Foliate Oak September 2012
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?”
“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.
Daniel Clausen has been published in Slipstream Magazine, Spindrift, Leading Edge, and Zygote in my Coffee, among other venues. The Ghosts of Nagasaki is his third book and is loosely based on his experiences living in Nagasaki, Japan. Pre-release copies of The Ghosts of Nagasaki are available from the author. You can email him at: email@example.com. You can learn more about Daniel here.
* * *
Taming of the Shrewd
By George Djuric
All Man Can Betray Is His Conscience - Joseph Conrad
Once upon a time I was just a few brain cells short of genius. At least I felt so. This conceit came across smoothly, and no matter what I did it refused to leave : the floating sensation of a gypsy band travelling through the essence of reality, the Cirque du Soleil of being one with the universe; a blind date with Aphrodite.
All my troubles didn't start in Teba Hecatompilos, that was Borges' Alamo, but in a similar place: a local library. I was five years old when my aunt took me there and pointed at the wonder of the world. I don't think I was that much of an asshole back then, maybe an asshole's apprentice, so my scream had sincerity written all over it: "But what am I going to read once I'm done with these books?!: My dear aunt wasn't on par with the question, and my very first existential incertitude went uncomforted.
Even at this early age of mine I could clearly see the traces of betrayal, a foggish abbreviation from the path of genius: reading made me too comfortable from the get go - always a bad omen. I was forming a shell around me, a parallel reality; the more furnished that castle became, the less appealing the outdoors activities reflected in my binoculars. Then Winter would come, as it does once a year, and my father, grandpa, uncle Brne, and uncle Zika would wrestle a three hundred pound hog in the yard and slice its throat open, shattering my shelter into pieces and leaving me bare naked in the frost.
I picked up a lot of action in my early teens: street fighting daily, getting addicted to the fumes of rally cars, eyeing girls in the class. The latter two went on to supercharge the Fata Morgana, belittling my inside prodigy even further. Listening to this dubious scenario life was yet to be, full-blown and essential. At this rate of accelerated self delay, I was going to wake up one stellar morning into the splendor of being my future self, only to get crushed as it caved in on me under the weight of built-in void.
I became a Matrix freak who lives and fights while comfortably resting in a lazy boy (a tube sticking into his skull), a boy who cried holy hand grenade, a zombie at the end of a business trip. The only credible biographer of my petty existence would have been Marcel Marceau. And he'd laugh silently.
The Disney period of my life lasted until I turned nineteen, featuring a Mickey Mouse in every serious endeavor I approached. There went the most creative years, brain juices turned into soft drink and spilled out with bubbles gone, while on the surface I had the best of times. My perception was blurred with shiny objects of fun, those beads that bought the island of Manhattan from natives like me. Then Led Zeppelin came along, spraying tons of nitrogen into overheated crowds, making sure the song remained the same long enough.
The real - and I better be careful with this slimy word - the real tectonic shift occurred once I got my Fiat and went onto making an Abarth out of it. It was like an old-fashioned recipe: you take the engine apart, mix it well with tuned header, bored cylinders, a pinch of valves, and a sharp angled camshaft, and before you could pronounce piston (pissed-on), you can tailor desired horse power. Depending on the bore of your pockets, there was a class to choose: more money - easier prestige and fame, less competition; less money - more fun, much more competition, and wide proving grounds. Just don't forget your dog tags, since fatalities rise proportionally.
This coming of age phase, while exceptionally condensed, thrilling, and accomplishing, was the final blow to my genial future: from that point on all I could hope to attain was the title of genius on wheels, something Niki Lauda said about Walter Rohrl. By the time I was done with racing, only few years later, the integrity of my mental forces was sloping downward, the ease of style vanished, and the best case scenario morphed into friendly face of an idiot savant.
At this point I didn't want to count pennies, or split gilded hairs, I just wanted to figure out what to do with my future, if anything. Quite a sad point: I was in my prime, yet my alter ego mirrored that autistic Indian over there on the corner of lunacy and the main street, quoting from Black Elk with a natural ease that drove my namesake George Armstrong Custer hysterical. Of course, I could have done anything I wanted: there was plenty of time and juice to become, say, a brilliant writer, a vocation I always eyed with envy; or a professor of something, a millionaire. Even worse, I could have comfortably envisioned these paths to a diminutive vignette, smell of odors, indulge in applause.
I guess it was the predictability of desirable careers, or any other future direction, that robbed me blind. I just sat there.
George Djuric is a former rally racing champion, master chess player, taxi driver, street fighter, student of anti-psychiatry and philosophy, broker with Morgan Stanley… and a writer all the way. Published a critically acclaimed collection of short stories that altered Yugoslav literary scene - 'The Metaphysical Stories' - was dubbed Borges of the Balkans, as well as reborn Babel. Also, he published a trucking road memoir 'Riding with the Big Boys' in the U.S. Djuric infiltrates flashes from his vivid past into fictional alchemy for the salient taste of the 21st century.
* * *
By William Falo
Adele placed one foot on the hill and lost her balance. It angered a flock of geese and they flapped their wings sending loose feathers into the air. They floated down on top of her and she thought of the day they covered Johan’s coffin with dirt. A group of skateboarders stopped to laugh. “Can you believe that she used to be a famous mountain climber?”
A boy that lived behind her pointed down at her when he spoke. “She can’t even climb a hill now.”
Someone looked down from the top of the hill. Adele looked away and her hand started to shake, when she remembered Johan’s face while he slid past her on K2. Her hand reached out for him, but grasped only snow. She never knew who helped her down that day, but nobody would help her up now.
The person on the hill vanished. A gust of wind blew the feathers off of her; they drifted away like her dream of becoming the first woman to summit all fourteen 8000 meter mountains.
She walked away from the hill and knew there would be no summit today. When she drove away, she saw a mother walk up the hill holding hands with two small children. It looked so easy. At home, she went outside and sat on the deck.
“Hey, Adele,” the neighbor behind her called out.
“Hi Tyler,” she said.
“We’re having a small pool party tonight. Do you want to come?” He skimmed the pool with a long pole.
“No thanks. I have plans.”
“Okay. If you change your mind, just come over,” he walked back to his deck. The boy from the park skated up to him.
She heard laughter and turned away suspecting that they were talking about her. She clenched her fist then opened it and started to walk toward the fence that bordered the two houses, but remembered that the boy’s mother died a year ago in a car accident. She retreated to her house.
At night, the lights of the party illuminated her house. She avoided the windows afraid they would see her shadow and know she lied about her having plans.
Someone laughed when she walked into the kitchen. She hid in the den and stared at a picture of Johan.
She tugged at her wedding ring and thought about when he proposed. They practiced
climbing on a hill in the Pine Barrens. They each carried fifty pounds of gear in mid-summer.
She slipped and collapsed on the sandy trail. He knelt beside her and gripped her hand. At the top of Jemima Mount he gave her an engagement ring.
