Foliate Oak September 2018

Fiction

The Night of the Goddess
By Sandra Arnold 

Beth was taking notes under the shade of a banana tree while Marcia explained the process of making pamonhas. As I approached the cooking area the acrid smell of pigshit wafted up from the pigsty on a wave of hot air. Marcia shooed a squawking chicken away from her feet, shoved another log under the woodstove and flicked her hand at the thick, black clot of flies crawling over the dish of boiled corn and pork fat.

“If I get an A for this it’ll be yours,” said Beth, in not-too-bad Portuguese.

Marcia grinned, showing a gap where her front teeth were missing. “Why would anyone in your country want to know how I make pamonhas?”

“It’s for Correspondence School,” said Beth. “I have to write about a local product. I went to a few shops in town that sold pamonhas, but they wouldn’t tell me how they made them.”

“They were probably scared you would use their recipe and set up shop for yourself,” laughed Marcia. “Now if you want to write about something interesting I’ll take you to the Festa de Iemanja tonight. We can easily walk to the lake from here.”

“That’d be cool, wouldn’t it mum?” said Beth, still in Portuguese.

I nodded, turning my head to hide my pleasure that she found it natural to talk in this language that she’d initially been so resistant to learning.

Marcia scooped up a spoonful of the yellow mixture to pour inside an envelope of corn leaves which she fastened up with string and threw into a pot of boiling water. Plucking a corn leaf envelope from another pan she cut it open with a pair of scissors, put it on a plate, handed it to Beth with a fork then proceeded to prepare one for me. Beth paled slightly, but she ate it without comment. Marcia wiped her hands on her faded cotton dress.  Three small girls, their bare feet stained red from the earth ran in to the kitchen and clung to her legs laughing. She gave them a pamonha each then shooed them outside along with the piglet that was following them.

“Where’s your father?” I asked Beth.

“Out with Antonio looking for snakes. They lost a calf yesterday from snake-bite,” she said. “They even took Ricardo with them so it can’t be as lethal out there as you seem to think!”

“Ricardo is used to this terrain, you’re not.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh mum! You’d have to stand on a snake before it attacked you. That’s why the calf got bitten. They don’t just come charging after you for no reason. It’d be so cool to see a snake!” She explained to Marcia that we had no snakes in New Zealand.

Marcia looked incredulous and began to tell us snake stories of her childhood.  “One day I’d been swimming naked and I ran to the toilet because I had diarrhoea. From the corner of my eye I saw lots of lines on the ground headed in the direction I was going, but I was so worried that I wasn’t going to make it to the toilet in time that I took no notice. Then I got there and opened the door and...” Her hands sprang open at the memory. “... the place was on the point of  bursting with snakes. They were hanging down from the ceiling. They covered the floor. They were even coiled around the loose planks on the walls. I forgot the diarrhoea and ran all the way back to the house hollering my head off. I wanted my mother, but the house was full of people because my uncle had just died and everybody had come to pay their respects. They stood around his coffin, staring at me with their eyes on stalks, their mouths wide open as I ran naked and screaming through the house!”

As Marcia and Beth bent double, shrieking with laughter, I shuddered, unable to extract a shred of humour from the story. When Marcia subsided a little I asked her if they kept antidotes on the farm. Wiping tears from her eyes she shook her head. “No, no, they’re too expensive.”

“But you let Ricardo go snake-hunting?”

She shrugged. "This is his life. He has to learn how to deal with it.”

Beth gazed at the row of little T-shirts drying on the length of barbed wire that stretched from the kitchen to the pigsty. “Why do you stay here, Marcia?”

“Where else should I go?” she responded. “This is my home. There is even a bus that takes Ricardo to school. I had only one year of school and my husband has never been to school.  All my children are healthy here, even though three out of the four are girls.” She glanced at me. “And Antonio and me, we’re trying to make another son. That will be my request to Iemanja tonight.” She looked at Beth and back at me again. “It’s good for a girl to have brothers.”

Before I could reply Beth jumped up from her seat.  “Look who’s here!”

I turned, grateful for the diversion to see a cloud of red dust rising above the guava trees. Two vehicles appeared on the dirt road to the farmhouse. Neber, the owner of the farm, got out of the first car with his son Fabricio. His wife, Fernanda, got out of the second with four of her nephews. They lived in another city and only came here at weekends. Antonio managed the place the rest of the week.  Fernanda said something to the boys and they all came to shake our hands. They then stood in a line and kissed Beth on both cheeks. Fernanda came over to hug me and said, “Can you believe that? I told them New Zealanders don’t greet each other with a kiss and that Beth would be embarrassed, but look at them! They’re exaggerating it!”

Beth’s face was scarlet. The boys spoke to her in English and offered to drive her in the tractor to show her the waterfall and go for a swim.

“Maybe later,” I intervened, “then we can all go together. The river down there is pretty rough.”

Beth glared at me and Fabricio reassured, “Is no problem. I swim in the river all my life. Is safe.”

He and Beth ran off towards the tractor shed.

Fernanda touched my arm. “Don’t worry. They’ll look after her. They’ll be like her brothers.”

Fabricio reappeared at the wheel of an ancient tractor to which the boys attached a rickety wooden cart. They jumped in, pulling Beth with them.

“You want to drive, Beth?” yelled Fabricio above the noise of the engine. “I show you.”

“She can’t...” I began as Beth clambered into the driver’s seat. The tractor zig-zagged across the track, belching smoke and dust. Fernanda and Marcia nodded their approval.

“She doesn’t have a licence,” I said, but no one was listening.

