Foliate Oak October 2014
Fiction
 
Fiction by Daniel Clausen
 
A couple of poor foreign English teachers in Japan. What could be more normal than that? Except we weren’t normal. (If such a thing exists). My Welsh roommate (whom I shall refer to simply as the “Welshman”) smoked too much, drank too much, and—more importantly—talked too much. I, on the other hand, was haunted.

Yes, we were normal in our abnormality.

                                                     ***

It’s a week before payday and the weather has gotten colder. Quickly approaching the state of absolutely broke, the Welshman and I have resorted to drinking cheap beer in our apartment and reminiscing about our pasts. Bad news, because whenever the past comes up, the ghost of Debra appears out of nowhere, sits down to take a load off, and starts talking in vague terms about problems―mine mostly, but sometimes just “problems.”

“You’ve got problems, I’ve got problems, the whole world’s got problems,” she says.

“Sometimes I think if we didn’t have these problems the whole world would stop spinning on her axis, we’d all stop spinning on our axises, axes, or whatever you want to call them, and then we’d have to settle into the nasty business of finding a way to be happy.”

I listen to her, sip my beer, and try to imagine what in the after-earth kind of problems a ghost would have.

And, because she can read my mind, she says, “Oh Lordy, you have no idea, young man. Life ends, but politics, well…” She leaves it at that. Then she checks her watch, as if she has somewhere to be.

More haunting to do? I ask, speechlessly.

She shrugs, “Or something.”

She makes herself ethereal and vanishes into thin air. But even though she disappears, she’s still there.
                                                              ***
Unlike many of the instructors at our company, the Welshman is a bit older―late twenties to be exact, as opposed to the fresh-out-of-college instructors you usually get. A bit wiser, maybe. Garrulous and long-winded, always. It turns out that before he came to Japan he worked at a community center where he looked after kids. For the last few days he’s talked and talked, giving me the substance and the flavor of his past.

And as he talks there always comes a point somewhere where I’m sure he’s going to ask about me. I can almost see that turn in the conversation, and when it appears all but inevitable, magically Debra walks through the door―literally (or supernaturally) through the door. She sits down at the table in our living room, smiles, and begins a monologue or some bit of word play. The Welshman doesn’t ask me about my past, or he does, but I’m too transfixed by her ghost to answer. And she sits there and lingers through the night, talking, raving—sometimes about the weather, or sometimes about the loneliness of after-living. On occasions, she waits for the Welshman to finish, other times she talks right through his speeches and he goes to bed long before she finishes.

                                                              ***
Another night and more cheap beer. Will payday ever come? I take a sip of my Nodogoshi on the couch of our living room. It briefly occurs to me that I should do something to break the cycle of pain; one monologuer is enough, but two―and sometimes at the same time!―was more than any person could bear.

I look over in the direction of the Welshman who is absorbed in a book on British politics.

“You don’t even have to ask, mate. British politics is spicier than your Spanish telenovela: sex scandals, coke overdoses, and more egocentric mindfucks than even your American celebrities could muster.”

He puts the book down and gets a good stretch going. “Well, here we are again, broke and cast off by our fellow teachers, who I assume are just as broke as us and apartment-bound. Don’t suppose you have any plans for the night? Should have gotten that hot girl's phone number. Nothing cheaper than a good ol’ fashion booty call. Want to finish up the Nodogoshi? Lucky thing I stocked up. You should watch yourself though. A few beers in and I always catch you looking out into space, or mumbling stuff to yourself. By the way, did I tell you I used to work at a community center?”

“Yeah, only about a hundred times.”

“Right mate, sorry. Emmm, okay. Well anyway, there was this one time, right. I was helping these kids stage a play―not really a play, like, just a few scenes from Romeo and Juliet. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. And this one kid, I forget his name. I want to say his name is Buzz Saw or Flint, some stereotypical hooligan name, because he’s only twelve or thirteen but he has arms like a trucker. Let’s just call him ‘Bruno’ or ‘Shark.’ Which would you prefer? I’m more a ‘Bruno’ guy, myself.”

“Let’s go with ‘Shark,’” I reply.

“Well then, ‘Shark’ it is. Anyway, Sharky is this right huge fucker. Twelve or thirteen, like I said, but he looks like someone’s been injecting him with steroids since he was five. Anyway, to make matters worse, ol’ Sharky has been held back a grade or two, so he like towers over these other ten and eleven-year-olds. As you might imagine, he’s got a real chip on his shoulder from being left back and people thinking he’s stupid and what not. So I figure I’ll let ol’ Sharky play Tybalt, figure he’s spot on to play him, right? And he’s like ‘I’m not doin’ no fuckin’ play like no sissy’ and I’m like ‘for fucks sake mate, all you have to do is read from the book and play around with your sword.’ I even let him ad lib his lines and what not.

“Anyway, all the other kids start gettin’ kind of short with Sharky because he keeps messing up his lines and even his ad libs don’t really make any kind of sense. Anyway, after we spend a bit of time practicing, I turn my back for a second to go get some balls and shit for them to play with for the rest of the period. But when I turn back, Sharky has this kid pinned down and is hitting him over the head with a rock. A freakin’ rock man! Like the size of my fist. I mean this thirteen-year-old Conan fucker is going for his life. Here’s this scrawny fucker with like blood gushing out his skull and he’s unconscious, and I pull Sharky off of him, and the police and the ambulance come and it’s a bloody nightmare. And I feel God-awful because I was responsible for them, you know. Not just the kid lying on the ground, but Sharky too. I knew the kid was a right hooligan, and I knew he couldn’t be trusted alone. Fuck. I let both those little cunts down. But I let Sharky down even more because the kid kind of trusted me. We had a rapport and what not. Fuck. I mean what the fuck was the point of that?”

“That sounds pretty awful,” I say, kind of staring off into space. There’s a moment of silence. Here it is, I think. Here is the moment the Welshman is going to ask about my past. Debra will magically float through the window or pass through the wall, sit down at that table over there, massage her knees to get the kinks out, say something like, “When you get my age, not everything works the way it’s supposed to. And this whole spooking people business has a way of wearing a woman out,” and then I would be stuck with her for the rest of the night. I would drink beer and the sound of Debra’s voice would overtake the Welshman’s.
But she doesn’t appear.

Instead, I can see Sharky in my imagination. He’s got the rock in his hand, and as he’s going for the final blow, he turns to me and winks. Why does he wink? I ask myself. The next thing I know, Sharky is picking up the body, unconscious and limp, and pitching it into a pool. For a moment, something starts in my brain; like fire it works its way through my neurons, down to every part of my body, and I want to laugh. The better part of me stops myself, but a smile must creep out because the Welshman asks me, “What’s so funny, mate?”

“Nothing, it’s just that I know Sharky.”

“Aw mate, it’s hard to know it living in ol’ Nagasaki, but the world is full of Sharkies. Dumb motherfuckers who don’t know their arsehole from a hole in the wall, and go around stomping other people’s brains out because they have no fucking conception of the way the world works. I suppose I used to be a little like that. Bit of a nutter in my youth. Now I just drink more.”

We both laugh a little at that, and he gives me a playful punch on the shoulder.


“....Anyway, figured I was going to get fired, so I decided ‘well, might as well up and quit.’ But then the manager comes to me—old fellow, a friend of mine, heart of gold and all that. He levels with me, says like he can’t find anyone else to do the job for the pay and begs me not to go because he doesn’t think he can get anyone else. Figure, in for a penny in for a pound, that’s the price you pay for working with hard-luck kids and what not. So I stick around and you know what happens a week later?”

“What?”

“Some kid gets glassed―glassed, mate! Not my class, mind you. But I hear some kid screaming real loud, and I run into the other classroom, and there’s this kid in another class with glass and blood all over his face. One of those old fashioned coke bottles. I mean come on mate, how are these kids learning this shite? Are they taking courses: Bar Fighting 101, Hooliganology 203―fucking hell. All we have to do is squeeze out a few scenes of Shakespeare and spend the rest of the period playing kickball or something, and these cunts can’t stop stoning and glassing each other. The poor girl who’s in charge of the class is in the corner freaking out, and she doesn’t know what to do. So I have to call the police, and they of course bring the ambulance and the fire department, and we go through the whole thing over again with the reports and what not. We spend the rest of the year showing movies, just so we can watch over them and make sure they’re not trying to gouge each others' eyeballs out.”

The Welshman rubs his face. “And how did the fucker get his hands on a rock? We were indoors for Christ sakes. Sharky must have had it in his pocket, keeping it around for just the right occasion. Maybe I was just lucky it was ‘stoning Thursday’ instead of ‘knife-in-the-back Wednesday.’”

The Welshman goes to the fridge and gets some beers for us.

“Hey, I got an idea. Maybe the new guy has some money we can borrow. That might get us out of the house for a little bit. A night on the piss might do us both a bit of good.”

“No,” I say. “I’d rather not spend any money that’s not mine.”

This is the moment. I crack open my Nodogoshi and get ready for it. Might as well be a little buzzed when she arrives, bringing with her vague talk about unresolved problems and how the times are changing. I think for a moment that she might try something a little different. She might knock this time. I look around, but before anything can happen, the Welshman is talking again.

“Well, I think I’m going to take a break from the boob-tube tonight. Although, I have to say, I’ve developed a fine appreciation for MacGyver thanks to the old Kaigai drama channel. Wonder if that guy ever took a glass to the ol’ noggin. Clever guy, but looks as if he might be a bit of a sissy when it comes to bar fights.”

I feel a chill run through my body. I look around for the ghost of Debra, but she still doesn’t appear. Despite her absence, the chill hints that her presence is spread deep throughout the apartment.

“You know mate, you’re not really much of a talker,” the Welshman says.

Here it comes, I think.

As I listen to the Welshman, I can also feel my mind leave my body. It walks over to the balcony, opens the sliding glass door, and steps out. It looks for something. It looks down at the street, where it can see a solitary cat walking around near our building. Just one cat. The superreal me stares at the cat and the cat stares at me. My body eventually catches up with my spirit, and now the real me is standing on the balcony looking at the cat. Its reality is written over by its superreality.

The Welshman follows me with a cigarette. “Seem to be in a bit of a daze lately, mate. Maybe you miss home, maybe you’re a bit stressed, or maybe it’s something else. If you’re hallucinating because you’re on something, I mean fair enough―just don’t be holding out on the rest of us. Leave that open for a second, will you? I want to get a quick smoke in. If it’s something else that’s got you peeved, do pipe up. Communication is what being a good flatmate is all about.”

I continue to stare at the cat. Even from the sixth floor I can see its deep green eyes looking through me.

“It’s getting to be winter, I reckon. What do you think? You know, if you leave something unresolved into winter, it has a way of dragging itself all the way into spring. Reckon we’ll see any snow?”

“What?” I say. “Were you saying something?”

“Nothing important, mate. I was expounding on the meaning of life and giving you the foolproof, empirically reproducible formula to riches, voluptuous women, and eternal happiness, that’s all. Why don’t you tell me something about yourself? I sit here every day and tell you about myself. Almost seems a bit rude for you to just sit there not saying anything.”

And there it is. But where is she? The cat sits by the sidewalk and looks up at me.
“Not so much to tell.”

“Yeah, mate. Well, I’m sure you can find something to talk about. Maybe you can start with your parents.”

The cat just sits there. It licks its paws and waits patiently for the world to unfold.
“No, never knew my parents.”

“Right, sorry. I knew that actually. You told me that a while ago. I just forgot. Em, hmm, then where do we start, mate?”

The cat sits down on the sidewalk, lays back, and begins to massage its knees.
I start with Debra.
* * *
Coup de Grâce 
By Dawn Gresko

Something made me laugh out loud when my father told me that our hunting spot this year would be a place called Pleasant Lake. I didn't think he was serious about the name, but there it was in big white lettering across the brown sign as Dad turned his old pickup onto a narrow dirt road. The night before we left home, Mama had reminded me of how strange she thought it was for a little girl to want to go hunting. She said girls weren't meant to be hunters. My father told my mother that she was right. A girl wasn't meant to be a hunter, but a huntress. He winked at me from across the table and I hid my smile with my hand, using it to stir a piece of limp broccoli on my plate. My mother stood and collected my plate without looking at my father or me, then untied her apron with slow and steady purpose at the sink. Chin high, she strode in to the other room.

The truck jerked without warning when Dad hit the brakes and my head flew forward, forcing my eyes on what had made him stop so suddenly. A fallen tree blocked the tire-worn dirt path ahead of us. Dad backed up the red truck and parked it next to the road. He was hunched over the wheel, leaning toward the dashboard to stare up at the puffy clouds, so he didn't notice the crushed cans of beer down by the dead log.

“Well, good thing it isn't snowing yet,” He shut off the engine, then looked over at me. “You'll be okay with walking from here, won't you?” 

When I nodded, he patted me on the shoulder and reached behind the seat to pull out a plaid hunter's cap with ear-warmer flaps. Without asking if I wanted it, he put the hat on my head and opened  his door so he could pull out our camouflaged backpacks and our rifles. When I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror I thought of Elmer Fudd. I think my father saw the similarity, too, because he put his finger to his lips and told me to be very, very quiet. We're hunting wabbits. 

