October 2013
Fiction
Sea of Lies 
By Nikita Gill
i.
My father never read me the story of Icarus. I found it for myself. I suppose he did not want me to know what it was like to almost touch the stars. But it was only after I had read the story did I even try to reach so far. It is a little like falling in love...and then drowning in the sea.

(I would be lying if I said the fall didn't break everything I had once believed was solid.)

ii.
My science teacher knew well that I was a dreamer. When I told her I believed fairytales were as real as love is, I could see the disapproval and disappointment in her eyes. I suppose thats why in her classroom, when I was asked what the greatest force in the universe was, I answered love. I suppose thats why she laughed and reminded me that love was as much a fairytale as the fairytales I believed in.

(She was wrong. Love exists...its just been broken into a million little pieces, set afloat in a sea of heartbreak.)

iii.
My mother didn't want to speak about the sea anymore. As a girl who had been born to the water, I thought I understood why. It was the white winged tips of a furious sea storm that stole what she loved best from her. It wasn't until my grandmother told me on a dark quiet night where the moon glowed pretty across the still waters that I truly understood why.

("She should have never stolen you from the water. It will always want you back. It will never forgive her.")

iv.
One day I will meet a boy. He will be stars sent, undiscovered, bewitching...he will know that my favourite song is about winter and how much I love the rain. And I will love him with all of what is left of my broken little heart.

(Only to find that he has stolen the eyes of a Sea God.)
 
Nikita Gill is a 25 year old madness who once wrote an unknown book called Your Body is an Ocean and is now editor of a literary magazine called Modern Day Fairytales.
* * *
High School Reunion 
By Joseph Giordano
I hummed while I packed for my high school reunion trip, the lightest I felt since my marriage disintegrated. It was decades since I’d been back to Howard Beach High. Pete Nichols, one of my former track team buddies, called and asked me to come to this year’s party. I mentioned Bethany Johnson to Pete.

“Bethany’s divorced. She asks about you,” he said.

We dated my senior year. Bethany had long blond hair, blue eyes, and she wanted to be a model. Her father would give me a look that could wilt flowers, and order us home by eleven. The most intimate we got was necking under the Far Rockaway, 42nd Street boardwalk, and I remembered the smell of treated wood, knishes, and coconut sun tan lotion. When I was accepted to university, we promised to write, but the willing girls I met distracted me, and my letters stopped.

After I spoke to Pete, I started a zero carb diet, and worked out every day. I could do twenty-five pushups. Not pussy, slight elbow bends, but real, chest down to the floor, pushups. Okay, I could do fifty without breaking a sweat in high school, and now the last couple left me gasping. But I was way ahead of the pudges I saw at the gym who worked with personal trainers, and rolled on rubber balls for exercise. In the right light, I could see muscle definition in a couple of places.

The reunion was at the Marriott, and I got a room. I put on my black suit, and the blue, silk tie I bought for the occasion. I tightened the Windsor knot and smoothed my graying hair in front of the full-length mirror on the wall. I smiled and proclaimed, “Let the games begin.”

           I strode off the elevator into the huge ballroom and spotted a sign-in table. I grabbed a nametag badge and wrote “Ted Curtis” in big black letters with a Sharpie Marker. The girl at the desk was attractive with short, brown hair and lots of cleavage. She looked at me with a furrowed brow. At my insistence, she examined the list of names in front of her. I scanned faces around me, but saw no one I recognized. She said that probably I wanted the reunion going on in the next room. I looked in the direction she pointed. There were a gaggle of gray heads, belly rolls, and matronly gowns, including a person using a walker and another with a cane. 

I said, “Those people are old.”

Her smile showed whitened teeth. “This is the Twenty-Year Reunion; I think you want the Forty.”

I walked slowly toward the group. As I neared, a woman with blue eyes and silver hair beamed at me.

“Ted, it is you. Pete said you’d be here.”

My eyes went to her nametag.

My mouth opened. I said, “Bethany?”

We hugged. She felt clammy and soft. The perfume I remembered from high school made a sour mix with sweat.

She stepped back. “Ted, you look great. You’re in the same shape as high school Wish I could say the same.” Her eyes went down.

There was moisture on her upper lip. Skin tags ran down the side of her neck like stepping-stones. The image of Bethany’s face in high school, fresh as a new cut rose, flashed into my head. This Bethany was like Dorian Gray’s painting, aged in the attic of reality. The teen memory disintegrated, and my heart felt heavy as bereavement.

I said, “You look great.”

She smiled at my lie. Kindness was the dying ember of affection.

Pete walked over and saved me. The two of us spoke, but we ran out of remembrances after an hour. I slipped away to my room. Inside, I threw my suit jacket and pants on a chair. I ripped off my tie, and tore at the buttons on my blue shirt. It was eight-thirty, but I wanted to sleep. I went into the bathroom and looked into the mirror. The skin under my chin hung down like the belly of a pregnant pig. A spider web of cracks underscored each eye. The feeling of hollowness when I recognized Bethany returned. Blood flushed my face, and my jaw tightened. My hands clenched. I struck the image in the mirror with my fist. Glass sliced my skin. There were flecks of red on the shards that clinked into the sink. I slumped down, sat on the edge of the tub and sobbed.

I never spoke to Bethany or Pete again. The force of the punch cracked bones in my hand, and the injury never healed. Even now I can’t put enough weight on my palm for a single pushup. 
 
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their little Shih Tzu, Sophia. Some of Joe's stories  have appeared in the following magazines:  Alliterati Magazine, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Black Heart Magazine, Blue Lake Review, Bluestem Magazine, Bong is Bard, Crack the Spine, Epiphany Magazine, and Forge.
* * *
 
The Taxi 
By Karl Harshbarger

    The day before yesterday, his first day driving taxi, he'd only cleared $6.70 - and that included tips.  Yesterday - tips again - only $8.90.

    So what kind of a summer job was that?      And this morning in the summer of 1950 didn't look any better.  At ten o'clock he'd joined the queue of taxis in front of the bus station and it took him all the way until 10:45 just to make it to the front of the line.

    And now ten more minutes of waiting.

    Finally, something.  A fat woman with shopping bags and two kids, a boy and a girl, opened the back door of his taxi.  The girl lurched in first.

    "Alice, I told you!"  The woman pulled the girl back.  "I'm telling you!  You try that one more time!  You just try it!  Go ahead, Bobby."

    The boy got in, then the girl; the woman shoved her shopping bags in next to her kids, opened the front door and got in beside Casey.

    As she settled her weight down and smoothed the lap of her dress she said brightly, "Hello!  And how are we today?  We okay?"

    "I'm fine," said Casey. 

    Maybe she was 30, maybe younger, maybe older.  Who knew?  Being fat and all that you couldn't really tell.

    "So how much is a boy like you gonna charge me out to the old Johnson farm?  Just short of Tipton?"

    Casey pulled the mike off the dashboard, pushed the button and announced that he was taxi number 4 at the bus station.

    "Go, Four!" said the dispatcher.

    Casey explained that he had a woman who wanted to go just short of Tipton and how much was that likely to be?

    "Bet you mean the old Johnson farm," said the dispatcher.

    "Could be," said Casey.

    "Reckon you got Laurna in there with you.  You tell Laurna it’s the same as its always been:  Eight-fifty."

    Casey replaced the mike and said to the woman, "It'll cost you eight-fifty."

    "Oh, sure.  I know that.  Whatever the meter says."

    Just then one of the kids in the back seat, the boy, began to cry.

    "Alice!" the woman wedged herself around in the seat and suddenly, quick as that, almost before Casey could see it, slapped the girl.  The slap made a kind of hollow sound.  "I told you!  How many times I told you?"

   The girl held her hand to her cheek at let out a thin howl.

    The woman got herself back around in her seat and again smoothed the lap of her dress.

    "That girl's a regular little bitch."

    "So," said Casey, "agreed?  Ten?"

    "Oh, sure!  Fine!"

    The woman smiled her bright smile again.

    Casey pulled the handle of the meter down and circled his taxi out into the street away from the bus station.

    "The regular road toward Tipton?" asked Casey.

    "You got it.  I'll tell you where to turn off."

    They were already at the Shell station opposite the church.  Casey turned right on Highway Six and headed out toward the new mall at the edge of town.

    "Nice day, huh?" said the woman.

    "Not bad," said Casey.

    "Yeah, yeah, a pretty good day."

    Then she said, "If you ask me, we've had too much rain lately."

    "That's a fact," said Casey.

    "Rain, rain, rain."

    The boy in the back seat started crying again.

    "He kicked me!" said the girl.

    "She kicked me!" said the boy.

    "The both of you just shut up!" said the woman without turning around

    Casey had a glance at the meter.  It already showed one dollar fifty.  But that's because it had started at one-ten.

    "I guess you wouldn't mind if I ask you a question?" said the woman.  "You new?"

    Casey nodded.

    "I thought so.  You know, when I first saw you, right away I said to myself, that boy's new."

    "My third day," said Casey.

    "You just never know, do you?"

    "I guess you don't."

    "Sometimes that's the way things happen."

    They were passing the mall and all the new improvements on Highway Six next to it including the McDonald's and the Burger King.  Ahead Casey could see where the highway narrowed again as it headed out into the country.

    "You want to know what else I thought?"

    "What?" said Casey.

    "When I first saw you."

    "Oh, yeah, what?"

    "Right away when I first saw you I thought, now why don't I give that nice young man my business.  Start him off right."

    "Well, thanks," said Casey

    "See, them other men.  Well, you know.  I guess you know.  Them other cabbies.  They's too used to things.  They take advantage.  You know what I mean?"

    "Maybe," said Casey.

    "But right away, right from the get-go, I saw you weren't the kind to take advantage."

    The boy in the back seat started crying again.

    The woman ignored the crying.

    "Say, you don't mind if I ask another question?  Personal-like?

    "Oh, no," said Casey.

    "Sure you don't?"

    "Of course."

    "Well, bet you're a student.  Probably studying to be a doctor."

    "No, no," said Casey, "no, no."

    "No doctor?"

    Casey explained he wasn't even a university student yet, that he'd only finished high school.  But he certainly would be a university student.  In the fall.  Then he'd be a freshman at the University of Iowa.  That's why he was working now, driving the taxi, getting some money.

     Wedging herself around the woman shouted, "Shut up!" to her kids.  Then she turned back to Casey.

     "That's real nice," she said.  "You being a student, and all.  Because these times, you know what I mean, you get all the education you can.  That's what I think."

    "That's what I think, too," said Casey.

    "So what you going to be?"

    "Maybe a lawyer."

    "A lawyer?"

    "Probably I'll take pre-law."

    "That's good.  Well, you work hard at that university.  You work really hard.  Because a lawyer, you know, a lawyer can make a lot of money."

    "But I also want to do some pro bono work."

    "Pro what?"

    "Pro bono.  That's where you help people for free."

    "Oh, yeah?" said the woman.

    They were well beyond the mall now and out in the country passing fields of corn and every once in a while white farm houses and big barns.  Not too far ahead Casey could see the outlines of the hills where he knew some people who lived up there didn't even have electricity yet.

    "You mind if I ask you another question?  Personal?"

    "No.  Go ahead," said Casey.

    "You got a girlfriend?"

    Casey thought about it.  Whether he had a girlfriend or not.  Well, in a way he did.  He sort of had a girlfriend.

    "Oh, sure," he said.

    "Well, I knew you did.  Of course, you do.  A boy like you.  Going to be a lawyer and all that.  Most girls would give their left arm.  And that's the truth."

    "Well . . . ," said Casey.

    "You come on!  Don't tell me!  I'll bet the girls chase you all over."

    "No, no," said Casey.

    "So is she a nice girl, this girl?"

    "Well, yes, yes, oh, yes, she's very nice."

    "And do the two of you already . . . ?  Do you . . . ?  You know what I mean.  Hell, you know what I mean!"

    "Oh, no, no.  Not yet.  That is, not yet."

    "You be careful!"

    "Oh, I will," said Casey.

    "Don't you do anything too soon!  See, I know what I'm talking about.  You understand?"

    "I do," said Casey.

    "There!" shouted the girl standing up on the back seat and leaning over the front seat.  She was pointing ahead of them.  "We turn there!"

    "Right up there," said the woman to Casey.  "Make a left."

    As Casey slowed to make the turn he glanced at the meter.  It was amazing how fast it went.  It already said six-fifty.

    He made the turn and right away as they started going up the hill the road narrowed and the land suddenly changed from the good farmland below to little pastures on the sides of hills.  Sometimes there were cows in the pastures and sometimes there weren't.

    "So how far?" said Casey.

    "Not too far," said the woman.

    The girl kept leaning over the front seat.

    "Bobby's birthday's tomorrow," she said to Casey.

    "Oh?" said Casey.

    "He'll be six," said the girl.

    "I'll be seven," said the boy, also standing and leaning forward next to his sister.

    "No you won't."

    "Yes, I will."

    "You won't."

    "I will."

    "You won't, won't, won't."

    "I will, will, will."

    They started to tickle each other and fell laughing onto the back seat.

    "Will the two of you . . . ?" said the woman.

    Then the woman pointed out ahead of them.  "There!"

    Casey saw a tractor lane going off into a woods.  As he slowed to turn in he again glanced at the meter.  It now said seven-fifty.

    The two kids in the back seat kept tickling each other and laughing.

    The woman swung herself around.  "Will the two of you shut the fuck up!"

    Right away the laughing stopped.

    "Kids!" said the woman to Casey.

    After going down the tractor lane for a while they came into a clearing and Casey saw a small house and a small barn and some field machinery sitting around.  The house wasn't really a house, more like a shack.  Well, somewhere between a house and a shack.  Probably it had once been painted white, but most of its paint had by now peeled off.

    As Casey stopped the taxi a small black dog, maybe a bull terrier, rushed off the porch toward them barking and snarling.

    "So," said Casey pulling the meter handle down.  He saw it said eight dollars and twenty cents.

    Both the kids piled out of the back door and ran toward the house.  The dog ignored them and kept barking and snarling at the taxi.

    "You know, I want to thank you very much," said the woman opening her door and shifting herself around to get out.  "Like I said, you are a very, very nice boy."

    She got her legs under her and then reached into the back seat for her shopping bags.  The dog continued to bark and snarl.

    "You shut the fuck up!" the woman said to the dog.

    With that she waddled toward the house.  The dog didn't follow her but continued to bark and snarl at the taxi.

    Casey looked at the meter.  It still said eight dollars and twenty cents just as it had a minute ago.

