Foliate Oak September 2015

Fiction

J Pop Metal
By Santino DeFranco

After he parked the car he sat for several minutes before finally pulling his baseball cap low to cover his eyes. He couldn’t be seen. He didn’t know what would happen if he was seen, but he knew it would be detrimental. Would it ruin him? He didn’t know. Would it ruin his marriage? Most likely. On his drive there he thought about turning around and heading home. He’d tell her the movie he said he was going to watch was sold out. Would it be sold out? he wondered. Maybe the theater was disgusting. Or he had a stomachache. He didn’t know the right answer, but he knew it would involve a lot less explaining than the alternative of being found out. Exposed.
        
His emotions oscillated. Excitement and life and youth and sexuality intoxicated his stomach. Filled his groin. They quickly dissipated as fear and shame and guilt replaced them. Going home’s the right thing to do, he thought. But he didn’t go home. He drove all the way to the other side of town, to the old warehouse, where he sat in front of the building in the parking lot. His body raged with excitement. He had to go in. He was going to go in.

When he exited the car, he quietly shut the door and swiftly walked to the entrance. His collar popped high on his blue windbreaker jacket. He looked like a caricature of a burglar or CIA agent in a B-movie. His balding head felt warm under the cap. Sweat seeped from his pores as he approached the door. His moist hand reached for the door handle. He pulled it open and went in.          

The music--loud music--blared through the large speakers. There were more people inside than he thought capable, based on the number of cars in the lot. He handed a man a twenty-dollar bill and walked into the forbidden scene. The crowd of other middle-aged white men, just like him, stared at the stage just as he did. Their eyes glued to the young looking Japanese girls on stage. I shouldn’t be here. When he saw the underage girls his stomach flared. He didn’t know if it was the fear or excitement or guilt or shame or lust that he felt. He just knew he felt. He hadn’t felt in a while. There were three girls on stage. The youngest couldn’t be more than twelve or thirteen, he thought. Then again, they were Japanese, and maybe they were thirty for all he knew. He never could tell the age of Asians. The stage girls were clad in short maid-looking dresses with red stockings pulled up to their thighs. Garter-belts held them up. He imagined where the garters attached. Each had hair with streaks of colors woven into their heads. Was it their hair? Dyed, of course. Or were they weaves or extensions? Their little bodies exuded such femininity, but their voices shrieked like banshees as they belted their words into the microphones. Then the femininity returned as they covered their mouths and in pretense acted submissive and shy.

He stood at the edge of the crowd, of at least a thousand, and watched the trio on stage when something bumped him, jarring his concentration.
            
“Oh, shit! Sorry, bro,” the man said. Beer splashed on his foot.
         
A man about his age with thick plastic glasses stood wide-eyed back at him as if to say, don’t punch me. I beg you, don’t punch me. Look at me, do I look like I can fight?
           
“It’s no problem. No problem at all.”
           
“Is this you’re first time?”
           
“Huh?”
          
“First time at a Jap Pop Metal concert?” he yelled as the guitars swelled from the speakers.
           
“Yeah. Not yours, I presume.”

“What? Just because I’m wearing a small red dress you think I’m a regular?” he joked. But he wasn’t joking about the red dress. Or the red and black fishnet stockings he wore. Or the black gloves. Or the chopsticks that stuck out of the wig he wore on his head—one black, one red. He wasn’t a tranny, though. He was just a J-M-popper.
           
“I’m Jim,” the dress wearing man said.
          
“Hank.”
         
“Let me buy you your first JPM concert beer, Hank! I feel like I’m popping your cherry!”
        
“Sure.”

Hank had first heard about Japanese pop metal while surfing the web. He didn’t even remember where it was. Facebook? Twitter? He clicked on the link because he saw some hot Japanese girls in school outfits and wanted to investigate before his wife returned home. The link took him to a video, though, and he watched. He sat there in awe as the young girls mixed the Japanese pop music with heavy-metal lyrics and guitars. The mess before his eyes blended into one cacophonous sound that delighted him. At first he didn’t know if it was just the girls and their childish giggling and promiscuous clothes and wild hair that kept him watching, but then he found himself humming the tunes later in the day and went back for a second and third and fourth dose of the group’s single Hate the Nanny. He Googled the band and learned of an entire sub-culture of Japanese Pop Metal followers, J-poppers, or JPMers. Many of the hardcore JPMers, like Jim, dressed the part as well. Hank couldn’t imagine himself, a grown-ass-man, dressing like a Japanese schoolgirl in goth, but after seeing Jim in his dress, the only thing Hank felt was pure jealousy.

As the two men approached the beer counter a woman behind the bar spoke in a Japanese accent.

“What you like drink?”

“I’ll just have a Coke,” Hank replied.

“No Coke!” The woman snapped.

“You gotta have a beer, man,” Jim replied. “Besides, all they have is Sapporo and Kirin, anyway. Well, they have Sake, too. But that’ll get you into some trouble if you know what I mean!”

“Sapporo’s fine,” Hank replied as he looked up at the woman and noticed something was amiss. He stared at her as if he’d seen Elvis reincarnated from the dead. She recognized the look and coyly placed her hands to her mouth and fake laughed.

“That woman’s not Japanese,” Hank said.

“Yeah, that’s a true statement,” Jim said.

“Why do they dress up like that? I mean, she had fake-slanted eyes.”

“For us, man! They know we’re just as fine with fake Japs as we are real Japs. This is the Midwest. How many Japanese girls you see working at concert venues?”

“Well, damn.”

After the beers were paid for Jim asked, “What’d you tell your wife?”

“Huh? Oh, shit, yeah…the wife.”

“You seem too nervous to be here with her approval.”

“Fuck, man. I told her I was going to see a movie by myself. To get out of the house. She’d kill me if she knew I was here. I think I could bang a hundred hookers and get caught and she wouldn’t care as much as this. At least that she’d somewhat understand. Where’d you get that outfit? You’re a big guy and those are women’s clothes.”

“I got the dress at the band’s website. They know most of their fan base are guys like us, so they stock our sizes. The rest of it I got at a drag store for cross dressers.”

                                                          ***

On his way home, Hank stopped at a gas station and bought a soda to pour over his shoe to mask the beer smell. He figured he could rinse it off when he got home and it would be a believable story.

Sharon was already in bed when he opened the door and snuck passed his daughter’s bedroom door and into the bathroom.

“Hank, that you?” Sharon called from the bedroom.

“Yeah, honey. I’ll be in in a minute. Some asshole spilled soda all over my shoes as we were walking out of the theater. I’m gonna rinse them and I’ll be right in.”

After he shut the bathroom door he unbuttoned his shirt revealing a newly purchased t-shirt with the faces of three Japanese girls on the front. His hands warmed and his face reddened. Electricity flowed through his muscles and seeped into his bones. He felt ten years younger. Ashamed. Exhilarated. Warm. Alive.

Santino spent most of his adult life as a professional MMA fighter. Now, he’s retired from professional competition and teaches English at a community college in Phoenix, AZ. He has been previously published in Curios Literary Journal, AZ Weekly Magazine, and Vice.com. He holds an MFA from NAU, and is married with two children.