We were really hunting deer. We could only catch one, Dad said, because Maine's state law prohibited a hunter (or huntress) from killing more than one a year. He explained that 'prohibited' was another way of saying 'you can't do that.' So when we found some hoof prints—heart-shaped and too small for a moose—we followed them northwest. Sometimes the tracks led us around in circles, and sometimes we lost track of the tracks completely. I had learned how to be patient, because it was an important part of the wilderness code Dad taught me. We would keep on the trail like this until just before the sun went down. Until it “went cold.” But it was still early afternoon and, by chance, Dad had spotted some broken twigs that led us in a new direction and it wasn't long before we saw the lake. There were other footprints in the softer soil, but I didn't think about who they belonged to—hunters or huntresses, more people just like us. 

Right now I was more worried about keeping up with the deer trail and, as I started to move out from behind the cover of brush, Dad grabbed my arm. I stopped. I looked over my shoulder. His rifle was lifted and pointed at a deer drinking from the water's edge. No antlers meant it was a doe. We both knew getting a clean shot to the head was never easy, but as the doe lifted her nose from the water my father recognized the opportunity and squeezed the trigger. The doe went down, but my father had missed what he was aiming for and was muttering to himself because he knew what had to happen next. 

The doe's suffering wasn't over, so it was our job to end it. It was just another part of the code but I didn't want to watch. We walked over to the dying animal and her glassy, black eyes were like two dark mirrors I didn't want to stare into for too long. I didn't want to see what might be staring back. The doe never blinked, not even when my father raised the end of his rifle to the back of her head. But I shut my eyes because I knew what he would do next.

There was a loud Pop! But the sound wasn't followed by silence. Instead I heard something hit the ground nearby with a hard thud. From the woods to my right, men came out roaring like grizzly bears and heavy boots were trampling through the mud toward the scene. There were voices but I couldn't understand what they were saying. There was only the sharp beep of buttons on phones and the words “mistake” and “accident” repeated over and over again. Not far from the doe, I saw that it was my father who had fallen in the snowy mud. He looked ready to make a snow angel, the way we would do it together for the holidays, but his arms weren't stretched out. His hand was covering up something on his right side and he was making strange choking noises. Unlike the doe, his eyes were blinking heavily as he looked above and beyond me. From where I stood I could see only sky. Dad tried to move, but started coughing and sunk back down. Red foam came out and bubbled at the corner of his mouth each time he tried to take a breath. He wasn't in the water, but it sounded like he was sinking under the surface of the lake.

I knew what had to happen next. 

Dawn Gresko lives in Pensacola, where she is a BA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of West Florida. When she isn't writing on scavenged materials or in her thoughts, she's sticking her nose in the nearest book or roaming the discount novel section.
 
* * *
Oklahoma,1944: Howard Hughes Spends the Night in Jail
By Kathryn Kulpa

At least they haven’t taken away his shoes. He hates wearing shoes, hates how they dull everything the ground might be saying, but here, in this cell that still holds the vapor trails of every man who slept here, pissed against the whitewashed walls, vomited not quite into the steel toilet bowl, quite possibly died here (they’d taken his belt, and would have taken his tie, if he’d had one), there’s nothing the green tile floor can tell him that he wants to hear.

Here, these shoes could save his life.

There’s a drain in the floor. It’s a round hole with a rusted metal cover and around that hole something is growing, something wet and black. He doesn’t want to look at the drain in the floor but there it is. And here he is, jailed for vagrancy, 68 cents in his pocket, a torn movie ticket stub, a brown paper bag, half a sandwich and a bottle of Coke. He’d signed for them in the office, and a woman with oxblood fingernail polish had assured him, from behind a thick glass window, that they would be returned to him upon his release. Except for the Coke, which was confiscated on suspicion of containing an intoxicating beverage. Was it being held as evidence? Sent to some laboratory for analysis?

More likely, it had been poured down the drain. He’s thirsty now. He wishes he still had that Coke. There’s a tiny half-moon sink against one wall. He’s thirsty but he won’t drink from that sink.

There’s a sharp smell of bleach. There’s a lightbulb wrapped in wire.

There’s a drain in the floor.

The sheriff is on the phone, calling Thompson about the hobo with the crazy story. But Thompson is not at the plant, of course. It’s Sunday night. Thompson is at home. Thompson is having dinner with his family, assuming Thompson has a family. He doesn’t know where Thompson lives. He barely remembered Thompson’s name.

There’s a drain in the floor.  Something dark growing around it.

There are certain dark corners in every man’s life, places the mind might be drawn to. The antidote he’s found is motion.

When he flies he flies barefoot, feeling the pulse of the pedals with his long toes. When he flies the hum of the engines is loud enough to drown the ringing in his ears. Nothing else can.

He sits on the cleanest part of the bench, the part with the least writing on it. He sees the smeared edges of words that someone tried to erase. Pictures reduced to connected dots. Nothing is erased all the way.

One man died. One walked away. Nothing explains this. It’s chance. Fate. Mechanical failure. He walked away, the way he always does. He’s a tin roof shingled with asbestos. Nothing touches him. This is no virtue, only luck.

Luck can be courted but it will turn in the end. His gambler father taught him that.

There’s a drain in the floor.

There’s a body in the water.

He’s in the cockpit and it’s cold. Why is it so cold? This is desert country. Harper Dry Lake. Something’s filming his vision, something sticky and dark like engine oil. He reaches up his hand to wipe it away and thinks it’s blood, though in the dim green light it could be black, could be oil, caking under his nails. There’s a moment when he’s sure his legs are gone. He can’t feel them, only the cold, and when he looks down his legs aren’t there, only a cold blackness that’s not oil, not blood, but water. He’s held there, watching it rise higher, trying to understand as the water laps gently against his waist, and then he remembers, he undoes the buckle, turns to Morales in the seat beside him.

Morales isn’t there.

There’s a body in the water.

There’s a drain in the floor.

He wipes his hands with a white handkerchief, over and over, the joint of each knuckle, the fingernails, the cuticles. No one watches him. No one cares what he does, or what he’s done. He’s a vagrant here. He has no name. No one in 400 miles who might remember him except Geo. Thompson, Gen’l. Mgr., Hughes Tool Co., Norman, Okla.

He’s a vagrant here. Sixty-eight cents in his pocket. Only in his most secret dreams has he been so anonymous. He draws his feet up to the bench, his head down to his knees. Pulls down the brim of his hat. Dreams of a beach miles away from here, riding a horse through the surf, no saddle, nothing between him and that speed. That power. He was fourteen years old and all he could think of was going faster.

If he closes his eyes he could be anywhere.

A metallic clang of keys. He’s shocked awake. The cell door opens.

And a face, Thompson’s face, peering in at him, side-bent, quizzical, looking down at the unshaven hobo sleeping on a filthy bench in a filthy jail and trying to think back to an awards banquet six years ago. Trying to remember. And Hughes wills himself to be forgotten, to be nobody, a habitual vagrant, a drunk, who having spent his night in jail will be turned out to wander the world with 68 cents in his pocket, unseen, unremembered. But now Thompson is at his side, stammering, apologetic; now the look on the sheriff’s face changes from bored contempt to curiosity, staring through the bars of the cell like a man who’s caught and caged some exotic beast he has no idea how to keep.

And he stands, lets them lead him out, takes back the life he checked at the desk, walks away. 

Kathryn Kulpa's short and flash fiction is published or forthcoming in NANO Fiction, Prime Number, Florida Review, Monkeybicycle, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Superstition Review. She is the author of Pleasant Drugs (Mid-List Press), a short story collection, and Who's the Skirt? (Origami Poems Project), a micro-fiction chapbook, and is flash fiction editor of Cleaver magazine. She comes very close to living in Rhode Island.
 
* * *
Ezureekae on the Phone
By Eleanor Levine

Dear Agnes:

After speaking with you, I realized that we were not raised on the same plot of land.
If you had been born in Jamaica, Queens, and/or excommunicated from my Episcopal Church, there might have been a spark.
It is excruciating, this dating, though I hoped to commune like Beatrice and Dante—at least from Dante’s perspective.  In truth, I have no desire to follow you through the streets of Paradiso—you’re not Beatrice, I can’t be your Dante, nor do I wish you to stalk me.

Best of luck to you!

– Helene

Dear Helene:

You stipulated, before we began our conversation, that you were cooking onions--you couldn’t stay on the phone more than ten minutes—so my question is: when was the defining moment that my maudlin personality got to know yours?
I was speaking from a Greyhound bus when a large black man threatened eviction if I didn’t turn off my cell phone. I explained this, but you were digressive and evasive and clearly unaware that I, too, was on the planet.
“I’ve never taken Greyhound,” you continued, “only the Chinatown bus where I caught a virus—but never took it again. Don’t like viruses.”
“Yes, well, I have seen both phlegm and drug deals on those vehicles.” I confessed.
“By the way,” you paused, “how did you come up with your OkCupid screen name—EZUREEKAE?”
“It’s ancestral.”
“Ancestral?”
“I’m from a long line of Crimeans named EZUREEKAE who were bottle washers before the Communist revolution.”
We then heard vibrations over the Greyhound PA system, which could have been a North Korean country-wide speaker announcement.
“Will the loud individual on her cell phone please desist?” 
You kept talking. I wanted to crawl under my seat.
During this static dialogue, there was no way two humans could have decided if their destinies were linked. Certainly not the kind of bathrooms they’d use.
Now that you have rejected me, I wish you much luck in your quest to superficially diagnose future love partners.

Yours in inconsequential desire,

-Agnes

 Eleanor Levine’s work has appeared in Fiction, The Evergreen Review, The Denver Quarterly, Midway Journal, The Toronto Quarterly, Pank, Dos Passos Review, Knee Jerk Magazine, Hobart, Connotations Press, Monkeybicycle, BlazeVOX, Gravel, Chronopolis, Prime Mincer, Happy, Artemis, Penumbra, Gertrude; she has work forthcoming in Fiction Southeast and Barely South Review.
* * *
The Wheelchair Beauty
By Paul Luikart

Monday night I was sitting at the coffee shop--my coffee shop, as I’ve come to call it, though it’s actually called, somewhat tongue-in-cheekily, “Mama Earth’s.” (Everything now is tongue in cheek, isn’t it?) I was sipping something South American—I think. It had citrus notes—and reading Fitzgerald. I’ve already read all of his short stories, and am now working my way through his novels, starting with everybody’s favorite, The Great Gatsby. Hemingway was before Fitzgerald, Dos Passos before Hemingway. (Lookee me, Ma! I’m the Lost Generation!) At some point, I happened to glance up and saw through the window, approaching my coffee shop, three young people—hipsters. A woman/girl, a man/boy, and another woman/girl nearly identical to the first, except that she was in a wheelchair. Sisters, maybe twins. But Mama Earth’s has no wheelchair ramp. There is a small step from the sidewalk to the door, so the ambulatory female held the door open (Some clever Mama Earth’s staffer had rigged a door chime which tinkled through the opening riff of The Pixie’s, “Where is My Mind?”) and the man/boy tipped the bound girl back, then up, then over the step and shoved her inside. They took a table near me. They, all three of them, acted like it was nothing.

The girl in the wheelchair sat straight-backed, hands folded in her lap. What was wrong with her? No white plaster casts, her legs were firm, shapely even—this I could see through the faded-indigo fabric of her jeans, which conformed to every ripple of her flesh. She had neither the telltale turned in toes nor the muscular atrophy of somebody with a more serious condition. I don’t doubt that she needed a wheel chair, mind you. All I mean to say is that whatever her malady, the necessity of a wheelchair was not evident to me.

The man/boy began a conversation with some droll line at which they all laughed, including himself, perhaps he the hardest. I could not make out what it was, but I’d imagine it was something slathered in irony. As soon as the laughter died away, he arose and went to the counter, returning with three cups of coffee. I tried to get back to my book.

The woman/girl in the wheel chair sat facing me. Her sister (I presumed) sat to her right, in profile to me, and the man/boy to her left. His profile included a gentle slope from protruding lower lip all the way down to his Adam’s apple. Essentially, he was chinless. Once, when he frowned, I saw a slight bump in the line, the nascent hump of a chin, but it disappeared as soon as his countenance changed. I saw a future for him, and it did not look good. Perhaps, if he were lucky, he’d be the last proprietor of a thing already on its way out: The independent bookstore. Likely named: The Naked Eye. Alternative Pages. Or some such gobbledygook. Maybe Gobbledygook would be the name of it. “Please, sir, buy a book. Buy a book for the poor, please, sir?” Yes, that was him. Or would be.

The sister, the one who could walk, probably 20 years old, maybe 21 but, she held her face all wrong. It appeared that inside of her head, just under the thin layer of fairly pretty skin, were the muscles and skull of a mean old woman who controlled the girl’s face and was intentionally misusing it. There were too many wrinkles around her lips—from too much smoking already? Too much ironic smiling? (To smile ironically, one simply purses one’s lips as hard as one can possibly purse them. That’s it. And this is what it means: “Love me, I hate you, love me, make me laugh, make me laugh NOW damn you. I hate you.” Ah, the banter of love. What a racket.)