We got out of Fernanda’s car and stood on the hill looking at the waterfall boiling over the rocks. Two of the boys were already under it and two others were splashing in the pool further down.  Beth was watching Fabricio swinging across the river on the end of a rope. When he landed he hurled the rope back to her.  She grabbed it and launched herself across the churning white water. Fabricio caught her on the opposite bank. Their laughter bounced off the rocks. The sun slid through the thick canopy of leaves and fell in slices of green light onto the river. The empty rope dangled from its branch. I crossed my arms over my shoulders, hugging myself, shivering.

A large blue butterfly fluttered around Fernanda’s head. She smiled at me. “There, now you can see they are safe. They’re having fun. Let’s leave them alone. They’ll be back when they’re hungry.”

“The butterflies here are so beautiful,” I murmured, to divert her scrutiny of my face. “In New Zealand we have only thirteen species, although apparently we used to have forty.”

She nodded. “Every time I come here, or go to some special natural place, I feel that I am an intruder, so I ask the spirits who guard the place for their permission to be present. When a blue butterfly appears and flies around me I know permission has been given.”

After a moment’s pause I asked if she was going to the festa.

“No,” she said, “I don’t like Umbanda. I’m a Catholic.”

“But you talk about nature spirits.”

She laughed. “You would have to be Brazilian to understand.”

 
A full moon hung over the lake.  Hundreds of chanting women in hooped white lacy dresses and men in white tunics stood their lighted candles in the sand at the water’s edge. Two men lifted the statue of the black Goddess from her litter and placed her in a small boat filled with flowers and burning candles. The image was clothed in blue and white robes like the Virgin Mary, but with voluptuous breasts and opulent hair. As she was towed around the lake groups of women and girls launched little paper boats filled with flowers and cosmetics.

“If the boats sink,” explained Marcia, “it means Iemanja has accepted their gifts and will grant their requests.”
The night filled with the sound of drumming; low, throbbing, hypnotic. People began dancing to the rhythm. I looked around anxiously for Beth. Two people near me began jerking their limbs. A group of elderly women gathered around them and hung beads and flowers around their necks and guided their steps. From time to time they fell to the ground, but were helped up to continue their dance. When the music stopped they stood still, swaying from side to side. Their faces were vacant, like the faces of the dead.

I shivered and Marcia put her arm around me. “It means the saint has descended,” she explained. “That’s good. They will be filled with the energy of their saint.” She took my hand and guided me through the mass of dancers to the edge of the lake.

“Now I will make my request to Iemanja.” She bent down and sent her boat of flowers out onto the water. It bobbed on the surface for a moment until the paper became saturated, then keeled over on its side and slipped beneath the surface. Marcia clapped her hands together and laughed aloud. “That means she has agreed to send me a son to replace Lucio.”

“Lucio?”

“My firstborn. He died a year ago.”

I drew in a sharp breath. “I had no idea.”

She touched my arm. “Beth asked me not to tell you. He was bitten by a snake.”

“Couldn’t you get him to a hospital in time?”

She shook her head. “When we found him he was already dead, bleeding from his eyes.”

We stood in silence on the sand, watching garlands of flowers floating on the lake. The cool water slapped over my bare feet.  My nostrils filled with the smell of cooking fish, my ears with drumming and singing and laughter. I searched for words, but there were none.

A group of young girls approached us, so intent on their dancing they didn’t see us and one of them fell against me, knocking me off balance and pitching me forward onto the sharp pebbles at the water’s edge. A jagged pain stung my knees and the palms of my hands. The girls helped me up, the one who pushed me apologising profusely, her face stricken. She took her garland of white orchids from around her neck and thrust it into my hands. I called after her to tell her it was okay, she needn’t part with her flowers, but she was already gone. A gap appeared where she had melted into the crowd and I thought I saw Beth dancing with Fabricio. The gap closed again so quickly I wondered if I’d imagined it. I looked at the flowers I was holding and saw they were smeared with blood from my torn hands.

Marcia tut-tutted. “Those clumsy girls! Look what they’ve done!” With her hand under my elbow she led me into the lake until we were wading knee-deep. “Put your hands in the water.”

“Marcia, it doesn’t matter...” I began, looking around for Beth in the mass of dancers.

She took my hands. “This is her life. Let her live it.”

Then she bent down and cupped her own hands in the lake, letting the water trickle from them over my bleeding palms. She did this until all the blood was washed away. The garland of flowers slipped from my fingers. It drifted on the water until the flowers separated and floated out of sight.

Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. Her short stories and flash fiction have been published in numerous journals. She is a 2018 Pushcart Prize and 2017 and 2018 Best Small Fictions nominee. In 2019 her novel 'Ash' will be published by Makaro Press (NZ) and her flash fiction collection 'Soul Etchings' by Retreat West Books (UK). www.sandraarnold.co.nz

* * * 

Brave Enough
By William Falo
 
​​A single bat flew overhead darting between the lighted towers of the double ferris wheel and the flag poles of the bobsled ride. I watched it disappear past the beer garden. Along with the bats other creatures came out at night.
 
I took money from all of them. It didn’t matter if they were drunk, straight, or anything in between.
 
“Hey, I hit that stack of blocks straight on and they didn’t fall off.”
 
“No stuffed animal for you then.” I took his money.
 
“My girlfriend wants one of those stuffed giraffes.” He pointed at the line of them hanging above my head.
 
“You have to win one.”
 
“Listen girl. Just because your life sucks doesn’t mean you have to be rude. I’ll give
you ten bucks for one of them”
 
“Who said my life sucks?” I clenched my fists. What did he know about me? But it hit me hard. It would be worse later.
 
“How about it?”
 
“No. You have to win one.”
 
“Fuck you.” He walked away. A girl followed him. She looked up at the giraffes while she walked by. I put my hand up and stepped on a lever under the stand.
 