* * * 

Seven Days
By Nihar Wahal

Sunday afternoon.  Zeph sat in the park, eating his hot dog.  A violinist started playing at the other side of the park, followed by a flock of birds heading south.  He stared at the change he had left in his hand.  Fifty-three cents.  He would need to get some more if he wanted to eat a dinner.  Licking mustard off his fingers, he made his way down to the department store and sat down about a block away, setting out his cup.  People scuffled by with mittens and light coats, heading to the store to cash in on the sale on blankets.  He heard every "ding" as person after person walked through those sliding doors, but he refused to think about them.  Now was not the time to fantasize about living normally as a part of society; now was the time to get another forty-seven cents to buy a burger off the dollar menu for dinner.  He watched people from all walks of life walk by his life: teenagers with steaming cups of Starbucks, businessmen with folded umbrellas occasionally glancing up to check the clouds.  Money fell into his cup as he watched them walk by with expressionless eyes and felt the chill as the sun slowly left to bring life to the other half of the world.  Thirty-eight cents.  Nine cents short.  It had been a slow day.  No food today.  Zeph walked by the storefronts, making his way to spend another night in the house of cheap wine, stale bread, and an ever-judging statue.

Monday morning.  Zeph shuffled out of the church into the dark damp air, inhaling sharply, trying to guess what the day would be like from its scent.  It would be another hour or so before the janitor came in to tidy up after yesterday's mass, another half before the sun came out, a quarter before mothers would leave the house taking the children to school and fathers would head out for a long day of meetings and presentations and powerpoints and good-job-on-that-report-Joe's... But Zeph didn't care.  This time was reserved for him, for the birds hunting for worms to bring to their chicks, for the violinist in the park across town yesterday whose melodies carried through the still air and through the still time.  Zeph exhaled slowly, feeling his chest fall as his lungs compressed and shoulders fell forwards slightly.  The air lacked the humid smell of rain.

          

Monday evening.  Mondays were the worst.  No one went out on Mondays.  All the sales ended in the weekend, and no one ate out on Monday evenings.  He looked down at his cup:  one dollar, forty-one cents.  Not bad for a Monday.  He had a somewhat-full stomach and some money left over.  Down the road, he heard the violinist busking.  Perhaps he should try to save up for an instrument.  Buskers could earn a lot more than simple panhandlers.  People mindlessly walking by musicians still drop money for them.  Picking up an instrument would be good.

          

Tuesday afternoon.  Tuesday afternoons were great.  All business lunch meetings happened on Tuesdays, and everyone wants to look good in front of their boss.  Zeph laughed inside; the same people who ignored him or rudely told him to get a job and stop being lazy suddenly put on such a charitable show.  Marionettes dancing on strings.  That's what they all were.  Puppets putting on a show.  Still, he kept his smile plastered on his face.  They were paying him, after all.  He provided a service - he made them look good, and they payed him in return.  He glanced down at his cup: twenty-four dollars, eighty-three cents.  He could eat a larger meal in the early evening and save the rest of his money, perhaps look into picking up a violin of his own.  Or a jacket.  Winter was coming, and he could probably pick up enough to buy a jacket during the weekend sale.

          

Wednesday night.  Zeph lay on the cold, hard, marble church floor.  It was not a good day.  He had fallen sick from yesterday's meal.  Today was a blacksmith pounding away a piece of red-hot iron on the anvil of his head, the piercing blows and roaring forge penetrating his ears and mind, the spark flashes burning his eyes.  His chest and stomach together tumbled like a pebble being washed down a river.  Next to him lay a bottle of Advil and his cup with six dollars, eighty-three cents.  Far off in the night, the violinist practiced a new song, a lullaby.  Sleep would come soon and provide a temporary release from the pain.

          

Thursday noon.  The sun was high in the blue sky when Zeph awoke.  The headache had subsided somewhat, but the churning in his torso remained.  He took some Advil, went outside, and set up by the shopping district.  People normally didn't go out on Thursdays, but he needed to get out of the musty church.  The dead air inside did nothing to help his sickness; hopefully, some fresh air would do him well.

          

Thursday early evening.  Zeph's eyes widened as the sky opened up and drops of water began to fall.  The few people who were milling around quickly went to their cars and left, and those who were still shopping suddenly found the store they were in particularly interesting.  Even the violinist's sounds stopped as he stopped busking and packed up his instrument to protect it, but Zeph simply stared at the rain in confusion.  The sky had been completely clear in the afternoon.  He silently cursed himself for not noticing the clouds roll in as he hurriedly stood up to leave, bending down to pick up his cup.  Twelve dollars, eighty-three cents.  He had enough to buy food for dinner, but that would mean staying out even longer and having to walk back in even worse rain.  Getting out of the wetness was more important, so Zeph sighed and reluctantly made his way back to the church.

          

Friday morning.  Zeph groaned as he dizzily stood up.  Any good that the fresh air did for him yesterday was more than offset by the cold rain.  Even now, its steady patter sounded off to him as a warning, warning him of the dangers of going outside again, warning him of the growing pain in his torso and head, warning him of the lack of money in his cup, warning him of the life he lived and the life he could have had, warning him of the insanity that slowly crept into his head each night he stayed in the dark, damp church.  Zeph yelled out in frustration and collapsed.

          

Friday afternoon.  Zeph gingerly shook his head as he got up and struggled to remember why he was still in the church.  He had heard the rain and yelled, and then emptiness.  Shrugging and popping a few Advil, Zeph quickly headed out of the church and down to the main square.  Even though there was still some light rain, lots of people went out on Fridays, and Zeph could not afford to stay inside and recover.  As he sat down and set out his cup, Zeph eyed the clouds overhead.  He looked at their varying shades of grey and shapes, observing them, trying to catch a glimpse into the future they held for him, how much more water they had left to give, how much longer before the slow front would finally push them away.  His divination drew nothing positive, however, and drooping his head and leaning back against the wet wall, Zeph hoped he might get enough money by the end of the day to buy a warm jacket before the rain got worse.  He needed that jacket.  No matter how horrible the weather became today, he would stay out and collect as much money as he could and buy that jacket.

          

Saturday morning.  Zeph lay groaning on the floor.  His head was exploding, his chest had an elephant on it, and his stomach twisted and turned more than yesterday’s winds.  The bottle of Advil was uncapped and knocked over, the precious red pills spilling out onto the white marble.  His cup held forty-two somewhat soggy dollars, enough to get a passable jacket, but Zeph could not leave the cold white floors to get the warmth.  It was too hard to get up, too hard to get out, too hard to get on… so he stayed in his easy discomfort, in his small room, in his sepulcher.

          

Sunday afternoon.  The priest sat in the park, absentmindedly rubbing the cross hanging from his neck.  A violinist played Amazing Grace across the park, making the priest smirk.  No one would know who that man was from the morning.  The police said he looked like a homeless vagrant who decided to end his life with some pills.  A typical open-and-shut case.  The priest oversaw his burial and prayed for his soul.  The gravediggers stood silently by their shovels, watching the priest’s performance.  No one from the church chose to stay for the unknown man’s burial.  The only attendees at the ceremony that morning were the priest, the gravediggers, and the birds flying south overhead; the only eulogy was the sound of the violin carrying through the still air and through the still time.  He stood up and made his way back to the old church, ready to prepare for the evening Mass.

