Espresso Fiction: A Collection of Flash Fiction for the Average Joe by Sabrina Ricci - HTML preview

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“Watch the news. Take the bailout stuff.”

trillion-dollar infusions to keep alive a capitalist system

“The bailout?”

founded on the assumption of unlimited growth of

“You ever balance your checkbook, Davis?” capital. What’s the problem with that, Davis?”

he asks, on account of my name being Davis.


“Not really. The bank sends me a

“Unlimited growth is impossible. Sooner

statement online, so—”

or later, there will be no new markets and you

“Figured. Those guys who worked up the

know what happens then?”




“A depression?”

paper; I’m not an animal. I’ve got two tiers to this

“Bullshit. The whole world is linked into

house. Got enough space for gardening on the

one economy that’s defended by a bloated,

second to grow essentials. Solar and wind on the

over-spent military force—ours—all of which is

top to keep the refrigerator and the perimeter lights

dependent on a finite energy source. It won’t be any going.”

fucking depression. It’ll be a goddamned dark age.

“Perimeter lights?”

You know who does balance their checkbooks?”

“You think other people aren’t going to

“My wife’s pretty good about hers.”

see my little fortress here? You think they’re not

“The Saudis. You know what they’re doing going to want to come in, help themselves to my right now?”

food, my daughters, etc. I’ve thought it all through.

“Balancing checkbooks?”

Corner house, wide back yard, got room. From

“Drilling offshore. They’re sitting on one-

the roof, with a good rifle, I can pick off anybody

fourth of the world’s oil in the dirt and they’re drill- comes within fifty feet.”

ing offshore. How come?”

“Mitch, my house is closer than that.”

“Apparently it’s got something to do with

“Yeah, sorry, bud. When the shit hits

their checkbooks.”

the fan, I figure I’ll have to raze your place to the

“They know the shit’s running out, man.


They’re gonna grab every damned drop they can

Richard Helmling

so they can keep enjoying their Mercedes Benzes

lives with his wife and

and their harems with seventy virgins for as long as

two children in El

they can.”

Paso, Texas. He has

“I’m thinking they’re not virgins anymore

an MFA in Creative

once they’re in the harems, no?”

Writing from the

“I’m just saying, they’ve got a plan.”

University of Texas

“And so do you?”

at El Paso. His professional writing has been published

“I’ve stockpiled a life-time supply of am-

in English in Texas and his fiction has been published

munition and water purification tablets—and toilet in the Rio Grande Review.



Unfamiliar Rooms


By Walter Holland

Anna in the morning searches an unfamiliar room a chance. “Well then,” she says, laughing. The toilet wondering if she really said “Where’d my sock

flushes. His callused heels gracelessly bang the tiles.

go?” or just thought it. A mess that’s yours isn’t a

“The first day of the universe started with a Big

mess. The room’s not hers; neither is he. The left

Bang,” she calls out. The bathroom door muffles

sock is missing, and it does matter which - it has

his response. “No pressure!” she calls out. “What?”

little asymmetrical toes and everything. He’d called

he says. Bella rolls her eyes, looks at her wrists,

it ‘adorable’ and sort of tugged it from her foot

her arms. Little asymmetrical bruises. He’s a lefty,


she thinks.

laughing, eyes

“Did you say

never leaving

He had the grace or wit not to mention his wife’s name something?”


he says as he

Managing not


to spill the wine. Last night. This is the price, she

flopping around cheerfully. “Not every Bang has

thinks or maybe says. Somehow this missing sock

to be Big,” she says. He scratches himself, says, “Is

will come back to haunt me. He had the grace or

that a joke?” “Never you mind,” Bella says. She

wit not to mention his wife’s name. Anna’s too

laughs again, points to a spot on the bed beside

preoccupied with the sock, now, to be grateful.

her. She sparkles.

Maybe later.

