Foliate Oak May 2012
Superhero at 70
By Jon Davis
He was rocking on the porch when he felt it—like a fluttering of wings in the darkness. Trouble. Something momentous was about to happen. He wheeled himself indoors and, one eye on the attendant paging through a People magazine in the break room, pulled off his food-stained nightshirt to reveal the secret “S.” Then he stood shakily and slipped into the restroom, opened the window, and bounded out into the cool morning air.
His flight was not the sleek, confident flight of his youth. He dipped low over the garden, strafing the tulips, then veered and rolled and straightened himself, only to veer off again. Someone watching from below would be forgiven for thinking a giant half-mad pigeon was aloft. But soon he was hovering over the village, seeing the event unfold beneath him: A three year old boy had wandered out of the hardware store into the street. An elderly woman was blithely driving her new Prius, listening to NPR, intent on the in-studio guest’s piano jazz, her light touch as she reworked an old standard. The collision was immanent.
The superhero dropped from the sky, swung his legs beneath him and landed just behind the Prius. He staggered a moment, then rushed five quick steps and grabbed the rear bumper. In the old days he’d have stood in front of the car, man of steel that he was, and simply stopped and held the car while the rear wheels spun and smoked. Or he’d have tipped it up, slipped underneath and flown off with it. Sometimes, he’d have chosen to snap the child up without even landing. But his skills had eroded, and after numerous failures—being pushed down a street by a school bus while his feet heated up until they actually began smoking, snatching a woman out of a burning building only to discover he couldn’t fly with her weight and having to make an awkward landing among the firemen and bystanders, rescuing a cat from a tree, then not being quick enough to protect the rescued cat from a pack of feral dogs—he’d learned to take a more cautious approach.
The superhero dug his heels in. The car continued on. He could feel the bystanders’ eyes on him, his soles warming from the friction. He leaned back and pulled hard, but the car continued on its way.
These days, the superhero’s thoughts often turned to god and fate, to right and wrong. More and more he regretted some of his actions—the thwarted “terrorists” who he later learned had been protesting the Viet Nam war; the gang of “socialists” he’d wrapped in rope and delivered to the authorities; the knife-wielding woman who wanted to kill her rapist; the weeping homeless man who’d spun helplessly on the plaza threatening the “gooks” with a toy machine gun. It all seemed clear when he was younger. Now, when he rocked on the porch at the home, he was plagued by second thoughts.
And the three year old? The superhero tried to comprehend. Maybe the child was a new Hitler who would destroy millions of lives, maybe he was a new Martin Luther King whose martyrdom was inevitable, maybe his death would spur the Prius driver to some extraordinary act of kindness in the future. As his fingers weakened and he let go, as he watched the car hurtle toward the child, as he saw himself, an old man standing helplessly in the middle of Main Street, he tried to see this moment, this failure, as perfect, fated, ordained, holy.
He heard the squeal through his good ear, saw the anguished citizens rush out of the hardware store through a cataract haze. He hopped once and launched himself into the air. It was certainly a pleasant morning for a flight, he thought. Already, the event was a memory and the memory was softening at its edges like a stained parchment.
Jon Davis is the author of stories, screenplays, and poems. The most recent of his six collections of poetry is Preliminary Report (Copper Canyon Press, 2010). His previous book, Scrimmage of Appetite, was honored with a Lannan Literary Award. In addition to the Lannan Award, he has received two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and the Lavan Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He has taught in the Institute of American Indian Arts’ Creative Writing Program since 1990.
A tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure.
* * *
By Robert Davis
My name is Chip. It’s not a nickname. Says so on my birth certificate. When I arrived some thirty years ago, my father must have announced to my mother, “A chip off the old block.” How could he know a three-minute-old baby was a replica of him set to follow in his footsteps?
Growing up I tried not to trail in his wake. He had the reputation of a blowhard, thought he was hot stuff. Most people felt the opposite. I was inclined to go with the majority, though felt sorry for him and, of course, loved him in my own way. Mom used to say, “Your father may be a loser, and some say a prize S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.”
He was a plumber and not a very good one. I can’t remember the names of all the
plumbing firms he worked for. It was like “Plumbing Company of the Month.” Dad just
couldn’t hold a job. It seemed he always worked for an asshole.
When he went on his own, things turned worse. He’d stare at his cell phone, waiting for a customer to call. When the phone rang, it was usually a bill collector or a complaint about a job he’d done.
He wanted me to be a plumber but I steered away. Miles away. I was even less handy than he was. Anything mechanical made me realize I had more than one left hand, too many thumbs.
I wanted to go to college. Hopefully get a football scholarship. “You’re too small to play college ball,” he told me. “But, Dad, I’m fast, ran for almost 200 yards in one of the games last season for Central High, almost made all-county.” Guess I inherited some of his braggadocio.
Did I go to college? Went to a small state school that didn’t even have a team, hocked myself with student loans I’m still paying and graduated six years later with a major in economics. I never became an economist or anything like that, but instead have a good job as a carpenter. Well, pretty good – actually pretty bad. My boss is an asshole, ditto the one before him, and the one before him. My luck going out on my own was a giant flop.
I’m married now. Guess what I named my first child?
She hates the name.
Several of Robert Davis’s short stories have been published in the small press or literary journals including: Rosebud, The Griffin, Armchair Aesthete, Boston Literary Magazine, Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette, NEWN, Peeks and Valleys, Lines In The Sand, Post Road Review and received My Legacy’s Editor’s Choice Award.. He has attended writing workshops at N.Y.U. and New School University and is active in two fiction workshops in Florida. He was previously associated with writing groups in Connecticut. His business career was in television research and sales presentations with Universal Studios and CBS-TV.
* * *
Pink Rubber Slivers
By C.S. Dewildt
Bruce Collins walked the eight blocks home from the bus stop to find his son Michael dancing on top of the car again.
“Michael,” Bruce said. Michael’s shoes squeaked on the dented hood of the station wagon as he did a series of heel turns. Bruce watched for a moment, mesmerized, not by the moves, but by the familiarity of the scene. He had come home to this so often it seemed as if he was seeing it now for the first time, as if his old eyes had just now gained some kind of ability to see a hidden underlying form. The problem was, despite the novelty of the observation, he still didn’t know what he was looking at. New eyes or no, Bruce’s old brain was the same and the insight was fleeting. He turned and saw the old couple, the Jonses', across the street, sitting on their porch swing, rocking back and forth, watching, but not. It was a common sight to everyone on the street, Michael atop the car. Occasionally, the passing traffic would slow to take in the random scene, this teenage boy dancing on the car to whatever music was pumping from the garage sale Sony Walkman clipped to his hip, up through the oversized headphones affixed to his hot ears. Bruce sighed. He was no longer embarrassed. He was done with that. He left Michael to his dancing and gave a half-hearted wave to the neighbors. To the Joneses it looked less like a wave and more like he was shooing a bug.
Judy was making dinner, warming up a bowl of creamed corn in the microwave while the water, milk, and butter for the potato flakes was starting to boil over. The radio was loud, too loud. Bruce was convinced that these shrill, talk radio jokers operated at some secret frequency that made their words impossible to ignore. He thought maybe he should get some headphones like Michael.
“Hi,” he said as he kicked off his loafers and dropped his briefcase. Judy didn’t hear him.
“If that’s what your mother said,” The radio therapist shrieked, “write her off!”
“Damn straight,” Judy said, adding the flakes to the boiling pot.
“How was your day?” Bruce asked.
“But she’s my mother,” the radio caller said.
“Look, why did you call my show? You wanted my opinion and there you have it. People will try to tear you down and if you don’t fight back, they’re going to succeed. Understand? I haven’t talked to my own mother in over fifteen years! I know what I’m talking about. Don’t be a moron!”
“Thanks Dr. Janice.” The caller said. Dr. Janice announced a station break, but before Bruce could register any relief she was back on the airwaves hawking gold investments. Bruce held his breath and looked out the window. There was Michael, still at it, spinning, turning, and jumping new dents into the hood of the wagon. Bruce could complain, but why? The car had been broken down in the driveway for almost a year. Who knew what was wrong with it? It was easier to just take the bus.
Little Judy, LJ they called her, was at the table, her nose in a math book. The kid was six years old, a kindergartener and she was already doing math homework. Damn, was that pre-algebra? Bruce remembered when he was in kindergarten. His report card was nothing but a list of skills each kid needed to progress in to pass into the upper grades, things like zipping a jacket, tying shoes, hopping on one foot, sharing. He was pretty sure he didn’t have math in kindergarten, let alone homework.
“LJ,” he said. “How was school?”
“It was a vacation day,” she said. “Oh, hi Daddy. Shoot!” LJ took to the paper with a violent fervor, pink rubber slivers of eraser accenting her mistake before she blew them all away.
Bruce grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and sat down on the couch in the dark. He thought about turning on the TV, looked around for the remote, but it was sitting neatly atop the cable box. He sat in the dark and drank his beer.
Dinner was the sound of the radio punctuated with fork tongs scraping the plates and Michael’s footsteps outside. “What the hell keeps him going?” Bruce wondered.
“It’s my belief,” said Dr. Janice, “that adopted children have no souls.”
Bruce looked up from his plate, looked to LJ and then Judy for a reaction. “Is she serious?” he said. “How can she say that? That’s horrible.”
Judy looked up from her spuds as if he was some swamp creature dropped by unannounced.
“We don’t know,” Judy said. “She could very well be right.”
“Judith,” Bruce said. “I was adopted.”
Judy shrugged and mixed in a little creamed corn with a forkful of potatoes. “It’s just her opinion, Bruce. Everyone’s got a right to their opinion.” She stood and went to the radio, turned it up louder and sat again. LJ was asleep on her math book, her untouched dinner still lightly steaming next to her head, a thin lock of blonde hair in the corn.
“They work her too hard at that school. It’s not even seven and look at her.”
“What?” Judy asked.
“It’s my opinion,” the therapist screamed. “If you don’t like it, don’t call and ask for it!”
“Nothing,” Bruce said. He got up and stroked his daughter’s head as he passed, got a streak of creamed corn on his hand for his trouble. He wiped the hand on his khakis and went outside, shutting Dr. Janice inside the house and moving away from the door until she was just barely audible.
“Michael,” he said. “Michael, come eat dinner.” Michael continued to dance, spinning, shoes squeaking, the hood of the wagon taking a beating. Bruce stepped to the front of the vehicle, his knees feeling the cool bumper. “Michael!” But his presence didn’t register. He reached up toward his son, for the headphone connection on top of the Walkman. This act Michael seemed to sense and the boy danced away from his father’s hand and threw a couple of half hearted kicks at the open palm. The kicks fit perfectly into the silent rhythm, the weight shifting to the boy’s planted leg and thumping out the metallic beat. Across the street the Joneses were still on their porch swing, golden in years, and golden under the porch light. Bruce could see the moths attacking the light with stochastic love and confusion. Bruce waved to the couple, but the Joneses just sat swinging back and forth together, unable to see their neighbor through the dark.
Inside, the kitchen was empty. The dishes were cleared, the math book lay open, homework finished and spotted with tiny dried flecks of creamed corn.
“Until tomorrow, I’m Dr. Janice. And that’s my opinion.” The theme music faded up- a seventies tune he’d once loved- and Bruce twisted the volume dial down until the he heard the merciful click of the dial hitting the off position. He stood still in the kitchen, taking in the muffled denting, the light snoring of LJ in her room, the running water of Judy’s evening bath. He grabbed another beer from the refrigerator and half sat in front of the TV before remembering the remote and grabbing it. He turned on the news and drank his beer. The light of the TV flickered blue with every new shot, lighting up the dark room like a broken strobe light at a party for one.
Bruce woke up when the TV went black. He startled from a POV dream where he was riding a bicycle down a hill he’d never seen, but knew well. Faster and faster he’d gone, unable to stop, but equally unable to desire stasis, and then he was falling, pissing himself, and crashing awake into his life, warm beer soaking his lap. Michael stood behind him with the remote.
“Hey Pop. You fell asleep. Long day?”
“It was alright,” Bruce said. “How was school?”
“Was a holiday,” Michael said. “For us anyway, teachers had to go in. Oh, the Joneses told me our porch light burned out.”
“Oh, thanks Joneses.”
“Right. They’re kind of funny, huh? Always on that swing.”
“I suppose we’re all a bit funny.”
Michael seemed to think about that for a bit. “I’m going to bed, Pop. Goodnight.”
“Do your homework?”
“Oh yeah, math, it’s done,” he said.
“Good night, Son.”
Bruce got a light bulb from the utility room and went outside. He unscrewed the old bulb and shook it, listening to broken filament bounce against the glass. He screwed in the new bulb and the light glowed yellow, soft. Bruce looked across the street. The Joneses had gone inside and everything was quiet on the street. He put the old bulb in his pocket.
Bruce stood on the Joneses’ porch, looking at his own house, at the broken down car in the drive, at the moths swirling around his own porch light. The Joneses house was completely dark inside. They were no doubt asleep. Bruce wondered what he would do when he was retired, when his kids were grown and gone like Sam and Gladys Joneses’ were. Bruce sat down on their swing, rocked back and forth lightly, listened to the rattle of the chain and the dry metal on metal squeak of the hook and eye loop above.
Bruce stopped at the station wagon, ran his hand over the dented hood. Maybe he should get it fixed. He’d now spent more on bus fair than it would have cost to fix the car, probably, he didn’t know. He was going to go in when he saw the Walkman on the hood of the car. He picked it up and put the headphones on. He pushed play and the world went silent. Bruce climbed on the car, closed his eyes and dance. He spun like his son had, felt the give of the hood under his feet. He danced and danced until he was sweat glazed in the muggy night. No one saw him, but he didn’t care if they did. He continued to move and sweat, taken away by his own movement.
Bruce was completely lost when his foot caught a collection of his perspiration and he slipped, stumbled back, catching himself on the edge of the hood, flapping his arms, willing himself forward, but falling back. He didn’t panic. He smiled with the knowledge that he was on the cusp of something bigger than any place fear dared live.
CS Dewildt lives in Arizona. His fiction has appeared in Word Riot, Bartleby Snopes, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, Dogzplot, Short, Fast, and Deadly, and elsewhere. He has a novella out with Vagabondage Press titled Candy and Cigarettes.
* * *
*Archive currently unavailable
By Mindy Harris
He was a simple man, my grandpa. He liked to wear his leather Cleveland Indians baseball cap. He enjoyed watching the movie Shrek because he said the donkey made him laugh. He always held my grandmother’s hand, even when he was in public because he always wanted to be near her. He believed that if necessary, a person should cheat to win because there was no excuse for losing. He would always have a second piece of chocolate pie because as he maintained; chocolate was his favorite.
Above all of these things, my grandpa was a florist. He would sit for hours creating “masterpieces”. He could be seen scurrying about town delivering flowers to the elderly, disabled, the grieving, the elated, and those celebrating special occasions. Grandpa would drive a big conversion van about our small town and even though it boasted no sign for the flower delivery service, everyone knew what he was up to. He spent a lot of time delivering flowers to school teachers and to my mother in particular. Students would watch Grandpa carrying special bouquets to the building and would become excited just by the sight of the “flower man”.
Grandpa had a special way with people. He had been a baseball coach in his younger years and through his involvement with the little leagues, touched the lives of many individuals. He bought lottery tickets on a daily basis. Win or lose, he continued to patronize the Ohio Lottery. He would call everyone, “kid” and he would welcome any saint or sinner into his home on any occasion. Grandpa was also always the final test for any boyfriend to pass. In one brisk, tight hand shake Grandpa would determine whether or not the granddaughter’s could date a particular gentleman.
Over a year after the passing of Grandpa, I stopped by the greenhouse to visit my grandmother. I only had a few minutes to spare, but wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to stop in for a visit. As always, Grandma was bustling about the flower shop making bouquets, cutting fresh flowers, tying blossoming bows, and answering phone calls. When I walked in the door, she visibly breathed a sigh of relief. She needed me to take a delivery to Fitchville for her. Since Grandpa’s passing Grandma had not hired extra help and was forced to rely on family members to make all of her deliveries for her.
Initially I had balked at the idea. Grandma had never asked me to do the deliveries before. Taking one glimpse at her face, I realized that I need not argue. She really needed me to do this. I gathered the gorgeous vase that was filled with roses and clamored into my car.
As I drove to Fitchville, I thought about the inconvenience this all was. I made a mental note to remind my mother to tell Grandma to hire more help. I resented being asked to run an errand when I was busy and now I would not even have time to visit with Grandma. As I pulled up to the delivery destination, I could not have been in anymore of an unpleasant and selfish mood.