Nihar Wahal is a confused teenager, eager to exit high school but scared to enter college. Aside from writing, he enjoys creating music, performing at open mic nights, and hanging out with his friends. He spends his time curled up with his guitar and a hot mug of tea.

* * *
No Expiration Date
By Ian Woollen

This should be a poem, titled: The Man Who Became a House. That’s what Ben’s younger siblings called him. Teasingly and fondly. Without old Ben holding the fort in Terre Haute, Rick and Beth would have no homeplace for holiday gatherings. Their parents died a decade ago. Departing in a fireball collision with a coal train on a sleety New Year’s Eve. Everyone else, including the cousins, had fled Terre Haute for points west.

  Except for The Man Who Became a House. He didn’t get that memo. Or the memo about finishing school, or combing his hair (a wild tonsure now), or learning to drive. After a couple drinks, Rick and Beth, both forensic pathologists, play at locating Ben on the spectrum. The geek spectrum. The loser spectrum. It’s not much help. He defies categories. Thus the poetry of Ben. His every-day is every day.

Rick and Beth act like twins. Long united in an effort to survive and thrive, despite their parents’ lack of parenting. Same college. Same graduate school. Same lab work (with archeologists to analyze skeletal DNA). A few behavioral differences. Beth is gushingly devoted to her Adult Children of Alcoholics group. Rick acts more stoic, wears sunglasses all day, believing he gains an advantage if his eyes are masked. Beth promises to care for The Man Who Became a House when he gets too old to stay in the place. Rick insists that their brother will need a clinical facility, and besides, he would never leave Indiana.

Ben reliably pays the bills and oversees maintenance on the old dwelling, a stone 1850s farmhouse, engulfed by the suburbs. The parents bought it in 1970 from an elderly, childless couple and renovated most of the history out of it. Pouring concrete in the dirt cellar and knocking out walls and turning the attic into a bar. Ben claims to have a sixth sense for knowing when the windowsills are starting to rot, when the hot-water heater needs replacing. Lying in bed upstairs, he can feel the plaster lathe crumbling, little by little, in the dining room ceiling. He paints the porch every three years. Each spring, he plants petunias and marigolds in the flower boxes, just like his mother.

We, us, Ben’s neighbors, the Greek chorus, we call it a labor of love. We cite Ben as an example of true devotion to one’s parents. We knew his folks as decent people overall, even with the alcohol problem.

Ben interacts reasonably well with the public. He ushers at church and volunteers as a re-enactor at the Underground Railroad Museum. Ben effectively plays the mean plantation-owner who comes in search of his runaway slaves in the historical drama performed every Saturday at 2:30 p.m. from April through November. When asked about taking the role, so at odds with his temperament, Ben explains, “Nobody else wants it, and, heck, I kind of look the part.” Hulking shoulders, intense monobrow. A gentle giant.

                                                                   *

But during their recent Christmas visit, Rick and Beth noticed things slipping around the house. Dead bulbs in the dining room chandelier, trash bags piled up in the pantry. Mice droppings and a cracked window in the laundry room. Out-dated food in the refrigerator. Rick and Beth, suitcases packed for the airport, finally decided to address it with their older brother. They gathered in the front parlor. Like the once-in-a-blue-moon family meetings their parents held, when sober.


Rick said, “I know we’re all getting on a bit. You’re going to be sixty next year. Have you ever given any thought to…when you might need some help.”

Ben said, “With what?”


Beth said, “Oh, you know, stuff around the house.”

Ben said, “No, they wouldn’t understand.”


Rick said, “Understand what?”

Ben said, “The house talks to me.”

Beth said, “What do you mean?”

Rick interjected, “Sure, right, your sixth sense thing. But the helper would just be for daily type chores.”

Ben said, “No, the house talks to me.”

Beth said, “What does it talk about? Mom and dad?”

Ben said, “No, farther back. The long past.”

Rick said, “Jesus Christ…”

Ben said, “Not that far back.”

                                                                        *

Rick and Beth conferred via Skype. Different time zones. Beth’s tired face plastered with wrinkle cream. Should they involve the minister? Social services? Beth and Rick had been trained by their functional alcoholic parents to view their older brother as harmlessly eccentric. Part of the family’s complex dance of denial, Beth insisted, and that’s why Ben is finally breaking down. Rick countered that her theory sounded too ACOA. It’s probably early onset dementia.

  Rick, an electronics buff, suggested that on their next visit (after the annual conference in Chicago), he could surreptitiously install a tiny video camera that would yield more information on what exactly was happening.

Beth cautioned, “What if Ben’s sixth-sense feels the camera? What if he finds it?”

Rick countered, “We play dumb. We say it must be left over from Dad spying on Mom. We blame it on them. Just like with everything else.”

                                                                    *

Rick successfully hid the camera in the tall bookshelves of the front parlor. Still full of their father’s law books. The live-feed also gave a partial view into the dining room and front hall.

The video footage only complicated matters. Ben ritually appeared at the same hour every day, dressed in his plantation-owner costume. Speaking in a chant-like tone, he moved slowly from room to room and recited a list of ‘I remember…’ scenes from historical events in the house. Long-ago scenes from the 1850s that he could not possibly know in such detail.

“Do you think it’s some kind of memory-palace thing?” Beth asked, on their next call, “Or more like a reverse memory-palace. The house is remembering things through him.”

“I think he’s whacked,” Rick said. “It’s giving me nightmares.”

They watched for another week. Same thing. Ben was apparently convinced that the stone house had been a stop on the Underground Railroad. He repeatedly mentioned two runaway slaves from Mississippi who were afraid of being returned to their plantation after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. They committed suicide and were buried in the cellar. Under the modern-era cement.

This would explain the noise, when Ben was not visible on-camera, of a shovel or a pick-axe digging in the basement. And perhaps the trash bags.

“Heck, we didn’t check what was in those trash bags,” Beth said.

“Wish I hadn’t made him toss them,” Rick replied. As forensic bone specialists, they were slightly intrigued, but mostly weirded out.

Rick added, “We’re going to have to get him committed.”

Beth agreed in principle, but she argued for a more strategic approach. Align with Ben. Take him seriously. “We don’t want him to see us as his enemy. Let’s recruit some archeologist friends. Do a proper excavation in the basement, and console him when nothing is found, and then institute some changes.”

Rick reluctantly went along with the gag. Only, it wasn’t a gag. Beth made it happen, enlisting a crew of Indiana State graduate students and a few neighbors. It rained all week. We worked together under the guidance of the director of the Underground Railroad Museum. We discovered two complete skeletons buried together in a rotted coffin. We also found a parchment text, written in flowing, quill-pen script, inside a rusted tin that described the situation almost exactly as Ben had imagined it.

Ben was the hero! Picture in the newspaper with his hair combed. The community rallied and raised money to restore the house to period style, as an annex for the museum.

Six months later, Ben moved out to Denver to live with Rick. As his caretaker. These events had triggered something mysterious for Rick. Nobody could figure it out. No medication seemed to help. He went into a severe depression. Slept all day, wearing his sunglasses. Deleted his social media accounts. Got one D.U.I. and then a second. Lost his teaching job.

