Bad Policeman

John Riley

The policeman who walks the alley remembers when the sky at night had more stars. Now he wishes he could do more for the alley’s residents. If he had a money belt coiled around his waist he would hand them coins and bills. As it is, there is little he can do but watch and listen. Tonight the lion has no companion. Getting up in years and favoring his feet as though they had been pickled, the lion talks as usual about how much happier he’d been when he lived at the landfill. The policeman listens patiently until the lion grows quiet, and pushes on. The lady of the evening who often thinks of the snow back in Mankato says it’s a low-energy night. She’ll sleep soon and dream of the nights she wore gowns and enjoyed the hospitality of the wealthy man who took her to restaurants where they lounged on big pillows while waiters pushed trollies full of recently harvested vegetables and thinly sliced meats. The wealthy man had loved her and offered her a ring and she can’t remember what words she had used telling him no. She had slept with him freely but without enough joy. It was this inability to feel joy that drove her to the alley. The orangutan once had a secret crush on the lion. She let it fester too long and now it makes her bitter. Tonight she is worried about germs. She knows the lion carries them, not to mention the string of potential mates he brings to the alley. She wants it looked into. The ex-paperboy loves to gamble. He used the dollars and nickels he collected to place bets on a multitude of unrealistic possibilities. He lost wagers about the height of his grandma’s azaleas and the depth of a farm pond and the time it took to walk from Lincoln to Omaha. When he lost the last bet he had no desire to return home and kept walking until he reached a city with just the right alley. He is so lonely he asks the policeman to frisk him, but he’d been frisked the night before and it wouldn’t be wise to spoil him. The policeman’s superiors said he was lazy. Every year they shrank his beat. He has no choice but to leave the alley each night to arrest a few miscreants. Even with these obvious criminals he fails to be sufficiently stern. The policeman wishes he’d chosen a different profession. When the morning sun lights all but the alley’s most shadowed corners it’s time for him to leave. Strolling down the street toward the station he wishes he called the alley home.

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John Riley lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he works in educational publishing. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Fiction Daily, Smokelong Quarterly, Connotation Press, Blue Five Notebook, Willows Wept Review, The Dead Mule, and other places online and in print.

The Flying Man Trapped in the Mobile Siege Tower

John Riley

The Flying Man lives in a wooden cage built on top of a mobile siege tower, and is rolled from battle to battle. His job is to watch the suffering inside the walls of surrounded villages and report on the misery’s progress to the king’s men that gather each night around the siege tower’s staked wheels. The king thinks the trapped Flying Man brings his army good fortune and seldom does a day go by that he does not stop his horse and offer the Flying Man his best wishes.

In the midst of a siege, when attacks are mounted during the day, the Flying Man lies coiled inches above the cage floor. At night, he listens to the men around the campfires sing songs of home, lonely songs that make the Flying Man happy he has his own place.

When the burning arrows that sing overhead bury themselves in the cage walls he quenches the flames with buckets of water lifted with strong ropes through a small hole in the cage floor. At night he eats freshly killed meat scorched over camp fires. The soldier who fills his supper basket, a boy too young to shave, includes a slice of hard bread with his meal and sometimes a skein of sharp wine.

The end of a siege is always the same. The villagers behind the surrounded walls begin to keen and to sob and a few days later he hears the gravediggers’ shovels scrape earth and rock hour after hour. After the sieged walls come down, or the village’s gates are forced open and the massacre has ended, the army and the siege tower moves on. The Flying Man loves these days of travel, when he can squint between the cage walls and watch swallows and crows and sometimes an eagle float and dip over the treetops while the men and horses steady the tower as it rolls along the dusty roads.

There is always a new battle waiting and new innocents to die but the Flying Man’s heart is never divided. Once he flew wherever he wanted but now the Flying Man knows freedom is living in his cage atop the mobile siege tower. He loves his captors, the king and his soldiers that make sure he is fed and offer him gratitude for the good luck he brings. The Flying Man has long forgotten the days he lived outside his cage. Today he lives only for the sweet smell of burning flesh, the exquisite snick of a slicing blade, the taste of boiling siege oil that clings to his tongue.

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John Riley lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he works in educational publishing. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Fiction Daily, Smokelong Quarterly, Connotation Press, Blue Five Notebook, Willows Wept Review, The Dead Mule, and other places online and in print.

Apartments

John Riley

The woman who lives alone on the first floor had loved dancing naked for her lovers. Now she is well acquainted with long sunny afternoons and the winter days that never turn from gray. The girl who lives in the apartment above never sings when her lover visits but when she is alone she sings songs in a language the woman does not understand with a voice that clings to its lightness. When he leaves in the morning the girl’s lover hurries down the stairs and after the woman hears the door of the old apartment building bang shut she stops her daily chores and sits at her dining table with two chairs and waits for the girl to sing.

The young girl who does not know the woman who lives below cannot remember when she last loved her lover. She remembers the nights they made love and how afterward he fell asleep. She watched him sleep and smiled at the way his girlish lips made a pout as his deep breaths blew in and out. She knew he was dreaming and would not remember the dream the next day. She can remember those nights but cannot remember loving him and now when he sleeps she reads through the night and thinks there is nothing so selfish as sleep.

While the young girl reads the woman below lies in her bed. She is old now and will soon die and sleep is no longer necessary. She once tried to remember what it was like to not be alone but now she knows that even when she had lovers and loved them the way she thinks the young girl above loves hers she had remained alone. The old woman wishes the young girl knew what she knows. She wishes the young girl would sing at night while her lover sleeps.

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John Riley lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he works in educational publishing. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Fiction Daily, Smokelong Quarterly, Connotation Press, Blue Five Notebook, Willows Wept Review, The Dead Mule, and other places online and in print.