J. Edward Kruft

J. Edward Kruft has an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College. He is a multiple Best Short Fictions nominee, and his stories have appeared inBack Patio Press and MoonPark Review, among others, and he is editor-at-large at trampset. He was, indeed, at one time banned for life from Nordstrom. He’s not sure if that’s still being enforced. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha, in Queens, NY and Sullivan County, NY. His recent fiction can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com and he can be followed on twitter: @jedwardkruft.


They were to meet at the Ben Bridge clock, as usual. Aaron arrived first, in his Spandau Ballet t-shirt and Levi’s ripped at both knees, last year’s ski-jacket, unzipped as it was a warm day. He stood smoking his Camel as a murder of boys came by. “Fag,” one of them called and they all laughed and looked over their shoulders and pointed and laughed again, and Aaron, he blew smoke from his nose.

He watched Matt approach from 4th Avenue. Matt, with his shoulder-length hair, in his Smiths t-shirt and paint-splattered cords and green Spiewak parka that was torn at the elbow where cotton batting stuck out. “Perfect,” thought Aaron, tossing the Camel butt to the curb.

Matt socked Aaron in the arm. “Look,” he said, pulling his own pack of Camels from his pocket. He opened the box and Aaron smiled at what he saw: the last cigarette in the pack, turned upside down. Matt took it out and lit it, inhaled deeply, held like it was pot, and then let out in a fluid stream. “Oh, that’s good. That’s really good. I’ve wanted a smoke all morning, but when I saw this was the only one left….” He passed the cigarette to Aaron who took his own drag as they began to walk, exchanging the cigarette after each hit. Matt took the last of it, down to the filter, right in front of the main entrance to Nordstrom. 

“There’s our luck,” Matt grinned, flicking the butt to the curb.

Inside, they stopped and glanced right, glanced left, and then to each other with a look that was like a wink, and then headed to the up-escalator.

In the men’s department, Aaron went for the dress shirt section while Matt went for the polos. They were pros: they knew to give time to get noticed, to appear on the radar: picking up items, looking guiltily over their shoulders; it didn’t take long. 

They arrived at the dressing rooms at the same time. Only one was available, so they went in together, which was better anyway, thought Aaron. Aaron hung his shirts on the hook and as he did, he accidentally brushed Matt’s arm, and then he brushed it again, not by accident. Matt placed his shirts on the bench and then in a motion as fluid as that morning’s smoke, he shifted around and took Aaron’s head in his hands and kissed him, hard: warm, tobacco-y, wet. Pulling back, each grinned: first Aaron, then Matt. “That’s another thing I wanted to do all morning.” 

They zipped their coats up to their chins. Matt put up his hood. 

They walked with intent: quick but not too quick. Down the down-escalator, through cosmetics and out onto Pine Street. 

The man who nabbed them was meaty and sweating in an ill-fitted suit. He put a hand on each of their shoulders and they spun around to face him. 

“Nice try, boys! You should know, that’s the oldest one in the book. Alright, off with them.”

“Sir?” asked Matt.

The guard clucked his tongue. Passersby began stopping. The murder of boys jay-walked  to see what was up.

“You must think I’m a real fucking idiot, huh? Just some flunky security guard? That what you think, you little shits?”

“But, Sir….”

“Take off your fucking coats ‘fore I rip them off your scrawny little bodies!”

Aaron and Matt looked at each other, earnest as hell, and then slowly lifted their hands to their necks, took hold of the zipper-pull and pulled, slowly, down. 

Spandau Ballet.

The Smiths.

The guard’s face turned rosy and then as he chewed for his words, he became crimson.  Aaron was certain he would have struck them if not for the crowd. Finally, his arm shot up and a trembling finger pointed to no place particular. “Go! Get the fuck out of my face. Now!” The boys turned and started away. They were all smiles. “And if I ever see you in here again, I will have you immediately arrested for trespassing! Immediately! Spoiled little Bellevue fucks!”

Matt turned and shouted back: “Mercer Island!” The guard lurched as if to pursue and Aaron and Matt broke into a run….

….all the way to I. Magnin, where the dressing rooms were larger and more luxurious and where, Aaron hoped, he might get more than just a kiss. 


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“When Joey’s husband died,” Stefania stage-whispered to their guests, “he was out of his mind. You know, they moved here to begin with partly because of Frank’s house. Really! Joey’s been…what?...well, obsessed really isn’t worded too strongly.

“You know, it’s only a half a mile from here, as a crow flies.”