Beth’s theory: finally acknowledging the unspoken possibility that their parents’ New Year’s Eve crash was a double suicide too. She composed a poem and posted it online:

you think it’s just a matter of thinking
old pain must have an expiration date
you think you know what lies underneath
the foundations of our story
but there’s always more
than what you think

 Ian Woollen's recent publications include: Bartleby Snopes, The Smokelong Quarterly, and Curbside Splendor. A novel, UNCLE ANTON'S ATOMIC BOMB (Coffeetown Press, 2014) was a finalist for the Balcones Fiction Prize.

* * * 
Favor Returned
By Ajay Tulsiani

At my office, cars are parked in the compound outside the building. There isn’t any basement or another structure with floors and inclines where employees can conveniently park their cars. Instead, the vehicles sit idly in the open air, their headlights staring at whatever lies ahead. After traveling by train, I walk from ten minutes from the station, enter the office's premises, then past the parked cars before entering the building.

At noon I was leaning by one car, looking at the sky above, trying to ‘admire’ life. The book titled ‘Learn To LOVE Yourself…’ said so. Other tips were to eat fruits, go for morning walks, and adopt a pet. I bought a potted plant last week. Cheered me up for a day. The water spray cost a hundred rupees. With enthusiasm, I woke up the next morning and ensured that each leaf glistened with water drops. Like I was bathing my own kid. Three days later, the kid died. I hadn’t watered it. At least the plant found peace.

Admire life. I look at the cars around. Red, maroon, green, grey. The chairman of the company comes in an open jeep. He can afford to drive an open jeep in the city. No one dares to question his choice.

I’m advised everyday by some colleague to buy a car. Even my intern smiled at me yesterday and asked me to learn driving and buy some second hand car. She thinks I am poor. It hurt me enough to not talk with her since then.

It’s not that I have a driving phobia. Wish I had. It’d give me an official reason to not buy a car. I’m not a miser. As much as I try, I cannot wipe off the fog of indifference around me. I long for affection towards anything. Two people have called me a moving corpse. I have no friends. Somehow the colleagues aren’t what I am looking for. They crack jokes with each other, and the office floor is filled with banter. They celebrate birthdays. I don’t like birthdays. It’s an excuse to treat the other person like shit for the remaining three hundred and sixty four days. To be fair the colleagues are polite. I don’t like when they pick on each other. But they never pick on me so I’m safe.

A few of them are smoking around me. They're planning to go for some movie. There was a time when I had friends. Went for road trips where we’d sing songs.

A motorbike’s drilling sound stops my thoughts. A senior rides in the premises. His biceps bulge beneath the sleeves of his striped shirt. The rhythmic beats of his Bullet roar as he stops before the security cabin just to the left of the gate. He’s wearing a black helmet with a golden eagle embossed at the front.

To avoid him, I go in the canteen and sit in some corner. I’m not really hungry. I have a sandwich at Rs Eighteen. I’ll have a heavy lunch. But what’s the point? The saved money will just rust in my wallet.

I don’t have any friends to throw any random party. That isn’t bad actually. I was always a loner. But of late it’s like I don’t want anyone. I want time to freeze. The self-help book says depressed people are afraid of responsibility, to take a risk in their life. Stupid book. What do I have to be afraid of losing? It'd be nice if my imaginary sorrows would betray me and chase someone else. Someone like the intern who called me poor.

A familiar giggle annoys me. “Hey, Donk,” says Ishita. She sits in front of me with her water melon juice that has a fancy pink straw with two loops. She brings the straw from her house. For some reason she calls me Donk, though that’s not my name. I asked her once for the reason, and she said, “I get this feeling that your personality goes with Donk.”

Whatever. I hate her. We are supposed to work on some power-point presentation together. She’s been trying to talk to me since the past two days. I suggested we divide the work and complete it in separate cabins away from each other. Later, we could combine the work. She giggled, shook her head and left. Strange.

“So how are you?” she asks.

I say in a faint voice, “Fine.” I don’t ask a question. Her face is tiring enough for me to listen to her voice.

“You shouldn’t be fine,” she says. “You should be great.” She spreads her hands as if she’s speaking to an audience. “This world is there for you. Waiting for you to experience it. Live each day. Celebrate each day. Who knows you might die tomorrow?”

I pull out my cellphone from the trouser pocket hoping for someone to call. A savior of a salesman. She snatches my phone and says, “You should stop this habit. You need to put the gadgets away while eating. Look at me. I switch off my cell phone whenever I eat or work or talk with friends. And look how cheerful I am. That’s how you must be.”

“What if I get an important call?”

“Is any call more important than your life, Donk?”

I hate that name.

She continues talking. “I have told all my friends that if I’m not answering then I’m busy. My priority is myself…do you know I have thirteen groups on watsapp? …school friends, college friends, yoga class friends, dance class friends…I love talking with them, interacting with different types of people.” She laughs then continues, “My friends have assigned a nick name for me. Don’t tell this to anyone, it’s a secret. I’m actually embarrassed, but they call me butterfly. Because I’m so cheerful.”

“You are indeed.” If I argue, she’ll continue exercising her mouth. Besides, she’s my senior, and I can’t fight with her. Not sure if I would if our designations were reversed.

“You know something? I think there’s something wrong with you,” she says.

According to the self-help book one must talk about their problems, experiment with friends, meet different kinds of people. Maybe I should give it a try. Her cheerful nature is what I need. I raise my glance to her face and say, “I’m just a little depressed.”

“See.” She nods like a parent who’s caught her child’s mischief. “I knew there was something that was bothering you. This butterfly can sense negative vibes around it. My friends call me whenever they need any advice. They tell me I should start a practice of counseling people, you know one of those freelance writers who work for magazines where they address problems of the common people. Something like that.”

“Have you done a course?” I’m terrible at small talk.

She laughs before saying, “You don’t need a course for that. It’s God Gift, Donk. I’m mature way beyond my age. All my friends agree on this. You can call me your mature friend from now on, O.K.”

“Thanks.” I smile. She’s made me smile. Wow! I feel a sudden surge of energy that erects my spine. She thinks too high of herself, but she loves herself. She’s capable of being happy. We’re polar opposites. I stare at her round cheeks and continue smiling. The way she holds the glass of watermelon juice and brings it to her mouth, so happy. As if it’s an accomplishment.

“See, I made you smile,” she says.

“You sure did.”

“I’ll take a leave now. I got work to do.”

“You can sit. I mean it’s Friday, I’m sure you can sit for a few minutes.”

“No wonder you’re in depression,” she speaks loudly enough for others to turn around. “You’re getting paid for work and not to chit-chat. Go to work, lazy person. Then your depression will run away. Come on, get to work, lazy Donk. From now on I’ll call you lazy Donk.” She turns around and walks away.

I get up only when she leaves the canteen. The waiter tells me to lift her glass. Employees are supposed to dispose used vessels in the trash tray next to the washroom. Ishita knows this, still the butterfly preferred to fly away. With indifference I pick her glass and dispose it.

Four hours later Ishita irritates me again. In my cabin, I have stuck a quotation: rather be alone than alone with people.