The second I walked into the diner, my whole mood changed. At my entrance, the entire restaurant- patrons and employees- stopped to gawk. Their eyes were transfixed on the flower arrangement. I imagine that all of them were secretly wishing someone had sent them such a massive bouquet. I slid the arrangement quickly onto the counter and asked for a waitress named Cindy.
The forty-something year old woman came shyly forward. She had her blonde hair tied up into a loose, puffy pony tail. She had begun to blush. She looked at me with wide eyes. “Who are they from?” she asked with a hint of glee in her tone.
I smiled, “I’m not sure. Read the card.” She pulled the card from the bundle and scanned over the contents quickly. She pressed the envelope to her chest and smiled into the air. She bent over and delicately touched a rose petal, inhaling the intoxicating aroma as she tipped her head deeper into the bouquet. She looked back up at me.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” she took another deep breath of the fragrant smell.
“You are so very welcome,” I said beaming. I then began to skip out of the restaurant. For that one brief moment in time I finally understood how my Grandpa lived his life. He had been surrounded by a wonderful family, terrific friends, and flowers. But, he had experienced so much more. His entire life had been devoted to this flower shop. His entire life had been filled with moments like the one I had just experienced. He knew what it was like to see a woman beam radiantly when presented with flowers from someone she loved.
I smiled broadly as I climbed back into my car. I silently thanked Grandpa for the opportunity to see someone else smile in that way. I drove away from the Fitchville restaurant that day remembering Grandpa and thinking I had just been given the gift of seeing him again.
Mindy Harris is an avid reader and a budding novelist. Harris is known for writing romance and non-fiction short pieces. She has contributed short stories and poetry to Heidelberg College’s Morpheus Literary Magazine and their annual publication: Laughing through the Tears. Harris’ other writing credits include working for the New London Record and the Heidelberg College Kilikilik newspaper staffs. Most recently, Harris has shared her love of writing with youth, serving as the adviser for the Ravenna High School student newspaper, The Ravenna High Times. Mindy Harris is a lifelong learner. She attained a bachelor’s degree from Heidelberg College in 2004 and a master’s degree from Bowling Green State University in 2008. She currently lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.
* * *
Even The Losers
By Peter Helf
He didn’t go to the bar planning to have sex with anyone. Just get out of the house, away from his mom. Have a few beers. Listen to whatever the jukebox puked out. But here he was, behind The Rusty Knuckle, just off Highway 9, banging some girl half his age, at best. Screwing in a car like he did years ago with some girl from school. What was her name? Carrie? Christine?
He thinks back. That girl and him had been teamed up in Chem 101 lab, way back in their sophomore year, two decades ago. He should’ve taken Geology, like everyone else on athletic scholarship. “Rocks for Jocks.” Easy A. Keep up the GPA so you don’t lose your ticket to the Big Time. But he slept in the morning of registration. Hung over from too many shots of tequila chased with tequila. Carlo, his roommate, woke him up at noon. He got dressed while he ran across campus. Stumbled into the gym for registration. Everyone laughed. Someone at the party drew a dick on his face. It dangled from his forehead, down his fat nose, pointed at his mouth. “Enter here” scribbled on his cheeks, with arrows. Bright red arrows aimed at his dehydrated lips. He didn’t care. He would’ve drawn the same thing on a fellow football player passed out on the pleather couch.
All sections of Geology were closed by the time he got there. Even the Saturday morning class. He signed up for the first course his blurred vision could decipher. Chemistry. He met her there. What was her name? Karen? Katie? She was new to the university. Transferred from North Carolina. Her father just died. She and her mom moved to town, back home, her mom’s home, and she enrolled in his school. She was going to be a doctor. She wanted to find a cure for whatever killed her dad. And now, here in the neon glow of the Rusty Knuckle, while the girl from the bar who said he looked cool rides him, he thinks about the girl from his college chemistry class. And he can’t remember her name.
Twenty years ago, they went for a drive one night after studying. They parked. It was dark. It was quiet. Cathy? Cynthia? was nervous. She was a virgin, she said. I’m not, he assured her, fumbling with her bra. They both knew he was lying, but they played along with the lie, gave into the lie, until she was comfortable, willing. He undressed her. Kissed her breasts, stomach, thighs. Her fingers felt along his back, his waist. She found his belt. Undid it. She felt his dick. It was bigger than she thought it would be, she said, but he knew it wasn’t anything to brag about. He’d seen the other guys in the locker room, the shower. It was just right, he believed. Just right for a virgin, he figured. Just right for screwing in a car. He climbed on top of her, thrust himself inside. She moaned, cried. There was a knock on the window. A flashlight shone inside, exposed them. Naked. Young. Awkward.
They had accidentally parked near the prison. They were told to dress, to open the trunk. Checking for possible escapees, they were told. The guard leered at her. Then they were told to go fool around somewhere else, to go home. They drove back into town. He dropped Kristy? Candy? off at her place. Her mother was staring out the window. He went home, jerked off to Barbi Benton and passed out. Went to class that Monday not knowing what to say. It didn’t matter. She never came back to Chem 101. He saw her a couple of times on campus. He would smile, wave. She wouldn’t even look him. He even drove by her house sometimes. He eventually failed the course. Lost his scholarship. Moved back home with his mother. He shoved the girl from his memory and into his past. There was nothing to make him think of her since. Until now.
The girl from the bar and him finish. She climbs off him. That was great, she says. Just right. She smiles, draws up her black panties. I have something for you, she says. She opens the car door and runs the length of the lot toward a blue Mazda, pulling her skirt down with the first few steps. He zips his fly. Lights a Marlboro. Starts up his car.
She heads back, almost skipping. She’s so young, he thinks. Maybe too young to even be in a bar. He takes a long drag of his cigarette. Exhales as she leans in the window. Perfect tits. That’s what first caught his eye. And her smile. Straight, bright teeth cutting through the muted light. She had bought him a beer, laughed at his jokes. Asked him to go outside to smoke a joint. They did. She kissed him. Hard. That’s all it took.
She hands him a CD. I made this mix for me, she says, but I want you to have it. He takes it. Smiles. Will I see you here again? she asks. He shrugs. I hope so, she says, and kisses him. He puts the car in reverse. What’s your name? she asks. He drives away.
He listens to the music on his way home. Some songs he’s never heard before, some he knows. He likes most of it. She has good taste.
He turns the beat-up car toward his house. Tom Petty comes on. He pulls into the driveway and sits in the driver’s seat, engine running, hitting the repeat button on the CD player again, then again, smoking cigarettes until the sun comes up, trying to remember a name swept away by two decades.
Peter Helff is a fiction writer and produced playwright who also teaches writing at several colleges in New Jersey. He is currently working on a novel and lives with his three cats, Arnold, Reggie, and Brian.
* * *
Stories by Deborah George
Rita Katherine Visits Boise
The rain that day had come in shaggy bursts, unlike the steadfast downpours she was accustomed to in New Orleans. This time twenty-year-old Rita Katherine had landed in Boise, where she now plaited her hair in a French braid, wore Henleys, jeans, and cowboy boots. In Boise, the people were friendly enough, had taken her in without too many questions, as if she were some fallen angel, some winged creature who’d slipped from the tip of a crescent moon, ablaze with doubt, full of questions like an interminable foreigner in sacred territory. What brought her here, they’d asked in a way that lent itself more toward politeness than genuine interest, figuring she was just passing through.
They listened carefully when she told them she had heard rumor of a woman in the area who’d built a labyrinth based on a dream she’d had where the Virgin Mary appeared and had dictated precise instructions on the pattern for the maze. Accustomed to frequent travelers with this same request, the locals had asked her if she was from California, and when she’d told them hell no, they seemed to warm up to her a bit. That was ten days ago. In Red’s Café. But as of this minute, no one had yet to disclose the whereabouts of the labyrinth to her.
She let them know that she’d grown up in New Orleans, Louisiana, two blocks from the house that touted an historical marker for the John Kennedy Toole home. She was impressed that they knew who he was and was about to inquire for directions to the labyrinth when they started up with questions about Hurricane Katrina. She considered spinning one of a hundred gruesome stories she’d heard, either directly from the mouths of her friends who had endured the storm or secondhand tales from documentaries, interviews on television, and in magazines.
Rita Katherine toyed with the idea of telling them she’d had to sleep on her roof with her dog, Charlie, who’d leapt into the swirling water when a cat tumbled by—a dog is a dog when he sees a cat, she’d tell them, and then she could make up something about reuniting with Charlie fifty-five days later when she sat on the porch sipping a beer with neighbors in the pitch dark of night with no electricity.
She could tell them that. Or make up something else altogether and nobody’d be the wiser, but instead, she took a deep breath, told them she wasn’t even in New Orleans when the storm had hit, that she was in Colombo, as in Sri Lanka, ascending Sri Pada, their holy hill of a mountain, and that she lived in the Garden District near Audubon Park in New Orleans, which was on high ground, safe from the fractured levees, and she considered herself lucky. Or rich, they’d replied.
Then she apologized. For what she didn’t know. Maybe from the unrelenting shame of having it all. It was just where she’d been born, and there was no escaping it, she’d told them. Rita Katherine sighed, and knew from the looks on their faces that she’d overstayed her limit; but as she slid her chair back to get up and leave, they noticed how delicate and earnest she seemed and gave her directions to the labyrinth, and for the first time in over a year, she felt as if her life had some purpose. What that purpose might be fled her imagination, but at least on that particular day, Rita Katherine knew where she was going, and maybe that was enough to get her through another day.
Nothing of much significance ever seemed to happen in the life of Beryl Maguire, a solid, stable man with a white-collar job at the local bank, where he was an officer and held final approval over loans for the farmers on the outskirts of Independence and their hardworking families whose kids collected eggs for breakfast before breakfast, then walked a mile to catch the bus for school. Beryl had seen to it that a covered area was built for those farm kids to wait under on rainy days. Snow fell on Independence about once every seven years, which was cause to close the schools and certain roads. Almost everything shut down, even the churches. People from up north couldn’t get over it. Shutting down the town because of a little snow? Unheard of to them. And one more reason for them to think people living below a certain line were ignorant. Didn’t really matter to the people of Independence though.
Beryl went to Yale on a full scholarship. His wife had graduated magna cum laude from Hollins College over in Virginia. They had one daughter, Rita Katherine, who was nine and named after her grandmothers on both sides, and both of whom had a known propensity for feistiness. Maybe this had marked his girl, who was, perhaps, the most inquisitive child he’d ever come across. What is the point of having separate libraries, she’d asked him one day when she was only six or seven years old, for white and colored? It just makes more sense to combine all the books in one set place; then there’s more for everybody, she’d told him. Beryl would tell her that it was a complicated matter. Why, it is not! she’d snapped back at him, stomping her right foot with her hand cocked on her hip, her elbow crooked out. It’s not at all complicated, Daddy, and you know it, she’d answered him prissily. He’d told her that there were things she didn’t understand about the nature of people, that change was slow but would just take some time and the deliberate effort of people who were willing to perceive the right of things through their hearts. He pointed at a huddle of trees over in the field across the street from their house and asked her if she thought they looked strong, and she’d answered him with a yes sir in the way she’d been taught and then he asked her if she knew why they looked strong.
“Of course I do!” She laughed as she twirled around and skipped off, happy enough, jumping puddles left by the mid-morning shower, Zen yapping after her. He tried to smile at the sight of his girl safe in the world he and her mother and grandmothers were building for her, but it broke his heart to think of the day it wouldn’t occur to her to skip over mud puddles after a good rain, and it would be here all too soon.
A novelist, screenplay writer, and poet, Deborah George coauthored Ignatius Rising: The Life Of John Kennedy Toole, as well as its screenplay adaptation. She is also sole writer of Into The River, a screenplay based on the life of Navajo visionary artist, David Chethlahe Paladin. By invitation, she has read my work at cultural art centers in Paris, France, in participation with Cecelia Woloch’s Paris Poetry Workshops. A member of poet Cathy Colman’s writers group, she was a finalist in the Beyond Baroque Poetry Contest, fall 2010. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, David Streit.
When It's Gone
By Danica Green
I've lived in London all my life and never given a second thought to anything that's in it. I constantly see on old American tv shows people lamenting that they've always lived in New York but the tourist attractions, those grand old buildings that create the foundation of the city, go unnoticed in their day to day lives. It's the same with me. I pass Big Ben every morning on the way to work and occasionally I'll look out the window of the taxi to check the time on its ancient face but at the end of the day, it's just a tower, and London Bridge is just a bridge and Buckingham Palace is just where dear old Lizzy the Second lives.
When I was eleven years old I went on a school trip to America and we took a day in New York to see the sights. I remember standing open mouthed at the Statue of Liberty and hungrily partaking of American culture, pretzel carts and hamburgers the size of my face. We went to the World Trade Centre and climbed to the top, and the view I saw was half as impressive to me as the feeling of awe I got when standing in the square, looking up the buildings whose tops were lost to me. Each adoring look at the excitable little girl, or muted mutter of the word “tourists” under someone's breath made me wonder how they could be so unmoved by the splendour in which I had found myself.
When the towers came down, people really started to notice them. The tragedy for them was understandable, but to me, so far removed from it all back in London, the tragedy was that the whole of New York had only paid attention to those beautiful towers once they were gone. Since the tragedy people have recovered well, but I would bet on my life that not a single one of them has looked at the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building with a different eye, or gone to see them just to appreciate them while they're there.
Tomorrow afternoon on my way home from work, I'm going to get out of the taxi and go to see Big Ben, climb to the top and see that building the way a million tourists have seen it before me. I will.
Danica Green is a UK-based writer with work appearing in over fifty anthologies and literary journals. In other news, it just stopped raining. Oh wait...no, it's raining again.
* * *
Lily and the Constant Oak Trees
By Paul Karaffa
The breeze drifted through the trees, over the grass, until it reached the hairs of Lilly’s skin. It felt good against the warm sun. It’s what made a perfect day in rural Virginia. Trees swayed gently in the breeze like they were breathing in deep, and exhaling slowly, enjoying the beautiful summer afternoon as much as Lilly. The green leaves sat against a crystal-blue sky, with a few thin clouds lazily moving across to the east. Flecks of light danced off leaves and gravel covering their long driveway.
Lilly sat on the brick steps of her porch, letting her eyes rest on the flora spreading its arms across the edge the property that led to the riparian bordering their pond. Two massive oak trees obstructed her water view slightly. They were ancient; but Lilly saw them as a constant. They were here before her, and they would be around long after she was gone. They had seen families come and go, had felt the hands of young children climb them to the top twisting their branches and rattling their leaves. They had felt the claws of frightened cats scale them frantically to avoid danger; had held entire worlds of bees, wasps, and ants; had been homes and safe havens for squirrels, birds, and insects. Like all things, they would fall. But for Lilly, they were constant.
Baron, her family’s Australian Shepherd, came out from behind the farthest oak tree. He had brown fur mixed at the paws with some hints of white. But it was hard to tell. Baron liked rolling in the mud around the pond, occasionally rolling into a blackberry bush and coming back dark purple. He also enjoyed running at random noises, hunting down foreign animals, and chasing stray cats up trees—some of which ended up in those same two oak trees.
Lilly forced a smile and put her hand out as the dog approached. Baron licked her fingered and nuzzled her palm. He walked up the brick steps of their porch and sat down next to her. He began licking himself, cleaning off the dirt, the dead leaves, the uprooted grass and, thankfully, the stench that made him a stinky dog. Lilly was glad to have his company while she waited, but she was also thankful he kept clear of her new sundress.
Lilly had spent hours looking for the dress. If felt strange against her skin. She was used to jeans, a fitted t-shirt, and a pair of stylish boots. But deep down she wondered if this dress could bring back the stability she enjoyed. She wanted things constant again. Lilly looked at the dress flowing down to her knees. It was orange, red, with shades of blue scattered like paint droplets. How could this dress change her world? She wasn’t sure. But it felt good to have faith in something, hope in something—even if she couldn’t see that hope, or have it hold her close like her father had done the past few nights—those nights that she couldn’t sleep, where she felt the tears brimming on her eyelids, and then gushing, streaking her face with warm, salty tears that made her face glisten under the luminescent moon. He would hold her, and stroke her hair, and tell her it would be all right. Lilly’s mother stayed in her room, tucked under her blankets, letting the cries and wails pass through her. She didn’t know what to say; and even if she did know what to say, she surely wouldn’t have known how to say it. Below Lilly’s skin was a girl with hopes and dreams and constants. How do you tell that girl that sometimes you can’t flee the pain, that sometimes love must be cast aside for something greater. Lilly’s mother didn’t know what to say, and her father did little more than hold her. But he held her tight. Within his arms, she could hear her father’s heartbeat. It was constant. Though he didn’t understand it, he had shared her burden temporarily.