The outdoor speakers crackled and Stefania shook her head. “Gerry Rafferty! It’s his newest thing. Who the fuck is a Gerry Rafferty fan? I swear to God, I shit Baker Street.”

Joey approached and Stefania placed a finger to pursed lips. 

“Is she boring you with the bougainvillea story?” he asked, while Stefania wondered, a hair’s breadth from doing so aloud, if his gut was even bigger than it was yesterday.

“Who’s up for a dip?” asked Stefania.

Dip? I didn’t make dip….” said Joey.

Dip. In. The. Pool,” clarified Stefania. “You old poop.” 

“Oh. Oh oh oh oh oh.”

“I’ll dip,” said the man who was way too old to still have a left-ear earring. 

“There are trunks in the bin over there. Or,” said Stefania, “you’re welcome to go au natural.



The guests laughed and Joey threw up his arms and marched off to pretend to fuss with the grill. 

“Anyway,” Stefania continued, “this space here was nothing but desert – a patch of bleck.”

“SteFAnia!” called Joey. “Do you know where the corn-on-the-cob holders are?”

“Corner cabinet!” she yelled. “When our husbands were alive, we’d visit and I’d say to him, I’d say: “Joseph Andrew, for Christ’s sake, why the fuck don’t you do something about this bleck of a spot? You have this pool, mountain views, the fire pit…all you need is an outdoor wet bar and something to color-fy this Godforsaken bit of earth.”

“I can’t find them!” bellowed Joey. 


“Oh. Oh oh oh oh oh.”

The man too old for the left-ear earring splashed into the pool – au natural – causing Stefania to wince for reasons she couldn’t list in mixed company. 

“Found them!” yelled Joey.

Stefania shook her head. “Such an ass. Anyway, it is now, if you ask me, the loveliest spot in the yard. Look at that color! It transforms the aesthetic, n’est-ce pas? And really, what is a house in this town without bougainvillea? Tell me. Tell me!” The guests smiled and a few seemed content that it was time to move on. “Oh,” warned Stefania, “that’s the end of the story, but it’s not really the story. Don’t you dare wander off, now!”

When Joey first heard the story, he was dubious. To this day, he has moments of doubt. But then he stops himself in his resentments and thinks: it’s Stefanie…SteFAnia…so yes, it is possible. 

They were drunk, of course. Dov had just died and Joey was thinking of selling the house and moving up north to be nearer his sister and nephews. 

“It really gives me an ass rash,” she’d said.

“Must we discuss your sex life again?”

“That shit-brown spot over there. Look at it. Look at it!” In Joey’s version, she went on and on and on, until he passed out on the lounge chair and awoke the next morning in his smoking jacket to find all of his mother’s good teacups on the patio table, filled with water and steeping starts of bougainvillea. 

Stephanie was smoking nearby.

“What the hell is all of this?” he’d asked. 

As Stefania tells it to their guests, including the man too old for a left-ear earring, who had cozied himself to the side of the pool, no doubt, thinks Stefania, with his nether-region positioned over one of the pool jets: “Joey was passed out, on that we agree. Third time that week I was abandoned to his drunkenness. Which, I have to say, surprised me some: used to be he could hold his liquor. But we were all younger once, right? RIGHT?”

Joey slid over from where he pretended to be fussing with the grill, something of a Cheshire grin on his unshaven face, for though he enjoyed ribbing her about it, he couldn’t help but love this story.

“Look who’s suddenly alive,” said Stefania, to which Joey put one hand to his hip, and the other reflexively gave her the finger. 

“I said to myself, I said: ‘Stefania, you’ve been griping about that little piece of shit-earth for almost a decade. So shut the fuck up and do something about it already,’ right? RIGHT? 

“And that’s when it struck me. Really, it is like lightning. Not that I’ve been hit by lightning. I was hit in the head by a golf-ball-sized piece of hail once (Joey: explains a lot) and that’s no trip to Joshua Tree. Anyway, I’m creative, I can imagine, after all. So yes, it was just like being hit by lightning. 

“Off I go, hither and thither, stumbling up Indian Canyon and around the bend at Movie Colony, up Alejo Road to the front gate. I’d been there once for a fundraiser and I knew about the bougainvillea. It was everywhere. I remember having this thought about the gardeners who might have planted it back in the 50’s, maybe under Ava’s watchful eye, RIGHT? Gus and Ritchie is what I call them, and in my mind’s eye they were business partners, but sometimes, after a day’s work in the desert sun and a few cans of Schlitz, they were also fuck buddies….”