My colleagues tell me I should date someone. Easier said than done. Women aren't just lying around waiting for any guy to hit on them. Besides, the thought itself is tiring. It's been three months since I downloaded new porn. 

Being a twenty-five-year-old I’m supposed to be at the prime of my life, upload pictures on Facebook and let the flame of my youth burn permanent memories of thrill in my life. Instead, something unknown is bothering me. At one time I was happy. Maybe I had too many hopes from destiny. 

Immersing the mind in work kills time. My work is to make power-point presentations of sitcoms telecast by the office. I work for ALM TV Channel. 

The power-point presentation includes a synopsis, descriptions of the main characters, some information about awards won by the sitcom and feedback by the audience. We generally write standard complements that the story is unique or the character is the favorite of the women in the country and make our own feedback.

The sales team shows the presentation to channels of foreign countries. If the channel heads like the presentation, they proceed to future meetings and decide whether they want to purchase the sitcom for their country’s local channel. We dub the show in their language and sell it to them at a price, and a tiny fraction of it forms my salary.

I am typing the description of the protagonist. In the sitcom her husband beats her and she cries to God. She begs God to bless her husband with peace and happiness. The husband gets cancer, and the wife prays for his health. Later, the doctor falls in love with the husband.

This is the story, and I have to write a one paragraph description of the three characters.

“Such a bland presentation,” says Ishita, standing behind me. When did she enter the cabin? Can’t she knock? After a heavy sigh, I turn around.

In a sleepy tone, I ask “What?”

“Your presentation, Donk. It’s so bland and boring. See,” she grabs a chair, slides it besides me and sits on it, “if you show this to the boss he’ll get very angry with you. And that’s not good, Donk. You can’t be so casual at work.”

“My boss says official presentations should be subtle. I’ve taken the background from a previous presentation.”

“Yeah, you would’ve, I’m not doubting your integrity, but it doesn’t mean that the background has to remain same. You can always use a little innovation. What’s the point of hiring you if you’re not giving any inputs?” She shakes her head and continues, “Are you getting my point, Donk? Try to give your inputs to whatever work you do. Be more proactive at work. This background looks so depressing and—” She puts her hand to her mouth and stares at me for a moment. Then says, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” She places her hand on my shoulder. “I hope I didn’t hurt you. I’m so sorry, I forgot about your depression.”

“It’s all right,” I say. I’m not bothered by her comment as much as her citrus perfume. It’s too strong.

“Just a second, I’ll get something for you.” She goes out of the cabin. I crack my knuckles. It’s five. An hour left before I can go home, away from these people, back to my dead plant. Grabbing the remote I change the air conditioner’s mode to ultra cool. Anything to calm me. 

Ishita returns with a book, that she slaps on my desk. “7 Steps For A Happy Life.” 

“My best friend gave me this. I can guarantee this will help you very much.”

“Thanks, but I really don’t need this.”

“Keep it, lazy Donk. It’ll help you. Don’t bother thanking me. One day I’ll take a favor from you and settle the score. Let me tell you something. In this office, no one is a colleague. We’re all best friends, who support each other like a team. We’re a team, Donk. Remember this.” She intertwines her fingers to make a web and turns her two palms to. “The work culture here is very helpful. Can you see?”

“Yeah,” I turn my face to the laptop.

She sits next to me. “Now, regarding the presentation. This is just wrong, Donk. It’s not acceptable. Wait, I’ll help you.”

Ishita is good at power-point basics. The mouse cursor flies under her control, and the background color turns to light pink, each paragraph gets a black border, the Font Face grows to double. Her typing speed is good. She types an entire description, and I just keep staring. She taps the keyboard like she’s firing bullets from a machine gun.

I don’t approve her changes. She adds a golden frame to a slide, makes the font cursive, and brightens the actor’s photo. The font color is different for each slide. 

In the slide where the doctor needs to be described, she adds a stethoscope’s picture at the top right. Her changes weren’t childish. Just out of place for an official presentation.

And I’m glad I reversed the changes before showing the power-point file to the boss. In the cabin, Ishita is giving the presentation of another show. It’s about a woman who keeps a dove as a pet. The woman’s husband works in some other country. The sitcom's story is how the woman talks to the pigeon to compensate for her loneliness.

Ishita has used a chirping sound in one slide and applause in another. The furious boss removes his spectacles and shakes his head. “How could you even think of something like this?” I am sitting on the other side of the boss. The other chairs at the long table are empty. And I'm glad that it's only the three of us.

“Don’t you like this, Sir?” she asks. Her lips shrink. She is about cry. “If you want I can remove the animation, Sir.”

“Is that the only problem you see?” He looks at her and gently mops his forehead. Quicker than she inserted, he deletes the fancy photos in the file: the kitten at the top, the snake at the bottom.

What had she done? Even I had to bite my tongue to prevent a laugh. At times I'm very bad at not laughing. Where does the depression disappear to when you want it? 

The boss stretched a hand to me and says, “I explained this to Nitin the other day. Official presentations must be subtle. You’re not in college where you’re doing fancy designs just to impress the audience with your skills. I have to give this to the sales team who will be pitching the sitcom based on your presentation. The content must stand out, not the background.”

“OK, got it.” She nods. 

“Nitin,” says the boss. “Have you worked on the reviews of the list of shows that I had emailed?”

“I’ll do it right away, Sir,” I reply.

He shakes his head and says, “It’s like you guys don’t want to work.”

Slowly, I walk out of the cabin. Before leaving for home I type a sentence on the laptop, increase the font size till it stretches from one side of the page to the other. Then give the print command. I leave it on Ishita’s desk with the book she had given me. The paper says, “Seven Steps To Mind Your Own Business and my name is N.I.T.I.N.”

As I turn around, I see her come out of the boss’ cabin with the laptop in her hand. She studies the walls and the floor tiles. I walk past her. She doesn’t pass any comment. I walk to my cabin, pack my bag and leave.

Ajay Tulsiani is an engineer who likes to go on long walks, read books, and watch Animal Planet on TV.

* * * 
Poetry

Boxborough Story
By Tricia Marcella Cimera


In 1974 my family moved to
Boxborough, Massachusetts and we 
lived in a nice new house, a 
Colonial.  I was ten. We lived on 
Guggins Lane surrounded by fir
trees that rose up darkly all around
us. There was a brook with smooth 
stones nearby. My father planted 
sunflowers out front.  In my school 
there was a boy who caught 
bullfrogs and jabbed pencils into
their stomachs and the captured 
frog’s eyes were like my mother’s
eyes when we went to visit her
every day in the hospital psychiatric
ward and she would look at us 
helplessly and cry. The frog’s soft, 
punctured belly was like my heart.
And the boy?  The boy was like the 
neighbor who found out my family’s 
sad story - the story that I knew was 
called Your Mother is Crazy, the one 
I desperately wanted to hide - and 
told everyone on our block. 
Everyone.

Tricia Marcella Cimera is an obsessed Reader and lover of words. Her work has appeared in Silver Birch Press, Reverie Fair, I Am Not A Silent Poet, Prairie Light Review and is forthcoming in Stepping Stones and the Buddhist Poetry Review. She volunteers and believes strongly in the ideology of Think Globally, Act Locally.