The music blared from the party. She walked through the house ducking under the windows. Feeling like a prisoner, she got in the car and drove into the Wharton State Forest. When the sand road ended, she walked down the fire trail. A sad owl hooted in the distance. The hill looked like a mountain.
Clouds drifted by the moon as she stared up and a single bat darted by her. It came so close to her hair that she ducked when it passed. A few steps up the trail made her breath become rapid. The dream of mountain climbing again seemed to fade away forever. Farther up the hill, Johan looked down on her.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said.
She blinked but the image didn’t go away. He held out his hand and she walked farther up the slope toward him. Someone coughed and the image disappeared.
Alone on the slope, panic set in when she saw a man standing on the summit. She fell backwards and rolled to the bottom of the hill. When she looked up again she saw a small girl looking down on her. Adele rubbed the sand out of her eyes and the girl was gone.
Hallucinations plagued her ever since the tragedy on K2 and she hurried back to the truck in tears. The sand flew out from behind the wheels like a wake behind a speedboat when she left. The party still lit up her backyard when she got home and she sat in the dark. Johan stayed away. The image on the hill haunted her. Unable to sleep, she put on the television. Dust blurred the image when a news channel flashed the picture of a girl. A lady with tears running down her face talked into a microphone. “Please help me find my little girl.”
They showed the girl again. Adele walked bent over toward the screen. She wiped away the dust and gasped. The reporter said, “Chloe is ten years old and was taken from a front lawn in broad daylight.”
“That’s her,” Adele yelled. She recognized the girl from the top of the hill.
She called the number on the screen. A lady answered and listened to her, then abruptly cut her off.
“She’s in danger,” Adele said.
“It can’t be her. That location is miles away, but we will send someone to check in the morning. We have lots of more reliable tips to follow up on first,” she said and hung up.
Adele dropped the cell phone. She heard people laughing at the party. They started to sing and became louder with each song.
She pictured the girl standing on top of the hill that Johann proposed to her on. What would that man do to Chloe? Adele paced the room, until she heard the teens at the party laughing. She grabbed her keys and dashed out the door. The truck squealed when she drove down the street toward the woods.
Half way there, she realized that her cell phone was still on the floor where she dropped it. She stopped farther away from the hill then last time. Dark clouds drifted past the moon, and they moved faster than she ever saw before. It seemed like time sped up. Shadows darted between trees and each one became a threat to pounce on her.
Every step that she took seemed too loud. The scent of death hit her and she held her nose. A red fox chewed on the leg of a dead deer, when she came near it darted off. An arrow stuck up from the deer’s flank. A hunter failed to track his kill or the man on the hill shot it. With no light, she feared an unseen arrow heading toward her head and she kept low to the ground.
In the darkness, she fell over a stump and twisted her ankle. Pain seared through her and she bit her hand to stop from screaming out. She sat on the ground and knew she should go back. What could she do? She was broken.
A sound in the distance could have been a girl crying. Adele got up and limped down the trail. The hill loomed before her like a wall. She stared up at the distant summit and collapsed on the trail. Tears formed in her eyes and one fell to the ground. It landed in a footprint. She remembered seeing Johan on the hill. She stood up and picked up a broken branch, then struggled up the hill using the branch as a cane. Everything seemed to become quiet. Something flashed on top of the hill. It could have been heat lightning or someone turned on a flashlight.
Without looking back, she reached the edge of the summit. The pain in her ankle intensified and the sky spun in a circle. A flame flickered from behind a group of trees, and she noticed an outline of a person. The man looked like a giant when he stood up. She stayed on the edges of the light; in the darkness. A smaller shadow moved inside the tent. Chloe.
The man lifted a bottle to his mouth. She smelled the whiskey and hoped that he was drunk. She crawled toward the tent without a plan. The man entered it and the girl started to cry when he grabbed her.
Adele picked up the branch, and opened the tent flap. The man looked up and dropped the girl. Adele swung the branch and it broke against his face. The recoil knocked her backwards. Chloe screamed and the man came out of the tent with streaks of blood across his face,
“You bitch. I’ll kill you,” he said and stumbled toward her. She crawled backwards and grabbed one of the arrows out of a pack that leaned against a tree. She moved toward a ridge on the hill. The man snarled and charged her. At the last second she jabbed the arrow toward his chest. It sunk in and he fell forward, narrowly missing her. He yelled as he tumbled over the edge of the hill and disappeared. A hollow thud echoed through the woods followed by silence.
The girl sobbed in the tent. Adele opened the flap and the girl backed up. “It’s okay,” she said and reached out.
Chloe crawled into her arms and collapsed. Adele helped her up, and they hurried down the hill. Every sound they heard created images of the man in their minds. They held hands, and she felt relief when they reached the truck. She drove straight to the ranger station and burst in the doors.
The dispatcher jumped up, “What’s going on?”
Adele collapsed and pointed at Chloe, “The missing girl.”
The people in the station gathered around the girl. Adele slipped out the door.
The party still claimed to life despite the lack of coherent singing. Adele limped past the windows and let the lights shine on her
The next morning, Chloe appeared on the television, “Please, whoever helped me. I want to thank you. I want to meet you.” Adele smiled. The reporter said they managed to find the man’s body after following Chloe’s story. But nobody knew who helped her.
Adele looked up at the hill. The summit looked farther away than last time. With a crooked stick, she struggled up the slope. She reached the summit and lifted the branch into the air. She looked in the direction of K2 and yelled. The skateboarders below the hill stopped and looked up at her then skated away without saying a word.
William Falo’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Emrys Journal, Shalla Magazine, Mississippi Crow, 34th Parallel, Skyline Review, Oak Bend Review, Open Wide Magazine, The Linnet’s Wings, The View From Here, The Monarch Review, and many others.
* * *
The Ice Palace
By Christopher James
The Ice Palace was not, as Rosie thought it would be, made of ice. The tour guide explained that before they’d even pulled into the coach-park. The guide had dry lips that stuck together, adding extra sounds to words, which was funny for about like five minutes. ‘The name-pa of the palace refers-pa to the freezing of the fountains in the-pa sumptuous grounds the year the palace was-pa built, in blah blah-pa blah.’ Rosie switched off, took Nancy Drew out of her bag.
Nancy Drew was about to solve the case of the tapping heels when Rosie’s Mom brushed her fingers through her hair and said “Hey ho, Blossom.” Mom reminded Rosie to behave. Behaving meant putting Nancy back in the bag and pretending to pay attention and making the right noises at the right times. Rosie knew the drill.
Darrel, Mom’s new boyfriend, was at the Palace gates already, waiting for them. Correction – waiting for one of them. It was apparent from his face, unsuccessfully camouflaged, that neither he nor Rosie understood the purpose of her inclusion in today’s tour.
“What a bummer, hey?” said Darrel. “I thought it was gonna be made of real ice.”
Mom laughed, which was annoying. Darrel hadn’t even said anything funny.