The wheel chair woman looked at both of her companions, bright eyes darting back and forth, back and forth. They seemed to amuse her, these friends or family or whoever they were. She did not say very much, though clearly understood all, and she never spoke first. Every now and then, her eyes turned toward the ceiling, brief little glances that I’m sure only I saw. Had she noticed the brown blooms of water stains in the drop ceiling panels and did they disturb her? Maybe she saw immaculate angels climbing to heaven. If she could climb, would she have climbed to heaven with them? And once her eyes met mine, a demure glance, but surely not an invitation (They’d only just gotten here!) Her mouth was a delicate plum. The lips were smooth and evenly wetted, with glints of light like blazing cat scratches upon the lower one. Her smile forced her freckled skin back in little mounds over her high cheekbones. And there were dimples. Two of them.   

I forced my eyes down, back to my book, but could not keep them there for more than a paragraph, a few lines of dialogue. Eventually, my eyes could not stay on the page for the length of time it takes to read a comma or a period. So I pretended. When she spoke, she often touched her fingertips to her white cheeks, both cheeks sometimes. When she laughed, it was a high-pitched giggle tinged with a just-so perfect amount of womanly remorse. She talked and laughed and nodded and on and on like a little geisha flapper girl and the sound of her laughing and talking rose from the table like a bunch of multi-colored balloons.

Perhaps I fell in love.  

I don’t know how much time passed, but it can be measured in two ways: Since she and her party had entered Mama Earth’s I’d read a total of one half of one page. Obviously that should take seconds. “I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.” And why not? When I first saw her, I’d admitted to myself that she was beautiful, something many men could not do. Would not do.

But, suddenly, it seemed they had completed their business, whatever that business was, even if that business was simply weighing down the chairs. That is, of course, the business of her friends. Her business, it seemed, was to enchant me. Their conversations were finished. Their cups of coffee (and each with a refill), drained. This was the second way, an anomaly of time, the passing of it literally as on the faces of clocks, but oh how the faces of the beautiful spin the hands of clocks with unnatural speed! Her friends stood. My girl stood in her spirit, much taller.

Her friends moved toward the exit, but she, finding a convenient bypass to an array of splayed chairs from another nearby table, wheeled around and found her path to the door, which lead directly in front of my table.

“Good night,” I risked.

She stopped and looked at me.

“What?” she said.

“Just good night.” I could not help it, my smile, so wide.

She stared at me and my heart soared.

“Why are you—” Her voice trailed off.

“Pardon?”

“Did you just tell me goodnight?” she asked.

“Yes.” I could barely even say this tiny little word.

“Uh, goodnight? I guess?” she said, and then was gone, wheeling to the door and over and down the step by herself, a clattering bump, her companions trailing after her. The boy, the bookmonger, glanced over his shoulder at me, his best attempt at a withering glare a misfire. It was the look one wears at the height of a calamity in the bowels. I swallowed the dregs from my mug. I didn’t—couldn’t—return to my book, so until the man/boy (another one) at the counter announced, “Ten minutes till closing,” I watched a girl dressed in black draw with children’s markers in a Hello Kitty notebook.
 
Paul Luikart's MFA is from Seattle Pacific University. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughters, and Paul Luikart looks like a dork in author bio photos.
 
* * *         
 
To Be Seen
By David Pring-Mill

The sounds of spring fluttered in through the window like butterflies - relaxed conversational snippets, children playing, little dogs barking. Abby studied her reflection in the bathroom mirror while slowly and deliberately applying more makeup. Her blue eyes and delicate features seemed presentable enough. On some days, her beauty seemed to “pop” a bit more. That was how she thought of it - as a “popping” effect. This choice of words irked her roommate Tanya immeasurably, because for Tanya, popping was something associated with zits.

Abby made a duck face into the mirror. She did so ironically, as a way to pass off her self-consciousness as some elaborate act of self-deprecation. She didn’t persuade herself though, and after a few minutes of further adjustment, she reluctantly joined Tanya in the other room.

Abby and Tanya continued sorting through the trunk of Abby’s old things. Tanya seemed methodical, whereas Abby took her time. Tanya was frustrated at first, but then she tried to match Abby’s pace. She said, “I would like to meet the Mattel executives who decided that not only would Barbie be materialistic and underweight, but she also wouldn’t be allowed to have nipples.”

“It’s wrong to put nipples on a doll. That’s too sexual,” said Abby. She laughed and snorted slightly.

“Think about what you just said. The purpose of breasts is to breastfeed. By depriving Barbie’s boobs of tits, they inhibited the mammary glands’ ability to function, making her rack completely sexual.”

Abby laughed again. Tanya tossed the Barbie doll back in the trunk. They rummaged further.

Tanya asked, “Do you believe that young girls are adversely affected by having Barbies? We’re indoctrinated from a young age to strive towards an unattainable goal. Barbie is skinny, has big boobs, albeit without tits, and lives the perfect lifestyle.”

Abby said, “Yes and no, dear. We probably can’t pin all the blame on Barbie. Because yeah, girls try to be skinny, but I’ve never heard of a girl cutting off her nipples or filling in her vagina with plastic just to be like Barbie. I think that Barbie just epitomizes an ideal that is rampant throughout our culture in lots of other ways.”

Abby snatched the Barbie out of the trunk. She forced the doll’s plastic hand to rub between its legs. She said, “Barbie wasn’t allowed to have a clitoris because her purpose in life is to please and not be pleasured.”

Tanya laughed hysterically and wheezed between breaths, “Oh my God, what are you doing?”

Abby said, “This is symbolic women’s lib.”

“You’re hilariously disturbing,” said Tanya. “But we both have to leave for work soon, no?”

“Okay, okay…” Abby relented and ended the inanimate object’s futile attempt at self-gratification. She then wordlessly stuffed the Barbie in her purse. “She’ll get back to that later. Her coffee break is up.”

“I think you’re revealing too much about your work habits.”

“I think I am.”

Tanya embraced Abby in a big hug. She said, “I’m going to miss you, roomie.”

“I’m not going to a foreign country or anything. I’ll just be out in Brooklyn, in economic exile, where the rent is cheaper. It’s only a thirty minute subway ride away… ish.”

“But I won’t see your bright and shining face on a daily basis anymore, Abby!”

Abby glanced at her watch. “I have to go to my job at the vintage store. Wait, my face is bright and shiny?”

“Shining like a sunbeam,” said Tanya with a smile.

“No seriously, it’s like oily?”

“It’s not oily…”

“Do I need to use oil blotter?”

“No, Abby.”

"Fabulous. Goodbye, dear!”

                                                                                   #

As Abby walked swiftly down Madison Avenue, she passed a homeless man on the street. He called out, “Spare change, miss? Spare change?” Abby walked right by.

The man shouted, “Don’t pretend you can’t see me! If you don’t have spare change that’s fine, God bless, but don’t pretend I don’t exist! You saw me! You saw me!”

Abby walked back. She gave him a dollar. “I’m sorry… You exist.”

The man said, “Thank you.” He then added, “When no one sees you, you see them.”

“I see people, too,” insisted Abby.

“You don’t really see them,” corrected the grungy man. Abby frowned and walked away.

                                                                                 #

She arrived at the vintage clothing store shortly afterwards. She stood behind the cash register and waited patiently for customers. She watched the wall clock tick through the seconds.

An elderly woman entered and looked at the price of a vintage blouse. “Oh my, this is pricey! Why would I want to pay so much for clothes that are already old? I’m old!” exclaimed the old lady with a chuckle.

Abby smiled. She said, “If something is old, it is classic. If it is classic, you have class. If you have class, you feel beautiful. If you feel beautiful, you feel young. Something old makes you feel young.”

The old lady laughed. “That’s an eloquent way of putting it. I’ll take it!”

Abby rang up the purchase. She waited for another customer. She stared at the clock.

                                                                                 #

During her lunch break, Abby walked a few blocks over to a nearby restaurant. Her modeling manager, Gary, was sitting in a booth, waiting for her. He had silver hair and brown eyes. He was well-dressed in a sharp-looking black suit with a yellow power tie. Abby slid into the booth. She took a menu, but Gary snatched it from her.

Gary summoned the waitress. He said, “She’ll just have a salad, no dressing.” The waitress jotted this down. Gary scanned the menu. “And I’ll have a bacon burger,” he added. “Well done. Extra bacon. You can charge me extra for the extra bacon.” The waitress nodded, took the menus, and left.

Abby sipped her water through a straw.

“You got offered a gig in a commercial, for the no sugar iced tea thing I’d mentioned,” announced Gary.

“I don’t act. I know my limitations,” said Abby.

“You don’t need to act. You need to drink the iced tea and look pretty and skinny.”

“What happened to the high fashion stuff?”

“It’s drying up. You weren’t happy with that magazine cover,” said Gary. “And they weren’t either.”

“They’re the ones who picked the photo in which I look weird.”

“They thought it was weird beautiful. An ‘indefinable allure,’ they said. It was meant to be ‘compelling.’“

“But I wasn’t that. I was just weird.”

“I’m working hard for you, babe,” said Gary. He leaned across the table, pulled her closer to him, and forced a kiss upon her.

Abby put up with it. She twiddled with her straw and took a sip. “You’re never going to leave her,” she said quietly.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, I just got you the iced tea commercial!”

“I don’t like iced tea,” said Abby.

"You don’t have to actually like iced tea! You just have to like the money that you’ll get paid. You can pretend that you like iced tea.”

“I also don’t like what I’ve become,” said Abby. “I’m just another part-time model who’s barely booking any gigs, and I’m fucking my manager, and he’s married, and I’m a cliché. Don’t you get that? I’m a stupid fucking cliché and you want me to sip iced tea and pretend that I like iced tea, and you want me to pretend that you and I are happy and in love or something, and I’m tired of pretending. I’m not a Barbie doll. You can’t just put me with props and position me however you want and make it seem real in your mind. There was a time in my life when I was supposed to grow up… when I was supposed to stop treating myself like a doll... and that time passed, but I didn’t get the memo. Don’t you see? Don’t you get it?”

“Baby, you’re making a scene…”

The waitress returned with the food. They stayed silent until she left. Then Abby hastily gathered her things.

“Honey, don’t go now. Your salad is here.”

“I didn’t order a salad. You did.” Abby walked away.

                                                                                 #

Abby’s phone rang as soon as she stepped outside. She answered.

“I’m bored and I can’t bear the thought of you leaving. How’s work?” asked Tanya.

“Fine,” said Abby tersely.

“You don’t sound fine.”

“I am fine,” said Abby. She paused. “I will be fine. I can’t talk now. Bye.”

Abby hung up the phone and returned to the vintage clothing store. When her shift was up, she bought a rundown jean jacket and put it on. She messed up her hair. She went into Port Authority, entered a bathroom, and took off her makeup by splashing cold water on her face. She found a piece of cardboard in the trash.

Abby went outside and sat on the sidewalk. She wrote on the piece of cardboard, then propped it beside herself. She placed an empty cup on the ground in front of her. She stared out at the people passing by.

She decided that it was time to see everyone. She decided not to be seen.    
 
David Pring-Mill is a writer and independent filmmaker. His writings have appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Boston Literary Magazine, Sheepshead Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, openDemocracy, Independent Voter Network, and elsewhere. His first poetry book "Age of the Appliance" is scheduled for publication in late 2014. Follow him online: @davesaidso. 
 
* * *

The War at Recess
By Ian Sands

On a terribly hot Wednesday afternoon at Jackie Robinson Elementary in northern California, there is a boy about to pitch a fit about how another boy stole the ball from him during a game of basketball. The defender doesn't foul; he simply gets in the other boy’s space and strips him of the ball. After it happens, the offended party runs over to where I’m standing under a decent-sized oak that’s not doing a terribly good job of cooling me off. 

"He just took the ball out of my hands without asking," the boy says, tears in his eyes. He has very dark brown hair, and it’s slicked back. I tell him to take a couple deep breaths. He stands next to me and tries to calm down.

It’s my third day on the job as a recess aide, a position the school’s principal Gary Rhinehart described to me a week before as a combination of handing out Band-Aids and refereeing sports games.  
 
“You wanna get some water? It’s hot as holy hell out here." 

I say this after his breaths are no longer audible, a sign I take to mean that he’s feeling better.

His blue eyes get big in his head, and they take me in.

“Nah, I’ll be okay. Are you gonna do something about what that kid did?”

"Can’t do anything about that. That's just good old basketball.”

The boy shoots me a look of pure hatred.

“Okay, okay. Let me explain it this way,” I say, my hands going to my hips. 

“Basketball’s a little like fighting a war. There’s a different set of rules you’ve got to abide by. And often, stuff like fairness and politeness goes out the window. You see what I'm getting at here?" 

He looks at me and blinks hard. "My dad doesn't believe in the war."

I am used to this sort of talk by now. Ever since Gerry Ford took office three years ago, it seems to be the popular sentiment.  

"That’s understandable. He probably wouldn’t like me then ‘cause I fought in one."

"For real?"

"For real."
 
"You see dead people?" the boy wants to know.

"I saw many."

"I'm not sure you're supposed to tell me that."

I shrug. 

"Sorry. I guess I got my postwar brain in these days."

"What's that?"

"When you come back from war, you start seeing things and saying things differently. Some guys call it a ‘postwar brain.’"

He considers what I’ve just told him. Then, without another word, he runs back into the middle of the basketball game.

****

The next day the kid again loses the ball after another boy steals it from him on his way up for a layup. Again, he sprints over to me, sulking.