Lilly ran her fingers over the fabric of her dress. Sunlight refracted off the diamond on her finger and caught her eyes. She raised it up and studied it. She caught a glimpse of white, yellow, and a dash of blue reflecting from the sky all in a single moment. It was all in that rock, captured deep within the impenetrable layers of stone. But she could see it. It was hard, and tough, but she could see right through it. Lilly sighed, and wished she could see into Tom as easily. His heart was just as hard and tough, but she couldn’t see into it. She couldn’t understand it. He had tried to explain it to her, but words gave no dimension to the yearnings of his heart buried deep behind the layers of stone.
Lilly brought her hand down and looked away from the stone. It was confusing to look at the diamond. It was a symbol of love—something joyful, not a symbol of pain and heartache. At least, that wasn’t what she had imagined it would be. She thought love was all romance, pleasure, and joy; without reasons to frown or fuss; without memories of regret and remorse. But there had been.
Baron stirred next to her and turned over on his side. Lilly hardly noticed. She was lost in her thoughts. Tom would be leaving soon. He would be gone for two years in some far-off land being a hero. But he was her hero.
Lilly thought about it again. Two years. She would be lonely, and would think about him often—studying for her finals, driving to and from work, and even in her dreams he would be there. She would call to him: Come home. She needed her constant.
Lilly knew there was no going back. Tom wasn’t changing his mind. He was as stubborn as a cat at times. He wouldn’t listen, reason, or explain himself well. It made her so angry, but he meant it. Whether or not she understood or agreed, it came from the bottom of his heart, that part she couldn’t see, that part covered by the thick layers of hard stone. Lilly bought the dress so Tom would come to his senses, and see she was too beautiful to leave. Then maybe he would wrap his strong arms around her, lift her into the air, swing her around under the canopy of the old oak trees, and kiss her gently on the mouth as they had done so many times before. Maybe. But he wouldn’t. He had made his decision.
She looked out at the gravel driveway. The entrance disappeared behind the shade of distant trees and brush. Soon his truck would grind the stones, sounding his ascension, and moments later his face would appear smiling behind the wheel.
She recognized today’s memories needed to be good. Good may have been the wrong word. Under the circumstances, the best she could hope for was bittersweet. But these would be the memories she’d keep close in his absence. They would help ease the pain, and would be the constant she needed.
Lilly realized love was not simple, it was not perfect, and it didn’t always make sense. It was a dangerous position, knowing how fragile love really was, how easily everything could break down, and how constant life wasn’t—she looked at the oak trees—but she knew he was worth it.
She smiled and a moment later she heard the gravel grind under the wheels of Tom’s truck. She waited to see his eyes and his smile through the glass of the windshield, and through the lens of her heart.
Paul Karaffa is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of an online & mobile magazine The Washington Pastime, which publishes weekly fiction, articles on the publishing industry, and political & pop-culture satire. He has a pending non-fiction credential in the Journal of Human Dimensions of Wildlife. He has been recently published for his fictional work The End is the Beginning in The Gloaming Magazine (under the pen name Peter Krane), philosophical fiction in The Freethinker, and has several recent articles published in the The Washington Pastime, including Making the Decision, Motivation & Professionalism, and The Query Letter - Novel. He has completed his first novel manuscript, which is being considered for publication. He works in Washington, DC as a Scientist. Learn more about him at here.
* * *
Stories by Robert Marshall
I led the march against myself. I had a whistle. I blew it. You blew it! I shouted. And it was as if no one heard.
I wore a black armband. I wore other armbands. I couldn’t believe what I’d done. And what I hadn’t. Incomprehensible. I suppose the same feelings were held on the other side. Stop the protests! I heard (from the other side), but this I chose to ignore. My indifference, my incompetence, my indecision: which was most reprehensible? I could not choose. Around, around in circles I went, leading chants: I, I, I can’t hide, I charge me with genocide. Irresponsible hyperbole! I heard echoing back from the other side, which was, it appeared, somewhere inside. The windows were all boarded up and all the trees were bare. I marched in circles round the square. To find and penetrate the interior presented problems more difficult than those of physics. Oh, the system! Hyperbole is necessary, I thought, but did not shout, as I marched, strode, walked, and straggled around and around. You are impossible! You always throw it back against me, I thought bitterly, in the bitter wind, and blew on my whistle, which echoed in the empty square.
So bleak, so gray. So had seen better day.
The indifference of the rest of the populace, their absence: that distressed me too. But all politics were local, this I knew. None more so than mine. (Perhaps this was a problem.) Maybe there was something wrong with my analysis, but whose fault was that? Wearily, again, my whistle I blew.
When we’re young we’re such idealists, I thought, as the stars came out above the hills. We end one war. Or it comes to an end for reasons having nothing to do with us. (We never know.) But before this happens, before the first war ends, another has begun. When will I ever learn? Another protest song seemed pointless. I fingered my whistle, looking up at the silver moon.
She was leaving. They would, she knew, go on with their lives. As, she told herself, they should. (She knew she was supposed to think this.) The other guests all came to say goodbye—or most did. Some sat and visited with her while she waited in the armchair by the window. A few spent a long time. Not necessarily those she’d expected. Some of them—she wished they’d go away. But she couldn’t say this. She’d always been polite.
Although now there was really no necessity.
Sometimes, while they waited, she thought she heard distant car sounds. But they weren’t her car. They didn’t turn up the drive. She knew her companions heard them too.
Most of the guests who came to sit were the ones she’d expected. She couldn’t help comparing the amount of time they spent with her with the amount they’d spent with others who had left. She wanted to think they were spending more with her. She remembered what it had been like, waiting with some of the others. Always strange, the waiting-time. Everyone knew they’d leave one day, but once the time came close, it was as if they were already gone, already on the other side.
Through the window, snow fell in the parking lot.
A new person would come to sit with her. Which would allow the other guest, who’d been there awhile, to leave gracefully. “Well, I’ll let you two have some time together,” they’d say. Sometimes she appreciated this. Sometimes she didn’t. Things were never not complex. Even at the end.
She thought (as all who left did) about the time she’d spent in this world. She’d done some good things. She had made a contribution. Sometimes she’d been selfish and often unappreciative. It was, she thought, so beautiful outside the window. Look at the light. Look past the cars, at the swaying birch trees. Anyway, she told herself, I tried.
At moments she thought, while she waited (she was alone now, the last visitor had left), that this wasn’t as bad as she’d feared. But at other moments it seemed worse. Had others, she wondered, when they were leaving, felt the same resentment? (She wished it would go away.) She watched, through the glass pane, the other guests trudging through the parking lot’s snow, on their way to their work, their lives. She wished someone would wait with her (although she’d said it was alright, they should go about their days). Would someone turn around? She thought they should. Maybe someone else would still show up. The light shimmered in the birch trees. Her car would be there soon.
Robert Marshall's novel, A Separate Reality, was released in 2006 by Carroll & Graf and was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction. His work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Salon, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Alembic, Event, DUCTS, Stickman Review, Blithe House Quarterly, The Coe Review, and numerous other publications, including the anthologies Queer 13 and Afterwords. In 2007, his investigative feature “The Dark Legacy of Carlos Castaneda” was chosen for “Best of Salon.”
* * *
Hope for Change
By Ed Martin
Craig tried again to brush the dew off his bag, but all it did was push the moisture into the fabric. Not that it mattered if the contents were wet; the clothes inside were filthy, and the single photo, of his daughter, was safely encased in a ziplock bag.
He’d been up for hours, watching the city wake. He blamed his early-rising habit on his military stint, thirty years ago. Craig blamed a lot on that military stint.
A passing car’s headlights illuminated him beside the dumpster. “Loser,” the driver yelled, pounding on his horn.
Years before, Craig would’ve yelled back. Maybe given the guy the finger. But it didn’t solve anything, he’d learned, didn’t change their minds or get him breakfast, so now he let it pass.
He checked his watch, more from habit than anything else; the batteries had died years ago. He knew he should chuck it but the weight on his wrist was comforting. Familiar. In Craig’s world, one found comfort wherever he could.
“What should we do today, Jeanie?”
No response. It had been years since he’d seen his daughter, but that didn’t stop him from talking to her. Practicing what he might say, someday.
“Whatever it is, we better decide fast. I don’t think they’ll want us around when they open.”
As he stood and shouldered his bag, his stomach growled. Dinner the night before had been a pack of cheese and crackers he’d found in the bottom of his bag. Stale, crushed, but he ate every last crumb.
As he walked along the sidewalk, his downcast eyes scanning for dropped quarters, cars sped past. Most ignored him but several honked. He knew if he looked up he’d see scorn. Pity.
He waited at a corner for the stoplight to change. The vehicle next to him honked, then honked again. He looked away. Sometimes if you didn’t make eye contact, they’d leave you alone.
Not this time. The honking persisted.
Craig finally looked over. “Can’t you see I’m a vet?” he muttered.
A young man leaned over to the open passenger window. “I’m on my way to breakfast and thought you might like to come along.”
Craig stared at him through narrowed eyes. He’d learned early on there was no such thing as a free lunch.
“I can give you the money instead, if you’d like.” The man held out a ten-dollar bill.
“Bless you, man.” Craig reached over to take the money from him and caught sight of a carseat in the back. “You have kids?”
“Yeah, a little daughter. What about you?”
“Daughter. Not so little though. Maybe your age?”
“Does she live around here?”
“Used to. I haven’t talked to her in years.”
The man pulled out another ten. “You should find her and take her to breakfast. You need her conversation more than mine.”
The light turned green, and the man drove off. Craig pocketed the bills, then turned and walked back the way he’d come, towards the last address he had for his daughter.
ED Martin teaches high school in Iowa while working on her first novel. Her stories have been published by the Journal of Microliterature, Fiction365, and the 2011 Indiana Horror Anthology. Read more of her works at here.
* * *
By Matt Micheli
Every year, we got together for our family fishing trip/reunion. We’d drive out of town to these cottages my family had owned since before I came along. It had a river right down the way where we’d fish… or try to fish, as we never really caught much. There’d be about twenty of us—brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins, second cousins—carrying along, having a good time, laughing. Everyone was always laughing.
My uncle Dwayne was my favorite of the uncles. He’d always horse around with me. He used to apply pressure to my scalp with his fingertips and say, “Needles to the head!” That got me every time. I remember this Marlboro labeled thermos he used to carry around and how proud he was of it.
“Got it for free,” he said.
“Only took me a hundred packs.”
He must have told that story a thousand times.
His diet consisted of coffee from that thermos and cigarettes, but besides an occasional cough, he seemed to be doing pretty good. I’d sit there with him down at the water’s edge, with my candy cigarettes and lifeless fishing pole. It wasn’t about catching fish, because we never did. It was about hanging out with Dwayne. When my parents weren’t around, he’d sneak me some of his coffee. He was just . . . cool.
“Don’t you tell em’.” He told me.
“Y’all boys come eat!” We heard my mom from up the hill.
“I’ll carry it!” I grabbed the Marlboro thermos. My uncle Dwayne smiled, and a sense of pride rushed over me. We walked up to the cottages.
At night, Dwayne would entertain us with his unlimited joke arsenal.
“You heard the one about the guy and the bear?”
They were always about the guy and some zoo animal. I remember thinking about how funny the jokes were back then. Me and my cousins would be rolling, trying to catch our breath from the laughing fits. Thinking back now, I guess the jokes weren’t really all that funny.
Seeing Uncle Dwayne in the hospital bed was a bizarre thing for me. Our family was gathered around in this cramped room and everyone was laughing and talking about old times. Meanwhile, he’s laid up in bed with tubes and hoses going in and coming out of him. He still had that cough, but only louder.
“Come here, ugly.” He called me over to the bed.
“Needles to the (cough, cough) head!” he placed his fingers, now more boney, into my scalp. I still laughed despite his nails cutting into me a little.
In the hall, I overheard the doctor tell my parents, “Say your goodbyes.”
I didn’t quite know what that meant at the time. I just figured visiting hours were up.
I remember how the fishing trips/reunions weren’t the same after Dwayne was gone. There was still the cold river, the breeze, the warm sun, the gnats, the Sunkist soda, the fishing poles, the laughter… But something about the laughter was . . . different. I’d still go sit by the river where me and Dwayne used to sit, and pretend to fish, never catching anything. I’d take along with me that Marlboro thermos Dwayne had left me. I’d carry it everywhere. I’d fill it with soda or iced tea, as my parents still didn’t want me drinking coffee. I was too young.
For years, I kept that thermos close by; close to my heart. To me, it was a part of Dwayne. But as the years went by, it went from being in my room where I could look at it every day, to being discarded among other junk in my new garage, still unpacked from the move.
Helping my wife go through some of the boxes, I stumbled upon the thermos. I picked it up. It still felt the same in my hands. The red Marlboro stamp had faded, almost transparent. The memories of Dwayne had faded. I tried to see his face, but I couldn’t clearly.
“Honey, will you help me with this?”
I set the thermos back inside the box atop of old tennis rackets and dusty Tupperware—things that will probably stay packed away, deteriorating—and went over to help my wife.
“What do you think about putting these candle holders over the mantle?”
I remember Dwayne sneaking me coffee from that thermos and telling me not to tell my parents.
I never did.
Matt Micheli is a transgressive fiction writer out of Austin, TX, author of MEMOIRS OF A VIOLENT SLEEPER: A BEDTIME STORY. His analytical, sometimes satirical, and often times blunt views of love, loss, life, and beyond are expressed through his writing. For him, writing is an escape from the everyday confines of what the rest of us call normal. Recent publications in Red Fez, Linguistic Erosion, SYWeZine
* * *
Just one Fix
By Bradford Middleton
Jack woke up in the morning and his body felt healthy and comfortable for the first time in years. It was as if his life had a renewed purpose and this helped him feel faintly vigorous enough to try and do something about his situation. It was not a good picture. For someone who great things had been predicted of at school and then college it surely shouldn’t have ended up like this – living in a squat in one of the decaying suburbs of south-east London with no family to speak of and a pretty bad heroin addiction. He’d only intended, initially, to use speed to get him through his long nights of clubbing but then he finally found himself going clubbing every night and quite simply the pot he was smoking – a lethal blend called white widow – just wasn’t doing the trick in bringing him back to earth the next day. He’d been persuaded to try something a little stronger to help with his come-downs and the next thing he knew he was mainlining the junk right into his body and had, somewhat paradoxically, stopped clubbing. He found that all his money would barely stretch to a few good hits a day and some vital provisions – tea, milk, sugar and plenty of soup. Everyday would start the same, he would wake up, take his first hit, then go out and try and get some more. Generally he managed to get some by early evening and then he would go home and get into it.
This morning though it was different. He went downstairs to find some of his fellow squatters making some coffee using the generator they’d had installed to power the building. He really fancied some coffee as it might give him an edge to get out the house before taking that ubiquitous first shot of the day.
“Hey, mind if I get a mug of that?” he asked to anyone prepared to listen.
“Wow, Jack… bit early for you ain’t it?” one of them asked.
“Well yeah, hence the need…”
“Sure… it’ll only be a minute or two.”
Jack went to the cupboard where his stuff was kept and found his mug. As he waited he rolled a nice fat roll-up.
‘This will totally sort me out’ he thought to himself.
“Coffee’s ready Jack!” were the words he was waiting for.
He took his mug and roll-up and went back upstairs to his room. He began thinking… could he really just go out there and get a job. It was a thought but he lacked confidence and this coffee wasn’t having the desired effect. He was feeling too edgy, as if something had been spiked into his coffee. He began shacking uncontrollably and sat on the edge of his bed, trying to make himself feel calmer. It wasn’t working, his coffee starting slopping from his mug on to the unprotected wood floor. He began to cry as it dawned on him what it was he needed to do. It was the fix he needed and it was the fix he’d still got left-over from last night that was destined for consumption this morning. He put the coffee down and rolled another ciggie and tried and succeeded in calming his nerves after taking a few puffs.
“Aah” he sighed.
He began to fix up, neither sure why or how he’d got in such a mess. As he slammed the mixture of blood and smack into his veins he could feel his… oh god, what is it? He could feel his heart actually stop and then he collapsed. No one noticed what had happened until lunchtime when someone knocked on his door to see how he was doing.
Bradford Middleton is a 40-year old writer who currently resides in Brighton after coming of age in London and then being somewhat transient for a while during which he lived in both Surrey and Staffordshire. He has been writing for many years, in fact he won a school poetry competition when he was only ten years.
* * *
By Bridget Natale
Felicity slowly eased herself down on the couch, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes. She could feel her heart pumping, pushing blood through her veins. Her guts digesting the meal she just ate. The weight of gravity on her bones, pressing her into the cushions. What a curious sensation.