I hopped over the board and picked up the ball and threw it at the blocks. It was a direct hit and all the blocks flew off their stand.
 
The guy glared at me then gave me the finger. “You’re a freak.” He pointed at me.
 
“It’s rigged.” I heard him tell the girl. “Rigged.” He yelled it louder. A few people looked at me.
 
Just because the carnival was situated across from a church and a religious festival was taking place all week didn’t mean I couldn’t make money.
 
I watched families walk by often laughing and sharing food or stories about their day. A lump formed in my stomach. I never knew that joy. I never found it. I always was part of the carnival.
 
They said my parents died when I was three years old. I was on my own most of my life.
A man walked up. He looked to be in his twenties. I should be guessing peoples weight and age, but one of the owner’s relatives does that for money and he just sits there all night without moving. I would have been better then him at it.
 
I could tell the man who approached the stand was lost and upset. I might have let him
win, but he made no effort to play.
 
“How do I get a job with the carnival?”
 
I laughed so hard my stomach hurt.
 
“What’s so funny? You work for the carnival.”
 
“It wasn’t my career choice.” The laughter faded away.
 
“Are you a grifter?’
 
I stepped back. “Where did you learn that term?”
 
“I read a lot.”
 
“I don’t rip people off.” I lied.
 
A moment of silence lingered before he spoke again. The sounds I became used to filled the air.
The screams of children on the rides, the ring of the bell on the strongman game, a ticket seller from the church selling fifty-fifty tickets drowned out by the loudspeaker announcing the side show filled with oddities from all around the world. A few motorcycles revved up and readied to enter a caged dome. True daredevils.
 
“I need a job.”
 
“They aren’t hiring.”
 
“I can do anything. Who do I talk to about it?”
 
“You’re talking to the right person.” I lied again.
 
“Please, I want to join the circus.”
 
“You can’t just join like that. This isn’t the old days. Believe it or not you need to fill out an application and they do check you out.”
 
“That’s not what I heard.”
 
“You heard wrong. What are you running from?”
 
He looked around. “I have some secrets that a few guys found out about. They bully me all the time.”
 
“Parents?” Age and weight I could guess, but not secrets. They are too complicated and I was too angry at everyone most of the time.
 
He laughed.
 
I pointed at the church.
 
“Judgement.”
 
I nodded. “Damn.”
 
“Just let me leave with you tomorrow.”
 
Tomorrow was the last day. He looked so sad that a piece of me weakened.
 
“I’ll talk to the boss. What’s your name?”
 
“Cole Jenkins.”
 
“Okay. I’m Lexi. Meet me here tomorrow.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
 
“I didn’t do anything yet.”
 
He walked away looking over his shoulder while I set up another mark to lose his money.
 
That night a few other people stared at me and talked among themselves. I am not sure if my black eye shadow and dark clothes made them nervous or angry, but I glared back at them. I wanted to do more, but the thought of Cole being so scared made me think twice.
 
A girl with a young mother walked by and I saw how she stared at the stuffed giraffes.
 
“We can’t afford to play.”
 
The girl cried. I then did something that I never did before. I pulled down a giraffe and
handed it to her. The girl jumped up and down while the mother smiled at me. I nodded and walked away.
 
I later smoked a joint with the Gravitron ride operator named Jacques, better known as
Spinner. After he left, I cried and stared at the stars overhead. No family. People think I’m a freak. Sometimes it took a toll on me. The carnival kept a few dogs around and one named Toby found me. He sensed my distress and stayed by my side through the night.
          
###
 
A year later the carnival returned to the same religious festival and set up on a sweltering day that made you drip sweat. I never forgot about Cole Jenkins. His face came to me on the long drives, on the quiet nights after the carnival closed, and on the early mornings watching the sun come up over the double ferris wheel. I wanted to find out what happened to him and why he never came to the carnival again.
 
I started to ask people in the town and nobody seemed to know what happened to him. The dog Toby started following me around and I let him. I knew someone I could ask and the dog followed me into the church. Statues lined both walls and I couldn’t help myself from staring at the dollar bills stuck into buckets in front of each saint and the one of Jesus. My palms itched.
 
“No dogs allowed.” The priest yelled out from the altar.
 
“Okay.” I took Toby outside and leashed him to the stairs.
 
After going back inside the priest greeted me with a handshake.
 
“Father Joe.”
 
I didn’t give my name. “Did you know Cole Jenkins?”
“Right to the point. That’s a carnie for you.” He laughed to cover up any prejudicial undertones.
 
“We’ll?”
 
“I thought you might be here for confession or maybe you needed prayers.”
 
The man’s hair was disappearing while his stomach grew larger. I remember him from past years, but this was my first time inside the church.
 
“I gave up on them a long time ago. If you keep calling someone and they never answer you’re a fool. I’m no fool.”
 
He paused. I was sure he never heard such an abrupt response before.
 
“Cole Jenkins went missing after the last festival. Nobody has seen him since. In fact, a lot of people thought someone in the carnival might have killed him, but the police believed he committed suicide.”
 
I opened and closed my mouth like a fish out of water. The saints all stared at me waiting for a response. None came.
 
“Did you know him?”
 
I stepped back. Outside, Toby barked. The room shrank.
 
“You should have helped him.” I pointed at the priest and turned away.
 
“Wait.” Father Joe yelled, but I kept going until I was outside. I grabbed Toby’s leash
and took him back to the carnival.
 
Missing. Suicide. A pain I kept down for a long time threatened to come out. This is what
happened when you cared or got involved. I should have never asked about him.
 
The crowd grew larger and nosier. Toby slept by my feet despite the noise. The beer garden filled up as people flooded into the carnival. Opening night and closing night were always the busiest. With the crowd and the heat tensions grew and a few scuffles broke out. The police moved in quick when they were nearby.
 
