Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2014    poetry    all issues


Cover Mia Funk

Bill Pippin

Chris Belden
The Finger

Amberle L. Husbands
Only Whistle Stops

Kyle A. Valenta
The Narrows

Robert Martin

Eileen Arthurs
Portrait of an Artist, After All

Gibson Monk
The Tenth Part of Desire

J. S. Simmons
Bodies In Motion and At Rest

Nancy Nguyen
Truck Stop

Melissa Ragsly
The Pigeons of Apartment 9C

KC Kirkley

B. Yvette Yun
Fire in the Sky

Katharine O’Flynn
The Island

Brent DeLanoy

Daniel C. Bryant
Out County Road

John Mort
Red Rock Valley

Zac Hill
Conversations With Dakota Fanning

Haley Norris
The Last Day

Writer's Site

Melissa Ragsly

The Pigeons of Apartment 9C

Boiled peanuts fried in pork fat, blood sausage topped with fried duck egg and tarragon cream, beef and caramelized Stilton pie. I’d take one of each and a second for the doggy bag.

Sitting at my desk with the menu from The Breslin, I delighted in circling all I wanted to taste. It’s the highlight of being a critic. The expectancy of just how those words, raw prostrate nouns, will smell, look and taste as they appear to you atop a white plate on the altar just above your lap. It’s salvation and I get to preach it. In the pre-internet Wild West, I had to smuggle out an actual menu, stashed away in an oversized purse, not the fashion back in the day. I think I might have started a trend though, and it earned me several mentions in the columns of New York gossip doyennes. Now, I could circle away at a future meal, one full of warm meat and heavy gravy, just what I needed in the dead bone middle of a lengthy winter. January just wouldn’t end.

My desk faced the window. I waited for a dose of vitamin D, but the damned sun covered itself in a blanket of clouds and refused to see her fans. How Garbo of her. From this vantage point, I could almost see my apartment, two blocks up and one over on West End Avenue. Purchased in full by me alone, it was a gift to myself after I became established. Rick was home, either in bed or in his darkroom. The week prior, I sat at the bar of Kin Shop with two couples and one bubbly pineapple-Thai basil cocktail. After a number of hours, I lost our table because Rick never showed up. He said he was working in the darkroom and lost track of time. I said to him after we got home, “Why don’t you go digital? We could turn this room into an exercise studio or an archive space for me.”

He scoffed, giving me a rebel stare he probably gave his parents when they told him he couldn’t go see The Kinks at the Fillmore East. “We’re not getting rid of my darkroom.”

I squinted at the computer monitor and reached for my glasses when something moved outside the window, a falling gray mass. My stomach lurched. I got up from my chair and looked down to the sidewalk, terrified at what I might see. With mortal weight this thing fell so fast and, my first thought was it was a newborn tossed. I could see only part of the body, webbed claws of a pigeon poking out stiffly from a plump belly. Tops of heads walked by, dressed in woolen caps. The bird, not quite invisible, became merely a nuisance, something to be stepped over by rubber boots or gawked at by toddlers bundled up in passing strollers.

My assistant had a phone to her ear and called out to me. When I turned around, Kathleen held a lithe hand over the receiver. She was effortlessly young, a junior at NYU. Surrounding her were the magazines my reviews have appeared in, cataloged in cardboard boxes standing at attention. There were the two novels I had published in the late-70s. My hats, fitting for the Kentucky Derby or Ascot, always worn when photographed to hide my identity, hung on hooks near the bathroom. Nestled in between all the work I had produced since I was 22 years old was a leopard print sofa, complete with pull-out bed.

Kathleen officiously scolded me, “You didn’t tell me you already dined at The Breslin. You need to tell me these things so I can put them in the system.”

I was confused, “Kathleen, you know I haven’t. I’m only looking at the menu now.” I motioned for her to make sure she covered up the receiver all the way, so no clues about my identity leaked. Chefs are rock stars now, private investigators have tried to out me. I do whatever I can to avoid being exposed. These are some tools of the trade; of course, don’t use your real name when making a reservation, use someone else’s name that will be dining with you, because you need to leave a real phone number. High-end restaurants confirm reservations. Also, it’s best to eat with four to six other people so that you can sample more of the menu without it being suspicious. And those friends always pay, to be reimbursed at a later date.

