The Foolish Tourist-A Fable
By Sydney Avey
One day Mama spotted a tourist on a rocky trail in the high country. He wandered too close to the clearing where her twins, Grace Ann and Glory Bee, were playing. Mama grumbled low in her throat, a signal to her girls to quit their tussling and listen up.
The young man was still a ways off when he sat down on a rock. Mama could see that he was hot, tired and thirsty. What a foolish man to set out alone in these mountains without enough water or sunscreen. At least he had the good sense not to bring food. Why don’t these tourists read the safety manuals, Mama thought.
The tourist crushed the empty plastic water bottle in his hand and tossed it down the ravine. Mama moved closer, baring her teeth. These people act like they own this country, she thought.
Mama recalled the people she had struck dead on trails. If only they showed respect, she wouldn’t mind showing off Grace and Glory. Some spotted her in the distance and backed off or stood still. She let them live. Some got too close or teased and taunted. A whack from her mighty forearm ended that foolishness. Most passed by and never noticed what was at play in the shadows.
The tourist pulled himself to his feet and trudged on. He passed by Grace and Glory and never saw them. The sun got hotter, the trail got steeper and the foolish tourist kept going. Mama decided not to waste her time with this one. She knew how it would end. He would seek shade and in his dehydrated state he would drift off to sleep. She would leave him to the night howlers, the coyotes.
Mama circled back and called her girls. They followed her up the mountain, far above where the tourist missed the joy of appreciating their antics and the pain of being swatted by Mama for disrespect. A few days later, a search party carried his remains out of the park.
Moral: Be prepared to meet Grace and Glory on the road.
Sydney Avey lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Yosemite, California. and the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and a lifetime of experience writing news for non profits and corporations. Sydney blogs here about the themes she writes about--relationships, legacy, faith and travel.
* * *
Warm Thoughts of You
By Rosemary Baker
With my eyes closed, I see white-hot shimmering light. It’s soothing in a way, soothing in its emptiness. The light almost seems to block out reality. Maybe none of this is real. Maybe I’ll doze off and wake to find I’m somewhere else, someone else.
Voices carry over sand with surprising clarity. I can hear people three blankets over, hear their conversation as easily as if I were part of their group. Maybe I should be ashamed of this, but eavesdropping is one of my favorite activities at the beach. It’s just human nature really, to be curious about others, to compare our own lives with theirs. Are we better looking, fatter, smarter, poorer, happier? I’d come up short right now, by just about any measure.
Even better than eavesdropping at the beach is people watching, an activity I’ve refined over the years. I sit with my low chair tilted back a bit, book propped on my knees, dark sunglasses on. It’s impossible to tell that I’m staring, not reading. I can spend an afternoon immersed in the lives of strangers, much more fascinating than reality TV.
The group just to my left, for example. A family on vacation: Mom, Dad, son around 15, adolescent daughter who brought a friend along (she’s at that age when girls simply can’t be parted from their nearest and dearest, and that’s not family), and one unidentified 40-ish woman, Dad’s sister, maybe? She’s around the same age as the one I’m sure is Mom, but she’s blonde and heavy-set, nothing like the slender brunette who is now rummaging through the red soft-sided cooler.
“Do you want more cherries?” she asks, looking hopefully toward the teen in surfer shorts, whose long, slender torso is stretched out on a beach towel.
“No,” he grunts.
A few years ago, I bet she would have responded with a stern “No what?” But now she’s wary, servile almost. She paws around a bit more.
“I have watermelon too, and plums, and there’s still a sandwich in here.”
He doesn’t answer, but in fairness, she hasn’t asked a question.
“Something to drink?” she pleads, and he rolls onto his stomach with another negative grunt.
I want to tell her to stop the fussing. This begging to please him, to get his attention, his recognition even, is irritating me and, more importantly, him. As a high school teacher, I certainly recognize teenage annoyance. “He wants to be left alone, Mom,” I want to holler over to her. “He doesn’t want anything to eat, he doesn’t want anything to drink, he just wants you to stop buzzing around and get your own life.”
Which is, of course, what I need to do. I need to, as my mother put it, “consider my options.”
“I’ll take the kids for a few days,” she offered. “Go somewhere nice and peaceful, somewhere you can think. My treat,” she added, realizing that money was on my current list of worries.
Consider my options. Lying here on the sand, seeing nothing but the white-hot light behind my eyelids, the best option seems to be to do nothing. Besides the chatter from blankets around me, I hear the surf crashing relentlessly and the gulls screeching overhead. The whole of Cape Cod National Seashore is soothingly, stunningly beautiful, but this stretch, with its high dunes and swaying beach grass, is the perfect spot to think, to plan, to decide.
My options. One, of course, is to turn my back on you completely, or as completely as possible while we share two children. No one, especially not you, would blame me if I started divorce proceedings immediately. Affairs are common, the stuff of jokes and soaps, banal and tawdry. This is something else, something I can’t get my brain around. As I come awake each morning, the facts reassemble in my consciousness like puzzle pieces, and then I still can’t believe the finished picture. What in the world were you thinking?
We had everything we said we wanted: two healthy children, teaching careers so we could do work we love and be on the school schedule, a comfortable home close to family, a long, happy life together. And we got it; we have it all, all except the last. What made you throw it away?
The beach is probably the worst possible place for a 36-year-old woman who’s feeling insecure about herself, her desirability. My friends all tell me I look terrific. “How do you stay so thin?” they ask. “Good genes,” I laugh, “and sometimes, good jeans.” See, I’m witty, too, witty, slim, attractive. But now do I have to add “for my age”?
Off to my left I notice four girls around the age of my chemistry students. They’re sprawled on a tie-dyed sheet a few yards from my towel. Nothing I could possibly do, not yoga, not weights, not organic food, not even Botox could make me look like them. Their perfect skin, their shiny hair, their glow – is that what happened? Did you really, truly find that irresistible? So irresistible that you’d betray me, throw away the life we made? The current psychobabble says we can get through this, even come out “stronger than ever,” whatever that means. The magazine racks at Turner’s IGA checkout display dozens of headlines about this pop star and that politician who confess their tales of woe and recovery, their post-infidelity stories, whether victim or perpetrator. But you and I are real people, not flashy faces. You and I have real lives, a long history, almost two decades of holding hands and sharing dreams.
So many hours, so many days of tears and pleas and explanation. You’ve tried to help me understand. The trouble is, I do understand. I teach high school, too. Just this past spring, a tall, blue-eyed lacrosse player with a cute sheepish smile had an obvious crush on me. Me! It’s so easy to recognize the adolescent admiration that grows into something close to worship. In the world of high school, it’s a cliché, yet you bought into it. Why?
A few of the morning arrivals are packing up now, but many more sun-seekers are streaming in to take their places. They lug chairs and coolers and boogie boards, towels and sand pails and even screen houses. It amazes me that this beach can be blanket-to-blanket people, yet when I close my eyes I can feel so alone and invisible; the action swirls around me but never touches me.
Now I open my eyes just a sliver and watch a new group setting up in front of me. It’s a young family, husband and wife in their late twenties probably. The wife is very pregnant; the husband carries a toddler, a cute little guy in red plaid surfer shorts. They probably drove here right around his nap time so he could fall asleep in the car seat. Now he’s draped over dad’s shoulder, slowly coming awake to the wonder of where he is. Dad points excitedly toward the waves just a few feet away, then hands him off to mom and begins to unpack the gear, marking out their territory for the afternoon. Now mom awkwardly lowers herself into the first-opened canvas chair, uncaps a plastic bottle of sunscreen and begins to smooth it onto her child’s chubby shoulders. They look, all three of them, pleased with the beach, with the day, with their now and future lives.
They remind me of us a decade or so ago, when Natalie was a baby. We didn’t have a house then, just a cramped apartment and each other. I remember how awed we were by her sweetness, her innocence, how terrified we were that she might break. I remember your mother saying, “These are the best years of your life,” and me responding ruefully, “Thanks, Anne, good to know. We’ll keep reminding ourselves of that at 3 am when we’re taking turns in the rocking chair.” Yet we laughed more then, felt more delight and wonder and anticipation.
Now our days are a blur of “Don’t forget” this and “Call me if” that. You head out to the hardware store on Saturday mornings to pick up another tool or part for the downstairs faucet that won’t stop dripping. I raise my voice one more decibel to remind the kids yet again to pick up this or stop doing that. Dinners are grab and go between karate lessons and Daisy scouts, and always the piles on the hall table remind us both of papers that need grading and lessons that need planning.
Two kids to raise, a dog to feed and walk, a lawn to mow, careers to nurture: all of this seems stale and conventional and tiresome. And then one day, a doe-eyed, auburn-haired beauty walks into your college-prep English class, a good student, astounded by your intellectual brilliance, your passionate grasp of Great Expectations, your wit, your sophisticated humor. No wonder all those awkward high school boys pale in comparison. No wonder she wanted to stay after class to bask in your brilliance, brilliance that’s all sewed up in your warm, boyish smile. No wonder you were charmed. No wonder you were tempted. No wonder you wanted to respond.
Still, the wonder to me is that you did. And conveniently, you responded right after she turned 18, right after graduation day. You know the law, of course, had access to records that listed her birth date. Was this affair really a horrible, thoughtless lapse in your self-control, as you claim, or had you actually planned it for months, looked forward to June, when you could finally respond to her blushing adoration with no legal or consequences?
I’ll never know the truth. And I’ll never stop seeing her tear-stained face at our screen door last Thursday, never stop hearing her choking sobs as she vented her anger and heartbreak on me, thinking it would be her revenge on you for ending it. She’s just a child really, no femme fatale, no “other woman.” She believed your lust was love. She didn’t know you’d set aside a separate compartment away from your real life, a temporary place to indulge your ego.
So now I lie here on Bradley Beach and think about my options. You’ve begged and promised and pleaded and cried. You’ve tried so hard to convince me of your genuine remorse. And I am convinced. I believe you wish it had never happened. But it did, and now I have to decide how to live with that, how to proceed with life from here. I have to find a way around the huge lump of sadness that’s taking up the whole inside of me.
If only it were just about me. But the kids are part of this too. If I leave you, they’ll survive, but they’ll have only a part-time Dad. Do I want them to have beds and books and favorite ice cream bowls in two different places? Do I want to drive over to your place, wherever that might be, late at night because Aaron forgot his stuffed tiger, the one he can’t sleep without? Do I want to miss one of Natalie’s long, involved stories about her sleepover with Brynn or Madison because it’s “your day to have the kids?” Do I want to spend Thanksgiving without them because I’ll “have them” for Christmas?
I could, of course, get mean, could deny your time with the children, because you do, surely, deserve to be punished, punished hugely and terribly and forever. Just now, I’m watching a girl her age strut down the beach, weaving in and out among the towels and chairs and umbrellas, swaying on her long, tanned legs. She knows all eyes are following her, with her aqua and black striped bikini, following her with frank admiration or rueful envy, depending on age and gender. How old should a girl be before a man can ogle her and be a “regular guy” instead of a pedophile? 15? 17? 13? Where’s the line? Natalie will be 13 in 4 short years, then 18 soon enough, and she might just have a crush on some handsome, charming teacher. Did you think of that? When did you start seeing your favorite student as a potential lover instead of a high school kid?
I remember being 18. I remember being full of hopes and plans and dreams and ideas. I was sure of all the things I’d never do (“settle” for anything less than my dreams) and some of the things I would surely do (travel, make a difference). The specifics were all potential and possibility.
And then I met you, and shared it all so openly and earnestly. I remember our “firsts”: first apartment, first brand new car, first house, first child, first real fight – and even then, I never doubted we were meant to be together always.
So now I lie here in the white-hot summer light of my favorite beach, considering my options: leave my cheating husband, who couldn’t refuse the delights of a young girl entrusted to his care, and make a new life without him. Or stay together, for the sake of the kids or our marriage or whatever, and work on forgiving. How I wish I could.
You tell me you’ll never hurt me again. You tell me you’ll spend the rest of our lives making it up to me. You promise that in time, we’ll be whole again, we’ll be the same as we were before all this.
That’s such a pretty thought, but you’re wrong. Whatever I decide, whatever option I choose, nothing ever will or ever can be the same again.
Rosemary Baker is a retired English professor and now a struggling writer. She lives in Syracuse, New York, with her husband and a geriatric cat.
* * *
By Robert Boucheron
My name is Chloe and I live at the animal shelter. Someday, I hope to meet a thoughtful, considerate person such as yourself. Meanwhile, I groom myself and rest.
Marianne wrote a description of me and clipped it to the front of my unit, blocking me from view. You may as well read it.
“Chloe is a sweet, placid, adorable old thing, a classic calico kitty with splotches of orange, white and chocolate in her fur. She loves to sit in the window and watch the world go by, or sit in your lap and purr, or just sit and meditate. So much contemplation has made her wise beyond her years. She is about twelve years old, and lived with an elderly lady who took loving care of her. Definitely an indoor cat, Chloe is in excellent health, has had all her shots, and is spayed. She may be a little overweight from lack of exercise, but if you play with her, she will quickly shed those pounds! She loves to romp with a sensitive, gentle adult. Chloe might not do well with rambunctious children or a household that already has a dog. And she has not lived with other cats, so it is hard to say if she would make friends. She is a furred person singular, as pretty as a picture, and eager to make your acquaintance.”
I could take issue with “splotches.” Let’s just say that Marianne writes hundreds of cat bios. They feed us well here, that fancy scientific chow, so it’s possible that I gained a pound or two. They keep us in these steel-barred units and give us one exercise period a day, like jailbirds, so that’s another factor. But the part about children and other animals—Marianne nailed that one.
The elderly lady was carried out feet first. Her name was Ruthie or Mrs. Garrison, depending on her mood. I was resting with my eyes closed, when I heard a crash. I yawned, then strolled over to investigate. Ruthie lay crumpled on the floor, clutching a watering can with a long skinny spout. Maybe she was trying to reach the spider plant and lost her balance. Maybe she tripped. The place was littered throw rugs and carpet samples with frayed edges, great for digging in your claws but not exactly Metropolitan Home décor. I lay next to her for a while, then went back to my warm spot.
Fortunately, they checked on Ruthie once a day. She was still breathing. They asked her questions like “What year is this?” and “How many fingers am I holding up?” Then they strapped her on a gurney and took her away. The apartment manager called me “poor thing,” and picked up the watering can. Then she called the animal shelter and said she had an arrival. Maybe it was last week, or maybe it was months ago. I lose track of time in here.
Now that I’ve caught your attention, I’ll make a little effort. First, a good stretch, then a poised, seated posture. Ears forward, tip of tail vibrating to show interest. You can take me out of the cage and hold me. Ruthie liked to cradle me like a baby and sing hymns. It was a little bizarre, but I got used to it.
If you like, a staff member will escort us to the interview room. Wendell, not Marianne—today’s not her shift. It’s that room with the glass wall facing the lobby. See the rocking chair, the plush carpet, and the climbing contraption? You didn’t hear it from me, but it’s called a “feline environment.”
Easy does it as you lift me. I’m heavier than you expect. Wendell will come back in a few. Take your time. Did he just wink? Yes, you can close the door. I’m okay. Are you okay?
The toys are cute, but I’m not interested right now. The fuzzy ball, the string thing, the feathered birdie, the stuffed mouse. The mouse is okay—it squeaks when you bite hard. Once I got beyond kittenhood, I haven’t been big on toys.
Pet me all you want—I won’t break. Yes, that feels good. When I close my eyes and purr that means keep it up. You’ve been around cats, haven’t you? I can tell.
You can call me Chloe, but it’s not my real name. Marianne makes them up. Hundreds of them, whatever pops into her head. So you can change it. Just keep doing that thing with your fingers on my neck.
A little rocking chair time in your lap? Suits me fine. Oops, I didn’t mean to snag your sleeve with my claw. Sometimes they just stick out like that. I don’t do it on purpose or say: “Now I will extend my claw and rip that sucker to shreds.” It just happens, okay? You understand about accidents. Keep doing that massage thing and we’ll get along fine.
Wendell is knocking on the glass. He can be goofy, but he’s a good kid. And he knows cats.
Interview time is up? Okay, that’s cool. You want to adopt me? Really? Sure, I mean, yes, I mean, that’s cool.
Did you know that the animal shelter is running a special? Two for one or half price. Technically, they don’t sell cats—it’s an adoption fee. You just want one cat. That is totally okay with me. Fill out the paperwork, and pledge to treat me humanely. Sign your name where it says “parent.” Personal check, credit or debit card—they’re all good.
You brought your own pet carrier? Super! But wait, that’s not all. They give you a free bag of cat chow. It must be some promotional deal with the pet food company.
Do I want to say goodbye to the animal shelter staff? Not really. They’re okay, but enough is enough. I am totally ready to go home with you and live with you forever. That’s a long time, right?
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia. He writes articles and fiction on housing, communities, gardens, electric motorcycles, and love gone wrong. His work appears in Blue Lake Review, Cerise Press, Construction, Cossack Review, Dark Matter, Foliate Oak, IthacaLit, Montreal Review, Mouse Tales Press, NewerYork, Niche, North Dakota Quarterly, Northern Virginia, Pachinko, Piedmont Virginian, Prime Number, Rider, Rusty Nail, Streetlight, Talking Writing, 34th Parallel, Virginia Business, Zodiac Review. You can learn more at his website.
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Kids, Cats, and Quick Exits
By Melodie Corrigall
For Larry, choosing between Trixie and his balloons was the most wrenching decision he had ever faced. Trixie was close to perfection with her bouncy blond curls, soar in the sky smile and understanding heart. He’d do anything for her, anything that is but give up his balloons.
He had collected his first balloon (long since buried) years earlier, the day he bought the house. A sizeable basement room was now dedicated to them. They needed the entire room because Larry could not—and who but a heartless thug could—kill them. No matter how old and weak a balloon got, the thin pastel plastic stretched and bulging, he couldn’t pierce it.
Others did. When his former friend Tom discovered an elderly balloon from Fred’s retirement party hiding behind a chair, he squeezed it to death. And then, to Larry’s horror, he’d thrown the balloon in the garbage as if it were nothing.
Not Larry, even when they finally did die—like people their life expectancy had increased in recent years—Larry gave them a proper send off. After their last gasp, they were sorted by color or design so they could be with their own, and placed in a small metal box by his window.
Now he was faced with a choice: Trixie or his balloons. Struggle as he might, Larry couldn’t come up with any way to save his balloons and meet Trixie’s three points of contention: kids, cats and quick exits. First, Trixie wanted kids, and he wasn’t against it. If he had three hands he would sign up. But as it was when they went for a walk, his two hands were occupied: Trixie with one hand, his balloon with the other. Having lost his first love—a red helium balloon—he was terrified of losing another love—Trixie.
The cliché about the first love being the strongest was true. His was shiny red with a thin golden ribbon and so plump he could hardly get his arms around it. As soon as the balloon had been bestowed on him, Larry had lost interest in the birthday party: the other children swooping around playing airplane, the treat bags stuffed with plastic toys and gummy candies, the mothers clucking that it was time to leave. He’d raced outside, swinging his balloon, which in the breeze was as wild as he. It tugged to be free, to join the clouds. He hurried ahead of his mother who hesitated to shout thanks to Mrs. Bean and then called to him, “Larry, careful, hold on, hold on.”
As he turned towards her, his hand opened and whoosh his everything exploded into the air. “Mommy,” he cried in horror watching, his heart rising. “Mommy, get it.”
The small Larry jumped and stretched his thin arms as far as he could but the balloon was already flying high. He watched in horror as it shrunk smaller and smaller.
“Mommy,” he cried angrily, “Get my balloon.” His mother put her arm around his bony shoulder, “It’s gone, Larry.”
“I want it back,” he said stamping his feet on the icy sidewalk.
“It’s gone to play with the clouds,” she said.
Larry stared into the sky stretching his head so far back it threatened to snap off. “Come back, come back. I want you, Balloon,” he cried in his fierce tin voice but it refused to come back. Instead, it got tinier and tinier until it was the size of a marble and disappeared.
Years had passed since that terrible event but still whenever Larry left the house with his chosen balloon he held it tight and as he also loved Trixie, he held her tight too. Of course, she was too heavy to float away but he could hardly show more concern for his balloon than for his ladylove.
In the early days when he took Trixie’s hand as they left the house, she swung his arm and cried, “We’re like Parisian lovers walking along Rileyville streets hand in hand.” Recently, however, she sometimes tried to break loose in order to window shop or to dash across the street to talk with a friend.
But back to the problem of kids. Larry wasn’t against the idea of having them but if he and Trixie had a kid he’d want to hold his or her hand and that would mean giving up Trixie’s hand and if he had two kids or twins, well that would be impossible. They could never leave the house.
In a sense, he had his kids, there in the basement. But that was another problem: space. Trixie argued, “We wouldn’t have to move. The baby could have the basement room.” If so, where were his balloons supposed to go?
When Trixie wasn’t talking kids, she was talking cats. Another no-no. If they had a cat, and it got into the basement it might bang the balloons around or rip their lives from them with its sharp claws. No way, no animals.
He had tried to address Trixie’s third concern: slow exits. “You’re so poky leaving the house,” she complained. “I’m tired of pacing the pavement waiting for you rain or shine.”
His mother had sided with Trixie, suggesting he plan ahead. But how could he? He never knew what the day would be like. For example, his red shirt might look good with the yellow balloon in the dim light of the basement (he had tried to install better lights but they didn’t help). But then once he got outside, he could see that his outfit didn’t do the yellow balloon credit; somehow the light was too bright or too dull. Other times as soon as they got outside he noted the wind, and realized he had brought a balloon that was too large or shaped such that it would struggle in the breeze and the whole afternoon would be spent tugging and yanking and no one would enjoy that.
“Bloody twenty minutes yesterday and fifteen today,” Trixie said. “You can leave on time for work.”
Of course he could. Workdays he only had to choose a balloon to match his orange overalls—standard uniform at Buckley’s—and the balloon would be mostly indoors so he didn’t have to worry about strong winds.
So those were the issues: kids, cats and quick exits. He and Trixie had fought around and around this mulberry bush for four weeks until yesterday when Trixie threatened that if he didn’t budge by morning, she was gone. Her suitcase (tissue paper between the layers of clothes to avoid creases) placed by the door, spoke of her determination.
The previous night had been the worst of Larry’s life. He loved Trixie, with her perky nose and a laugh that would stop a van, but what would life be without his balloons? In the small hours, unable to sleep, he had visited the balloons a number of times. (He watched them in the dim nightlight, not putting on the overhead light which would disturb their rest.) As he opened their door, they rustled and shifted about, restless in their sleep just like Trixie often was. That’s something he’d miss if she left, her moving quietly beside him, the warmth of her soft haired arm across his chest and the curve of her back as she cuddled against him. But it was too late for second thoughts; it was morning. Trixie had seen his note and she was moving around upstairs. The basement door creaked opened.