    So where was the woman?  He had expected her to pay him either before she got out of the taxi or just after she got out.  That's how all his other customers these three days had done it.  He certainly hadn't thought she'd just waddle off like that.

    Well, probably she'd come right back out and pay him.  Because for some people, people like this woman, for example, eight dollars was a lot of money.  So she'd gone in the house to get her money and she'd be right back to pay him.

    Casey sat there for maybe one minute.  Maybe two minutes.  All the time the dog kept barking and snarling.

    But the woman didn't come out.

    This wasn't really happening, was it? thought Casey.  That she wasn't going to pay him?  That she had just walked away?  Because people didn't do things like that.  The meter said eight dollars and twenty cents.  So that's what she owed him.

    He sat there for maybe two minutes more looking at the door of house.  But even though he waited for it to open, it didn't open.

    And then there was this dog barking like crazy just outside his door.

    I've got to, Casey said to himself.  I can't let her get away with this.  I have to.

    But there was that dog.  And you never knew about dogs.

    "Hello," he said to the dog.  "Nice dog."

    But the dog increased its barking and snarling.

    Casey eased his door open, but not much, and as he did so, the dog stopped barking, backed away, then started up barking again, more than ever. 

    He's a coward, thought Casey.

    He opened the door all the way and the dog ran toward the house and disappeared around its corner.

    A real coward, thought Casey.  One of those types.

    Casey went up to the door of the house and knocked.  When nothing happened, he knocked again.  Only harder this time.  And when still nothing happened, he knocked even harder, really a lot harder, really pounding his fist.

    Finally, between knocks, he heard footsteps coming, and then, finally, the door opened.  The woman stood there taking up the whole doorframe.

    "Why, hello, there!" she said brightly.

    Casey told her she owed him eight dollars.  He didn’t mention the twenty cents.

    "Oh, sure I do!  Whatdya think?  I've been looking all over for it - that money.  Because it's got to be somewhere.  Got to be.  I put that bill in the drawer this morning.  Fifty dollars.  I sure did.  I'll show you.  Come on in."

    Casey followed the woman through what seemed to be a kitchen into what seemed to be sort of a living room.

    "See here?"

    The woman pulled out a top drawer of a chest of drawers.  The drawer had different kinds of sheets of paper in it.

    "I put that 50 dollar bill right in here on top before I left this morning, and now, well, you look."

    Casey sure didn't see anything that looked like a 50 dollar bill.

    "You know what I think happened?" said the woman.  "I'll tell you what I think happened.  I think my husband found that 50 and took it with him today when he left.  Without telling me.  You want to bet?"

    "You owe me eight dollars," repeated Casey.

    "'Course I do.  I know that.  And here's what I'll do.  You give me your address, you know what I mean, where you live, and as soon as my husband comes home I'll put that eight in an envelope and send it right over to you in the US mail.  Hell, once my husband hears what happened, he'll make me do it.  That's the God's truth."

    “I don’t know about that.”

    “What’dya mean, you don’t know about that.  Hell, my old man, he’ll force me.”

    "You promise, then?" said Casey.  “You promise you'll send me the money?"

    "Whatdya take me?" said the woman getting a sheet of paper from the drawer and going over to the table and sitting down.  "Tell you what.  Now you give me your address where you live.  Real clear like so I don't make no mistakes."

    "You really promise?"

    "'Course."

    "All right," said Casey.  "Because eight dollars is eight dollars."

    "'Course I promise."

    He told the woman the street and the number of the house he lived in with his parents in that new suburb called River Heights.

    "River Heights?  You live in River Heights?"

    "Yes," said Casey.

    "The one overlooking the river?"

    "Yes."

    "Well, now, how about that?  River Heights!  So you live in River Heights?  I guess your folks got some kind of money, huh?  I'll bet.  To live there.  You like it?"

    "It's all right," said Casey. 

    "Well, I guess it's all right.  I guess so!"

    The woman finished writing the address and stood up.

    "So," she said with her bright smile.

    She held out her hand and Casey saw that he was supposed to take it.

    "And you promise?  For sure?" said Casey taking her hand.

    She pumped it almost like a man would, and somehow, while pumping it, managing to maneuver him over toward the door.

    "You have a good trip home now, you hear me?"  She almost pushed Casey out the door.  "And about that girlfriend of yours.  I know she's a nice girl and all that.  But listen to me.  Girls are girls.  Every time!  See!  They’ll take advantage of you every time they can!”

    She didn't really give Casey a chance to answer because she closed the door right in his face.  And just as she did so the little black dog came charging around the corner and went for Casey.  Well, it stopped maybe four feet from him, barking and snarling and showing its teeth.

    That dog’s a coward! thought Casey.  One of those.

    He aimed a kick and the dog let out a yip and ran back around the corner.

    "You shut the fuck up!" he shouted at the place where the dog had been.
Karl Harshbarger is an American writer (living in Germany) and has had over 80 publications of his stories in such magazines as The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Antioch Review, The New England Review and The Prairie Schooner. Two of his stories have been selected for the list of “Distinguished Stories” in Best American Short Stories and twelve of his stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  He was a finalist for a collection of short stories in the Iowa Publication Awards for Short Fiction, the George Garrett Fiction Prize for Best Book of Short Stories or Short Novel and the Mary McCarthy Prize for Short Fiction.
* * *

The Crawl 
By Adam Houchens
             The first time Ben decided to quit drinking he only gave his friends an hour’s notice to show up at his mom’s house so they could drain all of his unfinished bottles and whatever they felt like sharing in his musty basement room.  When he decided to quit again six months later Greg vetoed his plans for another sad subterranean finale and rounded up the boys for a night on Water Street that ended on Bradford Beach with an impromptu polar plunge that left Ben more determined than ever to stop boozing.  By the time he’d reached his fifth try Ben’s Last Dance had become a bi-annual tradition, a free-for-all everyone craved and never failed to make the most of, as though they were all enjoying their last week of shore leave before a long dry journey home.  Only Ben never got too crazy, choosing to drink his shots with a slow, calm focus that always got him as drunk as everybody else but didn’t end with broken glasses on the floor.  He never achieved the buoyant drunk his friends enjoyed, though.  His was always that torpid, end-of-the-night drunk nobody looked forward to, a drunk he almost seemed to submit to but always insisted on having one last time. 

           The unmitigated fun of Ben’s Last Dances came at a price, and that price was the months that came between.  Things always started out well.  Ben would stay sober for seven or eight weeks, throwing all his newfound time and energy into creative projects he’d set aside to drink—a concept album based on the Odyssey, a novel set in Atlantis, a blog focused on the trials and tribulations of his fellow millenials and a hundred others, picking them up and dropping them like seashells that, while promising at a glance, always came up broken.  Eventually he’d crack, of course, starting out with a list of promises—no drinking hard liquor, no drinking on weeknights, no drinking alone—he wouldn’t stop talking about until he’d abandoned them, too.  By week twelve he’d be back to his nightly Eagle’s Club visits, Greg watching from his own seat at the bar and waiting for the next STD or DUI or something else unthinkably possible to tell his friend he’d hit rock bottom again, disappointed and a little scared that this rock bottom could be his last but silent.  What was he supposed to say?  And what gave a nightly boozer like him the right to say it?        

When it came time for the twelfth Last Dance—or was it the sixteenth…or were they already on twenty?—Ben told Greg he didn’t want their other friends involved. 

           “It’s embarrassing,” he said.  “Why should we keep celebrating what a screw-up I am?”

           “That isn’t what the Last Dance is about.  It’s about us cutting loose.  It’s about our friendship,” Greg said.  “They’ll never forgive you if you leave them out.”

           “I don’t care.  It stays between us this time, alright?”

           Greg reluctantly agreed, and the next night they met up at Paddy’s to open the crawl with Irish Car Bombs and Guinness.  The drinks at Paddy’s could get expensive, though, so after a couple rounds they moved on to Landmark and washed down shots of Jagermeister with PBR.  They were on their third cans when Ben, clearly feeling it, leaned over the table and launched into a rant Greg had learned to expect. 

           “I’m telling you, man, I’ve got to get myself together.  You know?  I’ve got to quit screwing around and get myself together.  Because you only get so much time, you know, and I’m pissing it away.  Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in my own shit.  You know what I mean?  Like there’s all this negative energy I’ve created myself, you know, I’m not blaming anyone but me, but there’s all this negative energy and I’m just fucking drowning in it, you know?”

           Greg finished his latest then reached over and finished Ben’s so they could pay their tab and get out of there.  Back on his feet Ben brightened up, so Greg kept him walking until they reached Brady Street.  They popped into the Up and Under and downed shots of Jameson until the band’s lukewarm Stevie Ray Vaughn covers drove them back into the street and down Water where they sipped Jack and Cokes and watched the girls ride the mechanical bull in Red Rock, ordering the same from a bartender at Coyote Ugly they chatted up relentlessly though it was obvious from the start how little she felt like chatting back.

           “Hey man, do you remember Becky Metzle?” Ben asked when the bartender finally wandered off. 

           “Sure.”

           “I ran into her the other day.  Did you know she’s married now?  With a kid?  She looks great, too.  That body.  Can you believe I cheated on her?  What was I thinking?”

           Greg shrugged.

           “I know.  I wasn’t thinking,” Ben muttered.  “I was drunk.”

           “I wish you’d quit that ‘because I was drunk’ crap.  Maybe you cheated on her because you didn’t like her.  I mean, I remember Becky Metzle, and she wasn’t the sweetheart you’re pining for.  Or have you forgotten that night she took a hammer to your PS3?”

           “I don’t know.  I miss her.  I realize that now.  I miss her and there’s nothing I can do about it.”      

           “Jesus Christ,” Greg sighed.  “If you haven’t given her a second thought until tonight you don’t miss her that much.”

           “I don’t know, man.  I think she might have been my soul mate.”

           That was another cue to move, so Greg dragged Ben out of his stool and down the street to Trinity for Black and Tans, the two of them polishing off three apiece before bar close that came up on the sidewalk the moment they were back outside.  Ben wanted to sit down but Greg pulled him along by the sleeve, both walking as though they were wading through shallow waves in flippers until they reached their favorite three-in-the-morning spot by the river and collapsed, Greg lying down on a bench while Ben sat on the edge of the concrete bank with his feet hanging over the water.

           “Why do I keep doing this shit?” Ben slurred.

           “Because it’s fun,” Greg slurred back.

           Ben tried to get up and failed.

           “Hey Greg.”

           “Hmm?”

           “I think I’m sick.  Like, really sick,” Ben said slowly.

           “Just throw up in the river.  It’s nothing but a big toilet anyway.”

           Ben laughed and Greg shut his eyes, the inevitable pass-out rendering him oblivious to his friend’s last question—“What are we doing here?”—and his splash in the cold Milwaukee river.  He didn’t hear Ben’s frantic cries for help, either, and when he woke up hours later to the weak November sun he was half-frozen, hung over and alone.  Stepping up to the edge of the concrete and looking down at the placid river Greg stretched and tried to remember how he’d ended up there and where his friend had gone, but walked home minutes later without so much as dipping his toe in either problem.   
 
Adam Houchens is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he studied English Literature under the poet James Liddy. He has been published in Liddy’s magazine the Blue Canary. He has written a novel he is showing to agents and writes short screenplays for a local film cooperative.
* * *
Two Stories
By Alexa Mergen
Animal Speak
After climbing the zoo’s iron fence, Cici Tattel followed hoof prints painted on the asphalt road to Grassland Grotto. She had read that the giraffe, Marana, a longtime resident, had given birth to a calf, named, after a contest sponsored by the Star newspaper, Chad.

The rain quit and the clouds cleared to reveal a hump-shaped gibbous moon illuminating the mother and son who stood in a corral attached to their shed. A metal sculpture shaped like a tree provided the only adornment. Chad stood under his mother. Occasionally, she reached her neck around to nuzzle him. Cici could understand their language now, not only the gestures, which resembled those horses use, but giraffe-language, translated into English. To speak, one merely imagined a thought and the other, if willing, receives it. Marana did most of the talking. Cici listened, content on the railing’s edge where Marana told her to balance. She was born in the horn of Africa, Marana told Cici, on the edge of a forest. Once, she said, she stood with her body in the forest and her head on the plain to attempt to inhabit two worlds. She never thought she would have to adapt to such another as this one, where food was brought to her on the end of a fork and she could never gallop again. As she spoke, the spots on her body swirled into paisley patterns. Chad smelled like honey, reminding Cici of peanut butter sandwiches she made when she and her brother Adam played in the woods on late fall days when they were small.

Cici studied the shape of their pen. In eighth-grade, she took Latin until the teacher, Mr. Roman, worn out by the Fester brother’ spit wads,which stuck to his posters of curly-haired men in togas, and their tipping chairs that made him jump when they clattered to the linoleum floor, quit halfway through the school year. Mr. Roman, in spite of or because of his surname, was well-suited to teaching Latin.

One day, he drew on the chalkboard a circle. This is a corral, he told the students. Cici sat up and watched his hand which was covered with brown hair like a bear paw. She had written long sentences about her horses in elemental Latin and illustrated them. She was earning an ‘A.’ Define means to fix boundaries, to draw a circle of meaning, Mr. Roman said standing back to admire the empty “O.” This is how labels come to be. Cici had thought of Jay who was “black,” and she “white” thought neither was a color found in a box. She thought of her mother, labeled “mom,” and her friend’s mother, also “mom,” and how the one seemed never satisfied with her daughter and the other perhaps too much so. She thought of John West who was “employee” but also “friend” and, sometimes “father,” and how that label was officially reserved for Ben, who owned the stable. She thought of Adam, whose name came from Hebrew for “first human,” and Michelangelo’s depiction of the first Adam showing a reclining lazy-looking blonde, man reclining with an indifferent look on his face, receiving, in spite of his bland expression, the full attention of God. She thought the painting defined her “brother,” bound to her by blood and name.

As dawn opened the clam shell of day the mother giraffe told Cici that her species name was Camelopardalis, from Latin, meaning “camel-leopard.” Humans, she said, noticed a long neck and thought “camel,” and spots and thought “leopard.” Really, she was neither and both. Everything is defined against something else. Did Cici know that patterns on giraffes’ fur are unique to the regions they come from? She did not.

The other animals stirred, spurred by a common light no matter their originations, other continents, other countries. Cici heard the gibbons’ ghost-like whoop, the sparrows, who were free animals, sounding exactly like her resin and wood bird call as they sang to the morning, and a bird she didn’t know that cackled from the aviary up the hill.