This time he simply stands at my side and remains there. When he is done being upset, he asks me if I have ever been shot. 

"Well yeah, everyone got shot in ‘nam."

He wants to know if he can see where it went in.

I show him my right bicep with the scar. It’s about the size of a half dollar, and the skin looks pushed down into a small valley of flesh. 

The boy begins tracing the outline of it with his index finger, and I can feel the familiar soreness. 

"Did that hurt?" 

"A little."

"Do you have the bullet still?"

"I do. They gave it to me as a souvenir," I say, laughing.

***

I am hunched over one of my guys, so close I can feel his hot breath on my face. He is flat on his back and behind us is a pristine, blue sky. It’s just the two of us in the jungle, but the enemy is close – maybe a mile out and heading our way. There is an open wound the size of a tennis ball on the leg before me. The blood is running away from it and down my guy’s leg. I towel some of it away before wrapping a tourniquet around the gash. 

"You're okay, my man. Chicks dig scars, remember," I say. 

I am not lying to him. I do believe he will make it.

Then another voice from somewhere else: "John, pizza guy’s here!"

There's a full 30 seconds of shooting that comes next. 

"John for Christ's sake, pizza's...Oh shit, sorry. I didn't realize you were napping."

My eyes are open now, and I see my wife, Olivia, in the room.

"It's okay, Liv. I was having the dream where I’m trying to save that guy again."

"That’s like three times in the last month."

"Yeah, this time he got shot in the leg."

"Make sure you mention it to Dr. Friedlander next time you see him.”

She picks up her wallet off of the nightstand so she can pay the pizza guy downstairs. After she’s gone, I put my hand deep into my sock drawer. I find the small brown box with the sharp edges and then open it to examine the scuffed, silver object.

“John! You coming?” my wife calls out from downstairs.

I return the brown box back where I found it, and then I go eat.

***

I see a psychiatrist once every other week. My wife makes me go. 

Dr. Friedlander, a middle-aged man with a voice that resembles that of a game show host, is convinced my dreams are my subconscious telling me I’ve still got some unfinished business to work through.

He says after he got fired from a job for the first time he went through the same thing. 

“After 10 years, I was still dreaming about that day. The HR guy hovering over my shoulder as I collected my things, the terrible walk past all of my coworkers. And then it went away altogether.”

“What happened?”

“My father died, and my dreams switched course.” 

“You started dreaming about your dad?”

“Yes. At least once a week.”

“Maybe dreams come in chapters,” I wonder aloud.

He smiles.

“How do you feel when you wake up from your war dreams, John?”

“A little disappointed. In many of them, I’m trying to save this guy, and the dream ends before I can finish. It’s sort of a recurring motif.”

“Do you miss war?”

“I miss parts of it. Other parts I could do without.”

“It seems like somewhere down deep war suited you. You had purpose. I’ve seen it many times before. Military returning to find that they are not suited to civilian life.”

I don’t say anything. Then I look out the window at nothing in particular and wait for him to continue. 

***

Two weeks after I first speak to the boy, I show him the bullet. He rolls it around in his hand. 

The California sun is brutal today. We’re both seated on the only bench that gets any shade. The basketball game is going on in front of us; it’s a little smaller than usual on account of the heat.

"Somebody shot this into you." 
 
"Yep." 

He brings it up to his right eye as if it is evidence in a murder, and he is the chief investigator.

"Is the guy still alive who shot you?"  

"Well, we never got him, so I have to assume, yes."

His eyebrows jump. I nod.

"You ever want to get him back?"

"I don't know, man. Not really. It was war, you know? Everything goes."

"I would have hunted him down, and at least, whooped his butt."

"You think so?" 

"Hey Brandon, we need your help, man," a diminutive boy with a good jump shot calls 
out, interrupting our conversation. "Can you play?"

The boy’s eyes meet mine, and I nod without really knowing why I am nodding. He drops the bullet back into my hand and scampers away to rejoin the game.  

I watch as the boy receives a pass halfway down the court. He fakes a pass and takes a three pointer instead. The ball goes in, and his hands remain outstretched for a few seconds in celebration. Next he looks back to me where I sit on the bench -- as if I have done something to make the ball go through the hoop. 

***

The next day, I find myself in the principal's office beside the boy and his father. The man wears his blonde hair short and looks shockingly young, maybe ten years younger than me. 

"Brandon told me there was this recess aide who fought in Vietnam and that he killed people," the boy’s father says to Principal Rhinehart, an ample-bellied man with a full head of silver hair.

"I didn't tell him I killed people. I said I saw bodies."

"Can you tell me why this guy thinks it's okay to tell my son about dead bodies?" the man says to the principal, avoiding my gaze.

"He's got his postwar brain in," Brandon suddenly adds.

"What did you say?" asks the boy's father, more curious than threatening.

"John told me he’s in his postwar brain, that men come back from the war thinking and saying thing differently than other people." 

"Still no excuse," says the boy's dad, taking a more even tone now.

"I agree. It will be handled," says Principal Rhinehart authoritatively. 

"Mr. Patterson, I don’t think John over here meant to scare your boy. But at Jackie Robinson, that sort of talk doesn't fly."
 
"You folks step out for a moment. Let me chat with John."

Once they leave, the principal takes a deep breath and stares out the window.

"John, I have to let you go. I'm sorry. It's an elementary school, and you just can't talk like that around here, you know?"

"Yeah I can understand that.”

“There are limits to what you can say around kids. They’re impressionable.”

“I messed up. I get it.”
"Okay, I'm gonna need back your things."

I hand him my yellow vest and my whistle. It feels like I am forgetting something, so I check my pockets, brushing my middle finger up against something sharp. I know exactly what it is when it happens. It’s the small box where I store my bullet. I am wearing the same pair of shorts I wore the day previous, and it occurs to me that I forgot to put the box back. 

“You gonna be okay out there?” Principal Rhinehart says, when he realizes I have nothing more to give him.

“Oh yeah, I’ll pick something else up.”

On my way out, I pass by the small waiting area where the boy and his father are sitting. The boy looks up and when he sees me, he puts on an apologetic face and waves. I wave back and walk out the front office door into the parking lot.
 
Ian Sands lives in Northern California. This is the second story he has published with Foliate Oak. His most recent writing appears in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Feathertale, Hobo Pancakes, Quail Bell, and Treehouse.
* * *
Margaret Takes a Walk
By Sara Seyfarth

There is a girl who sits on a gravestone across the street. I can see her from my window, plain as day, when I’m sitting in my easy chair taking the afternoon sun. There’s a graveyard across the way, you see, but though I can see the whole northern slope, there’s never anyone but that one girl, sitting on that gravestone every afternoon.

She hasn’t always been there. At least, not since our sons decided the home my Ed and I had lived in together for 64 years was too much for us to handle and shuttled us off to this purgatory. This “condo,” they call it, but I know bullshit when I hear it. Anyway, the girl wasn’t there two years ago when the boys finally convinced Ed to sell the house. She only showed up a few weeks back.

I told Ed that very first night. He hadn’t seen her, you understand. He spends his afternoons up to the Clubhouse playing cards with the boys. Time was, I used to join him and play bridge with my friends, but they all up and died on me. Oh, there are a few left, I suppose, but going anymore tires me, so I’ve taken to sitting in my chair and watching the world instead.

“I saw the strangest thing,” I told Ed that night when he came home. He’d stopped to get a couple chicken pot pies from KFC--he still drives, although our boys are trying to get him to give that up too--and we were eating them at the two-seater in the kitchen that pretends to be a proper place for dining. I do miss fried chicken, but KFC makes a mean pot pie, I’ll give them that.

Ed said nothing, but the shift in his posture told me I had his attention.

“There was a girl on a gravestone in the cemetery. Just sitting there, like it was a couch in her own living room. Can you imagine that? I had a mind to walk over there and pull her off of it, give her a talking-to about the sanctity of holy ground. But she just plonked her butt there, the whole afternoon, doing nothing but braid flowers into her hair. I tell you, Ed, I’ve never seen a thing like it in all my life.”

It wasn’t until I’d finished my speech that I noticed he was gaping at me like I’d just dropped my top in front of Wade Jamison, the smarmy supervisor he’d had at the factory for some ten years until they finally fired him for harassment of some kind or other. He’d always reeked of Old Spice and cigar smoke and leered at me like I was one of those calendar girls they hung on the back wall. Come to think of it, old Wade is probably dead, too.

Ed didn’t say much of anything that night, but I guess I wasn’t terribly surprised to be treated to a visit from the friendly neighborhood “condo” nursing staff first thing the next morning. Betsy fluttered around the room the way she always does, only taking a break from adjusting dials and checking tubes so she can squeeze and poke me. That morning, though, after her regular routine, she turned her big green eyes on me with more scrutiny than usual. For once, she didn’t even look like she’d just been poked with a stick.

That’s when the questions started. Lots of questions. Was I feverish? Did I see spots? Was I hearing voices?

I still find the whole thing very odd.

“Why on earth did you call Heavens to Betsy?” I asked Ed later that night.

“Why do you insist on calling her that?” I could hear the frustration in his voice, but I knew it couldn’t be about the nickname. I’ve been calling her that since we met her, nearly a year ago now.

“It’s not an insult.”

“It’s not nice.” This, from the man who calls me Magpie. Sometimes I think I should tell him what a magpie really is. What they’re known for. But he’s the only person in the world who’s ever called me that, and maybe that’s something. “Maggie?”

“Because she’s the phrase made flesh,” I told him then, and it’s the truth. The woman is perpetually surprised.

Ed sighed. “I called her because I was concerned. You’ve been very tired lately, and what you described sounded...unusual.”

“Of course it sounded unusual. That was the point.”

Ed left early for the Clubhouse this morning. One of his friends has a nephew who figured out Ed is a font of knowledge, and every once in a while he comes up to tap into it. Ed may have spent his life working in a factory, you see, but his true talent was making things. He could take a piece of wood and shape it into anything you could imagine. They won’t let him anymore--I think even with his worn out hands, he would if he could--but they say the tools are too dangerous.

The boy is good for him. Sometimes when he thinks I’m not looking, I see his hands moving in the air and I know he’s making something beautiful that no one will ever see.

I’ve been waiting for a morning to myself. I see the girl every day now, but never when anyone else is around. Heavens to Betsy comes more often too, and Ed holds out his arms behind me when I walk, as if he might need to catch me. As if I might fall at any moment. He thinks I don’t notice.

I considered not talking about the girl anymore. I thought, maybe if I stop telling them I see her, they’ll leave me alone. But the girl is there, you see, and if I pretend she isn’t, it’s like admitting they’re right. I need to talk to her, to find out why she goes to that grave.

The graveyard is further than I’ve walked in a long time, though, and now I’m exhausted. The other problem is, everything looks the same now that I’m inside the gates and not looking at it from my window. The headstones are all old and pockmarked, and most are either tilted or have fallen and already overtaken by weeds. I wonder if anyone cares for the dead here anymore. Anyone other than the girl.

I try to force myself to take a few more steps. My walker helps some, but I have to lean on it more than I should. Then I see a bench. In fact, there are several benches lining the walkway so people can sit properly to visit their dead.

I hobble to the nearest one, swallow my pride, and call Ed to come pick me up. I may be stubborn and occasionally reckless, but I’m not stupid. He’s not as angry as I thought, but I have a feeling I’ll be seeing my friend Betsy again soon.

It won’t take Ed long to drive here from the Clubhouse, and I’m going to have to get my butt to the car. The road isn’t much of a walk, but it’ll still take time. I heave myself up off the bench to get started, and there it is. Right in front of me. I recognize the tree, which is funny because I never paid it much attention before. But it hangs over the gravestone in a way that none of the others do here, and the stone stands tall and solid where most of the others don’t.

The girl is not there.

The intensity of my sadness surprises me, especially because now that I’ve called Ed to pick me up, I’m sure she won’t come. I’ve always felt sorry for that Murphy fellow, whoever he was, but he was spot on with his damn law.

Maybe the headstone will tell me something, anyway. It’s worth a look.

But it is more of a disappointment than I could have imagined, with stone as smooth as any I might have pulled from a running stream. Ed will tell me the name has worn away with time, but the others here are rough, with partial names and chisel marks and traces of human touch. This grave feels as if it is waiting for something.

Ed arrives and helps me in to the car and asks if I’m all right. Do I need anything? Am I hurt? As if I’ve been attacked instead of walked across the street. I chuckle a little, but feel badly about it right away. He’s so concerned. “I’m fine,” I say. “I walked too far and tired myself out. That’s all.”

“Did you find what you were looking for?” he asks.

I puzzle over that. Did I?

Then I see her, in the rearview mirror. My sudden intake of breath shocks even me, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when Ed slams on the brakes. I have to admit though, it does scare me a little and I’m sorry to have caused it.

“Are you okay?” Ed is pawing at me, oblivious to whatever traffic may be coming up behind us, but I just want him to look.

“Look!” I’m pawing him right back, trying to get him to focus on the mirror, then to turn around. “Look, she’s there!”

He freezes and gives me an incredulous look, but then, thank heavens, he does turn and peer into the graveyard. I follow his gaze, but the girl is gone.

“She--”

Ed sighs. I hate that sound. “I’ll call the nursing service. You probably just need some rest, but I’m worried about these...”