“That’s it, Larry,” she shouted. “This is goodbye”
He was stung. He couldn’t bear to climb the stairs to see her off. He’d left a note to say he loved her but that just like the movie stars their differences were “irreconcilable.”
Standing with his balloons around him like a multicolored skirt—Larry peered out the grimy basement window. Trixie’s feet jogged down the front stairs and headed up the walk. She was wearing her favorite “cheer me up” red high heals and his breath caught as he watched the tiny heels trlip away. When she got to the sidewalk, she turned back—would she relent? No, she just shrugged.
Behind him, in loving support, his balloons clustered—all ages, all shapes, and all colors. Had it not been for their constancy, he couldn’t have faced Trixie’s departure.
He reached out his hand to caress his new silver Congratulations balloon, so cool to the touch. Over his shoulder he glimpsed his elderly Thanks balloon loyal and resplendent in gold and green.
Down the street Trixie tripped along, her shiny crimson shoes getting smaller and smaller just like that fateful red balloon had done those many years ago. Finally, all he could see were the heels and then nothing.
He’d always intended to make a contingency plan for his balloons in case of his death. Now that Trixie was gone, he’d move that to the top of his list.
Melodie Corrigall is a Canadian writer whose stories have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Blue Lake Review, Toasted Cheese, The November 3rd Club, This Zine Will Change Your life, FreeFall, Six Minute Magazine, Subtle Fiction and Switchback literary magazine.
* * *
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
By Mark DeMoss
In your haste, you might trip over the charcoal grill Bob stowed in the garage for the winter, knock your head against the bricks left over from last year’s patio repair. You would lie there, unconscious for two days, until he returned from his business trip and found you. His first question after you awoke in the hospital would be, why the overnight bag?
This sequence of events is astoundingly unlikely, and Bob is fastidious about keeping a tidy space. But the garage door might fail to open after you’ve started your car. At the same time, several fuses could fail in series, locking the car and sticking the ignition key in place. An hour or two later, you would peacefully expire, dumbed to death by carbon monoxide. It would appear to both Bob and me to be a suicide. He would wonder what had caused you to take your own life. I would think I knew.
Stranger things have happened.
Suppose you make it out of the house (in which 74 percent of all accidents occur) and to the hotel. The lobby could be undergoing renovation. You are standing in line at the front desk, behind the sponsor of a junior glee club in town for a cheering contest. She is trying to find her credit card while keeping twenty-seven eighth-graders out of the lobby bar. You’re the most patient person I’ve ever met, and you hate to ever make a scene, so you’re perusing the “Pardon Our Mess” sign and never see the rope tangled about your left foot. When the workers raise the scaffolding, you’re knocked to the floor, hitting your head.
But say you check in safely. You’d think the odds of bumping into someone you know in a city of two million, at a restaurant neither of us have been to before, are incalculably low. But before the duck flautas had given way to the osso buco, your best friend from college spots you across the room, screams your name and runs to our table. Only then she looks at me, back to you, back at me again. “He’s not Bob,” she says.
Most likely, we will make it through dessert without being discovered. Our chances are better if we avoid the martinis, though you’re cutest when the flush of alcohol reaches your cheeks. If I have to carry you, there will be a scene. Things like that never go unnoticed.
Suppose we have a wonderful weekend, and everything is like those Italian films you love. In the mornings, a butterscotch sun shines through open windows. Nothing goes wrong, not even a maid knocking on the door. In the evenings, a lavender mist settles onto the city, and we decide to stay another night. On Sunday morning, we part reluctantly, leave separately.
What if it turns out to be what we’ve been telling ourselves all along, nothing, an infatuation, an embarrassing crush?
But we might discover that it is in fact something. You would have to choose. Either way, you would break your husband’s heart. You would have to explain to mutual friends, and ask them to choose, too. You would have to tell them why, after all these years, it turned out to be me you were looking for all this time.
We might be forced to leave everything behind.
We might be found out and forgiven.
Mark DeMoss lives in the North Texas area. He works as a software developer, and can often be found online at the flash challenge site ShowMeYourLits.com. His stories have been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Bartleby Snopes, Nib Magazine and various other venues.
* * *
The Long Walk
By Randall DeVallance
He emerged from his car into the fog, and there it was, the processing center, immense, blockish and crude. The fog had been drawn around the perimeter of the grounds like a curtain, the backdrop to a stage, so that it seemed as if the processing center was all there was – no more strip mall across the valley, no more office block next door where an insurance company housed its claims department. Even the lamps in the parking lot were muted, suffocated by a billion tiny droplets of water that bent and refracted the light, over and over again, until it turned the air a jaundiced yellow. He checked his watch but did not want to believe what time it was, cursing his wife and God and the circumstances that had brought him here, as the processing center towered over him, massive and yet – isolated by the fog – seemingly infinitesimal, like a freighter alone on an ink-dark sea.
The guard at the booth demanded to see his security badge. They had done this dance every night for six years, six long years and still they pretended as if they were perfect strangers, though the man knew every crease and crevice in the guard’s face, better, even, than he knew his own wife’s. He did not know the guard’s name, though. The bosses liked it that way, even had a term for it – “formalized impersonality” – a sort of institutionalized sociopathy that was supposed to increase productivity. The guard grunted and waved him through the gate.
Inside the building, he passed down a long, beige corridor, static electricity gathering on his fingertips as he shuffled across the industrial carpeting. They claimed it was made from recycled tires, a thing that had impressed him when he first heard it, but in the end it was still just carpeting, iron-gray and trim and leading nowhere.
He passed a series of doors, beside each of which, built into the wall, was a keypad. At the end of the corridor he stopped. Behind a door like all the others, he could hear the clattering of fingertips on keyboards and the hive-like drone of voices murmuring rote pleasantries into their headset phones. It occurred to him that he had not seen the sun in almost three days. He had left the office last night in darkness, and in darkness he was returning.
It was just before five. In eight hours it would be one o’clock. He imagined the lake near his apartment, felt the breeze, lightly chilled, as it rolled in over the surface of the water, and the softness of the grass as he lay along the bank, a dream so vivid it hung before him like a mirage, suddenly dissipating as an old, familiar shiver crept down his spine. He reached for the keypad, winced at the tiny, blue bolt that crackled from his finger as he grazed the metal paneling, then punched in ‘5-3-2-4-#’. The light on the keypad switched from red to green.
Randall DeVallance is a writer living in Vermont. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Eyeshot, Pindeldyboz, and many others. He is also the author of the novella and short story collection, 'The Absent Traveler', published in December 2010 by Atticus Books."
* * *
By Don Fredd
Cliff Bingham hated the sign at the end of the driveway. It was a jagged piece of cardboard that read “4 Sale” stuck under the wiper blade of his son Ray Ray’s Ford F250. His daughter-in-law, Brenda, had labored long and hard to write “Fore Sale” using three day-glow magic markers and plenty of glitter. She stared him down, hands on hips when he pointed out the error. It was balanced, she said, each word ended with an “e.” “Mistakes get people’s attention, like in newspapers when they put the ad upside down. Besides who in St Albans, Vermont will know the difference. Bennington and Middlebury is where all the smart people live.”
But she’d eventually given in, flipped the cardboard over and scribbled “4 Sale” on the back before stomping off. No information about the truck-- mileage, price or features. It had been three months now and occasionally someone stopped, got out and walked around the vehicle. If he was puttering outside, he would wander over and answer questions as best he could. Brenda had never told him what she wanted for it. “Get as much as you can,” was all she’d ever said.
Carl Ainer stopped by last week and seemed interested. They had cut timber together a few years ago when the state forest opened up tracks to the public.
“What you asking, Cliff? Some rust towards the end of the truck bed right rear.”
He swallowed his pride, went inside and knocked on door to Brenda’s room. When she opened it, he could smell the dope she smoked every night. The TV was blaring. “Tell him I won’t take a penny less than $5000, final offer.”
He was ashamed to go back out to Carl.
“Five Thousand for a 2004 pickup that’s been plowing!”
“That’s what she said, Carl. It does have new tires, and Ray Ray refurbished most everything before he left. You know how good he was with cars.”
“That’s too rich for my blood. The book value is only fifteen hundred. By the way, how’s your boy doing these days?”
Ray Ray was Cliff and Adele Bingham’s only child. He drifted from job to job after high school and got into some scrapes. Drinking and some minor drug stuff for the most part. But slowly he was changing, maturing to the degree that he bought this Ford F250 to plow for the town during the winter and to start up a landscaping business. Then the judge came down hard on him for intent to sell. It was ninety days in the county lockup or join the military.
Almost the minute he got home on leave from basic, Brenda Sobel got her hooks into him. When he was sent to Germany, she went with him. They were married over there by the base chaplain. Cliff thought she was more in love with the army’s allotment and medical plan than Ray Ray. When he was posted to Afghanistan, she came home. Home was now Ray Ray’s old room. Cliff figured she could be a help as Adele was sinking deeper into the Alzheimer’s. There were things she could do for Adele that a woman’s best suited for. That wasn’t working out as well as it might.
Then Ray Ray got hit. Initially Cliff never worried about his son because he was assigned to a motor pool well behind the lines. But a fanatical camp worker planted an IED in the mess tent which tore up the left side of his son’s body, ripped away the lower jaw and left a stump below the right knee. He was blind and with ten per cent hearing. His brain only worked when the morphine let it. The government had him in a VA hospital in Rochester, New York. He’d taken Adele and Brenda out there every week or so, driving north into Canada to get around Lake Champlain, then down Route 87 to the New York Thruway. Nine hours each way, three people crammed into his Toyota Tundra’s front seat. That was their weekend ritual until winter hit, and the visits came whenever the forecast promised extended clear weather.
Adele didn’t travel well these days and had to be watched all the time. Now it was only Cliff who went, Brenda staying home to see to Adele. It was like visiting a grave anyway. Ray Ray was a lump. Years back Cliff had raised Big Max pumpkins, force fed them buttermilk via tubes. He took Honorable Mention at the Plattsburgh Agricultural Exposition. That’s what Ray Ray was now, a Hubbard squash hooked to tubes running every which way into machines that blipped and displayed wavy lines that glowed green.
So he and Adele were stuck with Brenda. She had Ray Ray’s monthly check, a roof over her head and, to hear her tell it, she was a regular Florence Nightingale to Adele. Ray Ray’s room was done over the way she wanted--posters, cable TV and her own mini-bar fridge. She went out to the Wagon Wheel several nights a week, stumbling in at all hours. She hadn’t brought a man home yet which was a blessing, and Cliff certainly didn’t mind when she disappeared for a day or two. Sometimes he wished he could vanish as well, leaving Adele, Brenda and Ray Ray each to the separate worlds they were sinking into.
But it was Ray Ray’s truck at the end of the driveway that galled him the most. It wasn’t the selling of it; it was the detached way she was doing it. She had no idea what that truck had meant to Ray Ray. It had turned his life around, given it purpose. Okay, if she wanted to get rid of it then why not pretend to care, take a few minutes away from the TV to talk to folks when they stopped by, it would increase the potential for a sale. But, no, he was left to explain to folks what Ray Ray had done under the hood and the heavy duty suspension he’d added. Brenda kept the keys so, if someone wanted to sit in the cab and start it up, it meant a trip into the house, rousing Brenda from bed and being told what to ask.
Burlington TV broadcast possible snow event. He was stacking wood on the back porch when Pete Warner pulled in. His wife Claire was with him. In all the times he’d seen Pete he’d never known Claire to get out of the vehicle. On good days he used to joke with Adele as to whether Claire even had legs. They’d stopped by three weeks ago and kicked the tires. This time Pete made an offer. Cliff trudged into the house.
He yelled through the door, waited, and then knocked before he opened it enough to stick his head in. “I need the keys. Pete Warner is outside; says he’ll give you $1200 for it.” Brenda was lying across the unmade bed, her butt barely covered by an old flannel shirt. She was glued to an afternoon court show.
“Are you shitting me? Did you tell him about the re-built transmission?” she said barely acknowledging the intrusion.
“He thinks it’s only good for parts or maybe a run to the landfill every month or so.”
“See if you can get him up to $4000,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand
“Brenda, there’s no way in hell anyone’s going to pay that. Why don’t you come out and dicker with him? I feel like a fool running back and forth like this.”
She turned over and deliberately flashed her breasts at him. “Maybe I should wave these puppies around to sweeten the deal for any of your old logging buddies. The keys are on the chest there. Besides, I know you like to come in here to sneak a peek and get your rocks off. Now, bugger on out of my room, you old pervert. When my program is over and I’m decent, I’ll be out to talk to him and not a second before.”
He closed the door, stunned by the idea that she thought he was interested in her.
He went out to Pete. “Give me ten bucks and it’s yours.”
“That’s not fair, Cliff. How about a thousand? I’ll bring a check around by Friday at the latest.”
“I’ll take one dollar for it if you drive it away within the next ten minutes.” He reached in, took the title from the glove box, scribbled his name using the hood as a desk and handed it to Pete.
“Sure you want to do this?”
“Never been more sure of anything.”
“What about your daughter-in-law?”
He stuck the dollar bill into his front shirt pocket, patted it securely and walked down towards the house. Claire pulled away first in the Chevy then he heard Pete start the truck. He loved the deep throaty sound of the muffler, a musical memory of better days. When he resumed stacking wood on the porch, he looked back at the vacant driveway. He felt better. Like erasing a blackboard. He’d finish a few more rows then a tie down a tarp over it. Dark snow clouds had already blanketed the Adirondacks and were beginning to scud east towards Lake Champlain where they’d pick up plenty of moisture. A two day blow if he was reading it right. In a few minutes the front door would bang open and he’d have an even bigger storm to contend with.
D. E. Fredd—lives in Townsend, Massachusetts. He has had over one hundred and fifty short stories and poems published in literary reviews and journals. He received the Theodore Hoepfner Award given by the Southern Humanities Review for the best short fiction of 2005 and was a 2006 Ontario Award Finalist. He won the 2006 Black River Chapbook Competition and received a 2007, 2009 and 2010 Pushcart Nomination. He has been included in the Million Writers Award of Notable Stories for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010.
* * *
Swimming in the Big Pool
By Cindy Forbes
Virginia says I taught her to swim when she was five years old. She was Ginny then—tall and strong for her age, with the smooth-cheeked face of a cherub, not snub-nosed and splattered with freckles like mine.
I stood tiptoe on my stubby legs at the three-foot mark, my arms stretched out to her. She danced on the deck in her two-piece navy-blue swimsuit wringing her hands, her round brown belly caving each time she sucked in air.
“I can’t!” she cried.
“Watch this,” I said. I stretched out into a starfish then arched backward into the water, and dived to the bottom of the pool.
I was eight and a half that summer and swimming everywhere, even into the deep end, while Ginny played crocodile in the baby pool or sat on the steps of the big pool moping as I swam away from her.
My fingers touching cement, I waved my toes at her then kicked to the surface, my lungs bursting with spent air. She was grinning now, bent over the water clutching her ropy thighs. Her pixie haircut was already drying in madman spikes, her swimsuit shriveling in the hot sun, but I was cool and comfortable, in water up to my chin.
I reached my arms to her again and shouted, “Jump, Ginny!” And this time she did. She splashed onto her knees and dogpaddled into my arms, like a Labrador puppy born to swim. “Take a big breath,” I said, grabbing her hand. I pulled her underwater and we kicked to the ladder holding hands. She came up laughing, blowing water from her nose, and was never afraid of the water again. The rest of the summer we were sister mermaids, swimming together all over the pool.
Virginia is at my door again. I usher her into my studio—a room filled with soft sculpture and whimsical pieces I’ve made of fabric and feathers and cast-off remnants of my life. Virginia feels safe in my studio. We sit side by side on the slipcovered sofa and she apologizes.
“I know you’re tired of me coming over,” she says.
“No I’m not,” I say, and it’s true. I’m always glad to see her.
“I told Phillip I was going to the clubhouse, but I don’t really have a match today.” She’s dressed for tennis in her team uniform: red skirt, striped shirt and sturdy court shoes laced tight. I admire her long, muscled limbs. She can whip a tennis ball across the court for hours wearing a silly grin and rarely breaking a sweat. But she’s not grinning now. Her hand is shaking as she searches for a Kleenex in her designer bag.
“What’s the matter? Is it Phillip again?”
“Yes.” She dabs her eyes and wipes her nose. “We had another fight last night—over nothing. I fell asleep watching T.V. and he just started yelling at me.” Her eyes dart like wild birds before they rest on mine. “He said he wants a divorce.”
I remember that my ex-husband and I never talked about divorce until the marriage was near the end. “He shouldn’t say that if he doesn’t mean it. It’s not fair.”
She snorts. “I don’t think he cares about fairness. He’s says I’m fat, I’m lazy, I’ve let myself go—”
“I think you look damned good for your age.” Yes, her round belly has returned as a small middle-aged bulge, but she’s toned and still has that perfect face. “You work out almost every day. You take care of the house, cook his meals, do all the bookwork and errands. What more could he want?”
“Hmm…” She furrows her brows in mock bewilderment. “A skinny twenty-year-old with a six figure income? That’s what he thinks he wants.”
I roll my eyes. “That woman he was texting—or sexting—isn’t she in her thirties?”
“Yeah, she’s thirty-five, but she’s younger than I am, and thinner. He was flirting with her at the clubhouse party Saturday night. He even sat with her at the bar. Can you believe it?”
“I thought he called her a cheap slut. You said he was ignoring her texts.”
Virginia shrugs dramatically. “Maybe they made up. I don’t know. Now he’s talking about divorce again.”
“Is he planning to move out?” I say this as calmly as I can, not wanting her to know how much I wish he would.
“He says he wants to, but he never does anything about it.… Maybe I should be the one to leave.”
“Why don’t you?”
Her eyes take flight again, flitting around the studio. “I don’t have a career like you do. How would I support myself? I’d have to move to an apartment and work at some minimum wage job.”
This is a dodge. She knows I barely scrape by, month to month, while she and Phillip have investments in real estate and the stock market and don’t owe anything, not even a mortgage.
“You could manage. You might not even have to work.”
She’s shallow breathing now. Her belly caves. Her ribcage flares. “I can’t. I—I’m too old to start over.”
“You deserve to be happy.” I smile and relax on the sofa to show her what I mean. I go where I want. I do as I please. I’m not afraid. She’s sweating, but I am cool and comfortable.
She scowls and wraps her arms around her chest, moping. “If he would get over his midlife crisis—or whatever it is—and stop picking on me all the time, I would be happy.”
“Maybe he will,” I say, stroking the feathered pillow between us, but inside my head I’m screaming, Come on, Ginny! Jump!
Cindy Forbes is a former teacher and instructional designer who now spends her time writing fiction and poetry. She lives on Padre Island in South Texas.
* * *
Finding Religion on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Margaret A. Frey
I imagine the trail, noting the pitch of the ascent, the uneven terrain. An invisible sparrow, I follow the one called Cruiser, trail named for his sure-footed, uncanny pace. He’s the tall, ball-capped hiker, sunburned, toenails flapping off raw nail beds, and blisters--pearls of exquisite pain--studding his heels, proof for any reasonable person that the human foot was not made for this grueling marathon, not adequately designed to stumble through desert and sweltering valley, only to plow snow-covered ridges at nose-bleed heights.
Only last month a missing hiker was found, the Ice Man Cometh, another wild adventurer dedicated to the trail, the freedom, the solitary pursuit of what few would consider, let alone willingly undertake, 2600+ miles of endurance and foolhardy will. The Ice Man’s heart, luck and/or sense of direction gave out on Fuller’s Ridge in a blinding June snowstorm, a treacherous pass under optimal conditions. He slept fitfully, I suspect, a full season’s nap beneath snow and ice, then reappeared, a grim reminder that the trail is rife with peril and unspeakable heartache.
Alaskan Jesus, he of the generous spirit, quit the trail with a strange affliction, the swelling of face and neck, lymph nodes the size of boulders. The mysteriously tagged Amoeba, rushed off Bear Mountain by ambulance, suffered high-altitude sickness, and poodle bushes, innocent-sounding thistles loaded with punishing pain, undid Cushy and his wild, mountain-man beard. The most poignant story belongs to Astro. Head filled with stars and constellations, he chose to camp cowboy style--blanket to the ground, eyes turned skyward. Like a mythic hero, he raced against the odds, the clock and the cancer devouring his bones.
Warnings of rodent-borne plague, quicksand, poisonous snakes, grizzly bears and cranky coyotes populate the landscape, yet Cruiser keeps cruising because one man’s defeat is another man’s triumph.
Bad things always happen to someone else.
I recall believing a similar fiction a thousand summers ago, sheltering a wide-eyed naiveté about life’s peculiar turns, still believing in special dispensations for good hearts and better intentions. Until, that is, the bad crept in, latched itself to my shoulders, an invisible shroud—parents lost to age and dementia, the near death of another child, a vibrant friend collapsing on her bathroom floor. Mishaps, bad turns and worse decisions, the inexorable ticking of the clock all catch the blissfully unaware regardless of location: inside the comfort of home or outside, embracing a wilderness quest.
I cannot protect Cruiser from this ultimate reality, this man-child created in a sweet, giddy moment of love, lust and wine. I want merely to delay the endnote—the last shuddering breath, the eye fixed and filming, the heart seizing like a clenched fist. Keep him safe, I whisper to the God and saints of my childhood, the same celestial tribe I willfully abandoned years ago. Keep him safe, I repeat until my personal journey is over, until I’m scattered to the winds like so much dandelion seed.
Is that so much for the Universe to consider? Is that too much for a mother to ask? I ask in the childhood way, my words brimming over. Only now, I see the rugged road clearly: that bruising, unrelenting trail.
Margaret A. Frey writes from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Her work, fiction and nonfiction, has appeared in Camroc Press Review, Cezanne’s Carrot, Notre Dame Magazine, Kaleidoscope and elsewhere. Forthcoming work is scheduled for Flash Fiction Online, Used Furniture Review and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.
* * *
Zen and the Ultimate Truth
By Philip Goldberg
For Zen Brubaker, little mattered as he cruised west at 100 mph on I-80 in a cream-colored ’98 Corvette convertible with the top down. The summer sun blazed in a cloudless sky, and the hot breeze, magnified by the speed of the car, played havoc with the 33 year-old’s long blond hair. At this moment, in this car, the myth of the road’s freedom was the ultimate truth for Zen. It was as valid as the fact that the car in which he was racing west was stolen. He had stolen it just last night, when the idea to pick up and go had hit him hard.
The endless Great Plains highway, which ran straight to the horizon, reflected on the dark tinted lenses of his aviator sunglasses. Zen broke into a half-ass imitation of Mick Jagger on “Sympathy for the Devil”. The thought came to him as he sang. It was an obvious thought, yet like so many things with him, he kept it buried deep. He had no idea why he had left Pittsburgh (at least at the moment he couldn’t recall), but he knew where he was going. He was heading to Vacadale, California, the small town where he would find Tara. There she’d be in the same house where he had left her three years ago. Young Jeb would be there too.