Will returned from the kitchen, carrying a mug. Felicity’s nose was seared by the scent of fresh coffee and she nearly gagged at the no longer familiar odor. She took a deep breath, ribs pushing up against the atmosphere, diaphragm pushing her stomach down. “Could I have a glass of water?” She asked. She heard Will's boots on the parquet and the squeak of the springs as he sat on the easy chair. He sipped on his mug of coffee.
“Haven’t moved anything. You can get it yourself.”
Felicity considered getting up. But that would mean pressing her spine up against the weight of all five layers of atmosphere. She remained seated. “Maybe later.”
Will cleared his throat. “So, how was the press conference?”
A nightmare of boiling heat and blinding light and voices shouting all at once and she had almost started to cry right there, live, on national television. But no, it wasn't national television anymore. It was international internet broadcast now. Felicity's eyes drifted open and she slowly focused on the man in front of her.
“It was fine.”
He nodded. She noticed the freckles on the back of his hands, the dirt under his nails, the tan on his neck and the line where his hat lay on his forehead. A tense silence settled over them. She tried to ease it. “How's the corn coming in?”
“Fine,” he took another sip. “I'm letting the north field lay fallow this year. Didn't get a good crop out of it last season.”
She nodded, feeling the disks shift in her neck, pressure on every inch of her. Her eyes drifted shut again. “Used to be the west field that gave us trouble.”
Will grunted in agreement. “Things change, I guess.”
“M-hmm.” She sighed. “Like you.”
“Yeah. I changed.”
The tense silence returned. “Was it worth it?” Will asked. “What it did to your body? All the time you missed?”
“Yes,” she replied without hesitation. “My body will adjust. And as for the time...” How many years had passed? She was too tired to think. “I didn't really miss any. Time still passed for me, it just was...” Slower, stretched-out like a tape in cassette player that was rewound too many times. Time to do everything, to see everything, to know everything. “It just was different.”
He placed the mug on the coffee table and rubbed his hair. “Forty years. And you don't regret anything?”
She shook her head. “Regret is useless. Besides, somebody had to do it. It was an honor for both of us that I was chosen.”
“Honor,” he muttered as he stood and began to pace. “What about honoring your family? You were gone for forty years!” And you expect me to be... what? Happy? Like I didn't spend forty years wondering why it was so easy for you to leave?”
Time and memory telescoped in her mind. It was not forty years for her, yet it was. Her brain rewiring to accept new information. “I wouldn't say it was 'easy'.” A memory of his young face, tears in his eyes. This memory matched up, his eyes still the same startling blue they always were. Just older now. Angrier. Colder. “No, not easy.”
“That’s…” he struggled for words, breath twisting in his chest. She listened as his body fought gravity. He had never left, he didn't even think about it. “That's hard to believe.”
“Fair enough,” she conceded as muscle and bone fought the pressure. “You should know something.”
He turned and went to the window, staring out at the front yard with the wind-break copse of trees. “What.”
Cautiously, she opened her eyes. “They want me to stay for a year, then go back.”
His back tensed, every muscle radiating anger. “Why?” His voice was deadly calm in its disbelief.
“More tests. They want to measure the effect of multiple long-term faster-than-light journeys on the human body.”
He clenched and unclenched his fists. “You want to go.”
He was right. Every fiber of her screamed for escape. To return to that telescoping, stretched-out time and solitude and freedom from gravity and expectations and the joy of pure discovery. But now was not the time for honesty.
“I feel it is my duty. There is nobody else with my experience. If I refuse, we have to start over from scratch with somebody else.”
“When you come back, I'll be dead.” Bitterness began to seep into his voice.
“You don't know that for certain.”
“I’m already older than Dad was when he died!” he turned on her, anger boiling over. “It would be easier if you were dead, too. Easier to have a dead mother than one who abandoned me and tells me I should be proud about it. One who can't stand to be on the same planet as me and Dad and my own kids and...” His voice grew thick and he fell silent.
A part of her wanted to stand up, to comfort him. But she didn't know how, anymore. Maybe she never did. Maybe that's why she was able to leave in the first place. “Will, some people just aren't meant to be parents. Your father was,” memories of Seth even harder to summon. A good man. Solid. He found satisfaction in a life she could never appreciate. “But I wasn't. I'm sorry.”
“I think you should go. For good. Don't stay here, don't talk to my wife or children. Just get out.”
She tried to feel guilty as she stood up to leave, but was not surprised when the guilt never came.
Bridget A. Natale is an emerging playwright and novelist in the Seattle area. Her most recent play, Bread of an Everyday Life, was featured in Freehold Theater's New Play Lab Showcase. She also frequently serves as the technical director for Project I-District. In her free time she enjoys dabbling in political activism and teasing her cats.
* * *
"Always A Talkin'"
The grass and natural hay drying beside the road smelled sweet and warm. The day, another hot one, had to be pushing ninety degrees. An old man, with a straggly stubble of salt and pepper sparsely covering his wrinkled face, was gathering up the weeds the State Highway Department had deemed should be mowed down two days before. His long sweaty hair covered a dirty, frayed collar and stuck to his forehead in the muggy stillness of a July noontime.
The pitchfork the man used had a bent tine that he’d taken the time to straighten, before finally giving up after the third time, allowing that another rock would only twist the weakened metal again. The sweat of calloused hands well used to physical labor blackened the fork’s handle. The old man pushed the stringy hair out of his eyes as he squinted in irritation at his companion.
“When’s it your turn with the fork?”
“We’ve talked about this before; I do my share.”
“Yeah, but my back’s hurtin’.”
“Sorry. We won’t go much further. The wagon’s almost full.”
“Seems like there oughter be an easier way.”
“Sure, there is. But that way costs money. Have you got money, Johnny?”
Johnny didn’t answer.
Butch knew he didn’t have money. Knowing he’d irritated his old friend he added consolingly, “Your daddy was a good man and he did it this way. If it was good enough for him, then it’s good enough for you. Right?”
Johnny was silent as he thought this over. True, it had been a good enough method for his father. Not being vain or prideful, he knew he was no better than that good man had been. And, even though it was hot, tiring work, it was something that had to be done, and rewarding enough in a simple, basic way. Winter was coming. If you didn’t take advantage of the pleasant weather the good Lord provided during the summer, you would suffer greatly when it turned cold. And you would only have yourself to blame. He put his back and shoulders into the work, throwing the loose hay into the wagon, piling it up high, then pushing it down, tamping it down to make room for more.
He was so engrossed in his labor that he didn’t notice at first the two men across the country road, sitting on mower tractors with roof canopies to give them shade. Side by side, they were eating sandwiches and drinking coffee from thermoses that had seen better days.
Startled, Johnny looked quickly down at the ground. They’d seen him! His heart sinking, he knew they’d been watching the whole time as he’d rounded the corner, gathered the grass and piled it in the wagon.
“They’re looking at me!” he hissed, afraid and shaking in his tattered shoes.
“Keep your head down and do your work. Don’t pay them no mind.”
“But they know what I’m doing! What if I get into trouble?”
Butch’s voice was resigned and he sighed as he said, “I’ve told you this over and over. You won’t get into trouble.”
“But they cut it down!”
“So? This is public property. You have as much right here as anyone else.”
“It’s theirs!” Johnny said, knowing they had all the right to the hay and, in his mind, he had none.
“Johnny! Think about it. They don’t want it. Have you ever seen anyone pick it up? No. I think not. Only you. You’re the only one that wants it.”
“It’s the Government’s,” his voice reflected the awe he reserved for anything he considered to be of a higher order than himself, which was most things.
“You’re part of this country. Our government was put into place by the people, for the people. You’re one of the people. You have a right.”
At that moment a singsong chant could be heard coming from across the road.
“Crazy Johnny Hawkins, he’s always a talkin’.”
Coarse laughter followed.
And then a second voice sang, “—But he ain’t a’walkin’!”
More raucous laughter made the old man’s ears burn. He glanced fearfully at the two men, before again dropping his eyes and throwing a last forkful on top of the precariously balanced load. He untied one end of a rope that was attached to the cart and, hurriedly, wanting only to get away, threw it over the pile and secured it. He repeated his action with the second rope, forming an X over the loose hay, holding it fast.
“I know them boys,” Johnny whispered to Butch. “They used to throw rocks when they ’uz little. I don’t like those two. They’re mean’uns. We best hurry before they throw something else.”
“Yes, hurry. I don’t like them either,” Butch said, remembering, as he began a slow trot, heading in a beeline for home.
The two highway workers roared even louder, as they watched Johnny scurry back the way he’d come, looking like a whipped dog. It was amusing watching the old man stumble and the fear in his eyes when he looked their way. Ridiculing the less fortunate was always good for a laugh. And the memory they shared from when they were children was pleasant and unexpected.
“You knew that song, too? I remember hearing it when I was only four. All the kids on my block used to sing it,” one of the men said to the other. “You know, that old man has been around forever. I don’t know how, ’cause he sure ain’t bright. He’s pretty much dumber than a box of rocks! In fact, I’d swear his horse is smarter than he is!”
“You’re probably right. The horse sure knew it was time to get out of the hot sun, didn’t he?”
Johnny and Butch rounded the corner, out of sight of their tormentors. Only then did they slow down and resume a more sensible speed, both looking forward to the rest and peace of home.
R.W. Nichols has thought like a writer for a long time, but hadn't seriously put pen to paper until about four years ago. She has had a few short stories published and is currently working on a supernatural mystery.
He has a a collection of short stories available through Amazon Kindle.
* * *
Home Early Is Not A Good Sign
By Walter Pierce
My father is home from work early, the second time this week, and that’s not a good sign. It could mean he and his boss are fighting again, and he’s left in a huff. My mother is concerned that he will lose his job, but his response is the guy’s an asshole and it’s insulting to have to put up with his crap. Besides, the only reason the guy’s in a supervisory position is his family is politically connected.
It’s unlikely my father will ever be designated ‘employee of the month’ the way he bad mouths the Registry of Motor Vehicles where he’s employed. Everyone, he says, is an appointee of one kind or another. My mother reminds him that it was a friend of his father that got him the job, and that leads to an argument that often continues behind the thin wall that separates our bedrooms.
I have been practicing scales for about an hour getting ready for my piano lesson, but my attention is diverted by noises in the kitchen. The refrigerator door slams shut, a beer can hisses, a chair is scraped along the tile floor, and then a long exhalation of breath that sounds more like a cry for mercy than relief.
I wish that my mother would walk in so that I don’t have to deal with him, but she won’t be home from work for two or three hours. I keep at my exercises: up one side of the B flat scale and down the other; I sense the presence in the kitchen moving in my direction. My father makes no pretense of being fond of hearing me play. I’m wasting my time and his money, he is quick to say, but it is my mother’s paycheck that provides for the piano lessons.
He is framed in the doorway, his shirttails hanging, his tie askew, a beer can clutched in his hand like some promise of redemption. I acknowledge his presence with a nod -- keep playing, apprehensive of what may occur next. He takes a long swig of beer, belches defiantly, providing a guttural counterpoint to the music.
“Hey Chopin, take a break,’ he says, “come outside and throw a few.”
I don’t want to play catch with him, he’s way out of my league and he uses these sessions to humiliate me, displaying to everyone what a sorry offspring he has. I follow him like a dutiful pup into the backyard. He flips me a catcher’s mitt, takes a fielder’s glove and heads out to a spot he has staked out as the pitcher’s mound. I take a position sixty feet, six inches away, behind a home plate he has fitted into the turf.
According to the scrapbooks in his closet, my father was a pitcher of considerable promise whose peregrinations through the minor league system of organized baseball took him to towns with curious prairie names in a part of the country that is as strange to me as Nepal and Tibet. A sore shoulder ended his career before he could advance to the big leagues. He has never recovered from the disappointment, and remains a bitter, rudderless man who failed to fulfill his calling.
He follows the sport incessantly: rarely misses a game on TV; his eyes peruse box-scores in the morning paper with the concentration of someone studying climate changes and weather patterns. He should have stayed in the game somehow even on the periphery. He is woefully out of his element pushing papers at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
We warm up slowly to loosen up. I can see that he is coming alive with every throw. Years of muscle training emerge in the motion of his delivery, almost liquid in its ease. It’s in the legs, he’s told me; if it’s only in your arm, you’re on a fast track to no-wheresville.
The ball zooms into my mitt in a hurtful splat as ball slams into leather. The pace quickens, the velocity increases. He is spewing anger, releasing frustration – the heartache and disappointment is temporarily eased as his awakened body embraces its elusive destiny. He’s throwing strikes, his curveball is snapping downward wickedly. I’m concerned that his zeal will hurt me -- my hand feels double its normal size.
He stops abruptly. Is my mother home, glaring angrily at us? No, he is clutching his shoulder, contorted in pain. Tears stream down his face in remembrance of times past.
I am relieved to stop, but I sense his pain and feel my own. “Are you okay?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says, “that’s it for today.”
“The ball was really hopping,” I say.
“For a couple of minutes there, I felt great,” he says. “I had good motion, good execution – like the time in Pocatello when I struck out nine guys in a row. The manager put his arm around me and said: “Kid, you’re on your way to the bigs.”
My father says: “I never even made it to Pawtucket.”
Walter Pierce, at the age of 81, loves to write and has been for at least the past decade since retiring. For over forty years, he was employed, and managed for over thirty years, the Celebrity Series in Boston. "We presented and still do a variety of distinguished music and dance artists in Boston's concert halls and theaters."Among the artists he has had the honor to present are luminaries like Luciano Pavarotti, Van Cliburn, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bolshoi Ballet. He intends to keep writing and submitting to various magazines and hopefully will publish a collection of stories in the near future.
* * *
By Jennifer Powers
I find you in the bathtub filled with red water. An expression is pasted across your face like I’m the angel who took away your beloved. I see the bottle of vodka on its side by the toilet filled with vomit. You’ve fallen and hit your head getting into the tub and that’s why the water is the color of beet juice. Your eyes are swollen and saliva leaks out the side of your mouth. I extend my hand to help you out of the tub. You swat me away. You say, He’s gone. My Paul is gone. Your bottom lip quivers uncontrollably. I don’t know what to do. I just let my hand remain extended in front of you like the saints’ hands made out of stone in your church.
Let’s get ready for church. We’ll go pray, I say.
Your hand touches the tips of my fingers and it feels like I’m squeezing rotten fruit from your garden in summer. You sway and stumble out of the bathtub. Drops of red water spot the tile floor and old blue rugs matted down like placemats. I don’t know why you keep these rugs. I wrap an ivory towel around your shoulders like angel’s wings and flush the toilet. I help you get dressed. I bandage your head wound. It doesn’t look too bad, I say. You refuse to go to the hospital. You spit when you say it: I’m not going to any doctor!
I make you coffee. We sit quietly for an hour. Golden light pours through the kitchen windows. You look into the light. You squint and say, Take me to church. I say, All right, Grandma.
I go warm up the car. It’s flurrying and the snowflakes remind me of little white feathers falling from the sky. I bundle you up in a winter coat, scarf, and heavy boots, and wrap your babushka around your head. I knot it at your chin like you’re a little girl. The blood has seeped through the bandage—just a little. I try and tell you this but you wave me away. I help you outside, down the cement steps that I swept quickly beforehand with your ratty broom. I don’t know why you keep such worn out things. Mom buys you brand new things but you refuse to use them.
I buckle you into the seat. Your beady eyes are red and swollen and looking at me. You say, My Paul is gone, and your breath puffs in the air like you’re smoking one of his cigars. Your teeth are yellow. Your wrinkles are like a road map to somewhere I haven’t been to yet. I get in the car and the seat crackles from the cold. You look straight ahead, weeping. I say, We’re going to church to pray. You nod yes and say, Where’s my daughter? I tell you Mom’s at work. You say, Why aren’t you in school? I tell you I’m done with school.
You used to rub my sick belly with rubbing alcohol and melted butter. You let me lick the cake batter spoon when Mom wouldn’t let me. You slipped five dollar bills inside my birthday cards. You used to take my side. You rested with me in the afternoon sunshine on a blanket you hand-crocheted. You read to me. You helped me make pierogi and gołąbki. You healed my wounds, you gardened my soul, you led me to the light. You embraced the sun, you rode shooting stars, you were fearless. It’s the least I can do for you.