Carmen in the morning doesn’t feel like dealing

Bella in the morning stretches sore muscles and

with Mama but she has to go home. She knows.

arches her back to look out over the upside down

Mama will let the silence settle in a little first.

city. Rain whispers at the window, hush, hush. Not

“Emilio doesn’t know what you do at night,”




she’ll say. “Thank heavens.” Of course he doesn’t Thank heavens.

know, Carmen thinks, it’s worse that way. He

feels she’s gone without knowing it. He doesn’t

Emmie in the morning awakens alone

know yet that those scary feelings are called

remembering, like every morning, and doesn’t start

Questions. Bad enough facing Mama’s pursed

crying so much as pick up where she last left off.

lips and disapproval. Emilio loves her even when Maybe she’ll sleep away the day, die, dissolve, she’s...A kettle hisses, whistles. Katherine’s in

disappear - or maybe awaken, blessedly, finally. One

the next room making breakfast. Goal-oriented.

or another. But probably not. Probably she’ll just

Carmen doesn’t want to say: “Cata, listen.” She

have to live one more day, by habit if not choice.

won’t say “I have a little boy.” Or “I can’t walk

The room was theirs but it’s just hers now.

into my baby’s nursery again smelling like a

Everything is an intrusion. Nothing is familiar.

strange woman.” She won’t, she won’t, yet she


Emmie says, I have nowhere else to go.

Debby says, I guess I’m going crazy.

Debby in the morning looks right and then down, Carmen says, I need to go. No, now.

whoa, he’s naked, then left and down, OK also

Bella says, I’d go again, you?

naked, then up at the ceiling and down at herself, Anna in the morning says, Where’d my sock go?

naked, check, iiiinteresting, and hands and arms

are just everywhere. Hers and everyone else’s.

The stereo was on all night: blue jazz,

Walter Holland is a

bedroom music. Debby wriggles, remembers,

full-time dad and part-

opens her eyes wide. WELL then. Debby thinks:

time writer/editor from

Am I a perv now? A brand new smile comes,

Cambridge MA. He

suddenly, and she thinks: I don’t care. She reaches

has never published a

over, squeezes somebody’s something-or-other,

work of fiction.

hears a contented sigh. Debby surprises herself.





By Danilo Lopez

“The journey, not the destination, becomes the source of After work, when he was able to, he would stop by wonder” her house. She would try to penetrate the heart and

Lorena McKennit, “The Mask and Mirror” mind of that quiet man, so loved, so lonely, in vain.

She, tired of being closed, would open to him as

At the Hotel du Lys, 23 Rue Serpente, Paris,

naturally as water and salt. He, tired of being open,

France, it wasn’t her nipple that froze in the garden, would close to her as naturally as dust and air.

but the inconstancy that served them well. The rest,

At the Hotel Carpati, Str Matei Millo 16,

adorned with festoons and clairvoyant silk roses,

Bucharest, Romania, she discovered that in the

was a monument to passing loves, boring laughs.

legend of Dracul, the reincarnation of the love

No cats could be mastered, no clogs to ride. Only

of his wife kills him in order to reach eternal

her expectant smile, eternally asking “how much

salvation. It was not the destiny of the two souls


to sail together and be saved in pairs. Each soul

At the Hotel Endri, Rs. Vaso Pasha 27,

had to reach its own salvation alone. From this

Tirana, Albania, she realized that in the beginning

stand point, she concluded, soulmates didn’t

the heart rules over the head. She didn’t care much

exist in eternity (souls are timeless) but in brief

about not seeing him but once in a while. She didn’t chosen associations formed in the temporal care about him not answering her calls. So many

plane. So, in the end, she would sail into

endless nights she cried until dawn waiting for the

infinity by herself. She learned that in eternity

phone to ring, in vain. Right before sunrise she

the concepts of loneliness and separation didn’t

would then slowly rise, shower, get pretty for him,

apply to a soul freed from a body: her soul was

drop off Brian at school, and head off to the of-

interconnected to all others, and all others were

fice. At lunch they would have long conversations.

connected to the Cosmic Mind.




On the way back from Sevastopol to

Market and yellow like the dying sun in Vilnius,

Odessa, she crossed the Black Sea. Standing at the Lithuania, illuminated the back patio with large veranda on starboard, looking into the dark blue

dancing shadows. The smoke became thick like the

waters and the misty coastline in the horizon, she

walls of old castles in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and then

slowly opened her purse, pulled out a packet of

the ashes, gray like the skies of Oslo in mid-winter,

Virginia Slims, took one with expert fingers, and

were swept by clear rains and gentle winds.

lit it with her left hand. She inhaled deeply as if

trying to trap in her lungs the countless memories

that came to supplant reality, the mosaic of happy

moments gone so many years ago.