Zen pressed his foot down harder on the accelerator pedal and pushed the speedometer past 115 mph. With the manic buzz of speed ringing his ears, he thought about plowing through the highway divider and smashing head-on into an on-coming car. The sound of twisting metal and the blazing image of exploding hellfire gave him a tingle in his groin. But it was too pretty a day to waste on dying.
As he drummed the steering wheel with both of his index fingers, he tried to remember why he had left Tara. He couldn’t recall (another momentary mental block). Their love had been strong at the time, and he was certain that she would still feel the burn for him that he still felt for her, and that she would open her arms and her home to him. Jeb was another story. But he’d deal with the boy when he had to, and not now. Instead, he raced his new car, felt the sun’s sting on his skin and licked the torrid breeze with his stuck-out tongue.
The highway sign ahead advertised a place to eat at the next exit. Zen was starving. He hadn’t eaten since last night. He had sped into Kansas an hour ago, and Pittsburgh, to him, was a lifetime ago. With the old steel town, he had also left Kelly.
Twenty-four and drop-dead gorgeous, Kelly had healed him after Tara. He had met her at a bar weeks after he had arrived in the steel town. His Brad Pitt looks always had the right effect on the ladies; and Kelly with her sandy hair and freckles had wanted him within minutes after laying her emerald green eyes on him. Within hours, they were in bed, making enough noise to wake the neighbors. In a matter of days, they were living together, arguing enough to concern anyone within earshot.
Killing the ’vette’s engine in the parking lot of the bullet-shaped diner, Zen left the car with the top down. He headed into the eatery; its neon lit name, Lawson’s, blinking.
Inside, he took a swivel seat at the counter. The place smelled of burnt coffee, sizzling cooking grease and ammonia. A buxom waitress with a million-dollar smile greeted him with a steaming pot of coffee in her hand.
He motioned for her to pour him some.
“That your car?” She asked in a friendly voice, tinged with too many years in a very small town, as she poured the steaming brew into his cup.
“You bet,” he replied.
“Must be nice.”
“Heaven-sent, especially on a day like this.”
“Giving out any free rides today?”
“Depends on how good your food is.”
She smiled and said: “Then I’ve got no chance in hell.”
They shared a laugh, and then he said: “A plate of scrambled eggs and bacon with white toast, please.”
“Good manners, too,” she said, walking off with his order.
Zen watched her ass bounce right to left, left to right with just enough jiggle to keep his eyes glued. She must have sensed his stare, because when she reached the cook’s station, she glanced back at him and smiled.
He smiled back and then saw something reflected in the mirrored wall on the other side of the counter. A state police car pulled up next to his ’vette and parked. He looked over his shoulder and watched as the brawny, square-jawed trooper stepped out from the patrol car.
The man’s knee-high boots gleamed in the sun; and he appeared transfixed by the ’vette, walking around it, studying it, and finally glancing down at the license plate. Then he turned away and entered the diner, waving at the waitress and saying: “Hey, Gwen.”
“Hi, Taylor,” she answered. “The usual?”
“Old habits die hard,” he said.
Both laughed, and Zen listened, thinking the joke was lame. He played with his coffee spoon and noticed that the cop took a stool two seats away from him. The trooper looked at him and smiled. “Your car?”
Zen thought about lying, but he realized that he and the trooper were the only two eating in the place. He nodded.
“Always wanted one myself, but I can’t afford it. Three kids, a fourth on the way, a home, well, you get the picture.”
“Two jobs, no kids is how I do it,” Zen lied.
Gwen returned with Zen’s toast, eggs and bacon and said, “Hey, I’m trying to wrangle a free ride out of this guy.” Then she placed his food on the counter before him.
Taylor looked at Zen. “Bet a lot of ladies hit on you for a ride in that car?”
“I get my share of requests.”
Gwen placed a cup of coffee in front of the trooper, and he took a sip from it. “Where you from?” Taylor asked in a friendly tone and then took another sip.
“New York,” Zen said through a piece of bacon he was chewing.
“Boy, you’ve been on the road a long time.” Gwen chimed in.
“Less than a day,” Zen said, realizing his mistake too late as it took more than a day and a half to drive this distance. He wanted to leap off his stool, grab the man’s gun and put a bullet between the eyes. But then he’d have to kill Gwen, and he didn’t want to do that.
“Whew,” Taylor said. “You must’ve been burning rubber to go from there to here so fast.”
“Yeah,” Zen chuckled as if to bury his mistake, his rage, in laughter. “You won’t hit me with a ticket, or throw me in jail.”
Taylor smiled. Then he grew silent.
Gwen placed a plate before the trooper. On it was a slab of meatloaf and lumpy mashed potatoes, drowning in gravy.
Something clicked inside Zen’s brain. It was what he had felt every time he needed to move on. Maybe it was fear. Maybe it was a need for survival. Whatever it was, Zen shoveled some more eggs into his mouth and gulped them down. Then he finished his coffee and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. Looking up, he said to Gwen: “How much?”
Gwen faced him. “A fast drive in your car.”
“Real fast,” she purred through her parted lips.
He smiled. “It’ll have to be on my way back, sweets.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Three bucks then, babe.”
He plunked down a Lincoln on the counter top and said: “Enjoy the day.”
“Good trip,” Gwen said, retrieving the money.
“Likewise,” Taylor said.
Zen walked out of the place, unaware that two hard eyes were fixed on his back. He got into the ’vette, ignited the engine and drove out of the parking lot. In a minute, he was back on I-80 heading west to Tara, but thinking about the trooper. “No way he could’ve known about the car,” he mumbled. Somehow these words allayed his fears for the time, and soon he was imitating Bob Dylan on “Highway 61.”
The sun had dropped in the afternoon sky, and the glare had increased. Zen squinted through his aviator shades to see the road ahead, which was cast in a bright heavenly white light. He half-expected to see Jesus appear on the shoulder of the interstate, hitching. He chuckled to himself, and then his thoughts returned to Tara and Jeb. He still remembered the sadness in her blue eyes, the desperate pleas and the endless tears on the day he had left.
She had grabbed his arm and had tried to stop him but he’d had none of that. After he had silenced her, he had slammed the door on the way out. Jeb’s pitiful screams had filled his ears, only to be drowned out by the pick-up truck’s engine.
He tightened his grip on the ’vette’s steering wheel, knowing that he owed them both a big apology. He would give them that. Another thought crossed his mind. He should call before he got there. He mulled it over for some time. Then he shook his head, as he wanted to surprise them and give them no chance to deny him the reconciliation he so badly wanted.
What he saw in the rearview mirror brought a quick end to his thoughts. The state trooper’s car (he assumed it was Taylor’s) was about fifty yards behind him. When the car’s siren and lights started, Zen believed his gig was up. But the thought of Tara, and the knowledge that he was driving a ’vette, blinded his reason. He stomped the gas pedal as if it was a big, ugly roach.
The ’vette raced off, and the trooper’s car followed in pursuit.
The chase sparked a primal thrill in Zen, who felt like a NASCAR racer. His Daytona was the interstate. He avoided other cars at the last split second, changing lanes on a dime, using the narrow shoulder road when no other lane appeared clear before him. In the rearview, he watched Taylor match him move for move, which made his heart race faster with excitement. He thanked the ’vette’s owner, whom he had only known for a heartbeat, on taking such good care of the car. “Catch me if you can, copper,” he shouted in his best James Cagney imitation, and he hit the gas pedal even harder. Could he drive this car any faster, he wondered. The speedometer answered by topping 125mph. The acceleration made him feel higher still. It was how Tara made him feel in bed.
He had been on top of her, feeling euphoric. Every nerve in his body had been on high alert. She had only to look in his eyes, or run a finger on his glistening skin and he would explode like a billion firecrackers on the Fourth of July. When she finally dug her nails into his shoulders, he screamed with all the fury that his vocal chords would allow, knowing full well that Jeb was awake in the next room, smothering out the screams of pleasure with a pillow wrapped around both his ears.
Suddenly, a pair of terrified eyes fogged this memory. They weren’t his. They belonged to someone else. He quickly shut them out, feeling the cold wetness in his pants. Before him, the traffic on I-80 was slowing down. He swerved hard, causing his tires to screech. The sweet smell of burning rubber filled his nose. Up ahead, he saw the wall of state patrol cars. A feeling of invincibility filled his V-8 heart. In his rearview, he still saw Taylor. A harrowing scream echoed through his stainless steel soul, and then he shouted to the cloudless sky: “Tara!” And he spun out and crashed the ’vette through the guardrail, bouncing down a small embankment onto a country road.
On the highway, troopers scurried back to their cars, and sped off to pursue Zen.
Taylor followed Zen down the embankment and onto the country road.
With sirens ringing Zen’s ears, he turned off the country road and onto a dirt road that cut a cornfield in two, sending a billowing, blinding wall of dust into the dry air. He banged on the steering column in glee, seeing Taylor’s car get swallowed up by the mini-dust storm and disappear thirty yards behind him. It was only moments before the dust cloud engulfed the ’vette, and Zen was also blinded. When one would have experienced fear, Zen felt even more exhilaration. He let loose a scream of pure pleasure, and then he went flying through the car’s windshield upon crashing into something very solid.
As he flew through the dusty air, he heard Amy’s muffled screams as he had strangled the young woman in her ’vette last night. Then he saw Kelly’s terrified face moments after he had stabbed her repeatedly the same night. A rapid succession of nameless frightened faces followed. Then he remembered something that he had buried deep in his subconscious, along with all of the grizzly truth: that Tara would never take him back. Not now. Not ever.
As Zen hit the ground hard, he saw Tara’s bloodied body after he’d beaten her lifeless the night he’d left. Near her corpse, he saw Jeb’s battered and lifeless body after he had returned from the truck and silenced the boy’s screams by stomping him. Then everything in his world stopped cold.
Taylor and the other troopers gathered around Zen’s broken body. He crouched down in a squat position and studied the dead man with the movie star looks. He noticed a tear rolling down his cheek. Then he looked up at the totaled ’vette and the wrecked tractor that had been parked on the dirt road. He gazed at the other troopers and said: “Finally we got the bastard.”
They stared at him without saying a word.
Taylor stood up and walked a few yards, stopped and stared into the setting sun. He lit a cigarette and walked over to the wrecked Corvette, knowing that he had been instrumental in taking down the nation’s worst serial killer in decades. Then he studied the car’s extensive damage and mumbled to himself: “What a waste.”
He paused and then added: “Of a great car.”
Philip Goldberg has had over 25 short stories published in literary and small press publications.
* * *
By Lora Grillo
I pray to Saint Jude for the safe return of my mother from the grocery store. She goes once a week for a big shop on Saturday. She doesn't know that I pray for her, but I do. Two months ago, I dreamt that her Volvo was hit by a truck on her way home from the store. She was humming along to Jackson Browne's song "She Must Be Somebody's Baby" on the radio and then Boom! Dead. I woke with a start and a wet spot on my bed. I thought I had peed but it was just sweat. Oh glorious apostle St. Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus. God, I hate that song.
I tried to sneak into her bed that night to be next to her, but she wouldn't have it. She doesn't like to be too close. Instead, she likes to clean my ears for me with her finger and tell me that I smell like a dog after playing punch ball in the schoolyard. She doesn't hug or kiss me like other moms, which works just fine for me. I just worry about the dream. The Boom. Pray for me who am so miserable; make use, I implore thee, of that particular privilege accorded thee of bringing visible and speedy help where help is almost despaired of.
My mother works at National Car Rental. A guy named Bobby, who thinks he is an actor, but really is just a guy that works at a car rental place, has come over a couple of times for dinner. We had hamburgers for the first visit and then bacon pizzas the second. He gave me a signed photo of himself. What kind of guy gives a kid a signed photo of himself? Bacon pizzas are my favorite. Mom cuts open a hundred thousand rolls and puts slices of American cheese on each. She cooks up some bacon which always makes my mouth water. She puts the cheese on the rolls and then some marinara sauce from a jar and tops it with the bacon and cooks it in the oven for five minutes. The bread gets crispy and the cheese melts. Sometimes there are little bubbles of burnt cheese on the pan, and when Mom isn't looking I pick them off and eat them.
I ate five in a row and wanted more, but Bobby said I should watch it because I don't want to be the chubby kid that everyone makes fun of so I went to my room. I hated Bobby for saying that. I went to bed and prayed to St. Jude that he wouldn't come over again. I promise thee, O blessed St. Jude, to be every mindful of this great favor, and I will never cease to honor thee as my special and powerful patron. Mom must have sensed that I didn't like him much because the next time he came over he waited in the car for her to get ready. Mom got dressed slowly and I watched from her orange paisley bedspread. Under my breath, I prayed she would be home early but I heard her come in around midnight, which is very late. And to do all in my power to encourage devotion to thee. Amen.
I always sneak in a note of thanks at the end of the prayer. I say thank you to St. Jude for letting me pray to him and for keeping my mom ok. I made that Bobby picture into a dart board in my closet.
* * *
By Kyle Hemmings
Jimmy G. chugs and tramples up the stairs to the apartment—the one he shares with his sister—on West 10th over the Korean Deli, with its late night smells of pork trotters and fish egg stew. He finds her reading his personal journal, her eyes glued to the page that states in bold letters: The World is a Homeless Schizophrenic Who Smiles like a Left-Over Rainbow.
"Fuck," says Namami, who is into yoga and yogurt, Insanity workouts, lemongrass incense and bald graduate-philosophy majors at NYU, and is four years older than Jimmy G. but acts like she's forty more. "Can't you knock? You gave me a jitter monkey."
"Stop reading my shit. Or I'll get a lawyer."
She drops the notebook to the tan aniline sofa in the soft-lit living room. The walls are mostly bare except for some framed photos of Mom, Dad, Namani as a little girl at the beach playing with sand, Jimmy G. as a toddler with his loose folds of flesh smiling into the camera as if he and the world could be one, and the graduations.
Namami is wearing a biker's jacket with a check ribbon skirt and a new pair of sneakers she bought yesterday from Payless. Her favorite saying is: "I will never live to be post-menopausal." And she has this obsession with dumping boyfriends who she thinks will dump her first.
Namami works in a record shop in 6th Ave., and at parties she has a reputation for being a drama queen after the fourth Bayou Self, her favorite drink. It’s made with spiced rum and Butterscotch Schnapps, followed by over self-hatred and some awful lip-synching to Art Cube or Malice Mizer.
"Did you feed the twins?" asks Jimmy G., munching on a banana to get his potassium fill so his heart can beat on time. The twins are Jimmy's two pet rats: Pilfer and Gargoyle. Pilfer snorts coke, and Jimmy believes that it gives him telepathic powers.
"Roger, dodger, and Ma called asking how her number one son is. The one who dropped out of life, who dropped out of college, who dropped out of much needed therapy, just so he can feed his manufactured paranoia that the ‘Zygotes from Hell’ are taking over the world slowly but surely; first the water supply then the thought-trains to the brain, and pretty soon we'll be all be a nation of glass-eyed automatons who see rainbows in subway stations. And yes, he's still writing brilliant poems based on H.P. Lovecraft and the demons that sleep under our beds, and yes, Mother, he's still an introverted sea turtle who can't seem to swim to the top."
Jimmy G. pitches the banana peel across the kitchen towards the garbage. He misses.
"I'm glad you find me amusing."
Namani sits cross-legged on the sofa, flipping through an old issue of Vogue.
"I did you a most honorable favor, oh, number one brother. I fixed you up on a blind date with a friend of a friend of a friend. Okay, subtract one friend. I think you're going to like her because you both have something in common."
He sits, poker-faced, then shrugs.
"Okay, I give up."
"You're both fucking nuts and ultimately unknowable."
"And if I forget? Unintentionally, of course."
"I'll cut your balls off in your sleep. Her name's Moe. Where there's life there's hope."
"Stay out of my life, Queen Bitch. Stay in your own underworld."
He slams the door and walks out. Namani turns another page, tosses the magazine, and mumbles to herself, "Fuck it."
They're sitting in a Chinese restaurant on Christopher Street. She's slim, pretty, and tall. Could pass for Psy's favorite groupie. Her voice is soft and flat. At times, she looks intensely into his eyes, as if she could rule him or read his thoughts, or maybe she wants him to believe she can. They talk about their favorite songs. They talk about flowers, her favorite house plants. Then she admits she really doesn't care for them. He asks her if she likes animals. She says that as a child she liked bears, but back then, she liked so many things that weren't good for her. She adds that she once had a dog, a Basset Hound named Mickey, who had sad droopy eyes and a way of making her feel defensive. She tells him she works in a doctor's office by day and moonlights as a singer in a death metal band called DNA Mishap.
Jimmy G. shakes his head and says, “Awesome.”
She tells him that he has some General Tso on his Ferris Bueller's Day Off vest.
"Oh," he says, flustered, smearing his vest and shirt with a napkin.
He tells her that he works as a short order cook at a Greek restaurant where they serve fifteen kinds of hamburger specials. He moonlights as an underground poet uncovering the layers of deception internalized from the “Zygotes of Hell”, a small community that rules our lives and controls our runaway train-thoughts.
She laughs, then studies him, her eyes unwavering, her lips mashed together.
"Seriously?" she says.
He shakes his head like a child caught stealing candy.
"It's like I dropped out in my third year of pre-med. I wanted to uncover what's under the flesh in a metaphorical way, which is in some sense, deeper and more relevant. Does that make any sense?"
"I think so," she says, chewing open-mouthed on an egg roll.
She offers him an untouched roll. He refuses and points to his half-filled plate.
Later she tells him that she was once into muscle dudes, but the attraction, although strong, always burned itself out.
"Do you feel a connection?" she asks.
"Sort of. It's, um, wavering, and at times, shorn."
"Mmmm…Let's play a game of ‘Dare You Dare Me.’ I like doing it on first dates. It helps to spur the, uh, creativity. You tell me something very embarrassing, and I'll try to match it."
"Why not? Go first."
She swallows hard the last of her egg roll, then flashes her eyes at the ceiling.
"The first guy I ever loved, well, maybe not the first, was a midget. Okay, that's a shitty term. He was my little man. He will always be my little man. And I treated him so badly because of his size, the way he couldn't pronounce certain words, and the fact that we weren't entirely compatible. And it's funny in retrospect how I read that Alan Ladd stood on lifts to kiss Sophia Loren in the movies. Well, that's neither here nor there."
"I think I read that too," Jimmy G. says, pointing his chopsticks at her.
She stares down at her plate and swallows hard.
"Somehow he found a way to penetrate into my core, my soft spot, as in perforating my armor, in the sense of Gestalt therapy, in the sense of armadillo, you know? I couldn't believe how bad he hurt me. He just jumped off my bed one night after we were making out and he said it's over. The chemistry is gone."
"And what did you do?"
"I said something like ‘Good riddance, little man. In these parts, I'm quite a catch.’"
She offers a whimsical smile, a twinkle in her eyes.
"He became an actor. He always told me that one day he'd be in demand. Well, wouldn't you know, the last time I saw him he was in a TV commercial advertising some floor cleaner that was totally organic and left the floor smelling of apple orchard. Or peach orchard. I forget. It came in several scents."
"That must have been hard," says Jimmy G., snapping a broccoli in half with his hands.
"I punished myself for years. I played all kinds of games with people, pretended that nothing mattered. I tried to hurt men, even the hard kind with several coats of armor. It's funny how in retrospect you're always a genius who sees everything in perspective, but it's too late."
"Yeah," says Jimmy G., "I think it's built into our neurons and synapses, into our phenotypes. I wrote a whole chapbook of poems that touched on that very subject. It never got published. I mean, yet."
"And here's something less embarrassing but still is something you don't usually tell someone on a first date. Am I a strange bitch or what? I have this neurotic thing with guys. I push them to the edge, actually force them to dislike me, do all kinds of weird insulting things, and then when they tell me to fuck off, I have to be alone for days. I mean, just drowning myself in this pool of self-pity."
She makes a grandiose gesture with outstretched arms.
"What if they fall in love with you?"
She swings her head side to side and raises two hands, palms up.
"Some drown. Some don't."
"Yeah, that's deep."
"Who are we, Jimmy?"
"Not sure. It's something I'm exploring, myself."
"We're fakes. We're half-fakes. Nobody would steal us."
"I'm not sure if I were not-me that I would steal myself. Does that make sense?"
She tilts her head, asks the waitress for more water.
He focuses on the tiny trail dribbling down her chin.
"Talk to me. Tell me what you can't."
"I'm really kind of embarrassed to say it."
She wipes her chin, folds her hands under jaw.
"I told you. Now play by the rules of the game. I don't care. I want to hear it. And make it good and real."
He does this nervous kind of cough as if he's about to sing before an audience with musically trained ears.
"I'd like suck your nipples before the upcoming apocalypse turns us to stone."
She stares past him, saying nothing.
"Somebody once said to me. Well, something like that. Not that exactly."
"Really? Small world."
She asks for the check. He says he will pay. She says 50/50. He says 30/70. They settle 40/60.
She says she doesn't feel they'd be fully compatible, which doesn't mean they can't be. There's just something about a guy who wears 80s clothes on a first date. And she doesn't like the fact that he played so easily into her hands with the ‘Dare You Dare Me’ game. That doesn't mean, she adds, that she thinks he's a filthy creep or a pushover.
Outside the restaurant, they shake hands, and she says she wants to think more about this, to mull over it, and that in the mean time, he should see other people, and try to become a poet laureate.
“Always aim high,” she says.
He says, “Sure.”
She kisses him on the cheek. He blushes.
They waive down their respective cabs.
One night after he goes to bed, he hears tiny stones hitting his bedroom window.
He rises, opens the window, looks out and down. It starts to rain.
It's Moe, standing in shorts, sandals, and a tee-shirt. No bra. Her tee-shirt clings to her breasts. Her nipples are erect.
"I've been thinking about you," she says.
He yells out that he wrote this really fucked up poem about her, not that she's fucked up, but in her absence he felt this really weird connection and that he could really latch on to her demons and help her come to terms with who she really is.
"Could you please shut the fuck up," says Nanami. "You're talking in your sleep again."
Jimmy G. puts on a coat over his underwear and t-shirt. He rushes outside, stands in his oversized slippers before Moe in the rain.
"I feel your darkness, and the groping, the attempt at light," he says, as if a pivotal scene from his favorite horror movie with romantic interludes.
"I had a dream of you standing naked except for that stupid vest. You were hard." She takes off her shirt.
"Are you hard?" she asks.
"Does it rain chaos in Chthulu?"
"I can be your best monster."
On the barren sidewalk at 3 A.M., under anonymous stars, a block away from the blat of a taxi, he sucks her nipples until the world goes soft.
Kyle Hemmings has been published in Wigleaf, Storyglossia, Elimae, Match Book, This Zine Will Save Your Life, and elsewhere. His latest collection of prose/poetry is Void & Sky from Outskirt Press. He lives and writes in New Jersey.
* * *
Bubbled Up All Over
By Kate LaDew
Irving Glassamilk loved his wife Judy Stringalights so much it made him bubble up all over. Every day as he witnessed her gliding down the stairs (and she did glide, smooth and soft like a flying squirrel in search of a tree) Irving clutched at his heart and bubbled up, “Oh Judy, light of my life.” The words popped in the air. “I can hardly even stand it.”