Kathleen politely chirped to the host, “Could you excuse me? I’ll be right back and we’ll finalize,” a manicured finger with Breton stripes smothered the mute button. “If you didn’t already eat there, why did he say to me, ‘I hope Mr. Talbot enjoyed the Oxtail?’” Another thing that’s changed. Information. Everything is filed away in the computer so backers and money people can determine who eats what when and what makes them the most profit.

“There are a million Mr. Talbots in New York. They just made a mistake.”

“No, they have Rick’s name and number in their database. Table for two, last Wednesday, January 12th. They read the whole order. How could you forget you had a Chocolate Stout Syllabub?” Kathleen took a breath and let the question hang in the air, before it crested and crashed down with the thud of gravity. I could see her putting it together in her head. She looked at me, but her focus was out through the window, where the sky was darkening, gray like the pigeon still reclined on the pavement. “Oh, it doesn’t matter, I’ll make the reservation for 7 p.m., okay?”

I nodded my head and smiled as I got up and pointed to the bathroom. She finished the call with laughter and evasion and made the reservation, remarking how, “Yes, Mr. Talbot loved the Oxtail.” I closed the door quietly and flipped on the switch. The damask wallpaper’s orange and gold print was ostentatious anywhere but a small powder room. On the wall above the toilet, I kept my Key to the City of New York. The key which was, to my surprise at the time, only a Proclamation, written in gothic script, in block gold and blue letters. It declared that December 5, 1989 was a day in honor of Martha Molsen. I was hoping for an actual key, an old-fashioned one, heavy and gold and curled at the head and attached to a delicate ribbon. Next to it hung a picture of me in a plumed hat, laying low over my eyes but exposing a bright smile. I was shaking the hand of Mayor Koch, who had just lost his bid for a fourth term. In the photo, he’s handing me the “key” and smiling just as vividly as I was. How hard it must have been for him, someone who got the message from millions of people, we don’t want you anymore, to have to keep on working before the new model could take over.

I heard the intercom, Kathleen’s heels approached on the wood floor, “Martha, your Pilates instructor is coming up.” I changed into leggings and Rick’s Village Voice T-shirt. Over my shoulder, on the wall opposite hung the photo Rick took of me in our first year together. Black and white, my bare back to the camera. A before shot. That was back when his camera seduced me. If he took my picture, I knew I was wanted; I knew I was. In this photo, my face unseen, but my body, young and taut and posed, was one of a wanted woman. I wondered what about me from that picture still existed. What was left that wasn’t exhausted subject matter?

I closed the blinds when I exercised. No one needs to see my face turn raw. At the mouth of the window, I looked to check on the pigeon, hoping it hadn’t been kicked in the road and mowed over by taxis speeding to cross the Park. The bird was gone from its spot. I saw a man I knew from the elevator whom I had never spoken to, just a friendly nod now and then. He wore sky-blue denim with a collar of sheepskin. His face was wrinkled and distracted and his eyes dipped in shock. In his arms, he cradled the dead bird. People passed on the sidewalk and exhaled wintry white breath like a soul escaping a body. Up, up, up it went and faded into nothing. The man stroked the bird and took it back inside with him.

After dinner at the Breslin, I kissed Henry and Sals on their cheeks and told Rick I had a deadline and needed to spend the night in the office working. “So I won’t see you tonight?” Rick asked as he searched over my shoulder for a taxi. He smoothly stuck some fingers in his mouth, perhaps still dusted with the fat and salt of a crispy charred sausage, and whistled.

“I’ll probably be home in the morning to shower,” I told him. A cab pulled up and before he got in, I handed him an unlabeled white envelope.

“What’s this?”

“Just open it later,” I said with such nonchalance, he took me at my word and stuffed it into his inside pocket. I guessed he would forget about it all together until he fumbled through the pockets in the morning for his wallet. In the envelope was a check I wrote out to Rick for $10,000.