Money rolled in and I didn’t let anyone win. If the church could collect all that money on phony statues I could take it in with a rigged game. Behind the back of my booth I heard a girl scream.
 
Nobody else could hear her with the music and rides going at full speed. I started to walk back, but stopped when I caught a glimpse of a familiar face.
 
Before I could see if it was Cole the crowd swallowed him up. The girl called out again. I saw two boys trying to lift up the girls dress. When they saw me they stopped.
 
“Go away.”
 
“No. Let her go.” I glared at them.
 
“We’re not keeping her here.”
 
She walked toward me. “Go to the police.”
 
The boys ran away. “Freak,” they yelled as they disappeared. The girl hugged me then left. She wasn’t going to go to the police.
 
When I got back to the game booth I saw a familiar face again. This one I didn’t want to see.
 
Father Joe stood in front of the stand. “I saw what you did back there. You’re a hero.”
 
“No, I’m not. They would have scared the marks away.”
 
He laughed.
 
“Listen, Father. I don’t have time for a sermon or prayers now.”
 
“I’m not here for that.”
 
“Why are you here then?”
 
“Are you brave enough to face the truth?”
 
“Maybe.”
 
“I looked for information on Cole Jenkins online and.”
 
I interrupted him. “I thought I saw him tonight.”
 
“Here?”
 
“Yes. No. Maybe.”
 
“I couldn’t find anything about him, but I did find something.”
 
“What?”
 
He pulled out a paper and held out to me.
I took it and stared at the picture on it. My hand began to shake. The face on the picture blurred.
 
“It can’t be.” It said Lexi was missing for over twenty years from this area.
 
“Does she look familiar?”
 
I didn’t answer him.
 
“I’m sorry to tell you that both of Lucy’s parents have since passed away. I can’t find any other family members. I don’t know if someone stole her or the parents gave.”
 
I interrupted him. “This says Lucy. I’m Lexi.”
 
“Okay. Do you know Lucy?”


“Yes.” I stared at the picture.  “I’m her.”
 
The ground beneath me vibrated. I didn’t know if it was from the roller coaster thundering across the track nearby or my legs getting weak. I sat on the ground next to Toby. He
licked my hand. My family was the carnival and all the workers. I kept staring at the picture until a tear dropped on it followed by others. The face on the picture distorted and eventually became unrecognizable. I dropped the picture and began to work the stand. Father Joe left, but I would talk to him again. The rides spun around while people yelled in glee. The roller coaster thundered on, the ground shook, the money flowed in, but something changed inside me.
 
I kept my eyes open. I looked closer. I needed to see clearly. Maybe I could find someone missing or lost before it was too late. I had to try, but I knew I was already home. The past didn’t matter. I had a family here. It wasn’t perfect, but I preferred it that way.

William Falo's stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Newfound, Cold Creek Review, Fictive Dream, Litro Magazine, and others.

* * *

Running Towards
By Amada Matei
 
The clouds are supposed to be white and full of cotton. Instead, they are gray and heavy. I double-tie my shoe laces and readjust the bib on my tank top. I read the numbers upside down – 2532. It’s a strange number. I was twenty-five when I married my husband and thirty-two when I called the police on him for the last time.
Fat raindrops splatter against my forehead and spills down my nose. The MC sits under the red awning, wishes us all good luck, and blares Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey on his turntable. A few hundred of us make peace in our own tiny space, take selfies, stretch our hamstrings, or jog in place.

A news helicopter circles high above, getting an aerial view; I imagine we resemble a pixelated version of Monet’s Water Lilies. The chopper’s rapping takes me back to the day when I was its passenger, laying on the gurney and being life flighted to the hospital.

I remember being in and out of consciousness and feeling the nurse’s warm fingers wrapped around my hand and her muffled voice consoling my trembling body.

All the runners scooted closer to the starting line in anticipation. The MC plays the Star-Spangled Banner and we all turn to face a guy standing on the podium to the left of us, holding a flag twice his size. I lip sync the words and goose bumps crawl up my spine as the athletes around me elongate the last few syllables. “Hooooooooome of the Braaaaaaaaave.”

I do feel brave today. We clap and high-five each other.

A miniature rocket blazes towards the sky, setting off a kaleidoscope of multihued pinwheels cascading down to earth. A POP stings my ear. The blast is the unforgettable remnant of a torched gun, much like the one my husband used on me six month ago. As lead entangles my flesh and bowels protrude through my skin, he stands over me, stoic and unapologetic.

The ringing permeates through my ears and I run. The group scuttles like cattle. Our pace lags until the crowd dissipates, and each one of us find our groove and some empty space. The spectators roar and display their placards of inspiration, written in chunky black magic marker. Children are jumping up and down and a pack of dogs on leases bark at the excitement.

My breath turns heavy and my lungs fill with air just as I inhale the wet breeze. The last time I ran through a downpour, I fled to get ahead of my husband who had fire in his eyes.

I could hear him cussing behind me, his insatiable appetite to pulverize every ounce of my remaining self-worth. He was an arms-length behind me. I know that today I am among friends, but his panting breath is still in my mind’s eye.

It drives me to run faster.

A few blocks later, in the distance, volunteers hold out cups of water, waiting for the runners to accept them like batons. I jog closer to them, panting but still alive. I smell BBQ chicken as I pass a blue house. I envision the swatch of a cast iron grid scorched into my shoulder from when he shoved me into his grill after our Fourth of July guests went home.

I take deep breaths and face the sky, allowing the raindrops to bounce off my forehead. I gaze forward again and grab a cup of water, chug it down, and fling the rubbish across the road, watching it land in a heap of white cups.