And every day Judy made him two eggs in a boat and poured a glass of no-pulp orange juice and sat across from him and radiated goodness.
On the 25th of October in the seventeenth year of their marriage, Irving Glassamilk said something to Judy Stringalights she never forgot.
“When I die--”
“Oh don’t say it, Irving!”
"When I die, Judy-- all good men must die--”
“Oh, the waste!”
“When I die and fly up to heaven and Saint Peter or God or Jesus or angels or bright lights ask me my favorite sound-- Do you know what I’ll say?”
“What will you say, Irving?”
“I’ll say, ‘Judy Stringalights’ heartbeat’.”
And Judy Stringalights never forgot because it was just about the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her.
Kate LaDew is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC with a BA in Studio Arts
* * *
By David Landrum
The Ohio River in Youngtown flowed clear, not like Sossity Chandler remembered it as a child, polluted with coal dust and industrial waste. The state had cleaned it well enough that her production team decided to use it as a background for a video of her latest release, which was selling well. The video would go on YouTube. Amy, her personal assistant, brought her a battle of Goose Island IPA. She sipped and watched the crew tear down cameras and sound recording equipment.
“You coming back to the hotel?” Amy asked.
“In a while. I need to be alone. The tour is starting to get to me. I’ll be back at two.”
Amy nodded. Sossity Chandler had in her a good dose of the introvert. Often, the clutter of concert tours—the shows, endless interaction with producers, fans, with her own band members and staff, the television interviews, endless conversation with agents and managers—overwhelmed her. She needed silence and needed to be alone. At such times, she went off by herself, drove, ate out alone, and sometimes went to services at an Episcopal Church that observed liturgical hours, to a library or a museum. Her times of solitude, of anonymity, restored and gave her strength to continue performing with the level of energy her audiences expected.
She watched the crew pack their equipment and drive off. Amy left. Sossity found herself alone by the riverbank. She finished off her beer, tossed the bottle in the back seat of her car, and breathed a sigh of relief, the air going out between her lips like a prayer of thankfulness.
Turning to go to her car, she noticed someone standing fifty yard or so away from her. The figure—a woman dressed in brightly colored full skirt and white blouse—waved. Sossity waved back, her curiosity stirred by the young woman’s odd dress. She had long hair and pale skin. Sossity ponder and, curious, walked over to where she stood.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hi,” the woman—she might have been thirty—replied. “You’re Sossity Chandler, aren’t you?”
She spread her arms, palms open. “That’s me.”
“So cool to meet you. I have all your CDs. I saw you plan in Cleveland last year. I’m Deidre.”
Sossity shook hands with her. Up close, she noticed the girl’s big eyes and very long hair—it fell past her waist in a dark brown cascade. Behind her (she had not noticed this) stood a weather-beaten house. Deidre noticed her gazing at it.
“Can I invite you in for tea?” she asked.
Sossity hesitated she had spent time with several fans on this concert and was weary of meeting people, but this woman’s unique appearance and simple manner intrigued her.
“My boyfriend’s here. He’s asleep and won’t bother us. Maybe I’ll wake him up. He’d probably like to meet you too.”
“If you and I have tea first and just quietly before you wake him, it’s a deal.”
Her face lit with happiness. “Sure,” she beamed, lowering her voice as if they were already inside. “We’ll be quiet. Come on. Let’s go in.”
To Sossity’s surprise, the girl took her hand. Holding hands, they walked down an overgrown flagstone path and into her cottage. The interior looked cluttered but not messy; a bit neglected but not dirty. A large central with a kitchen on one side and windows all around took up most of the house. She saw three doors, probably leading to bedrooms. Old furniture stood in the spacious room: a weather-beaten couch and chair, a dining set near the stove and refrigerator, a bookshelf and table covered with magazines and pieces of brightly colored paper, a coat tree. The windows looked out at the river. Sossity smiled.
“It belongs to my mom and mad. They let me live here. What kind of tea do you like?”
“What have you got?”
Deidre got down a cherry wood container filled with bags. Sossity selected English breakfast tea. Deidre pick chamomile. She plugged in an electric pot.
“Have a seat.” She pointed to the couch. Sossity sank into it. The water in the electric pot began to boil.
She noticed art on the walls—very nicely done art. “Did you do these paintings?” she asked. “I like them a lot.”
“Thank you. Yes, I did them all.”
“Did you study art?” she asked, wondering if the young woman was a talented amateur or had trained somewhere?”
“I went to the Pratt Institute in New York.”
She shrugged and continued to prepare tea. After she had placed tea bags in the cups and got out a honey pot, she sat down in the chair across from Sossity..
“Are you hungry?”
“I could eat something.”
“I’m vegan, but I’ve got some black bean burritos you might like.”
She got out what looked like left-overs and heated them in the oven. By then their tea was ready. They moved to the table, ate and sipped their tea.
“Burritos are great.”
"Thanks so much. You know, I really love your music, especially Labyrinth.”
Labyrinth was Sossity’s second CD. She had released it ten years ago.
“Do you have a favorite song?”
“I like ‘Drunken Moon’ and ‘The Last Time Now.’ But my favorite song is ‘Cloud Shadows,’ your first hit. I play it over and over. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t play it.” She gestured at the windows. “Cloud shadows pass here a lot. When they do, I read the messages.”
Sossity blinked. “Messages? Where”
“In the clouds. In the breakers that roll in to the sea they speak to me.”
Sossity hesitated and then asked, “What do they tell you?”
“Different things. Last night the clouds were lit by moonlight. They were beautiful. They told me someone beautiful would come to see me when the dawn broke.”
“I’m flattered that you say that to me—if I am the one.”
“You are. I got inspired to painting something.” She pointed.
Sossity looked at an easel with a half-finished painting mounted on it. Sketched in bold stokes that were remarkably evocative, a mass of sea roiled. Blank spaces rose above it, but she saw a moon, intricately sketched, the traces of mountains and craters done with photographic precision looming over a mass of clouds, some partially rendered, some completed, reflecting moonlight. Though half-finished, the moonlight on the clouds radiated beauty and gentleness. Deidre noticed Sossity’s rapt attention to the painting.
“I did that this morning.
“It’s the message I saw in the cloud shadows. I’ll finish it soon. I paint the realities I see.
Sossity thought to leave, but Deidre asked, “Can you sing a song for me?”
The look in her pretty and the gentle, lovely vulnerability she saw in the barefoot girl wearing a long skirt, a voluminous blouse, and a necklace of large beads around her neck, made Sossity feel ashamed of her impulse to love.
“I don’t have a guitar.”
“I have one.” The girl scurried away and came back with Yamaha classical.
“Do you play?” Sossity asked.
“A little. Can you do ‘Cloud Shadows?’?”
She played, singing softly (remembered Deidre’s sleeping boyfriend). Deidre listened with an intensity that charmed Sossity. She leaned one ear toward her, tilting he body just slightly, lightly holding her long fingers on the arms of the chair in which she sat, lips slightly parted, eyes full of intensity and passion. When Sossity finished playing, she relaxed back in the chair.
“That was so beautiful,” she murmured.
“I’m glad you liked it. You’re a fabulous audience.”
Just then a door opened. A young man, tall, thin, wearing old-style wire-rimmed glasses, came through a door. He had on jeans but no shirt. He looked from Deidre to Sossity and then did a double-take. Sossity smiled.
“Yes, it is me,” she said.
“I heard ‘Cloud Shadows.’ I thought Deidre was playing the CD. Let me go get a shirt on.”
He turned and went back in the room. When he emerged with a shirt on, Deidre went to him and put her arms around him, introducing him as Allen.
“We’ve never had a celebrity in the house before.”
“We had Johnny Depp. He came here to buy one of my paintings.”
“I forgot about him. And we’ve have you.”
She gave him a mock punch on the arm. “Silly,” she said. “I’m going to finish the painting.” With that she went over to her easel and began mixing colors on an old-fashioned palette.
“Can we step outside, Miss Chandler?”
Just outside the door, Sossity explained how she had come to the cabin.
“As you can see, Deidre is in recovery. She hit some whitewater a few years back, started doing hallucinogens. She ended up in a mental hospital. We met and came here. It’s her parents’ cabin they let us live here.
“Do you think she is getting better?”
“You didn’t see her a year ago. She was stark, raving mad. She’s coming out of it little by little.”
“I wish her the best. She’s a beautiful woman, inside and outside. I’d like to stay in contact with her.”
“She will want to send you the picture she’s painting.”
“Her art is remarkable.”
“It would be good for her,” he said. “The more she is aware of the outside world, the more she will take her focus off fantasies.”
“You’ll hear from me.”
“Sure. I want to say good-bye to her.”
They went back inside. Deidre stood at her easel, painting furiously. The canvas had filled with amazing swirls of lien and color, at once realistic and abstract. Allen touched her shoulder.
“Sweetie, Sossity has to go now.”
Deidre put her brush down and took three long steps to where Sossity stood. She threw her arms around her. They shared a long embrace.
“Thank you so much,” Deidre said, eyes full of tears.
“Sure, baby. I’m leaving my address and phone with Allen. I definitely want this painting on my wall and I so much appreciate that you’re doing this for me.” Sossity felt disgusted by her words and the patronizing tone of her voice, which sounded like how she would speak to a small child. Deidra Bennett was a woman and human being, not someone to whom you must speak in slow, deliberate phrases so she could understand. “I like it a lot. Your art is beautiful. So are you. Can I come back and see you sometimes?”
She nodded. They held each other a while longer and Sossity said good-bye. Allen followed her out. She gave him an email address and phone number. “Write me. I do want to see her. In October we’re doing a concert in Pittsburgh and one in Cleveland. I’d like to visit then. Maybe you guys can come to one of the concerts. I could send you tickets.”
“Your heavy stuff and a huge crowd would be too much for her.”
“I’m doing a fund-raiser in Pittsburg before the other show there—my folky stuff, just me and my guitar, small audience, small venue. Maybe that would work for her.” She looked up at him. “What do you do, Allen?”
“I take care of her. I had a job in marketing for a firm in Philly. After I met her, I left to live here. It’s a better deal than what I had. And, of course, I love her.”
“I can see that.”
She took leave of him, walked over to where her car was parked, got in and drove off. The words to the song she had sung—she had sung it hundreds of times over the years—resounded in her mind as her Lexus climbed out of the Ohio River Valley and up to the flatter, more stable land that lay on the bluffs above it.
David Landrum has appeared in numerous journals, including decomP, 34th Parallel, Amarillo Bay, Earthspeak Magazine, Dark Sky, Danse Macabre, and many others.
* * *
A Gathering of Fireflies
By Richard Ong
It was cold and the wind cut a swath like a million tiny razors through the skin, ruthlessly sucking the moisture out of my pores.
Moon glow reflected off the tempestuous waters of the lake. The occasional cloud passed across the bright orb in the sky creating a shimmering effect of light on the surface of Lake Ontario.
I saw a rare beauty through the frame of the viewfinder. A strong breeze carried the heady scent of her perfume with a hint of lilac. The moonlight threw golden highlights on her hair. Her skin was smooth and almost devoid of any imperfections; yet its shocking paleness made me worry about her condition especially in a cold night like this.
“You know, Miss Fitzgerald, I really appreciate your coming out here tonight, especially on such short notice,” I said as I snapped a few rapid shots of her from my camera. The flash briefly illuminated the landscape the way a bolt of lightning would on a stormy night.
I erected several low-powered stage lights to give an emerald ethereal glow to the scene. The resulting ambiance gave a gothic, almost Dickensian look, perfect for the cover of the magazine I was contracted to work with. They left an urgent message the night before on my voice mail saying that they had finally found the perfect cover girl for their winter issue. I was to meet her at the Prince of Wales Hotel and do the shots by the waterfront near the gazebo.
She was already waiting at the lobby by the time I burst into the hotel dragging my mud-stained gear across the carpet. We shook hands and introduced ourselves.
The red, velvet jacket was snug around her impossibly tiny waist. Was she actually wearing a corset underneath, I wondered. That would really be going above and beyond just for the sake of authenticity!
Even her red hat and long skirt was perfect for the kind of shot the magazine wanted. She tugged at the fingers of her white gloves and smiled at me. I couldn’t help but smile back in return. Her modest charm made me feel like I was transported back in time to the days when the daily musings of life were a lot simpler. I looked around the lobby and noticed the absence of the magazine staff.
“Did you come here on your own?” I asked. She didn’t seem to be wearing any makeup and her nod confirmed my suspicions.
“Damn it!” I exploded, making her wince. “Sorry. It’s just that this is highly irregular. For the amount of money they are paying me and spending on this photo shoot, you would at least expect to see nothing less than an entire entourage, not just you and me.”
I looked at my watch and came to a decision. “Well, let’s get started then. I have everything that I need with me. You ready to go?”
She nodded and we headed back out into the cold.
An hour passed since we began the photo shoot and the tingling sensation on the tips of my fingers turned into a dull aching numb. I wrapped the scarf tightly around my neck and carefully wiped the moisture from the lens.
“Please, call me Daisy,” she said. “And it is no trouble at all, Mr. Miller.”
The landscape was once again briefly illuminated by the flash of my camera. She posed and held the bouquet of flowers in her gloved hands. A cape was wrapped around her shoulders. She showed no signs of discomfort though the wind had already begun to pick up strength from across the lake. In another month, small chunks of ice would wash up the shore.
“Daisy,” I smiled, lowering the camera. “It’s a pretty name.” She lowered her eyes and carelessly twirled the curls of her hair.
“Look, this is stupid. Take my jacket. I think I got enough shots of you to cover several issues of the magazine. I started to unzip my ski jacket when she suddenly grabbed my hands. She was ice cold to the touch and I suddenly felt the hairs at the back of my neck stand on end.
Before I knew what was happening, her lips touched mine. She had the kiss of winter and her sweet breath filled me with such a chill that my body began to convulse. I felt my arms shake like an epileptic and my frozen fingers had a death-like grip on her waist.
I couldn’t let her go even if I tried. Daisy smothered me with her kiss. I felt the rise and fall of her small breasts against my chest as she crushed me with her embrace. My breathing was laboured and I began to feel the strength leave my body.
I stumbled back against the relentless assault and my right heel caught the protruding edge of a rock from the grass. I fell and used our momentum to roll her off my body as we hit the ground.
I tried to get up but my legs buckled from under me. I reached out and grabbed at the nearest light stand. It fell to the ground in a resounding crash as sparks blew out of the broken bulb.
In the semi-darkness of the night, Daisy struggled to get up. Then to my surprise, she cried.
I willed myself to crawl towards one of the ground lights and directed its beam towards the gazebo. What I saw under its illumination would forever haunt me till the rest of my days.
Daisy Fitzgerald was huddled at the steps like a frightened little girl. There were dark rings around her eyes and her hair had lost its vitality as it hung loose around her face. There were streaks of grey on her hair that I hadn’t noticed before. But worst of all, the look on her face was an untold burden of guilt, fear and overwhelming sadness. I wanted to reach out and comfort her in spite of what she did to me.
“Don’t. Please don’t come near me,” she begged. “For God’s sake, get away from me while you still can!”
“Daisy. I don’t pretend to understand what just happened. But whatever it is, I can help. You have to trust me,” I said.
“No one can help me,” she cried. “Not anymore. But you...you still have time.”
“What do you mean? Time for what? I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” I said.
“Yes you do. Yes you do!” she sobbed. “You felt it. Felt yourself slipping away into the darkness and I wanted you so much to come and stay with me.”
Daisy grabbed hold of the banister and slowly pulled herself up to her feet. She brushed the grey strands out of her eyes. Crows feet had begun to encroach and spread out across her face. There was a tremor in her voice and it cracked when she spoke.
“You have been waiting for me for so long. But you are not yet ready, I realize that now. Your will is still strong. But one day, I will be back for you...one day.”
I saw her recede into the darkness within the gazebo. The shadows of the night embraced her until she was gone.
I ran up the steps of the small, wooden structure wherein countless wedding vows had taken place. I paced back and forth under the roof like a mad man. It was empty. I called her name and pleaded her to come back. All I heard was the sound of water crashing against the rocks as the wind howled into the night.
Heartbroken, I sat on the steps of the gazebo. My hand traced the grains of wood on the post where she left her imprint. I kissed every inch of the surface that she touched and I felt the sting of tears on my face.
The sound of a muffled ring snapped me out of my stupor. I reached into my jacket for the cell phone. My mouth felt dry when I answered it.
“H-hello,” I said.
“Is this Mr. David Miller? Sir, we’ve been trying to reach you for hours but your phone number’s always busy!”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“This is Leila from the modeling agency. I’m very sorry to inform you that Miss Daisy Fitzgerald had...an accident. Her car was found upside down on a ditch off the highway just outside of Toronto. It was really awful! We’re still waiting to hear back from her roommate who’s at the hospital...”
The cell phone slipped from my fingers and I watched it tumble with a sense of detachment onto the grass.
“Mr. Miller? Are you still there? Hello? Mr. Miller?”
Two nights passed since I saw her. The ache and longing in my heart was as strong as ever. I stared at all the photos that I took. There was not a sign of her in any of the pictures. I browsed through the images onscreen in search of the mysterious Daisy Fitzgerald.
Two hundred high-resolution shots of nothing but an empty space between the lake, the bench and the gazebo threatened to break my sanity except for one bewildering photo.
I traced a finger across the sphere of light, a faint glow like a gathering of fireflies that seemed to float inches above the bench on the very spot where she sat.
“One day, I will be back for you,” she said.
I felt a sudden pain on my chest and I rummaged through the clutter of my desk drawer until I found the small bottle of pills. I washed down two swallows with a glass of water and took deep breaths until the beating of my heart slowed.
I felt a presence behind me with a scent of lilac. I could almost feel her icy breath against my cheek.
“Not yet,” I whispered, willing the pain on my chest to subside. “Not just yet.”
Richard Ong's painted artwork, stories, poetry and photos have appeared in several issues of bewildering stories, Yesterdays Magazette and The Blotter Magazine. One of these stories has been republished in print as part of an anthology titled Toys Remembered (compiled and edited by Madonna Dries Christensen).
* * *
Alone With Grandma
By Lynne T. Pickett
One of those rare, strange moments. It’s just Grandma and me. We are at the local five- and-dime. Grandma is somewhere. She is always somewhere near me, while at the same time I am always alone daydreaming. I wander up and down the aisles of the large barn like store. I hum tunes as I survey rows and rows of brooms and sponges and buckets. The store seems devoted to cleaning.
Then my eye catches the breezy movement of fabric. At the very back of the store high on racks are ladies underthings. Even though I’m a girl, I can’t help but find it strange and, frankly, just not right to be eyeing rows and rows of large white brassieres, panties, and slips right here in public. I stop in amazement at the largest pair of panties I have ever seen. I survey the white elastic, slippery fabric and wonder how on earth a lady’s behind can get that big and what if that was going to happen to my behind?
I want to touch the dangling fabric, but I feel indecent and a little afraid that the man at the counter will holler at me if I choose to slide my fingers up and down the humongous white panties. I panic and quickly step away to see what is in the next aisle. I ponder at the various plastic and foam curlers, wondering how my straight blond locks would look if I used them-- when I see something that makes me stop cold.
I swear it’s a hallelujah chorus encircled in a fuzzy, bright halo of light as they sing “Praise Jesus.” I am nearly blinded by this brightness when I realize what I am actually seeing is rows and rows of silver and gold sparkling shoes. God is speaking to me alright.
I move closer to touch the heart-stopping divinity. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed in our town. I thought these exquisite shoes were only worn on beautiful women in the late-night black-and-white movies that the public television showed.
During summer weekends I would stay awake until two o’clock in the morning, trying to keep my eyes open, my fingers holding up my involuntarily closing lids. I wanted to be those beautiful women on the television screen in those old movies. I wanted to wear jewels and furs and glittery dresses and shoes. I wanted to talk like them as I raised my eyebrow and laughed at handsome men who begged me for a kiss. I wanted to be a movie star. At last this was my chance. These shoes will make it all come true.
My grandma with her hair covered in a blue scarf with pink curlers popping out and her swishing cotton plaid Bermuda pants interrupted my reverie. She yanked me away by my elbow. I have never asked my grandma for anything; pretty much all of my extras were supplied by an allowance my mother gave me when I stayed with my grandma. These shoes were not something I had the money for; they cost much more than a comic book or a candy bar. I was desperate. I pleaded to my grandma. “Grandma, please, please buy me these shoes.” I didn’t tell her why, how could I say, buy me these and I will become a movie star. Somehow I knew that wouldn’t swing with her. You didn’t tell Grandma your dreams, your hopes, your thoughts. You didn’t tell Grandma anything. She just yelled and you went outside.
My grandma was shocked by my request and gave me a look as if she might lock me up in the crazy house. “Those aren’t for little girls; those are old lady slippers. Let’s go.” Some kind of huffing followed after her words.
Old lady slippers? Grandma was sadly mistaken as I watched her scuff along the wood planks up to the counter to the man with the staring eyes. “Grandma.” I jumped in front of her before she could make it to the counter,” Please, oh please, I have to have them.” Do I tell her? Do I tell her that she is standing between me and my future as a movie star? I stared at the black, cat-shaped, eyeglasses with the silver stones. Could she be trusted with this information, and would she even buy them if I did tell her? My grandmother snorted and muttered to herself, “Nonsense…old lady slippers. They won’t fit you.” She sighed with exasperation.
I knew it was over. I was never going to get those shoes. I forced myself not to look back; I might be blinded by their beauty, and my heart would never be able to take the disappointment if I looked again. I made an angry scowl at my black and white canvas sneakers and dug the white leather toe across the floor for a dramatic effect. The man with the staring eyes blinked at me with a warning, but I continued to drag my feet behind the strange whispering mutterings of Grandma as she took her coin purse out and paid the man. We exited the large creaking door with a paper bag full of sponges and cloths.
The sun hurt my eyes, and as I turned away from it, behind me I caught sight of the five- and- dimes’ window display. I winced at the dark- haired plaster mannequin wearing my “movie star slippers” in a knee-length white slip, her crooked wig in large plastic curlers as she held a mop and a bucket.
I muttered under my breath all the way to the blue pickup truck. Grandma handed me the paper bag. I opened it up and stared at the cleaning items and then on the bottom I saw something. A pair of humongous white panties.
Lynne T. Pickett has worked as a news reporter for WILK radio and the New Age Examiner. She has a degree in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University. She has recently had one of her short stories published in Diverse Voices Quarterly.
* * *
The Wisdom of Choosing
By Ken Poyner
I have seen them schooling. Hundreds of them. All blindly intertwined in the shallows, rolling over one another’s’ backs. An individual mermaid cannot stand out from the mass of mermaids for long. One will rise: long flowing yellow hair matted along her back, the radiance of her bust arched dangerously forward, and the beat of her huge fluke flat on the water like the bludgeoning of a cymbal. You will think this the most lovely and seductively brine explosion you have ever seen. And then a raven haired mistress of pure oceans will slip out of a clutch of her mates and break into the air with an authority that churns drowning-man waves across your carnal expectations, speaking sex like a shark shadow, and erases the beauty from the moment before.