“She climbed over the Goddamned WALL!” exclaimed Joey, unable to contain himself.

“You fucking POOP! How dare you hijack my story!”

“She climbed over the wall and stole Frank Sinatra’s bougainvillea! STOLE IT!”

“Of course,” she added, already over Joey’s rudeness, “Frank hadn’t actually owned the house in 50 years, but still.”

“But still!” echoed Joey, looking at her with a fondness that was reserved for the few.

“But still,” she said, returning the look. 

“Yeah,” he said.

“Fuck you. You old POOP, you.”

And at that, Baker Street began to play.

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Her own parents never married – an intentional thumbing of the nose to Victorian-era London – and she wondered, as she watched her husband padding off toward the pool, leaving his statuette on the piano, if she hadn’t best done the same. She loved Charles, and she was relatively certain he loved her – at the very least he adored her – but after four years as Mrs. Charles Laughton, Elsa was well aware of her husband’s preferences and proclivities and while on the surface it didn’t bother her to the degree a wife should be bothered, things changed that morning.

Kate approached, clutching her own golden statue (clutching it, thought Elsa, as though it were made of solid gold as opposed to merely plated). She was not overly fond of Kate, but she tried to smile as though she were.

“Elsa, why the long face?” asked Kate. “I should think you’d be very pleased on Charles’ behalf. It’s a marvelous little trophy, don’t you think?” Elsa lifted her husband’s statuette from the piano. It was only then that she noticed it was not yet engraved, and something about that felt empty, and that triggered a sudden and dizzying fear of what the rest of her life might very well be like.

She excused herself without comment (causing Kate’s face to draw) and walked in the direction she’d seen her husband make his exit. He was there, by the pool, smoking with Walter and George (whose gorgeous house this was, high above Sunset Strip). Elsa walked to the edge of the blue lawn to where three evenly spaced palms swayed in the cool mid-March breeze. And as she went to adjust her stole to cover her bare shoulders, a sudden and violent wave of nausea swept from her toes to her throat and nearly without warning, she vomited into the ivy that covered the raised beds, and in doing so, she unwittingly encouraged a rat to come out of hiding. Elsa screamed. And just like in the movies, the low hum of party conversation came to a screeching halt. Looking up, she saw Charles charging toward her, calling: “Elsa. Are you all right? Are you all right, my darling?” In that moment, despite it all, she was certain they would be together for many years to come (it would be, in fact, until his death, almost thirty years hence). At her side now, Charles lifted her stole to cover her shoulders and then took both of her hands in his. “Elsa?” he asked.

“I’m fine, Charles. Just tired.”

“But my dear, you screamed.”

“Oh yes,” she said, having already forgotten. “There was a rat.”

“How hideous,” he said, moving her away from the ivy.

“I hate to ruin your night, Charles,” began Elsa.

“Don’t be silly, my dear,” said Charles. “I shall take you home at once. I’ve tired of the crowds at any rate. It will be nice to be just the two of us again.”

“Yes,” agreed Elsa. “Just the two of us.”

She had made up her mind.

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RELAX INN by J. Edward Kruft

Pat sat in his boxers on the edge of the bed, digging into his ear with a Q-tip. When Barb finally turned off the hairdryer in the bathroom, he called to her.

“I sure wish you hadn’ta done this.”

“What’s that you say?” asked Barb, entering the room in her slip.

I said,” he emphasized, “I wish you hadn’ta done this.”

“Oh,” she swatted the air, “they’re nice enough folks.”

“I don’t even know why they’re staying here. They got that goddamn travel trailer just sitting there, wasting away.”

“Well, they’ve been on the road a long time. Mitzi said every once in a while Bob likes to splurge and stay at a motel. Besides, they like us.”

Pat and Barb, Mitzi and Bob, met the day before at a craps table in Reno. Pat and Bob, self-proclaimed bourbon aficionados, got increasingly drunk trying to outdo one another, and became excessively and unintentionally chummy in the process. Barb and Mitzi looked on, neither of them surprised.

“And anyway, you’re the one that told them where we were staying,” added Barb.

“Another thing,” said Pat. “How is it we got room two, and they got room seven?”

“What difference does it make?” asked Barb, slipping into her “fancy” dress.

It makes a difference,” he emphasized, “because seven is a winner, and two craps out. Besides, their room is closer to the pool.”

“Pat, will you just get dressed?”