He doesn’t bother to finish the sentence. Instead, he just starts driving again. “Just don’t call Heavens to Betsy,” I say.

He chuckles, as I knew he would. “You love Betsy,” he says.

“I most certainly do not.”

“You wouldn’t call her that if you didn’t,” he says, and of course he’s right. Those big, shocked eyes of hers look too much like the ones that stared up at me from a crib for such a short, precious time so long ago not to love her a little.

But I will not mention our lost daughter to Ed. “Maybe a little” is all I say.

I’ve decided to walk over again, to try to catch the girl while she’s there. This time, I’m waiting to leave until I see her. I’m not going to miss her the way I did before. I know it tired me out, but it’s worth it. It is. She’s driving me crazy, this girl. Showing up so only I can see her. I have to find out who she is and what she wants.

There she is now. It’s funny how quickly she appears; I didn’t even see where she came from. I must have closed my eyes and fallen asleep for a minute. Ed’s right that I’ve been tired lately.

She’s not sitting, though, the way she normally does. She’s twirling under the tree that shades the gravestone. Dappled sunlight bounces off her black dress and makes me feel a little dizzy, but she’s smiling. She’s dancing on the grave and smiling.

I should be horrified, but instead I find it beautiful. I hope someday someone will dance on my grave.

It would not be Ed. He’ll be too devastated, and I don’t blame him for that. The boys won’t dance at all. I don’t know why. When they were young, I danced all the time. Every chance I got, I would throw open the windows to let the sunshine in, crank up the music, and dance. I danced while I cooked; I danced while I cleaned; I danced Eddie in the door from work. If I have any regrets in my life--and there are few--it is that at some point I turned my back on my boys just for a second, and sadness crept in. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out when, or how.

I wonder if our wide-eyed girl would have danced for me on my grave.

Ed has been taking such good care of me. I’ve been so tired, you see, so very tired. He hasn’t even gone to play cards with his friends for the past couple of days. I keep asking him to go, telling him that I’m fine and he shouldn’t fuss so, but he won’t hear it. He’s in the next room with Heavens to Betsy whispering as if I don’t know they’re talking about me.

The girl on the gravestone comes more often now. Or, I see her more often, maybe because I stay in my chair. I like it here. I like to watch the birds in the feeder outside the window, and some time ago, Ethel’s grandchildren were playing out in the yard. The little girl had golden hair, and the boy looked so much like my oldest that I thought for a moment they were mine. That my girl had...But I know better, of course I do. It was nice to imagine for a moment.

I like to see the girl now, even if she is sitting on a gravestone, braiding her hair.

“There!” I call to Ed. “There she is. Finally, you’ll stop arguing with me about this.” Ed kneels next to my chair and leans forward, making a real show of squinting at the graveyard. I smack his shoulder. “Quit playing around. She’s right there, smiling at us.”

“Maggie...” He says it slowly, as if he’s afraid the words will break me. “There’s no one there. I can’t see a soul.”

The girl’s smile turns into a grin that somehow puts me in mind of a skull, and I shut my eyes to block the image. I expect my heartbeat to quicken, but instead it slows. “Don’t you see her, Eddie?” The softness of my voice should surprise me, but sudden exhaustion makes it insignificant.

Ed’s fingers squeeze mine. “Oh my dear,” he whispers from what seems like further away than he ought to be. I’ve loved him for so very long that the hoarseness in his voice makes me ache. “Oh my darling Magpie.”

Sara Seyfarth likes to nerd out with spreadsheets, still uses a flip-phone, and is lucky enough to have a day job doing something that matters. She wrote her first (short!) book at age nine and has been concocting stories ever since.
* * *
Mild Peril
By Phillip Sterling

            —Explanation of PG rating for the movie Ice Age.

          The plums were hard, so I put them in a basket above the microwave, where I thought they’d be out of reach.  The next day they were gone.  At first, I blamed the raccoon.  Then I found more quills than usual on the ottoman and rug.  Next thing I knew, the hedgehog’s snout turned an odd greenish-gray and swelled like an over-watered zucchini.  A phone call to Poison Control resulted in a trip to the hospital, where an allergist confirmed that the small Old World mammal would have to avoid consuming unripe fruit, in shades of purple and red.  Insectivorous, he said.  I’m sorry, I told her.  She sulked for nine days straight, though I never understood if it was due to my carelessness or to her own disappointment.

Phillip Sterling’s most recent book is In Which Brief Stories Are Told, a collection of short fiction (Wayne State University Press). His flash fiction has appeared in Edge, Driftwood Review, Midway Journal, Opium, Bear River Review, and Epiphany, among other places. This submission is from a series titled “Amateur Husbandry.”
 
* * *
Neighbors
By Arthur Thompson

They were not normal—this was a well known fact. Through a tiny slit in the brick wall, Rakhel watched the two strange men. She had been sent out to the back garden by her mother to collect the drying laundry before Shabbat. But now, she was distracted, drawn in by the peals of laughter of her neighbours. Just what are they doing?  The slit in the wall was too small and the men too big. She needed a better vantage point.

After countless hours of collective observation, the Levy children had recently concluded that the two men who occupied number 10 Erumsnood Road should be categorized as neighbours of the friendly, maybe even docile, type. (Such calculations were made by tallying the number of stray balls returned, compounded by the time when the two men let Rakhel and her brothers have their leftover garden party balloons). On one summer evening, Rakhel glimpsed the two men holding hands. She reported it back to her mother over dinner, to which her mother adjusted her wig and clucked “they must be very good friends.” Rakhel’s father coughed, causing the candles to flicker, and told her to mind her own business. She nodded to show she understood what her parents meant—sometimes brothers are best left alone.

Now Rakhel had propped herself on some old apple crates and began peeping over the wall, her head moving up and down in staccato. Peek by peek she was able to get a better idea of what her neighbours were up to—glasses, towels, fruit, coffee, napkins, brushes, and paint. They’re making pictures?  Docile neighbours, indeed. She rested her chin bravely on top of the wall. Yes, the grown men were painting (stuff only little kids do) with hardly any clothes on—only shorts, shirts, and socks! One man was bald. And the other had only a small blonde patch left. They teased each other, their laughter as colourful as the paint on their brushes. Rakhel was fascinated, a soft daze, like warm bread, slowly enveloped her.

“Hello, again.”

“What’s your name?”

Thirty seconds passed before Rakhel realized that the men had started speaking to her. The warm-bread-feeling was so pleasant that she didn’t even mind being discovered. She couldn’t understand what the men were babbling about anyway. She only knew a few words in English. Instead, she ignored them by staring at their pictures (weeds and a ginger cat). Seeing that she could not be coaxed into small talk, the men returned to painting. Eventually, rain came, which ruined Rakhel’s spectacle, soaked the freshly dried clothes, and spoiled her mother’s mood. As Rakhel heaved the heap of sopping laundry up the steps and into the house, she wondered whether she’d grow up to be like her neighbours.

 Always a daydreamer, Arthur has been imagining short stories from a very young age. However, it is only until now that he has thought to write any of them down. Originally from Los Angeles, he currently resides in London where he completed his undergraduate degree in Chinese and linguistics. His vices include coffee, books, analogue photography, and chocolate mints. Twitter @lookingtowrite
 
* * *
All My Nows
By Gary Charles Wilkens

Men were trying to kill Dr. Brian Caraway, but that was not the weirdest part of his week. The weirdest part was that all of these men were him, Brian Caraway. Not exactly like him: they were generally leaner, more muscular, dirty and sometimes scarred, wearing ragged clothes or something like armor, carrying long knives or strange guns. But their faces were basically his, and from the eyes of each he got a shock of recognition: they were his own. They said nothing to him when they appeared, but immediately tried to wipe him out.

The week had begun as one of his best: on Monday he had received a phone call from the Nobel Committee informing him that he, along with two colleagues in the Czech Republic and England, had earned the Prize in Physics for their experimental confirmation of the existence of parallel universes. Decades of work, years of failure, professional ridicule, and the slow, grueling proving of himself had paid off. He had fallen over in his chair and hit his head. It was when he was dashing across campus to tell his wife first that the first Caraway had attacked. He had escaped only through sheer luck, being no fighter: a group of students, rounding the corner of the library, had shouted as the man stood over him, ready to cut his throat. Caraway got one long look in the man’s gray eyes, his eyes, before he ran away.

The police had interviewed him, filed a report, and told him to be careful. News of the Prize broke worldwide, and Caraway had written the attack off as a coincidence and celebrated with family and friends. Then the others had attacked, as he was leaving a studio interview, in his hospital room, and finally in his home. Each time only luck, a security guard or another Caraway had stopped the man. To protect his family he had gone on the run after the last attack. He was in his 50s, out of shape, and had never fired a gun, but now he hid in a cabin owned by his brother, a stolen gun in his sweaty hand, peering out the window at the dark woods.

“You forget, Caraway, that we are you. We know where you would hide,” came a voice from behind him.

Caraway spun to face a near copy of himself, standing in the candlelight of the living room. He pointed the pistol at the man, who did not react. “Who the hell are you?!”

“Hmm,” said the other Caraway, a long knife in his right hand. “None of us has told you yet, and you haven’t figured it out. Disappointing, Doctor.”

Caraway raised the gun in a trembling hand. “What do you mean? Why have you been trying to kill me? Why do you––“

“Look just like you, save for having led a rougher life? Because we are you, Brian. From other world lines. And we’re here to take your place. Or rather I am.” The man moved in.

“Stop!” Caraway screamed and tried to aim. “I, I will shoot! Tell me who you really are!”

“He just did,” said another voice. Both Caraways spun to find another one in the room. “You didn’t prove the existence of other universes, Caraway the First, you created them, and doomed us.” That man advanced.

But he was stopped by the appearance of yet another Caraway, who held a gun on all of them. “I will be taking his place, I’m afraid,” he said.

Caraway looked at each of their faces. Lean, haggard, but undisputably his own. “This is insane, impossible. I was just measuring duplicated particles.”

“And by observing new worlds, brought them into being. It’s old physics. The worlds multiplied, each like the first, except in ours things went much worse than in yours,” the first new Caraway said. “Failure, disaster, loss. Somehow only in this world do you reap the rewards of our genius.”

“But how did you get here?” Caraway said.

“Never mind that,” said a Caraway none of them had noticed yet. Turning, the first several Caraways saw that the room was filling up with Caraways, each subtly different from the other. All were intent on killing him and each other to be the only one.

As they closed in, knives or guns raised, Caraway screamed and fired wildly. One of the Carways went down, the others paused. They moved in again, and Caraway began screaming and shooting. Someone disarmed him and stabbed him in the stomach. He screamed a final time, and blacked out.

Caraway awoke, if it could be called that, to find himself in something like a hall of mirrors, infinitely extended. He was at a center point, like a singularity, and in all directions stretched endless worlds, all Brian Caraway, at all times in his life and in all places. Distorted, refracted versions clashed and fought, ended in blasts of color to be replaced by uncountable others. He saw himself being born a million times, living millions of childhoods, dying many times and being born again. All possibilities played out, every movement of every particle, every choice, every consequence. Brian Caraway, in infinite worlds, screamed.

Then infinite Caraways folded in on themselves like a pop-up book. Some choices were made, some paths closed, others opened. Death came swiftly, slowly, in a splay of colors. Long happy lives were lead. Patterns emerged, some choices came more commonly, and universes canceled each other out like the sides of an equation. There were millions, thousands, hundreds, dozens, a handful, fitting together into a whole like a shuffled deck of cards. Dr. Brian Caraway, a few years out from getting his Ph.D., sat in a cramped lab, his hand poised over a button that would activate the experiment. He felt a shudder and looked around. He was alone. He hit the button.
 
Gary Charles Wilkens, Assistant Professor of English at Norfolk State University, was the winner of the 2006 Texas Review Breakthrough Poetry Prize for his first book, The Red Light Was My Mind. His poems have appeared in more than 50 online and print venues.
* * *
Creative Nonfiction
Trash Night
By Mary Callahan

A moldy lemon burst through the split black garbage bag as it hit the ground. 

I stepped back a few feet. “Ewww, gross!”  

“Hey, anytime you want to trade places with me, just say the word!” My sister Ann yelled from inside the dumpster, where she was standing hip-deep in garbage.

It was eleven at night and summer clung to our clothes. Linda, Ann, and I were emptying the huge restaurant dumpster. We owed money to the garbage company, and they had stopped picking up the restaurant’s trash. The three-week-old trash had turned sour, ripe with the smell of decay.

Ann and Linda were older, already in high school. It was their job to shovel the trash out of the deep dumpster, while I hauled the bags to the curb, careful not to leave too many in one place. We didn’t know exactly what would happen if we got caught at our garbage re-homing; we just knew we didn’t want to get caught. 

Our restaurant was closing. Bankrupt, Tom said. Our fault. He said that too. Even I knew the problem: too many bills and not enough customers. Tom went daily to the local bars to drum up business. He was doing his part; all we had to do was everything else. I thought of the nights he would bring in ten drunken barflies just at closing time and let them order for free. “They’ll come back, and bring friends, you’ll see,” he said. They never did. Well, never sober, and during regular business hours.