They furiously mingle and twine as though mating, but they cannot. In the great mass of them there are nothing but mermaids, and no male to be seen. They frolic and swap tales of the great colder water just out to sea an hour’s swim farther, exchange plans and experience, pass warnings. They press all other life out of this part of the sea when they come together like this in one sisterhood. They bunch, and there is more flesh than wet, more will than wave, the blinding catch of air-constrained sunlight on glisten.
I watch from a rock above. I do not know if they have seen me, if they know that their place of gathering is no longer secret. I think their joy is too great for them to notice details on the shore. I do not hide myself, but I am but a speck on a weathering outcropping, a man whose clothes flap around him like a nestling’s wings. I am to them perhaps just a scent in the air when the air is blowing their way. Perhaps I am seen and ignored. I settle myself for the duration of their lesson, and watch for as long as my basic needs will stand it, or until they disperse: straggling off first in groups of five or six and then drifting apart until each mermaid is a lone projectile, heading back to sea, beginning as an undulation at the surface and then slipping ever dangerously longer beneath until she surfaces no more.
I have thought to climb down, to work my way along the edges of the rock, find the protection of the cove’s small, impotent strip of beach. On that beach I could lay out my clothes and edge my brittle nakedness slowly into their midst. As I walked into the water, would they embrace me, or head back to sea, or part to see how fine I might swim, how agile I would be in their home? I could see myself in each scenario, presenting myself to their thousands: a curiosity similar to those curiosities they have on long nights sung to, as ships mermaids could never understand drew clumsy lines along charts of the distance from land, and unthinkingly scarred the face of their continent.
I might be taken up, supported. Or I might be crushed in the joy and energy of their revival. Or I might be drawn down, sleepily down, and drowned. Or I could be abandoned.
I am a man of no muster. I use both legs to stand. There is more in this that might fail than might succeed, but the need to try is etched in my biology: my plumed biology, no less grand than theirs, no less special for being ordinary. I am a man of simple needs and simple perceptions.
All these things I imagine, and I consider my frailty. I, with only two feet to use as fins. With arms that cannot fill my shirt sleeves and a chest that thumps hollow. To swim against the current would be an end to me; to swim with it would be to belong to the current.
So with me I bring a net. And with one choice, I site along my arm and extended forefinger, finding in the shallowest water one disturbingly distracted mermaid: one that hurls herself into fouling foam, awkward and inexperienced and rapt with her own failings, who seems to be the one surely most easily mastered by a man, any man, and especially a man put to one side like myself. And I make another choice.
Ken Poyner lives in the lower right-hand corner of Virginia, with his power-lifter wife, four rescue cats, and two attitude-challenged fish (in their separate but similar bowls). His 2013 e-book, Constant Animals: 42 Unruly Fictions, is available for download at all the usual e-book retail sites. Recent work has appeared in My Favorite Bullet, The Legendary, Conte, Asimov's, Rattle, and a host of other places.
* * *
Children of the Tides
By Frank Scozzari
Luke was lost. That much he knew. Having paddled too far out into a lazy Hawaiian sea, lulled in by a warm breeze and a tropical sun, he had been caught up in the Molokai Express; a vicious current between the islands of Oahu and Molokai known for its sweeping undertow. He stared out into the horizon, far out to where the sky met the ocean, but could see only blue. The vastness of it, how the ocean blended from one shade of blue to another until it eventually turned to sky, made him realize just how alone he was. No one had seen him back at the beach, or missed him at the hotel. He neglected to inform the concierge of his daily plans, which had been the routine until that day. Now nearly three days had past and he remained adrift without food or water. His only life support was a two-feet-by-three-feet piece of compressed styrofoam. The sun, which had shined blissfully upon him, burnt through the remnants of his sunscreen, scorching his raw skin.
Yes I am alone, he thought, as alone as any man could be. And if I cannot find land soon, I will die.
The current, which had been steady for an hour now, took him further in a direction he did not know. He lay there flat on the bodyboard with his arms wrapped loosely beneath it and his face pressed against it. The swells lifted him slowly and methodically. With an apathetic eye he looked out across the surface of the ocean. All morning there had been nothing, not even a fish.
Then he felt a rush in the water beneath him, and when he lifted his head he saw a dark flash beneath the surface. It was something large and fast. It darted from one side of the bodyboard to the other. Then it disappeared deep into the blue beneath him. A few seconds passed and he saw it again, breaking the surface not more than ten yards from him. Emerging like a periscope was the head of a giant sea turtle, its large cranium and eagle beak turned sideways so that its eye was squarely upon him.
“Hello,” Luke said cheerfully, happy to once again see another living being.
The turtle looked on curiously.
“Can you tell me which way is land?”
The turtle remained bobbing in the water, curiously watching him.
“I need your help, my friend. I cannot find land and will die soon if I cannot find it.”
The turtle remained quietly buoyant. Then it suddenly dipped its head into the water, paddled swiftly forward for twenty yards, and lifted back up.
Luke looked around, but saw no land. Grasping his hands along the edge of the board, he lifted himself higher but still saw nothing. He was surrounded by blue, and only blue.
“Where? Which direction is it?” he called out to the turtle.
The turtle did not answer and Luke dropped back down against the board and paddled forward toward the turtle, gently thrusting the water behind him.
When he got close, the turtle dipped its head beneath the surface again and darted away, forward for another twenty yards.
“You must know where land is,” Luke yelled out. “You are a sea turtle. You need land to survive!”
Luke followed, this time keeping a distance.
“Come’on, show me. I need your help. I need you to help me to find the land.”
The turtle gazed at Luke for a full thirty seconds, then turned its head and dipped below the surface again.
“Come back here!”
Luke watched and waited. Nearly a minute passed before the turtle resurfaced. This time he was at least forty yards away.
“Hey! Come back here!”
Luke paddled ahead with more determination, struggling now as the distance was much further and his arms were beginning to tire. When he had gained about half the distance to the turtle, he lifted himself up on the board again. He strained his eyes, scouring the horizon, but saw no land. The turtle disappeared again, and Luke paddled forward and waited. After a few minutes the turtle reappeared; this time a mere black dot on the horizon, nearly seventy yards off, beyond which there was nothing but blue sea and sky.
Luke looked up into the sky. The path was true, he thought. The turtle was moving a straight line.
Paddling harder now, thrusting the water behind him in spurts, Luke pursued. Each time he got close, the turtle would disappear again, and as before, he would reappear further out, lengthening the distance between them.
Luke struggled to keep up. For half an hour he followed the turtle’s path, which seemed to be straight and purposeful. After another twenty minutes, the black dot vanished on the blue horizon and Luke did not see it anymore.
He is gone, he thought.
Dark clouds filled the horizon. Within minutes the clouds were upon him, and large raindrops began coming down from the Hawaiian sky. He rolled onto his back and opened his mouth, taking in what water he could, wiping it from his cheeks with his hands into his mouth. It felt soothing, and quenching against his parched lips, and down the narrow of his throat.
As quickly as the storm came, it broke, and now Luke looked up and saw a wonderful rainbow, arching from one side of the horizon to the other. Within ten minutes, the sky was clear and he was back to the doldrums; no ships, no land, only blue. He was alone again, completely and fully. The turtle had been a godsend, Luke thought, but he was no better off than he was the day before.
He thought of his cheerful life back at the Wailea Hotel, lounging beneath the ceiling fans in the grand lanai, sampling the fresh pineapple and mango brought down by the bellboys each morning. It was all a distant memory.
All of his life, Luke had lived in peace with nature. He had created good karma with it. And when he first saw the turtle, he was hoping he would be able to cash in on it. Instead, he found himself lost and alone once again, drifting on an unforgiving sea.
Many minutes passed, or perhaps it was hours when he heard a splash. He turned and looked around and saw nothing at first. Then it came back, and like before he saw a dark flash beneath the surface. But this one was different. It was sleeker, and faster, and not so wide like the turtle. When it finally broke the surface, cresting completely in a big beautiful arch, Luke saw it at last – a large bottlenose dolphin with perfect lines, a dark dorsal fin, and grey, silk-like skin that flashed beneath the sunlight.
As gracefully as it left the water it reentered it, hardly leaving a splash.
Luke’s weary mind was awakened by the spectacle. Having suffered three days of sensory deprivation, he was exhilarated to see the power and grace, and the speed the dolphin exhibited. He searched for the animal, down in the water trying to see where it had gone, but could not find it anywhere. Then it came up right in front of him, stealthily, like it had been there all along. Its head bobbed completely out of the water. It seemed unafraid. It was so close to Luke that he thought he could reach out and touch it.
A fellow mammal, Luke thought… an air-breather like me. And suddenly, with that realization, Luke did not feel so all alone.
“Hello!” Luke said.
The dolphin looked back, jovial and jolly-eyed.
“It is Nai‘a,” Luke said. “The leaping fish,” referring to an ancient Hawaiian proverb, said of one who jumps to conclusions.
The dolphin flipped over and shot down into the deep blue. In a few seconds it reemerged in another flying leap, not more than twenty feet away. Luke watched as it splashed back under. Then moving quickly just beneath the surface, it broke again, cresting higher in the air.
He’s performing for me, Luke thought.
The dolphin returned and resumed a position just a few feet away.
“That was tremendous,” Luke said. “Really fantastic!”
The dolphin’s eyes gleamed. His head bobbed up and down in the water.
“I need to find land,” Luke said suddenly. “An island or something. Some place where I can stand. Can you help me?”
The dolphin’s eye remained steady on Luke, looking upon him as one looks upon an old friend. It was an intelligent eye, Luke thought, as intelligent as any human eye, with perhaps a greater sensory perception. And it seemed the dolphin understood his plight.
“I must find land soon or I will die. Can you help me?”
With a playful cackle, the dolphin broke and swam quickly away. Stopping thirty yards off, it lifted its head and looked back at Luke.
“Land is there?” Luke asked, yelling out across the water. “It is in that direction?”
The dolphin made a cackling noise and held its position, as if waiting for Luke to follow.
Luke looked up, squinting into the sun. The sun was high in the sky and he could not tell which way was north or south, or east or west; especially at this latitude without a hemispheric tilt. There were no points of reference out on the horizon, so he could not gauge his position in that manner. But it seemed to Luke, it was the same direction; the same direction in which the turtle had gone. His instincts told him it was so.
“Okay!” Luke said.
The dolphin seemed to be egging him on. It made a shrilling noise and swam backwards quickly, propelling itself in the same direct line away from Luke. Then it dove, beneath the surface, and when it broke in another tremendous arch, further away, it seemed to be following the same directional path.
He is leading me!
Luke paddled hard and fast, trying to keep up. The board glide swiftly over the swells, but as he continued, mustering what strength he had left, he could feel his muscles weakening. His arms began to ach, and feel like dead weights. Ahead the dolphin was waiting.
When he pulled up within ten feet of the dolphin, the dolphin repeated the process; making a shrilling noise, swimming backwards quickly, diving beneath the surface and breaking in a tremendous arch further away, following the same imaginary line.
And Luke followed.
More than eighty yards through the water, Luke pushed on, finally reaching a point where he was close to the dolphin again. Though he continued to paddle, he did so sporadically, with less vigor, coasting now and then, giving his weakened arms a chance to rest.
But now he was utterly exhausted. And he could feel it. Three days at sea had taken its toll. The lack of food and water, the lack of sleep, and a bad sunburn, weighed in on him. His body had run out of glycogen. Each time he paddled, the distance was shorter and the rest was longer. His arms had become dead things, dangling uselessly in the water. It was a matter of dehydration, and hopelessness. Eventually, he could go no more and he just lay there on the board, drifting in the water.
When night fell, Luke found himself surrounded by a big, arching Hawaiian sky, filled with stars that came all the way down to the horizon. Though the dolphin remained nearby, there were times when the dolphin was not visually present. But always, Luke knew he was not far away.
We are one, Luke thought, brothers from the same earth, who breathe the same air.
Luke felt a primordial kinship with the dolphin; one that reached back to prehistoric ties. It is the ancestral oneness of the earth which binds all living things. From the oceans of the ancient world sprung the first life, and from the tide pools crawled the first mammals. All that which rose up from the yeast share a common beginning, Luke thought. And through the millenniums, though they had evolved differently, the bond remained. And there was no such bond as the one between man and dolphin, Luke thought. We are like animals, intelligent and fun-loving, but also susceptible to earthly dangers and the predatory nature of things.
In the morning, the water was calm. The ocean was flat as a lake; the sun, surreal in its rising; the earth, unusually quite; and the sky, filled with morning colors, as one could only see in the Hawaiian Islands.
Luke looked around and did not see the dolphin at first. Then the bottlenose rose above the waterline.
“Good morning, Nai‘a,” Luke said, though it hurt him to speak now. His throat was dry and coarse, and it was a bit of an effort just to lift his head. He stared at the dolphin, realizing he was as strangely foreign of a being, as he was familiar.
The dolphin made a playful, cackling sound. He was ready to get on with business. He immediately turned, dipped his long nose beneath the surface, swam swiftly away for twenty yards, and resurfaced.
Luke extended his arms into the water and tried to paddle, but realized he could hardly move. Beside him, the surface of the water moved in a sideways motion and he understood now, he was merely petting the water without moving through it. The fatigue, dehydration, and electrolyte depletion he had experienced the previous day had continued its degenerative progression. Now his joints had all but frozen up.
He heard a noise and looked up and saw that the dolphin had returned close to him.
The dolphin made the cackling noise again.
“I cannot,” Luke said.
The dolphin motioned with its head, bobbing directionally, up and down.
“I cannot my friend. I thank you, for what you have done, I thank you for being here, I thank you for trying…” and babbling now, Luke’s voice slowly faded to silent.
Tired and exhausted, Luke closed his eyes. And he went out, for how long he did not know. When he awoke, the sun was high, and he felt himself moving, propelled forward by some unknown device. He could see small wakes trailing along the side of the bodyboard and realized he was being pushed. When he turned he saw the nose of the dolphin flat against the board, pushing it in a forward motion.
Luke tried to raise his head and look ahead. But he could barely move now, let alone lift his head. What he could see was only blue. Forever blue. It was his favorite color, and it pleased him to know that it would be the color he would see lastly.
Yes, he thought, he had lived all his life at peace with nature. He had created good karma with it, and if that good karma could not return now, then let him stay in the arms of nature, as a child would stay in the arms of its mother, and let the color blue be the one that engulfs him lastly.
More time passed; an hour, and then two, and then three. And in the fog of his mind, he heard the dolphin cackling, distantly. He forced himself awake and looked up. Not far away was a storm cloud. And beneath it was a rainbow. And beneath the rainbow was a green strip raising above the blue.
The dolphin cackled more.
Luke rose higher, squinting with his eyes. What is it? He was not entirely convinced of it. His mind fought off the vision, believing it to be delusional. He lay his head back down against the board and felt himself moving again. The dolphin had resumed its work. The wakes along the side of body board took up again, trailing back from the small vessel. Luke laid there with his cheek pressed against the board, wondering what form of dream it was. Then he lifted his head and looked a second time, and he saw it again, and the green had grown longer and taller.
“You are my brother,” he spoke to the dolphin. “You are my brother from the tides.”
The dolphin cackled and continued to push; like a tugboat would push a disabled freightliner. The small bodyboard, with Luke on it, thrust slowly forward. The green object of land grew closer and larger, and the clouds above the land broke open in a distant rainfall. Luke could see the sheets of rain falling diagonally, and the sunlight crashing through the clouds, and the magnificent, massive rise of green mountains.
The rain came down, across the surf and onto the shoreline of the distant island, filling the tide pools there.
Frank Scozzari's fiction has previously appeared in various literary magazines, including The Kenyon Review, South Dakota Review, Folio, The Nassau Review, Roanoke Review, Pacific Review, Reed Magazine, Ellipsis Magazine, Sycamore Review, Eureka Literary Magazine, The MacGuffin, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Chrysalis Reader, and many others. Writing awards include Winner of the National Writer’s Association Short Story Contest and three publisher nominations for the Pushcart Prize of Short Stories.
* * *
Before the Storm
By David Van Houten
Skeeter threw another log on the fire before settling down in his favorite unicornskin chair. He peered out in the inky darkness. Where was that guy? There was an unusual smell in the air, and light and noise had been coming from the sky off and on to the point Skeeter took it as commonplace. It wasn’t long before he saw an aura of light coming over a nearby hill. He pulled his spear close by just in case it wasn’t who he was expecting, but before long, he could see it was his pal back from the wine run with a ratty-looking sack slung over his shoulder.
“Bandit! What took you so long?” Skeeter yelled out at the oncoming figure.
Entering the light of the campfire, the dark figure became clear. Bandit walked up
to Skeeter’s fire and put his torch out in the dirt.
“That old guy was running the store again. The one with the funny name.”
“Geez, the one who looks like he’s been rotting in a tomb? Meth something?”
Bandit sat down by the fire and handed Skeeter a bottle of Caine’s Farm wine.
Opening his own bottle, Bandit took a swig and said, “That’s the one. You know how he is. He’ll talk your ear off if you let him. ‘Back in my day…’ Blah, blah, blah.”
“So you actually stopped and talked with him?”
“Dude, no! Of course not!”
“Then what took you so long?” Skeeter took a drink of his wine and began looking in the bag Bandit had brought with him.
“Well, I couldn’t just grab the stuff and run off with him standing right there, could I?”
“It’s a wine run. That’s exactly what you do.” He pulled some sheep jerky out of the bag and threw some to Bandit.
Bandit caught the morsel saying, “Well, usually the store clerk is behind the counter, so he’s less likely to come after me.”
“Oh, so you can’t outrun a nine-hundred-year-old man?” Skeeter laughed at the absurd thought.
Just then, Skeeter’s pet dragon walked into the light. It looked at the two men before running up to Skeeter and trying to lick his face. Grabbing the tiny dragon’s head affectionately, he said, “Hey, Peanut! What are you doing awake?” He rubbed the dragon’s head behind its ears.
“I don’t know how you can have one of those things for a pet. They start small, but they get way too big. And their breath? They call it dragon’s breath for a reason. Ugh, I wouldn’t let it get near my face.”
Peanut turned his head toward Bandit and started growling. Laughing, Skeeter
said, “Watch out. They’re intelligent. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he understands you.”
Peanut plopped down beside his master. Skeeter tore off a piece of jerky and fed it to his pet.
“Those things aren’t smart. They’re probably the dumbest creatures on the planet.”
Peanut huffed a smoke ring before biting down on his treat. “He doesn’t like you,” Skeeter warned. “I’d say that proves he’s pretty wise.”
“Har har har,” Bandit said sarcastically. He took another swig of the cheap wine.
How had it already got half-empty?
The two men drank their ill-gotten goodies for a few minutes. Snuggling up to Skeeter’s leg, the miniature dragon munched on the various bits of meat handed down to him. Thunder rumbled across the sky, but neither man looked up.
Skeeter broke the silence. “Isn’t that crazy neighbor of yours related to the Meth guy at the convenience store?”
“Yeah. His grandson or great-grandson or something like that.”
“Man, that guy’s old, too. That family must have a good god they worship to live that long.”
“I don’t know about that. Have you seen what the younger guy is building in his yard? Some giant wooden thing. Told Steve down the road that his god told him to build it. Like gods actually speak to us. More likely he’s hearing things.”
“Yeah, I would’ve found me a new one if mine spoke to me. Lady in town sells all sorts of different gods. Surely one of them wouldn’t say, ‘Build a big thingamajig so everyone knows I am the god of the lunatics.’ You know what that thing is anyway?”
“Who knows? I doubt he even knows. Whenever I happen to pass by him, he’s always muttering about cubits. You know what I heard?”
Skeeter laughed. “Big ole ears like you’ve got, could be anything.”
Bandit threw a piece of sheep jerky at Skeeter, but Peanut snatched it out of the
air, smiling smugly at the assailant.
“Shut up old man. You know how that one lady has all those cats?”
“Well, the dude has all sorts of different animals.”
“What? Like a menagerie?” Skeeter looked confused.
“Yeah, only bigger. The pet store guy says the dude was in there buying a couple of parakeets the other day.”
Bandit leaned forward confidentially.
“Before that, it was iguanas. And before that, rabbits. He’s been buying pets there for a while now. The pet store guy says the old
loony has bought seventy-seven different kinds of birds so far.”
“Man, dude’s crazy. I saw him lifting rocks the other day.”
“So?” Bandit countered. “We all have to lift rocks now and then.”
“Yeah, but he was just lifting them and putting them down over and over again without moving them anywhere. Says he’s ‘working out’. Probably another god-given command.”
“Dude, if I ever start acting weird and saying my little wooden idol told me to be that way, hit me please.”
Skeeter reached over and punched his buddy in the arm. “Ow!” Bandit yelled.
“What was that for?”
“You act weird all the time.”
“Yeah, but I never say my god told me to do it.”
“Oh, my mistake.”
Massaging his arm, Bandit said, “I think that guy likes those animals a little too much, if you know what I mean.” A streak of lightning flashed across the sky, briefly lighting up the camp area, but neither man acknowledged it.
“Yeah. That’s why I won’t let him buy any of my unicorns.”
“Has he tried to buy any of them?"
“Not yet, but after what you’ve told me, I’m not sure I’d sell him one. Sounds like he’s got enough animals.”
“Are you still the only unicorn dealer?”
Skeeter rubbed Peanut on the head.
“As far as I know, I am still the only dealer of unicorns in the world. There was a guy who came through here the other day saying he wanted to buy a few, but I wouldn’t sell to him. Guy looked oily. Slick looking dude like that, I bet he was wanting to breed ‘em and start his own dealership. So, I sent him on his way.”
“I thought unicorns only hung out with virgins,” said Bandit.
Skeeter was still thinking about the smarmy looking guy and said absent mindedly, “Yeah, that’s right.”
Bandit pulled out the punch line. “So, why are you the only unicorn dealer…in the world?”
Too late, he realized he had walked into Bandit’s verbal trap. “Shut up. I’ve had plenty of lovers.”
“Sheep don’t count!” Bandit laughed before receiving a piece of thrown jerky in his face. This only made him laugh harder.
Skeeter stood up to stretch. Peanut looked at his master and scooted closer until
he was touching Skeeter’s leg again. Thunder rumbled again, and this time, both men
looked up. It was time to move on. Bandit finished his last swallow of wine and also stood.
“Lots of crazies out there. You just can’t trust anyone anymore,” said the thief.
“True. Pet shop guy, the oily guy, the creepy old guy and his grandson. What’s the grandson’s name anyway? The one with the big wooden thing.”
Bandit grabbed his torch and relit it in the fire.
“Noah, I think.”
“That’s right. Noah. What a moron. Well, thanks for the wine.”