Entering my lobby, I felt warmed by the topaz light reflected off the walls. The night doorman leapt to his feet as soon as he heard me push open the door. He must have damned me for bringing in the cold. Tommy, is it? Joe? He profusely nodded his head, a sign he was ready to be of service. He was so young and eager, like a kenneled puppy trying to prove his worth, “Good evening, Ms. Molsen. Finishing up some work?”

“Yes, thank you.” I headed toward the elevator and before I could read the sign affixed to the door with smudged-fingertip scotch tape, the young doorman cleared his throat.

‘It seems there is a wee problem with the lifts.”

“Oh, is there?”

“Yes, terribly sorry. Fixed in no time. You’re one of the lucky ones. Four floors is a doable walk, isn’t it?” His smile made me want to agree with him.

“Yes, Tommy. It’s doable. It is Tommy, am I right?” I said like a woman half my age with designs on using the services of an able bodied lonely man. I gave him my take-away bag from the Breslin, two desserts from the Pudding menu. Rick hadn’t flinched at all when I ordered the exact same menu he already devoured with his mysterious guest. “Here, Chocolate Stout Sylabub and Spotted Dick. All very delicious and sweet and completely untouched by me. Please enjoy.”

“Oh, no, Ms. Molsen, I couldn’t. It’s not allowed.”

“This will be our little secret. Just get rid of the evidence.” I started towards the stairs, but stopped for a question. “Tommy, I don’t suppose you know, but I saw a pigeon today.”

“Rats with wings, I understand. We’ll get the sidewalk swept more often.”

“No, I saw one fall from the roof. There was a man who picked it up. I’ve seen him before.”

“Oh, you mean Dennis.”

“Does he have a moustache? Gray and white hair?”

“Yes, that’s him. He’s a bit of a pigeon fancier. He’s kept some on the roof, but the board keeps telling him to get rid of his loft.”

“Thanks.” I was about to leave the lobby and it’s buttery dimness, the perfect lighting for a woman my age. I turned and admittedly, got a bit business-like, a bit demanding. “And Dennis lives on what floor?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Ms. Molsen. I couldn’t give out personal information.” I held my gaze on him. Once I could use a little leg and a wink and flirt anything out of a man. Like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. Now, it’s only fear I can use. So I glared and waited and before long—

“Dennis Auburn. 9C.”

After walking up four flights, sweat formed under multi-layers of coat, sweater and dinner clothes. It’s so bitter cold outside and so tropical inside, even in the seldom-used stairwell. It’s like setting a kitchen blowtorch on an ice cube. An utter annihilation. I melted in a puddle right next to the umbrella stand. All layers shed, I was down to my champagne slip and nude hose.

Then I heard typing. A glow came from the workspace. I emerged from the hallway and saw Kathleen, with white earbuds, focused on her computer screen. She turned her head and saw me, I’m sure a little shocked to see me in my undergarments. After a smile and a tug at the headphone cord, I saw a quick look betrayed on her face and a wrinkling of her brow for just a moment before, efficient, all-business Kathleen returned. She felt remorse, or maybe it was pity. The printer churned and Kathleen attended to the papers it spat out. “I didn’t think I’d see you tonight,” she articulated and referring to my state of undress, she merely asked, “Shall I turn the heat down?”

“Maybe just open the window?” She went to the window and after opening it a sliver; she put what she had printed out on my desk.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you tonight. I’m not entirely prepared.”

“Don’t worry about anything, it’s after hours. You’re free. Free to flutter about at one of your social events.”

“I’m going to get you a glass of wine. Sit. Red?”

A glass of wine poured and served sounded heavenly, but I just wanted to be alone for a spell. Kathleen re-entered the room, bringing with her a juice glass filled with Pinot Noir and a silk robe from the bathroom. She settled the wine on the side table and placed it delicately on a coaster.

“Has Rick called?”

“Martha, I’ve placed on your desk my letter of resignation. It’s effective immediately. Rick hasn’t called.”

“Kathleen, you can’t just leave me in the lurch.”