But it was at Kadriog Park in Tallin’s Old

Town, Estonia, where she convinced herself—in

mind and heart—that having him incompletely

was more painful than not having him at all. She

decided to peel off one by one the conquest

poems read in bed, the postcards received from

unknown places, the memories flooding her mind, Danilo Lopez (Nicaragua, 1954) immigrated to the United the punctual flowers on each of her birthdays, the

States in 1985. An architect by training, he has published

infinite nights embracing nothingness, the

several poetry collections in English and Spanish and three

painful unreturned messages, the absent phone

anthologies with funding from the Miami-Dade County

calls, the mad lovemaking, the Orvietto Classic

Cultural Affairs Council, the latest being Dona Nobis

drunk by the terrace, the warm baths together, the Pacem. His work has appeared in many printed literary odious unstoppable tears, the flaring disco dances, magazines (Hayden’s Ferry Review, BorderSenses, etc.) and the Mother’s Day unwrapped gifts, the unrealized

on-line (Baqueana, Loch Raven review, etc). He has ap-

Christmases. Until she stopped needing him.

peared in poetry anthologies from the United States, Spain,

The box burned for several minutes. The

Argentina, and Nicaragua. He is a candidate to the MFA

flames, red like the awnings in Riga’s Central

at the University of Texas, El Paso.





By Monica Martinez


— Albert

She raised her glass, swirled the remaining

ice and wordlessly called the bartender. He retrieved


the Jack Daniels and mixed her a second drink. Bianca

The coffee mug from this morning, the water

retrieved her netbook from her silver and black Coach from lunch, and the lunch itself sat untouched. Dad’s Mia tote. She logged into her email, moving her hands Colts were playing the Broncos and his eyes never left along the keyboard and mouse pad without taking her the TV. Ada had retrieved her laptop from her room.

eyes off the TV. The Weather Channel broadcasted

Having no interest in the game, she tabbed between

the storm would clear before the night was over. Her

Facebook and Yahoo. Waiting for her was an email

eyes turned to her computer screen. The Yahoo

from Julliard, the subject: New Student Orientation.

messenger indicated Ada was online.

Her eyes darted at her father, then back to her email.

As Bianca debated chatting with her little

She left it unopened.

sister, a new email appeared on her screen. She

It had been sixteen minutes since Ada

opened up the note from her boss:

logged on and she knew Bianca had seen her. Ada


clicked the chat. She typed, CALLED THE AIRLINE.

Hope you have a safe flight. To answer


your questions. The Austin branch of the

law firm has a position open for associate


but it is a lateral move. You heard right,

The chime of the chat window pulled

Carl is retiring. We will have an opening for Bianca’s eyes off the Weather Channel. She rolled partner. Off the record…You’ve got a

her eyes at her sister’s comment. With her drink in

shot. See you in a few days.

one hand, Bianca’s fingers searched for the letters.




Ada stared at the words her sister sent.

Yes, because this was Ada’s choice. Because she


was doing this to herself. There was only one way

The chime of the chat window let Ada know she could still go to Julliard. YOU’RE COMING

she had received a response. Bianca had written,

HOME THEN?, she typed to her big sister. Bianca


responded with the same response she’d been


giving for days, FOR THE FUNERAL AND THEN


BACK TO WORK. Ada typed what she’d been

responded to her older sister’s message. She

asking for days, AND DAD?

looked at her dad. The game was on commercial

break. “Papa. Why don’t you eat something?” He BIANCA

didn’t even look at her when she spoke to him.

Bianca picked up her glass and took

She looked back at her computer screen. Bianca

another sip. So what would they do with their

didn’t respond.

father now? I DON’T KNOW, Bianca typed.


NEED TO KNOW, Ada responded.



Taking a long slow sip of her drink, she


wondered how to answer. Bianca wrote, YOU DO




TEXAS, RIGHT? It took a few minutes for the chat

After the capitalized “WE” that Ada had

window to chime again but when it did Bianca did

wrote, the “I’ve” both sister had started their sentences

not like what it read: DON’T THINK THERE WILL

with looked so selfish.

BE ANY JULLIARD FOR ME. Bianca set her Jack and

coke down and typed, ADA, DON’T DO THAT TO



She wrote to Bianca, EVEN WITH THE









Bianca wrote. A small consolation prize for the girl

Bianca Grayer has signed off, appeared on

who had been accepted with a full scholarship to

Ada’s screen. Ada opened a blank word document.