“No,” said Rosie. “It’s named for the freezing of the fountains in 1864. The owners of the palace were so enchanted by the sight of the crystal icy water that they commemorated it in the naming of the palace.”
“Blossom,” warned Mom. Quoting the guide was not behaving.
“Well, I feel like I’ve learned something already” said Darrel. He head-nodded at the group gathered by the side of the bus around the guide, who was stressing the importance of being back at the bus at twelve sharp. “Shall we join them?”
“Mom, do you think they would leave without us if we came back at twelve oh five?”
“Definitely,” said Mom. “Now behave. I’ve already asked you nicely.”
Rosie sighed. Darrel made a face, trying to bond with her. So tiresome. The guide started walking towards the palace gate ticket counters and Mom led the way behind him, one hand pulling Rosie, the other pulling Darrel. Rosie wandered why Darrel hadn’t brought tickets already, while he was waiting for them to arrive, but she didn’t say anything. She was being a good Blossom. When everyone was ticketed up the guide took them under the arched entranceway and across an eternal gravel driveway into the palace’s grand hall.
The guide drew his group’s attention to a big table in a room protected by a red rope. “This table,” he said, “was blah blah blah-pa blah.” Darrel noticed the guide’s speech impediment for the first time and started making fun of it. Quietly, just to Rosie and Mom. Mom laughed, and somebody nearby must have overheard because they laughed a little bit too. Darrel took his joke to a larger circle of the guided tourists, and finally, encouraged by the odd furtive giggle, to the tour guide’s face. “Is this all pa-part and pa-parcel of the proper-pa pa-palace-pa tour?” Rosie thought it was mean, but Mom laughed, so Rosie laughed too. The tour guide didn’t look very happy, and nor did some of the guided tourists.
“It’s funny,” said Rosie to Darrel, “because he has a speech impediment.” Luckily for Blossom, Darrel didn’t recognise biting sarcasm.
Rosie tried to send apologies to the tour guide with the power of her mind. Darrel was a douche and Mom was simpering. Why did Rosie have to be here again? Nancy Drew wouldn’t have agreed to this. But Rosie weren’t no Nancy Drew. She switched off.
Since Mom and Dad’s separation, Rosie had discovered the gift of autopilot. It came in handy in all kinds of situations. Ten minutes passed, or maybe an hour, or maybe two. Under autopilot, Rosie wasn’t sure. They could’ve been through ten grand palace rooms or a hundred. Darrel could’ve said one more stupid thing or a thousand. Mom could’ve laughed at all his dumb jokes or just some of them. Rosie, blissfully, didn’t know. She didn’t know, either, when they’d made it into the garden, but she ‘woke up’ when she realised they were standing in front of the fountain that had frozen a hundred and fifty years ago. The fountain had given the palace its name. It had to be something worth looking at.
Hmm. It wasn’t amazing. It was okay, but nothing special. So-so. She’d seen better in the mall. But it was interesting that something so insignificant could turn into something so beautiful that the entire building was named after it. Rosie switched herself all the way back on – she wanted to hear what the tour guide had to pa-say about this. But the tour guide was already moving on to a rose garden down the way.
Having been in zombie-mode for the last ten minutes question mark hour question mark two, Rosie had turned invisible. The guide went to the garden. The tour group went to the garden. Mom and Darrel, holding hands now, Rosie noticed, went to the garden. Yuck, even the way he held hands was stupid. Only Rosie stayed at the fountain, unnoticed by everybody else.
How was it possible for a fountain to freeze? Rosie knew the answer to that, vaguely, which suggested she must’ve heard at least some of the tour guide’s chatter. The running water of the fountain took longer to freeze than the still water of the lake, because the movement kept it warmer, but if the air outside was cold enough then eventually the water, running or not, would all reach zero degrees. When that happened, the fountain froze, mid flow. One second shooting water into the air, the next a wave of ice.
Rosie heard them talking from the rose garden and looked over. Darrel was patting Mom on the butt, and Mom was letting him. They hadn’t even noticed she was gone yet. God.
First Rosie sat on the edge of the fountain. Then she swung her legs round, so her feet were in the water. Then she slid off the edge and put her butt in. It was warmer than she’d expected. She lay down, and let the spray from the fountain rain down all over her. She stayed like that, looking up at the sky, imagining herself back in 1864 when this was all frozen still.
Mom’s was the first raised voice, followed by Darrel and then the tour guide and everybody else. Rosie heard, but did not see, them searching for her. They started in the garden, and some of them moved indoors. They called her name. Rosie! Rosie! People who didn’t know her, looking for her. Rosie-pa! Some of them were in the room with the big table. Some of them were out by the coach.
They would find her soon enough. Maybe Mom would spot her, or maybe even Darrel. It could be the tour guide. It could be anyone – there were enough people looking for her. They’d all be relieved because she was ‘safe’ and angry at her for frightening them so. Darrel would sulk because he’d been upstaged. They might have to return to the hotel because Rosie’s clothes would be dripping sodden through. Rosie didn’t care.
She imagined the water getting colder and colder, little by little by little by little until it froze completely, taking her with it.
Christopher James lives in Jakarta, Indonesia and writes, not necessarily in that order. He has been published in The Times, Camera Obscura and on The Tin House website.
* * *
By Nushina Shirazi
My mother is going to kill me. Goodbye cellphone, goodbye car, goodbye life. This cannot be happening, this cannot be real. Oh my god, what is the horrific smell. No, no way it is me. Oh god, it is.
As I look down at my once beautiful sequin top, all I can see are dried spots of what I believe to be is my own puke. It is taking every ounce of pride I have left to not go for seconds on my now destroyed shirt. Oh crap, this isn’t even my shirt; my sister is going to kill me, after my mom does that is. Looking around all I can see are older women who look like they have not showered in days. I make eye contact with one who is probably 30 but looks about 50 from the way she has been taking care of herself. Her long greasy black hair is knotted all the way down her jean jacket that covers a black shirt that appears to have some band name on it. I would tell you the amount of holes that are in her jeans but I lost count after 46. Dear god, I’m pretty sure she is making sexual gestures at me. Does she not know I’m only 18?! I guess no one knows anyone’s age in here since it looks like there are a variety of us. These metal seats are freezing. I’m now regretting more than ever the choice I made to wear the shortest black skirt I own. I seriously can’t believe this is happening. Ugh, since I can’t sit here any longer amongst these criminals, I get up and press by hands around the metal bars in front of me and I place my face ever so slightly between two of the bars ahead of me and present my face of defeat.
“Officer?” is the only thing I can get out before tears start rolling down my face.
“Ma’am, I am going to have to ask you to stay quiet and remain seated until I allow you to take your one phone call,” replies the man in the uniform in the most unemotional voice possible.
I respond quickly before my breathing starts getting heaving from the crying, “But, Officer, I’m innocent, I’m just a kid!”
“MA’AM, I will only ask you one more time! Please remain seated until your name has been called! Do I make myself clear?”