“I have received an offer and I need to start tomorrow or it’s a no-go. I got a position at Gullet and they’re producing a piece about Reggie Hollander’s bustaurant. I’m packing a bag and leaving tonight.” Reggie Hollander was an occasional dinner buddy of mine, whom I saw less of as he became more and more a fixture in the foodie world. He started showing up on national morning shows. People began to listen. His trademark, a classic Heinz ketchup bottle tattoo from shoulder to elbow. I had recently spoken to him about an article I was writing about the launch of Gullet, a web magazine that Reggie believed would revolutionize modern food journalism. It was to be a mix of writing, food porn and short video pieces. And now, somehow, Kathleen was jumping on board. “I wasn’t searching for a new job. Do you know who works for him?”

“He has an army.”


“My old assistant? She said she was going back to school.”

“No, she went to Reggie. She became his assistant, that’s how I started talking to her. Then she got a promotion and we had a few drinks together and she offered me this job.”

“She could have told me she got another job.”

Kathleen got up and got herself a glass. She poured, watching the ruby liquid trickle in and surveyed the glass for an answer. “Martha, I like you. You’ve been difficult, but in a good way. I respect you.” I heard this and my stomach tensed. This was a prepared speech and people don’t prepare good news, they let it flow and explode like champagne uncorked. Bad news, you try to control.

“What is it?”

Kathleen took a swig from the glass housed in her palm, “Theresa gets very lubricated when she drinks.”

“It’s none of my business what kind of person she is. She doesn’t work for me anymore.”

“It’s like all of a sudden, this girl has a lot of power. And I accept that. But in a way I don’t, Martha. And I’m telling you this because I do respect you. And I feel like Theresa is a total cliché of a girl and you’re an intelligent woman.” I couldn’t fathom what Theresa could have done. Stolen my rolodex? She wouldn’t need to, she had Reggie Hollander now. Kathleen spit out the information that burdened her chest. “Theresa is sleeping with Rick. She’s the one that had dinner with him at the Breslin. They’ve been seeing each other for a long time, since she first became your assistant.”


“He likes to take her picture. They have photo shoots all the time. He feels like this wanted artist and she feels famous. They both have their own little fantasy about it. She sent them to me.”

“You’re trying to hurt me.”

“Martha, you are a legend. You’re important to me and you deserve to know.”

“Why are you telling me this?

“She has a picture of you she got from Rick’s files. She’s told me she keeps copies with her just in case the mood strikes, she can out you whenever she wants.”

I went to my desk and drafted an email to a friend who teaches at NYU. He always has willing students who will work on the cheap to get a good recommendation from me. I placed Kathleen’s letter against the window, and for a while, I looked out into the frigid night. The fire escape’s metal spine looked slick and wet from a coating of ice. A jetsam of crumpled napkins danced in the air. Receipts fluttered like little Cabbage White butterflies. On the roof of the brownstone across the way, two gray pigeons landed and flew again. They are free, aren’t they, I thought then chastised myself. That was cliché territory. I went to the bathroom, put on my workout clothes and left my apartment.

Approaching 9C, I chuckled at the choice of doormat, a creamy rectangle reading “COME BACK WITH A WARRANT.” I rang the doorbell which barely registered over what I thought was a Frankie Valli song. A scrape of metal on the other side of the door, probably from the peephole. He must have been looking at me, trying to place me.

“I have a warrant.” I said with enough sarcasm it was obvious I wasn’t there to complain. He opened the door, slumped, looking unprepared for any sort of fight. “Mr. Auburn? I’m Martha Molsen. I live a few floors down.” From the next room, separated by a black sheet, I heard coos. “Are those pigeons?” He motioned for me to wait. Behind the curtain he slunk, leaving me alone with a cloudy mirror in the dimly lit vestibule. The music, falsetto voice singing, “Oh, Dawn, go away / Back where you belong,” got softer and the pigeon’s vibrato took over. Dennis returned, “I’ll keep the music down.”

“I bet the birds like it. That’s what they say about a raging gorilla. Put on a little Brahms and he’s putty.”