In it she wrote:


To Whom It May Concern,


I regret to inform you that I will not be able

to accept the full scholarship to your fine


establishment this fall...

Transferring to the Austin branch was an

option Bianca wanted to avoid. She spun around to

look at the airline board. Her flight was still marked

as delayed.


WHEN I GET THERE, she typed.

Bianca changed her status to invisible so

her sister wouldn’t know she was still online. She

opened Albert’s email and hit reply. In an email to

her boss Bianca wrote:


Thank you for your kind words but I have

to take the transfer. My dad had a stroke

and my sister can’t care for him alone now

that our mother has passed away. I will make Monica Vanessa Martinez is a student at the University the request official when I get back from the of Texas-El Paso where she is working towards her MFA funeral.

in creative writing. She lives and works in Austin, Texas.

— Bianca

When she is not writing she enjoys training for half-

marathons, scrapbooking and cooking.



The Purple Hat


By Melanie McDonald

Alice’s mother enjoyed going out with Dr.

they were leaving the house that morning, her mother

Dexter, who was funny and handsome and owned a

paused in front of the entry mirror, set down the

sailboat. He had invited both of them to sail with him picnic basket, examined her reflection, and said, today. Alice’s mother volunteered to bring the picnic

“Here, trade hats with me.” She swept the yellow hat

lunch. They met him at the lake, where his boat was

off her head and held it out toward Alice. Alice

docked. The boat, moored in its slip, looked huge to

understood then the purple one wasn’t hers really, but

Alice. Black stenciled letters proclaimed it The Siren.

a spare, in case her mother changed her mind. Alice

Its polished

had to wear

wood gleamed

the yellow one

in the sun.

Come aboard here, matey



Now Dr.

Dexter emitted a

Dexter helped

wolf whistle of

them climb aboard. He kissed Alice’s mother on the

delight when Alice’s mother stepped out of the car.

cheek, a playful kiss, as he took the basket and made

Her mother, looking pleased, said, “Oh, David,” in a

sure she got across the swath of water between the

teasing voice. She had bought new swimsuit covers,

walkway and the boat. Then he turned back to help

“sailing togs” she called them, for herself and Alice,


hers in red terry cloth and Alice’s in yellow with white

“Come aboard here, matey,” Dr. Dexter said

daisies. She also had bought two straw hats, one

in a jovial voice a little louder than necessary, perhaps,

yellow and one purple.

for just between the three of them, and extended a

Alice had been delighted with the purple hat,

hand to help her. His blue eyes crinkled at the

the color being her all-time favorite. But right when

corners. His hands looked clean and rare. Alice knew




much it meant for her mother that Alice had been

invited, too. They had to be frugal, her mother was

always saying, because they had a lot less money

now than when they still lived with Dad.

Her mother and her women friends often told

each other how single men didn’t want women with

baggage. Alice, hearing this, always envisioned a small

gray suitcase abandoned on a train platform. She also

understood that undesirable baggage was anything

hampering an otherwise smooth, pleasurable trip

toward some much-anticipated destination. At twelve,

Alice probably knew a little more about her mother’s

friends, their dating lives, than she should. The Bible

said always honor thy father and mother but it seemed

grown-ups weren’t required to honor kids back.

Art by Sean Lefler

Dr. Dexter hopped around the ship’s deck,

she should say something joking back to him. Her

loosening some ropes and tightening others, raised

mother wanted her to say something funny and

the sails, and eased The Siren out of its slip. From

bright, make a good impression, but she couldn’t.

time to time, no matter what he was doing, he

Instead, she just smiled.

glanced over at Alice’s mother. Alice understood.

Dr. Dexter had no children of his own.

Everyone loves to look at beauty, heads swiveling

Earlier that morning, Alice had received a lecture from like flowers on their stalks toward the sun. Water her mother on how to behave during this outing so as lapped at the sides of the boat like dogs’ tongues.

not to annoy him. She was to be on her best behavior,

Alice sat alongside one rail, leaning over as far

“and no sitting with your nose in a book like the

as she dared to peer at the water. She watched the lacy

Queen of Sheba,” her mother said. The fact that

green froth of the wake trailing along behind them,

they got new clothes for sailing let Alice know how

and imagined mermaids cavorting below. She thought



it might be fun to be a mermaid, except she didn’t

warning of a rattlesnake. Alice wondered if Dr. Dexter

care much for eating fish. She could smell the lake fish heard it, too. He seemed to be studying the main sail.

in the tangy air, but couldn’t see any of them.