Before she left, Cici told Marana that her name was Latin, too, for “way for the blind,” and that she was named for her grandmother whom she never knew, and for a saint which was a heavy load to carry. Marana looked at her and lowered her long-lashed lids in a slow-blink. Cici went home to the stable in the park. Her own house and Jay’s were dark when she arrived in the clearing.

She swapped Sebastian’s jacket for a canvas and wool one that hung on a peg, threw a blanket over Moss’ back, and led the old mare out of the barn to let her amble where she may. Cici would delay as long as possible leaving the whispering woods, the birds streaking like shooting stars, and the squirrels chattering their gossip. She could laze on Moss’ wide back, hugging her roundness with her thighs and shins as she gradually reentered this world.
 
Studio
When Mona pushes open the door to the dance studio she is surprised to see the phonograph and chairs in place. She bends to remove her shoes. The tornado that swept through her life missed touching down in this spot. As she walks, her socked feet shine dust from the honey-colored hardwood. She sees herself reflected in the mirror along the far wall, a small woman dressed in black, closer to old-age than middle, framed by an open door and blue sky. She walks backward, receding from her own image, to close the door that leads to the outside steps.

The dance studio had been her idea but Jack picked up on it. In the twenty-seventh year of their marriage he built the studio above the barn that served as his workshop. The plan hatched on a summer Sunday when Mona read in the newspaper of the closure of Frangipani Hall. “Wouldn’t it be fun,” she said, “to have a dance studio?”

Jack negotiated a deal to rescue the floors from the original hall, driving over after hammering all day on other people’s renovation dreams. He hung a yellow work light from a beam and pried up boards into the night. Mona stayed late in her classroom preparing lessons for third graders, then picked up a pepperoni and olive pizza for them to split. They sat on the tailgate of the green truck eating slices from the box. Tired and full, Mona sneaked into the dark orchard nearby to swing and sway under the branches of the almond trees. Music from the truck’s radio muted the clank of wood piling up piece by piece. Jack numbered each board so they could be fitted together again. Home in bed later, they planned details of the space, propping a clipboard on their knees.

The night before she opened the door to students, Mona called Jack to the upstairs space, knocking on the floor with a broom handle in the code they had devised. He heard the pounding, left his workshop and climbed the stairs, painted white as she asked. The lights were off. Twenty-seven candles glowed in the darkened room. Mona danced for him in the half-light, gauzy in a translucent shift.

Mona crosses to the vacant table. Light seeps through the paned window. A cluster of browned roses leans in a vase, petals fall when she lifts it. Water has dried in the bottom of the container leaving a layer of black. She opens a window and drops the stems to the ground below where they catch in a hydrangea bush. A house finch lights from the plane tree in a flash of pink to investigate. Mona turns back to the empty room.

She stretches her arms above and behind her to touch her fingers to the window frame. She closes her eyes to feel her muscles straining up. She fills her lungs, leaning back, letting the air in her chest soften the knot in her heart.

“I loved you,” she says to the woman in the mirror.

With five quick steps Mona crosses the room’s long diagonal. Running and sliding she polishes an X in the floor. 
 
Alexa Mergen writes poems and essays as well as stories. Her work appears recently or is forthcoming in Front Porch, Nimrod, Passages North, and Prime Number. She is an assistant fiction editor at Fifth Wednesday Journal. 
* * *
Atonement
By Hysop Mulero                    

He told me I can get on board or be left. I looked into his depraved face regretfully.

“Surely this can’t be the only way?”

He kneeled down then stared in my eye.

“I assure you there is no other way.”

     A sessile ride was not intended.

    Though it was comprehended

    If I took that step in

    I would be entering the gates of sin.

  For the father of lies spares no soul

  The malign backbone of life he withholds

  Walking the earth to and fro

  Seeking plights of souls unable to tow.

“No, no thank you.”

The handsome man rose up. I felt externally paralyzed as I stood before him. He shone bright, so bright was his light.  But yonder was not so.

“Okay, suit yourself. In your finest I might add.”

He flashed me a smile and a wink, then took off. I walked along shore. Seaweed and rocks resting on the sand. The freshest of airs breezed by me.  I felt something in my body. A wave of gratitude flooded over me. A part of my inside was rejoicing. Grateful and humble they were. I closed my eyes and kneeled with my arms open. I accepted that part.

  In due time, after the part projected her praise, and settled into a place of peace. I got back up and continued to walk along the ocean. How am I going to get to the other side? Certainly I couldn’t atone by swimming. Absolutely not. That was not my calling. Someone has swum the ocean, but that was not I.

I was beginning to tire, though the sun beams not.

“Hey, are you trying to get to the other side? I know a shortcut through the forest.”

  I turn to my left and see a man less than five feet away from me.  He was average height, maybe  6”; Short curly hair that begged for a wash. He wore a large knapsack, the kind hikers use.  Yes, he appeared a traveler.

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, the other side. I was just asking if that’s where you were going.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to appear rude but, where did you come from?”

“Me?  I’ve been walking behind you the whole time.”

“Really? Funny, I didn’t see a soul.”

“Oh, strange.”

He shrugged it off.

“I’ve walked this path many times. I’m a frequent visitor.” “Then it dawned on me that I can just walk a few feet through the trail in the forest and arrive over there.”

He pointed to the opposite side.

“Yes? Oh that sounds really good!”

He shared my enthusiasm. He had a warm greeting and a bright countenance.

But his eyes.

They appeared hollow. Empty, that of a porcelain doll portraying innocence.

Sensing my discomfort, he grew friendlier and anxious.

“Come, we’ll be there in less than five minutes! It’s to our left.”

“To the left you say? No, no I think I’ll stay.”

“Ok. I’m sure I’ll see you there.”

His countenance remained unchanged, and his eyes remained the same.

I was reluctant to agree with his statement. The part held back. He awaited a reply, but I gave none. Why had I been so rude? That was odd of me.

Of my part really.

I continued walking. Suddenly I didn’t feel tired anymore. Actually, I felt good, I felt alive. I let out a breath. Ahh! I feel good. The part pumped in agreeance. I touched my chest sharing her enthusiasm. But then it grew. It seems as if the part was operating as she pleased within her small confides. I felt her send a signal to my knees to bend once more. What was she doing?

“No”. I said aloud.

The part suddenly stopped. I sensed her immediate heaviness.

I shrugged. How many times was I supposed to get on my knees? I mean, I was happy, but let’s not push it. To whom was I kneeling? I can be grateful while standing.

I continued walking. My part had been silent for the past two hours. Which I was grateful for. I smiled at my own humor.

The sun was beginning to set. It was turning a lovely shade of orange. A beautiful sight it was. It didn’t seem as if I would reach my destination that night. Deciding to see the sun set into where it rest, I laid on the sand.

  The left hand path one may know

Is not the right so I’ve been told

The right is neither, oh no

Straight and narrow is the way to go

I’ve heard wonders of the left, oh yes!

Lavish and luxurious is the trail, an uphill trail it is

Up and up to the top

Then down you drop

The right speaks of wisdom and knowledge

Trees that breathe of fortunes unknown

The wind whispers in riddles of what’s to come

Left to their devices they’ll implore you to follow

The elements are connivers, for they have their duties as well

That right path. As long as it may be, will ultimately lead to your last

That I guarantee

“Hi, do you mind if I sit? Or rather, with you?”

Standing in my direct line of sun was a boy. No more than five years old I’m sure.

He was white, brown eyes, dirty blonde hair. The sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. Reminded me of the one I used to have.

“What’s your name honey?”

“First tell me yours!”

“Ok, after you tell me where your parents are.”

“Oh, they’ve gone ahead”. “I like to take my time.” “Never know who you may see.”

“Oh really?” I asked wide eyed and sarcastic.

“Well, I meet a lot of different people.” “I like walking along the line.”

His eyes motioned to the seashore.

“Sometimes I come here just for that.”

“That’s swell, are they all nice?”  Now genuinely interested.

“Huh? Oh, most of them are. I don’t get along well with kids or babies.  They tend to run away from me. My interest lies in adults. They’re so funny and presumably wise. You’d be surprised how much we have in common. There hasn’t been one whom I’ve met that I haven’t remained close to.”

He was grinning as he spoke. For a kid he was awfully charming along with a visible air of arrogance.

“How old are you?”

He flashed me a grin. “Older than the concept of time.”

I laughed.

He laughed with me.

“It must be really early.” The sun and moon were trading places.

“There’s really no time here, miss.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean there’s here, there and the line.”

“The line?”

Yes.

“Why is that important?”

Suddenly I felt a pang at the pit of my stomach. It was her. What was she doing?

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, honey I’m fine.”

The part was banging on my insides like a Congo drum. She provided feelings of fear and despair. What’s wrong part? I wondered.

“So where are you going? He asked, trying to recapture my attention.”

“I’m going to the other side.”

“Oh goodie! Me too!”

“Are you now?”

“Yup!”

His smile seem to hold residence of the sun.

“Would you like to come with me?”

“With you? Don’t you know not to trust strangers?”

His gaze left the sea and traveled to my face. Something about him seemed vaguely familiar.

“You are no stranger. Why, I’ve known you my whole life. I’m a part of you, can’t you see? Indeed you belong to me.”

A long shrill echoed in my ears. It came from within.

“Belong? You’ve seen one too many movies honey!” I laughed.

“Well, mommy, we both have to go, let’s go together.”

“What did you call me?”

“I said together. Just take my hand.”

He reached out his little palm.

My heart was palpitating, the part was pleading; almost begging me to refuse.

“Yes, I will go with you.”

And with that the part was gone. As if she never existed.

“How are we getting there?”

His eyes shifted to a boat nearby.

“No no, let’s continue walking.”

His grip firmed. Like that of a man.

Puzzled, I turned to him.

“I assure you there is no other way.”

My body stiffened. The winds and sea came to a halt. Allowing me the privilege to digest my fate.

I chuckled in vain.

We walked hand in hand to the boat.

“May I say you do look dashing!”

I didn’t reply.

I sat behind him as he steered the boat.

“Well,” I spoke aloud.

“At least I’ll enjoy the ride.”

He turned to me and smiled.

“Oh yes, everyone enjoys the ride until they arrive.”

My name is temptation and from me they flee.

But you are not like them I see

You are wise erudite and proud

You are not far from the abominable seven

Unfortunately that list won’t get you to heaven

A word my dear, is all it takes

To cut the line and seal your fate

For by your words you’re acquitted and by your words you’re condemned

Now tell me, wouldn’t you like to play again?
 
Hysop Mulero is originally from Manhattan, NY. She is presently working on a collection of short stories entitled “Soot of Melancholy’s Dwelling Place” that includes “Atonement”, “Wyrd” and others.
* * *
Spring in a Can
By Shannon Ralph
Sybil loved this time of year when rains pelted the ground and winter-weary soil drank to its content. The trees—barren and gray all winter—exploded with a verdant shade of green that existed only in the very earliest days of spring.

She had lived in the little house on Cedar Avenue for sixty-two springs—first with her husband, then with her six children. As her babies grew up and moved out one by one, Sybil adjusted to the emptying house. After her Ronald died six years ago, the house seemed to grow larger and lonelier with each passing season.

Still, Sybil looked forward to spring. Her garden was her refuge from the echoing rooms of that deserted house. It was her oasis from the arthritis and the rheumatism and the cataracts that were a daily reminder that her best years were behind her. In her garden, surrounded on all sides by new life, Sybil felt like a young woman again.

On this particular sunny day in late March, Sybil sat on a bench in her garden planting tiny seeds for her spring flower beds. She could already smell the echinacea and lavender that would be blooming in a month’s time. She could envision the bright daisies and asters that would soon fill her back yard with color and life.

As she hunched over with her trowel in hand, Sybil heard a voice behind her. “Sybil, you have to come see this.” She looked up to find her neighbor, Hector, peering at her across the picket fence.

Sybil smiled at him. A widower and an avid gardener like Sybil, Hector was one of the few friends she had left. “Hello, Hector. What is it you think I need to see?”

Hector was not smiling. As a matter of fact, he looked a bit disheveled. His thick salt and pepper hair was standing in disarray on top of his head. He was wearing the old denim overalls he always wore when he worked in his yard, but Sybil noticed that one of the knees was newly ripped.

“You look a mess. What happened to you?” she asked.       

“Can you just come and look? I don’t think I can explain it.” Hector gestured for Sybil to come to his back gate.

She shuffled through her neighbor’s gate and found Hector standing in the middle of the garden that covered most of his back yard. He had his thumbs hooked through the belt loops of his overalls and was staring at a patch of dirt in front of him. As Sybil approached, he turned to her, scratching his head with one hand and pointing to the ground with the other.

“What do you reckon that is right there?” he asked. 

Sybil bent over to get a closer look at the shiny object lying in the middle of Hector’s garden. As she reached out to touch it, Hector quickly snatched her hand away.

“Watch out,” he warned. “It bites. Took a chunk out of my overalls and got a good taste of my knee, too.” Sybil hadn’t noticed before that the rip in the knee of Hector’s overalls was caked with dried blood.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know. That’s why I wanted you to look at it. You know more about plants than anyone I know.”

“But…” Sybil wasn’t sure what to say. “But Hector…that’s not a plant.”

“I know, but it’s growing.”

“Growing? What do you mean?”

“I mean…look.” Hector pulled a gardening fork out of one of the many pockets in his dingy old overalls and poked the object in the side. As he did so, it made a quiet whimpering sound and jerked away from the fork. Sybil saw that it was not just lying on the ground in Hector’s garden. It appeared to actually be growing from roots in the soil.

“But…but how is that even possible?” Sybil asked.

“I tried digging it up. Threw it in the recycle bin yesterday. Then this morning, I came out here to find another one growing in its place. Oddest damn thing I’ve ever seen.”

It was the oddest thing Sybil had ever seen, too. The object—no larger than a soda can—appeared to be a…well, an actual soda can. Rather than bearing the logo of Coca-Cola or Pepsi or any soda known to Sybil, it was a solid sky blue can with a golden star emblazoned on the side. Tiny razor sharp teeth surrounded the rim of the can. There were no other markings to indicate where it came from or how it had ended up rooted in her neighbor’s garden.

“What do you think I should do, Sybil?”

Sybil coaxed a strand of silver hair behind her ear. “How in the world should I know?” she replied.  Sybil had no experience with this sort of thing. She grew daises and lilies and the occasional tomato plant. If she were feeling especially adventuresome, she might plant some rhubarb. She had certainly never grown an aluminum can.

“You want to know the weird thing about this?”

