ISSN 2053-6119 (Print) ISSN 2053-6127 (Online)
Featuring the works of Thomas Calder, Chuck Rocks, Susie Gharib, Robin Dunn, Thomas Elson, Diarmuid O Maolalai, Gary Beck, Abegail Morley, Sean Hannaway and Karen Petersen. . Hard copies can be purchased from our website.
Issue 81 June 2019
A New Ulster Prose On the Wall Website Editorial Thomas Calder;
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6
Chuck Rocks; 1. The New Era Susie Gharib; 1. Lord Byron 2. Leo Tolstoy’s Ahimsa 3. Release 4. Desiderata 5. A Tenacious Tear Robin Dunn; 1. Now and when 2. Nations 3. Name takers and oarsmen Thomas Elson; 1. Paul’s Ghost Diarmuid Ô Maolalai; 1. The Seagull 2. Weekend in Cork 3. Wednesday 4. After hours at the grand canal 5. A little more than memory Gary Beck; 1. Disruptions 2. Confined 3. Progress 4. Maximum Resistance 5. Removed 6. E Pluribus Unum
Editor: Amos Greig Editor: E V Greig Editor: Arizahn Editor: Adam Rudden Contents
Abegail Morley; 1. Bird Father to Daughter 2. The Hollowing of the empty place 3. Cut 4. Grief: Stage 4 Sean Hannaway; 1. The Lake for Other People
On The Wall Message from the Alleycats Round the Back
Karen Petersen; 1. Reprieve 2. Provence 3. Corsican Melodies 4. Claus
Poetry, prose, art work and letters to be sent to: Submissions Editor A New Ulster 23 High Street, Ballyhalbert BT22 1BL Alternatively e-mail: email@example.com See page 50 for further details and guidelines regarding submissions. Hard copy distribution is available c/o Lapwing Publications, 1 Ballysillan Drive, Belfast BT14 8HQ Or via PEECHO Digital distribution is via links on our website: https://anuanewulster.wixsite.com/anewulster Published in Baskerville Oldface & Times New Roman Produced in Belfast & Ballyhalbert, Northern Ireland. All rights reserved The artists have reserved their right under Section 77 Of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 To be identified as the authors of their work. ISSN 2053-6119 (Print) ISSN 2053-6127 (Online) Cover Image â&#x20AC;&#x153;Gorseâ&#x20AC;? by Amos Greig
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light. ” Aristotle Onassis. Editorial I was invited to the launch of the Jaipur Literary Festival in Belfast, the reason why I was invited was because of the impact that A New Ulster has had around the world. When I set out to make this magazine, I had intended to remain staunchly neutral on politics. Six years later and circumstances has seen that change. We have published the work of poets in exile, talked about refugee statuses, published work by people whose very live have been at risk. In short, we got political. That’s probably not going to change I honestly feel we need to give people facing persecution a platform, oh we are no Fortnight magazine and we aren’t intended to but we are here to help as best as we can. A New Ulster will still be about helping new and established writers get their work out there. We’ve had work from absolute beginners brushing shoulders with Pushcart prize winners, to workshop facilitators. Now for something on a tangent but still to do with literature, there was some outcry at one of the last adaptations of the Iliad, specifically to do with the portrayal of Achilles. In that production he was played by a black actor and that didn’t sit well with some audiences. However if we return to the original earliest texts which exist in fragmentary form we find some unusual qualities to Achilles for a start the Achilles tendon vulnerability/ invulnerability was a later addition (Status/ Statius ) in the original he was a metaphor for pain,sorrow, grief (Achos) and people, soldiers, nation (Liaos) the name means he who brings suffering to the people. It can also mean swift footed and some believe it was a borrowing from another language. But there’s more Achilles may well have been a woman…Aristonikos of Tarentum reports that Achilles, when he was spending time with the girls at Lykomedes’ home, used to be called Kerkysera (Roman addition and is a joke a play on penis) and Issa (feminine) and Pyrrha (Red Headed). He was also called Aspetos (masculine) and Prometheus (masculine). “ὡς ᾽Αχιλλέα μὲν ᾽Αριστόνικος ὁ Ταραντῖνος διατρίβοντα ἐν ταῖς παρθένοις παρὰ Λυκομήδει Κερκυσέραν καλεῖσθαί φησιν καὶ ῎ Ἴσσαν καὶ Πύρραν ἐκαλεῖτο δὲ καὶ ῎Ασπετος καὶ Προμηθεύς.” The feminine of the name was popular Ἀχιλλεία (Achilleía), appeared in Attica on an inscription in the fourth century BC and, in the form Achillia, on a stele from Halicarnassus as the name of a female gladiator fighting an "Amazon".
Food for thought and now onto the issue itself. . Amos Greig Editor.
Biographical Note: Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder, is a young creative, with a background in Music and film-making.
