apprentice house press

What Are the Chances? By Robert Scotellaro

By Charles Rammelkamp

In the story “Plink!” in Robert Scotellaro’s new collection a man stands at a window, mesmerized, watching diamond-like hailstones falling out of the sky, pelting the asphalt, the sidewalks, the sides of cars. “Then it stops. The way magic often does.” That’s an apt description of the sixty-eight marvelous little stories, ranging from a couple of paragraphs to no more than three pages, that make up What Are the Chances? First of all, they do feel magical, with so many strange characters, often costumed, popping off the page, snaring your attention – like hailstones – and then the payoff, the flash that makes “flash fiction” flash fiction, the sudden illumination of character or scene. And then the story stops.

Stories like “Mr. Nasty,” “The Cleaning” Girl,” “Bad-Boy Wannabe and the Cephalopod Empire,” and the single-paragraph, “Death’s Late-Night Walks,” among others, feature characters in dress-up; the German word maskenfreiheit – signaling the freedom conferred by masks – come to life. In “Mr. Nasty” a man flirts with a hired birthday party performer, who is dressing up as Snow White, the entertainment at a party for his daughter, while aware of the watchful eyes of his mother-in-law and wife. Nothing comes of it, of course, but the tension is like lightning. Similarly, the Bad-Boy Wannabe watches his devil’s mask blow away from his head in a breeze, exposing him, while he tries to impress a girl in a squid mask, the two sharing a joint. But, unmasked now as he is, she is out of his league. The cleaning girl dresses up in her employer’s jewels and furs while the homeowners are away, fantasizing the luxury, only to get a bad scare when the doorbell rings, sure she’s busted.  However briefly, we feel all of these characters’ illicit feelings, the lust, the covetousness, the fear.

Although some of the stories are truly grim, ominous, like the title story in which the protagonists come home to find their home robbed and a lethal butcher knife displayed on the bed, or “The Pencil,” in which a schoolkid hides in a bathroom stall while a shooter guns down his classmates, most are funny. They feature likable schmoes to whom we can all relate, walk in their shoes – in their masks – indeed. In “Those Eyes in the Rearview,” a man gets into the Uber he’s just called. “I saw his eyes in the rearview. They were red and crazed.” The driver tells his passenger that he’s just killed a man he caught sleeping with his wife, and the passenger is his hostage. Like the passenger, we feel our blood pressure rise, our pulses race; only, two-thirds of the way through the story, the driver “pulls off his mask,” reveals he is an aspiring actor and was just having the passenger on. “That was some top-notch acting, right?” he boasts. “Come on, give me that.”

In the story, “Flatware,” we encounter a similarly bizarre situation in which a man is sure his home is being broken into and stabs a fork into the neck of the “intruder,” only to learn that the intruder is the brother of his neighbor, come to retrieve a ball his nephew has knocked over the fence into the protagonist’s yard. A comic rush to the emergency room follows, the protagonist taking full responsibility. When they return, the protagonist apologizes again (and again), shakes the man’s hand, returns to the kitchen where he’d been eating his Chinese takeout (hence, the fork conveniently in his hand when the “burglar” came in), “wondering if I should call Tina at her sister’s, where she always went after one of our big blow-outs.” In a flash, then, we see the backstory, why this guy was on edge in the first place.

In the story, “Wise Sunglasses,” the lonely unnamed female protagonist collects sunglasses – her mask. In an aside, Scotellaro writes, “The heart-shaped pair were Pete’s favorites. ‘My Lolita,’ he’d say, though she was far from it, and he’d find the real thing soon enough.” That’s about all we hear about “Pete,” but in a flash we intuit the protagonist’s loneliness, the betrayal at its base. She’s wearing her owl sunglasses when the story concludes, “not feeling the least bit wise.”

In “A Disadvantage of Momentum” we encounter Phil and Nan, post-surgery in a hospital room where Phil lies, recuperating. At their weekly session with a couples counselor, Heidi, they’d been told to “spice it up” after they’d become empty-nesters, the last kid off to college. Nan goes along with one of Phil’s adolescent fantasies, while they are driving home from dinner, her face in his lap, but a sudden fender bender at a stoplight results in a bite too deep. Nan asks Phil, “Anything left?” “Enough,” he replies. The story ends:

They heard some laughter and watched as shadows gathered behind the curtain, grew. Then a hand reached in and swung it open.    

Of course, some stories are better than others. I’m not going to rank all sixty-eight, but every one of them does pack that flash punch. Robert Scotellaro is a master of this form. It’s magic!

You can find the book here:

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

Catastroika by Charles Rammelkamp

By Lynette G. Esposito
Published by Apprentice House Press, Charles Rammelkamp’s Catastroika presents clear visions of Russian history in poetic form presented with fictional scenarios that reflect truths.  Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of Border Crossings says:  These poems will open your eyes to rulers, revolutionaries, and the people caught between them,
For example, In Kiev Pogrom, 1905 on page fifteena graphic picture of circumstance is presented.  The four-stanza poem details the brutal unrest in Russia.
             The killing and destruction lasted three days
             as many as a hundred Jews killed,
             property destroyed—factories, shops, homes
             The historian, Simon Dubnow, called it
             Russia’s Bartholomew’s Night.
After setting the scene of destruction, the last two lines personalize the situation by switching from a general picture to a personal narrative.
            For me, just about to turn eleven,
           both beaten by mobs to bloody pulp and bone,
           it was the death of Uncle Lev and Papa
           that made up my mind to flee to St. Petersburg.
This technique of going from the general situation to a specific one, brings the reader into the situation of real fear.
Strannik on page twenty, opens with a calm tone but progresses almost into insane anxiety as the narrator prays before the mother of Jesus.
               Papa settled down, built a house
               on the family farm
               for his growing family,
               Praskovia giving birth to four
               in rapid succession
              though the first, a boy,
              only lived a few months,
              reminding Papa
              of his own brother, Mischa,
              making him wonder
              if he were being punished
              for not obeying the Virgin.
At the end of the poem, the wife, weeping with her husband, tells him to do what is right; to find his soul. He must go.  Where is he to go?  The poem does not answer.
Catastroika on page one hundred fourteen brings together the voice of the book in dealing with anti-semantic issues.  The poem talks of the exodus of talented Jews to Israel, The United States and elsewhere from Gorbachev’s Russia.  The last stanza of four clarifies.
                   But if life is improved under Gorbachev,
                   the general situation’s deteriorated,
                  Jewish leaders fearing Jews will be blamed,
                  the usual scapegoats.
The volume is divided into nine sections alternating with the names Sasha a fictional person and Maria, a real one. It contains one hundred and seventeen pages of poems that vary in length.  The subjects appear to be well researched and an acknowledgement page and glossary is included for those who want to fact check.
Rammelkamp has a remarkable ability to humanize dire situations with a clear insight into message.  The poems are not an easy read, but I enjoyed the view Rammelkamp presented even if it wasn’t pretty.
The book is available from
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.