I read the placards as I run: “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!” Another says, “RUN WITH PURPOSE!” A third says, “TAKE JUST ONE MORE STEP!” I take the signs literally. My friend told me to run for my life at least a dozen times. My therapist suggested I take up running to heal my soul and run with purpose. And I tell myself everyday to take just one more step.

Beads of sweat and rain collide on every inch of exposed skin. In the near distance I see the end, a gathering crowd of supporters patting runners on their backs as they touch the magical threshold.

My thighs ache, but I decide it’s mind over matter – the pain no longer matters, so I don’t mind it. I am reinforced steel and the hurt is now on my terms.

As I cross the finish line, I raise my arms in triumph.

This is the second bravest thing I’ve done. The first is sending my husband to prison. I’ve stopped running away from fear and instead I’m running towards my life.

I caress my medal, enveloped in fake gold and silver, and I press it over my heart. I’ve earned a new super power – it’s the one that lets me live. 

Amada Matei lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio. By night, she supervises a child abuse hotline. By day, she is writing her first novel. She has previously published in Adelaide Literary Magazine.

* * * 
* * * ​​
Poetry

Authentically Anonymous
By Marianne Brems

In the time it takes to snap a twig,
your character disappears.
The airport doors,
and there are many,
gape
then swallow you whole
as you consult your watch
and search through artificial light
for check-in.
 
Cheerful ambassadors in uniforms
who mask fatigue with pasted smiles
glance at your ticket
checking for the text
that validates your existence
before they scribble in red
and wave you on to the next bottleneck.
 
Long lines.
Please Wait says the entry flap
that collides with your stomach.
Travelers hurry to empty their lives
into gray plastic rectangles
that resist separation.
Belts off,
shoes in a bin,
data filled laptops naked.
Dingy trays
touched by millions
rumble away
through rubber strips
into a dark tunnel
with most of what’s left of you.
Then re-emerge minus nail scissors
into the intrusive confusion
of reunification.
 
Authenticated by security,
only the numbers matter.
your gate number
your flight number
your boarding time number
your group number
your row number
 
Your exhausted mass
at last spills
into your numbered seat.
Endless layers all around
confine other masses,
necks crook’d,
eyes glazed, 
staring absently
at tiny glowing screens. 

Marianne Brems is a long time writer of textbooks in her teaching area of English as a Second Language, but also loves to write whimsical poems. Her poems have appeared in Door Is A Jar, Mused, Soft Cartel, The Pangolin Review, and Right Hand Pointing. She lives in Northern California.

* * * 

Beside the Sea
By Alzo David-West

she sits on the concrete-grey walkway
by the orange-black rusty boats
on the pebbled shore
 
bright blue lampposts with yellow orbs
recede behind her
her bicycle rests there
 
a black-green wall of quiet trees
hides the ancient-grey lighthouse
in the distance
 
a strip of rich blue sits on the horizon
between the grey-silver water
and the grey-silver clouds

Alzo David-West is a writer, poet, and academic. His creative writing appears in Abstract Magazine, Antimatter, Cha, Cultural Logic, Eastlit, Grief Diaries, K'in, Missing Slate, Offcourse, Star*Line, StepAway Magazine, Tower Journal, Transnational Literature, and 365 Tomorrows. He is also the editor of scifaiku and tanka translations in Silver Blade and Star*Line.

* * * 

The Mannequin
By Douglas Maxson

Staring in silence through prison glass,
Deafening sounds of the world outside.
A honking horn, a human voice,
Sometimes the small ones cry.

What’s it like to hear a voice,
To speak when spoken to.
The warmth of tears upon the cheeks,
Or hands so soft of memory.

Today a hand invades my silence,
A last effort to change my world.
A new cover wraps my soul,
A touch I will never know.

The world outside stops to view,
And I ask myself, Are they looking at me?

Some with noses pressed to the glass,
Others sounding words I do not know.
Just to speak or move all I wish,
For what I want is what they are.

Each day the same as passers gaze,
They stop, they stare, some within.
Within prison glass are many souls,
The souls remain, the cover gone.

It’s not the cover I so mourn,
With tailored threads and colors refined.
Nor staring through transparent worlds,
Watching time move on as I stand still.

I stare in silence through prison glass,
The sounds outside I long to hear.
No voice of mine, no warmth of tears,
My only world . . . Is the audience.

Douglas Maxson a retired construction worker, and member of West Michigan Word Weavers. He has four short story memoirs published in magazines, and presently  is working on a children's book.

* * * 

EL MICHOACANO or (The man from where Mexico was born)
By Jose Oseguera

Pictures were never his friends;
They never spoke well about
His face, on which wrinkles
Seesawed his cheekbones
Long before his hair turned--
Silver, ash, granite--
As white as shirts out of gramma’s
Soapy washboard and vat;
Which came back grimed with work
That wasn’t assigned to him at first
But yelled at to do.
 
He was the enemy of anything that made anyone laugh:
Quiet.
Grampa didn’t give his smiles just to anyone;
You really had to earn them.
 
As opposed to dad’s father--
Smacking me as the mere sight of me
Reminded him that he was old--
Mom’s dad didn’t care what we called him:
Abuelo, abuelito, abuelititito.
It didn’t matter;
He’d never let you know
Whether he was happy with you or not,
Or if he liked you because you were his kids’ kid,
Or because you kind of looked like him, but not really.
 
You could rest assured
In one of the six rooms of his solid brick,
Steel Rebar, concrete house--
An oven during the day,
An ice cube at night--
That it was all the same to him.
 
No one was special,
Not even he,
Often yelling in the early morning
For coming down with the hammer
On his finger or burning his calloused thumb
With a tortilla directly on a burner grate,
“The charcoal cleans your teeth,” he’d say
And crunch on a jalapeño whole.
 