Well there’s not much I can say to that. I just nod by head and turn around and sit back on the bench alongside my heels, one of which is missing the heel completely. Maybe if I could try really hard, I can figure out how the hell I ended up in the slammer. I just NEED to remember. Alright, so let’s go back to the start of the night.
Thank the lord it is Friday, I have been waiting for this day to come all week. Jane Rollins, the most popular girl in the senior class, is having one of her biggest parties tonight! Jane is that typical popular girl with the perfect life. Her beautiful long and wavy hair falls effortlessly down her back with a different color bow that she puts in to it every day. She has the best placed dimples I have ever seen and the prettiest blue eyes to have ever existed. I am 99% sure she has never worn the same outfit twice. Her parents are conveniently both doctors so I don’t think I need to get in to how wealthy these people are. Jane and I have known each other for a while now since we were in the same class since 6th grade. Unfortunately our friendship made a turn for the worse when she accused me of stealing her boyfriend. Okay, so maybe Bobby did break up with her to be with me but let’s be real, my personality is way better than hers, considering hers is nonexistent. She may have the best physical appearance I have ever seen, but she has nothing else going for her.
Okay so back tonight. As you can probably see, Jane and I are not “BFF’s” which leaves me in a slight problem since I am pretty much the only person who has not been invited to the party tonight. Normally I would just drag Bobby with me but since he is out of town with his family for the weekend, I am left all alone to fend for myself. Ill figure something out. So seeing as I am without any fabulous outfits, I decide now would be the perfect time to raid my sisters closet while she is out with some friends. There it is. The most stunning blue sequin top I have ever laid eyes on. As long as I am very careful, I am confident I can get this right back into her closet by tomorrow without her even noticing. So it’s about eight now and I think it would be a good time to head over to Jane’s. Seeing as parking is terrible, I am forced to park my little black car two blocks away. As I manage my way up to her house in my six inch heels, yes you heard me, six, I see a group of boys about to walk in so I squeeze myself in between them creating the perfect distraction for my entrance. Yes, I am in.
Almost everyone is already trashed and I already see what looks like four guys passed out on the couch. Mind you, it’s only eight. As I step over to the table with the drinks, I examine my choice of alcohols. Not that anyone knows, but this is my first time drinking and I am incredibly terrified but I keep cool calm and collected and pour myself some vodka in a fashionable and classy red party cup. I begin walking around and stopping once in a while to greet some friends. A few hours later I notice that the amount of people that were here after I arrived has tripled. It is so crowded that it takes me about 5 minutes to get about two feet from where I am now.I am pretty sure I just saw the same guy make out with two different girls. This is definitely one of those classy parties apparently. I guess I’ll just stand here and dance since moving anywhere is not an option. Oh shoot, I lost count of how many drinks I have had. Things are getting pretty dizzy so I’m pretty sure I am drunk.
As I am in the middle of getting my groove on to Britney, I hear the loudest ear piercing scream. Everyone immediately turns their head in the direction of the noise. Before I can even turn my back, I feel the hands of somebody grab my top and pull me backwards into the ground. I am so drunk at this point that I can’t even make out the culprit. Just as I position myself to get up, I look straight and make eyes with the devil, Jane. Jane grabs the collar to my shirt and hoists me up to her face. In the midst of her screaming at me I notice a circle has been forming around us. I see some girls are terrified to be watching this, while all the guys are clapping and chanting the names of who they want to it. Just as she was finishing up her accusations of stealing Bobby, I mistakenly decide spitting in her face was the best solution. Yea, that just made her angrier. As she is wiping my saliva out of her eyes I try to make a run for the door until I notice people are quickly backing away from the entrance. Right as I make my attempt to turn the knob, the door automatically opens to three men in uniform. Well, this just can’t get much worse can it? Naturally, right as I make eye contact with the cops, I turn around and make run for it. I run straight back into the battle scene and hide myself between the crowds of people who are now going crazy themselves. As everyone sees the cops entering the house, people are running out any and every door they see and jumping out of any and every window in sight. Just as I was about to run for the back door, I feel this horrible sensation in my stomach, wait now my throat, oh no, here it comes. With nowhere to turn I just find a vacant corner and puke up what seems like every piece of food I have ever had in my life. Well, if I didn’t look cute before…
At this point my head is spinning in incredibly fast circles and walking straight has now become my biggest challenge. I lose sight of which door is the back door and make my way to some kind of opening. I walk outside in the freezing air and of course forgot where I parked my car. I squint my eyes and see what looks to me like a black car just a head parked in the middle of the street. How sweet! Someone must have seen me struggling and pulled my car up for me! As I am walking towards the car I notice some kids are sitting in the back of it. Confused, I walk up and start banging on the window while screaming at these scoundrels. Are they trying to steal my car, and if so why are they sitting in the back of it? This is absolutely ridiculous. I walk around to the driver’s side of the car so I can get the hell out of here. I open the door and get in and tell the strangers to get out. Seeing as two of them are past out cold and the other is making out with the window, I decide trying to get them out is useless and let them stay. As I attempt to start the car with the keys from the middle console I notice the placement of everything is so different and weird. I try to get the key hole in the ignition for about five minutes until I finally make it in. I can’t decide if it is because I am too drunk or that I am just going crazy, but this does not look like my car. No, it has to be, I’m just really drunk. Just as I start the engine, a man runs up to my window and starts banging on my door. What the hell is this guy doing?! Why is he trying to open my door?! Dear god, is that a gun?!
Oh, I think he has a badge on. Oh, I think he’s a cop. Oh, I think this is his car. Oh, I think I’m going to jail.
Now I remember.
Nushina Shirazi is currently an undergraduate student studying Communications and Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She hopes to one day pursue a career in the film industry, including writing scripts for comedic based shows or writing for talk shows that mainly discuss up-to-date pop culture. Though this is her first piece of work to be published, she hopes for it to be the first of many.
* * *
By Michael Stewart
We get out under the railway arches, a little knots of agitated persons, waiting to be called. The man who gives us the jobs, he who is always angry (foul mood I have learned to say) says they need skilled men, plasterers and plumbers. A few go forward and are taken away.
The sound of the motor-buses going through the arches reminds me of home. No, not of home quite, but of the end of home, that surge and crack of metal across the river when they came, firing in the air.
Those of us that ran into the bush, me and little brother Nasser had hope, it soothed us on our long walk. We thought we would find another place, some work and after, in the evening a place to talk quietly together, each with a mouthful of dates.
Were we just fools? That fixer, that dingy Greek with the yellow eyes, told us we would be picking oranges and lemons, that there was cool water and enough time for prayers. An end to fear.
But he lied. Here it is bone-cold, the oranges and lemons sit in neat rows in shop windows, already picked. The streets are the place of crows, young men who cover their heads like women and hiss their hate.
Young Nasser, who only wanted to fly his kite and find a girl, reached despair at the bottom of that boat as we crossed the sea, so crowded they threw his body in the sea for a piece of space.