“No problemo good buddy,” said Bandit. “Let’s do it again soon. Catch ya later!” He marched off in the gloom.
“C’mon Peanut. Let’s get back to bed.” The man and his dragon went into a nearby shelter leaving the fire burning. It didn’t burn too much longer though as it started to rain for the first time in history.
David Van Houten is a fairly new writer, while examples of his past work have been previously published by Foliate Oak.
* * *
By Susan Beresford
It was both at once delicious and utter heartbreak as I crossed a line that was going to change the rest of my life. I was a willing participant, aware of each footstep taking me away from the life I’d had. As I write this I’m grieving not having that depth of lucidity during my life’s most rendering experiences. I would have savored the moments in slow motion, frame by frame - my first kiss; losing my virginity but changing if I could the circumstances of my first time because I was fifteen, he was sixteen and did me like a rabbit, fast and hard, and afterwards I felt shame. I would have cradled, inhaled and played with my children, in awe as each pixel was created. And I would have basked in my parent’s love for me, and pondered what they said because I know now how quickly beautiful things can end.
I got married and had babies and it was easy, but also difficult, because I never took the time to listen to my heart, or my husband’s heart. I was too busy just “doing,” all the while moving and making and patching; too young or not truthful enough with myself or others to know how to repair what was broken.
Two years ago my husband and I watched our youngest child slip from the world while we held his small hands. We two as his parents knew how it felt to love and lose that sweet kid, and for that you would think we were forever bonded together. But our history of dysfunctional crap, the stuff that kills relationships, didn’t die with our son.
It had been years since I liked my husband. He knew it because he would say, “You’re going to leave me someday.” Surprised and provoked by his sad face I told him, “It’s a jinx on a relationship, to make such a statement!” And if he really felt that way then why didn’t he try to fix the BIG things that were wrong and obviously bothering me enough for him to think that one day I was going to leave him? It’s ridiculous and humiliating that my husband and I were back at it again, tearing apart our marriage after suffering such a horrible loss.
After our son died I spent a lot of energy trying to figure out how to run from the massive pain in my chest. Anger for losing my son and how much the poor kid suffered chewed on me. Our anguished, but stoic, 18 year old son couldn’t speak a word about his little brother but I heard him crying at night. And I don’t blame him for never wanting to be at home. I didn’t want to be there either.
My crossroad came in the form of another man. His beautiful hands remind me of a teenaged boy I dated but who in his exploration of my body was as clumsy as this man is adept. I was married for 20 years and wasn’t a virgin the first time I slept with my husband but I had never been touched quite like this.
“I’m wet, I should wipe.” I murmured our first time. I was soaked and embarrassed by the wetness between my legs. If I got this way with my husband I wiped myself with a towel.
“No, no. You’re beautiful like this.” His fingers slid along my curves.
I was used to sex hiding behind my eyelids. It was unnerving that he watched me while he played my body like an orchestra, taking me to a crescendo that blew my mind and disintegrated every crazy thought.
For a while I wanted to throw up and laugh at the same time. Half of me was sick with guilt for cheating on my husband. “A bitch in heat,” my Catholic aunt would call me if she knew. And the other half wouldn’t be anywhere else but here and doing this with him.
It was a few days before a long weekend last summer when he drove his truck into the driveway. I was in the yard loading the camper for a trip. It was my husband he would be looking for.
“He’s gone to town. Just a sec.” I darted through the open garage door to grab the camp stove and he followed me in.
“I wanted to talk to you.”
I hadn’t seen it coming, so wrapped up in my grief, but when I looked at his face it was like the lyrics from that song by ‘Trooper’, “…heart on my sleeve, hat in my hand.”
“I can’t stop thinking about you.”
Eventually I hoped I would always feel the pull in my belly when I saw his amazing mouth smile at me.
We lie on our sides facing each other. His shoulders are not that much more broad than mine, but he is long limbed and lean. His skin is smooth and unblemished. He is soft and hard at the same time under my hands and lips. I’ve known him for years but he looks different now. They say people have a place and time in our lives. He smells like home.
For a while he makes me forget. He is the drug that eases the pain. He knew there was a storm behind the door, but he opened it and walked through. I’m amazed and grateful that he stays.
Over and over again I consume him, filling my endlessly empty space.
My husband would say the few times I tried to cuddle, “Don’t, you’re rubbing the skin off of me.” Unless it was for sex that just happened without any anticipation, tedious in its sameness and lacking sincerity on my behalf. I begged him for one more baby but he said “replacement child,” he was too old, and it wasn’t what he wanted. We grieved our loss alone, not able to lean on one another, neither strong enough, our broken hearts in cutting pieces between us.
This man lies pliable under my hands as I stroke, taste and smell. Our bed is our “nest” and we go to it early in the evening and it is hours before we sleep.
Unlike my previous life I’ve become an aggressor in our coming together. He is just as eager but more subtle while I remove my own clothes, then his, taking him to the bed or couch. At times he shapes and bends me like “Gumby,” the pliable rubber doll I played with as a child.
My husband has been left behind along with the life I had. He called me “selfish.” It’s true. What I’m doing now is all about what I need. I’m an addict. My body hums for the need of him. The physical pleasure temporarily silences my demons. I’ve found something that allows me to climb on top of the pain and push it under the surface. I’m a failing swimmer in rough seas fighting to keep my head above the water.
I go to work. I have conversations. Some are quick to judge me, or give advice.
They don’t have a freaking clue.
I’m good at lying, pretending and fooling people. It’s easier. They don’t really want to know what goes on inside my head. Sometimes I even wish I could forget that I had a child who died. But I don’t want to lose the loveliness of his life.
I’ve become slim, but I needed to lose the weight from sitting a year beside a hospital bed. Thoughts jab me with bony fingers, making me jumpy. I smell hospital odors and hear childish screams. I’m at home in front of the television watching grainy black and white footage of prisoners of war during Hitler’s siege. Two naked people walk away from the camera. Their bodies are skeletons with coverings of skin. One looks back with empty and hopeless eyes sunk into his skull. I’m sucker punched with a vision of his wasted, cancer- eaten body. Behind a blurry waterfall of tears his little-boy face smiles, as if telling me he’s OK now.
Grief is a heavy pair of concrete boots.
At the end of each day I fall through the front door and onto my knees. It’s like needing to vomit but loathing the act. So you fight the urge until you run to the bathroom, mouth full, stomach heaving, your body has taken control. Each day I lose the battle and lie on the floor in a snotty heap, wailing, and the noises I make sound freakish in my ears. I wonder how my broken heart continues to beat. It hurts to breath.
“I just miss him sooo much!” I howl.
He’s on the floor beside me, his hand on my cheek. “I know you do.”
Susan Beresford wrote as a hobby before the “dark” years. She kept a journal at the bedside of her youngest child to make sense of the foreign language of disease and medicine. After he died she wrote to save her own soul. She hasn’t stopped writing.
* * *
Who's Your Daddy?
By Maureen Kingston
And by “daddy” I mean who’s your favorite Founding Father? Lincoln doesn’t count. Everybody wants a piece of him but he wasn’t even born yet. So, who then? Washington? Adams? Nobody ever picks my guy. The DIY-dude with the associative mind. If he were alive today he’d have invented Google.
Not saying he was a saint. Far from it—dropped out of school at age ten, couldn’t hold a job, got a girl knocked up. In his defense, though, he did support the boy when the baby-mama ran off. Somehow I like the fact that he never tried to deny his shortcomings or his struggles with sin. He published scolding to-do lists that read every bit like AA prayers; like a man who had to talk himself into being good one day at a time: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. Just faking it until he made it, like the rest of us.
What I admire most about him was his can-do spirit. He saw real virtue in getting things done, in solving problems. And he was humble enough to know he couldn’t do it all himself. Where’d the country be today without his cooperatives: libraries, fire departments, the postal service?
Which is not to say he was averse to making a buck. Like Hamilton, he surely appreciated commerce. Maybe even more than Hamilton because of his hardscrabble start. But it wasn’t all about short-term gain or rigging the game for his stiff-wigged pals. He thought of those who’d come after him; set up a trust fund on his patents that’s still paying out for Philly folk today. You can’t beat that. Yes, Ben Franklin, you are my BFF—my Best Founding Father.
Maureen Kingston is an assistant editor at The Centrifugal Eye. Her poems and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in The Bookends Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Gone Lawn, Rufous City Review, Stone Highway Review, Terrain.org, VAYAVYA, and Wild Orphan (UK).
* * *
By Darian Lane
She cheats on me, although she doesnʼt cheat on me.
Itʼs the way she looks at other men, talks with them, interacts. She tells me itʼs
innocent, playful, friendships. I know better. Yet I say nothing. Sheʼs young. 24. She
doesnʼt recognize how her actions affect others. Yet I say nothing.
To some degree I can see her trying to hurt me, make me pay attention, testing my
resolve? Is it working?
The other day she told me she had been corresponding with one of her ex-lovers.
“Itʼs purely platonic. Weʼre friends.”
Then she made the mistake of reading one of his text messages, skipping over a part,
and alluding to the skipping.
“This part was inappropriate. I wonʼt read it.”
I looked at her. From my look she knew that part was the part I most wanted to hear.
“Itʼs nothing really.”
Now I knew I had to hear it.
She read, “That last story you sent me made the erection grow beneath my jeans. I may
touch myself while thinking about you.”
Now I knew she had slept with him even though she denied it.
“Ok, we didnʼt sleep together, but we did other things. I was on my period.”
At the minimum she had given him head.
“But weʼre friends now. He lives in another state.”
For some reason she didnʼt want to admit he still wanted to sleep with her. There was a
lie in there somewhere, I just couldnʼt figure out what it was.
She brought up my ex, she brought up past arguments, she brought up my track record;
all trying to smoke screen what was really going on. She wanted to kiss me. She
wanted to parade around naked. She wanted to go to sleep.
I sat in bed quiet.
Quietly thinking, What have I got myself involved in?
Darian Lane was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, raised in Bethesda, Maryland. Graduated Arizona State University and moved to Los Angeles to Produce and Assistant Direct Music Videos and Commercials. Most notable for Black Eyed Peas, Beyoncé, Ashlee Simpson, Chris Brown, 50 Cent, Pharrell & Gwen Stefani, Proactive, Windsor Pilates (1&2), Pepsi, IBM (w/ Muhammad Ali) and American Express. Lane is currently finishing his third novel.
* * *
Welcome to Florida
By Kristen Snow
It was a cool, early spring night in northern Florida; the sky was blanketed with eerie grey clouds that shrouded the stars and seemed to devour the thin sliver of waning moon. It was a Saturday night—one of the first ones I didn’t have plans for in a long time, which was rare for a sixteen year old girl—and I just wanted to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. I had decided to go out for a breath of fresh air and I was standing on the front step of my miniature-sized guest house. My parents had graciously agreed to let me move into it when I got a job so I could have a little freedom—plus they could collect some rent. It was situated in the back yard of my family’s larger ranch-style home, attached on the side by an open breezeway that we used for outdoor storage. The in-ground swimming pool lay only a few feet in front of me.
The vinyl liner had come loose again in the shallow end, and water had filtered in between it and the exposed concrete. Something about it just irked me—it was like skin peeling off after a nasty sunburn… it just didn’t seem natural. I wondered how many spiders it housed.
It wasn’t warm enough to start swimming yet, and through the winter we didn’t bother trying to maintain the pool. There were too many leaves to scoop and nobody was using it anyway. Now the water was green and murky, and I half expected to see some roaring swamp beast rise out of it at any moment. It even had a raw, sulfuric stench to it, like after a hot summer rain.
Thick fog crept slowly across the surface of the water like a scene out of a low-rate horror film. I felt this overwhelming sense of dread as I stared at the image before me. I’d had nightmares about this pool before, and it usually looked exactly like this—just plain creepy. I stood there pondering the many terrifying things that could be lurking beneath the surface of the algae-infested water: toads, most likely; a snake, maybe; dead bugs and spiders, definitely.
I decided to do something incredibly stupid and check the trap on the side of the deep end to see what kinds of gifts it had in store for me. It was usually one of my dog’s tennis balls or a mass of downed helicopter seeds—the ones that spin like propellers when they fall from the trees. I lifted the square plastic lid and peered into the hole; the small yellow light on the corner of my porch shone just enough to mark the outlines of a toad bobbing in the water. I picked up the little net that hung on the nearby wall and gave it a dunk into the water to scoop out the toad. It was dead. I dumped it onto the concrete, scoffed in disgust, and nudged it into the grass with the tip of my shoe.
A sudden splish in the water drew my gaze sharply back to the pool.
What was that?
It couldn’t be a fish. There’s no way. Fish don’t just randomly show up in swimming pools, right? It had to be something bigger—a snake? It wouldn’t be the first time. We lived within half a mile of Doctor’s Lake, so of course there was some sort of monthly ritual of a snake showing up in the yard, moon-bathing in the driveway, or venturing into the pool. They were annoying, but unfortunately if one of the cats didn’t get rid of them, it was left to us humans.
I stepped closer to the edge of the water, though my mind screamed at me to stay away. I felt compelled to find out what was splashing about in my pool while it looked like Swamp Thing’s nest. This would have been the moment in a scary movie when I’d be shouting at the television, “No! Run the other way, dumbass!”
Cautiously, I crouched down and squinted, waving a hand through the fog in an attempt to clear it up enough so I could see deeper into the water. I could see movement: a dark shadow barely shifting beneath the greenish murk. It had to be a mass of leaves on the bottom of the pool. Or maybe just shadows. There was a subtle breeze which caused the fog to creep along in its slow journey over the water’s surface and off into the depths of my yard. Whatever the dark shadowy thing was, it was way too big to be a snake.
But leaves and shadows don’t splash in the water like that…
To my sheer horror, the entire dark mass twisted suddenly and darted upward from the six-foot depths. I let out a surprised yelp and stumbled back, fought my way over the short distance to my doorstep without looking away from the water. It broke the surface and I wanted to scream at what I saw, but when I opened my mouth nothing came out. The intruder circled around the deeper end of the pool once, then splashed back into the water and disappeared beneath the thick screen of algae and fog.
My pool wasn’t just a death bed for leaves, twigs and insects; it wasn’t just a nesting place for spiders and too-curious toads; it wasn’t even infested with water moccasins like I suspected. It was much worse than that.
“Hoooooly shit! There’s a freaking alligator in my pool!” I shouted, practically squealed, as I finally managed to find my voice again. I was wedged between panic and awe. One part of me thought this was the coolest thing I could imagine; the other feared for my dogs and cats. If there’s an alligator in my pool, it clearly found a way into my yard, didn’t it? We couldn’t have alligators roaming about in our backyard all willy-nilly!
I began to pull myself together and stood up with my back pressed firmly against the guest house door, then took a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm down. I needed to do something…but what? I began running through a mental checklist, deciding I should call someone. Mom was at work; Dad was on sea duty, probably floating around in the Mediterranean somewhere; my sister was staying the night with one of her friends; my boyfriend was an idiot and he’d probably do something stupid like jump in the water and end up losing an arm or leg; it was probably too late at night to call animal control, but I had to try.
I turned the doorknob behind me and all but fell backward into the guest house, then slammed the door shut. Who knows? The gator might have escaped the pool and tried to follow me inside. Having an alligator in my living room would be so much worse than having one in my swimming pool!
I grabbed my phone and dialed 4-1-1 so I didn’t have to hunt down the number for animal control through the phone book—did they still make those? When I was finally connected to the animal control office, the woman that answered had a slow southern drawl and didn’t seem to be in any hurry, and I was too busy waiting to explain the situation to listen to anything she said.
“Thank you for callin’ Clay County Anim—” I interrupted her before she could finish. She could have been a recorded message, for all I knew, but I also didn’t care at the moment.
“There’s a freaking alligator in my swimming pool and nobody is home and I don’t know how it got there and what if it ate my cats? I mean I have dogs too, but what if it ate my cats? I can’t get it out because I don’t think I have a net big enough, but my dad might because he likes to fish so can you send someone?” The whole request came out in one extremely fast, giant sentence—or was it a question? I nearly panicked all over again while I was trying to explain. The lady on the phone didn’t seem to know either, so she just sighed.
“Allllright honey, jus’ tell me yer address an’ I’ll send one of th’ boys out to ya.”
I relayed my address as soon as I could remember it, and then hung up the phone. What was I supposed to do now? Sit around and wait for them to show up like a normal person? Pah!
I should do something—keep it distracted, maybe. I went to dig through my closet and found some old, muddy boots I used to wear when we would take the quads out to Keystone. Surely wearing boots would be safer than flip-flops. I marched outside, feeling much more invincible since I had a thin layer of rubber covering my toes, and made sure the dogs were locked in the house before I swung the back gate open. I wouldn’t likely hear if the animal control guy decided to do a dingbat thing like ring the doorbell, so this way he could let himself in.
I stood near the shallow end of the pool, waved my arms in front of the motion-sensitive light on the corner of the breezeway so it would switch on, and peered into the water through the fog.
Where is it now?
It must have still been at the other end of the pool, hiding within its greenish-brown depths. I felt like I should do something. If I could get it into the shallow end, it would be easier for them to catch, right?
Meat! Alligators love meat! I could bait it, and then they could catch it! But what would I bait it with? A fishing pole, maybe. That made sense.
I ran into the main house and hunted down one of my dad’s fishing poles, then scavenged the refrigerator for some gator bait. All we had was a selection of lunch meat and half a package of hot dogs, so I grabbed all of it. While I was still in the kitchen, I quickly wrapped slices of turkey and honey ham around whole hot dogs, shoved a few toothpicks through them so they would all stick together like one big hunk of meat, and rigged them onto the three-pronged fishing hook. This could work!
Armed for my battle with the gator, I headed back outside just in time to meet up with the two guys from animal control. They eyed me with my lunchmeat-hot-dog-baited fishing pole and my rubber mudding boots, while I eyed them and their spiffy tan jumpsuits with nametags identifying them as Dave and Brian, their giant roll of duct tape, and Ketch-All pole. After a moment of awkward silence, one of them burst into laughter. Like they’d never seen anyone fishing for alligators in a swimming pool before!
“Best let me handle this one,” the man labeled Dave suggested while Brian continued to chuckle.
Dave gave the pool a quick once-over, and then hopped right into the shallow end with a sploosh. It took them all of five minutes to hook the gator, pull him out, and tape him up. He wasn’t big, thankfully—only about four feet long, so he was still young. Obviously there was a breach in our fence somewhere that would have to be found and blocked off.
I thanked Dave and Brian while I followed them through the gate and to the front, Brian carrying the gator tucked under his arm like a purse, and Dave squishing through the grass with a half-soaked jumpsuit and boots full of water. I was almost sad to see them go. They hopped in their pickup, keeping the little gator in the cab with them, and drove away while I stood there waving farewell with hot dogs dangling from my fishing pole.
Kristen Snow is a Creative Writing major at the University of Arkansas in Monticello, Arkansas. She grew up in the suburbs near Jacksonville, Florida and severely misses having spontaneous “beach days” in Daytona. She is an aspiring author with a special interest in fantasy style fiction and children's stories.
* * *
Grand Canyon Hike
By Shoilee White
“You’re not serious, are you?” my husband, Omar asked, his voice frantic, when I told him about my desire to hike down the canyon.
“I’m serious. I have to do it, even if it’s only once.” Omar lowered his head: he knew I wouldn’t change my mind.
Soon after, we boarded the shuttle from the "Mather Lodge" campground on the south rim of the Grand Canyon National park in Arizona. I made my decision--I’ll let the Bright Angel trail take me down into the canyon empire.
Our bus approached near the Bright Angel trailhead.
I was worried. I never hiked on any trail in my entire life on a mountain or in a canyon while growing up in the flat delta of Bangladesh. How would my unaccustomed limbs react? Should I do it? I struggled with indecision. At last, I stepped out of the bus and walked to the trail head.
I stood there, staring at the vista expanding eternally in front of my eyes. I believed that my eyes, given a thousand years to view this panorama, would still not be able to see it all.
“I can’t leave – no I simply can’t leave,” I whispered. I looked up: a black raven flew over into the canyons. I felt a sudden urge to hike down. Taste of freedom is out there.
Little had I known that my inexperience in hiking would keep me blissfully unaware of the hardship that lay ahead? “Aren’t you coming?” I asked Omar.
“As I said, I’m not crazy, you dragged me into this trip against my wishes. I don’t care what happens to you. Go on your own,” he replied aloud, he clenched his jaws, and hit the railing with his closed fist.
I stared at him, a few seconds passed by, I turned around. Nature is my power, t need anyone or anything. I took one more look at Omar, left him standing on the rim, and began my hike from the south rim.
My companions—a wide Mexican hat on my head and a large bottle of water in my hand. The width of the trail assured safety when I looked down; at its narrowest the width was three to four feet and at its widest was five feet. Oh, it’s easy. Hiking toward gravity didn’t need much effort on my part.
I can do it, I can. I continued my hike.
The hiking trail was nestled among tall Pondurosa pines. I walked under an arch and again under a second arch. As I came out on the other side, bushy plants replaced the tall trees. I continued on the zigzag trail; my eyes taking in the canyon’s million formations and their brilliant color at every corner.
The shapes changed from triangular to oval to square and to many other irregular shapes as I went down the trail. The entire canyon to me looked like a 3-D puzzle— I remembered spending hours at home solving puzzles. Compared to that, Grand Canyon, perhaps, could never be solved.
The temperature started to rise on my way down. A deep red replaced the whiteness of the ground I saw near the top of the rim. America's treasure truly lies in its unique natural beauty.
The gravity pulled me down and I almost ran on the trail. There were mule and human footprints on the ground that whispered years of passage through the hearts of this canyon. Bright Angel Trail was a favorite to numerous hikers of all ages.
An older couple stopped beside me. “Oh! We hiked down the trail to the bottom in our younger years and now we came back to do it again,” the woman said.
Her husband looked at me. “Where’re you from?” he asked. I knew he noticed my surprise at each scenery.
“From Bangladesh,” I replied.
He smiled, “Isn’t it hard for you to hike?”
I nodded with a smile, “But I want to experience this.”
They both smiled back and continued their hike.
I wondered how this trail conceals years of precious reminiscences of its visitors. I became sad. Where was Omar? He’s so distant and different from me. Here I was hiking on my own while he chose to stay on the rim.
The National Park system provided great conveniences in the form of fresh drinking water and rest area facilities throughout the long Bright Angel trail. I passed by the first rest area and filled my water bottle.
I advanced toward the second rest area and gazed up at the rim—the tourists looked like minuscule ants. My heart jumped out, Wow! I truly trekked down such a distance! I was proud. The half-way point of the trail, known as the Indian Garden, was visible from where I stood. I looked at my watch. It was around 10:45 a.m.
The canyon landscape lay all around—yellow morning light was getting brighter on the surfaces as noon approached. I watched the play of light and shade while I continued hiking. I looked around—there was no one near me. I stopped and stood there in silence. A few seconds passed by, “Oh! mighty canyon—I’m so happy to be …” I screamed aloud, then put my hand on my mouth before I could finish.. The sound of my own voice surprised me.