I see your hands shaking. I turn up the heat and I pat your knee. We pull into the church parking lot. I help you out of the car. You stumble a little. It’s freezing but the snow has subsided. The sun is setting amid purple and blue brush strokes, and underneath the church parking lot lights, I see you breathing heavily. Steam charges out your nostrils like a confused animal. We teeter up the church ramp for disabled patrons instead of taking the steps. The church is open, thank God. No one is here. It smells like old library books. You guide me to the front pew where we sat at his funeral. The only other place you are at home is his grave. You kneel. I watch you pray and beg and weep. Your hands are knotted tightly into each other like a ball of thorns. Your fingernails press into the flesh of your hands. You let your head fall. I notice blood from your head wound saturating your babushka and I panic. It’s the same blood that flows inside my veins. I watch you pray. I wonder if I should make a quick stop at the hospital on the way back to your house. But you’ll never forgive me if I do. You always kept my secrets.
Your wet hair froze outside. Now that we’re inside the warm church with the stone saints and colored glass windows and burning candles, your hair is melting. Gray tendrils stick to your forehead. Little droplets of red water confetti your white scarf. I reach to touch your knotted hands and our hands melt together like wax. You look into my eyes and say, My Paul. He’s gone. I smell the vodka on your breath and I say, I know, Grandma.
You were married for sixty three years. Now he is gone. You spent your life on us. You sacrificed your living for us. You made us.
You look up to the Crucifix and I see how He bleeds and I notice how you bleed. The blood trickles down your cheeks and it almost looks black underneath the dim church lights. You smile and your eyes burn. You have your purple rosary beads wrapped around your hands now. The silver cross dangles and shines. I know you won’t go to the doctor. I can’t betray you. I watch how the flickering candles make shadows dance across your cheeks.
I swear I can already see the ribbons of golden light fan your lined face. I watch the pathways of blood mark your pale skin. Your eyes lift up. You are at peace and so am I.
Jennifer A. Powers was born and raised in Connecticut. She earned a BA in English from the University of Connecticut and will be attending Western Connecticut State University this fall for her MFA in creative writing. She has work forthcoming in The MacGuffin Literary Magazine and Folio Literary Journal.
* * *
After The River
By A.J. Tierney
The stillness of the river calmed my nerves. Every night, since Annabelle was just over a week old, I had walked a two-mile stretch that wound expertly around planted landscaping; little was left that was natural except the river. I made my way down to the river on a trail behind our house every night. The water appeared black and reflected trees, park benches, and lampposts. My soul felt anguish and torture every day, and the only thing that kept me going was the hope there was a place void of my nightmares.
Annabelle was eight days old the first time I envisioned snapping her tiny forearm in two. I was folding laundry on the floor in the living room, and she was lying on her back on the overstuffed plaid couch. Her little legs kicked spastically while she whimpered. Her arms flailed around, and I was seized with the desire to wrap my hands around her wrist and elbow and snap her arm. I was so horrified by the thought, I shook my head violently as if the action would sling the thought from my mind. I wanted to comfort her, but she had not been hurt. My chest tightened and I slid down near the couch. I blinked and felt the tears drop from my eyes. I was tired of crying. I lay down on the floor next to the couch to make sure I could hear Annabelle if she needed me. I just needed a small nap. The doorbell woke me up, and I staggered to the front door.
She opened the glass door and pushed past me. “Where’s that baby?” She continued down the hall and into the living room. “There she is. Oh, Beth, you are such a good mother. ‘Put a baby on their back’ is what they say now. Of course, when you were a baby it was on the tummy. It’s a wonder you survived.” She picked Annabelle up and cradled her.
“Were you in the neighborhood?”
“No, but that’s all right. You sounded so frantic on the phone. I thought something was wrong with the baby.” She gazed down at the wiggling mass.
“I called you?” I rubbed my temples trying to remember making the call.
“You need to get some sleep.”
“Mom, I need to talk to you.”
“Is it serious?”
“Yes, Mom. I’m having thoughts I don’t think a mother should have. The thoughts I’m having scare me. I’m happy most of the time, but then there are times I’m really sad.”
“Oh, honey. You just have the baby blues. Every new mother goes through this.”
“Did you have baby blues after I was born?”
She continued bouncing Annabelle. “I can’t remember. I’m sure I had days I was a little blue, but you were a good baby, how could I be sad?”
“Annabelle is good, Mom. It’s not that. That’s why I think it might be something else. Today I thought about---”
“Did you see that, Beth? I think she’s trying to smile, only eight days old. She’s so precious. I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to interrupt you, go on.” She leaned over Annabelle to inspect her face.
“Oh, nothing. You’re probably right about the baby blues.”
“You haven’t said anything to Nathan have you?”
“I tried, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to tell him.”
“Beth, take my advice. Wait this one out. Nathan will not understand.”
“But he’s my husband. We can usually talk about anything.”
“Trust me. Give it some time, and all these feelings will work themselves out.” She started making silly faces and stroking Annabelle’s cheek.
We said our goodbyes. I stood at the front door and watched my mother pull away from the house. After my mom was gone, I had this sinking feeling that I would be alone with Annabelle again.
My life had once been quite normal. My husband Nathan and I met while working at an advertising agency together. What started out as friendly lunches turned into even friendlier dinners, and within a year, we were married. We both wanted children and felt strongly about waiting to start a family until we were financially ready. Nathan and I both came from families where our mothers stayed at home, and we decided when we had children, I would do the same.
I always enjoyed my mother’s visits, but her visit earlier in the day had me unsettled. As I sat at the table with Nathan eating dinner, I kept hearing my mother’s advice in my head, ‘Nathan won’t understand.’ I pushed my food around my plate.
“You’re quiet tonight. Is everything ok?”
“Fine, just a little blue, that’s all.”
“Something like that.” I traced the edge of the placemat, noticing the chipped red nail polish on my index finger.
Annabelle started to cry, interrupting our dinner.
“She must be hungry,” Nathan said, as he started to push away from the table.
“She can wait.” I slammed my fork down.
“Beth, she needs to be fed.”
“I said in a minute, Nathan.”
I threw my napkin on the table and walked to the bedroom. I sat on the end of the bed and ran my fingers through my oily hair. I couldn’t remember the last time I had washed it. I felt my milk let down as Annabelle’s squalling escalated. I felt the razors slash through the inside of my breast. I looked down to make sure I wasn’t bleeding. No blood, but two defined wet spots emerged on my t-shirt. Nathan tapped on the door.
“Beth? Annabelle is really going at it. Can I bring her to you?”
I hung my head, “Whatever.”
He came through the door with our tiny daughter nestled in his arms, her mouth fiercely sucking on the pacifier. Nathan glanced at my shirt.
“You’ve soaked all the way through.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
“What’s with you?”
“You mean other than being stuck in a house all day as a human milking machine?”
“I understand it’s hard for you, but this is hard for everyone, Beth. We agreed you would stay home. We just have to work through this.”
I stripped my shirt off, flung it to the floor, unhooked my bra and peeled away the soaked nursing pads from my engorged breasts. “Give me the fucking baby!”
“I think you need to get control of yourself first.”
Drops of milk dripped down the front of my breast, and I felt a curious relief. Nathan bounced Annabelle gently as she continued to cry. I tried to compose myself. I took a deep breath.
“Give her to me,” I said. “I’m fine.”
I sat at the head of the bed and leaned up against the headboard. He laid Annabelle next to me as he positioned the pillow around my sagging belly. He lifted Annabelle onto the pillow. I pulled her to my left breast; she latched on and started sucking ferociously. I felt the razors bear down on my breast with every suckle. I winced. Nathan climbed onto the bed next to me. There was silence except for the slurping and snorting sounds coming from my breast.
“It’s really amazing, isn’t it?” Nathan said.
I couldn’t respond. She emptied my left breast, and I handed her to Nathan to be burped, like a half-time show before she started on the right. She suckled nearly forty-five minutes before the torture ended. I was exhausted and told Nathan I needed to rest. He obliged me. Two hours later I felt a dampness on my right arm, time for another feeding. This time I didn’t bother sitting up. Annabelle laid next to me feasting once again. Her breathing settled into a nice rhythm. I wrapped my arm around her back and pressed her into my breast until I felt her stop moving. My mind wandered to the river, flowing smoothly. I waded in up to my knees and slipped into the water on my belly. Water sloshed into my mouth, and I woke choking. Annabelle kicked her legs frantically struggling to break free from my grasp. She began to gasp and cry. I jumped up from the bed and ran to the bathroom. I heard Nathan comforting Annabelle. I looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman looking back at me.
The next morning, after Nathan left for work, I crept into Annabelle’s nursery and watched her sleep peacefully in her crib. My chest tightened, and I felt a lump in my throat. I walked into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of milk. I watched the thick white liquid flow into my glass. The milk coated my tongue, and I spit out what was left into the sink, nauseated by the taste. I tried to wash the residue from my mouth and find something to distract myself.
The pile of mail on the dining room table beckoned to me. My routine had been disrupted since Annabelle’s arrival. There were days I didn’t even make it to the mailbox. I grabbed my letter opener and dove in without looking back: bill, junk, congrats, another bill, more junk. I heard Annabelle stir in her crib, and I stopped opening envelopes. A glint caught my eye. I looked down at the letter opener and stared at it, its beautiful red and brown beads dangling from one end and a perfect silver point at the other. I heard Annabelle again. Then, I saw myself in her nursery, hovering over her crib. She was face down struggling to flip herself over. I raised the letter opener above my head and with all my force, plunged the pointed silver tip into the base of her skull. I dropped the letter opener on the table and ran to Annabelle’s nursery. There she lay as I left her, sleeping peacefully, unharmed. I wanted to grab her and wrap myself around her, but I couldn’t. I backed out of the room slowly, and once out of her room, I slumped to the floor and sobbed. Baby blues? Certainly my mother never thought of stabbing me. I couldn’t call her in a panic two days in a row. I needed someone to sit with me to make sure I didn’t harm Annabelle. My sister Nicole was the only one I felt I could trust with a secret this big.
Once my sister arrived and we worked through the pleasantries, I was ready to tell her what was going on and beg her to help me.
“Beth, you’re so lucky.” She gently rocked Annabelle in her arms.
“You’ve got a brand new baby, a great house, a fantastic husband, not to mention a beautiful sister.” She winked at me.
“You’re right. It’s just sometimes I’m not happy, you know?”
“Well, I guess I could imagine. I’ve never been married or had kids. I can barely show up to work on time. You’re the stable one, not me. Remember?”
“Right, but I mean there are days that I just can’t seem to get these thoughts out of my head.” I poured myself a cup of coffee and took a seat at the end of the breakfast table.
“What kind of thoughts?” Nicole sat across the table rocking Annabelle.
I took a deep breath, “Yesterday, I thought about breaking her arm.”
“That’s not funny, Beth.”
“Does it look like I’m joking? I’m scared as hell because there have been other thoughts.”
“What? You want to kill your own baby?” Nicole stood up and started pacing around the table.
I couldn’t control my sobbing. “It’s not like that. I don’t really want to hurt her, but these thoughts won’t stop.”
“You’ve got to tell Nathan.”
“Mom said don’t tell him. He wouldn’t understand.”
“You have to tell someone, and I think it should be your husband. Mom isn’t the expert about everything.” Nicole continued to bounce Annabelle.
“What am I supposed to tell him? I want to hurt our daughter.”
“This is so messed up. Maybe you could tell someone else and get some help.”
“No one can know. Mom says it’s a phase and things will get better.”
“What if it is not a phase?”
I saw my opening quickly close. Nicole was not going to be the person who would understand what was happening with me. My mother didn’t want to understand me, and my sister thought I was crazy. My husband just wanted to make sure we did everything right for our daughter. The day the nurses handed my daughter to me, they never mentioned that I might want to snap her arm in two or stab her with a letter opener. Of course, they didn’t tell me those things because normal mothers don’t have those feelings.
I tried to convince myself these feelings would pass with time. Until I could get through this phase, I decided to limit my exposure to Annabelle. I had to; there was no other choice. I had to protect my daughter. I stopped breastfeeding and only bottle fed if there was absolutely no one around to feed her. To soothe her cryings, I put her in the swing and took her out only when she needed changing. The thoughts of bodily harm to Annabelle persisted, and I could only find excuses to stay away for so long. That’s when I started my nightly walks on the river. First, I walked thirty minutes each night and then as much as two hours by the time I found myself contemplating the hardest decision of my life.
I had few options; I could stay and go back to work, forcing Annabelle into daycare. This was not an option really, as Nathan was adamantly opposed to me working, and we had made a decision together that I would not work. I could ask for a divorce, but I didn’t want a divorce. I loved my husband, and I loved my daughter. I could just leave, abandon my family, leaving them to always wonder why I had left.
Annabelle was almost three weeks old, and the thoughts continued daily and overwhelmed me. I looked down upon her while changing her diaper and analyzed every inch of her little body. My eyes finally rested on what was left of her umbilical cord. The cord, which had been connected to me less than three weeks before, was black and decaying. She was disconnected, expelled from my womb and forever severed from me. I realized the bond could not be restored. I could not spend one more moment with this little creature. I needed to get out.
I spent all day cleaning the house and making sure all the laundry was done. Annabelle and I made a trip to the grocery store to make sure the pantry and refrigerator were stocked. I put Annabelle down for her evening nap and waited in the living room for Nathan to return from work. I heard his key in the front door, the familiar sound of his shoes on the hardwood floor in the entry, and then came the moment I relished every day, his face emerging from around the corner.
“Wow! You’ve been busy today.” He surveyed the house. “The house looks great.”
My heart fluttered. “Got in one of my cleaning frenzies, I guess.” I started to wring my hands in my lap.
He loosened his tie and flopped down on the couch. “You know, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something.”
I looked up at him. “About what?”
“Well, your moods have been pretty unpredictable, and you don’t seem happy.”
I felt a tear fall on my hands, and I quickly wiped it away.
“Nathan, you know I love you, and I love Annabelle; it’s just that I can’t work some things out.”
“You don’t have to work it out alone.” Nathan came over and sat at my feet and held my hands.
I pulled my hands away from him. “You won’t understand this.” I stood up and walked toward the front door.
“Where are you going?”
“For a walk.” I turned and continued my walk to the front door.
In my darkest times, I found myself at the river. This body of water was a strange being, calm, smooth, and still like glass; but as it approached the dam, it was unaware of the tumult it was about to engage in. It fell over the edge in a graceful descent into an angry vortex of never ending confusion, swirling, oppressed, never to resurface. I wondered if you took your life to spare another if it would still be suicide. Was it still an unforgivable sin?
I wanted to be consumed by something to stop the agony I felt in my soul. I took my shoes and socks off and walked down near the edge of the river. The cold water numbed my toes and feet. I rolled my jeans up to my knees. I waded out to feel the icy splendor on my ankles, then on my knees. My thighs ached, my stomach shuddered and my nipples hardened. The mud squeezed up through my toes, and my feet continued to sink further and further. The water, which seemed so still from the shore, now bobbed against my chin and splashed inside my nostrils. I gulped down a mouthful of gritty water and began to choke. My feet lifted from their muddy shoes and broke through the surface. I relaxed and gave in. I gazed upward. Wispy, white clouds encircled the moon and wrapped her children, the stars, close to her. Before I closed my eyes, I felt Nathan’s sweet embrace.
The sun peeked over the horizon. I had never seen the river so clearly. The trees looked different lining the river’s edge when illuminated by sunlight. The lampposts that were always so prominent before, guiding my every step along the river, faded into the background. Nathan had curled up next to me during the night. I rolled over to face him.
“Nathan?” I whispered.
His eyes opened. “I’m not leaving without you.”
“Nicole told you, didn’t she?” His silence answered for him.
“Let’s go home.” He wrapped the blanket around me and we started our walk home.
“I would never---.” I started.
“I know.” He softly stroked my cheek.
The porch light was still on when we reached the house. Nathan unlocked the door; I took a deep breath and stepped back into my life.
A.J. Tierney received an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She splits her time between teaching and providing taxi services to her violin-toting teenager.
* * *
By David Van Houten
It’s hard to be the Chief.
He always tried to do what was best for the tribe, and he always tried to be consistent in his decisions, but these two ideals didn’t always coexist. Today, a decision would be made that would violate one or the other.
When the white men who called themselves English first came, many of his people, the Croatans, had assumed they were gods. However, once he found a way to communicate with them, he had quickly learned they were regular people not unlike himself, just paler, which the Chief originally found amusing. Not now.
As they established relations and exchanged knowledge, he had learned that these English used numbers to keep track of the seasons. These numbers dictated that they had arrived in the year 1584. They called the season “summer” when they landed, but he had no idea what the word meant. All he knew was it applied to a hot time when his tribe grew food for the upcoming cold season.
The English had eventually created a village, but they really seemed to struggle to survive. Since he had decided to ally the tribe with these men, he helped them even when it meant taking food out of the mouths of his people. It was a lean “winter”, as the visitors called it, that first one they spent together, but he felt sure that once the English learned to live off the land, they would be a powerful ally against the evil Mandoags in the area, especially with their metallic English weapons that could kill from a distance.