* * * 
Trucker-God and the Trickster
By Jonathan Louis Duckworth

Deer

They come to the edge

of the still, black river,

and try to ford it.

Too slow; too timid.

Sun opens its eyes early.

 

Opossum

Seven baby possums

have never been prouder

of their mother.

No more playing--

she’s gone professional.

 

Coyote

There are many with the Trickster’s name

in this wide and wild land of ours.

Few are as swift as they think.

Their eyes become laughing emeralds.

 

Trucker-God

You have not seen his face, America.

This one, who hauls

your baby diapers, DVD players, and rutabagas

from shipping ports to shopping carts.

Coffee is his ichor;

yellow-jackets his ambrosia.

He gave one eye

to drink from the well

of a married woman named Prudence.

Each night he defeats the serpent

in a motel bathroom.

His is a lonely kingdom, America. 

Jonathan Louis Duckworth is an MFA student at Florida International University, where he serves as a reader and copy-editor for the Gulf Stream Magazine. His fiction and poetry appears in or is forthcoming in Sliver of Stone, Hermeneutic Chaos, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, The Penny Dreadful, Synaesthesia, and Gravel: A Literary Journal, among others.

* * * 

The Shadow of an Airliner
By Alejandro Escudé


The truth comes out in italics
as outcome.
 
Nothing matches
the ferocity of Macy’s,

not even
a terrorist at a checkpoint.

Ten years later, I still bow my head
at the wrong time in mass.

A wake follows a wake.
They should teach this to you
at age eight.

Yesterday, at the beach,
the shadow of an airliner.

I watch the Pope address
Guayaquil.

Behind him,
the Spanish Jesus.

Nine mornings 
might as well make one.

 Escudé’s first book of poems, My Earthbound Eye, was published in September 2013. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from UC Davis and teaches English. Originally from Argentina, Alejandro lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. 

* * * 
Waiting for Liam at Lovelace Women’s Hospital
By Wendy Gist

Babies in boats of cabbage leaves. Babies
in pots of clay, daisy skulls, framed along hallway walls.
Shift change: graveyard.
Hushes are healing.

1:15 a.m. fire alarm drill.
3:00 a.m. intercom: “Code Pink first floor,
Code Pink first floor.”
Physician harassing a nurse? Infant abduction?

Latex odor on air of apprehension.
Marathons of Hawaii Five-O on waiting room T.V.
My worried son at starry lover’s bedside
the whole way through, and his spry mother-in-law,

I listen to her pass the time sharing stories--
against the bustling backdrop
smeared with whizzing moans of mother’s-to-be
wheeled by on beds on backs,

and on Cat-Cow yoga poses—about episodes in her life
as a VA hospital nurse:
gangrene toes falling off in socks.
I need to vomit a river.

A river of coffee refills at nurse’s station;
one arthritic aunt almost bears the thirty hour wait.
Middle-aged mothers and fathers pine to be grand;
We fold

in-between arms of waiting room chairs
cool as hockey pucks in a silent rink
and plummet dreamless into rest.
Birth at mid-July morning bursts wails of pain.

Mother dabs daughter’s flushed face with damp cloth. 
Anxious new mom now push, push
pushes a bloom-stunned life, rosy--
umbilical cord jeweled

tight around baby boy’s neck—into the gingery world.

Wendy Gist’s poetry, fiction and essays have been featured or are forthcoming in Amsterdam Quarterly, Empty Mirror Arts and Literary Magazine, Fourth River, Gravel, Grey Sparrow Journal, Illya's Honey, Juked, Pif, Red River Review, Soundings Review, The Galway Review (Ireland), The Lake (UK), and many other fine journals. A native Arizonan, she now lives in New Mexico where she serves as Co-founding editor of Red Savina Review.

* * * 
Ode to Bed
By Tiffany McCreight
 
In Spice Laden lands you enveloped blood stained soldiers in comfort---Sanctuary!   
For all, no matter the sin.
To lie upon your goose feathered cloud…ahh rest for the sojourner, therapist for the sick.
Consistent lover, you bend to my every whim.
Comfort in the midnight hour, you soothe me during the heat of the day.
Friend and confidant, secretes whispered in the pre-dawn morning never leave your confidence.

Kitanda

Lit

Vuode

Bed.

Good or bad you are the period to the end of my day.
Candles lit radiating the fragrant smell of jasmine and sandal wood.
Dark din of peace from a day of useless busyness…
I quietly dress in the garb of ceremony, gingerly pulling back the covers, I sink into you, and you into me.
As you embrace me with your warmth I drift off into other worlds, knowing that you are here and that I am safe.
Worship.
Calm steady breathing.
I am a willing sacrifice.

Tiffany McCreight is a city girl at heart. Born and raised in Saint Louis Missouri, she is currently working on her MFA in Writing at Lindenwood University.

* * * 
 
Flash

Recipe for Martini
By Annie Hsu

The ice cubes burn a gentle coolness against her skin, evaporating an elusive smoke into the air as she drops them into the stainless steel cup. The ice cubes leave her hand wet with droplets of water. The smoke, much like their tryst, was nowhere to be seen. But the imprint on her heart, like the dew in her hands, was evidence that it wasn't merely a dream.

Pour in from the classically shaped bottle the precise amount of Nolet's gin, her favorite. Not too much, and not too little. This aromatic gin embodies a harmonious mix of smooth sophistication without pretense. Perfectly infused with a mix of intelligence, wit, humor, but not lacking in sincere, boyish charm and a scent that will linger in memory.

Next, pour a precise measure of dry vermouth. A sweetness unlike other liquors that are childishly overwhelming and grotesque, but a hint of sugar with a subtle aftertaste, like a secret shared, that only you and I would know.

Stir slowly in cocktail circles. To the right, and always to the right. Stir precisely the number of times he took her breath away. Not one more, not one less. For the ice will melt just the perfect amount, elevating this cocktail into an ambrosia.

Strain and pour the mixture into a beautiful martini glass, and know precisely when to pour. Lingering exposure dilutes a good drink so leave you must, at the perfect moment, like a flower in full bloom and a butterfly in spring. Before life’s boredom eats away at the magic, and all that awaits is stench and death.

Lastly, a gentle twist of fresh lemon peel over the drink, a cloud of fragrant oils that dance upon the liquid surface. The clouds, like a beautiful memory, overlay the sky with a dreamy beauty. A pair of lens with which you can look through and beautify this dreary world, overlook the mundane, and a treasure no one can ever take away.

Drink up.

Annie Hsu lives in Manhattan and attends the Writer's Voice workshop in New York City. By day she is a strategist who develops new products in an attempt to improve lives, and by night she is either tinkering, writing, painting, cooking, learning, eating or sleeping. She is working on a collection of travel essays about her adventures in Jordan, Italy, Germany and elsewhere. Her foremost passion is life itself.

* * *

Long white roots contrasted sharply with her dyed, red hair. 
By Bobbi Lurie

The bed was wet again. She had to pull off his pajama bottoms, change his diaper, change the sheets, dress him again, pull him up - straighten him up on the bed …

“Damn it,” she muttered.

The smell of urine overwhelmed her.