My heart wanted to go further: I dared not. The prior warning of my fellow traveler’s about the strenuous hike up cautioned me. I put one foot forward and then turned around: I began my way hiking back at 11:00 a.m.
Oh! my God! I never thought this would be so hard, the grueling pain in my limbs increased with every step up: I felt like dragging a ton of bricks tied to my body. I stopped several times to rest and to drink water from my bottle. In spite of my body screaming with agony, my heart was satisfied—for I knew, there was nothing in the world I would have traded the experience with.
I continued my hike slowly…then stopped… then again continued. Oh! no, I am moving at the pace of older couples.
Another couple stopped by. “It’s ok if you get tired, it’s a hard hike up—but you’ll get there,” the woman said.
I only managed a smile and a whisper of thank you.
No, I can’t do it! I stopped and took a deep breath and then continued. I could hear my limbs scream with pain, I forced one foot after another. I couldn’t look at my watch—afraid that I would know how slowly I was moving. I ignored the pain and continued hiking up.
I didn’t know for how long I dragged my body against gravity, I stopped to drink water, and looked up. “Isn’t that the rim?” I said aloud.
“It is,” someone answered from behind.
“Oh! God saved me!” I whispered.
I reached the South Rim surface at 2:30p.m.
I knew I would forever treasure: the sights that my eyes viewed, the pain my limbs endured, and the joy my heart experienced. Even though I was not able to hike all the way to the bottom, I was content: for I had indeed become a part of the canyon canvas.
Omar was not at the rim to greet me. He came back a few minutes later.
He was clearly irritated by my delay. “You and your stupid hiking!” he said loudly.
As many times before, I ignored his comment and managed,“Thank you for waiting.”
Shoilee White is currently a graduate student at the University of South Florida, Tampa, FL. Her writing has been published in numerous academic journals, in American university newspapers, in various American magazines, and in Bangladeshi magazines as well.
* * *
By Thomas Cochran
Ever since those summer meetings
I have wanted to own a wooded path
that leads to every destination.
This would be a fine way to arrive
after long nights of singing and dancing.
One might stroll along complacently
(still keeping an eye peeled for Death!),
knowing that he will never get lost.
My recently acquired familiarity with the world
has not tempered this old desire.
The idea is part of who I am,
an elemental consideration
I entertain no less hopefully
now that war is our perpetual state.
Thomas Cochran was raised in Haynesville, Louisiana. His work includes novels Roughnecks (Harcourt) and Running the Dogs (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). His non-fiction and poetry have appeared in Oxford American, Rattle, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and various other publications. He currently lives with his wife on some acres in rural northwest Arkansas.
* * *
Damn the Villanelle
By Spenser Davis
All I want to do is tell a story
That's full of humor, one that casts a spell.
But damn the villanelle, it won't let me.
I began to write when I was three.
The joy of it brought me out of my shell.
All I want to do is tell a story
Of knights and wizards and Mr. Freeze,
witches burned, the after-smell,
But damn, the villanelle, it won't let me.
They say, “The form is circular, but gee,
It's so great that you're trying. You mean well.”
Check this out – I'll tell a friggin' story:
Once upon a time, a king's decree
spread across the land of … ah hell -
This interrupting villanelle won't let me!
I study poetry out of curiosity,
try out new forms, some of which don't gel.
All I wanted was to tell a story
But damn. This villanelle, it won't … see?
Spenser Davis is both an actor and playwright currently living in Chicago, where he has taken part in over thirty-five productions with theater companies across Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa. On the writing front, his plays have been produced across North America, (most recently in Canada). In Chicago , his work has been featured in venues such as the American Theater Company, the Chicago Dramatists, and The Second City. His short play Minimalistic Men was named one of “The Best Ten-Minute Plays of 2012” by New York's Smith & Kraus. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor's in Creative Writing. He currently serves as the Literary Manager for both production companies: Hobo Junction Productions and Broken Nose Theater.
* * *
Poetry by Darrell Dela Cruz
Sunset: on the pier, lovers embrace on suspensions
covered in barnacles and broken lines.
Behind them, the sunset – reflections
facing each other, the breeze tangling
their hair together like a monstrosity
found in the depths that others hope to hook.
Midnight: on the pier, the fisherman braces
for low degrees by huddling in
a blanket, a jacket, a thermal:
layers separating him for warmth.
His hands, whipped by the wind,
reels in what he caught. A fight
happens: both wanting to get away.
Their connection snags at the base
but the cut is simple. He is alone again
with the crash of the ocean
scattering the moon.
In the Backyard, There is You
The gardening box held squash,
milkweed, and now rust
in the divets of nails. You press
your weight on the screwdriver;
a burst of orange powders
your hands. You grab
the sledgehammer to break
the box into manageable pieces.
You are only required to clean.
No, you won’t tell them
about old pets buried here –
strays nurtured, about the lemon tree
you chopped – planted on
a day when everyone was present,
about the cracks in the concrete made
from miscalculations – another wife
disappointed, about the shed – a make
shift tent, about the lawnmower
without blades, about the baby
jars filled with seeds, about pesticide
jugs never opened, clearly labeled.
Darrell Dela Cruz graduated from San Jose State’s MFA Program for Poetry. His works have been published in Thin Air, Third Wednesday, and ZAUM, and will appear forthcoming in Two-Thirds North and The Clackamas Review. He tries to analyze a poem a day on his blog, or rather, he acknowledges his misinterpretations of poems for all the internet to read.
* * *
By J. Oscar Franzen
Camera says blinking is a blinding.
A micromoment of unsee.
Except for the eyelash flutter of prostitutes.
That’s like the fannings of harem ostrichfeathers.
Adding up all those micromoments in a lifetime
makes for a right comprehensive comprehensive.
A full month of unsee.
Camera blames the blink muscles.
Says we don’t choose to aperture the world.
Shutterbugs with shutterbugeyes.
Paparazzi from womb to tomb, incubator to incinerator.
Sorrow tears add to the unsee.
Like little liquid contact lenses.
Then, Camera sacrificing himself.
Offering to unsee for the universe.
Offering to unsee for all of Unseattle.
A strange business start-up.
Official blink photog on the Ave.
Stopping pedestrians for just a second.
Upraising a masonjarred lightning bug like
an old-fashioned flashlamp of magnesium powder.
Eyelids at the ready.
J. Oscar Franzen workshopped in Texas A&M University's creative writing program, earning a Master of Arts in English. Last summer, he spent two months working with Andrew Feld at the University of Washington.
* * *
A Thousand Apologies
By Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas
After long days of tending to my mother’s
needs, I would drive home from the house
where my parents raised me still
remembering the sound of music
that penetrated walls of bedrooms
in the earlier years where my brothers
and I slept night after night. The scent
of pancakes wafting through hallways
on Saturday mornings, the ever clanking
of tags from the family cat roaming
door to door until one of us opened
our bedroom cubical and whistled
a sharp but welcoming sign, signally
her to bolt for the nearest bed offered,
though mine was clearly the preferred
choice, if truth be told.
Those were the days of innocence
and laughter, when no one anticipated
concerns over tomorrows or yesterdays
nor secrets hidden between complicated
memories. Each of us closed off
to the other merely preoccupied
with the mysteries of adolescence
yet unaware we were in the midst of life
or some kind of strange pandemonium
called growing up.
How would I know there would be one
last drive when that house became quiet,
when my mother stopped breathing,
when no cat would pace that worn-out floor,
where no melody could be heard
through wallpapered walls
and the only fragrance noticed
was a lavender candle with its wavering flame
on my mother’s bedside table.
How unprepared I was for the soundlessness
of leaving or that final ride back
from there to here while carrying a lifetime
of recollections with no reason to return.
Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas is a six-time Pushcart nominee and Best of the Net nominee. She has authored eight chapbooks along with her latest full-length collection of poems: Epistemology of an Odd Girl, newly released from March Street Press. She is a recent winner of the Red Ochre Press Chapbook competition for her manuscript Before I Go to Sleep and according to family lore she is a direct descendent of Robert Louis Stevenson.
* * *
Poetry by Gwen Jenson
US HIGHWAY 50
And after that the road turns west
toward mountains, and toward clouds
that may be mountains, a saffron line,
penciled fluid, flat and straight.
Now comes the very sleep of travel
and the shimmering tribe of dreams,
fireflies dancing in a bottle,
murmuring to the sighing sun.
Buoyant lingers time’s illusion
and its cruel and useless beauty,
without hurry, without fear,
without the pain of destination.
THE WEDDING PICTURE
I can see you in the picture, Mommy.
By the night-light, I can see you, swirled
and garlanded, coming down the aisle.
My dress is white and garlanded, and I
am coming down the aisle. I am coming
down to get you, my darling baby girl.
Why did you leave so soon? I must have hurt you
being born, hurt you coming out.
I am sorry if I made you cry.
I will kiss your tummy, that lovely slippery
tummy. I’ll make you laugh, touch you warm
between your legs, between your every toe.
I would have climbed down to you, but
your coffin had been closed, and there were shapes
in that darkness, and pale sound.
Daughter! Daughter! Help me down!
I will keep you safe from darkness
and pale sound.
Why did you go?
Where did you go? Why did you leave me?
What is death that you died?
Daughter! Daughter! Take my hand!
I will sit there on your bed,
I’ll brush your dark and tangled hair.
I’m sleepy now.
I’ll make space soon.
My dolls won’t mind.
Gwendolyn Jenson's poems have appeared in the Amethyst Arsenic, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Comstock Review, The Malahat Review, Measure, Nashville Review, and Salamander. After spending many years in academia, Gwendolyn retired from the presidency of Wilson College in 2001. She now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and serves as a board member of Off the Grid Press, a press for poets over sixty. Birthright, her first book, was published by Birch Brook Press in a letterpress edition (with a second printing in 2012).
* * *
By Lyn Lifshin
HAVEN’T YOU EVER WANTED TO USE THE WORD INDIGO?
the way it rolls off your tongue, blue,
mysterious. It’s rather old fashioned tho
but when you run out of words for the
blues, doesn’t indigo give it a little
class? Then, I think of Millay with her
indigo buntings, curled on the same
velvet couches I have tho they’ve been
re-covered, not indigo but a chocolate
brown. One visitor stopping at Steepletop
in Edna’s last years mentioned how
shabby the sofas were. I think how
Vincent gave up her velvets, lovers, drugs
for the stillness. Except for the buntings.
But I digress. Indigo. I had to listen to
The Indigo girls, found I liked their name
better. I’d like to say I found the metaphor
to cinch this poem, to pull any reader
into Indigo ecstasy when I found some
E Mail about the film Indigo Children
but when I put the name on Google,
what I read lacked all iridescent blue,
that startling hypnotic glistening. Less
there than the marine’s startling icy eyes,
indigo jolting as sequins from deep under
ground as my real life pales
Lyn Lifshin’s Another Woman Who Looks Like Me was published by Black Sparrow at David Godine October, 2006.. (Also out in 2006 is her prize winning book about the famous, short lived beautiful race horse, Ruffian: The Licorice Daughter: My Year With Ruffian from Texas Review Press. Lifshin’s other recent books include Before it’s Light published winter 1999-2000 by Black Sparrow press, following their publication of Cold Comfort in 1997 and 92 Rapple from Coatism.: Lost in the Fog and Barbaro: Beyond Brokenesss and Light at the End, the Jesus Poems, Katrina, Ballet Madonnas. For other books, bio, photographs see her website. Persephone was published by Red Hen and Texas Review published Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness. Most recent books: Ballroom, All the Poets (Mostly) Who Have Touched me, Living and Dead. All True, Especially the Lies. And just out, Knife Edge & Absinthe: The Tango Poems. In Spring 2012, NYQ books will publish A Girl Goes into The Woods. Also just published: For the Roses poems after Joni Mitchell. just published: Hotel Hitchcock from Danse Macabre. And Secretariat: The Red Freak, The Miracle from Texas Review Press.
* * *
Poetry by Jennie Linthorst
I DREAM ABOUT MY MOTHER
She has been dead
for twenty-seven years.
in a sick trick
she has come back,
reentered our lives
years after paralyzing grief.
Cancer’s destruction has
cleared from our eyes.
I know she is asleep
down our long hallway
of my childhood home.
Her body is very much alive
under heavy covers
on her side
of my parents’ bed,
where my young feet
used to find my way
on a treacherous night.
I thrash in my sleep.
Sounds of whimpers
mask waves of tears
in my dream.
I want to go to her
but, I am strangely afraid,
scared to see
what now lies among us.
Anger, seeps through me
at her betrayal
of lost time.
Scared too, you see,
of what lies within me
what she will see
in this void of time
pieces of myself
that might just be
better without her.
Strength I have earned
without her eyes upon me.
I WOULD HAVE DONE IT DIFFERENTLY
October 7, 1985
If I hadn’t been giggling with a girlfriend
in seventh grade English class,
playing with plastic sunglasses,
there might not have been
the knock at the door.
Mrs. Crabtree might not have
slipped a note into my teacher’s hand,
called my name,
told me to gather my things.
Her stern face confused me.
I must have done something terribly wrong.
Maybe we wouldn’t have
walked to her office in silence,
struck to see my best friend’s mother
trembling in front of me.
I am so sorry, Jennie.
My sister walked with her riding coach
down from the upper school,
pain, spread like fire between us,
as I ran to her arms.
Mrs. Hyatt drove me home
in her station wagon.
I felt numb, leaned my head against a window
as I watched trees, streetlights, and telephone wires.
Our long house was lined with cars,
people hovered in every space.
I found my father
in our dining room.
Ashen, and trembling with grief,
his arms pulled us to him.
MY BODY IS DIFFERENT
I trust the nurse with the bobbed blond hair,
her hot pink floral shirt
too tight across her chest.
I want to lean in,
forget why I am being tested,
rest into her,
to know it will be alright.
My comfort drains away
as she pierces the wrong vein,
and a fire spreads through my arm.
Memories bloom inside me
of failed IVs,
my mother’s skin worn thin
I am too fragile
for a nurse’s blunders.
My grief still fresh under years of time.
I need strong hands,
to push me through this day.
To validate my faith
that my body is different.
She hands me off to another nurse,
I look her cautiously in the eye
as she easily slides the needle into my wrist.
With her back to me,
she checks my chart,
confused as to why
I am here this young.
She rubs my arm,
Your mom died so young.
We share the realization
I am now thirty-nine,
the age she was.
It’s late into night
a time when my house
slips into an eerie costume
with strange shadows,
and reflections of my face
alone in mirrors.
The truth of my prognosis
begins to swell in my mind.
I know what I have to do.
My phone seems a mile away,
blurred from my tears.
Defeated, yet desperate,
I must once again surrender
to my mother’s strength
as I face this battle.
I sit on a cold kitchen chair,
my nightgown brushes tiled floor.
Thirty-six years old,
I collide with my future.
I dial her number
as silence moves
across this room.
I hear my voice
begin to tremble,
Mother, I need you
to move here,
the children will need you.
THE SCHOOL BUS LETS ME OFF
at the bottom of Noelton Drive
below John Osborne’s driveway.
It’s shorter if I cut through his yard,
so I run in my plaid pleated skirt,
afraid that someone in that dark stone house
will come out, yell at me for trespassing.
It’s 4:15 p.m. when I get to my kitchen door.
I don’t want to think about dance class
or my sixth grade social studies quiz
that sits like a rock
in the bottom of my backpack.
All I want is a toasted bagel
with just the right amount of margarine
soaked into crusted bread,
to sit in front of the TV, but I don’t.
I need to go to my mother’s room.
The house is quiet, too quiet.
my sister is at the horse barn,
Dad isn’t home yet.
Guilt pushes me down the hallway.
I tuck my hair behind my ears,
straighten my skirt,
take a breath,
and prepare for anything
a smile, some small talk,
or to just wash my hands
and place a needle in her side
like a nurse showed me
on a grapefruit.
Jennie Chapman Linthorst, MA, CAPF is an author, Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator, and founder of LifeSPEAKS Poetry Therapy. Jennie works with men and women exploring personal histories through reading and writing poetry. She is the author of a book of poems, Autism Disrupted: A Mother’s Journey of Hope, published by Cardinal House Publishing in 2011. Her poetry has been featured in Edison Literary Review, Forge, Sanskrit Literary Arts Magazine, and forthcoming in Kaleidoscope and Bluestem magazines. Her work has been featured online at Hopeful Parents, Our Journey Through Autism, Wellsphere, The SPD Blogger Network, and WOW! Women on Writing. Visit her website to learn more.
* * *
Poetry by Herbert Woodward Martin
On The Flyleaf of Collected Poems
The House is demolished now
A parking lot occupies the space
The second floor has vanished
Into thin air where I once had
The delusion of soul floating
Outside of my body, and then
Pausing to watch if I would
Somehow recover from the
Fevers which haunted my flesh;
After observing my predicament,
Like a newly minted physician
My soul rejoined my flesh and
Promised never to depart again.
Such was the sensation that day
That I wondered who would
Believe what had just taken place?
On The Flyleaf of Musical Events
Mostly when I shower these days
I am reminded of Carol Berge, not
Lasciviously, but because she
Demanded such clear, and precisely
Clean ligaments in each line of
Poetry or piece of prose: meaning
Without dross; absolute metaphor
That strengthened your walk without
Being didactic and unpretentious:
The song of a bird in the wild where
A single breath heralds the ease of
Night and day. She was attentive
To the skeleton, the attachments
Which hold the bones to muscles,
And builds the architecture of arteries
And veins around the structure
So that all the melodies housed
In the body are safe. Now, as the
Rinse water floods my skin and
Drains effectively away from
My head, limbs, torso, legs,
Crotch, ankles and toes and are
Refreshed in cleanliness and
to greet the perceptive world.
On The Flyleaf of The Blacker The Berry
who kept her eyes on the prize
The old white woman is eighty now,
She realizes no one was ever civil to her
When she came for a cool drink of water
At a Southern soda fountain, nor was she
Welcomed to register any of her colored
Neighbors because they were not qualified.
A hurricane of memories floods through
Four decades of her celluloid history,
A time when she had agility and the
Quickness of a minute hand. Now her
Calcified bones restrict her actions.
She no longer leaps like a gazelle from
Option, to idea, to cause. She can only
Projects her tears toward some final good.
On The Flyleaf of The Master Letters
Do not smile often; we do not laugh often
Unless we see something or someone who
Has not appropriated what we might term
A modest standard of beauty which invokes
Stares, and slight laughter even though we
Know this is an impolite action which may
Result in an indiscrete death for bad manners.
Absolute courtesy needs to be learned before
Such incidents happen, for one parent might
Think your own mother should, as a matter
Of course, have equipped you better for polite
Society with delicate manners before allowing
You, her only child, to venture forth into the
Larger world causing severe and most vitally
Destructive and unnecessary harm.
On The Flyleaf of Swan’s Island
Invincibly determined, like those distant planets set in their predestined orbits,
Revolving incessantly and consistently around each other.
Grafted on to each other like the steel of last breaths,
Demonstrating how acts should be done with small effective gestures.
First, forbid all execution with wild iron tears black people used to exude at
Baptist funerals. Time has made inquiry into how long the flesh can sustain
Forbearance. Still, physicians will only answer in vague terms: Nothing
Is accurate. Does he mean nothing as in: clocks, blenders, trash compactors, cars,
lawn mowers, motor cycles, airplanes or simply the human heart?
Perhaps he is still trying to do no harm.
So when death is accomplished
The act of shedding considerate tears publically or privately may be released
If they will do no harm. There will be no one to direct on how to mourn
The cold resplendency of life. Death is a reasoned passing.
Take care to finalize all the necessary details.
Let surrounded friends recall the delicate stories of your life.
Let all the myths and legends be placed side by side
In an undistinguished war of true and false.
There is only so much one can do in arranging final details:
Watch a fire being extinguished, wait for a hurricane to subside,
Wait for the debris in a tornado to settle, then move into the clear
Silence and wait for another spring to approach.
Herbert Woodward Martin taught poetry and creative writing at The University of Dayton for three decades. He has been widely associated with the poet and novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar whose works he has edited, read and performed across the United States.
* * *
Poetry by Susan Martin
"No mask like open truth to cover lies,
As to go naked is the best disguise."
The Old Bachelor
Mask of alzheimer’s,
eyes blank, mouth slack,
skin stretched tight,
no lines, no wrinkles
to give expression.
Face, a mask,
as one made of papier mache.
On my study wall
a snapshot of her
in her prime.
She paddles a canoe,
wears a ruffled peasant blouse.
Smiling face animated
only a mask.
Her life a masquerade.
Her senility, angry.
No more pretense;
no more living a lie.
She has earned the right
to be her own truth.
All resentments, disappointments,
frustrations, jealousies, bitterness,
all artfully disguised realities,
This her legacy to those she claimed to love.
Her last will and testament, one she wrote,
when she was at last of sound mind.
At death the mask of alzheimer’s
metamorphosed into a death mask.
lips stretched into a gentle smile.
Sing the Ballad
Neither the cross of Jesus
nor the star of David
marks his tombstone.
It is the treble clef
that defines his brief life.
His epitaph reads,
Did I sing the ballad yet?
Was I wonderful?
Questions that beg the question,
why the questions?
What was the music of his life,
and what was the tale
he wanted to tell,
and did he ever tell if?
Was his epitaph his way of life,
or were these his last words,
a final statement on finality?
And what is my fascination with this anyway?
Will the music that fills my life
still be my soul’s passion,
even when I can no longer hear it?
And will the story of my life
be a tale still told
even after I no longer live
in the events that made it?
And do I live my life as a ballad
that is to be sung by generations who follow me?
And is this how I will create
my own immortality?
Or will the music and the tale
die with me and pass
into the oblivion from which it came?
And as I’m carried to my grave
will I wonder and ask,
Did I sing the ballad yet?
Was I wonderful?
And now, said our naturalist
aboard our whale watch vessel,
I will drop a hydrophone
into the water, and you can hear
the song of the whales.
At first all I heard was
a cacophony of random noise,
but, as I listened, I found myself
humming the quartet from Rigoletto
along with this oceanic choir.
For their music was neither random
nor cacophonous. It was purposeful,
In the sequences of howls and moans
I heard the trills of the soprano,
the sonorous tones of the tenor,
the booming of the bass.
Repeated themes resonated, and,
am I crazy, did I detect rhyme?
An opera of their own,
perhaps a drama of intrigue and angst.
But I did notice a touch
of opera bouffe, and was that
the improvised riff of the jazz musician?
How, I wonder, could I have been
so unaware in my limited perspective
as to think that only my species
could compose and perform
an operatic microcosm,
one that is larger than life?
I heard tales of love and lovers,
of hunters and the hunted,
written and performed by
cetaceous Verdis and Mozarts,
giants of the deep, their message
too deep for my shallow understanding.