“But, Mom—”

Alice’s mother let out a sudden whooping

“Alice. Sit down,” her mother said, and gave

laugh, and Alice turned and looked in time to see the

her a look that froze her in place. At that moment,

purple hat, caught by a renegade breeze which had

her mother was wishing her away, as if Alice could

snatched it

vanish, like the hat

from her

The Bible said always honor thy father and mother

or a piece of lost


but it seemed grown-ups weren’t


head, sail-

required to honor kids back

The look

ing out

passed, but Alice

into the lake, touching down a few yards from what

stayed frozen for some time, miserable under the

Dr. Dexter called the port side. The hat landed upside hateful yellow hat, the hat that survived. Why down, taking on water at one edge of its brim.

couldn’t the wind have taken it instead?

“We can swing around and pick it up, Elaine,” Dr.

At noon, they skimmed into a quiet cove,

Dexter said, raising his voice to be heard over the wind-

unpacked the hamper and ate the lunch her mother

chopped water. His topsiders had darkened with spray.

had prepared, the sandwiches of expensive deli meats

“Oh, no, David,” Alice’s mother said. “It’s just and cheeses, a treat Alice had been looking forward to, a cheap sun hat. Don’t worry about it at all—look, it’s dry as brick dust in her mouth.

already sinking.” She laughed, a merry trilling sound

She wished she had not kept her mother’s

meant to show she was not concerned. The dim shape secret. She wished she had shouted, “That’s my hat.”

of the hat, now like a cup inverted on a saucer, could

Would Dr. Dexter still have offered to turn the boat

still be seen sifting its slow way toward the bottom.

around? She didn’t know. She did know that in the car,

“Mom,” Alice said, “maybe we could get back later, her mother would promise, by way of apology, there before it—”

to buy another; an apology which would arrive too

“No,” her mother said, cutting her off. A

late, and would be a lie—there wasn’t the money.

threat hummed in her voice, beneath the word, like the

Still picturing the purple hat, Alice stood up





and leaned over the rail, staring down into the churning

water, and imagined her mermaid self, silent, pale-faced,

and clutching a small suitcase, sinking away to join it

beneath the waves.

Sean Lefler is an artist and animator based in Southern

California. He graduated from Cal State Fullerton where he

contributed a weekly comic to the school newspaper. Today, Sean

spends his days facing the real world and all the challenges life can throw at him. Taking hit after hit, Sean produces work

independently as well as pursues other endeavors such as stand-up

Melanie McDonald has an MFA in fiction from the University

comedy and improv.

of Arkansas. She received a Hawthornden Fellowship, with a

residency in Scotland, for her debut novel Eromenos , published March 2011. Her work has appeared in New York Stories ,

Fugue , Indigenous Fiction , and other journals. She has

continued to study writing at Vermont Studio Center, NUI

Galway, and at workshops in New York City; Squaw Valley;

NapaValley, and WICE Paris, taught by C. Michael Curtis,

senior fiction editor for The Atlantic Monthly . She also spent some time in Italy while at work on Eromenos , recently named a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, historical

fiction division.



No Beards for Mr. Bailey


By Peter McKenna

1968 was just loaded with drama. Tet

enough to be the iconic oddball (like Jake, a guy with

offensive, King and Kennedy assassinations, Paris

wire rim specs, wire curled hair and a lunatic grin,

uprising, Chicago uprising, Nixon elected. I knew

who got around by bouncing, jumping down the hall

these things were going on, but like most boys was

or across the quad, and chanting what sounded like

preoccupied with girls and trying to look cool. Over

math formulae).

the summer I let my hair grow and sprouted

I just wanted to be cool in the simplest sense

sideburns. Returning to school I had an impressive

— to belong to something, to have a gang, a niche.

set of whiskers for 15. Guys pointed them out; so

My freshman PE coach, Mr. Frank, had told me

did some girls. The dress code had lightened up that

I ought to go out for track. Ol’ Riordan the Un-

year. Girls could wear pants, boys could grow their

coordinated — two left feet and they’re both flat,

hair past the neckline; they could even grow

throws like a girl, can only dribble with his mouth

moustaches, if possible. Besides this Jewish gorilla

— surprised the coach, the class, and himself with

who grew a beard in one week just to prove he could his speed, even if he did run like a ruptured duck.