It wasn’t that the food wasn’t good. We sold homemade soup, hand-cut French fries, thick hamburgers that ran with juice at the first bite. The local fast food chains sold a dried-up piece of shoe leather for thirty cents. We were outmatched.

Linda and I carried the last two bags to the curb. I would swear there were at least fifty extra bags lining the street that night. We were sweaty and tired, hair in messy ponytails and clothes so dirty I wasn’t sure they would be worth the wash. Ann’s shoes and pants would have been a total loss except she had thought to wear a garbage bag on each leg fastened with rubber bands. I thought of the time Ann had worked in the restaurant for twelve hours. Lasagna was on special that night, and she made my mom promise to save her a piece, but when a customer asked for the lasagna, it had to go. The customers came first. We gave up a lot for the restaurant. It would all pay off eventually, we thought.

At the end, Mom got a night job as a hostess at a local diner to put more cash into the restaurant. That didn’t help for long. We had to sell off everything, all the appliances and fixtures, even the new Vulcan oven. All the long days sacrificed to the family restaurant for nothing. All that was left was garbage.
Mary teaches writing at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Temper, Kmareka, and Newport Review.
 
* * *
Chasing Nostalgia
By Katacha Diaz

I was eight when my grandparents’ invited me to move from the children’s table to sit at the grown-ups silver-laden table with the exotic floating flower centerpieces, during our family’s formal Sunday luncheon at their home in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima where I grew up. Their invitation that spring was part of my family’s on-going etiquette training for a soon-to-be señorita in polite Peruvian society.

Following our “Amen” response to the priest’s final blessing at Mass, my grandfather and I made our way around the corner to a hole-in-the-wall café where our family had a standing order for several dozen banana leaf-wrapped tamales filled with spicy pork, boiled eggs, olives, peanuts and a thin slice of aji pepper. Looking back I get the feeling Papapa looked forward to our weekly after-church ritual not only because he loved the tamales, but he also loved meeting up with the small group of jovial caballeros who gathered there, his life-long childhood friends from the elite intelligentsia, who assembled weekly for a quick men-only catch-up with pre- lunch Pisco sour cocktails. Happily sitting in the bar on straw-seat bar stool, I sipped Inca Kola, and listened with great amusement to Papapa and his cronies’ lively banter until it was time for us to take our leave with our family’s handmade tamales.

Brimming with anticipation, I helped my grandfather carry packages into the kitchen where my grandmother and the cook waited for us. Mamama took my package, and asked me to feed the goldfish in the backyard pond. When Papapa was the Peruvian ambassador in Paris, my grandparents went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes; a small village nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees, where they left our family’s prayer requests at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. As a memento from this deeply inspirational Catholic pilgrimage, Mamama had brought back a small stone from the beloved grotto in Lourdes; it was placed between stones in the family’s newly built rustic stone grotto, complete with a recently blessed statue of Mary, and a small pond my grandfather stocked with colorful, exotic goldfish.

When lunch was announced, Papapa escorted me into the formal dining room where my proud parents’ and our extended family warmly welcomed me. Glancing out the window I saw the children’s tables strategically set-up under the back porch where my mother and aunt could keep a watchful eye on the children and their nannies; and, where planned in advance seating arrangements were de rigueur to keep the rowdy boy cousins apart from some of my highly spirited sisters. Now, I don’t remember who said it, but when I walked by en route to meet my grandfather, I overheard one of the children saying how awfully boring it would be to sit inside with the grown-ups! Quite the contrary, I thought to myself, having eavesdropped on the adult conversations during cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, I overheard my great-uncle Oscar, our family’s entertaining raconteur, reminiscing about a safari adventure where he’d acquired the most unusual souvenirs. I never did hear what my great-uncle had traded for the Amazon shrunken heads or arrowheads that the indigenous people used for hunting purposes after dipping tips in a powerful venom from a tiny, brilliant color poison dart frog. Along with the eclectic art and specimen collection, the arrowheads and shrunken heads with long stringy hair, distorted faces, and eyes and lips sewn shut were displayed in a locked antique vitrine curio cabinet in the parlor, where the jaguar skin rug, complete with head and tail from my great-uncle’s dangerous jaguar hunt safari was casually spread on the exotic hardwood floor. The jaguar hide was expertly cleaned by the indigenous guides in the Amazon, and brought back to Miraflores, where it was converted into a rug for the parlor. Letting my imagination run on the wild side, I pictured my handsome great-uncle, a middle-age banker who I always saw dressed in a finely tailored suit, starched white shirt, silk tie and hat, striking a manly pose in the lush, verdant jungle clad in safari khaki’s, knee-high leather boots, and pith helmet. In my ongoing Technicolor reel-to-reel fantasy, Tío Oscar held the blowguns along with several long tip arrows decorated with bright color macaw and parrot feathers, while the indigenous longhair male guides wore a loincloth and held my great-uncle’s rifles. Filled with curiosity and eager to see the spooky shrunken heads and arrowheads that I had somehow missed seeing on my visits to my Tío Oscar’s house, that night with the help of my nanny and the telephone in the bedroom, I called my godmother, Tía Mechita, and asked, at the earliest opportunity, to spend the day with her and my great-uncle.

During that summer, my mother dropped me off for weekly visits at their Spanish colonial style house with a lovely custom-carved wooden balcony, reminiscent of the old Moorish balconies of Lima’s colonial period, where I would sit with my Tía Mechita while she taught me patiently to embroider because, as she would say with a twinkle in her eye, that’s what proper señorita’s do! After my embroidery lesson, and having already satisfied my curiosity looking at the Amazon shrunken heads and poison arrowheads in the parlor’s vitrine, my godmother and I rode the trolley, a forbidden mode of transportation in my family, to visit with her friends in Barranco, the bohemian and romantic district in Lima, where we’d listen to Chabuca Granda’s recently released records that were all the rage that summer. Ms. Granda, a composer, singer and poet, was from a well-known aristocratic family; and, she’d caused quite a stir in Lima’s Catholic conservative social circles when she divorced her Brazilian-born husband. During these pre-lunch Barranco excursions, I entertained myself studying chirping birds in their fancy little cages that hung in the courtyard, while I tuned in on my great-aunt and her artist friends’ conversations that were filled with laughter and juicy tidbits about the art world.

Everyone in our family knew Tío Oscar was a refined caballero, a man of many interests, and a patron of the arts. During my summer weekly visits, my great-uncle enthusiastically shared stories about his passions in life – traveling adventures, collecting objet d’art, and reading good literature that he said, was time well spent because it enriched the mind. One afternoon when the three of us gathered in the solarium for our customary tea and pastries, I noticed a small beautifully wrapped package with a pink silk bow on the wicker table the butler had set-up for tea. Carefully unwrapping the package, like a proper señorita in training, I was thrilled with the beautiful leather bound edition of Juan Ramón Jiménez’ Platero y yo that my Tío Oscar had acquired on a recent trip to Spain. The little book, he said smiling, was the perfect companion for a señorita to carry in her purse and pull out to read at the right time. Sixty years later, Platero y yo is still the perfect companion and amongst my most prized possessions. My great- uncle and great-aunt not only opened their hearts and home, but they gave me so much more – a treasure trove chock full of loving memories. These were among the happiest times of my summer vacation.

In the years since, I have had occasion to travel around the world and go on many of my own adventures, including eco-safari trips in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. And, like my Tío Oscar, I came across the exotic and highly toxic tiny amphibians, the size of a small paperclip, sitting on leafs and fallen tree branches on the rainforest floor.

Interestingly, our indigenous safari guide and a naturalist told us medical researchers studying the biochemistry of various poison dart frog species have successfully used its venom to create painkiller drugs. Today, scientists continue to explore other potential uses in medicine.

Looking back on that Sunday luncheon at my grandparents’, it was special in so many ways. Even before I wrote anything down, I learned that I knew how to tell a story, and used my imagination freely to invent characters and create settings in my mind. I became skilled at tuning in and eavesdropping on adult conversations and these were useful skills for a writer-in-the-making to hone. Later, I’d feel compelled to dissect the conversations ad nauseam because there were stories to be written about real people. I did not know it at the time, but that special luncheon at my grandparents’ in 1953, when I was invited to join the adult table, and listened with amazement to my great-uncle’s tales of his adventures in the Amazon jungle, was a life- changing event.
Katacha Díaz grew up in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima, Peru. She is the author of more than fifty children’s fiction and nonfiction titles for educational publishers. Her essays, short stories, poetry, and plays have appeared in anthologies and magazines. Katacha Díaz lives in Astoria, Oregon.
* * *
Beltone
By Milt Montague

It was three months since Milt had graduated Engineering College at CCNY as part of the class of 1949.  He was not fazed by being unemployed the first month or two.  He enjoyed the luxury of having an abundance of free time, no tests, no homework, no classes, and no pressure to complete those goddamn lab reports.  For four years he had been under a humongous pressure to finish his rigorous and arduous curriculum and become an Electrical Engineer.  He remembered well the admonishment of the army doctor when he was discharged, while World War ll was still raging, to “find a desk job and stay off your feet”. 

Almost half of his entering class had dropped out of engineering before the end of the second year because it was so intensive and demanding, but Milt had persevered, spurred by the doctor’s reminder of his physical limitations.  He was not daunted when, after completing one year, the college instituted a major change in the curriculum which, in effect, invalidated his first pre-war year of study.  Now he was fully enjoying living at home in his own room and his mother’s fabulous cooking, and use of the family car.  His modest dating expenses were covered by an army pension. 

However, He was getting concerned about securing a job, having a future, and a regular income.  He searched the New York Times want ads daily and made the rounds of the employment agencies that catered to engineers.  As he searched the daily ads, he became aware of listings that proclaimed, in bold letters, that their salesmen were earning $300-400 per week.  This was a substantial salary since the starting wage for newly minted engineers was $60 per week, “If you could find a job”.  Milt thought about it and decided he had nothing to lose by investigating this opportunity.

At the interview he discovered the product to be sold was a hearing aid manufactured by Beltone and he would be working for an agency located in downtown Brooklyn.  He, and several other applicants, listened as a lecturer for Beltone explained how their product worked.   As an electrical engineer, he understood the technical info, although the claims made by the speaker seemed to be  somewhat overblown.  The hearing aid could definitely help many people.  Besides, he was looking for something to do and the potential of earning “big bucks” was enticing.

The deal was this.  The Beltone hearing aid sold for $195 of which MIlt would be paid

a $50 commission for each sale.  Part of his job was to make a mold of the customer’s ear canal [it actually was simply, quickly, and painlessly done], so that a custom made earpiece could be created for each client.  A thin, almost invisible tube connected from  the earpiece, and led over the back of the ear and then down to the instrument in the breast pocket of the purchaser.  The instrument was about the size of a cigarette pack and weighed only slightly more.

It really did work.  It did not restore your hearing to what it was when you were a teenager, but it did enable you to hear significantly better.  The greatest problem was that as it amplified the sound it also increased the background noise somewhat, despite the manufacturers protestations to the contrary.

The agency would use co-op advertising.  [The Beltone company would share the cost of the commercials placed in newspapers or magazines by any agency.  The ads would rave about this wonderful invention that helps people who have trouble hearing clearly in theaters or restaurants or missing out on conversations with their family, friends and grandchildren.  In order to get more information, one would simply enter their name and address in the area provided for it in the ad and mail it to the company.  The information would then be sent to them by return mail in a plain brown envelope.]  Beltone would forward these names to their agencies who would then distribute the names to their salesmen as leads to potential new customers.

Milt was given a group of these leads and eagerly plunged into his first job.  Most of his first calls were unanswered [this was before the advent of telephone answering devices and long before cell phones].  He repeated his calls around dinner time.  Many of the leads were at home, but most were not interested [some were victims of pranksters, or so they claimed].

After several days of “cold calling”, Milt finally lined up two appointments.  Both visits proved fruitless.  Though both would have benefitted from using hearing aids.  Their hearing losses were mild and there was “no way in hell they would cough up  200 bucks”, nor were they interested in the “twelve easy monthly payment plan”.  [in 1949 the cost of a new Chevrolet or Ford was about $1600.} 

As he was finishing his second week, Milt conveyed his disappointment to his employer.  He had no income, but he had expenses.  There was an enormous telephone bill and he was paying for lunch and gas for the car, etc.  She encouraged him to stay the course, and even offered to pay his expenses until his first sale.  Milt was heartened by her encouragement and plunged anew into the fray.

He tried to get friendly with Harry, one of the more successful salesman.  Harry claimed to be averaging about two sales a week and Milt was looking for some hints from “the pro”.  Harry was happy to oblige and soon divulged that compared to selling vacuum cleaners door to door [his previous job], this was a cinch [even though he missed the extra bonus of an occasional sexual encounter with a frustrated housewife....here I am quoting Harry.].  He only had to sell one instrument a week to make his expenses, two yielded more than he ever earned selling vacuums.  His secret was his big foot.  Once he got his big foot in  the door, [literally] he would not take “no” for an answer.  He would talk and talk and eventually wore down his “customer” until she would buy [usually.]

The next appointment for Milt was on Belmont Avenue not far from where he had lived as a child.  The family was Hispanic and spoke very little English.  One preteen daughter, Alisa, was in public school and acted as the family translator.  She explained that her younger sister, Maria, was born severely hard of hearing, and needed help.  Maria was a pretty young girl of eight or nine with dark brown hair, beautiful black eyes and a charming smile.  She did not go to school and spent her days in front of an old black and white television set tuned to the spanish language station.  [She had gone to public school but was rejected by the other children and teased mercilessly by them.  Now she stayed home and watched tv.