There is no more work and the crowd of men thins and the arches are empty. I am empty.
There is nothing more to do but wait or sleep, night and day, and in those times I think of Nasser, his body floating back through the sea and up the river, the magenta dust swirling on the river bank, the wind carrying him to our home, real home, gone home.
Michael Stewart lives and works in Bristol, UK. He is a prize-winning author of short fiction, a journalist and a travel writer. His work has appeared online (including East of the Web, Red Fez, Orange Labyrinth, Words Literary Journal) and in several anthologies (including Your Messages - Blue Chrome Press; Image Coal - Leaf Books). He recently finished his first novel.
* * *
By Shoilee SA White
A reddish, yellow glow of the setting sun crafted a sense of mystery on the surrounding thorny bushes and shrubs of the desert scene. Shortly after, the sun’s final goodbye wrapped everything under a large cloth of darkness, only the soft glow of a timid moon and the headlights of our car struggled against it. We began ascending the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico— a sense of freedom slowly touched my mind, body, and soul.
Jack, my friend from work, sat at the driver’s seat, his wife, Cathy at the passenger seat, and my husband, Omar, and I sat at the back seat of Jack’s father’s old car.
“Do you hear that?” Jack asked.
“Yeah, where’s it coming from?” I replied, trying to find the source of the piercing sound. My eyes widened. “Look”—I pointed to the smoke coming out from under the hood of our car.
Jack shrugged his shoulders, “We have to stop.”
“Oh no, what’s wrong?” Cathy asked.
Jack stopped and restarted the car. The smoke continued to rise. “The smoke isn’t stopping; I’ll have to check the engine.” He stopped the car, rolled down the window, took the small flash light from the dashboard, stepped out, and opened the hood.
Cathy put her head out the passenger side window, “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I think it’s a coolant leak!”
I didn’t know what it exactly meant, but a feeling of uncertainty took hold of my stomach. It was getting dark. Jack closed the hood and came back inside the car. We were left with no other choice but to park the car on the roadside and wait. We were unfamiliar with the surroundings, away from civilization, and anxious as the darkness escalated.
“Do you hear that?” I asked—my voice broke the creepy silence inside the car. Somewhere, the comforting sound of an unknown creek continued to sooth me in the middle of all apprehension.
It was the summer of 1996, none of us had cell phones or any other means of communication. We sat and waited. One car passed by, then another, then another. I looked at my watch—it was 9:15 p.m.
We were desperate for even a stranger’s assistance, but horror movie scenes flashed through my mind, where strangers turned out to be murderers. Jack tried to start the car again. It started. He put it into gear but it didn’t go more than a few feet. He surrendered, “We’re in trouble.”
Despair came over me; how could my very first road trip in America happen like this?
Omar put both of his hands on his head. He whispered, “What did you get me into?” I lowered my head— I didn’t have an answer.
“It’s getting colder,” I said.
Jack turned his head and looked at me, “Desert nights are torturous without proper clothes,” he replied.
“But we didn’t bring any warm clothes; it’s the middle of summer,” I said, my legs shaking from the cold.
“I’m getting hungry too,” Cathy added.
“I think we still have some bananas and some bread left,” Jack said to Cathy.
“That’ll do for now, but it’s not dinner.”
I closed my eyes, put my palms together, and prayed, “Please God, help us.” Three prolonged hours passed by, finally a car stopped. It was a pick-up truck.
“At last,” Jack sighed, hitting the steering wheel gently with one of his hands. “Okay, someone has to go, who will it be, not you two—,” he looked at Omar and me at the back seat.
“I’ll go,” Cathy said aloud.
Jack hesitated. He got out of our car, went up to the driver, and spoke with him. Few minutes later he came back, “He seems nice,” he informed.
“At this point, one of us has to go to get help. I think it’s better if you stay with them,” Cathy said to Jack.
He kept pacing, “Do you think you’ll be ok?” he asked.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be ok. I’ll get help,” she assured and stepped out of our car. “I’ll be ok,” she said again, then kissed Jack, and got into the truck.
Omar looked at me and whispered, “How could he let her go with a stranger?” It was a contrast to our Bangladeshi culture. Maybe the frantic situation of the moment demanded such an action.
We looked as the truck left our sight. “Please God, keep her safe and let her get some help,” I prayed. The three of us were left behind in the dark to ponder on our situation.
I looked out the window—the two sides of the road opposed each other. One side was an invincible barrier created by the soaring height of the mountain and the other, straight down with the bottom veiled in the dark. “I hope Cathy’s ok,” I said.
Jack kept pacing around the car with his head down. “She’ll be okay,” I said again.
“Yeah,” he replied softly.
“There’s nothing else we can do, right?”
“I’m afraid not, just wait,” he opened the door, and sat on the driver’s seat. We rolled the windows up to stay warm. Two hours passed by that seemed like years.
At around 2:45 a.m., Cathy returned with a tow truck. I couldn’t remember who said it first, “Oh! We’re saved!” The tow truck pulled our car to the nearest town—Mayhill.
Mayhill was built high up in the mountains, with a community of sixty two people and twenty nine cats. Fortunate for us, Mayhill had its own machine shop and the shop-owner provided his own tow truck. The late hours didn’t stop him from carefully inspecting our car engine. With limbs that no longer desired to endure and with minds that no longer wished to anticipate, we remained silent for his decision. After a long inspection, he suggested to replace the coolant pipe, which must be done next morning.
The shop-owner walked around the car, came near me, and, “So, you came all the way from Bangladesh to camp in New Mexico!” said with a smile.
We burst into laughter.
The only hotel in Mayhill was closed for the night. The owner opened his newly built workshop garage for us. I placed my back pack on the floor and looked around—the garage had three new walls, and a large piece of cloth on the forth side facing the main highway.
“Not bad! Right?” Jack’s voice startled me.
“Thank God for Mayhill!” I sighed.
“Thank God, indeed, we’re together and safe,” Cathy replied smiling. Jack opened the two sleeping bags he brought— one for them and the other, for Omar and me.
I placed ours on one side of the garage. Omar came near, raised his eyebrows, “You expect me to sleep on the floor?” he asked.
“We have to. There’s no other option.” I said softly. I felt guilty for bringing him against his wishes.
A single ray of sunlight touched my eyes as I came out of the garage early next morning. I crossed the road and stood on the other side—moments passed by. The sun rose up from behind the Sacramento Mountains and brushed their peaks with soft, morning strokes. I took a deep breath; fresh air filled my lungs. In contrast to last night’s silence, the air was filled with chirping of various birds. I looked around—a valley connected Mayhill and the opposite side. The evergreen pines and willows swathed a deep green carpet over the mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. Wild yellow flowers accessorized the valley.
For the first time in my life, I stood among mountains.
I couldn’t wait and began walking.
A shiver of freedom ran through my body. I did not feel this way in a long time…
“Don’t go too far,” Cathy’s voice surprised me.