Jesus’s stalking gaze, grampa's dad,
Hung black and white in the living room--
Eyes that never stopped staring at you
As rain clouds heavy with
Something they could never rain,
Their sadness still follows me today--
 
Daguerreotype-cast as evil
By classmates who refused to look
At the picture of the picture they passed
In a circle like a game of hot potato;
Afraid that it would devour their souls.
However, "he was pretty pleasant,"
Grampa told me, stroking his favorite
Bald patch on his head:
“Once you got to know him.”

Jose Oseguera is an LA-based writer of poetry, short fiction and literary nonfiction. Having grown up in a diverse urban environment, Jose has always been interested in the people and places around him, and the stories that each of these has to share; those that often go untold. His work has been featured in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Rigorous, Sky Island Journal, Jelly Bucket, OTHER. Magazine, The Piltdown Review, The Scene & Heard Journal, The Inquisitive Eater, and Authorship by The National Writers Association. 

* * * 

The Bricklayers' Commute in Palm Coast, Florida
By Morgan Plessner

They emerge from under the eaves of their conch houses,
blue-collared and complaining about the price of gasoline.
The heat immense –
veins protruding from the backs
of their hands, swollen fingers place
blackberries from punnets to their blue tongues,
while they walk to the scaffolding.
Too early in the day for the red-winged blackbirds
and the men walk the neighborhood
with the telephone wires quivering empty above.
The local butcher sits brown bagging
on the docks by the Matanzas river.
Its quarter past the work hour and the men
keep walking. The march to first shift
is the sweet spot and no one ever remarks
that they’ve gone too far.

Morgan Plessner has her B.A in English from the University of New Hampshire. She has won the Ann Pazo Mayberry Award in poetry and is currently working on her M.F.A at UNH. She has been published in Ink & Voices.

* * * 
Creative Nonfiction

#1 With a Mullet
By Katherine Sinback

Linda Sinclair had one.  Despite my sworn enemy status with this most popular of the popular girls, I wanted one too.  The layered bi-level.  The haircut of choice for Jennie Dean Middle School in 1984 when I entered seventh grade.  Short and feathered in the front, with wings swooping over the top of the earlobe, and between chin and shoulder length in back, preferably curled under.  For one year the preferred haircut of the redneck girls with their gigantic feathered key chains and the popular girls with their fake tans and shimmery lips merged: the layered bi-level, the mullet.
 
My mom took me to her hairdresser, Marlene, who smelled of bananas and perm solution.
 
“Layered bi-level,” I said, happy for once that my haircut had a name.  My first real haircut to break the mold of the little-girl do, long in back with a straight fringe of bangs in the front, that I’d worn since I was five.  I felt adult, sophisticated. 
 
Marlene swooped around the chair, sucking her lips.  “You really want layering all the way around?  It’ll take forever to grow out.”
 
My gut lurched.  “I want a layered bi-level,” I said, unprepared to pick apart this haircut of the junior high goddesses. 
 
I’d overheard Linda telling her friend the name of the haircut.  I already felt like I was transgressing the invisible barrier of the popular and the rest of us.  Like every other girl, I wanted to be Linda.  She wore an Esprit sweatshirt, and the next week the lunchroom was peppered with them in all colors, E-S-P riding up the front with R-I-T cascading down the back.  Her casual disdain for everything and everyone was legendary.  How I longed to disdain at her side. 
 
Marlene’s brow knit in concentration as she ran her fingers through my scraggly dirty blonde locks.  “I heard you the first time.  I don’t think you want all those layers.”
 
My mom looked up from the Southern Living magazine open on her lap.  “She’s right, honey.”
 
Linda Sinclair probably had her own stylist who didn’t kowtow to maternal demands.  Her stylist had spiky bleached hair and new wave makeup and was as bored as Linda was with this enterprise we call suburban life.
 
Marlene explained her plan for my hair.  Layering in front but not all the way to the ear and not around my entire head.  “You’ll thank me later,” Marlene said, snapping her gum. 
 
A little worried, I bravely stared into the mirror and watched my new haircut take shape.  Sitting in the chair always made me a little nervous.  The memory of my last haircut, a disastrous lopsided too-short cut that accentuated my chubby cheeks and my braces loomed large.  I’d spent much of that weekend sobbing in my room until my mother’s sympathies for the haircut misstep evaporated. 
 
“There are greater tragedies in the world!”  She yelled at me.  “Stop crying over a goddamn haircut!” 
 
Greater tragedies, yes.  But what of the tragedy of an overweight twelve-year-old with braces and glasses whose only redeeming quality was blonde hair?  What of that? 
 
In the salon, I leaned my head back into the shampoo basin.  The name of my haircut-to-be ticked through my mind—layered bi-level, layered bi-level—like an incantation to dispel the aura of the previous haircut. 
 
As chunks of hair fell away and Marlene worked at my layers, I allowed myself a fantasy of my layered bi-level life.  Linda would love it and welcome me as a sister.  The secrets of disdain for the petty world would be mine. On Monday, I’d wear my purple Esprit sweatshirt with the Calvin Klein jeans that turned my legs into sausages.   Linda had resisted the power of my wannabe clothes before, sniffing, “Cute sweatshirt.  I’ve never seen that before.”  But now with the haircut, I’d overpower her, blind her to the reality of my fat-braces-glasses self.  She didn’t know what she was up against.
 
This belief in the possibility that a haircut, a t-shirt, a watch—or rather a Swatch—can change your entire life is the beauty and tragedy of being thirteen.  Transformation lurks around every corner.  You never know where you’ll find the golden ticket to being popular or that one haircut that will suddenly accentuate your positive and eliminate your negative.
 
Marlene dried my hair, pulling the roller brush through my newly fashioned layers.  My bangs winged like they were born to fly.
 