The white man’s village had survived, barely, but only until their year 1586 when the Mandoags had attacked the growing fortified village. Several of the English left had asked to join his tribe following the slaughter. No ethical concerns there. The extra men helped the his people, and he was able to help to the settlers he had sworn to protect.
Later that year, another group of English landed, but these were soldiers, not settlers. It didn’t take long for the Mandoag to find out about the warriors presence, and they quickly swept in and destroyed the white-skinned army.
Finally, this current group had arrived during the harvest of 1587. Their leader was a good man who the Chief had liked immediately, one who also cared deeply for his people. Governor White, as he was called, was shocked to find none of his military men still alive, but the Chief was happy to re-establish relations with this group of men related to those he had previously allied the tribe with.
White and the Chief had become fast friends. He still remembered the governor showing him how to write the name of his tribe in English. The Chief had taken to writing it every day to make sure he wouldn’t forget how. In fact, just a few days earlier while visiting the English fort, he had carved it in one of the walls and had even been carving it on a nearby tree when he was interrupted by a summons from his lead warrior, Fearless Wolf, to discuss the problem at hand.
He celebrated with Governor White the birth of the man’s granddaughter, Virginia and promised to keep an eye on the governor’s family and village when White had to go back to his homeland for assistance. Despite the seriousness of the situation, a smile briefly crossed the Chief’s stony face at the thought of the happy little girl.
Unfortunately, it was at this time the Great Drought had begun. His tribe had never seen a drought like this. When they first realized the importance of the phenomenon, the Chief’s medicine men began praying to the Great Spirit and performing various rain dances in hopes of relief, but none came. As it wore on and the tribe’s food was depleted, his men and women began to feel that the latest group of English had brought the dryness with them.
Then, he began to hear mutterings from his braves that their alliance with the settlers obviously displeased their gods who sent the drought to punish them.
Skirmishes began to occur between his men and the English as tension increased caused by the dry heat and shortage of food and water. The Chief tried to keep the peace, but he knew if Governor White didn’t return soon, something would have to be done.
Finally, things came to a head. The drought had been in effect for almost three years with no sign of White’s return. The breaking point was the discovery that corn was missing from their storage. Naturally, his men accused the English of theft, but the Chief could have handled that. It was the discovery in the corn storage tent of a gold ring with what the Chief recognized as English writing on it that revealed the harmful truth.
Now, a decision had to be made. Continuing to help these white thieves could only hurt his people, but if he let his braves have their way, it would go against all his past decisions regarding the white village. Something had to give. The tribe or those he swore to protect?
He looked at his sun-darkened arm and knew the answer. He had known it all along. Admitting it was the hard part.
He turned to Fearless Wolf who was waiting anxiously for his judgment. It took him a minute to find his voice. His throat was dry as the words he dreaded croaked out.
“The English are no longer considered friends of the Croatans. Ride upon their village they call Roanoke.” He paused, putting it off, but it had to be said. “Kill them all,” he whispered.
The smile on his warrior’s face betrayed his feelings towards the Englishmen. The Chief knew it meant no mercy would be given in the attack. As the brave turned to get his fighters ready, the Chief called out, “Wait!”
The warrior turned back in exasperation that he tried to hide unsuccessfully.
“There should be a small female child about three years old. Do not kill her. Bring her to me.”
Fearless Wolf paused to consider this before nodding and heading out of the tent. He knew better than to argue with his Chief.
There. It was finished. A tear rolled down his deeply carved face. He hoped that if his friend ever returned, he could at least return little Virginia Dare to the governor as a comfort. Who would comfort the Chief’s guilt and sorrow, he didn’t know.
David Van Houten is a former teacher, father of two boys, and currently awaiting the hand of justice to balance the scales as he marks time in the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, Texas for a crime of which he was convicted with NO evidence against him but the outcry of a troubled girl with a crush on him.
* * *
By Lori White
First, you should know that Top Chef night was Chef Brinkley’s idea, not mine. I divided the class into two teams and hoisted a sack of onions onto the counter for the “Quick Fire” challenge: a mise en place relay race. Knife skills weren’t Lionel’s strong suit. But Chef Brinkley liked to take risks with his classes, said it increased “student engagement.” Turns out he was right. By the time I got Lionel and his pinkie to the car, I had the boy’s full attention. When I told him to keep his hand elevated, he saluted me like a true soldier. I wrapped my apron around the already soaked dishtowel. The hospital was a few miles from campus, and he wasn’t going to ruin the seat of my Corolla.
I got him settled in the ER waiting room and started on the paperwork. I didn’t know much about Lionel beyond the fact that he was dumping money into his red and black GTI like it was a long term investment. Mirrored rims and tinted windows. He parked it diagonally in the school lot, taking up two spaces. Before class, he’d be reclined in the driver’s seat, rap booming. When I suggested we call his mother, Lionel shrugged his shoulders and said she was at work. When I asked about his father, he mumbled, “Good luck with that” and pulled his hood up over his Mohawk. Discussion over.
But I’m fluent in the language of eighteen-year-old boys. Lionel’s answers were not unlike the ones Sam gave me if I asked when he planned on taking out the garbage. Maybe if his dad had stuck around, I’d get an audible response from my own son once in a while. Maybe Lionel’s mother wondered the same.
I took a deep breath. “Okay. Do you have an insurance card?”
He started to reach for his back pocket. “It’s in my backpack,” he said, then slumped back in his seat.
I checked the box marked “Dependent” and gave the clipboard to the receptionist. “If anyone asks, you’re my son.”
Lionel took his phone out and worked his Facebook page one-handed. “Hey, how about laying off the updates till we’re out of here?” I said, to which he responded with yet another shrug.
I texted Sam not to wait up. No doubt he was tackling Call of Duty instead of Spanish. He had a test tomorrow, and we were supposed to run through his vocabulary when I got home. Donde estas? Sam wrote back. El hospital con un estudiante. His curiosity ended there. A single Que lastima! and he was back to fighting zombies.
Lionel looked pale. Blood had seeped through the apron now. I told him there was a good chance they could reattach the pinkie. But that wasn’t what was bothering him.
“It just sucks,” he said. “I had that relay nailed. I’m like a samurai with the blade.” He made a few air chops with his good hand before looking to me for an answer.
“I guess if there’s a finger to lose, that’d be the one,” I offered.
Nervous, he tapped his phone against his knee. This time he didn’t shrug.
Lori White's recent stories can be found online at The Kenyon Review, Spittoon, Necessary Fiction and In Her Place. She teaches English at Los Angeles Pierce College and lives with her partner and their three dogs in a trailer by a lake on the edge of the Los Padres National Forest.
* * *
The Dentist and I
By Matthew Wollin
If there were a mental state that defined modern life and all its constituent anxieties, it’s probably wanting to be doing something else. I want to be doing something else, but am prevented by two other exigencies of modern life: dental care and scheduling. I am in the dentist’s waiting room, reading an issue of Home and Garden from three months ago and wondering exactly what wainscoting is. I should be using this time productively, multitasking with contemporary bravado, getting a start on the next task before the current one is done. But the notion of my imminent appointment closes around me like a vise so that all my thoughts stay here. I don’t often find myself constricted in this way.
But now I am in the dentist’s chair, and I will pay unfailing attention to whatever he says. My dentist – a friendly, odd, almost astonishingly nondescript man – has all the power here. And while the terms of our relationship render me mute, they require him to fill up the dead space with words and one-sided conversation, distracting me and hopefully buffering the effect of whatever tools are currently in my mouth. I am rapt, a captive audience, petrified of doing anything that might make him unhappy to be thrusting stimulating needles and picks into my gums. Perhaps someone has the temerity to try and check their iPhone while in the dentist’s chair, but that someone is not I.
He begins the initial foray into my mouth, metal prongs exploring in search of signs that I did not listen to him last time. He begins to talk. Some things he says require responses, which is problematic, as making anything more than guttural sounds puts me in considerable danger. Occasionally, he removes his devices long enough for me to choke out a few articulated words, and then resumes once he has gained enough information to determine that I am paying attention.
The dentist’s chair is one of those places where time genuinely stops instead of just threatening to. It is worst when his monologue includes inaccurate information I want desperately to correct, but cannot for fear of intra-mouth lacerations. He goes on and on, musing about what the title of that movie is, the one with Julianne Moore about the lesbian couple with that other woman, the one with the short hair who was in that movie about the thieves with John Cusack, what’s her name, Alice something maybe (ANNETTE BENING ANNETTE BENING ANNETTE BENING), it’s definitely Alice something, Alice Betting, that’s it (ANNETTE BENING ANNETTE BENING). It’s like watching a mosquito sting you in slow motion while your hands are tied behind your back.
Eventually, he shifts to other topics, telling me about his sons, his wife, the music he listened to on the radio today. There’s something cathartic about this one-way flow of information. The words wash over me and through me, and I have no choice but to let all of them go. None of them can mean anything to me because I can’t slow down the flow. It’s an exercise in passivity and acceptance that I would never force myself to undergo were there not a socially mandated need for me to lay on a faux-leather chair under a bright light while a stranger free-associates at me for half an hour.
I’ve learned so much though, from these appointments, from all our times together. Right now, while scraping my teeth with a miniature rake just because it feels really good, he tells me that as an average student, he never received any special attention in high school, but worked very hard in dental school in order to take advantage of the opportunities there. He is proud of that. While checking my molars for cavities, he ponders what would happen if a transgendered person applied to an all-girls college, or if a female student became a male student halfway through their enrollment. An interesting, if slightly atypical question, so I give my response grunt all the nuance I can manage (uggghhuuuunnahh). I learn about my dentist’s life, and his view of the world. I learn what he values as entertaining and what he finds dreary, what his daily hopes and disappointments are, and wonder what it means that I am the one hearing them now.
After using a small garden hose to clean my gums, my dentist shows me a pyramid of success and explains each of the constituent building blocks. Curiously, it is not to motivate me to floss, as I had expected, but simply because he finds it inspirational. He follows with the expected flossing admonition, though by means of a very unexpected analogy: apparently, gums need to be stimulated like they’re getting a massage, but not – and here’s the important part – like they’re watching a dirty movie. I did not realize I could stimulate my gums like that. I give my polite grunt (uunnh) like that’s a normal thing to say.
I don’t even want to contemplate the Freudian view of this relationship. I can’t imagine what additional illicit meanings the therapist-patient relationship takes on when it involves actual drills and pieces of sandpaper run back and forth between my teeth. This is just a necessary part of modern life with no subtext whatsoever, I tell myself.
Do I know my dentist now? I know his daydreams, which are underrated in terms of getting the measure of a man; I have no doubt that eavesdropping on my idle thoughts would teach you as much about me as reading this article right now. I have some inkling of the way my dentist connects concepts together, and what kinds of things he wonders about when he’s not wondering about anything else. I know what he muses on to pass the time, what minor enigmas and questions occupy his casual, interstitial thoughts.
This is the kind of conversation I imagine him having around the dinner table with his wife and his children, hopefully with more contribution from them. These are the things you worry about when you don’t have anything to worry about, what you confront when there are no major obstacles facing you. These are the kinds of things on which you build a steady relationship with another person, the kind of minutia that constitute the mortar of the quotidian.
I imagine my dentist trying to remember Annette Bening’s name while putting the dishes in the dishwasher, then settling down on the couch with his wife to watch a movie. I imagine his entire life consisting of these conversations, because I have nothing else to go on. He must have other concerns and worries, goals and desires that matter to him that he doesn’t share with me. There must be a private man beyond the one that talks to me charitably while his hands are in my mouth. But I can’t imagine who that man is. I imagine my dentist will always be there, exactly the same; I imagine that he will never die.
Then I am out of the chair and free again, after the inevitable postgame lecture tinged with varying shades of dental disappointment. My mouth feels sore and clean, and I find myself wondering, what would happen if a transgender person applied to an all-women’s college? And what was the name of that movie with Annette Bening and John Cusack, the one about the thieves with the woman who’s on that show about musicals now? The Greatest? The Gifted? (THE GRIFTERS THE GRIFTERS) My dentist is already investigating somebody else’s gingivitis, but his thoughts have become my own, or his way of thinking them at least. In my mouth, under my skin, and in my head.
Matthew Wollin is a writer and award-winning filmmaker based in New York City. He has written for multiple publications, including The Awl and Word Riot. His films have shown in the Brooklyn Film Festival and the Columbus International Film and Video Festival. He attended Williams College.
* * *
Poems by Gary Beck
I will never speak a dozen tongues
and never see a hundred lands.
The mystery of distant stars
lies far beyond my yearnings.
All my skills, lore and talent
make me a stranger to serenity,
confined to dreams.
I’m tired of being unstable.
I’d like to say
when I meet people;
I work for an Insurance Company.
Next year I’ll be an adjuster
and buy a Buick.
I don’t want to say
I’m not doing anything right now
and try to change the subject
when conversation grows strained.
Yes, if only I were stable.
I wouldn’t move every four months,
sneaking out late at night
with my shabby belongings
because I couldn’t pay the rent.
It would be nice
to go to work like everyone else,
dream of a home on Long Island,
flatter J.P. at cocktail parties,
so he’ll put me up for the country club.
Yes, and I’ll have a nice wife,
who I’ll love and cherish,
and I won’t look at other women,
at least not often,
and never say nasty things
in front of the neighbors
because she was too tired last night.
What a nice dream.
If only it were true.
What if I didn’t believe
it was important to find myself?
What if I didn’t think life was strange
and required understanding?
Would I be different?
Why can’t I live like everyone else?
Go to my bank every Tuesday after lunch,
saving for the ranch house on Long Island,
where we’ll have cocktails with that nice couple next door,
my wife embarrassing me by mentioning my pot belly.
It sounds so simple,
but could never happen
in my tormented life.
The Flight of the Searing Heart
What stirs a man to leave the comfort of his hearth and wander the vast length of his own land? What pulse is there beating, pounding, throbbing with a rhythmic chant: “Let your feet pass over great rivers; may your eyes behold great mountains; may your ears hear new music on new roads; may your heart discover its brothers on the earth; may your spirit find rest in the endless search for an end to aloneness.” No man has known madness save in the chain-like spell that life casts across each man’s shadow. For man was born of two strange passions. The dark pulsing, beast, forever pounding, pounding at the portals of the heart, which in daylight forever cries for the fury and an end to rest. And then the bog-like spell of night, the gentle lover, who lulls all hope of wandering from the guileful by sweet temptations of woman’s breast. Never! Never! screams the youth defiant, who seeks to cross great oceans, hear the voices of ten million men, see all the faces that the earth can bear, and know the very core of man through the channels of his many tongues.
I wander through the streets of life
at burning noon and lost midnight,
and pass ten thousand faces bleak
that stare at me with pain-filled eyes.
Each burning eye a question asks
of purpose lost in time-torn grief,
of barren roads where sown seed rots
and leads to hungry, gape- mouthed death.
So each man dies with puzzled eyes
that never gaze their fill of light,
and deep in blackness each soul lies
as unremembered grave-stones fall.
I cry for a moment of vision,
although a mere dust-bound speck
in an entre’acte diversion,
whose tongue alternates fate and time.
I no longer seek the hidden incantation,
as tainted as Niagara Falls,
that will no longer wash away
chemical stains from beggar’s bodies,
whose souls have a tooth ache.
Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director. His chapbook 'Remembrance' was published by Origami Condom Press, 'The Conquest of Somalia' was published by Cervena Barva Press, 'The Dance of Hate' was published by Calliope Nerve Media, 'Material Questions' was published by Silkworms Ink, 'Dispossessed' was published by Medulla Press and 'Mutilated Girls' was published by Heavy Hands Ink. A collection of his poetry 'Days of Destruction' was published by Skive Press. Another collection 'Expectations' was published by Rogue Scholars Press and 'Dawn in Cities' is being published by Winter Goose Press. His novel 'Acts of Defiance' is being published by Trestle Press. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.
* * *
By Graeme Brasher
Truth is we only do this once.
We make our choices,
Cast our sticks in the dirt
And peer through the fog
At a flickering wall;
We learn to improve our guesses
By screwing up our eyes
And stumbling forward with arms
The thing we think is
The thing we find
And we know the elephant
By feeling its hide, inch by inch;
Until we are confident
Its trunk is not its tail,
The tiger by touching its teeth,
By its stale breath the whale;
And though we struggle of course
To essay its size (a kitten
Still scratches and spits) and
The proper magnitude of things,
This is the best we ever get:
The thrill of one chance,
Graeme Brasher is an Australian teacher working at an international school in Hong Kong. He enjoys football, cricket and world peace.