Meanwhile, in room seven, Bob lay on the bed, dressed and with his shoes on, watching scrambled porno on the motel TV.

“Bob!” declared Mitzi when she noticed.

“Ope,” he pointed at the set, “I think that was a boob!” and laughed.

“Come on,” she said, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Zip me up.”

“With pleasure!”

“You know,” said Mitzi, “I was reading some brochures in the tub. That lake that the restaurant is on, it’s fake.”

“Whattaya mean ‘fake?’ How can a lake be fake? Hey, I made a rhyme!”

“I mean it wasn’t always there. It’s man-made.”

“Of course it’s man-made. We’re in the desert!”

Mitzi, on route back to the bathroom to attach her eyelashes, stopped short and turned to Bob. “Do you think they really like us?” she asked.


“Who! The Krendalls. Pat and Barb.”

“Sure, why not?” asked Bob, and then took a sip of his Jim Beam, which he two-handedly perched upon his chest.

“Well, Barb seems genuine. But I get the distinct feeling Pat is all show. I mean, what did you think of the way he told that cocktail waitress at Circus Circus he was a bullfighter? I mean, really!”

“Ahh, she knew he was pulling her leg.”

“I don’t know….”

A rapid knock came at the door.

“That’s them,” said Bob, gulping down his whisky.

“I’m not ready!” cried Mitzi, closing herself in the bathroom. “Entertain them!” she yelled through the door.

“Will do!” said Bob, pouring himself a quick half-finger of Jim Beam and downing it.

Outside room seven, Bob found Pat and Barb standing on the welcome mat that read: “Relax Inn.”

“Howdy, fine people.” Pat and Barb offered their hellos. “Don’t you look nice, Barb! And you clean up pretty good, too!” he told Pat.

“Where’s Mitzi?” asked Barb. “I hope she’s not ill.”

“Just putting on her face. She’ll be out in a jiff.”

The three of them then stood in awkward silence, looking at each other, the ground, the moon, the back of a hand where a small scab rested just below the middle finger. Finally, Barb said: “I’m hungry!” and Bob agreed and Pat nodded. None too soon, Mitzi emerged, her right upper eyelash affixed noticeably higher than the left.

“I’m hungry!” she declared, and everyone agreed.

At the restaurant, they got a table on the lake. “I reserved this one special,” Pat told them. (Later he would complain to Barb that Bob took the best seat, the one that looked most fully at the water.) Pat and Bob ordered their bourbons: Pat’s on the rocks, Bob’s neat. The women each ordered a glass of riesling.

“Anyone having an appetizer?” inquired Mitzi.

“I’m having the prime rib,” said Pat.

“She’s asking about appetizers, Pat,” said Barb.

“So, I’m just saying, I’m” – he emphasized – “having the prime rib.”

“You know, that sounds pretty good,” said Bob. “I’ll have the prime rib, too. And a baked potato with the works!”

“I think I’ll start with a side salad,” Barb told Mitzi.

“Okay, I’ll do that, too,” Mitzi told Barb.

“So, how do you like room seven?” Pat asked Bob.

“Fine, fine,” said Bob.

“Close to the pool,” said Pat.

“Yeh, yeh,” said Bob.

“Seven,” said Pat. “That’s a good number.”

“Pat….” warned Barb.

“I’m just saying, seven is a good number,” Pat emphasized.

The waiter arrived with their drinks, and the table fell silent. They all sipped, and just as Pat’s lips parted to begin again, Mitzi jumped in.

“It’s fake,” she told them.

“Beg your pardon?” said Pat.

“The lake. This lake. It’s fake.”

“What she means is,” explained Bob, “is that it’s man-made. Well of course it’s man-made, we’re in the desert!” Bob laughed.

“No,” insisted Mitzi. “That’s not what I mean. I mean it is fake. You can sit here and pretend otherwise if you like, but I know perfectly well. It’s fake.”

Again, the table fell silent. Mitzi lifted her riesling and took a tentative sip. Pat looked at her from across the table. He pointed to his own right eye.

“It’s higher,” Pat said to Mitzi. “That one, on the right, it’s higher than the left.” Bob caught onto Pat’s point before Mitzi did.

“Now wait one cotton-picking moment there, Pat.”

Pat thought for a second and took a quick glance at Barb, and then stopped pointing at his own right eye and placed his hand on the table. No one said anything for a while, and then finally, Barb broke the silence:

“Boy, I tell you what, I really am starved!”

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