Sybil couldn’t help smiling at Hector. “What could possibly be weirder than a man-eating soda can sprouting from the ground?”

Hector chuckled. Sybil was glad to see the absurdity of this was not lost on her friend. “The can is full,” he said.

“You mean it has something in it?” Sybil asked.

“Yeah. When I dug up the one that was growing here yesterday, it was full.”

“Full of what?”

“I don’t know. I was afraid to pop the top and see.”

Sybil looked from Hector to the soda can sprouting from the ground and back to Hector again. “Well,” she said. “I think we need to solve this mystery.”

“You mean…you mean pop the top?”

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

Sybil watched as Hector, on her insistence, pulled a shovel from his gardening shed and dug a wide hole around the soda can, careful not to get close enough to give the can a go at his other knee.  He uprooted the can and carefully laid it on the ground next to the newly gaping hole in his garden bed.

He turned to Sybil. “So how do we pop the top without getting bitten?

Sybil thought for a moment. “Oven mitts! We’ll use oven mitts. Wait here and keep an eye on it. I’ll run home and grab some.”

Of course, “run home” was a bit of a misnomer with Sybil’s arthritis and rheumatism. Twenty minutes later, she re-emerged in Hector’s back yard to find him sitting in a lawn chair next to the soda can, casually drinking a Coke.

“I’m not so sure about this, Sybil,” he said.

“It’ll be fine,” she assured him. She handed Hector two oven mitts, a matching carnation pink striped apron, and a set of tongs.

He looked at her dubiously. “What’s the apron for?”

“Well…” She waved her hand in the air as if his question were ridiculous. “One can never be too careful with these things.”

Hector began to protest, but obviously thought better of it upon seeing the determined look on his neighbor’s face. He donned the pink apron, pulled an oven mitt onto each hand and grabbed the tongs from Sybil with the steely resolve of a man ready to go to war.

As Sybil watched from a safe distance, Hector wrestled with the soda can. The oven mitts proved difficult. They limited Hector’s dexterity and caused the can to land repeatedly with a thud on the soft ground. Sybil could have sworn—as the can rolled toward her with each thud—that it was angling for her. Of course, that was crazy, but no crazier than her neighbor’s obscenity-infused combat with a living soda can.

Eventually, covered in sweat and spouting words that made Sybil blush, Hector was able to manipulate the tongs to pop the top on the hawkish can. When he did so, the can gave up all pretext of fighting and relaxed in Hector’s mitt-covered hand.

Sybil was standing at the ready with a glass. Hector poured the contents of the can into the glass and the two friends inhaled its heady aroma. The liquid exploded with color. It consisted of a myriad of shades that swirled and twirled, disappeared and reappeared. Every color of spring—every hue that enlivened Sybil’s springtime garden—was present in the shimmering liquid.

“It’s spring’s elixir,” Sybil whispered. She began to put the glass to her lips to taste, for the first time, spring itself. Hector grabbed her arm.

“What are you doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“We don’t know what this is. We don’t know if it’s even safe. It could be poisonous.”

“It’s not poisonous,” Sybil said. “Did you smell that glorious scent?”

“I don’t like this. I don’t think you should… ”

Sybil straightened her arthritic knees and unfurled her osteoporotic spine to stand her full 4 feet, 11 inches. “Well, it’s lucky for me I’m a grown woman and don’t need your permission.” Sybil once again put the glass to her lips, this time swallowing the resplendent liquid.

Spring’s elixir, as Sybil had so optimistically dubbed it, did not have quite the effect she expected. Sybil thought she would feel breezy and bright, abloom with light and life. She expected to feel young again—rejuvenated by spring’s tender fertility.

Instead, she clutched her throat and fell to the ground.

Dead.

When Sybil awoke from her unfortunate demise, she found herself lying in her garden. Bewildered and slightly woozy, she sat up. She looked around the garden to find that all of the flowers she had planted earlier that day were in full, brilliant bloom. The yellow daisies stood tall and dignified. The asters turned bright purple faces toward the sun. The smell of lavender that wafted from the far end of the garden to land upon Sybil’s nose was nothing short of intoxicating. Spring had sprung in breathtaking glory.

“Syb? Is that you?”

Sybil knew that voice. The sonorous baritone had been grafted into her memory and tattooed onto her heart when she was no more than seventeen years old. For fifty-six years, it was the first voice Sybil heard every morning when she woke up and the last voice to tell her good-night every evening.

She turned to find her Ronald standing at the other end of the garden. “Is that really you?” he asked again.

Sybil stood, painlessly for the first time in years. She walked toward Ronald, wanting desperately to believe that he was real. She placed her hand on his scraggy face and looked into his brown eyes. “Ronald? It can’t be…can it?”

“It’s me, honey.”

“But how?”

Ronald reached for Sybil’s hands and smiled at her. “This is your spring, Syb.”

Sybil didn’t understand. She knew it was spring. Spring had come and gone six times since Ronald had died, and not once had he come back to her. Until today.

“I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t, dear, but you will. Today is the first day of the spring that never ends.”

“Am I dead, Ronald?” Sybil was surprisingly unafraid.

“Yes, you died, but you aren’t really dead. You are no deader than the trees that turn gray and lifeless in the winter, only to burst with color again in the spring. You died today, but you were also born today.” Ronald winked at her. “Crazy, huh?”

“So what do we do now?” Sybil asked.

“Hmmm….” Ronald looked around the yard. “Feel like doing a little gardening?”

Sybil laughed—an easy laugh. A frolicking, verdant laugh that filled her garden with joy. She felt young again. She felt alive in a way she had never felt before her death.

Spring had that effect on Sybil.
 
 
Shannon Ralph is a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, and some of the best Facebook posts around. She is currently working on her first full-length novel between short stories. She is a southern transplant living the dream in balmy Minneapolis, Minnesota with her partner and three children. When Shannon is not writing, she can be found hunkered over her laptop battling an ugly addiction to online shopping. 
* * *
Stihr
By Debarun Sarkar
On a day just like any other, I read in the newspaper, a death had occurred in Calcutta, just like so many other. An image of a man lying prostrate on the ground, having consumed poison, the mythical hemlock. The photograph held my attention more than the others, more than the text surrounding it, more than the bold headline on top of it, more than the tiny subtitled text below the image.

The room held my attention, the objects in the room, having reduced to mere props on the stage of his death, the man’s death. The room had an unkempt bed, bed sheets and pillows ruffled. Next to the window with iron bars akin to a prison lay the table. Papers, and notebooks lay there. Adjacent to the window laid a massive bookshelf, books and papers pouring out, almost as if one shake would disbalance the whole balance of the bookshelf. There was a table lamp on the table, and a bottle of ink.

I put down the newspaper, for I didn’t want to know more about the individual, I didn’t wish to. For by knowing who he was, what he did, where he came from, I would insult his death, his non-existence. But something in the image held my attention, a book lay beside the dead body, the title of the book was scribbled out with black ink, only the subtitle was visible, ‘An Anthropological View of Calcutta Slums’. The writer’s name was scribbled out with red ink, almost akin to a blood smudge. Images floated in.

                                                                       -x-

In his birth is embedded hopes and aspirations of his parents. He is an outcome of the socio-economic background that his destiny has forged for him. The hero's birth is preluded by a day of storm. His parents' hopes and aspirations are evident, a petite-bourgeois life in the posh South Calcuttan neighbourhoods, taxi rides, and not bus rides or metro rides, fill the screen.

The hospital of his birth is in a high-rise apartment, glasses, the nakedness of the bourgeois existence fills the screen. His parents name him 'Sthir', status quo, equilibrium. They paint a future for him in their mind's eye, a life of stability, of financial and material stability, of ideological stability.

The day of his death is just like any other day, a minor dent in history, a rather forgettable one in the narrow lanes of Calcutta slums. Books abound in his room, his place of solace among the living and bustling neighbourhood with red flags, orange flags, green ones and the tricolor, a jarring amalgam of symbols. His body lies in the centre of the room, forgotten, unnoticed.

The camera swifts across disparate villages and mountains, journeys he was once a part of, places he had once laid his foot on, places he once belonged to, though only ephemerally. After all, life is ephemeral, a minor spark, a minor history among the multitudes.

There among that lost and forgotten room in the slum, the door opens. A woman enters. The mythical mother figure who wishes to forgive him, redeem him. The true mother never arrives, nor does any woman, for that matter nor does any man ever arrive. He is forgotten, he is lost among the footnotes of history. He becomes 'Sthir'. He becomes what his destiny forged for him.
 
Debarun Sarkar is based in Calcutta presently having lived in Surat and Hyderabad before and has just graduated from The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. His poetry has recently appeared in The Brown Critique.
* * *
Poetry
Poetry by Juan Cajigas
 
East Orlando Blues
For many years I sat here watching,
Listening, and nodding,
While the streets morphed
Into grey playgrounds,
Asking for children,
With no fathers to give them,
Prayers and thoughts.
We answered their calls,
Raced in our bikes through the parks,
and the stars,
And pretended to be older,
But no one came,
When we all cried,
And asked for those years back.
Years of repeated mistakes,
Years of wretched longing,
Staring at lovers in class,
Classic long brown hair,
Your fragile red wrist,
Hidden underneath your sleeves,
Has it healed?
Have you cursed me enough
Through your fixed white teeth?
Virginities stolen in daylight,
Forgotten we turned away.
Or how about you black ghost?
Secret attempted suicides,
Alive but repeatedly dead,
Where were you running to?
Your long lost father,
Or mystic chaotic New York
Streetlights and flair?
Cringing in our sleep,
Suburban paradise at our feet.
Us pseudo intellectuals compete,
Coffee shops of Orlando,
Chess, hummus, crimson thoughts,
endless chatter up and up,
Darkened conversations and songs.
Tell me you hate everyone,
But in the end you love them all.
We’re the children of lust,
Were we always wanting love?
Nothing can fulfill you,
Under dimming street lights,
Behind the wheel of your car,
The music blares,
Our fingers drum,
Our spirits fade,
But our hearts are warm.
Somewhere in our pasts,
What we pretended to be,
The lies we said through our teeth,
Became you and me.
The stars are always out,
Even during the day,
Hidden behind the sun,
But ignore them all you want.
Empty notebooks and un-tuned guitars,
Pop music and midnight walks,
All the promises I forgot,
My broken grammar fills your thoughts.
Sex at the park,
And fucking in the back seat.
Empty parking lots filled with mystery.
Kissed your body and wished,
That you would miss me.
Smiling in old photographs,
Lower the window and let the air in.
The light in the room is gone,
I can still see
Where your golden hair used to be.
Old wrinkled hands come together,
But god is gone,
Orlando sleeps,
And I am weak.
Judging by your touch,
You must have the sweetest dreams,
Judging by your voice,
You must say the purest things,
And all I ever wanted was you,
Only you.
The rain trickles down my walls,
My chest gets numb,
The fan spins and I lose control,
No one knows me anymore,
Even the mirror loses the score,
Rejection hurts but so does love,
We are sinners and winners,
Losers looking for a better life,
Folk music and jazz,
Electric feelings flash behind my eyes,
This is my only story,
For which I don’t see an end,
Blue but beautiful,
I will always transcend.    

Acid Camping Post-mortem
A poem for a made up God and an unnamed girl.

           I

It all came here,

Rain in the trail,

It all burns here,

No where to run,

Breath in the air, 

Circling sun.

It all came here,

Beneath the leaves,

It all dies here,

Something we fear,

Personalities,

Blinding and clear.

It all came here,

Waving your arms,

Yes! it’s not real,

This dark sharp ink,

Becomes black ants,

Pulsating around.

Getting so lost,

In every thought,

Endless summer night,

Red eyes burn bright,

Kaleidoscope skies,

Lonely moonlight.

           II

Who can I ask?

Who can I ask?

Who do I ask?

What is real?

No-one just me. 

And over there,

They walk to camp,

Don’t look this way,

Falling astray,

Can’t get away.

Paper cut sky,

Mixing with my mind,

I can’t tell,

Between the sweat and tears,

escaping my fears. 

Everything weeps,

The wind talks,

Through the leaves. 

And the best part,

Are all the shadows,

They never fade.

And over there,

What is real,

Over there?

My lucid dreams,

They are not real.

Girl,  your stray love,

It is not real. 

I feel you coming,

I hear you coming,

With every single step.

Oh God, 

Can you hear me?

Or are you dead?

           III

When I see you here,

Blinking and storming,

Humming and glowing,

Looking right at me;

Through the endless trees,

In this lost great camp,

Fireflies hover and glow,

And I catch myself. 

Because I am real!

Every shadow,

Every sorrow,

I ammmm real!

You don’t understand,

They judge,

And you judge.

They yell,

And you yell.

In and out of the woods.

Yes!Yes!Yes!Yes!Yessss!

I ammmm real!

I sit in these woods,

And it hits me now,

Glimmer of bright light,

Stares at me tonight.

The Truth!

In this large great fire,

It is the one truth,

Misunderstood. 

I’m the last one here,

Always sorry,

Always late.

           IV

God are you crazy?

Are you mad?

Or is it,

That I’m sad?

Animalistic!

Pure essence!

Perfection!

Shirtless and bare!

Naked!

The truth is rare!

They feed off each other,

Tall trees are boundless,

Lightning and Venus,

I feel you behind me,

Searching and mindless!

Is it raining?

I cannot tell,

The pages are wet,

Just like the wood.

I’m getting lost,

In every thought,

But now I know,

One thing is true,

One thing is real...           

Boston

A poem for Jay Carlage, and once again, another made up unnamed girl.

I

Sweet sorry of desperate Boston,

your lights are on but dim,

I can see your soul,

deep within the headlights,

and alleyways near the Common,

Red movie signs,

Red brick on red brick.

You’re silent now,

as the moon rises,

and black clouds dance on by.

Crossing still cold graveyards,

hidden under green tall trees,

where the limp dead bodies,

of old brave pilgrims must lay.

I can hear you whisper,

calling me to stay.

Pouring out your stories,

blinking for the planes,

glowing in my eyes,

and dancing in the shade.

You’re simply beautiful,

And I can’t look away.

A calculated disaster,

coming towards my way.

The 19nth floor towers you,

admiring and conversing,

calculating for hours,

taking up your shape.

We’re alone with power,

left with nothing that’s ours.

Jay Carlage,

this city sings your song,

the ghosts at Boston Harbor,

Each and every hour.

Every road drives here.

Lonely Dark haired girl,

you’re one of the few,

but I wan’t everything,

and nothing to do with you.