The sun’s glare forced its way in through the slats of the shuttered windows. Striking beams of light mocked their indoor existence.

The sound of radios, conversations, laughter seeped into their apartment. She could picture children on their bicycles, lovers holding hands. She walked over to the shutters and closed them tighter.

Outside, people were walking along the beach, lying in the sun. 


She and her husband had moved to the beach after he retired.  Within a month, he had a massive stroke.

She chose to nurse him herself, unable to let him go. He was the only one she could speak to. 

She let him lay in his urine.

She walked over to the chair which once was his.  She buried her face in the olive green velvet arm of the chair.

She could not cry.
                                             
The sounds outside and the stench in the room merged as she felt her heart harden against him.  She sat until she could no longer bear the soft feel of the fabric against her cheek.

She stood up and looked briefly in the mirror. Long white roots contrasted sharply with her dyed, red hair.

She leaned over him and lifted his head off the pillow. It was a dead weight.

His eyes looked blankly up at her, his mouth drooped to one side, spittle dripped down his chin.

This once domineering man had found a way to torment her into her old age. It had taken her years to find the inner strength to assert her rights against his powerful rages and need to control every aspect of her life. She had finally made him understand. He had softened into the gentle man she knew during their courtship.

Then fate struck its blow.

Like a mockery of her constant wish for a more passive, tender man, he was paralyzed and helpless, totally dependent upon her for his survival.

Her back ached as she managed to get him into a seated position on the bed, moving his hips forward, straightening out his legs, placing his good arm against the bed to keep him from falling.

Saliva spilled from his crooked mouth.

His head drooped forward.

Bobbi Lurie is the author of four poetry collections, most recently the morphine poems. She is currently working on a book about  Marcel Duchamp

* * *

Tuna Fish
By John Maurer

Light a cigarette and close your eyes. An hourglass of ash should be enough time. I only want that much more. Just 7 minutes. I exhale through my nose, the smoke whipping like white flags in the wind. My black wingtips with the untied laces spread their namesakes and catch the crisp serrated air along the ledge. A pigeon perches next to me. Pigeons don't have to do spreadsheets, they just have to spread wings. The roof is covered in white blotches made by him and his friends, but it isn't much to complain about; shit on a building that is a monolith of it.

6 minutes. My shirt has a coffee stain and the side of my writing hand is saturated in ball point ink. My tie dances in the wind, the flag of an autonomy that is dissolving with each tar-infused puff. I wonder who will take my desk. The only difference between a desk job and slavery is slaves don't interview for their chains. I wonder if anyone will see the smoke signals I'm sending up, I wonder if I want them to.

5 minutes. I only have a few minutes left on my lunch break and I'm still scared about being late. Well, they can have my tuna fish sandwich. My foot slips from the ledge, sending chunks chipping off, kicked like a bad habit into the brisk air. One foot inside the door, one foot out. With just a breeze a decision could turn into an accident…and the weather vane is spinning like a top in a blender. My thoughts are racing, leaving tire marks on the inside of my skull.

4 minutes. My toes press against my sole to curl around the ledge, I look down. I swear the gravel of the parking lot looks like gates, to hell or heaven… I don't care. I start to make a list in my head. I can't think of a single person who would miss me. My dog doesn't even like me. The sharp fall wind stings the bloody, bare-teethed “kisses” he leaves on my ankles. I wonder who will feed him.

3 minutes. I wonder when tomorrow will stop being today and today will stop being yesterday. No more coffee that tastes like sewage runoff, nights lying waiting for the alarm hoping it never sounds, numbers I stare at but can’t dial. All those old, cold, Chinese take-out dinners…nothing's wrong but nothing's right.

2 minutes. For an instant, I feel like I've already hit the parking lot. My lungs have become air tight and vacuum sealed. My heart has jumped up to where I swear my Adams' apple should be. I can imagine having a mouth full of gravel already.

1 minute. My stomach rumbles, I'm hungry. I step back from the ledge and head back inside. There is always tomorrow, no different than today, and tuna fish is my favorite.

John Maurer is a 20- year-old writer from Tampa, Fla. He is currently studying at Florida Gulf Coast University working towards his bachelor’s in English with a creative writing minor. He has been writing poetry and prose for years; but has found his true passion in writing short fiction. His goal with his writing is to awaken his readers; ask them to reconsider their lives in light of other ways of living; laugh or cry; it doesn’t matter; hopefully, they’ll do both.

* * * 
Creative Non-Fiction

An Evening in Paris
By Gloria Ludlam Bennett



As far back as I can remember, I have always understood that perfume, pretty clothes, and colorful jewelry are just a few of the benefits of being a girl.  Even though I occasionally liked to go fishing with my grandfather when I was a child, and had been known to play in the mud, I was definitely not a tomboy.  I liked to get dressed up. In a photograph from my childhood, I am playing in my grandparents’ front yard with three of my cousins. The three of them are dressed in casual clothes—shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops. I, however, am wearing a dress, Mary Jane shoes, and socks with lace.  The photograph was a black and white snapshot taken by my grandmother, but I remember that the dress and the shoes were both red, which was one of my favorite colors when I was a child.

 

I lived with my grandparents until I was almost five years old, and money was always tight in their home. They had to save every way they could, so they rarely had the opportunity to buy ready-made clothing for us children. I do remember, however, that my mother and my aunts always wore pretty skirts and dresses, and Grandma sewed them all herself. In the late ‘60s, the fashion trend was bright psychedelic colors and bold swirling patterns. Yellow, pink, and aqua fabrics with vivid flower patterns were popular, especially for younger women. To my grandfather’s dismay, skirts got shorter, and my aunts began to wear colored and patterned hose and, occasionally, white high-rise stretch vinyl boots. Culottes and other flared-bottom pants, colorful tunics with large buttons, and loose-fitting chain belts were also very popular.

 

Almost all of my clothes were made from the small scraps of fabric left over from the outfits Grandma made for my mother and my aunts. She would lay the tiny remnants on the kitchen table and cut out each piece, without the benefit of a store-bought pattern. Then she would set up her sewing machine and slowly turn those pieces into a beautiful handmade outfit.  I often sat there beside her while she gave me sewing lessons that would prove beneficial to me later in life.  There were times in my young adulthood that I made nearly everything I wore, and I owe this skill to my grandmother.

 

To satisfy my desire for trinkets, Grandma would restring the multi-colored beads from her own broken costume jewelry with fishing line from Grandpa’s tackle box, fashioning them into pieces that were suitable for a small child to wear.  Thanks to her creativity, I nearly always had a shoebox full of assorted necklaces and bracelets that complemented the colorful outfits she made for me.

 

To keep me from getting into her perfume and wasting it, Grandma gave me the empty containers to play with.  I remember several different ones, but my favorites were the little cobalt blue bottles with worn silver labels. Evening in Paris was Grandma’s favorite fragrance, and my grandfather evidently liked it too.  He gave it to her on special occasions—like birthdays, Christmas, and anniversaries. It was a rich floral fragrance that originated in 1928 in the era of flapper fashions and glittering nightlife, and Grandma always seemed to look forward to receiving this particular gift from him.

