of stories
that we try to forget.

L-O-V-E in red,
pictures of Philadelphia.
with or without the hashtag

Philadelphia can be,
a nest,
a red brick,
some red
and yellow
and pink,
falling leaves,
touching lightly
the surface of the river
floating smoothly
through the small waves of
the Schuylkill.

And Philadelphia is
snow when it snows,
and heat like hell
if you don’t have a fan.

Years will come,
we will be gone.

But today here we are,
sharing this
Philadelphia year.

Carlos José Pérez Sámano is a literary fiction and nonfiction author, teacher of Creative Writing Workshops in countries like Mexico, USA, Kenya, and Cuba. He has four published books, and is the recipient of the “Best Seller” award of Ad Zurdum Publishing House. His work has been featured in more than 20 international magazines like Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, Errr Magazine, Quinqué, Poetry in Common, Cultura Colectiva, among others. He is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Publishing at Rosemont College. He will be published by Temple University Press in “Who Will Speak For America?” in 2018. Find him on Twitter: @carlosjoseperez

Please note: Poetry is compressed to fit smart phone screens. If you are reading this poem on a phone screen, please turn your screen sideways to make sure that you are seeing correct line breaks for this poem.

Editor’s Post: “Philadelphia, 11/20/2015”


Ayesha F. Hamid is the founder and editor in chief at The City Key.  Ayesha has an MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Publishing from Rosemont College and an MA in Sociology from Brooklyn College. Her poetry and prose has appeared in Big Easy Review Philly Flash Inferno and Rathalla Review. Ayesha is a lover of cities, big and small.

Editor’s Post: “New York City”

Ayesha F. Hamid is the founder and editor-in-chief at The City Key.  Ayesha has an MFA from Rosemont College, an MA in Sociology from Brooklyn College, and is currently pursuing an MA in Publishing from Rosemont College.  Her poetry and prose has appeared in Big Easy Review and in Philly Flash Inferno.  Ayesha is a lover of cities, big and small.

Editor’s Post: “The City’s Wild Promise.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “the city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time. In its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.” Fitzgerald describes something that I’ve always felt when arriving in a city; the word that comes closest to explaining this feeling is hope.

Continue reading Editor’s Post: “The City’s Wild Promise.”

“What It’s About” by Spencer Shaak

I look for Charlie every time
on Sundays at the Bayou Bar.
He’s always on the same stool,
slugging down two-dollar Miller Lights.

We watch Eagles football together
with the rest of the Bayou.
We talk about what we like
about Philadelphia – Wissahickon Park,
fallen-fire crusted leaves,
hustle and bustle, food vendors,
barbecue steam,
bicyclists swinging in and out,
like bright crochet hooks
weaving their own section
of Philadelphia’s quilt.

Charlie tells me he’s lived in the city
for all eighty years of his life.
I say – Me? Barely one.
But right now, it’s not about then,
it’s about now – Main Street, Manayunk,
bikes in and then out, hickory smoke blocks away,
Bayou, two-dollar Miller Lights,

Charlie sitting on the stool to my right.
It’s about words never said:
You’re like a grandfather to me.


Spencer Shaak is an MFA graduate in creative writing from Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pennsylvania.

Please note: Poetry is compressed to fit smart phone screens. If you are reading this poem on a phone screen, please turn your screen sideways to make sure that you are seeing correct line breaks for this poem.