* * *
Poems by James Duncan
Redemption at Track 34
the pages of Michael’s bible
were rice-paper thin, thin as the skin
of Jesus in a Milwaukee rest home with red
and blue lines varicosed throughout,
marking the quotes of the apocalypse
and the holy Mother Bride redeemer, the one
who will save my soul, says Michael
Christian brides and ablution
never did this philistine any damn good
never did smell of hope and eternity
and neither do thin-paged bibles
or swift yearning words of heaven
everlasting, the gifts of a wrathful God
hell-bent on total destruction, save for those
who wander train station platforms
in Grand Central, pulling bibles from
their pokes and begging for donations
the last call for the train to Poughkeepsie
sends Michael’s heart into a tizzy, sends him
spiraling through Luke and Mark and John
at such a pace that even he forgets to believe,
and Michael, he knows he didn’t save me
and I knew he never could…they say the first
step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem
but I’ve never had a problem with where I was
headed, just wondered whether it was a dry heat
or full on Mississippi swamp humid
Michael shakes hands and surrenders
to the truth, turns and walks toward the main
concourse, a kind enough fellow, just
hoping for his wings, and maybe he was heading
back to his bible study group on fifth avenue,
or back to a padded cell, or to a millionaire’s
loft, though it doesn’t really matter where the hell
Michael was going, so long as he gets there
and I catch the midnight run to Poughkeepsie
“I think I find you interesting,” she said,
“but all you seem to do is write, or think
about writing, or reading, or stuff like that;
if you take all that writing away, are you
still interesting? That’s what I wonder…”
“I am dull—with,” I said, “or without it.”
she laughed, thinking
it was adorable, or something;
it was all a joke to her
as the ice melted in the drinks
but it scared the shit out of me
because it was true
The long county
it has been a long county since I could think
with tools deeper and more expansive than one
foot in front of the other through the corn rows
and gnarled stalks that trip my thinning sole
questions of silence and existence drop like stars
and beg to form words and whispers from lips I
don’t own anymore out here in the darkness where
the dried rustle of leaves interrupts my heartbeat
my every intellect has shorn itself one idle thought
after another like the bottoms of my shoes against
these dry runnels, reduced to simple midnight nothings
crumbling to pieces like the distant memories behind me
Wilting flowers at night
when you lean
the table and tell
you love me again
it won’t be a nightmare
but a well worn
Stop calling me after midnight
when people call and you tell them
you are ankle deep
in bottle caps
they think you’re joking
which is why
talking to people is like walking
some of the time
or at least walking with only socks
most of the time
ankle deep in bottle caps
James H Duncan is a freelance writer living in New York City, and is the founder of Hobo Camp Review, an online literary 'zine dedicated to the traveling word. A Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominee, his poetry and short stories have found homes in dozens of publications, including Pulp Modern, Apt, Red Fez, Haggard & Halloo, Plainsongs, Reed Magazine, Underground Voices, and Poetry Salzburg Review.
* * *
By Terry W. Ford
My first child and her husband awaken
in the four-poster that was my mother’s,
and the family linens again lie neatly folded
in my great grandmother’s dresser,
which dominates the upstairs hall.
My daughter arranges snacks
on a tray her grandmother was given
by my great aunt as a wedding gift.
In the next room, my granddaughter
pounds tunelessly upon the spinet
where my mother’s fingers
used to coax forth minuets.
Perhaps my daughter will make new children
in my parents’ notably fertile bed.
Perhaps her daughter will again bring music
from my mother’s well-worn instrument.
I go to the kitchen
to help my mother mix up stuffing
in Grandma’s huge, old yellow bowl.
I cannot see her,
but I know her hands are there.
Terry W. Ford’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Chaffin Journal; Grey Sparrow; Meridian Anthology, Our Town, North Canton; and Schuylkill Valley Journal. For over four decades she has taught at Kent State University at Stark where in “retirement” she still enjoys teaching, but now it’s only part-time.
* * *
Poems by A.J.Huffman
In Moral Vacuum
The mirror binds me
with its reflection.
Locking around my wrists
like a fist.
I am trapped.
of my self.
On trial in the light.
I am pulled and shaken.
I will give my mind away.
To the stinging silver
of a world
I cannot escape.
Its center is deeper
than my own.
It has corrupted my eyes.
of my weakness,
I discover blindness
If you are falling
with the war
Your kindness frightens me.
I fear it must be --
it must bring --
But a package
as pretty as your smile
is too tempting
That’s why my skin is so burned.
I know the flames are there.
But my mind has simply resigned.
To its sickness.
Believing I need
their spiteful touch.
Choking on the Ashes
There is a hole
in my soul.
That you have walked through.
You walk through it still.
to repeat your escape.
As I repeat my mistake.
For you to stay.
But you show only contempt
for my knees
and their prayers.
And you don’t even bother
Before you open my skin.
You only fill it.
With the whole
of your selfish desire.
And that is just a pain.
For my mind.
A.J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published four collections of poetry: The Difference Between Shadows and Stars, Carrying Yesterday, Cognitive Distortion, and . . . And Other Such Nonsense. She has also published her work in national and international literary journals such as Avon Literary Intelligencer, Writer's Gazette, and The Penwood Review. Find more about A.J. Huffman, including additional information and links to her work here and here.
* * *
By Loren Higbee
fireworks and drinks:
ash smears and singed leg hair
and the grim import of girls' exaggerated
startle responses. relationships and beers pass
around in circles, orbits. Thanatos, have you
met Eros? a tiny beauty flirts as only the drunk can:
a bleary-eyed intensity, the surprising
insistence of her grip; her lips
cool on my temple, seductive
and reassuring as a the barrel
of a gun. tomorrow she'll remember
nothing. the stars revolve in hazy smoke
around the sober monolith. passion
is juvenescent. I am old.
Loren Higbee is a writer, teacher, and occasional karaoke enthusiast. Originally from Utah, he currently teaches at a university in Iraq.
* * *
The Third Bullet
By Stuart Larner
“Oh God Almighty! Please, no! God Almighty, no!”
Army medic Albert Meakin heard those screams from the man in the distant shell crater across the smoke-filled D-day battlefield. Littered about were the bodies of other medics who had failed to reach him. Shielding his eyes from the bodies, Albert scrambled to the man.
A bullet grazed his calf as he tumbled into the crater. From the ferocity of the man’s screams, Albert expected there to be immense gore, but there was not a scratch on him. However, his eyes were fixed in terror. “Get me out of here! Take me home! Please!” He clutched at Albert’s collar and tried to stand up. As Albert reached to pull him down to safety, a bullet nicked Albert’s helmet.
Albert was dazed, then finding himself being draped over the soldier’s shoulder, he thought that the soldier must be trying to carry him to better cover.
As another bullet hit Albert in the arm he realised that he was being used as a human shield. The pain burned so much he couldn’t focus and the battlefield went dark.
Then he heard a woman’s voice, “Albert, wake up. You’re not there anymore. That was fifty years ago.” The burning of his wounds lessened. But the darkness hardly lightened. It improved only to the familiar darkness, with its tiny corner of light, which had been shrouding him since his stroke two years ago. He turned his head towards a faint touch on his arm.
“Take a sip of water, Albert. Here.”
He felt for the hand that offered the glass, and gulped. It was Emma, the student nurse. She was the only nurse who had let him touch her face at first meeting in the nursing home six months ago. It had felt soft and kind. When he had asked what colour her hair was, she had said, “Sort of dark chestnut this month.”
“It’s too short,” he had laughed then, feeling the back of her collar with his unaffected hand.
Now, he heard her switch on the television. The announcer said that the Channel Tunnel was to be officially opened today.
“I suppose this flashback dream has been caused by you thinking about the channel. We’d better get you washed and dressed quick. The priest will be here soon.”
Later in the visitors’ room which smelt of newly-sprayed air-freshener and polish, the priest’s voice was slow and deep. Albert heard the squeak of the plastic armchair as the priest leant forward.
“Albert, I’ve got to tell you something now. The man you helped on D-day, fifty years ago next month, has died. He was called Councillor William Harling and had always claimed that it was he who saved you. Everyone believed him because he hadn’t a mark on him and you’d been shot three times. But on his deathbed, he wanted me to come to tell you what had really happened. In reaching him you bravely took the first two bullets, but he let you take the third instead of him as you both struggled back. I‘ve spoken to the colonel of your regiment. He wants to award you a special medal during the anniversary commemoration. Will you go?”
Albert was silent, but Emma spoke up. “Go. Don’t worry about whether the home can spare the staff. You owe it to yourself to set the record straight. You took the third bullet as well, the one that was meant for him.”
Later that day she was gossiping to him about the latest incident in the home. She was his favourite, yet he knew she was unpopular with the qualified nurses. He guessed that she worked extra hours, often unpaid, giving patients special treats of foods that they liked but shouldn’t have on health and safety grounds. When her patients made more progress than those of the qualified staff, she was accused of copying their ideas. However, when any of their patients got ill, he had heard those staff blaming her.
“So,” he said, “you do other people’s work for them. They take the glory rather than you when it works, but they blame you if anything goes wrong?”
“Yes. I’m like you. I get the third bullet.”
“Hah! And I would take the third bullet for you, any time!”
On the day of the ceremony, Emma released the chocks from the wheelchair inside the taxi. As it bumped onto the ground, Albert was reminded how the jeeps had thudded over a potholed terrain fifty years ago. To his right someone shouted and a line of rifles fired into the air as Emma wheeled him past. Suddenly into his present darkness shocked the image of that day.
He entered the hall, and more orders were barked as he was pushed up the ramp to the creaky dais.
Someone clutched his lapel, trying to pin something on it.
“Get down!” shouted Albert, his mind back in the battle, trying to stand to drag Harling down below the line of fire. The two men staggered and fell.
Albert awoke, not in his usual bed, but to the smell of antiseptic and the clopping of people’s theatre clogs. He heard mutterings about radiography and surgical lists.
“Ah, Mr Meakin, you’ve come round.” The man’s voice was measured. “My name is Dawkins. I investigate incidents outside the nursing home when people end up here in accident and emergency. You accept that you were taken to the ceremony by Emma Cosgrove, a student nurse. Did you know she was doing this in her own time, completely uninsured?”
Albert shook his head. “I’ll sign to accept responsibility. Don’t blame her.”
The man helped him make his mark on the consent form, but his hand went into spasm as the man took the pen away, leaving the pen top stuck in Albert’s hand. A short cylinder with a pointed end, to Albert it seemed fittingly familiar.
Stuart Larner is a chartered clinical psychologist and writer. He was mental health expert for XL for Men magazine and has written self-help material and poems for various magazines and newspapers and local community radio. He has an interest in cricket and has short stories on “abc of cricket” Australian website. As a psychologist he has published numerous articles of a technical nature in scientific journals and at conferences. He has written a novel, a children’s book, and a sports psychology book.
* * *
Poems by Ben Macnair
The revolution will not be televised,
but you will read about in on Twitter.
Robin Hood does not take from the rich,
and give it all to the poor.
He has a web site and a legend to maintain.
The revolution will not be televised,
it will be mentioned on News 24,
between the hours of two and three,
the best time for burying the dead,
and the bad news,
without many people seeing it.
The revolution will not be televised.
It will be spoken about by Jay Leno,
Maybe Dennis Leary will talk about it,
Between periods of anger and reflective vitriol.
The revolution will not be televised.
Alumnus of Eton will line up and say how things are.
The revolution is over.
Until the next one starts.
They come crashing in like waves,
Everyday, hour by hour by hour
The revolution has been televised,
I think you missed it.
it was mentioned between a famine in Africa,
and Pippa Middleton’s new dress.
is on the train,
complaining that it has been delayed,
does not know the meaning of discretion.
does not know the meaning of dignity.
is telling the whole coach
that her Roger did not please her.
Roger is blameless.
He probably works in a library,
and listens to Classical music at night.
He does not want a group of strangers
to know that he failed to provide his Angel
with her delight.
Carol is listening intently on the other side of the phone.
I really hope she is a good friend,
and not some one who puts up with Elaine,
because it is rude to interrupt.
Has no concept of time.
Gets of at the next stop.
Now the quiet zone is quiet,
In the news bulletin,
it was revealed that the last great dictator,
had been toppled.
Later on, it was revealed that a B list
Boy band had split up.
Both stories had repercussions,
but only one would have an impact
over Saturday night Television.
This Brave New World,
where things change in the blink of an eye,
and Saturday night TV stays the same for years,
and an assassin’s sense of guilt is the same
in all currencies,
the great and good think that a karaoke competition
is good enough for the masses.
The masses are fearful for their jobs,
In smaller pockets they are fearful for their lives,
for evil to come knocking,
and go running into a night
populated by every anonymous shadow,
that once had promise.
So Westlife leave a legacy of cover versions,
Gaddaffi leaves a legacy of ruined lives, and so much worse,
and we wait to see who is next to take their place,
for the seats are never empty for long.
The Loneliness of the long distance chugger
They will seek you here.
They will seek you there.
The Girls are always pretty.
The boys a little bit square.
They will charm you with an anodyne comment,
pretend they are interested in what you say,
but you know they have to make some commission,
to eat today.
They will ask for a minute of your time,
say they do not want any money.
You plan your strategy,
hoping there is someone like you ahead,
so you can prepare your lies.
Sorry, I have not got time.
There’s a train to catch.
Someone let the Lions out, again.
But, try seeing it from their perspective.
They wait in the freezing cold,
for people to pass by,
who don’t look them in the eye.
They raise money for good causes,
and they are only trying to make a living.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Chugger.
They hunt in packs, looking to boost morale.
If they did not carry clipboards,
or dress in uniforms,
we would think they were up to no good.
They are young enough to fall for the lies,
that one yes to a hundred no’s is all you need,
but in how many jobs are we expecting people to take
that much rejection and still carry on?
Ben McNair was born in 1976 in Nottingham, and now resides in Staffordshire, UK. His writing has appeared in Purple Patch, Raw Edge, Twisted Tongue, and in Forward Press Anthologies.
* * *
Poems by Chris Menezes
I didn’t cry when the car struck
her body into the air
like a pinwheel of limp limbs
I stood in awful observance
as she smacked the asphalt
could barely bark baby!
from back of throat
Her scream curdled my silence
She sat up mid-road alone
red veil hands over countenance
every anxious second expanding in my lull
I ran to her confused puddle and bent down
she was trying to reason
We had the green walking man, babe
I saw the green walking man
Crowd moved in like fog
driver approached with all oblivion
said a futile I’m sorry
to my blankness
Her face swelled twice its size
before EMT’s wheeled her in
their wailing ambulance
The drive to the hospital was quiet
my thoughts turned to phone calls
then the tremble in my voice
We take short walks around the hall
she gets better at it everyday
but is afraid her hunch will be permanent
Nurses glance from their computers
some smile endearingly
or say looking good Ms. Love
Each room we pass
beeps coughs or gasps
TV’s ramble and screech
Wrinkled faces stare with void
some twist and grimace
some plead with strange eyes
Looking to penetrate the still black of your eyes
to trudge through your damp
and sit in deep quiet
Where forced experiences flash
and recede like low tides
raking layers of sand, foam, and plastic
the applied worth of surfaces
I know you're in there
coiled like rope in a cellar
because I'm all the way
across sun and murmuring
under parades of colorful flesh
stirring calm blues
consumed in the same
Fork Littered Road
A red wheel barrel brimmed with cash
bumps down to corner store
to buy a gallon of milk
beside sweat pulsing finger nails
bronzed with rich earth’s summer salads
uprooted for a day’s wage,
in the golden gleam of flaxen hill expanse
where hosts of corn stalks sway
the pending harvest of cheap cow feed,
beneath black clouds of bitter motor smoke
and thunderous booms of angry steel
where waste is plundered for plastic and aluminum,
behind deadbolts and hanging chains
where televisions blare applause and laughter
while mouths and eyes are avoided on street,
among the hovering must of wet leaves
where poetry crawls like an ant to its colony
dragging a crumb fit for a queen.
Chris Menezes has a bachelors degree in creative writing from California State University, Long Beach. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in RipRap, Switchback, Pearl, and Vulcan: A Literary Dis-Allusion.
* * *
Poems by Mark J. Mitchell
Stars like broken glass
litter the night. Wind corrals
the rain, ranging north and west.
Sound is brittle, almost fragile.
Sneakers ring crisp on concrete,
part of a phantom basketball game
in the Catholic schoolyard.
If you walked out
blade thin breezes would slice
your cheeks. Your keys would score
your soft palms. Cars like bright beasts
would search your secrets--
innocent enough, but yours alone--
and ghosts would scatter like candy wrappers.
THE DAY BEFORE OPENING DAY
The week before daylight savings begins
And there are no shadows in the ballpark.
A few old fans stud their caps with fresh pins
While loud kids are flagging down ice cream bars.