 

 

I would climb up onto the step stool that I used for brushing my teeth and would fill the empty bottles with water from the bathroom sink. Then I would imitate my grandmother, pretending that I was getting ready to go out for an evening of dinner and dancing with my own special man. I’d sit down at her mahogany dressing table and brush my long dark hair with her silver hairbrush and daub the “perfume” behind my ears and on my wrists, just like she had taught me to do. Then I’d don one of her discarded pillbox hats, the kind Jackie Kennedy wore, that she kept in a box on the floor of her closet for my cousins and me to play with. There were several colors to pick from, but I almost always chose the red one.

 

Evidently imitating scenes from dramas that my grandparents liked to watch on television, I’d go outside and sit in the double swing under the shade trees and pretend that I was in the backseat of a taxi, accompanied by a handsome young man as it made its way down the streets of Paris.  Back then, I had absolutely no idea where Paris was, of course, but it sure sounded like the kind of place I’d someday like to visit. At the time, I had not yet ventured far from our rural hometown, and nearly every place name I heard on the television or on the radio sounded exquisite to my young imaginative mind.

 

My grandmother was born in the year 1919 and was a young married woman during the Depression Era. She was a farm wife with ten children of her own, and she helped raise several others. Special nights out on the town with my grandfather would have been infrequent, and her only connection to Paris was a name on a perfume bottle.

 

Some twenty years later, my husband took me to Paris. While we toured the City of Lights and dined near the Eiffel Tower, I thought of my grandmother, who had long since passed away. The Arc de Triomphe and the Paris skyline at night reminded me of vintage advertisements for the Evening in Paris perfume that had hung on the walls of my grandmother’s bedroom.

 

In the back seat of a taxi, on the way back to our hotel after a romantic evening out, I shared with my husband the story of my grandmother and the empty perfume bottles and what they had meant to me as a child. While she never had any actual hopes of traveling there herself, she helped foster the idea that I would grow up with opportunities that had not been available to her and other women of her time period. She always encouraged me to dream of possibilities, regardless of our circumstances.

 

These days, I collect pieces of vintage glass that remind me of home. And I still own a few of those old cobalt blue perfume bottles. They have a special place in my home. Whenever I see them, I’m reminded of my grandmother and what she taught me about being a woman.

 
Gloria Ludlam Bennett writes poetry and prose. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in a number of literary journals and reviews. She teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at the University of North Georgia, where she also serves as academic coordinator for writing and publication. She is a former president of the board of the Georgia Writers Association and a former president of the Southern Literary Festival Executive Council. She was named finalist for the 2015 Georgia Author of the Year in the children’s book category.

* * *

The Spring that Sprung  (Why my Broken Kitchen Tongs Brought me to Tears)
By Janis Lasky Couvreux    

Just the other day, I had a minor catastrophe in my kitchen, and I practically shed a tear. Really. It was unbelievably silly: My beloved kitchen tongs broke. Really??? Just like that old sweater one can't bear to throw away, we have a few such vestiges from our sailboat, Cowabunga, in our household that we still can't live without. One of my dearest, trusty items is an unlikely pair of plain old, gadget-store, low-grade stainless steel kitchen tongs. Nothing fancy. Yet, these tongs can tell a tale. In the over 30-odd years that I have had them, they served me well during our 10 years on Cowabunga, throughout our life sailing and traveling as a family wth our two boys from France to Africa, across the Atlantic to South America, Cuba, Panama and finally San Francisco, and the many years since, here on land.

 

I bought them in some nondescript Ace Hardware-type general store in France, even before our younger son—Brendan, now 33—was born, I believe, so yes, they must be over 30 years old. During our life on the boat, they succumbed at one point to one-too-many saltwater dishwashings, and the main hinge screw rusted out one day. Being somewhere in the middle of nowhere at the time, it was not an option to go out and buy a new pair, and I needed this kitchen tool—constantly! So, my husband Michel, handy that he is, was able to scrounge up a stainless steel screw from his onboard tool, treasure chest, and replace it, and they have lived on to see many another day, and many cooking adventures on into this 21st Century—a good 25 years or so since we disembarked. And now, here they were, these same heroic tongs on my countertop, broken. No, I can't, I could not cook without them! The main spring had sprung for the last time. I couldn't believe it. I was practically heartbroken. They survived for so long; it's not now they were going to give up the ghost! Both Michel and I looked at each other: The end of an era? All that history up in smoke, poof, just like that? This was silly. So emotional for a pair of cheap, and I really mean cheap, kitchen tongs!

No, this story wasn't going to end like this. We shall overcome, and Michel was determined that these tongs could, and would, live to see another day! So, off he went on a quest to find a replacement spring. He came back empty handed. Then I remembered that I seen some cheap-type, similar looking tongs at our own local Ace Hardware in the kitchen-gadget department. Lo and behold, there was an almost identical pair, but I was only interested in getting the inside spring—the guts. Nevertheless, I purchased it, brought it back to my handy hubby, and he promptly cannibalized it, repairing our trusty old pair with the exact same spring, and eureka, it lives anew! If we can get another 30 years out of it, I’m quite sure it will outlive us, and my family can be sure that some lucky soul will be inheriting this storied item in my will.

A journalist in Sonoma County, California, Janis has covered local politics and business to varied feature articles. She is currently writing a book about the 10 years she and her husband lived and sailed with their two small boys on Cowabunga, a 42 ft. sailboat, from France to San Francisco

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Art

So You Want to be a Famous Comic Book Character? By Geoffrey Ellis Aronson
Geoffrey Ellis Aronson is a visual artist with a background in photography whose goal was initially to make fame and fortune as a comic book character. Move over Dagwood, Andy Cap, Mickey Mouse, here comes Aronson and his creations.








 
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Huellas de la Tierra by Vivian Calderón
Vivian Calderón Bogoslavsky is a Colombia Native born to Argentinian parents. She holds a bachelors in anthropology with a minor in history and a postgraduate degree in Journalism from Universidad of Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia. She has studied art for over 13 years with a well know Argentinian art master as well as studies in Florence, Italy, and Fine Arts & Design in USA. Today she is in Madrid Spain exploring her art. Vivian has shown her work in both individual and collective shows in Colombia and USA. She has been published in multiple books, magazines and webpages, and has received multiples awards.The Prints are related to an extraordinary universe, filled with dolor, texture, sand and ashes. I try to translate my own path into the canvas and in the process a Print is left behind, filled with all of what makes me.”
















 
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The Doors of Perception by Rony Nair
Rony Nair, 41,works an oil and gas Risk Management and Quality professional based out of Dubai. He’s been 20 years in oil and gas since starting off as an Industrial engineer a long time ago. Extensively traveled. Dangers fronted often. But that’s his day job. The one that pays for bread and bills. 
He’s been a worshiper at the altar of prose and poetry for almost as long as he could think. They have been the shadows of his life. Rony’s work has previously appeared in Semaphore, Ogazine, Two Words For, New Asian Writing, Yellow Press Review, 1947, and others. He was a published columnist with the Indian Express and is also a photographer about to hold his first major exhibition. 












 
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Five Collages by Bill Wolak
Bill Wolak is a poet, photographer, and collage artist. Recently, he was a featured poet at The Hyderabad Literary Festival. Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.











 
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