“Can’t say I know much about gorillas,” Dennis scratched his graying moustache, like it was a poker tell. He was tall and kept his distance. It would never occur to him to offer me a drink. So I asked.

“Well, I’m sure I have something. But,” he stopped, not knowing what to say. His index finger continued to stroke his moustache, folding the downward stubble upward, emitting a barely perceptible crunch. “I don’t know who you are.”

“Pour me a drink and I’ll tell you.”

Behind the curtain, pigeons flew freely. Most stayed in one spot, happily resting, their necks twisted and heads slumped down, eyes closed, their own breasts as pillows. Unvarnished wood and chicken wire lined the wall opposite the window. The place smelled distinctly of corn. “I saw you pick up a dead bird today. I thought about it all day”

“That was Merrielle. Bought her sick a few years ago.”

“Do you race? I’ve heard of that.” I slugged a Budwiser through a long neck.

“Not into racing. Just like the birds. I get ’em at the auctions up in the Bronx.” He went on about the VFW halls filled with young Latino men, Italians from Staten Island and never a woman in sight. All these guys, guy’s guys, in satin jackets displaying their favorite teams, hairy knuckles gripping Styrofoam cups of steaming sludge coffee, and their cars reminding us to Never Forget. “These are the birds no one bids on. They can’t race any more.”

“So you bring them to your little retirement community here?” Dennis didn’t quite know how to respond to me except to start another round of facial hair scratching. “You know, you really should take a compliment. I basically called you a hero. Patron saint of old pigeons.”

“These aren’t old pigeons necessarily, they’re just not going to race anymore. They have another ten years most of ’em. Racers just like really young birds. It’s a thing now, didn’t used to be.” He showed me the different types of breeds he had. He became more loquacious with each new type to describe. There was a Breslauer Tumbler, descendent from Poland; the Pigmy Pouter, which sports an inflated neck that grows like a bubble all the way up to its beak; a Starling, a striking black fat-breasted creature; the Fantail, which looks like a smaller version of a cartoon Thanksgiving turkey. I held a Fantail, who Dennis named Parami. Its back feathers stood tall and its eyes were nothing but black. Its heart, so close to its chest, vibrated into my hand. Transfixed by the beating pulsation of that little body, I sensed the flesh under its feathers. I had never held something I might eat, so close to me. Live meat peaking through the space between my fingers. “Do you eat meat?”

Dennis looked at his beer then me. He was a processor. A question was never answered immediately. “Of course I do. What else would I eat?”

“You keep all these birds nobody wants, you care for them, you name them. Then you go out and have a chicken kebab?”

“People have dogs, they eat meat. Hell, their dogs eat meat. Above the food chain too.”

“Yes, but people don’t eat dogs. You have birds. People eat birds. People even eat pigeons. It’s squab.”

“Only fancy people eat squab. They don’t sell it at Gristedes.” While squab was not a fashionable protein at the moment (this was during the time of organ meat) you still see it on the menu from time to time. Eleven Madison Park serves it in the autumn, roasted with apples and cabbage, with a slice of bread as thin and fibrous as a dryer sheet perched atop. I looked down at Parami and felt the tips of her feathers. I looked up from the bird, whose plume was tickling my chin to see that Dennis held a small silver camera. He flashed our photo, the bird and me, and showed me the result in the camera’s screen. I didn’t realize I was smiling. He told me about his web site where he takes a photo a day, to show people in the pigeon community how well his castoffs were doing. “You looked so happy with her, and on a sad day, when I lose a bird, I like to make sure I post something good.”

The next day, I met Rick at the bar of the Breslin. Another critics’ secret, we always go back to a restaurant before we commit to our opinion. There’s always a chance you might get surprised at a re-examining.

I hadn’t seen Rick all day, but I had listened to the voice mail he left while I was at Dennis’ apartment. His message was gleeful and although there was no mention of it, I was sure he had opened up the envelope. I had forgotten about it, what with all the drama with Kathleen. He was giddy, probably thinking about all the new equipment he could buy. Not to mention something special for Theresa. He suggested we go meet at the Breslin again, just the two of us.