“Your hair feathers really well,” she said, tucking her gum behind her teeth for a moment. 
 
I nodded, smiled at my layered bi-level.  I was no Linda but it was a definite improvement over the little girl haircut that plagued my first five months of junior high. 
 
The next Monday at school went as you’d expect.  No invitation into Linda’s world, just a smirk at my new do. 
 
“Hair Cuttery?” she said with raised eyebrow.  Her minions giggled.  Hair Cuttery was the hair equivalent of K-Mart.  I could have said, “No.  Charles Russell,” but I know talking back would only invite eye rolls and cut-downs, the tools of their trade.  Not like Charles Russell was anything but a chain with five dollars more class per haircut, but I was certainly above the Cuttery of my youth. 
 
And as advised on the shampoo bottle: Rinse and repeat.
 
This scenario replayed itself hundreds of times until my sophomore year of high school when I opted out—at least in theory—of the popular rat race by going “progressive,” which was the preferred moniker for punkish alternative folk at my high school in the eighties.  My pre-progressive humiliation highlights included the day I wore my new peppermint-scented Swatch proudly and was accused by Linda of raising my hand in class just so that I could show off my watch.  See also: Benetton sweatshirt (“She’s totally sticking out her chest.”), Ralph Lauren perfume (“Ugh.  Do you smell that?”), Calvin Klein jeans (“Nice.”). Even her compliments were cut-downs, the sign of a true pro.  Mercifully the rest have been blocked out, but somehow many years later, her blithely tossed insults still sting.
 
In my mind the word “bitch” conjures the image of Linda’s flat face, upturned nose, and perpetually tanned skin.  Numerous times I’ve asked myself—was she really so bad?  Was she behind all the cruelties I attribute to her?  Can’t I just let poor Linda Sinclair be?  She probably faced difficulties too.  I remember her frozen smile at our senior class dinner when the class president announced that Linda was voted the “Girl Most Likely to Install a Remote Control in the Small of a Man’s Back.”  Who knows of the dark nights of Linda Sinclair’s soul.  How many of those football Neanderthals did she have to blow to retain her status as queen bee? Any of her so-called friends would have surely slit her throat in order to ascend to her throne.
 
In junior high, as soon as the rest of us sheep imitated Linda’s layered bi-level, she effortlessly grew it out into her next do, a precursor of the floppy skater boy hair that would become popular my sophomore year of high school.  Chin length on one side and short on the other so that she had to hold her head at an angle to peer out from beneath the curtain of Sun-In brassy blonde.  My mom wouldn’t let me imitate this haircut, citing potential neck problems and how stupid it looked to walk around with your head tilted to the side. 
 
“But it’s cool,” I begged.  She rolled her eyes and tossed out that line about if your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?  With all the crazy things that teenagers do—drug use, guns in schools, and filming each other while they beat up another kid to name a few—I think we can definitively answer this question in the case of teenagers: Yes, I would gladly jump off a cliff to be cool.  Next question?
 
The last I heard of Linda Sinclair was my freshman year of college.  A friend of mine who attended a different high school ended up befriending Linda in college. 
 
“But she’s such a bitch,” I said, feeling like I’d been punched in the gut. 
 
“No way. She’s nice.  She likes The Smiths,” my friend said. 
 
I shivered.  Linda Sinclair can’t like The Smiths.  She’s not allowed.  “But she was popular.  She was the fucking queen.” 
 
My friend wouldn’t relent.  “Shall I pass along your regards?” 
 
I wanted to send a message “Go fuck yourself” but I still felt a paralysis.  No matter what I did, Linda always had her revenge.  No matter how I had tried to please her, to become her, to hate her, I just fueled her unflappable disdain for me.   
 
I don’t know what’s become of Linda.  For years she’s evaded my social media sleuthing and intermittent googling.  I suspect she’s taken her husband’s last name and she’s either a soccer mom or one of those aging Sex-in-the-City ladies teetering around on shoes named after a fabulous man.  Or maybe The Smiths helped her get in touch with the sadness of the world and caused her to recant her evil deeds, to beg God and Morrissey for forgiveness. 
 
While I was still enveloped in the fog of early motherhood, I received the invitation to my twenty-year high school reunion from a Classmates.com knock-off website.    
 
You going?  I messaged Emma, my best friend from high school who still lived in our hometown.
 
Not without you, she replied.
 
Her lobbying efforts were intense, but I couldn’t imagine a cross-country trip with a five-month-old, much less facing Linda Sinclair with leaking boobs and a muddy, sleep-deprived brain, without feeling panic flutter in my chest.  Instead, I convinced Emma to go to the reunion and be my spy.  She debriefed me when we next got together during my trip home for the holidays.
 
Like me, Linda Sinclair was a no-show.  Even without Linda in attendance to reign over the Class of ‘90, the social divisions endured but with a veneer of solicitousness.  Emma told me that a new narrative of our high school years emerged: We had all shared this crazy, pivotal time of our lives and had somehow both chosen our places in the social hierarchy while our places were simultaneously dictated by forces outside of our control. 
 
At the pre-reunion reunion held at a local bar, a former football hero playfully punched Emma on the shoulder, laughing as he reminisced about his campaign for class treasurer that had torpedoed her bid.  Because of course he, the alpha-jock and master sexual harasser, would prove victorious over her, the smart and serious girl.  “Sorry, but I needed it for my college application,” he said.  “Had to be well-rounded.”  She threw him a tight smile and fake laughed along with him.  To challenge the all-in-this-together narrative was seen as churlish, sad, and to be hopelessly mired in the past.  There was no repentance for past cruelty and no apologies to the unpopular.  My friend wished I was there to witness the mass amnesia, to step up to the microphone as disco ball lights swirled around the overly air-conditioned hotel ballroom and bravely tell the hard truths of the layered bi-level.  I would be ready with my short, choppy, stylishly mussed hair to finally claim my slow-clap reward.   

