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**PRINT: COLD WAS THE GROUND, by Chicago's Scott Stealey, is No. 34 in our broadsheet series. Gina, protagonist, a rather lonely condo dweller/office manager, strikes up a fleeting friendship with one Porgo, an Eastern European construction worker who is burying on her property what Gina takes for a time capsule. But the metaphorical fix is in -- Porgo, an ESL student, may be leading Gina in directions she canít exactly get her head all the way around. Enjoy. Chicago writer Stealey is editor of the Please Donít online mag.

**WEB: CORNER THEATER Paul A. Toth
THE BRIDGE Lisa Grayson
JUST THIS ONCE Glen Binger
CRUISING Eric Sasson
A PROTAGONIST READS THE UP-TOP DESCRIPTION OF HIS OR HER OWN LIFE Matthew Brian Cohen
DOGS ON A PLANE Todd Dills
WING & FLY: Bubbling up in Nashville, gassing it to Chicago | Todd Dills
CHARLIE's TRAIN a novella by Heather Palmer
HIDEOUS BOUNTY: THE FRONTIERSMEN | Andrew Davis


CORNER THEATER
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Paul A. Toth

Clara had determined one more vase was required, and the space it would occupy constantly attracted her gaze. She maintained several vases of such a particular style that they can hardly be described, except to note their almost-womanly curves and delicate construction. They were designed to appear delicate and even more so rare; rarity was their essence and reason to exist. They possessed no ability or right to multiply, indeed no abilities or rights at all. Clara was ignorant of these facts but aware of the missing piece within her intricate pattern of living-room vases, which she assumed escaped notice but instead exposed itself to visitors exactly because of its inconspicuousness. Still, she had to find the last vase. She would and must find it, for to not find it would cause the collapse of her living room, which would crash into the apartment below, which in turn would reveal itself to have been far better designed than her own, a fear Clara had long harbored as if it were a ghost ship trolling her worry lines.

THE LEFT HAND: Soap, Lit

To find a like vase was not so easy as one might have thought. They were not sold new, of course; that would have allowed for the possibility of inadvertent duplication. They were best located by chance. Upon finding one, she would invariably say, "I never." Therefore, when shopping, she studied everything but vases.

"Can I help you, ma'am?"

"Could you show me where the vases aren't?"

"They're -- what?"

"I'm shopping for anything but vases."

Despite Clara's efforts, her gaze followed the man's finger.

"All I can say's that the vases are over there, so don't go there."

Her cart felt as if it were being hauled toward the vases, and she had to push against her will to the furniture section. Even there, the sets of furniture layouts often included vases, and she had to turn away. Still, this was only the first consignment shop. With a practiced but false casualness she slid past the vases and refused to look. If present, the vase she desired would demand her attention: "Hello. Place me in your home, in the intersecting lines of vases, the space between, where the void is slowly destroying you."

When Clara left the store, her shadow passed away into the sunlight, and she thought that she had better get something to eat. She went to a drive-through and then to a closed-down movie theater. There, in the abandoned parking lot, she ate her burger and wondered why the paint had been stripped from the theater; perhaps, she thought, the faded paint marked a dead theater, so that it was known and remembered, something like a grave but more subtle. The theater had been there for years. No one had dared to desecrate the property. Clara had never viewed a film there. She preferred watching television at home. She felt a little sad about that, for the theater stood without roses left by lovers, friends or family. It was as if it had never lived.

Suddenly feeling frantic, Clara rushed to the other consignment shops and then the Goodwills and the Salvation Armys and even what few garage sales availed themselves, but no vase called to her.

At home, she clicked her way to the well-known online auctions. She scrolled through the photos. If only one would speak to her, but they were silent, thousands of mute objects that did not know her name: "Claaaaaarrrraaaa." Down and down, one page to the next, arrows and arrows, this way, that way, A through Z, highest price to lowest, lowest price to highest ... nothing.

Clara went to her living room and sat on the couch she had situated so that the vases could be seen at their symmetrical best. It seemed so quiet. She had for some time not wanted to replace her previous lover because he had not set a good example for the next, but for the moment one would have been nice to have around if only to interrupt the steady silence. It had never seemed so silent. Usually the vases provided a connection to sound in her mind, something like staring at seashells and knowing they conjured aural illusions of the sea and then hearing them in the imagination. But they began to appear as all the other vases she had witnessed that day. She was about to smash them one by one against the wall, but as she held the first, it seemed wrong, even if the vases had fallen from the grace of her well-developed taste.

It was at dusk when she set the vases, now filled with roses, across what had once been the front sidewalk of the movie theater. She thought they might call "Claaaaaarrrraaaa" but then realized they were now calling the name of the theater or the names of the dead actors who had appeared on its screen. Then she went home. Her house was still silent, so she turned on the television. The show was live and the shadows of stars appeared on her ceiling.

DIMITRIUS JONES

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