II

Nine O’clock walks,

Boston, I had to find you.

Beacon Hill is not too far off,

you’re filled with people,

every inch  and block,

you’re red and healthy,

but lonelier than me.

No one watches me on my walk,

my steps grow faster,

shuffling them on,

I’m trying to find you,

so you can help me,

fight and find myself.

I need you,

every skyline,

all your red leaves,

If you were a sinking ship,

I’d chain myself in.

Bostons children are now men,

laughing smoking haze,

Their blackened hands and hards,

tools and war paint.

Picture me,

As I am dead,

I breath in the hair,

Cigarettes and all,

Because its all been said.

Footnote:

The red and yellow phenix,

hidden in the autumn trees.

Oh the fights between,

the moon and the sun,

fighting for attention,

fighting for each others light.

All the sings of life,

Running clever Beacon Hill,

grease with servants form East Boston.

The kindness of your voice,

the kindness of your stare,

the hatred of your love,

fills my lungs with air.
Juan Esteban Cajigas is a 19 year old writer currently attending Suffolk University in Boston Massachusetts. Juan Cajigas is a rising sophomore and who writes every day. Juan Cajigas was born in Bogota, Colombia but grew up in the suburbs of Orlando, FL. Juan Cajigas fell in love with writing at an early age and besides creative writing is also studying print-journalism. 
 
* * *
Poems by Gary Glauber
 
Migration

When they came to arrest the woman,

you sat there, stone quiet,

a scabrous statue

pondering your own existence,

the shape of your navel,

the inability to smell your own breath,

and other trivialities of no real consequence.

Wishing you were different

never changed you yet.

She adored you once,

kept little pieces of paper

full of your clever witticisms

hidden in a shoebox in the back of her closet.

Then Australia separated you forever

and you lost your edge

and she vowed to not wear yellow again.

Our familial ties connect us

in ways our blood never quite did.

She looks at your old picture

and imagines your lips, your body,

in ways that real life never provided,

fulfilled through recurring drunken desire

and eventual moans of amazement.

Two birds flown off in separate directions

long ago

may never meet again.

Such is nature, these mirrors that reflect us,

such is life. 
 

Campaign kiss

There’s nothing worth wearing

unless it makes some statement.

Such are the words spat at us,

awaiting your command

here in the cramped press room

outside the cushy hotel’s convention center.

This is not the deal anyone

had signed on for those long months prior,

when still we bathed in naïve beliefs

about one person able to make a difference.

Now it’s all threats and attitudes,

smirks and Smirnov chasers,

and standing up to unseen enemies

that battle us and also lurk within.

Money is the problem,

and perhaps the answer too.

You wish this happy hour extended

well into the work week,

that you were back on the farm,

part and parcel of

that imaginary childhood

pulled out whenever convenient. 

We are slaves to statistics,

tied to poll numbers and media trendings,

and while I’d like to believe your passion

when you unfold me in that tiny space,

I know you are driven by ulterior motives

no one else could ever fathom.

You bid us a staccato welcome

and send us on our respective ways,

working tables under this chandelier glare,

raking nuance from belief

in what some third-string reporter

will inevitably call progress.  


Yearbook Entry

That time you joined the circus just to spite me, to prove that clowns were not necessarily so scary (though they really are), and the postcard you sent reminding me that your name is a verb, that you are a person of action, how you will invent your own greatness someday, in spite of having such tiny handwriting, how you fell in love with the word persimmon, but felt slightly angered at the closely aligned pomegranate, how you are moody in ways that encourage moodiness in others, but destined to make matches of unsuspecting strangers the world over, because that is your special talent, the way you can be so clinically certain when others don’t even know their own hearts, this is what I think of when I think I see you from a distance at the county fair, glimpsed fleetingly from the tilt-a-whirl, then realize you are probably not even on this continent, more likely smoking long French cigarettes at some dark café near the Seine, wearing a silly beret that, on you, looks great.
 

Simile

You said I was like a bridge:

connecting things, strong.

I politely disagreed –

my foundations were far too weak.

Sure enough,

when she first tried to cross me,

I collapsed.
 

The Beckoning

You wave your hand deftly

as if it were a barometer

measuring the ugly rage of the season,

the impassioned screams yet to be voiced

by a frightened confused populace.

The code signs of an angry aggregate,

the chaos exchanged for dreams of a better life,

are no longer inscrutable, easily broken

into innate understandings. 

It’s gang matters of temper and territory,

rights of wrongs and, as you give

the all-clear sign, the breeze of hell blows

easily into the unsuspecting night ahead.

Concentric circles abound here, and as

you negotiate the labyrinths required,

that nervous grin is what worries us all.
 
Gary Glauber is a poet, fiction writer, teacher, and music journalist. His works have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and one was named “A Notable Online Story” by StorySouth’s Million Writers Award panel. He took part in The Frost Place’s conference on teaching poetry, as well as Found Poetry Review's Pulitzer Remix Project. Recent poems are published or forthcoming in Falling Star Magazine, Red Ochre Lit, Stone Voices, Untitled With Passengers, Emerge Literary Journal, The Bicycle Review, Black Cat Lit, Eunoia Review, and The Kitchen Poet.
* * *
Poems by Dave Gregg
MOTEL

this motel is nine rooms
of ruin
broken beds
and barred window
this museum of sin
comes out at night
with vice and yes-girls
appears at dark only
go ahead shake your head
and roll those sorry eyes
drop by some morning
arrive with the sun
you'll see it’s true
all you'll find is me
on a corner
tapping my watch

failing machines

battered and buried in romantic char
you swear no to love so construct

a machine to measure and gauge
the affections you no longer harbor

we share a bed with this device all
wires and wheels and I fear the test

and its exposing alarms and whistles
for I have loved you always without

so much a kiss we pursue fleshly merge
meters and filters rattle amid fervent urge

and waking sated, I smile this dawn
learn you never turned the machine on
 
Let’s Play Two

The clip-clop of cliché fills the corridor
"Does the bullshit ever stop?" Joe asks
His head gleams in the night lights of
A hospital bed he will never leave "Shit!"
He curses as they insert orange tubes
Into his ravaged body bright and plastic
New organs to snake in and out of his side
As they shave his chest for more surgery
His girlfriend sings, "Just one more," like
Ernie Banks at a doubleheader "One cut
Closer to health," the surgeon suggests
"One cut closer to hell," Joe retorts
The Poet Dave Gregg was born in Missouri but has lived on both coasts. In 56 years he has seen much and understood little but strives to decode the puzzle via the gift of great poets and then his own.
 
* * *
Poems by Nels Hanson
 Coda

Always some living few—Buddha, Plato,
Christ, Lao-tse, Hindus in trance, Sufi,
Ghost Dancer Wovoka by Walker Lake,
Martin King at Lincoln’s Chair, Gandhi--
all found a door within iron bolted door,
a wicket gate, down rivers’ rapids another
river the blue that sky conceals, pearl in
oyster shell by pearl enclosed, secret smile
spreading down Tragedy’s bronze mask until
your face appears, tearless, radiant, happily
amazed to join the laughing cast of slain
who’ve left the play, audience applauding
for curtain call and stage still richly strewn
with costumed remains, once cumbersome
as knight’s apparel—slatted visor, blinders
for charging valiant steed—obscuring then
players’ best view to focus like a telescope
one red rose that presses, prodding armor
to trace and purse in unfolding rings of steel
fresh petals for the lance’s scarlet bloom.
 
Original Echo

I gripped the hopeful politician’s hand
and touched 100,000 hands his dry palm
had touched, the pulse rising background
roar astronomers say echoes first explosion,

Big Bang that made the Universe, my fingers’
whorls and heat now part of that and more,
contact reversing like fallen ivory dominoes
from elephants. Eager fossils stir, wake from

sedimentary to chase, tear and devour, seas
convulse and shoot in single icy comets racing
past the moon and rocks liquefy, magma again, 
redwoods implode to seeds, pearl returns to

sand within the shell. But insist, clasp lucky
winner’s firm shake and travel onward to 
Washington, leap the velvet rope, grasp chair
arm, glass-cased sword hilt, wooden spoon,

yellowed dentures sinking red roots back to
Africa before Blacks wore cuffed chains and
our country’s father buys white live incisors,
each for five dollars or so from captive help

marching with King on Capitol. A different
way recall, star sheen of Geronimo’s smooth
stolen cranium Skull and Bones keeps locked
at Yale for secret ceremonies. Feel blinding

Arizona sun, Bering Strait’s snow bridge, mukluks
of seal on soles of feet, fur of polar bear, caribou
about your neck. Hear ten million hooves pound
frozen tundra, prophecy of stampeding herds of

buffalo and antelope, fierce conquistadors’ lost
stallions spreading tribe to tribe across the plain’s
green ocean where each grass blade remembers
prairie fire, the first spark kindled by a meteor.
 
Nels Hanson’s fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and two Pushcart Prize nominations. Stories have appeared in Antioch Review, Texas Review, Black Warrior Review, Southeast Review, Montreal Review, and other journals. Poems appeared in Word Riot, Oklahoma Review, Heavy Feather Review, Meadowlands Review, Citron Review, Ilanot Review and other magazines, and are in press at Stone Highway Review, Works & Days, Scintilla, Emerge Literary Journal, Drunk Monkeys, and Hoot & Hare Review.
* * *

Death of a Flower
By Caitlin Johnson
We should be free or we should die, 
      but freedom is death
                                    sometimes-- 
when the world opens up
like a flower, petals of possibility 
splayed before you, each
                                   opportunity

waiting to be
                     plucked 
                     examined
                     admired
& you’re so long in choosing
that the flower withers
                                   & dies,
brown at the edges.

None of us mean to kill it, & so 
we force our own demise
                                       to make up for it. 
 
Caitlin Johnson is the Managing Editor of CAIRN: The St. Andrews Review. Additionally, She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Her work has appeared in Boston Poetry Magazine, Charlotte Viewpoint, Fortunates, Gravity Hill, Pembroke Magazine, and What the Fiction and is forthcoming at allthingsgirl.com.
* * *
Poems by Sean Lause
Turtle vision

She moves through the fluent grass
with her un-Platonic waddle,
knowing there never was
a First Idea of Turtle,
only a festoon of turtles
tied mouth to tail through the possible
green, and all is well.

Her back, wide as a pancake,
granite to the predator,
centers her world in complete turtle.
Her eggs are gold and white,
smooth sun and moon, clenching
tight their turtle eternities.

By day, she meditates the earth
to a round swoon, a self-contained silence.
She beholds all opposites
clasped whole in turtle passion.
She glows in her testudine joy
like a Tiffany lamp with feet,
pleased with her own enlightenment.

By night, her ebony eyes
behold the sky curved round with turtles,
strung with turtle gods and angels,
and below, turtles all the way down.
A great turtle grunt announces
a new music of the spheres, each sphere
enshelled in the sweet bell of the universe.

And she asks you:
“What is heaven if not here,
where what I see
in my bright imagery
is all and only what I am,
and what I am is sum of all I've seen
in my patient, tortoise journey?”

The search

The stars are winding across the night
but can never arrive in time
to witness the purity of their first light.
Now they survive through years of distance
over a stable, a sigh, a discarded door,
or gaps in time between sight and imagination.

The waves are blue-green horses
leaping for stars they can never reach,
their manes woven from a thirst
they can never quench.
Their eyes contain the gentle faith of moons.
Their tails trail ghosts of drowned lovers.

The spiders weave their intricate targets
for the insects who long to be suns
spun through the web of heaven.
The spiders weave an endless hunger
for an innocence lost long ago.

And I?

I am hurrying, leaping, weaving words
in search of a boy I once knew
who guided waves of horses
through the web of the Milky Way
to teach the stars the wonder of their dreams.

Garden of silence

My wife’s questions, like doves, hide under their
wings answers they long to hear.
“What is he doing?  Why is he bringing
us all this food?”

My father comes and goes, wordless as a cloud,
guiding wheelbarrows bulging with fertility,
lugging armful after armful of the unspoken
from his garden, to stock our root cellar.

I watch him, silently,
carrots pluming from his sun-browned hands,
arms cradling a squash so madly huge
it seems to mock the air around it.

Behind me, she follows him from open window
to open window of our new house,
holding our new baby, their eyes wide
at potato ganglia reaching back for earth.

Onions—bulbs of the earth’s Christmas--
Pumpkins, tomatoes, watermelon--
He has guided them all along the vine,
coaxed their stubborn flowers into fruit.

All without hello, goodbye, no answer
beyond these big tears of eggplant.
I could tell her he comes from a time
that comes and goes without saying,

and a place where love need only whisper
to find a song.  Later, she and I
take down all the greeting cards we had strung
on their sterile wire, not saying one word.

Proteus’s Answer

On this shore I am lord of answers.
I have preserved all my monsters
in the dark depths of vision,
safe from the pride of pirates.

The way they rob you
is to make your body a mystery,
like a stranger that follows you
wherever you go.

If you wish your body to be your own,
embrace me until you find yourself
in every bird and beast I become.
They are your body, terrible and pure.

The dove’s dream of heaven,
the snake’s coiled cunning,
shark’s dark hunger, goat’s lustful beard--
all are immortal, and all are you.

Hold on for dear life as I flow
in and out of the grasp of death.
On the homeless sea you are child and mother,
your soul coiled tight within the other.

Then let the wind follow
its own ghost home.
Your mind will become a mirror
that reflects what fools cannot see.

If you can wrestle me into truth,
you will feel good news in your blood.
Take your prize and set me free.
The sea, strong lover, will be yours.
 
Sean Lause teaches courses in Shakespeare, Literature and the Absurd and Composition at Rhodes State College in Lima, Ohio. His poems have appeared in The Minnesota Review, The Alaska Quarterly, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Another Chicago Magazine, European Judaism, The Atlanta Review, The Saranac Review and Sanskrit. 
* * *

Poems by Thomas Miranda
 
The Statue

Marble phantom of revered warrior or

president or preacher or perhaps

I look as some other venturing

sort.

Grander than my mocked man am I who am

permanent. Though birds may shit I do not

quit, millennia of rain off my brow will flit. Still,

etched resoluteness of stone. Gorge into death with

frivolity, I’ll inspire more of your sort in my immortality


The Candid Canine

The dog is actually talkative.

Its fur the tint of an oft trod

carpet. Eyes soggy but frame

stiffened at the sound of a

stranger. Lips peel around 

black gums, twisted teeth a

wicked line. Anger swift

pardoned by nose at

a favored aroma. Mouth slacks,

pink tongue flubs up down up

down. Licks indulgently to

a jarring point, but it then

softens. A wet stunted

scream from reflex at

any unknown he may know, too

smart to trust, too dumb to lie.