Katherine Sinback’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, daCunha, Gravel, The Hunger, Clackamas Literary Review, and Oyster River Pages. She publishes her zine Crudbucket and writes two blogs: the online companion to Crudbucket, and Peabody Project Chronicles 2: Adventures in Pregnancy After Miscarriage. She can be found on Twitter @kt_sinback.  

* * * 
 

How I Found Grandpa on Google Maps
By Emily Walling
 

  1. By being one of those people who tries to use technology to hold onto the dead. You know, like listening to the voicemail your friend left you before dying in a car crash, and you play it over and over. Or never deleting the chain of texts from a family member who suddenly died from cancer. Even though I had my chance to say my last goodbye, I tried to deny his death. I wanted more time, even though I spent so much of life making memories with him. I searched for my grandpa and found him on Google Maps.

  2. By killing time with my mom one day by looking at houses on Google Maps. She wanted to look at her house in street view. So, I pulled up the street. It was an old view of the house with trees that don’t exist anymore.

  3. By looking up my apartment complex in Tennessee. Also an old view, but I saw people on the map that still lived there. It looked so much nicer on the screen than in real life.

  4. Then, by looking up my grandma’s house. And there he was. Grandpa stood in the driveway, one leg in mid step.

  5. Refresh. He’s still there, making his way up the short driveway. I moved the map around, desperate to see his face. And I couldn’t. Just gray sweatpants and a white t-shirt.

  6. Trying to find him again three years later, only to find him missing from Google Maps.How I Found Grandpa on Google Maps

  7. By being one of those people who tries to use technology to hold onto the dead. You know, like listening to the voicemail your friend left you before dying in a car crash, and you play it over and over. Or never deleting the chain of texts from a family member who suddenly died from cancer. Even though I had my chance to say my last goodbye, I tried to deny his death. I wanted more time, even though I spent so much of life making memories with him. I searched for my grandpa and found him on Google Maps.

  8. By killing time with my mom one day by looking at houses on Google Maps. She wanted to look at her house in street view. So, I pulled up the street. It was an old view of the house with trees that don’t exist anymore.

  9. By looking up my apartment complex in Tennessee. Also an old view, but I saw people on the map that still lived there. It looked so much nicer on the screen than in real life.

  10. Then, by looking up my grandma’s house. And there he was. Grandpa stood in the driveway, one leg in mid step.

  11. Refresh. He’s still there, making his way up the short driveway. I moved the map around, desperate to see his face. And I couldn’t. Just gray sweatpants and a white t-shirt.

  12. Trying to find him again three years later, only to find him missing from Google Maps.

    ​Emily Walling’s visual and written work can be found in Apeiron Review, The Caribbean Writer, Cactus Heart,The MacGuffin, a nuclear impact poetry anthology froShabda Press, and other journals. She writes about thephysical, emotional, and psychological connections people have with the natural world. Emily is working on a master’s degree in rhetoric and writing at the University of Findlay and serves as the prose editor of Slippery Elm Literary Journal.



    * * * 

Flash Fiction

Honorable Discharge
By Kimberly Lee

Private Crawford drags himself down La Brea Boulevard, favoring his left side. He stops and slumps to the ground, his back held up by the wall. He inspects one of his shoes, easily pulls the flap back to reveal the bottom of his foot. Vehicles whiz overhead. He twists his face up at an awkward angle, towards the noisy weight above him. He brings his face back eye-level, observing the pedestrians who hurry by, glimpsing their blurred profiles. A child turns to face him, staring until a hand pulls her firmly away. Police approach.
 
Private Crawford arrives to court in dirty, smeared painter pants. The crowd parts, affording him a wide berth as he shuffles down the hall. The secretary at the window sniffs, then tells him to have a seat, way over there, the attorney will come to him. He obeys and people glare and move away. He leaves.
 
Private Crawford stands before the judge in a hushed, orderly courtroom.
          “Mr. Crawford, you are charged with—“.
                     “It’s Private.” 

                                            “Mr. Crawford, I know it must be embarrassing for you to be here, but all cases of this nature are heard in open court unless—“
                                                      "It’s Private.”

          “Unfortunately it’s not private. I have to--
          “ Private Crawford salutes the court in swift, aggressive motion, his eyes narrowing.
          “Oh. I’m sorry. Private Crawford, you are charged with loitering and disorderly conduct, a violation of—“               
                      “Guilty.”
 
Private Crawford is pressed forward by the bailiff to the lockup behind the courtroom. He stares at the bin of smashed sandwiches and pockmarked apples as he is searched, then handcuffed.                          
                     “When do we get those?” he asks.
                                “When we say. Now move along.”
 
Private Crawford drags himself down La Brea Boulevard, favoring his left side. He stops and slumps to the ground, his back held up by the wall. He inspects one of his shoes, easily pulls the flap back to reveal the bottom of his foot. Vehicles whiz overhead. He digs down into his pocket, fingering something. He retrieves damp, limp paper, unfolds it, reads the arc of fancy lettering across the top: Honorable Discharge. Police approach.

Kimberly Lee is a former public defender who left the practice of law to focus on community work and creative pursuits. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, The Sun, Toasted Cheese, and Thread, among others. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three children.

* * * 
Art by Sandy Coomer

Sandy Coomer is an artist and poet. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, including Rivers Within Us (Unsolicited Press). Her art has been featured in local art shows, and has been published in literary art journals such as Lunch Ticket, Varnish, and The Wire's Dream Magazine.​ She lives in Brentwood, TN.










 
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