Susan Martin is a retired English and creative writing teacher. She has had poetry and short fiction published in several anthologies, literary magazines, e-zines, and other on-line sites. She won prizes in "The Age Begins 2009 Women's Inspirational Contest" and the New Jersey Poetry Society's 2012 Annual Contest.
* * *
Poetry by Scott Miller
The Bottle, Adrift
It bobbles, rings the ocean’s bowels.
It gyrates ceaselessly.
A spot of foam clings fast in it
(it’s kind of hard to see
through heat-warped wrapping). One bottle
among a plethora
passed down to the prokaryotes:
The foam shares its descent with six
inside that bottle, when it lived
a dream. Then it was drained.
Consumption (as, what multiplies
in specks of foam) was cast
within its walls, each new device
as small as we are vast
in these specs of a universe.
We’re told to seize the day,
but clutch our bottles, fill our books
with poison anyway.
Comparative (Folk) Religion
Never give up hope.
Gods don’t come in twos.
If you got nothing
you got nothing to lose.
Order out of chaos.
This world is a gift.
Good trees bear good fruit--
don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t lift.
Serve your master well.
Honor what has passed.
Lord and Lady, equal.
The first will soon be last.
Shadows cast by fire
and a burning hole.
A dream of the prime mover
written in my soul.
Scott Miller works as a software developer while pursuing a writing career to achieve the elusive left-brain/right-brain balance. When not writing poetry or software, he can be found practicing kung fu, baking his famous desserts, at the pilates studio, or beating the latest incarnation of The Legend of Zelda.
* * *
Poetry by L.B. Sedlacek
Bicycling in the snow;
yes, there are implications
in that when cloaked feet
or huddled hands could hang
on to ladders tipping across
canyons, or balance hot chocolate
on the tip of one’s nose.
Skateboarding in snow;
yes, flipping the wheels makes
it into a sled unsuitable
for wide hips,
sweatpants that fit a little
too snug when left in the Dryer
for too long. A high pitched
squeal in the dark, the ice crunch of
metal. Driving in the snow
can be a difficult thing.
For they have motors that sound like Harley’s.
For they interrupt my afternoon nap.
For they rattle the windows.
For their windows are dark and I can’t see inside.
For I imagine the occupants are peering into my windows.
For they fly in irritating circles.
For they look like they’re going to crash into the trees.
For they interfere in the hawks’ flight patterns.
For they intrude on the rooster’s sleep so he cries morning, noon and night.
For they rupture the silence.
For they persist until the sun goes on hiatus.
For they never flew over where we used to live.
For their interference is perpetual.
For they make the ground shake.
For they make me sick on my stomach.
For they took my cousin Pete for a ride and he never came back.
For I hate to fly.
For I want to live like a movie star and get a Pilot’s license.
For I want to shoot them down with my power washer
because they’re having more fun than me.
crinkle to the
popping the cap
off a beer.
that no one
that no one
that no one
with all the
into little simple
bits of understandable
A summer day
hotter than I
not unlike the
garden which I’d
now. It was
fruitful with squash,
and Tiger Lilies just
was a secret path,
winding under trees,
leading to the water
pump, the old red
barn, the tire
swing on the old oak tree.
We played hide and
seek, chased the dogs and
horses, and spied on
spats between our siblings
and their significant others
wondering what it meant.
The house is for sale,
the garden wiped out. I’d
forgotten it until now.
L.B. Sedlacek’s poetry has appeared in publications such as Sea Stories, Third Wednesday, Mastodon Dentist, The Hurricane Review, Main Street Rag, Tertulia Magazine, Pure Francis, Manorborn, Big Pulp, Fickle Muses, and others.
* * *
Poetry by Samantha Seto
Amidst the whispers of the night,
all alone, the mournful moon wept
upon the deepened world of dreams.
The woodland tears quivered
with circles of colorful leaves,
dances of indigo nocturne imprint into dirt.
In wheat fields of golden grain,
when summer days grew longer,
we used to play along the brook as children.
Peppermint leaves we used to eat
grew beneath lilies, sunflowers, rosebuds,
as the grand willow tree breathed shadows.
Silent midnight within spirits of cottonwood
wore tortured hours of heavy raindrops.
Moments passed in the love of death.
Monitor electric lines go flat,
silence overwhelms, steady pulse
whispers death into my sleepless eyes.
I prayed for three nights, crying into her nightgown,
the ER remained keeper of bad news.
Flowers and miniature trinkets lined the bed,
Get well soon, only nothing existed.
I counted my breaths, pushed back heavy tears
and guilt that poured out of mind.
All I could ever imagine…
dreams of chases through grassy fields,
play hide-and-seek in our backyard.
Only this time, I couldn’t reach my hands,
run, lift above ground, to catch her.
She was gone.
Samantha Seto is a writer. She has been published in various anthologies including Ceremony, The Screech Owl, Nostrovia Poetry, Soul Fountain, Ydgrasil, and Black Magnolias Journal.
* * *
The Ring of Power
By Sam Silva
Happy passionate eyes, and lips
which taste of buttermilk
when love is brushed just so
...and she has paintings
which strike the thought,
the inward vision,
much like sex
enthralling the mind
of poets, kings
and the idiot boy
with all of the luster
of a simple food
...so that I in my latter life,
the kind which leans and listens,
never would enjoy a different nude
Sam Silva has poetry in print magazines including: Samisdat, The ECU Rebel, Sow's Ear, The American Muse, St. Andrews Review, Dog River Review, Third Lung Review, and various others.
* * *
By Megan Towey
is how I get processed
out of her staticky poems
when she wakes in a tree-womb
of elastic things being digested,
a pulsating room of sparks
blown up for a meager flame
like her kinked stray hairs
backlit by the morning;
a methodical recollection,
a stirring together
of lime juice and basil seeds
into carbonated water
Megan Towey is an undergraduate at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where she is earning a double major in Written Arts and Classical Studies.
* * *
By B. A. Varghese
Sweat flies from a televangelist behind an opaque pulpit. Standing
on a pedestal-like stage, his diamond studded gold watch clangs
like coins in a passing offering plate. The key to salvation can
only be found in his book. Only $24.99 for the next
fifty callers but wait there's more; the holy oil is free
of sin and can get you closer
to Him. Words of prosperity pour out of his mouth
God wants you to be rich.
An artist sings and head-bangs, performing gospel rock
music. Fans flock and fall like flies as he shows
the way through symphonic words. Strings of the heart
pull toward each note escaping
his melodious mouth. Hosanna in the highest
record deal. Lyrics of goodness drown
in rhythmic drums beating louder.
God wants you to buy the CD.
A man pokes and judges through the blasting of his bull
horn. Words fly and crush. A place in hell is assured
for everyone. Matters of the heart are shrouded by darkness in the light
of outward appearances. Angry screams of condemnation crash
with hisses and squeaks of the megaphone.
God doesn't love you so much.
And I look up, wondering if He weeps.
His love lost in the noise.
B. A. Varghese graduated from Polytechnic University (New York) in 1993, and has been working in the Information Technology field ever since. Inspired to explore his artistic side, he is currently working toward a degree in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida. His work is forthcoming in Apalachee Review.
* * *
Poetry by Mark Vogel
Shaping the Land
Rash weeds, thorned gooseberries,
oily poison ivy cannot be killed,
and shading oaks endure
spring flooding and baking drought
while the neighborhood’s oldest man
putters at agenda stealing,
working pathetic progress toward
sustained dream, crawling
at shadowy backsliding art only he
can see. He loves more than anything
raking, pruning, planting,
creating soil layered with manure,
worms, sawdust—digging holes in clay
baking to rock on a thin
scraped quarter acre lot in a paved tame
culdesac where the spirea grows woody
and quiet, and boys rush close
on bikes weaving and gliding. Where
outside in the evening the old man,
alone, watches for the thousandth
time bats giving lessons in swoop
and dive and darting to blackness
like death behind
the streetlight’s yellow glow.
The Hallmark Engagement card
"...telling it like a bedtime story no one knows"
A sepia photograph can’t be denied
once upon Kansas City time,
a princess frozen in gentle shadowed
studio lights, airbrushed hair perfect
one caressed moment so poised, eyes seeing
nothing but virgin bride dream.
A tan almost rosy scene standing in
for ten thousand promises fixed,
manufactured, sold for forever and ever
bright—unreal rouged lips, intimate eyes,
milky white taffeta skin. Absurd this card
ten years later presented as precious evidence
in cold academic sterility as vita line
congealed in ancient flash--
a universal desire card, a textbook symbol
of need answered. But she is not myth living
the role waiting in this sorry office, seeking
reaction—a tired face, worn smile,
dulled red hair can’t hold the narrative,
though I make leaps, connect lost
threads, construct tangible glowing history,
ready to sign what is needed on the dotted line.
The faded context of disappointment (again)
is real, failure in thin air allowing possibility
to slither into its smooth hole.
I desperately want to believe
this could be legend in the flesh come home
dressed in modern clothes, today’s answer
to dream. The magic lifting above thin
dusty paper, ready to amaze. But I can’t.
It is not the same
Not often enough do thin-skinned trout
live side by side with rough carp, drum,
sturgeon, but in this aquarium with shiny chrome
and alarms, a gift shop with t-shirts and key chains,
a svelte ten pound largemouth bass pushes painted
sunfish into arranged rocks—an alligator gar
four feet long noses at bubbles. A thirty pound
catfish meditating at the bottom ignores
small boys pressing hands to the glass.
A snapping turtle born in the St. Francis River
hides beneath a synthetic log.
Under unnatural lights reflecting glass reveals
thinning hair, a paunch, fully tamed
waiting for children. I dream bright algae
summer water hallucinogenic glare
around a snaky pond—seven-year-olds
with megaphone voices throwing bait
at opaque surface, the humid shock as Jack
hooks a wide mouth monster, a slow motion
torpedo leaping two feet into violent air,
his neighbor friends jumping, a-giggle
In a cool dark aquarium water is filtered
and pellet fed fish are ranked and weighed.
Superlative charted numbers do not lie
when trophy fish used to spotlights and kids
pointing fingers, stand in for the wild. Jack’s bass
would be minor and scarred behind glass,
though off a gravel road far away in mythical
Missouri minnows dart before a blue heron
standing elegant in the shallows. In the dark
murky core beneath lily pads a king
waits on a crawdad to venture close.
No tragedy if he lives and dies never
erupting like the movie into light.
Important enough never written stories
ripple through water, breathing the
rhythm of mud—depth.
Parallel language like a river
Eager to kill mentors, grad students live
supple new skin, borrowed wit criticism,
so before the big dinosaur enters and forever
alters the air David speaks quickly for his snide
crowd: Dr. Common Language is an aimless
road out West, full of dust and rocks and tumble
weeds, going on and on. Ending nowhere.
Before laughter dies a bowling ball stolid
on cowboy boots moves with a thesis to
the board, his bolo tie fronting flannel bulk.
Then, beyond minutia the board fills with syntax,
phonology, dialectology, the Professor mimicking
my father saying bidness, tracing the beauty
of warsh and tater, knowing the brain’s ear
for backtracking playful twists, having spent
lifetimes documenting missouree and missourah,
might could--nuances of ain’t and you’uns.
He could have been a lumberman laconic
forever a-fixin, but he walks ancient marble
halls like a tamed bear aware svelte creative
writing stars wearing vests live nearby.
No microphone, no phalanx of groupies
or acoustic guitar—to the jokester his eyes
define lonely. For the record, David with his
stale degree probably still laughs from the West,
though ten years after graduation Dr. Language’s
bloated carcass was found percolating--
the newspaper hinting for substantial stark
black and white days he focused blank-eyed,
diagramming permutations of death maybe going
up, not down—into the clouds a west Texas
twang flat and tight illuminating the river rolling
and tumbling like a song. All the time the bright
amber swirl still leaks whole nother dialects
alive with effortless blues spelling coherence,
determined to say enough.
Mark Vogel has published short stories in Cities and Roads, Knight Literary Journal, Whimperbang, SN Review, as well as many other various literary journals. Currently, he is a professor of English at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.
* * *
Poetry by Diane Webster
It sounded like the yowl
of a cat preparing to pounce
into a fierce fur ball of feline
screeches, hisses, fangs and claws,
and I almost leaped to the door
in a noisy fray of human
hollering and kicking presence
to separate the fighting beasts
when in another second
the sound was only the neighbor’s
little girl bawling in the wind.
LAST TIME TODAY
The last time I mowed the lawn
is stained onto my white shoes
until I run through a rainstorm
and dive into my car
where windshield wipers
do nothing for my glasses,
and mist clings to windows inside
like sweat on my forehead
returning even after a wipe;
like when I mowed the lawn
the last time last week,
the last time this week
like getting up in the morning
the last time…today.
Sirens forced the dogs to howl
as the fire truck honked
then farther away
like neighborhood dogs
reliving the pain of someone-in-need
siren stopped in mid scream
with no smoke ascending into sky
like a pirate X on a tattered map.
All quiet, all forgotten, all usual
until Flight For Life helicopter
circles close enough
to see out the window
and rattle Sunday morning cares
to whoever needed the sirens,
the helicopter coming and going
like fog evaporating, rejoining,
back to silence before.
Thomas, the cat, pretends
he’s bark on a branch
leading up to the robins
chattering ever higher
into the ash tree
camouflaged in leaves
through which cat slinks
except his tail twitches
like a twig waving wind
or a worm after summer
cloudburst wiggling for air
but caught by the early bird;
hopeful they bounce closer
and don’t fly faster
than his lightning paw.
Diane Webster challenges herself to remain open to poetry opportunities, and to write what she sees: whether by walking across the parking lot, or watching the hawk scowl from its tree. Her work has appeared in Illya’s Honey, The Cape Rock and other literary magazines.
* * *
Poetry by Laura Wendorff
To My Daughter's Eighth-Grade Teachers
Where does the anger go when it cannot be expressed?
I thought about writing you a letter,
but really—what good would that do?
No one at this school seems to believe in apologies.
There was the time when you lost my daughter--
left her stranded after a field trip to the high school--
my sweet girl, pink-cheeked, slow at processing,
literal in language.
You expected her to follow
when you said walkers should leave
(and she’s a car rider)
and you did not count heads
as you left the high school and crossed the busy highway.
Her father and I, hearts squeezed to the size of ice cubes,
drove from here to there searching for her.
None of you said we made a mistake; we’re sorry.
Her eighth-grade graduation was just another one--
Picture my daughter before the start
of this June passage. She has on her new Easter dress
and her freshly washed curls shimmer
like the budding of new leaves.
She is standing alone
in the middle of the gym floor,
which is where you told her to go.
She does not comprehend that directions
have changed; she only notices that she is alone,
that other kids are waiting outside the gym doors
like moths dancing on a window screen at night.
You are near the podium, chattering, observing;
she is a splotch of green and pink freshness
in that cavernous space
the first timid daffodil of spring.
Not one of you strolls over
to tell her to wait outside.
Not one of you can be bothered
to address her bewilderment.
Hundreds of eyes in the bleachers
note her awkward, isolated presence
do nothing. Your school motto is
the kids come first.
Where does the anger go when it cannot be expressed?
It goes into the dark bitterness of coffee,
the soft gentleness of the coffeehouse dog,
and the low chatter of baristas working a crossword.
It goes into the high-lofted church ceiling,
its darkly stained beams of oak breathing be still,
its resonance of organ chords settling, dissipating.
It goes into sweat and into lawn mower,
into newly shorn grass neat and sharply pungent.
It goes into lemon yellow lilies and blood red bee balm,
monarchs resting on orange butterfly weed,
and purple blackberries ripening in July heat.
It goes into the permanent record,
this page imprinted on my readers’ minds,
this picture of my golden-haired girl forever standing alone with no one to help her,
you forever ignoring her and gossiping among yourselves.
And it goes out into the universe,
that dark night sky, moonless,
the stars bright points of distant light.
Considering the Dog, My Brother and Other Things
A ten-year-old shelter dog,
tall and solid, white and black,
curvy tail, like a cat’s.
They won’t have him long,
we whisper. But they did.
Many years, in suburbia,
this dog, who never
barked, growled, or
bared his teeth,
who let young ones
yank his tail, pat his nose
with hard, flat palms, and stick
bony elbows into his
who never jumped up,
stole a piece of meat,
or wagged his tail
into a lampshade,
by the time my brother
moved to a city apartment,
then a smaller city
house, leaving much
behind, but not the
who by now
carrying upstairs and down,
and sometimes out
to do his business.
The old dog,
who didn’t do much now
struggled to stand up
when you entered the room
(still a dapper old gentleman,
he surely would have
tipped his hat, had he
The dog was eighteen,
when the e-mail arrived
announcing his departure:
Today he passed on.
He was a good boy.
The e-mail thanks me
for kindnesses to this dog,
and I want to protest--
let’s not get sentimental
about the dog,
Instead, I remember
the dog’s slow amble to greet us
as we enter his house;
his wet, pink tongue
as it licks my baby’s hand;
his steady breath and still body,
recumbent on the rug;
and my brother’s large hand
resting lightly on the dog’s head.
And I wonder about clichés:
growing old gracefully,
man’s best friend,
the conquering powers of--
Let’s not get sentimental,
I think again.
Laura Wendorff, born in Wausau, Wisconsin, earned bachelor’s degrees in English and history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Her work has appeared in Verse Wisconsin Online, American Transcendental Quarterly, Faculty Development, and Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict.
* * *
Poetry by Elizabeth Yalkut
You’re all the way across an ocean
(blue like your eyes aren't, salt like the beachglass I found for you),
which makes you one-third of the world away from me
and neither measurement feels
any the smaller,
any the more breachable.
Your skin snagged on mine,
darlingest, is the appropriate distance.
I want to map the green delta
of the veins inside your wrists and elbows,
want to camp in the sunrise-flush foothills
surrounding your nipples, want
to hike the bony ridge anchoring your back, want to swim
in the salty lake of your collarbone's notch.
You are my native land,
the first place I have ever been where I have not had to learn the shapes of the coins.
Here, the embarrassing stories of my childhood are folklore,
and the word I whisper into the sharp peak of your hipbone
is the tongue of angels,
all sibilants and singing hisses, the language of the divine.
(My imaginary friends live just up the river of your smile.)
Everywhere is foreign now, everywhere
where you are not,
because I am not you, no matter how much
I wish to slip inside your skin,
find out what it feels like when I touch you with intent,
as opposed to just finding your skin momentarily under my fingertips.
The difference is as minute
as the distance between your mouth and mine the instant between kisses
and as important; there are many things
that, I suppose, are objectively more important, more valuable to human existence,
but I am not a journalist.
I am free to use simile, synecdoche, metonymy, metaphor, alliteration,
aposiopesis, to describe you; but I don't think I'll bother. The bayou of your bones,
shoulderbladed mesas, are what I want. I know the landscape I'm stumbling toward.
Giving directions would be pointless – no one else can read
the map etched on the whorls of my fingertips,
and no one else has a passport to the country
of your heart. I'll ask only
for a ride to the coast, "drop me off at the exit,"
head east into the sunrise,
singing nonsense under my breath, watching the road ahead of me
flood in crimson and rose,
and I will turn up on your doorstep one day,
your borders opening as I fall into your arms,
jump off the mountain and tumble into your valley.
Soon as I can, dearling, soon.
I built her skeleton in my imaginarium.
A fantastical arrangement of muscle and tendon,
her body was a quantum thing.
I arranged her veins,
chose the color of her eyes to match
the branches of the tree outside my window.
I used to believe there was nothing under her skin but wings.
If you cut her, she would fly.
I have been trying to write
for my grandfather.
This goes against all I have been taught:
my mother, his daughter,
is a teacher of English.
I have grown up
among the slippery definitions
An elegy is a lament
for the dead;
specifically for the beloved dead.
He was a man of many talents:
he was an artist of no little skill, he was a good dancer.
(jesus he was a handsome man)
He is perched in his wheelchair
on the other side of the dining-room table,
but he's as gone as if he'd been tucked in his coffin these ten years past.
He isn't in that waiting coffin. He isn't here.
Whoever I am not writing about is
There is no one in that wheelchair,
carbon and oxygen molecules, iron blood, organic chemistry working,
or not working.
How am I supposed to write
when all I want to say is --
you'd died long ago,
back when we'd have grieved.
I can't mourn him now;
when he finally gives up the ghost
and becomes one himself, I'll be relieved.
No more worry that I'll have to watch him
be erased from the world
like one of his paintings doused in turpentine.
I'll finally be able to paint the doorjambs in the apartment
that his wheelchair has scratched and dented;
until he goes, I can't fix anything here.
We're waiting for him to die.
We don't say it,
we aren't so heartless.
I wonder, though, which would be crueler:
the heart attack, the fall down a flight of concrete stairs,
and the living, pulsing regret at the things left unsaid, undone.
Or the long, drawn-out, wish
for release, like the last exhaled breath, for ourselves
as much as him.
We're all trapped with him in that wheelchair,
strapped in, and we can't get out of it now,
can't escape it.
We've all become my grandfather,
subject to his increasingly-frail body,
attuned to his pain and frustrated by his inability to speak:
to say goodbye. Mozart wrote his own funeral requiem;
but I'm not Mozart, and I can't write
an elegy for myself.
Elizabeth Yalkut is a writer in New York City, who attended Emma Willard School and Barnard College, Columbia University.
* * *
Artwork by Anders Johnson
Anders Johnson, a Minnesota native, currently teaches painting and drawing at Vincennes University in Southern Indiana. He paints both on location and in the studio, usually on the same piece, creating hybrid plein air works that explore improbable colors and fantastical spaces. An art graduate from North Park University, Chicago, he holds an MFA from Indiana University and has appeared in recent group shows in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Seattle.
Born of Fire, Ice Mill, Phantom Tower
By Richard Ong
Richard Ong's painted artwork, stories, poetry and photos have appeared in several issues of bewildering stories , Yesterdays Magazette and The Blotter Magazine. One of these stories has been republished in print as part of an anthology titled Toys Remembered (compiled and edited by Madonna Dries Christensen).
Annunaki, Nineties Dream, God and Lucifer, Llama Guy and Ohio
By Caitlin Rose
Caitlin Rose is an artist living out Lodi, California. She primarily paints with acrylic paint on canvas, and enjoys painting the creatures or her mind, the beasts she's become, the gargoyles in the mirror. She is influenced by Outsider Art, Caravaggio, Basquiat, wine, and music.
Hello Baby Doll
By Catori Sarmiento
Catori Sarmiento has contributed fiction to Nothing. No One. Nowhere, The Citron Review, Brick Rhetoric, and Crossed Out Magazine. She has also contributed non-fiction to Her Kind and This Boundless World, with several academic essays published by Student Pulse. She is an English and Writing Professor at Central Texas College, Pacific Far East Campus in Tokyo, Japan.
Photography by Laura Winton
Laura Winton is a poet, writer, and performance artist living in Minneapolis. She has had her work published in little magazines throughout the country and around the world. She is the editor and publisher of the on-again off-again literary magazine Karawane. This is her first foray into having her artwork or photos published anywhere except Karawane.