Love & LSD

Anxiously I braced for the drug, a

maiden voyage for my brain.  You,

my companion, keeping my body

safe while I ventured my mind.  A

lover as grounded guide, & guard.

I place the small toxic paper under

upper lip.  Acid holds quiet forty

minutes then jerks my eyes back,

forcing them to view my cortex in

all its beautifully horrifying electric

cyclone. Illusory glossy coat over

my world, now:  Glaring red. Cars

diamond explosions. Blue looming

sky menacingly approaching. My

thoughts rashly rapid, brakes and

steering an unreal memory.  Your 

voice; and soft arms like a blanket

in the cold. My trip layers doubt on

my self & all but never you.  Apathy

mudding my mind then left never

noticing my leaning shoving your

patience. I undervalued you then

and many after. After figmenting I

find fault with dull normalcy. I had

turned to you and for one moment,

all existence was within reach. Me

back in the raw world? It lacks when

absented the true & absented you.


The Masterful Bullfighter

Lean gleaming gold dallyer,

risky red cape prances

an inch only, to madness

make the facing mass

of drooling beast. Its

bone horns stab tall

sky then thrust for neon

offender. Bulk builds

weighty dashing death

mocked away by man’s

smirk smooth motion. The worldly

dancing warrior with

hand derisive shoves bull’s

horns, insult leaving creature’s

features wandering in

bewilderment. Lucio

Antonio Fuentes Veracruz Garza Gutierrez’s

sword thin throughs

bulging brown, rend

red, shaves veins to an end.
 
Thomas Miranda is currently studying Creative Writing at the University of Houston. His work had been published in the Alethea Journal and has had poems previously in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. His poetry combines philosophical underpinnings with strong aesthetics with a unique subject matter.
 
* * *
Poems by David Sahner
A Herd in the Womb of Autumn

A herd in the womb of autumn,

Wrapped in flame

Yet grazing comfortably,

Relishing the dying green

Of the farmyard.

So provincial are they --

Content to know nothing

Of that about which they do not know,

Content to masticate through war,

Famine,

The diabolic,

Plagues prying life

From those in less fortunate glades.

Occasionally uttering a smug moo

To no one in particular.

When one of them dies,

He is blotted from the minds of the others

Before their next mouthfuls.

Fatly entertained by the growth of grass,

This culmination of cowkind

Steeps above other herds

On legs that grow rickety,

Thinning to pencils that will snap in good time.

Sublime does injustice to the awe they stir,

The mighty American awe.

Ah,

Another (soon-to-be-sweet cud) tuft awaits,

A forebear of meadows that will swallow

These cattle whole. 


Juggernaut

Like soldiers

Goose-stepping -

They hook shoreward,

Claiming the seabed

They cover.

Capping in one long stretch,

They sometimes 

Join hands,

A grey bivouac in the sea.

At length, they taper

To a thin line of foam -

Like snow burying

The dry winterkill.

The sea takes the water back

Into itself,

Leaving only shells

That coruscate in the sand

Like torch-lit armor.

And the water tolls

Its dream of feeble waves

That might have enfolded

You or me

Before striking the cliff of sleep.

Happy girls Maying madly in the sun,

Lifting their aprons,

Heavy with starfish,

Heavy with cowries,

To the moonlit sky.


Gorgon 

“Once you had fierce dogs in your cellar: but they changed at last into birds and sweet singers.”

-        Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche

Once you had birds and sweet singers

In your cellar,

But they changed at last into fierce dogs.

The snap of their ulcerated jaws

Rattled the joists.

It was like this on the night you

Stood on the worm-eaten porch,

With your graven face

Inclined grotesquely upward,

As if you had been staring at the wings

Of angels thrumming the dark air

Among the ashes of the southern sky.

The thrumming of wings tapered

To a wheeze that suggested mourning,

A manic hissing,

As if a knot of catacombs

Had suddenly disgorged the filth

Of rotting thieves and knaves.

You were not surprised

When a serpent unrolled its scabrous

Length from the brow of abomination,

Girdling a rank and piggish face

Around which the others seethed

And spat and spun themselves

Into what they were –

The unclean reflections

Of your mind.

The Gorgons had tusks, like boars,

And claws of bronze.

Their wings were of a sallow gold –  

Your last thought was this,

Before you joined the opaque stones.
David Sahner is a scientist whose poetry has appeared in a number of journals, including The Bitter Oleander and Connecticut Review. 
* * *
Poems by Claire Scott
Starless
We are left with aging stars, some burning quickly, some red dwarfs

twinkle, twinkle little star

limping on for a trillion years our sun a mere five billion years

star light, star bright

before it explodes as a supernova will there be life after stars?

after the last star?

starry eyed

as the starless universe expands will we feel desolate in the dense darkness

when I wish upon a star

Cimmerian souls with phantom limbs aching

starlover, starloser.
 
 
Starbucks

Yesterday at Starbucks

Lara of silver studs and

Pointed hair made my

Usual latte at the usual time

                 seven am

Before work spreads

Slowly through the day

Nibbling away at

                 minutes and hours

Low fat milk, decaf coffee

My son calls it an illusion

A waste of money

Not the real thing

A minor cyst, no problem

Just double check

With a sonogram

So simple

Today I hear hello I am

Doctor Kovska

                 margins irregular

Each word equally weighted

In icy sentences

                 grown seven millimeters

Doctor K.  consulting a chart

Clearing his throat

                 Cancer

Numbing words that

Tilt the world

                 seventy-five

                 percent chance                  

On its chilled axis

Don’t you get this

                 kidney removal

Is the man I love?

He doesn’t look up
 
 
CT Scan to see

The cyst in slices

So cold in here

My heart is shaking as we

Double downward to

An arctic world.

Starbucks at ten. Lara

Greets me with a

                 crimson grin

Fire streaked hair aglow

I ask for regular coffee

                 extra cream

Nothing as usual

Don’t you get it?

This is the real thing.

Claire Scott is a poet.
* * *
Poems by Elizabeth Switaj
A SERIES OF PROPOSITIONS IN FAVOR OF A CONCEPT

An image.
Another image.
An image that’s a little too heavy in the metaphor to be listed first.
An image.
An image.
An image.
An image with a verb.
An image and an image.
An image in an image.
The heavy image
gives birth.

EVENTS SINCE 9/11

how many time since nine-eleven
have you been told not to walk
alone
in public, especially after dark?

since nine eleven
this morning,
twice—once
with the addition men
always worry about attacks, sweetheart

since September eleventh I’ve lost count
of fliers telling me not to drink
or the towers will come down
and the war will be lost

no, this is not your war
and not your terror either
I mean September of last year
I’ve had to get over

my attack that happened only half
as long ago as the one you scream

when was I allowed to invade his nation
to send my drones against his friends
or roommates,
to devastate his water source
with spent uranium? I was lucky
he died anyway
overdose of downers my seren-
dipitous seal team

but who will celebrate me for drinking
alone
in public
in the very dark four
p.m. of Pacific Northwest winter
as they will the runners in a few months
of the Rock ’n Roll Marathon after Boston bombs?

how many time since nine-eleven
have you been told
you can’t expect security—so stop
asking, stay
inside and silent?
 
THE XX OF JUNE

and the sun still sets on solstice night
and we know it doesn’t glide
around that warmed-up sky
and we still say it   
does                              

like the suicidal moth
who drowned in your bath
fluttering in circles with sopped-up wings
leaving gold & blush membranes
to glide with its corpse in surface
tension

there was still blue in the sky
light

the note she left
didn’t have those words
 
WANTED

stripping
with my incisors

thighs
bare

midriff
piebald

blood & vessel
bone & fat

I've pressed my tissues to headwounds
tied skin & ligament
tourniquets

around limbs that wouldn't give up
their bleeding

I've scabbed & survived

and found myself refused
by the bleeding

as soon as my skin
bandages

weren't needed for their lives
 
Elizabeth Kate Switaj is a Humanities Instructor at the College of the Marshall Islands and a Contributing Editor to Poets’ Quarterly. Her first collection of poetry, Magdalene & the Mermaids, was published in 2009. Recent poems have appeared in UCity Review and Coldnoon. For more information visit her website.
 
* * *

Poems by Marianne Szlyk
 
Cherry Tree in August

The cherry tree in August squats in the yard.
Its leaves hang without fruit or flower or breeze.

Other trees stand taller, stand out.
Oak trees tower, as if the backyard were still forest.

Black locusts threaten to fall in the storm.
Mimosa and pawlonia bloom this time of year.

Only the easily scarred bark betrays  
the cherry tree in August.

Grosvenor

This was the future.
Towers rose
in shades of grey
metal glass and concrete
above the boxwood
and evergreen grass.

Come inside.
The future smells of curry,
collard greens,
and canned soup.
Its walls feel
chipped and greasy.
The future needs
fresh paint and new carpeting.

New tenants
enter the elevator,
their arms full of
chocolate-colored bedding,
polka dot pillows,
tinsel for a white Christmas.
It is their future now.
 
Marianne Szlyk is an associate professor at Montgomery College, associate editor for Potomac Review, and member of the DC Poetry Project. Most recently, her poems have appeared in the Blue Hour Anthology Volume Two and Of Sun and Sand as well as in Jellyfish Whispers and Aberration Labyrinth.
* * *

Poems by Diane Webster
MORNING SHAFTS
      
4 a.m. the cat meows to go out,
and we follow my flashlight beam
to the door, and alone I retreat
to my once-warm bed now chilled
slowly warming again as I curl
knees to chest like a drying leaf
trying to conserve life’s last sap
seeping out with the sun,
and I try to dream myself
back to sleep
while the newspaper carrier’s car
crunches gravel outside,
and 95 Rock blares keep-awake music
as he drives through the neighborhood
fainter and fainter until wind
freshens the downtown train whistle
over and over crossing after crossing
until I finally wake up
to a shaft of light from the bathroom
penetrating my eyes like an icicle
shattering on the sidewalk.                                                                                               

FAMILY CLUTTER

I kick through clouds
like October leaves
swirling in breezes
promising change
like fragments of clouds
first formed as a turtle
transformed into stealth bomber
then a duck
all while stepping toward
the tree as huge as a lone
African desert tree
digging roots far and wide
as the tip of an iceberg --
a tree like a genealogy map
traced with a hesitant finger
searching names
for familiar family,
and sunshine blinding
the higher one looks
as my footing thins,
and I descend like a leaf
among family clutter.
                                                                                              

UNCLE’S AFTER SHAVE

My uncle died,
and I felt nothing.
A half memory of a holiday
at Grandma and Grandpa’s
of him drinking and laughing.
Another at dinner
when we visited in Nevada
of him approving that I liked
bread and gravy
as that assured I was family
like trying Grandpa’s
peanut butter and honey sandwich
like smelling my uncle’s after shave
after he left the room.
                                                                                              

WAITING GAME

One game of active waiting
is trying to beat the microwave oven’s timer…
that sliver of time before one second of vision
triggers thumb to open the door
before ding registers in ears
to activate brain to signal body
to push the button.
Too fast…too slow…always.
But today I suspended time.
With no numbers left to count down
with a ding still anticipating the moment.
Today victory in silence.

MEMORY WALK
    
I could almost see Mabel
getting out of her white Explorer
and sauntering into the post office
after she graced me with her smile
and our idle five minute chat.
But it wasn’t Mabel
like I knew it never would be again,
but I thought of her today.
I saw the shadow of the old lady
I never got her name
as she had already put her yard
to bed with hoses rolled,
iris cut back, plastic wrapping
her windows trying to keep
the freshness inside.
I guess her roommate had to do
it all this year because God
put the old lady to bed
early this year.
A line of geese honked across the sky
as a single snowflake fell.
Mrs. Kjar loved gazing at each flock
as they migrated between lakes.
Hearing them inside her house
she’d grab a jacket and enjoy the flight
like watching her life pass before her own eyes
like I look up today and smile.
I know Mabel, Mrs. Kjar, and the old lady
wave at me like beauty queens
on a float this November parade day,
and I wave back proud that I knew them.
 
Diane Webster's goal is to remain open to poetry ideas in everyday life or nature or an overheard phrase and to write from her perspective at the moment. Many nights she falls asleep juggling images to fit into a poem. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia Poets,  Illya's Honey,  River Poets Journal and other literary magazines.
* * *
Creative Nonfiction
Brace 
By Jessica Barksdale

           Mostly no one ever asks you to grab your ankles. Actually, the thought of doing so reminds me of yoga or prison. Either way, an ankle is probably a body part best left for gladiator sandals. But I thought about my ankles again recently when the Asiana jetliner crash- landed at San Francisco International Airport. While I was at the gym, I caught a terrifying television screen full of smoke and rescue vehicles, and I remembered my almost crash landing.

           The plane ride from Oakland to Los Angeles didn’t start well. My husband Michael and I were surprised to find ourselves in a prop plane, two seats on either side of the aisle that was barely big enough to walk down. It was the last flight of the night and storming hard. We sat on the tarmac for a long while, waiting out some ferocious deluge, and then finally, we took off. Sort of. There was something odd about the take off, the lift low and gurchy and full of a thwarted motor sound, an “err” and “urg” grinding that occurred three or four times. I waited for something worse, but nothing worse happened, so I turned to look out the window at the Bay Area night lights. And there they were. And were. Again and again.

           “We’re not going to LA. We’re circling the Bay,” I said to Michael who was deep into the in-flight magazine.

           We both stared out the window, and yes, there went the Bay Bridge, the San Mateo Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the San Mateo Bridge. Repeat and repeat again.

           “Shit,” I whispered, just as the captain’s voice boomed into the slim cabin space.

           “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “After takeoff, our landing gear failed to retract, and we are going to have to make an emergency landing at SFO. Your flight attendant will lead you through the emergency procedures. Please pay attention carefully.”

           The flight attendant, who looked to be about twenty, explained to us how we were going to dump fuel and then land at SFO. We needed to assume the brace position and grab our ankles. She would tell us when to do so, and we were not to lift our heads until the plane had come to a complete stop.

           “Compete crash is what she’s saying,” Michael said. We looked at each other, stricken.

           When the flight attendant was done with her lecture, she came over to our aisle and looked at me directly. “You are in an emergency row. Will you be able to open the door and assist others?”

           I heard the rest of her sentence: “. . . during a crash.”

           I nodded, my heart thumping.