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I shouted back smiling and continued walking through the valley. Two hanging honey containers on the front porch of two small cafes caught my attention. I stood there, dumbfounded, when I saw for the first time: the humming birds. They were enjoying honey with their straw like beaks, and at the same time moving their wings fast. I read about them, their eggs are small enough to fit a few in a tea-spoon.
As I walked down the slopes, I heard a soft sound. Is that what I think it is? I walked farther. I never saw waterfalls or brooks in Bangladesh; they mostly flow outside of the country. This was my chance to see a brook and I wouldn’t miss it. I continued my walk in search of last night’s companion.
I approached it, its surface reflecting the morning sun almost blinded my eyes. It was a wide creek: its soft murmuring was melody to my ears. I touched the water. “Thank you for giving me comfort last night,” I whispered, my fingers trembled. Its wild weed shimmered in the water—if only I could stay there forever unchained in the wilderness of New Mexico.
Raised in conservative Bangladeshi society, Shoilee SA White was driven into an early marriage. Her manuscript is about the salvation she found in America’s wilderness away from her unhappy married life.Currently, she is a graduate student at the University of South Florida, Tampa, FL.
Her writing has been published in numerous academic papers, in University’s newspaper, and in Bangladesh magazines.
* * *
The Old Man We Saw On Bourbon Street
By Lee Wright
If he drinks enough, he can remember the way things used to look: The smooth gray stones, tight and even, rising above her little courtyard garden, the shallow pools sparkling in the light of the iron-faced lamps, the neat double rows of daffodils that skirted the meandering cobblestone path, the wooden swing moving gently back and forth in the still summer air.
If he closes his eyes, she's there on the wall, her arms extended, fingers splayed. Her bare feet move: Toe-to-heel, toe-to-heel, along the crest of the garden wall. He stands in the garden, arms tense, legs tight, as if he could actually catch her should she fall. She laughs and the Spanish moss shudders in the old oaks behind him. The night clings to them the way it always does.
If he drinks enough, he can remember that he once tried to forget. So I toss him whatever change I have in my pocket—a dollar, maybe. He nods and puts it in the old felt hat at his side then goes back to staring at the crumbling wall behind the sagging house.
As we walk away, she takes my hand and tells me she wants to go home. Not to our apartment, but home.
The night clings to us the way it always does.
Lee Wright is a fat, surly, bald man who lives with his beautiful wife (who is only a little surly) and son (who is not at all surly and has made his parents considerably less surly) near Chattanooga, Tennessee.
* * *
Poems by Maggie Apple
The Secret of the Secret Garden
of little ruby wings
of stout little legs
a stone wall
this little robin sits:
surveyer of his keep-
kept so guarded.
and the seasons
are permitted to pass through
by order of
never more than a nod
or a wink-
so as to keep
the robin thinking
of it as
his secret garden.
I once gave you a book.
I had found it in a yard sale,
Gently used binding,
In good shape for a paperback,
And I remember how
My cheeks had burned,
thinking how perfect it was
I remember how
my heart had raced
as you tore back the wrapping paper
from its cover.
And for the rest of the evening
like we shared a secret.
Just the other day I
was coming over to see your new
plasma screen tv
And as we sat,
there in the game room,
something caught my eye.
And there it was
the leg of a card table
used as leverage
to fix a wobbly annoyance
And on the spine,
You're no friend of mine.
Maggie Apple is a freshman at Appalachian State University and has been writing since childhood. She has had poetry previously published by Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and Teen Ink and is currently pursuing writing as a career for the future. Her interests in writing include children's books, poetry, and music lyrics.
* * *
Poems by Robert Demaree
Click Here to See All My Reviews
We are beyond a hierarchy of opinion.
I used to pay attention to the Triple-A
Or the paper’s restaurant critic,
But now everyone reviews everything,
One person’s judgment no better than another’s.
And not just books and music:
Dentists, vacuum cleaners, family therapists,
Plumbers and professors:
The receptionist was rude to me.
So if we can leave condolences online,
How long until we assess
The life of the departed,
With one to five stars,
Tiny box for comments,
Saving St. Peter the trouble:
This review was helpful to no one.
Returning From New England
Back in the South:
Crape myrtle in bloom,
Not ready for consumption,
In gas station
Raking pine straw off the cottage roof
After a mild winter:
I scrape away the dry needles on top
To find a dark dampness
Settled in the seam
Where the roof line shifts
Over our new addition,
And I see thin blades of something green
Growing there, in a bedding
Sealed by asphalt shingles,
An amazing, tenuous life.
But then I think of other organisms,
Army kids, migrant workers,
Who make do with what roots they have,
Eight schools in eight years,
As once IBM families, Methodist clergy,
Awaiting always the prongs
Of an intruder’s rake.
Did we do wrong
To buy a Tandy computer
Or a Beta-format VCR?
They seemed to work well
At the time,
But, seldom talked of since,
Left hints of poor judgment,
The sorrow of Linda Loman’s
And, unlike the Edsel,
No collectible market,
Not the sort of thing you bring
To the Antiques Roadshow,
Where the people who’ve been taken
By thinking they had taken
Robert Demaree, a retired educator, is the author of four collections of poems, including Mileposts (2009), published by Beech River Books. He has had over 550 poems published in 125 periodicals.
* * *
By Terry Foote
I have hurt you
But I’ve been true to myself
You are on your way up
I’m making my way down
Two doesn’t equal one
The math isn’t right
Blood spills without harm
Togetherness and forgiveness
Twins that don’t get along
With a for sale sign
Looking in the same direction
Viewing different images
Hearts still beat
Souls take flight
Terry Foote lives in Park Forest, IL with his wife Pat. His father ignited his passion for poetry and his work as a nurse inspires him to create. Terry's poetry has been published in numerous journals. Terry enjoys home brewing and wine making and being spiritually renewed by nature.
* * *
Poems by Billy Harfosh
At the scorpion table
Writing the world away
Trying to play the game
This is ruthless testimony
I give in
To those that rule the land
Once upon a time
A colorful bird was revealed
She sang from the higher branch
Sweet something in my ear
Every morning rejoice
Praise the colorful bird
Day after morning
A little softer
Thank you-for showing me the way
I am numb to your reality
Fixed on your goals
Scoreboard always in your favor
I will fight on
I will fight
I know you listen
As I waste away
Watching me burn some time
As the fat one
Serves another heap
Of poisonous hospital food
This is Me
I perk right up
When she comes around
All of a sudden
My shirt is pressed
My teeth are white
My shoes are polished
My posture firm
My smile big and bold
She never fails
To impress me
She never fails
To amaze me
and I try
To be fake me
and I try
To look my best
and I try
To be on my best behavior
I never let her see me drunk
I never let her see me down
But that is me
That is me
She’s too good
I’m not brave enough to show my dark colors
My inner demons
She loves me
The fake me
Then, in a flash
The others come out to play
I cannot control
When they come around
She sees my Lucifer
She’s too good
and now I’m too brave
I perk right up
When she comes around
All of a sudden
My dark colors are exposed
I push her away
Because she is too good
and I push her away
Because she is too close
This is me
This is me
Billy Harfosh currently lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He is originally from Syracuse, New York. Billy was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1985 during the Lebanese civil war. He was adopted when he was 2 months old and moved to the United States. For the last year Billy has been writing in Southeast Asia. He continues to learn and grow from his surroundings. You can find his latest work published in Ardent! Poetry Journal and Bewildering Stories Magazine. He is currently working on his first collection of poems. Billy has no children no responsibilities and 1 suitcase, he hopes to keep it that way.