(and then shaved it, Dean’s orders), I was the only

In the second week of school, I got brave enough

kid in my class with anything noticeable. I was proud, to venture into that noisy, towel-snapping, territorial even if my sideburns were not a chick magnet.

I-got-it, I-got-it! world of jocks. Runners aren’t really

Coolness involves more than looks. Some guys jocks, but they belong to a team and presumably get to achieve it through attire, some through indifference,

be buddies and hang out together and maybe meet girls

some through idiosyncrasy. Not me. I still wore white (Cheerleaders? Not likely. Sisters, maybe).

tennis shoes and rode my bicycle to school, didn’t

The track coach was Mr. Bailey: close-cropped

know any better, until I heard snickers and stopped,

sandy hair, five feet eight, late twenties, gray framed

for I was not too cool to care. Neither was I strange

glasses. We’d had him as a substitute sometimes the



previous year, but not during any running trials. So he besides eyebrows is a beard. And no beards on my would not have had any impression of me, nor would team.

I of him, as he just put us through scheduled activi-

Excuse me, Mr. Bailey, come?

ties (the least embarrassing for me was soccer, which

You represent the school, you represent me.

nobody could really play except one Mexican kid and

I want my men to look squared away.

one Pakistani


kid, who were

what’s that

not allowed

got to do with

No facial hair on my men

to be on the

running? I just

same team).

want to run.

In the glass-


enclosed coaches’ office he greeted me with a smile

involves discipline like any other sport, and the first

and a handshake: first time I ever shook a teacher’s

rule of discipline is you do what the coach directs.

hand. He said Mr. Frank had mentioned me, and he

If he wants you to be clean shaven, if he doesn’t

was glad to have me on board (do coaches always say

want his men looking like a bunch of hippies, then

that?). Did I have any previous track experience? No? you shave and cut your hair.

Well, he looked forward to training me. He gave me

We went back and forth for a while. I said

an armful of documents: team regulations, track meet the school had loosened the dress code this year.

dates, request of change to sixth period PE, parental

He said the coaches could set their own. I pointed

consent, release of liability, doctor’s okay. That was it

out some of the towel snappers in the locker room

for now, he said, shaking my hand again. Oh, except

that had hair past the neckline. He said they were

one thing.

not on his team (Mr. Frank, observing from his

Yeah, coach?

desk in the corner, raised his eyebrows at this). I

Get a haircut and shave that beard. No facial said that I didn’t think that any guys from any other hair on my men.

school would care if our hair was long. He said

This isn’t a beard, just sideburns.

he would care, and that’s all that mattered. I said,

Far as I’m concerned, any hair on your face

lots of athletes have long hair these days, who’s



that guy, that football guy? He said if Joe Namath

been embarrassed to admit that, and it would have

wanted to be on his team, he’d tell him, get a

played right into his argument.

haircut, and if Ben Davidson showed up, shave the If sports weren’t for me, what then? Acting?

mustache. If Flash Gordon (I think he was actually Bailey did say I was dramatic. So I auditioned for the referring to Flash, the DC comic hero) showed up

school play that semester, Teahouse of the August Moon,

with a mustache, he wouldn’t get on his team with

about Americans bringing democracy to Japan. I


got the part of Colonel Purdy, which allowed me to

Mr. Bailey, it took me all summer to grow

swear on stage. First line: Dammit to hell! Dammit to

these sideburns.

hell! Dammit to hell! Later I got to say, These people

Well, it won’t take you so long next summer,

are going to learn democracy if I have to shoot every

if you feel you really gotta have them. You’re making one of them. Plus ca change...

this too much of a drama, Riordan.

Mrs. Joyce, the director, said that as I was

Well, I think you are, Mr. Bailey, and I’m

playing an army man, well, I didn’t have to get a GI

sorry, but I don’t want to be on your team.

haircut, but I should trim those locks, and those

If you can’t handle discipline, then I don’t