           After a few more minutes—the entire cabin silent, fear-struck, and dense with anticipation, the flight attendant began her spiel.

           “Please assume the brace position.”

           Michael and I bent over, and I grabbed one of his ankles instead of my right one, liking the feel of his sturdy self.  The attendant began her litany. “Brace, brace, brace.”

           I was crying, glad that I had seen my mother earlier that day, hugged her, kissed her.  My boys had just left for the Northwest, and they knew how I felt about them.  My love was next to me, going into this with me, whatever it was.

           The plane slowed down to a hovering drift, the pilot’s touch light, deft, and careful. First the back tires, and then, yes, the front tires, the whole plane shoved and yanked as whatever was there of the landing gear tried to find traction.

           I squeezed Michael’s ankle, so firm, so real. I cried even though I realized I wasn’t actually scared. I just didn’t want it to hurt.

           For a moment, it seemed that something would rip, the plane opening up like a tuna can, but then the shaking slowed and calmed, the scream down the runway now only a yell, a shout, a call out, a whisper.

           We’d made it.

           Sitting up from the brace position, I looked out the window again. This time, the night was brilliant with emergency vehicles’ flashing lights. Soon, we were told to disembark, and we walked down the steps and out onto the tarmac. I glanced over at the landing gear or what was left of it. The front tires were blown to shreds. Like a bad pirate, we’d landed on one peg.

           After a few moments of waiting out in the wet night, we were loaded into busses and brought back to the terminal, the ride there full of amazed laughter.

           I won’t waste your time on the rude personnel who told us that no, they wouldn’t pay for a cab back to Oakland, giving us only instructions to the BART terminal instead. I won’t bore you with the long train ride back to Oakland, our hearts shaking in our chests.

           After calling our children to tell them we loved them, I thought about what I should take away from this near-injury/death scenario.  I knew it was something really important and crucial. Probably life changing. Maybe I should be thinking about what the flight attendant told us to do: Brace.  Wasn’t that what we were all really doing down here on earth anyway? Waiting for impact? 

           But as we chugged around the Bay headed back to Oakland, all I could feel was Michael’s ankle in my hand, warm and solid and true. Like the earth we landed on.

Jessica Barksdale is the author of twelve traditionally published novels, including “Her Daughter’s Eyes” and “When You Believe.” Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review, Carve Magazine,  Mason’s Road, and So to Speak. She is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension.
* * *

The ADHD Chronicles: Smoke Signals 
By Connie Kallback
I'll never forget the year I was ten when I was grounded to the yard all summer for nearly setting the house on fire.  I know my parents thought I was pretty weird, but I really didn't do it on purpose.

           I'd just gotten my allowance and bought a whole bag of candy that I traded for Ethan's cigarette lighter. A real nice one. He probably swiped it from his father, but I didn't care. Nobody at my house smoked, so I didn't have much chance of getting one unless I ripped it off from the drug store, and with my luck, I'd get caught.

           It was definitely the best possession of my life, at least up to that point. I saw right away it wasn’t any run-of-the-mill variety. Smooth stainless steel with a blue and red figure barely visible on the bottom right corner. I didn’t recognize the symbol, but it definitely looked important. The neatest part was it felt really good in my hand. Just the perfect fit. I couldn't believe my luck.

           I slid it quick into my pocket so nobody else could claim it like my sister Veronica, three years older than me. She knows a good thing when she sees it. Sure, she’d pretend she was protecting her little brother, but I knew she’d want it for herself.

           If Veronica hadn’t glommed it, my cousin Wilson would have for sure. His dad and mine are brothers. Their house is barely three blocks from ours, but his parents were never home during the day. Someone was always at our house because my dad worked in an office upstairs, but he didn’t like to be interrupted. My parents told Wilson he could stay at our place every day so he wouldn’t be lonely, but I think he was really there to spy on me. Sure. Like I needed a babysitter

           Once home, I slipped through the kitchen and disappeared to my room in the basement so I could get acquainted with my new prize. I figured there have to be lots of things you can do with a lighter besides light up a smoke. Besides, I didn’t have any cigarettes. And truth is I’d never ever had one, but if someone offered, I probably would have accepted. After all, you don’t turn down new opportunities when they come along.

           It must have had plenty of lighter fluid in it because every time I’d spin that little wheel, it would spark and instantly bring forth a flame. In one second, I could create fire on demand. I flipped it on and off, on and off, feeling more powerful every time. I started waving it around with the lid open and the flame burning to create patterns in the middle of my bedroom. Then I tried to make shapes that might show up like shadows on the wall, but that didn’t quite work out. Instead, I started swinging my arms in the middle of the room like those torch bearers in the circus that toss burning sticks around like batons.

           When that got boring, I sat down on the floor to see if I could burn some tiny scraps of paper. The first one was so small, you could barely see it. A little whoosh came when the flame hit. If I’d blinked, I would have missed it entirely. It changed immediately to a glow as small as an ant and left some wispy gray scrap that I rubbed into the rug until it disappeared. 

           That's when I saw the hole, smaller than my pinky, in the side of the mattress where the other half of the handle used to be before I ripped it out by mistake trying to discover what held it in place. With a flick of  the wheel, I held the flame up near the hole to see if there was anything creepy inside, but the lighter wasn’t nearly as good as a flashlight.

           There had to be something else I could do with it. So I scanned the rest of the room for any other opportunities I’d missed. When my eyes came around to the bed again, I noticed these slight wisps of smoke rising from the mattress. It wasn’t really burning, but in a stroke of genius, I thought I should treat it the same as fire.

           A pair of my best corduroys was crumpled on the floor. Smother the smoke. That’s all I could think. They’d drummed that into us at school since kindergarten. When no air gets to the fire, it’ll die. I slapped my cords down on top of where the wisps seemed to be coming from, close to the edge of the bed. That seemed to calm things down. So I got some decent advice about at least one thing at school.

           I thought it best to hide the lighter in my underwear drawer for another day. When I turned around, though, smoke was coiling up worse than ever, and black-edged holes were burning through the legs of my cords.

           Wilson, who's always butting into everyone else's business, came in and whipped the blanket up fast and got a face full. He must have thought he was getting vaporized or something, so he ran back and grabbed the fire extinguisher at the bottom of the stairs. The way he aimed the tank at the mattress and emptied tons of foam all over the place, you’d think he had firefighter training

           All I remember was him saying, “Idiot!” 

           It wasn’t exactly the best time to say anything back. Besides, he’s nearly four years older than me. And at least 30 pounds heavier. Maybe more.

           Then he ran up the stairs. I heard later that he found my dad and said, “Uncle Stanley, I hate to bother you, but we have a problem in the basement.”

           Between the smoke and the foam, that was the end of all my stuffed animals.  'Course I'd just been keeping them around for old times' sake anyway.

           Wilson and my dad took the scorched mattress and box spring up the basement stairs to the back yard and hosed them down, full force, for what seemed like maybe an hour. They left them totally sopping on the concrete patio.

           I was trying to figure out how many days they’d take to dry, but somehow I couldn’t imagine sleeping on them again anyway. They were pretty sad looking. 

           My sleeping bag on the floor became my sleeping arrangement that night. I don’t remember anyone offering me another choice.

           The only good thing was that my mother was away on a business trip for a few days. Maybe we could get everything cleaned up before she got back.

           Were we ever surprised the next morning when nothing was left on the patio except the metal frame. And I mean nothing. It was like locusts came and picked everything clean.

           I don’t think I’ve ever seen my dad so mad. He grounded me for the whole entire summer, and school wasn't even out yet. I had to pretend I was camping out in that sleeping bag on the floor for a long time before he got me a new mattress. I wonder if a court of law would call that child abuse? I should see what I can find on the Web.
                                                                                              Book Sale 

   I love books the way Imelda Marcos loved shoes. That’s why sorting used books for the annual Friends-of-the-Library fundraiser turned out to be a more painful task than I’d imagined.

           Another volunteer and I agreed to toss any copies that were defaced, torn or unreadable for any reason. That worked until I held in my hands Green Grass of Wyoming with lime green crayon scribbles on the first half dozen pages. How could I possibly discard it?  I grew up in Wyoming and went to college in Laramie on the same prairie where Flicka grazed. It joined my personal book pile.

           It wasn’t long before I came across a copy of The Wind in the Willows. My mother read it to my brother and me when we were preschoolers, each sitting on either side of her in the old rocker at bedtime. She would read until we fell asleep, and we’d somehow awake in our beds the next morning. I read it again in my teen years and discovered the vocabulary was far beyond that of early readers. But because the comfortable feeling has stayed with me for life, I had to put it aside as a take-home copy even though I was still in possession of the original one my mother read to us.

           Before I was ready to call it a day, I discovered yet another copy of The Wind in the Willows, but this one was unique. A hard cover with rounded corners on its outer edges. The appeal was too much to resist. But surely I didn’t need two copies of the same book. Instant decision-making isn’t one of my strong points. I knew I would have to take some time before the sale to decide if I should keep it for posterity.

           At home I began reading the books from my personal pile as quickly as I could, knowing the day before the sale would be the absolute deadline. Which ones would I buy to keep for myself?  And maybe the bigger question — where would I put them?  All our bookshelves were occupied to overflowing. I had books stashed under the bed, in boxes in the storeroom and atop the refrigerator, all waiting for who knows how long, to be read.

           The books I’d just brought home needed to be in the sale, though. That’s what it was about. Selling. Raising money. With that noble motive, I returned the book with rounded corners to a sale box, but not without a pang of deep sadness.

           Another sorting session brought the most marvelous find: The complete six-volume set of Winston Churchill’s The Second World War. It filled an entire box. A wonderful asset in anyone’s book collection, mine in particular.

           On the day of the sale, my 11-year-old son Allan came along to help in our booth at the open-air, community flea market with the agreement that he could spend time exploring other booths when he got bored.

           As I arranged everything for the sale, I somehow couldn’t find the right spot to display the Churchill set. It took up too much room on any of the tables. 

           Less than an hour after the flea market officially opened, a young man approached. “Is that for sale?” He poked his foot in the direction of a lonely box nestled in the grass under the table. 

           “The Churchill?”

           He nodded.

           After some hesitation, I said, “I, uh, guess it is.” My eyes misted over a bit.

           He was immediately apologetic. “I don’t have to buy it.” He hesitated, then added, “If you’re saving it….”

           “Oh, no,” I insisted. “Of course it’s for sale.” I forced a smile and busied myself opening my change pouch. 

           I sealed in memory my last sight of the box, supported by one upraised arm curled over it as it proudly rode away on the young man’s shoulder.

           Allan hitched a ride home after lunch with another volunteer, but I stayed until closing. Our sale was a success, earning over $400 for the library. Exhausted, but happy, I picked up a fast-food meal for my family on the way home.

           After relaxing for a moment with a cup of tea, I headed down the hallway. A stack of books on Allan’s desk caught my eye. The Wind in the Willows with curved, instead of square, corners boasted its place on top. I blinked. For a moment I thought I was back at the flea market. “Where did this come from?”

           He seemed surprised. “I bought it at the book sale. Don't you love those rounded corners?”
 
Connie Kallback, a University of Washington graduate, taught English then took editorial positions with McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall and Davies-Black while raising her own two sons and four stepchildren. Before her editorial career and second family, her poetry and essays appeared in journals such as the former Davidson Miscellany and other magazines.
 
* * *
Breaking Bread 
By Lynn Nicholas
“Doreen, are those plates thoroughly warmed? You know I don’t like hot food served on cold plates.”

“I’m using a tea towel to carry them, Ben. They’re quite warm.”

Mum put a smile in her voice but playfully stuck out her tongue behind father’s back. I had to stifle my giggle behind a napkin.

Father was a stickler for proper etiquette at mealtimes, especially on Sundays. Mum was in constant motion. She stacked the warmed bone china plates to his left, filled the crystal water pitcher, and positioned the wine to his right. Lovely smells wafted from the serving dishes placed within father’s reach. Today’s main course was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, with a secondary main of chicken curry and rice.

Father presided over Sunday dinner like reigning sovereign holding court. Ritual and presentation were paramount. Once everyone was seated and everything in its rightful place, he began to serve and pass the filled plates down the table.

“Doreen, you’ve outdone yourself again.” Father carved the roast English-style, piling thin slices onto the plates. “This joint is perfection, and your roasted potatoes are crisped just right.”

Mum beamed as she passed a plate to my younger sister.

“EEYOUUU.” My sister’s whine began to crescendo. 

Penelope squirmed in her chair, pointing to the offending Brussels spouts. I aimed a kick, but it was too late to stop the words from spilling from her mouth.

“I don’t like the way they smell. I don’t want to eat--”

Father stopped, mid carve, knife poised in the air. “You will eat everything you are given and be thankful for it. Children are starving in China. Not another word.”

The forbidden words ‘but I don’t like’ were a child’s ticket to tears. Mum shot Penelope a warning glance and nodded towards the gorgeous trifle waiting on the sideboard. No child wanted to be sent away from the table without dessert. The whining stopped. The carving resumed.

After everyone was served, father cleared his throat. He made eye contact with each diner and bowed his head. Hands were folded; eyes were closed; heads were bowed. At my parents’ table, grace was said sporadically. Prayers of thanks were usually reserved for holidays and company meals. But, on Sundays, formal thanks to God were always given with eloquence and sincerity.

“Thanks be to God for this food and the friends who grace our table.” Father paused for effect. “Today we hear the words of Matthew 25:35, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’”

The Sunday morning sermon, still fresh in father’s mind, inspired a burst of active Anglicanism, adding a feeling of ceremony to our Sabbath meal. After the chorused ‘Amen.’, water glasses were filled, the wine decanter was passed from adult to adult, and everyone began talking. The mix of peoples invited to our home ensured diverse opinions and lively conversation.

Extra places were always set at the Sunday table. Father reveled in the role of master of ceremonies, but it was Mum who was the director of the play. She chose the cast with her eyes to God and her fingers crossed behind her back. Our family broke bread with both poor and rich, Christians and Jews, professors, soldiers, and hippies protesting the war. Guests often found themselves seated next to someone from a different socio-economic level, religion, or culture. Mum lived the tenet of ‘love thy neighbor’ and made a conscious effort to be accepting, giving, and nonjudgmental. She also blended the Christian teachings of compassion and hospitality with a reformist’s need to rock the boat. 

“You know…,” Mum said to Kumar, a turbaned Sikh, who with his soft-eyed, sari-draped wife had contributed the delicious-smelling curry dish to our meal. “I absolutely believe that no matter what differences people might have, common ground can always be found.” 