He leaned up against the bar, back hunched and un-manicured hands stirred the straw in his gin and tonic, creating a little tornado in a glass. I had memorized the specialty cocktail menu and knew I’d be partaking in a “Rush of Blood to the Head,” a Prosecco and Blood Orange liqueur concoction that promised zest and a flushed face. The bartender explained that all the drinks were named for famous albums and songs from mostly modern classic artists, like Radiohead, The Clash and The Pixies (“How to Disappear Completely,” “Spanish Bombs,” “Wave of Mutilation”). “I could have told you that,” Rick fussed while I threw back my elegant brew, coral, cold and sharp. Like a marathon runner swiping a plastic cup of water while not breaking her stride, the cocktail was gone just like that.

I ordered a second drink, a Forbidden Fruit with brandy and Pimm’s. As the drink arrived, I fished a file from my bag and placed it between Rick and myself. Inside the file were all the photos Rick had taken of Theresa. Smiling at his impending surprise, he grabbed the file with greedy hands. There was the series with marabou feather shoes and long fingernails. The ones with fishnets and Jackie O shades. And the one eating cherry cheesecake, where drops of bright red syrup dribbled onto the corner of her mouth and down to her chin. “Come on Martha, it’s what I do for a living. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Just because I used to tell you how brilliant you were, doesn’t mean you can put one over on me.”

“They’re great shots! Look at them.”

“Have you ever tried to sell them?”


“Because they’re personal.”

“I don’t know why. Let me just order another drink.”

“I’ll give you a few days. Make sure you pack everything that’s yours. Leave my stuff. Don’t be tacky.”

“You know I love you, Martha.”

“You’re worried about the money. You can keep it. Honestly, it was a desperate tactic. I’ll think of it like a tax. As long as you don’t try to contact me or try to get anything else out of me.”

“But we’re a team.”

“You used to take my picture.” I finished my drink and left him with the bill and those drinks were not cheap.

Hardy and like a mountain I slept. After a tumbler of coffee, I opened the cabinet near my hats. Good thing I made Kathleen change the needle on my record player before she left because I don’t know the fist thing about replacing them. I pulled out a Nina Simone record, Forbidden Fruit. I had bought it at Bleeker Street Records about twenty years before after an unappetizing lunch at a cheap bistro on Thompson Street. Dover sole desecrated in an acidy lemon buerre blanc. I strolled into the store, getting dizzy from its black and white checkerboard floor. The cover of the Nina Simone album struck me and I bought it just because of that. I wasn’t a fan, per se; I had never owned one of her albums before. N-I-N-A, spelled out across the top of the square, each letter a new color. Forbidden Fruit printed in smaller type underneath the singer’s name. And then there was the photo. A woman peaked out from behind a loaded fruit tree. Lemons and leaves dominated the cover, with slow eyes looking though a small opening. Her eyes met my gaze. The photo just happened to be taken when everything was in the right place, her feelings written on her face like a price tag.

The first track, “Rags and Old Iron,” scratched to life. I went to the little orange and gold bathroom and reached for the photo Rick took of me, the one where I’m looking away. I coughed in dust dancing down from the picture frame. On the wall, a clean rectangle of deeper, richer orange remained. With a damp cloth, I wiped the frame down. Popping the back open, I removed that beautiful but sad image of me, my skin encasing my tense bones like that frame trapped the picture. The buzzer rang. The morning doorman was sending up a potential new assistant. Perhaps they will know their way around a feather duster? And record needles, as if a 22-year-old other than Kathleen would.

In the now-empty frame, I placed the photo Dennis took of me. I asked him for a copy and after a scratch of his upper lip, he obliged. I brought the frame out to my desk and leaned it against the fogged windows. My photographed smile greeted me along with the red eye of the bird, a victim of the flash. “Could be the cover of a magazine,” I said to myself, plotting out the call I could make to the editors I’ve known for ages, beating out Theresa at her own game. The doorbell rang and before I let another assistant into my machine, I looked at the picture. That’s me, I thought, look at me now.

Melissa Ragsly lives in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.

Dotted Line