Milt tried his sample hearing aid on Maria, but it seemed to make only a small difference in her hearing.  When her father, Juan Gomez, heard that the price was $195,he said there was no way he could possibly afford to pay that much.  Milt offered to forego his commission so that the price would now be only $145.  That was still way beyond Mr. Gomez’s meager income.

He [Milt] was disturbed by the pitiful picture of Maria as she sat almost on top of the TV with the volume set at maximum so that she might barely hear the sound.  He was determined to help the child.  He returned to his home base, marched into his boss’s office and told her Maria’s sad tale.  Upon prodding his boss, she remembered that they had an old, long discontinued model, that was many times more powerful than the current model.  [It was also several times larger and heavier and had to be worn on a belt at the waist.]  His boss agreed to “let it go” for only $50 after Milt had volunteered to give up his commission.

Milt was excited and called the Gomez family with the good news and to set up an appointment for the very next day. 

Maria could hear !! 

She cried with joy as she heard clearly for the first time in her life.  Her parents and sister joined in the celebratory outburst and were all crying and laughing and jumping and hugging each other.  Milt stood by, speechless, as tears streamed down his face and his heart glowed warmly.

A smiling Mr. Gomez gave Milt a check for $15 as a deposit with the balance due on

his next payday [Mr. Gomez’s].  Milt took the instrument back to the office to have it checked out and permanently set at maximum volume and promised to return it as

soon as possible.

The next day there was a telephone message from Mr. Gomez, for MIlt at the office.

“Mr. Milt, this is Juan Gomez.  Please tear up check.  I need the money to buy milk for my children.”

That was Milt’s last day at that job. 
 
After seventeen years as a senior auditor at Hunter College, New York City, Milt was turned on by creative writing courses. He recorded his memories of a long life from the great depression, recovery, world war 2, love, marriage, children and business with the rich and famous and finally retirement.
 
* * *
Glory
By Stephen Parrish

I played right field in Little League.  For a single inning.  The rest of the game—and season—I sat in the dugout.  Which was okay, since the only reason I signed up for Little League was to get the t-shirt.  “Bob’s Ranch House,” it said, referring to a restaurant in Henderson, Kentucky.  It displayed a black logo on the front that was neither ranch nor house, more like the outline of a t-shirt.  A t-shirt with a picture of a t-shirt.  Advertising Bob’s Ranch House.  Because Bob had donated it.  The science of economics was simpler back then.

The reason I spent most of the season in the dugout was because I wasn’t any good.  Everyone, even the batboy, could hit better than me.  It wasn’t until the end of the season that I realized I was supposed to swing at the ball.  I thought the reason we stood there with a bat raised in the air was so that our moms could take pictures of us.  My coach treated me fairly, I must admit: shaking off a turd stuck to your shoe is a fair way to treat the turd, to say nothing of the shoe.

Nevertheless, he had to play me once.  You couldn’t make a kid sit in the dugout the whole season, especially when his parents parked on the other side of the home-run fence to watch him play.  They could have sat in the stands, but the area beyond the home-run fence was safer, since no ball ever went that far.

Bob’s Ranch House was the worst team in the division.  And I was its worst player.  There was a certain glory to bask in, I suppose, but all I knew at the time was that the coach was saving me.  That’s what he said after every game: “You’ll get your chance, Stevie.  I’m saving you.”

From humiliation, no doubt.

Come the last game of the season, our record was 0-18.  The coach put me in right field.  It was the bottom half of the ninth inning; he couldn’t wait any longer.  “Stevie!  Right field!  On the double!”  On my way out I asked one of the other players, “Which one is right field?”

I did the same thing out there I’d been doing all season in the dugout: picked weeds and dangled them from my mouth.  My mom climbed out of the car to snap some pictures, and I couldn’t fathom why; I wasn’t even holding a bat.

Something funny was going on, though.  The scoreboard said 4-3, Home vs. Away.  We were the home team.  I didn’t know why we were winning; the scoreboard said so, and that was good enough for me.  I kept myself busy selecting weeds to dangle from my mouth.

If our pitcher ever threw a strike, it was a freak accident.  At any rate, I never saw him do it.  So the first three batters for the “away” team, Cedric’s Auto Parts, filled the bases with walks.

The next two batters inexplicably swung at what our pitcher threw, and struck out.

Spectators in the stands rose to their feet.  My dad climbed out of the car and stood next to my mom.  Bob’s Ranch House was within one “out” of winning a game, for the first time in its franchise.  But the bases were loaded, and the best hitter for Cedric’s Auto Parts stepped up to the plate.

He delivered.  A long fly ball.  To right field.

I saw it coming.  I hoped it wouldn’t hit me.  But then I heard my mom and dad behind me, yelling, “Catch it!  Catch it!”  What the hell.  I picked up my glove, which was resting in the grass at my feet, and looked up again.  It was still coming.  Had it been hit one foot to the left or right, it would have missed me altogether, resulting in an in-the-park grand slam.

I opened my glove, and the ball plopped into it.  The game was over.  I was carried off the field a hero.

Old-timers in Henderson, Kentucky still reminisce about the day.  “That kid from Bob’s Ranch House, the right fielder, what was his name?”  “Dunno.  Had a mouth full of weeds, all I remember.”  “The next season Bob changed the name of his restaurant.”  “Yup.  Didn’t want to jeopardize his 1-18 record.”

They say half of success is showing up.  Standing in the right place helps too.

Stephen Parrish is the author of The Tavernier Stones, a #1 Amazon mystery, and The Feasts of Lesser Men. His essays have appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Rose and Thorn Journal, and elsewhere. He edits The Lascaux Review.
* * *
Poetry
Mystery Shopper in Memory Care
By Kelly DuMar

I forget what you came for. But I can’t pay you for it 
because my wallet is no bigger than a breadbox. So
maybe you’ve seen it? See? Crumbs in my pockets
where there must have been crackers or coins and keys
to a castle. Maybe you’ve seen them? My money must 
have slipped my mind into your bank account and I need
to make a deposit. Will you remind me what do I owe and 
what I don’t own? Lots of things belong to anybody around 
here, so it’s a cheap store for bargains. There are plenty of 
rooms like this to go into. You can always find someone 
to belong to. But I have been missing who you are. 

Kelly DuMar is a playwright and poet who facilitates Writing Truth & Beauty workshops for creative writers. Her chapbook, All These Cures, won the Lit House Press poetry award and will be published in Sept. 2014. She lives on the Charles River in Sherborn, MA with her husband and children
 
* * *
 
Poetry By Gary Glauber

The Transcription
When the call comes, the eager writer smiles:
a short deadline challenge to be met.
Seems the man is being held against his will
in some foreign prison. No impassioned pleas
from Amnesty International have been able
to effect change; petitions and global outrage
go unheeded. There have been hints of
unspeakable acts of torture, tactics to wash
a brain spanking clean, exploring how much
pain it takes to wound deep to the soul,
sway and compel in the name of self-preservation.
Boldly, the voice on the line explains, he has resisted.

Of course, there is more. While hanging tough,
the man managed to scribble out thoughts
on the few pieces of anything resembling paper
available to him. Somehow these scrawled notes
were smuggled out and forwarded to the publisher,
who now eagerly awaits a quick turnaround. The
job is to type up the jottings, so that they may be
printed, distributed, rushed to the marketplace,
and sold to those who know and respect all this man
has come to stand for. The package is sent by
messenger delivery, and the writer signs for it.
He opens the manila folder and gets to work.

He is buoyed by expectation, hoping to find
somewhere amid these incredibly tiny writings
gems of true wisdom, some clear insights imparted,
perhaps a clue to the meaning of life itself that reflection
has illuminated, yet in all these thousands of words that
darken these few pages, there is not only an absence of
epiphany and enlightenment, but an entire vacuum of ideas,
a void of reason replaced with the senseless ravings of a
madman. These scrawled ramblings reflect a mind collapsed
under great duress, someone fallen prey to the situation
surrounding him, convinced now that such trite incoherencies
are what life is about, grocery lists elevated to commandments.

Who can say, he ponders, whether the commonplace is in fact
the truest poetry imaginable, and what gets said in passing holds
the key to our very existence? Perhaps some catalytic code exists
that can decipher such pointless remarks into spun golden wisdom,
the verities long desired and ever sought. Yet as he looks down
at what’s transcribed here, there is doubt and disappointment,
pages of pabulum that read like a combination of public restroom
graffiti and overheard mumblings from Bedlam inmates, a sad
compendium of what is left where a great mind once resided,
now a shell crumbled under pressures of torture, incarceration,
and more. The writer calculates hours, adding charges to the
pages presented, for a job that offered insight of a different order.


The Visit
He remembers himself here
those many years ago,
that central lane where elms had stood
ere the Dutch disease laid them low.
Before these fancier buildings
sprouted up like weeds,
that spiffy new science center,
the gym with its long rows
of treadmills with TV attachments
and rock wall climbing feature.
My gym smelled of old sweat, he thinks,
a dimly lighted track oval that
encircled an ancient basketball court.
He remembers that very same flagpole
where he met the girl he so desired
on that impossibly cold winter day
when she managed the mean feat
of rejecting him and still making him
feel incredibly good about it.
Now he has a beautiful wife
and a son on the verge of matriculation
at a place of higher learning.
They are with him, shuttled along
with several other parents and children
on this late autumn mid-day’s tour.
The co-eds seem prettier, the campus
picture postcard tidy and
each corner turned releases a flood
of quiescent memories that remain
invisible, undetected by others.
As they walk through the humanities hall,
he steals a glance at the placard
of faculty office listings,
searching for familiar names.
He recognizes one, a professor who
started here his freshman year,
now a senior department member
on the verge of retirement.
He knows his son has no real interest,
that this would be a safety school at best
in spite of the attractive students,
yet he has consented to come along
on this exercise in paternal nostalgia,
an early holiday gift from son to dad.
The tour guide stops her backward walk
and pauses from her canned talk
that covers salient points of interest
to field any random parent/student questions.
A host of queries pops into his head,
but not a single one gets voiced.
He wants to know where the time has gone,
how life can present this ironic turn of cycle,
how history can in fact repeat itself.
Instead, he listens to some concerned mom’s
question about laundry facilities in the dorms
and then shuffles quietly along, 
just another nameless visitor,
a stranger in what once was a very familiar land.


Opus 110
Every sound
pins down a center of memory,
a household command,
the wind through the tulip tree,
the reflex of putting that lipstick on.
He is held fast by any of these aural triggers,
even the long afternoon practice sessions,
soothing showers of deft glissando,
never getting all the notes quite right,
but a strange comfort in the repetition.
He knows now
that all time signatures are irregular. 
No professional studio can capture
what his mind conveys here,
when a weekend return
becomes a concert hall of echoes,
a long program of le fugue reminiscence.


Party Favors
The dress color’s faded,
the spirit seems wrung over
by too many lost battles.
So she feigns indifference,
stays off by herself,
quietly praying to a darker god.
He finds her genuflecting,
drawn by the intensity,
overcome by the blue eyes.
This is her fiery tagline,
the very same one she rues,
the shellacked surface
of apathy as polite disclaimer,
hiding a host of telling cracks.
The night is polished
with stars reflecting secrets,
and shiny individual scars,
each with a frightening
yet compelling narrative
saying this world’s a cruel place
and here’s the hard proof.
He cannot escape the smile,
the whippoorwill’s sad call,
this endless patch of night.


Small World
We were at the Floridian,
enthusiastic kids in tow,
hoping the buddy system
might assist us through
the heat wave, the long lines,
and the next gift shop.

We were in another world,
dreaming of international espionage,
not just negotiating a character breakfast,
but the fate of all humankind:
importance, relevance, esprit de corps.

We were monitored round the clock.
Paying far too much for way too little,
yet slowly eroding, caving in
to the overseer’s relentless wishes,
seeing eye-to-eye in a friendly corporate way.

Buying those mouse ears
seemed a good idea at the time,
but a week later, 
skin itchy and tan fading,
contentiously ensconced
back in the cubicle’s tenuous solitude,
menial obligations and spreadsheets galore,
we open our eyes as if emerging from a coma,
and wonder, “What were we thinking?”
 