Mum turned to her left. “Don’t you agree Mr. Poole? You served in British India up until independence in 1946, did you not? ”

Mr. Poole gulped down his glass of wine, puffed out his chest, and launched into the benefits to India of the years of British colonialism and the partitioning of India and Pakistan. Vijay Kumar defended the struggle for independence and educated us on the differences between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. Voices were raised. My younger sister slipped beneath the table and examined people’s shoes. I stayed quiet and watchful. The breadth of the adult world was wondrous, and I was a twelve-year-old sponge.

Father took the floor. “It’s been medically proven that a rousing difference of opinion is good for the blood.”

When the waves of dissent built too high, father stepped in, calming the troubled waters by drawing from his arsenal of Mark Twain quotes.

Father continued to expound, “Mark Twain said, ‘Man is the reasoning animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute....’” 

This quote was particularly long. By the time father sat down, everyone’s thoughts were off track, their argument forgotten. It worked every time.

The following Sunday, our British Anglican minister was invited on the same day as Ian, a young Irish airman, stationed far away from his Irish-Catholic parents and fiancé. A lamb roast was served. Everyone agreed on the food, but that was all. No shots were fired, but there were plenty of fireworks, extinguished by liberally filled glasses of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry.  That was the Sunday I learned that everyone did not believe that God was an Englishman.

Sunday after Sunday, Mum intermixed her favorite friends and neighbors with strays, strangers, and sundry business associates of father’s. The verbal sparring that ensued from this eclectic mix was usually good-natured and, more often than not, the dining room resounded with laughter. Father kept the wine flowing and Mum stage-managed, or tried to. Giggles would bring tears to her eyes as she attempted to gain some control over her friend Dolina, a Scottish widow with an indecipherable brogue, a rousing laugh, and a taste for slightly off-color jokes. Mum would hold her hands over my ears while Dolina winked across the table and helped herself to another glass of wine. Dolina’s clowning was balanced by Mr. Rosenberg, our very elderly, rotund, and kindly German-Jewish neighbor. He brought an old-world sense of decorum to the table and a gentle, satirical sense of humor, his puns were made even funnier by his tendency to mix English words with Yiddish

Underneath the ceremony and verbal antics that defined our Sunday dinners were fundamental life lessons:  the importance of good friends, generosity, tolerance, kindness, and keeping an open mind. It was there that I learned to appreciate diversity and develop respect for both persuasive argument and diplomacy. I learned that dissenting opinions can lead to heated discussions, but respect for other points of view opens hearts and minds. And, if all else fails, one should maintain a strong sense of humor, keep plenty of wine on hand, or learn to quote Mark Twain.
Lynn Nicholas, once a technical editor, now focuses on her creative writing. Her stories have appeared on Rose City Sisters’ Flash Fiction Anthology site, the e-zine Long Story Short, and NaNoWriMo’s blog True-Life Tale. She placed in the Summer 2013 Flash Fiction Contest on WOW! (Women on Writing).
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New York, You, and 54 Too 
By Sherry Palmer
You trust that your friend will take you to safe places, yes, even here in New York City with the street dwellers, and the shadow lurkers, and those who rush by, propelled by unbroken focus with eyes fixed straight ahead, and, of course, your friend who invited you so many seasons ago to come visit but you were so broke and needed at home that you just couldn’t possibly. 

You remember the day when the plane ticket arrived in the mail. I’m not taking no for an answer, she said, so you boarded the plane even though you swore you’d never get on one again, because she is, after all, your closest and dearest friend, your childhood memory in motion – the one who helps you not take it all so seriously, and you could use a hug from that right now.

She assures you this will be the time of your life, and you follow her as she ventures down the street going who knows where, and you study her and wonder what happened to the person who was just as afraid of her shadow, or was that always just you? You don’t remember her being this gutsy as to truck along in charge of a city, and all you have to do is follow and hope no one gets between you so you don’t get lost in this sea of faces, proving once and for all that you are in fact, the nobody you thought you were.

You were somebody in the mountains that seem forever away now, but here in the city? You have anonymity and when you stop at the kiosk to buy a pashmina, and no one is there talking about so-and-so and how she shouldn’t-have-done-that, and honey, did you happen to see the recipe of the week? Pea salad. You thought you’d seen it all when every last church lady showed up for the pot-luck supper last spring with pea salad, and since the mountain is so small and it’s twelve miles to town, that’s all that was on the menu so you had best love pea salad, but that was there and this is here.

And by the way, where is here? What is it that draws people to this place, where you can indeed, be nobody if you want to?

Here is nothing like the mountains, where the air is sweet and sometimes not, and the horses wait by the fence for a slice of a big apple, and you walk with your senses keen, ever knowing that at any time you could come face to face with a bear as you stroll past the cemetery where your papa sleeps, but what you find walking beside you is cow Number 54 who has bolted the fence. Again. It’s just you and Number 54, out for your daily breath of fresh air, and you tell all your troubles to this four legged soul sister as the two of you heifers clomp side by side, and you can scream into the wind, and your secret is safe with 54.

Here is nothing like the mountains where your eyes dare not deviate from the hairpin turns, lest you find your car in a ditch waiting to be rescued on a rainy evening in the dark where no New York City lights show the way, but as long as you are not injured all you have to do is wait. A passerby will fetch your spouse because they know it’s you turned upside-down on your head in that black shiny new Camero all the tongues have been wagging about, and it’s now crumpled like a can of coke zero because you were in too big a hurry on that slick leather-polished road. Slow down. Show some respect.

You look around at the buildings that fade into the sky and pray you won’t disappear into the crowd that puts you on alert. Move or be moved by the masses.  Stand still and get stomped like an ant in the yard. There is no lollygagging here. Pick up the pace, yell wait for me all you want to, but a horn drowns you out and your friend’s legs are longer than yours and she’s bookin’ – so fix your eyes on the pavement and move your bloomin’ butt. Go ahead, say that word. Butt. Say it right out loud, and maybe another similar not-allowed-in-the-mountains udderance that preachers wives are not supposed to say – who’s going to hear you? And if no one hears it, then who cares if you say it?  54 isn’t here.

Here, in the city where the sidewalk moves, you breathe in the contagious, electric air.  Lock elbows with the crowd cueing at the kiosks selling pashminas – get the red and black one – it goes with your suit. What is a pashmina anyway, and where would you possibly wear it? Out for a saunter with Number 54? Does it matter? It’s a pashmina. Get it. When you get back to the mountains you can tell them it belonged to the Dali Lama or some exotic dancer with bigger you-know-whats than you, if you don’t mind getting snubbed out of the church, and while you are at it, don’t be such a tightwad – get one for 54 too.

Where are we going again? Bubba’s? Your friend says the steaks there are fabulous, but you tell her about Number 54, and that no, you just can’t do that to her, she’ll see it in your eyes and will know you have taken it out of her hide. So you order coffee because 54 gave up the cream without a fight, and you order the shrimp on the Barbie and your friend thinks this is drop dead funny since her name is Barb, and she eats like a picked bird as you finish the last of your cocktail sauce and prove yourself a member of the are-you-going-to-eat-the-rest-of-that? club, as she tosses a hush puppy your way and you say, no-I-couldn’t-possibly, but then again, what the hell, you are in hell of a city, and here for a hell of a good time, and you might just explode if you take one more bite – oh the hell with it, pass the puppy and get out of the way.

You’ve done as much damage as you can do, so you leave Bubba’s and head down the street on your 54 year old legs and come face to face with another kiosk, this time peddling I Heart New York t-shirts, and you wish it was Rolaids, but you purchase the t-shirt. But wait-a-minute, don’t stop there, get one for the family, and while you are at it, get one for the church ladies that they will never wear in the mountains because they won’t want to explain to their church friends that no, they did not in fact go to sin city, it was their preacher’s wife, thank you very much. And what will you say? Does it matter? You have arrived because you are here, but before that, you arrived there, which means you have to take yourself with you wherever you go. Do any of these street people know this? Do they know how small you are in the city? Do you know? What’s the largest size these come in? Do you have one that will fit Number 54?

Now look what you’ve gone and done – you’ve managed to load yourself down with more than you can carry, and its getting heavy, and there you go, dragging the bag around, bumping it into people, saying excuse me, and if you are lucky your newfound invisibleness will keep people from yelling at you when you squeeze past them in the theatre with your suitcase-sized butt, dragging your overloaded bag, to watch Hairspray. 

You wait outside after the show for the cast to come out – could they sign your program please? But they are in no mood for schmoozing with no-name nobodies, and push past you, they need a drink, they say, there’s a barstool waiting for them, they say, disappearing into the crowd. See? You are nobody. So you get your souvenir hairspray cup and head back to the streets following your friend who says she knows how to get back to the car, and she’s five feet eight inches tall, and you are five feet, and she’s walking fast, and you wish you’d stayed on that stupid diet so you could keep up.

           Slow down will ya?

           Why aren’t we taking the bus?

           This street seems deserted. On second thought, speed up.

           You do know where you’re going, don’t you?

           It’s perfectly safe, your friend promises.

           Are you off-the-radar-screen nuts? You, lifelong friend.

You expect that at any time, one of the shadows will unleash something sinister, and had best forget chatting on the way to the car because you passed angry five minutes ago, at your friend who thinks she can walk deserted streets because she has done this before in this hell of a city, and you listen to the sound of your own footsteps, and look behind you, and listen and look, and all you can think of is that you’ve had a hell of a good time, but you can’t wait to get the hell out of here, so you focus on the pavement and think about how you are not nobody. You know who exactly who you are. And this is not you.

Pick up the pace. Focus on the pavement. Think about the mountains, and the grass between your toes, and the horses’ heads bobbing for apples on a cool, crisp, fall day. And the bonfire at the Halloween weenie roast, and the marshmallows squished between chocolate and the taste of sweet s’mores, and the caramel apples, and the congregation singing Amazing Grace, and the hayride, and canning creamed corn, and baking yeast rolls, and the hands that prepare a Thanksgiving supper.

You ask God to send you an angel but hasn’t he already done that? – She’s walking down the road on the mountain; waiting and wondering where you are, ready to listen to your stories.

        You never know,

                  Number 54 might just appear out of nowhere

                             to walk you home.
 
Sherry McCaulley Palmer is a graduate of Spalding University’s MFA Creative Writing Program. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Sherry’s previous publications include, Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul, I’m Glad I’m a Mom, Down Syndrome Today Magazine, Monroe Life Magazine, The Tennessee Star Journal, and the Breathitt County Voice.
 
* * *
Current
By William Vernon
     I waited while the river dropped two, three days, a week, but the floodplain freed of water was more isolated than before, caked with mud, in places half a foot of it. Then a cold front. All afternoon and night the arctic came to visit. The 11 o'clock TV news showed National Guardsmen at roadblocks exhaling clouds that hung luminous above them, M-1 rifles slung on shoulders, hands extended toward fires flaming up in 50-gallon drums,.

     Could this cold create a route? Before dawn, I found frozen mud, sneaked atop it like a looter on side roads, and when the growl of rushing water smothered car sounds, I stopped. My brights showed the brown river lunging as if angry, trapped in its banks. Had that current weakened the bridge? I couldn't take the time to study it, couldn't stop myself from gunning the motor, spinning up onto the span, and racing across it with the hungry creature roaring just a few feet below. Safely over, on the other side, I entered a land merely fondled by the flood.

     Through gate and barnyard, I found my lover feeding the livestock. She was anxious and up-wrought. As we drove along a lane and parked among apple trees under the coldest of early suns, she told of coffins floating ashore on her family's farm. Of her town friends' escaping from rooftops in boats. They'd stayed for a while at her farm. We clung to each other while our breathing froze on the windows. I scraped it off and took her home, happy she was safe.

     I crossed the bridge, but this time chose the Mason Morrow Millgrove Road on a whim, to see her friends' houses. In the early light, everything suggested mutation. The whole valley was altered. Young trees and all of the bushes were angled downstream as if a huge, heavy hand had bent them over. Tree limbs 20 or more feet above me were caked with debris: paper, plastic, other trees and limbs. Washers, dryers, stoves, refrigerators, tables, chairs, sheds. Then an entire two-story white frame house blocked the way into Morrow, wedged across the road, snagged on a small bridge over a stream.

     I jockeyed around, suddenly conscious of danger, of being in the heart of unstoppable power, aware my mother's car might wreck or mire. She didn't know that I had it, didn't know I was gone. I carefully turned around and at the bridge followed Stubbs Mills Road up out of the valley, then raced through the farmland, through the fields staked out for bulldozers, and finally relaxed in the newest suburbs. Did I feel safe then? Behind me was Nature untamed. No, the tires and the engine reminded me of the distant river flow muffled. A face in the rearview mirror stared at me. I couldn't explain what I'd done, carried along as I'd been on a flood welling up from inside myself.
 
Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel Old Town.
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Artwork
Postcards
By Richard Baldasty
Richard Baldasty’s poetry and short prose have appeared in Pinyon, Epoch, and New Delta Review among other literary magazines. Recent work online: AntipodeanSF, Dark Fire, Thick Jam, and Café Irreal; text/image at Shuf Poetry; collage in Fickle Muses, Ray’s Road Review, Big Bridge, and Gravel. He lives in Spokane.
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Photography by Laura Johnson
Laura Story Johnson was born and raised in Iowa and has lived in New York City, bush Alaska, Mongolia, Boston, Austria, west of the Zambezi River in Zambia, and in Chicago. Her photography has appeared in the Apeiron Review, Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine, and is forthcoming in Vine Leaves Literary Journal. 
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Bubble Gum, Chinese, Cowboy Bar, Dayglow Dgreen, Dayglow
By Claire Ibarra
Claire Ibarra is a writer, poet, and photographer residing in Miami, Florida. Her photographs have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Blue Fifth Review, Microw, Poetic Pinup Revue, and SmokeLong Quarterly. A series of Claire's photographs is forthcoming in Lummox 2.
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The Parisienne
By Richard Ong
Richard Ong's painted artwork, stories, poetry and photos have appeared in several issues of bewilderingstories.com, yesterdaysmagazette.com and The Blotter Magazine. One of these stories has been republished in print as part of an anthology titled, “Toys Remembered.” (compiled and edited by Madonna Dries Christensen). He is also an executive producer of a promotional movie short, “A.R.C. Angel: Kalina,” https://www.facebook.com/ARCAngelKalina nominated for Best Guerilla Film Short at the 2013 Action on Film Festival at Monrovia, California.
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