* * *
Poem by Kelly Hitchcock
Today I walked by the bar we used to frequent
Every weekend and pre-weekend.
I peered through the vacant film that coated
The windows that used to advertise
Mickey’s grenades in bright green neon
And saw the wavy walls, lined from floor to ceiling
With the empty Jager bottles we drank with
Your friends, now occupied by spiders
Hiding behind the peeling labels, yellowed
By age and cigarette smoke.
The drink ledge I used to sit on
To better see the irreverent-yet-catchy
Cover band that played every Friday and Saturday night
While you sympathy-flirted with the damaged coeds
Was warped by years of inattention and water damage.
The only thing more faded than the once-blood red sign
Above the boarded-up green door
Is any feeling I might have ever had for you.
Kelly Hitchcock has been featured in Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Clackamas Literary Review, and Line Zero, as well as various online anthologies and independent magazines. You can learn more here.
* * *
Poems by Lori Lamothe
Day’s vermilion symphony is over.
The only evidence of red a trace
of sunset kiss smeared across sky.
Now night takes the stage, raises its baton.
Darkness brings its hands down onto silence,
plays scales of wind and stars.
The moon knows wolf songs--
can sew luminous buttons onto ordinary,
raise the dead from time-clocks,
but for this performance
she hides behind a veil of leaves,
a tree’s branched fan.
Now night unrolls a carpet of whispers.
The ship of my mind drifts on its lullaby seas
dreaming blue languages.
Touch a match to language
and watch the sentences flame
then curl into ash.
Fire’s a different animal than water.
Its tracks glow in the dark,
bloom sparks across emptiness,
leaving a trail that will take you
straight to fear’s cave.
Does night deliver my letters?
On the other side of distance
are you still awake, keeping vigil
under sleep's inverted teacup?
Open your palms. Fragments
of light and sound spiral down--
brand your lifelines
with rubies and red boots,
bitter apples and velvet lipstick
kisses, flagrant roses.
Crimson’s bright hair
unravels from an open window,
falls all the way
to the bottom of silence.
On the other side of distance
I wrap my words in an azure sweater,
burn a forgotten calligraphy of love
onto sky's blank slate.
Inventory at the Insomniac Café
From the back seat, your heart won’t shut up--
wants to know how much longer long it will be
before you reach red’s velvet cupcake couch
but you pull off to the side of spectrum anyway.
The waitress behind the counter
is folding napkins into origami snowflakes
and the menu
has been rinsed in sealight so many times
its shell echoes a choreography of blue.
Gaze into blue’s plate and see all the way to the bottom
of feeling—Versailles’ mirrored hall of memory,
ballroom of excess papered in extravagance.
Let them eat sky. Blue swath of distance, bolts of horizon,
ghosts rising out of fallen lives, or the dragonfly
shimmer of infinity’s turntable circling
one more ride on the ferris wheel of seasons.
Blue of oceans of unread books and imagination
unlocked from ice. Blue of broken glass, of interrupted
sleep, of so many lives drowned in sadness. Blue
of unreal roses and superfluous paperweights,
socks and baseball caps, letters sent
to the wrong address. Blue of intentions
nailed to fear’s pale wall. Of neon superstores
stocked to the brim with wanting,
of untranslatable gestures
and always the question in your eyes.
Van Gogh painted blue and set madness out to dry.
El Greco washed spirit with immensity. Vermeer
wrapped its scarf around and around the face of innocence.
In a far corner, two women are picking blueberries
off an unaccompanied branch of cello.
The moon spills
waterfalls of mood over their silver pails
as the universe
opens its indigo fan.
Plotting Exercise A
Wind braiding invisible
through October’s red-gold hair;
awkward at the bus stop;
popularity’s candied apple.
Ghosts dissolve on whiteboard.
Star-cluttered night becomes setting.
Ophelia’s floating hair
freezes under scrutiny.
A word frees itself from a transparency,
performs luminous acrobatics
in a blind-darkened room.
Grafitti on desks rebels.
Legions of origami secrets
flutter toward blue.
Escape flattens itself against glass.
The bell rings in routine.
Awkward in the parking lot;
payday’s candied apple;
wind braiding invisible
through October’s red-gold hair.
Arachne to Venus
I wasn’t like you. Whenever I tried to weave
love into something whole, I made a mess of it.
For years I clothed my demeanor
in brilliant, but the only shade that ever
felt right was black. Say I let him
take me to sky inside cerulean sheets.
The next morning it was always the same:
lukewarm weather, refrain of a cliche
skipping across the back of a shopping list.
On t.v., stocks always seemed to be falling
or maybe a star’s lips would shine
with lipstick made from fish scales.
Enough of that, and anybody would
start wearing red bracelets on both wrists,
braid her hair with ravens. One night
I opened my eyes and saw indelible
perched on the edge of the bed, licking its chops.
The next day I adopted all the stray looms
I could find, spent a month’s moonlight
winding skeins of images.
Across my kitchen table: raw silk of work,
amber warp, beauty’s flying shuttle.
Lori Lamothe's poems have appeared in 42opus, Avatar Review, Fogged Clarity, Goblin Fruit, The Nervous Breakdown, Seattle Review and other magazines. She is a mentor for The Afghan Women's Writing Project and teaches part-time at Quinsigamond Community College. She lives in New England with her daughter and a Siberian husky who likes to chew linoleum.
* * *
By Stephen Massimilla
This house you can see through
from one garden to another, forgotten
if not to yourself, ceilings undetectable
as air over wide oak floorboards,
Mongolian carpets. This house
you can see through, inhabited
by no wind that heightens and dies
at your feet, just the horizon that cuts
straight through. You’re not touched
by a small hand near the small
of your back, a few starry tops of frost
on the glass where a child
once pressed fingers through his slow,
important breathing. Roof breathes back
without a creak. Thought of ice
continues to accumulate. You pause
at the table set with vodka to be drunk
among whispers. You’ve been waiting
so long for an unexpected guest that these rooms
crossed every night are almost too invisible
to trouble you. Your noiseless eye
is a mouth seeing the glass as a river
in which your face falls
away. You might almost see through
to the place where the light in dreams
comes from, past the Japanese maples
brooding through a gap in the landing,
viewed from where the child slowly turned,
his life on the window.