Gary Glauber is a poet, fiction writer, and teacher.  His works have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as “Best of the Net.” Recent poems are published or forthcoming in Fjords Review, JMWW, Stone Voices, Blue Lotus Review, The Citron Review, 3 Elements Review, The Blue Hour, Stoneboat Journal, Stone Path Review, Fredericksburg Literary Review, Silver Birch Press, and Think Journal.  He is a champion of the underdog who often composes to an obscure power pop soundtrack. His first collection, Small Consolations, is due out in 2015 from The Aldrich Press.
* * *
Manassas
By Dave Gregg

At Bull Run hundreds assemble
On nearby hillsides to watch
The Blue send the Grey running
Back to their slave-fed fields
In seconds sixty soldiers are slain
Within an hour the battlefield
Littered with maimed and dying
Picnic lunches are abandoned
Flags wave in a stillborn cheer
Union forces abruptly retreat as
Frightened spectators join in panic
Joyous rebels revel in the rout
Snack on their opponents’ surplus
Strip shoes from the Union dead
It’s evident gentlemen meet no longer

Dave Gregg has resided in the Midwest for more years than he can recall. He has been writing prose and poetry for nearly forty years, still pursuing the “perfect” poem.
* * *
I am Scared to go Outside Today
By Joe Marchia

going outside means seeing people
who will think things
and will look at me
and they will go home
and they will cook dinner
and they will watch T.V.

they will live for the next forty years
they will cry when their parents die
they will call a friend on that friend's birthday
they will remember things in their life
they'll hope for good things
they'll keep hoping
they'll wonder why things are how they are
they'll feel ready for amazing things
they'll wait and wait and wait

i'll be inside
i don't want to see anyone
i don't want anyone to see me
i don't want any part of it
 
Joe Marchia is the author of a novel, This Is The Future. His poetry, fiction, and articles have appeared in various places on the web and in print. 
* * *
Brother
By Jacqueline Markowski

I watched you climb scuffed rungs
of southern ideals. With pages smooth
as Thursday’s holy water,
a pleather green New Testament
peeks from a nest behind the driver
side visor in your S-10. My gaze,
interrupted by the swilling
twink of empty rolling
Budweisers. They capture
sunlight while they nudge
your barely worn cowboy
boot, become wedged against
the gas. I feel your want
to be a perfect memory,
smell it on your Listerine breath,
hear it in the non-distinction
of picture and pitcher. And you are
so close, hon. They will never see
you as anything but. Still, you know
otherwise. Your mistakes jump
fences, not like West Texas steer but
like spring sheep. Hold rhythm. Don’t
give up or in. You are so close,
brother. Lock on darlin’, cross stitch twang  
to the undeniable. Maybe cancer is blind.
Or history, stupid. Hold tight
to it all, Tex. Hold tight
to everything
but this.
 
Jacqueline Markowski’s work has appeared in San Pedro River Review, Storm Cycle, Rainbow Journal, Kentucky Review, Blast Furnace and is forthcoming in Bird’s Thumb, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, S/tick and Emerge Literary Journal.A Pushcart prize nominee, she won first place at The Sandhills Writer’s Conference and was a semi-finalist for the 2014 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize. She is currently working on a collection of poetry.
* * *
Formula One
By John Marvin

Arithmetic doesn't add up.
                       Kurt Gödel

For one thing
one thing
ever streams alone
such as daffodils
springing
or aspens singing
of autumn
just before cold
slithers down slopes
yellowed
by a slinking sun

or another thing
considered alone as
changeling habits
blanketing chills awhile
and cycles of thrilling
renewal and disfavor
integrate or maybe never
sublimate or vapor
clinging gold
on reflected
radiation

or lenses peering
as far as far as far
searching and researching
after answers as to why canals
vanish under a pure gaze
and robots never dream
of fame and love
but of needing proof
or one more guess
so designs can beg
another question

John Marvin is a teacher who retired and subsequently earned a Ph.D. in English at SUNY Buffalo. He has poems in scores of journals. He has published literary criticism in James Joyce Quarterly, Pennsylvania English, Hypermedia Joyce Studies and Worchester Review.
 
* * *
Bodies and Memories
By Debarun Sarkar

I

My body was awake that night
She clinged to me, with her desire
But the separation(s) after the announcement Of separation
Were (like) rituals

Bodies didn't make any contact any more
Money did
A mere Rs.1000 at 3am at an empty ATM cubicle Which was duly returned through cycles of debts

We walked back
To a vehicle
Where she stood at a distance We both cried silently
In the presence of other people

While walking I remember telling her
Liking a wise man how separation shall not be painful She chipped in her similar wisdom too

There I was,
Looking for the moon Looking for God/s
In everything and everyone

Wo/men move around me I don't desire

HM says that
Anais says, "Sex is sainthood"

I knew of a Christian Mirabai Her body intertwined
With bodies

II
The travelling memories of me without an anchor exists, lives, still

Memories of her exist too

A travelling memory
Of madness, sainthood, (and feigning virginity)
Of communism, anarchism and imagined revolutions With imagined communities
With a gaze from a fortress ala The Coming Insurrection Overshadowing swathes of tiny buildings on the landscape

With Nizam's royal architecture in vision
Forever sullied by democracy
debarun sarkar is Debarun Sarkar. He sleeps, eats, reads, smokes, labors and occasionally writes and submits them.
* * *
Poems By Claire Scott

CAN TIME RUN BACKWARD
can misdeeds be undone
the myriad cruelties
we inflict on others
especially those
we profess to love
slicing sarcasm
lies and lies
of betrayal
sodden hate
curled in our hearts
leaking, leaking

does time’s spool not
rewind, does it simply
wait for Atropos to cut
the thread with her fated
shears while her sisters
look on impassively

can’t we go back like Orpheus
with the gods’ dispensation
softening the heart of Hades
with celestial music, can’t we
rescue the past and
lead it to light
like Eurydice

or was Eurydice a trick
of the gods, an apparition to
prove their power over
a poet and musician
whose mournful songs
moved them to weep
whose love moved them
to consider for one
slim nanosecond
the possibility of
reversing time

the gods speak last

Eurydice fades
licking up shadows
with a final word              

                 farewell

Cut the thread, Atropos

Time is one way.

OLD LADY
I am an old lady with dried breasts
stretch marks on a wrinkled belly
blue veins on pocked thighs

each day after canned soup
and saltines I inch my way
on my walker, listing a bit

alert to cracks of my undoing
making my slow way to the
park at the block’s end

I watch young mothers
push children on swings
the children shout, “higher!”

shriek with delight
pleading for more
and more time

flying
beyond gravity’s pull
beyond time’s tick

the wind soughs at my back
I tighten my scarf
wrap my sweater

close and
turn away
earthbound

living on faded
memories fingered
like a rosary

tethered to gravity’s
pull, to time’s tick
silt settling in

a rusty heart
yet still the children
shout, “higher!”

voices shrill in the
autumn dusk
I smile despite

swollen knees
resistant bowels
reflecting recalling

the weightless joy
beyond time’s tick
beyond gravity’s pull

I turn once more to taste
rapture’s renewal
before this hour fades

forever from the life
of an old lady
drifting higher and higher

savoring the laughter
of children as she
floats away
 
Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has published in numerous literary magazines. She was nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Prize and was a semi-finalist for the Pangaea Prize. Her forthcoming first collection of poems, Waiting to be Called, will be published by IFSF Publishing in January of 2015.
 
* * *
Poetry By Doug Soderstrom

For What Good is Life
For what good is life
if one must kill
in order
to preserve it?

Like lilies of the field
we cut them down
in order to preserve
their charm.

The folly of believing
that one
can exist
without the other.

That one’s breathing in
can be maintained
in the absence of another
breathing out.

That breath
is not
a gift
from God.

Recklessly denying
that in killing our foe
we have chosen death
rather than life.

That in killing
those who we hate
we have proven that we
do not love God. 


A Weed Blown in the Wind
A weed blown
in the wind.

Hemmed in
on
all sides
by
a vast
expanse
of structures…..
monuments
to mankind.

An outcast
thrown
to the side.

A fine
young
man
a misfit
an alien
outsider
attacked
and
beaten
by
bigots.

God’s
beauty
hidden by
things
man-made.

A man’s
beauty
hidden by
a man-made
God.

A cemetery
a grave
a weed.


What’ll We Do
What’ll we do,
When there’s no water,
To draw from the well,
Only dry bones,
Loose skin,
And a mind,
That wanders,
Into the vast expanse?

Once a virtual,
Reservoir of knowledge,
A depth of understanding,
Nimble and quick,
Johnny on the spot,
Always on topic,
Clever,
Funny,
And very good,
With numbers.

There was,
A lot of,
Hugging,
Laughing,
Kidding,
Joking,

Playing,
Touching,
Kissing,
And loving.

But,
Now,
Things are,
Quite different,
There are,
No more theories,
No more wild ideas,
No more stories,
No more jokes,
No more puns,
Very few,
If any,
Thoughts,
And almost,
No memories,
At all.

Hugging…… yes,
But dad,
Doesn’t know how,
To hug back,
And it’s,
The same,
With kissing,
There’s not much,
Laughing,
Or playing,
Either,
Loving,
Well……yes,
But it’s,
Just not the same,
I guess,
When you,
Get down to it,
Nothing’s the same,
Anymore.

So,
What’ll we do,
What shall we do?
 
Doug Soderstrom is a retired Professor of Psychology having decided to become a poet in that of his latter years. He has been married to an Elementary Schoolteacher for the past forty-eight years, has a son who is a Licensed Professional Counselor, as well as a lovely Shetland Sheep dog.
* * *
Poems By Laurel Sparks Sellers

REASON TO BELIEVE
I feel no pain,
the bullet lodged in my body
relaxes my thoughts.
My mind turns
as the pages of a book,
but no one touches me.
Staring down at me,
they weep and wonder –
Why so young?
Why him?
The war I fought
meant many things
to many people.
Why couldn’t I
let it mean something
even though
I had no reason
to fight for?
It cost my life –
A trade for peace,
happiness.
So others could do
the same?
Hardly.
Now as they prepare
to lay me down to earth,
I’ll remember the crying
of those who loved me most.
But never bothered
to show it.

TOMBS OF HOME
Ugly scents violate labored breaths
and gritty moans echo the dank seclusion,
while muffled nests lodge allies
in premature tombs of home.
The pungent stillness tortures
as death lingers in rehearsed plans.
Nightmare?
No,
nursing home.

AN INTERRUPTED FAREWELL 
She wept at the newly-dug grave
Cross legged
Head bowed
Touching fresh dirt.
Her loved one just gone
The memories not yet formed,
Only begun.
Grief as potent as the flowers
Left behind by mourners
Numbs her.
She will heal, her tears will dry
Time will guarantee that.
Just not today, nor tomorrow.

Laurel operates “That’s All She Wrote” writing studio, and is engaged in ongoing writing projects. As a devout night owl, she’s busy in front of the keyboard devoting words onto the computer screen into the wee hours with the help of wine and chocolate.
* * *
I Saw
By Donald Welch

The centurion stared wide eyed. He had fallen asleep in a thicket in Gaul’s Black 
Forest and now he was standing in New York City’s Times Square, his language 
lacking the vocabulary to express all he saw. Gradually he regained his militant calm 
and concluded that this must be a vision, one of the strange tricks this forest plays on 
invaders. Tourists and New Yorkers alike passed by checking for a sign, imagining 
this man must be a busking or promoting a production of Julius Ceasar. But the 
centurion took all this as a good omen, an assurance of victory in his Gaelic Wars. 
“Here is Rome alive and well,” he thought. Looking at the clothing models he saw 
Venus, watching video games he witnessed the influence of Mars. In a bar he caught 
glimpses of The Giants playing in Meadowland’s Stadium and saw that gladiators 
continued to be popular. The multitude of languages and cultures meant that trade 
must be flourishing. True, much had changed, but he reasoned that was inevitable, 
culture comes and goes, but empire is eternal.

90's Power Hour
                                        A found poem

Somebody once told me:
we all want something beautiful.
All I can say is that my life is pretty plain,
I got a Dalmatian and I can still get high
to pass the time in my room alone.
For what it’s worth, I want to get away,
I wish the real world would just stop hassling me.

I know who I want to take me home,
she likes me for me. How bizarre!
What is love, the dreamer’s disease,
but faith in nothing? Be my lover,
put the past away and let’s delay our misery;
turn the lights off, carry me home. 

DCW3 lives in Brooklyn, New York. His current project @SocialLit explores new forms of poetry and collaborative writing derived from Social Media.
 
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Soon
By Grady Weston
 
G. Scott Weston is currently a professor at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. He is still trying to decide what he wants to be when he grows up, but, thus far, has been a pharmacist, a drug researcher, and an academician, among other things.
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Artwork

Watercolors by Conor Gearin
Conor Gearin is pursuing an English B.A. and Biology B.S. at Truman State University. He is Prose Editor of TSU’s Windfall. His work has appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and Mochila Review.
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Crossroads by Clinton Inman
Clinton Inman was born in Walton-on-Thames, England, graduated from San Diego State University, and he has been an educator all his life. He is a recently retired high school teacher in Tampa Bay where he lives with his wife, Elba.
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Artwork by Catherine Kyle
Catherine Kyle is a Ph.D. student in English at Western Michigan University. Her hybrid-genre chapbook Feral Domesticity was released by Robocup Press in June of 2014. Her graphic narratives and writing have appeared in The Rumpus, Superstition Review, WomenArts Quarterly, and elsewhere.
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Imaginara 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 was 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. He can be reached at richardong@sympatico.ca
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Architectures by Louis Staeble
Louis Staeble lives in Bowling Green, Ohio. His photographs have appeared in Agave, Digital Papercut, Driftwood, Four Ties Literary Review, Gravel, Iron Gall, Microfiction Monday, On The Rusk” Paper Tape Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, Up The Staircase Quarterly and Your Impossible Voice.
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Photos Penny Each by David J. Thompson
David J. Thompson is a former prep school teacher and coach. He has been traveling since October 2014. His photography has appeared in many journals and websites including Slipstream and Midwestern Gothic. 
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