Three rows south, an English jazzman studies
The nuances of scorekeeping. We sing
A nervous anthem. A woman near me
Is reading the score to “The Rite of Spring”
While tapping a too small glove on her thigh.
I’m tuning a battered radio. War rant
Spoils the air. First pitch is popped to the sky
And lands in leather. I try but I just can’t
Make out any pure rulebook strikes or balls
And I’m sure the umpire’s blowing all his calls.
THERE IS NO SUCH BOOK AS PARADISE LOST
It is an academic fiction,
a conspiracy of footnotes. I should know,
I’ve tried and tried and tried to read
the whole damned thing, but lines
seem to slip out of my brain after two hundred or so.
Do you know anyone who’s read the whole thing?
It’s not evil, really, just one of the things,
one of those pleasant, harmless fictions
that teachers enjoy. They tell us so
we’ll think there are books we could know.
They recite any nonsense iambic lines
as if they were on a page we could read.
I remember when I was learning to read
and they told me books held everything
you needed. But in those measured lines
there weren’t any kisses, any flesh. Just fictions
and ideas. Nothing you’d want to know
carnally. Still, it all seemed so
important. A skill, like learning to sew
or how to tell green from red
(as if that was something you could know).
Not Milton now, I don’t mean that, but things
made out of words. Real things, non-fictions
that could shock you like power lines.
I don’t want to pick on the blind man. His lines
aren’t much worse than many. But so
much ink has been spilled over his divine fiction,
this plot (I mean it) you couldn’t read
if you wanted to because the thing
just plain doesn’t exist, you know?
Okay, you can walk into a library, I know,
and pull out Paradise Lost. But after a few lines
or a hundred, your eyes glaze over and everything
goes dark. Time passes. Seconds tick by so
you feel you must have read
a piece of the poem, and you pass along the fiction.
People who should know better still sow
the lie that thousands of lines are there to be read.
It’s a plot of nothings. A bald hoax. A pious fiction.
Minor prophets and
A metronome clicks
Next to the red
Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as the anthologies Good Poems, American Places,Hunger Enough, and Line Drives. His chapbook, Three Visitors will be published by Negative Capability Press later this year and his novels, The Magic War and Knight Prisoner will be published in the coming months. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and film maker Joan Juster. Currently he's seeking gainful employment since poets are born and not paid.
* * *
By James B. Nicola
Shrived and geared, in beads of trepidation,
a lone adventurer sets out today
in gusto and in anonymity.
Others' families wave to others from
the bottom of the mountain; he
has none to watch him, blow across their hands
as he proceeds. Nevertheless this is
a thing he’s wanted to do—had to do
ever since childhood when his family
teased and coddled him about
his dreams. Hero to no one but himself--
yet heroism cannot be applied
without a saving involved, so this can
only be called guts, determination,
folly. Sure he'd rather have his family
around and risk his life to save them all. . . .
Now, the inheritance of solitude
and funds put to this use, he is alive
at last, a short while only, possibly,
but as a silent testament to them
and to his braver self, and to control
what he can control. He will make his own
opportunities now. He clicks his belt,
rechecks the carabiners, takes a swig
and through the stile proceeds up, up, and on,
no longer thinking—no longer looking—back.
James B. Nicola has had over two hundred poems published in publications including Tar River, the Texas Review, The Lyric, and Nimrod. A stage director by profession, his book Playing the Audience won a CHOICE Award. His first chapbook of poems, “Still,” will be out in 2012 from Stasia Press.
* * *
By Laura Pendell
she set the house on fire the night she left,
a hunter by nature, not used to being denied
both mad and maddened
good thing the woman who remained behind
was watery, deep, able to hold
both the birthing and the dying,
transforming the fires the first one left—
healing and bringing back the earth,
dampening the fires that threatened all they held dear
and what of the man
who had awakened the light in both women,
enthusiastic, spontaneous, original,
blinded by what he could not control
now torn apart, pulled, paralyzed
by circumstances beyond anyone’s control
in that time, each of them went beyond
the boundaries of everyday existence
those planetary forces so strong,
with the five planets aligned,
willing them to risk
for this vision of something larger
they had hoped only for joy and healing
not this agony, this arena of tears
everywhere they trod
each of them crying out
and still holding
that vision of love—how close once?
now lost to the fire’s lashing tongue
tendrils of dying embers
crisscrossing the meadow
Laura Pendell began writing poetry in college and participated in the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Place in New York City from 1967-1970. In 1998, she moved to California and was accepted into the MFA Program at Mills College, studying poetry and book arts, and earning her MFA in 2001.
* * *
Poems by Paul Piatkowski
for Keith Cushman
The professorial king here
fears not the grumbles
of we academic peasants. He humbles
his subjects firmly. Damn, the man
captures you, though. In song
he serenades with Yeats
and the nostalgia lingers,
drips from the crown
of his bare head, relating round the table
his affairs, the dreams so heavy
they sink down to his gut,
telling about the long travels
he has taken, the proper play
on stage, the ways of seeing
Prometheus, with or without
this apostrophe, finds resurrection
before gross death comes again.
I must dissect him, spreading
intestine, bladder, heart, and prostate
across rock in an ordered sequence,
looking for patterns here,
among his guts, where
his significance turns cloudy
and from the vultures
pecking away at his body,
I discover their expansion
and shrinkage, push and pull,
and time, perhaps the only real point
of his pain, being no point at all.
Portrait of Me. The Infant Me.
November 1980 from 10 years later
This is the way the story goes,
as my father, the storyteller, explains it:
The cold metal of these sanitized clamps
threatening the firmness of this solid grip
(he gestures), and the placenta’s odor impinging
on my nostrils, and supple baby flesh melts
against my other hand – then raised
the clamps in preparation to cut when
(his eyes bright), abruptly, the boy grabs my hand
stopping the severing of the umbilical cord.
Turning to the doctor, eyes wide at this action,
I ask him: This must mean (he pauses) he will be trouble,
This is chuckled and laughed at
as he eyes me, looking for some sign of mischief
Julius and Pamela
In New Hope, in a native, old hotel
that took hold of the beach beside the pier,
Pamela, the owner’s daughter, found herself
a summer romance every year, and this year
it was Julius, and it struck suddenly.
The boards of the pier seemed to form a ladder
for Julius, leading him up, up, up to the palp of life,
somewhere sewn deep there, in the heavens above,
and Pamela took his finger and held it to her lips.
His body shook as she sucked on his knuckle,
those pudgy little lips and the tongue that followed,
and he felt swallowed in completely by those stars
that they were wont to gaze at,
hand in hand, fingers nestled between fingers,
until Orion’s Belt suddenly snapped down, down,
down upon his back, funneling his fear into the fact
that she would soon be lost to his presence,
and he would just be Julius, the summer love,
who was left on the pier, his heart cupped in his hand,
the rest of him filtered through the wooded sieve;
and Pamela, having taken what she could, stored it
on the small white shelf beside her toilet,
stuck it there with her trinkets and shells,
and at the end of each new summer, cleaned off the dust.
Paul Piatkowski lives in Winston Salem, North Carolina with his beautiful wife and precocious corgi. He received his MA in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His writing has appeared in journals like Fast Forward, Nagautuck River Review, Sheepshead Review, 2River View, Caper Literary Journal, Lines + Stars, Liebamour, Inwood Indiana, Poetry Quarterly, and Tonopah Review.
* * *
Poems by Souradeep Roy
Dreams, remember, are always true
I'll have a story to tell.
And I'd believe it had all happened;
that they weren't stories,
that my dreams were not fables
but true stories.
So the next time I told you
that I spoke to sir
and he spoke to me
in the hospital bed
after he'd passed away;
that he was just as he was before:
humorous, with lots of stories to tell,
don't think it to be untrue.
... It's difficult to explain.
But I swear he was alive;
it's just that we don't see him as often
(because we don't dream that often).
And if you think it's rubbish,
that he's dead,
I wouldn't believe you.
Because I saw him last night in my dreams,
And dreams, remember, are always true.
The forsaken rickshawala sitting
in the corner of the alley
forces a smile when I ask, “Jabe naki?”*
“Na gele cholbe?”** , he replies, smilingly.
Trapped in the desire to exist
his melancholic smile a façade
to hide the pains within.
Seated on his wage earner
I wear my imaginary blinkers
only to become partially blind
when my eyes fall on his bandaged bare right foot
and the cut, bruised, wrecked
left foot decorated in dried blood:
casualties of war –
the war of everyday existence.
The partially, or probably, completely
blind eyes suddenly regains its vision
(what a miracle!)
and the dead brain comprehends
the destination has been arrived at –
Barrackpore railway station.
While giving the ten rupee note
countless thoughts criss-cross
across my vacillating mind:
Should I ask him about his injury?
Should I offer to pay for his recovery?
Should I ask him to keep the change?
Should I . . .
The banausic sound of the duty bound announcer
suddenly alerts my ears:
Pay attention please,
Down, Kalyani Simanta – Sealdah local
Is coming on,
Platform number 2.
I hurriedly take the change and rush there
*Jabe naki: Will you go?
** Na gele cholbe?Do I have a choice?
Souradeep Roy is a second year student of English literature from Scottish Church College, Kolkata.
* * *
Prayers for the Fall Become Winter
By Sam Silva
On the streets and hungry
for spiritual solace
which I could not define
you knew me
mother of words
other autumnal spirit
among the beautiful birds
watching the world decline
held to hope
by a crazy thread
we, both of us, knew Hell
or, for that matter, paradise
like thieves on a cross
who would likely perish
for the only god they could kill
or even like the hope of some perfect newborn
come, in the icy cold, to a nation
of tears become snow
...among the dead.
Sam Silva has published at least 150 poems in print magazines, including Sow's Ear, The ECU Rebel, Pembroke magazine, Samisdat, St. Andrew's Review, Charlotte Poetry Review, Main Street Rag, and many more. Has published at least 300 poems in online journals including Jack Magazine, Comrades, Megaera, Poetry Super Highway,physik garden, Ken again, -30-, Fairfield Review, Foliate Oak, and dozens of others.
* * *
Maury! or Poem Written While Waiting For My Computer to Be Repaired
By Michael K. White
"Nathan! You ARE the father!"
an eruption of screeching thunder
like a sudden summer storm.
"Maury! Maury! He a dirty dawg
Nathan hangs his sorry ass head
in shame like a scolded cur
Maury laughs delighted
sunshine after the sudden
i hope my computer
is fixed soon.
As one half of the semi-legendary playwriting team Broken Gopher Ink, Michael K. White spent his youth tricking and fooling producers into investing their dirty money in his lurching, lumbering plays. Incredibly this led to forty play productions, including fifteen off-Broadway runs that cloaked the author with a bogus literary credibility he misuses to this day. In 2010 "My Apartment" a "micro-novel" was published by Blueprint Press. His work has appeared in BluePrint Review, Foliate Oak, Tongues of the Ocean, Eclectica, Insight Outpost, 5923 Quarterly, Burner Mag, and 6Tales, among others. In January 2012 Lap Lambert Publishing/Just Fiction Books published the full version of “My Apartment.”
* * *
Poems by Harold Williams
APRIL IN PARIS
I cry uncle in a hotel lobby.
Call you long distance &
Cry uncle again. Night clerk
Laughs when asked about the
Cold & hands me a blanket.
Heat turned off for spring &
Go suck an egg, I think she says.
Sucez un oeuf...stupid American.
No phone or heat in the room,
Only pigeons outside & they could
Care less. Cry uncle to the pigeons
& think of my uncle dead & buried.
To what relation did he cry for
In South Pacific jungles? Malaria-
Chilled & dysentery-cramped,
Of course he cried. Through
Fog of hot shower steam I watch
Bad euro television. French hip-hop
& dubbed Hollywood blow-up movies
Turn me into an uncle crying pigeon
& sucking an egg. Wrapped in
swaddling clothes & feeling like
A stranger because there is
No room for me at the end.
MANY KINDS OF DROUGHT
Cry the rain down, sweet sister.
It's been far too long without
& these fields have fissured & cracked.
Cry it down, the way you flashflooded
Those sweetgums along Little Bear Creek,
The way your tropically hot tears
Jumped the banks & grand-paraded
Into town all biblical-like. Cry it down,
The way your ghostly sobbing
Thundered housecats under dirty-
Sheeted beds, your eyes striking
Lightning bolts, popping cross-town
Transformers. Cry for your lost days
& that stray dog that stayed, even after
You clapped dollarstore sandals together
& threw pebbles at it. Then cry for my
Disbelief & fondness for the whiskey,
Which will surely take me before you.
But most of all, cry for that pinedarkened
Empty hallway at our family home,
& the way the hardwood floor creaks
On cold mornings, the oak slats trying
To speak truth to all those school pictures,
My child-eyes closed in each one.
NOCTURNE COMPOSED IN BACKYARD, DRUNK
You would be the freshly-ploughed field sleeping
In a sunrise fog. I, a stray dog skulking, sniffing out
Cat carcasses along an unlit highway. The mockingbird
Trilling at 2 a.m.? The tulip tree with its beard of bees?
In each of these, you come to mind. You are the cloud
Shaped like you; the unexpected snowfall; the letter
From home - coffee-stained, jasmine-scented. You are
The undiscovered galaxy hiding behind that quasar
In our hallway & I am dark matter just outside your orbit,
Pulling you down to our filthy couch for some late night
Slap & tickle. You are the victory yell; the meditation bell;
A hymn I hum in the shower; the book I cannot put down.
CRAZED MAN CHANGES WEATHER
For David Wojahn
Elvis Aaron Presley, born Tupelo, Mississippi
January 8th, 1935, once used yogi mind-power
To move a single small cirrus cloud backwards
Above the death-bleak Nevada desert & for this
Was placed in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Just weeks before his untimely explosion
Atop a Memphis, Tennessee toilet & I figure
If this poor boy's deep-fried grey matter
Could command such meteorological magic
Then what of my own humdrum, caffeine
In the morning, scotch whisky in the evening
Early to bed, Leave it to Beaver brain?
So, on an unusually warm midwinter day
With a fast approaching cold front to the north,
I stand, arms stretched out & up, in my street,
Straining like the old Hound Dog himself,
Quietly humming Return to Sender, Teddy Bear,
Love Me Tender & Suspicious Minds,
When lo & behold, the blue sky freezes
Into a full-color photocopy of itself & as
Thousands of red-winged blackbirds rain down
I can only wish our God, our King, was still alive
To looketh upon me, verily, & tremble.
Harold Whit Williams is a native Alabamian working in library cataloging at the University of Texas at Austin. His first chapbook, Waiting For The Fire To Go Out, is available from Finishing Line Press, and his poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, Oxford American, Oklahoma Review, Slipstream, Weave, among others.
* * *
By Nicole Yurcaba
The raven bled
upon cerulean sky--
circling, crying, quoting
to we mere mortals scattered below,
who weaved a barbed-wire way betwixt
securely tamped locust posts and across
rocky river ground.
the Angus cattle flooded
upon winter riverside pasture--
lowing, sparring, churning
their hallowed ground
to cold-molten mud,
and we mere mortals
our unworthy heads in futile epiphany:
when we are gone, lowered
and churned into
our hallowed earth’s brown blood,
the raven will circle, cry, declare
“I am the master of these fields;
I am the keeper of these bones"
Nicky Yurcaba is a 2009 of Bridgewater College, currently working as an adjunct English instructor, substitute teacher, and hired hand on a cattle farm. Her work has been a promoting voice for backwoods feminists everywhere thanks to journals like VoxPoetica, Hobo Camp Review, Referential Magazine, The Bluestone Review, Bridgewater College's Philomathean, The Literary Underground, and See Spot Run Magazine.
* * *
Art by Amy Bernays
Amy Bernays is a painter and writer living and working in Los Angeles, California. Shortlisted for the Mercury prize in 2006, her work can be seen in galleries in Los Angeles, London and Edinburgh as well as online.
* * *
By Steve Cartwright
It's well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our pal Steve Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by mackerel is no way to go!He ( Steve, not the mackerel ) has done art for several magazines, newspapers, websites, commercial and governmental clients, books, and scribbling - but mostly drooling - on tavern napkins. He also creates art pro bono for several animal rescue groups. He was awarded the 2004 James Award for his cover art for Champagne Shivers. He recently illustrated the Cimarron Review, Stories for Children, and Still Crazy magazine covers.
* * *
Art by Rebecca Meredith
* * *
Art by Mukesh Williams
Mukesh Williams is a poet, photographer and university professor living in Japan. His poems have appeared in The Centrifugal Eye, Istanbul Literary Review, Poetry Plaza, Asahi Haikuist, Plankton.
* * *
Art by Steve Wing