Stephen Massimilla is a poet, critic, professor, and painter. His collection The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat is forthcoming from Stephen F. Austin State University Press as a contest winner. His volume Forty Floors from Yesterday (Bordighera, 2002) won the Bordighera Poetry Prize; his sonnet sequence Later on Aiaia (2001) won the Grolier Prize; Almost a Second Thought was runner-up for the Salmon-Run National Poetry Book Award judged by X.J. Kennedy. Massimilla also received a Van Renssalaer Award judged by Kenneth Koch, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and two Pushcart nominations. He has recent work in AGNI, Atlanta Review, Barrow Street, The Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Provincetown Arts, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. He teaches at Columbia University and the New School.
* * *
Poems by William Miller
Twice a month
a tourist crashes
into one, topples
the black cab
and leaves its horse
dead in the road
TV news predicts
the plain folk
will soon flee,
and barns built
lit by oil light,
is read nightly
and their rule
of life recited.
But they persist,
ignore the faces
of city gawkers
safe behind steel doors.
risk the loud, sudden
crash, even death,
as if the drivers
drove to save
their children’s souls.
The Lost Kids of New Orleans
Inked, pierced, dressed
in tie-dye rags, they walk
the old brick streets
Some play a beat-up
guitar for spare change
even play in the rain.
Others dance in
when no music is playing,
the gray flagstones.
They all have a story:
parents who kicked
them out for refusing
to work, stay in school,
mine caves in Afghanistan.
At sundown, they sit
by the river, huddle
in groups of twos
and threes smoking
a glass pipe for residue.
And they sing, laugh
crazily while the moon
slowly rises on them,
rises until they fall
asleep in each other’s
dirty arms, not lost
Hunter Thompson in Hell
A three-bedroom house,
a wife, 2.2 kids,
a job that would bore
A couple of beers
on Saturday night,
church on Sunday,
sex once a month.
And cookouts on
the fourth, lame fireworks
and a flag flying
from every porch.
Not one person willing,
even willing to dream
of driving all night
through the desert,
driving with a trunk
filled with LSD
plenty of dynamite,
enough to explode
the American dream.
Hearse for Sale
Up and down the main street
of Dover someone is driving
a green hearse with tinted windows.
It goes for a modest price,
a phone number written large
with a black magic marker.
The hearse rolls by slowly,
as if a body were still inside,
a coffin for a fresh grave.
But the sun sets on this
strange sight, the driver turning
off the square for the next small town.
Who, if anyone, will pay to own it?
Maybe it will be sold for parts,
vanish into the bodies and engines
of cars driven to lifelong jobs.
Maybe in some home garage,
it will be rebuilt to outrun anything
on the open road, death itself.
What happened to
the poor beast?
Did he slowly
starve to death,
still barking at bells
that never brought
a dish of food?
Or did they feed him
just enough to keep
him alive, prove
Maybe he escaped.
There were city streets,
garbage cans to
eat from, until he
he was forgotten,
a permanent stray.
And maybe he lived
long enough to
ignore the sound
of any bell,
church or streetcar,
saliva never dripping
from his tongue.
He snarled when anyone
came near, tried to
lure him into a
van with other
All cages were
all masters quick
to tame and teach
amaze their friends.
William Miller is the author of five books of poetry, twelve books for children and a mystery novel. His work has been accepted by The Southern Review, The South Carolina Review, Prairie Schooner and Shenandoah.
* * *
Poem by Perry L. Powell
The women in my family live a long time
but the men die young.
So I'd best get on with it:
with finding the next big thing,
the thing I would be known for,
the words I have waited to hear me say…
Of course the day intervenes:
boxcars along the highway,
where the sun spent the night,
that first breast felt in the woods,
all the various reasons to be
It's like pulling thread from a cocoon,
winding it round and round a spindle.
After I have paid for my monthly parking,
I will tell you again about
the stop sign in the middle of the ocean.
Perry L. Powell, who lives with his wife in College Park, Georgia and works as a systems analyst, has had work that appeared in The Foliate Oak, Quantum Poetry Magazine, The Lyric, Indigo Rising, The Camel Saloon, Lucid Rhythms, A Hundred Gourds, Prune Juice and Haiku Presence.
* * *
Poems by Sy Roth
Damn fingers want to make music…
too set in their lumbering, clumsy ways
to find the strings
to make the chords hum instead of buzz.
Want to find the way into the music
Without learning the root causes for the sounds
That make rhythms,
Pleasant dancing rhythms.
unsure of its own destiny.
Or perhaps, it’s the damn ears?
Red and Blue Cowboy Boots
A neighbor passed today on his way to non-being.
A casual traveler basking once in the silky sun of existence.
Cells once nourished became his bete noir.
They consumed him in a gulp.
Not knowing him well,
Hardly a blip on his radar screen.
For a nanosecond at a community gathering
He acknowledged my existence.
And I his.
We talked of boots,
Walking, y’all, cowboy boots,
Boots with power, the shit-kicking kind.
And the cowboy hat that I was wearing.
Because he could strut no more,
His wheel chair holding him in thrall,
He gifted his red, gray shitkickers to me.
But I did not strut in them
I tossed them to the bottom of my closet
Among forgotten, mismatched socks and underwear.
Now that he is no more,
I sought them out.
A life memo.
I tested them.
Wrapped my feet in them.
Stood like the Colossus of Rhodes arms akimbo
And strutted across my bedroom in them
Il Duce, chin stuck in the air sucking in life,
I sashayed to the mirror.
Agape, a mortal stared back.
My neighbor would have smiled.
Sy Roth is a retired school administrator and has finally found the sounds of silence and the time to think whole thoughts. This has led him to find words and the ability to shape them. He has published in Visceral Uterus, Amulet, BlogNostics, Every Day Poets and The Eloquent Atheist. Recently, he won a poetry contest sponsored by Newsday.
* * *
By Steven Tomlins
Updating your Information
A temporary worker for National Elections stopped by your dwelling while you were out, hopefully at a job, in order to update our voters list. Obviously you were not home, so we left this little card for you. We stuffed it into a crack in your door. If it fell out and you found it on the ground we sincerely apologize but we take no liability. We put a lot of work into making this card, and they are not cheap, so we would appreciate you reading the whole thing before throwing it out (we urge you to recycle).
The main purpose of this card is to let you know that it is not too late for you to update your information for our National Voters List. If you don’t want to vote don’t worry about it, votes from people not passionate enough to vote of their own accord without a carrot or a stick would only dilute the results, especially if you are a total ignoramus when it comes to politics. If you do want to vote and you need to update your information please do one of the following:
Stop in at our office (feel free to chat about anything while you are there, we are way overstaffed)
Go to the advance polling station (you might as well vote while you’re there before you change your mind, besides, you might end up sick or hung-over on voting day)
Go to your local voting location just as you normally would (you can still vote as usual, so really the other options are a waste of time)
Please bring proof of address (such as a Driver’s License, or a bill from a beer delivery service) and proof of identity (such as a Driver’s License, or a membership card for an Adult Movie Warehouse).