#1 I take ownership Of these unwanted private thoughts, And have learned That not everyone is available for a coffee at all times. One in two of us Is considering suicide seriously And Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m left wondering If it is you or me. I see the most amazing crumbs On this brilliant humming earth, Fighting to justify their separation from the sandwich And remain quiet, slightly to one side, Wanting better things for them. I feel the worst often, And the best occasionally, Which is just enough To keep going. Everything in this world Is true and untrue, But I know for certain That we can still learn From the people who are no longer with us And Some American music Still holds the power, to calm us down.
#2 We are all Bumbling about Searching for the solution, And probably we have the same reason But see from different perspectives. Working hard to be busy With worthy, agreed-upon distractions Like, Picking up rolls from bakeries Or purchasing white goods That save us time and effort, Which we then fill with other types Of time and effort. We move in the common madness Of this time, with effort, And find brilliant and effective ways Of eliminating the hurt from our brains, And shit from our hearts. We plumb our own souls And have to learn to hold our own hands As we stumble, trying to balance between our two hands, All of the things We are taking with us. I am always happy, when I have found a comfortable way To balance those things, And can manage to smoke a cigarette, At the same time.
#3 (SOMEWHERE NONSPECIFIC) THE CURTAIN OPENS... Beside exterior laundrette, a young boy delivers Coffee Shaking like a wet noodle. PICTURE: Customers Sitting, All aligned in lines Like hollow croissants. The Fragile Pastry of their own delicate selves Crumbles beneath their feet, As they wait For their own brand of Jam (Or Cheese or cream or whatever) To help fill the hole. MEANWHILEâ&#x20AC;Ś It is rumoured: Six doctors have swallowed a lego head, The Bee died of guilt, And the girl divorced her parents. As it goes, More things seem to need to be done These days. For whatever reason, The clocks turn for well-dressed men And the paralytic dance goes on. BACK AGAIN... We leave the scene wherever it is, Never to be seen, from this angle again. CUT TO: Hollow croissant. (Thomas Calder)
#4 My mother was a strict, steely woman. The most passionate advice she ever gave was Never, Ever, Fall in love with a Tenor. Theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll spend their entire lives, And all the families money Fighting their way up the musical ladder. Higher and higher up the scales, And further away from the relationship. And believe me, They always want help getting down. He will have has his way with you, Consume your womanhood during the intermission, And toss you aside, Before the encore. Precious child, If you simply cannot escape The seductive magnetism Of the musical breed, Please, I implore You, At least find yourself a nice, humble Bagpipe player.
#5 In the world, Location unknown, Two fish and chip boys With their chicken pock scars Sit getting their haircut by the bowling ball barber And trading stories of the all the women, They’ve never really met. Across the street, A young man who took out a loan to purchase his morning coffee, Is struggling under the weight Of his parents expectations. Nearby, The sweet natured traffic controller Gives wise advice on healing wounds With Honey and spiders-webs. In walking distance, An old woman says out loud to no one, “The earth comes together under the threat of bad weather” And A small group of dapperly dressed people Sigh, and get back to work. In a moment, Everyone on earth Will take a breathe at the same time, But nobody will notice.
#6 Victor wraps his head Around the events of the day. First, He caught the 618 bus, And stared at the man in camouflage Who was still able to be seen, in the seat beside him. Then, He walked 500 metres to the beach And realized heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d forgotten the sunscreen. After, Ten minutes of doing his daily crossword He lost his pen to the volleyball king, who needed it to keep score. One hour later, Sans pen, He shuffled his way to the coffee shop on the corner And ordered Two poached eggs, Which never came. After 46 minutes, He paid for the meal he didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t receive And walked back to the Bus stop. Finally, He caught the 618 bus back home And stared at the empty seat beside him, Wondering if there was anyone there.
Biographical Note: Chuck Rocks Chuck is a pseudonym
The New Era I'm starting up a new dissident group Calling it The New Era It's gonna be completely different to the last one Those guys are so out of date They're fecked, irrelevant We'll be doing things different: We won't be brainwashed with hand-me-down hatred from tired old fecks who used to strut the streets like they were somebody's heros And now realise they're actually just Nobodies, zeroes We'll be keeping a keen marksman's eye on the trajectory of history Collateral damage will be a thing of the past Cos we're calling it friendly fire now Rebranding for the information age (But suspected informants will still be getting knee-capped, whether we're 100% sure or not, as you can't be too careful with these things) We will, naturally, be acting with a fresh new mandate from the people Well, the people that matter anyhow The sell-outs and plastic patriots and armchair anarchists can all just sit at home as usual And cuddle up to their ludicrous wet dream of peace and co-existence Answer me this: What the feck did 20 years of peace ever do for us? Less random killings and mindless brutality? Ok.. apart from less random killings and mindless brutality, what did 20 years of peace ever do for us? Devolution of power and the gradual realisation of self-determination? Ok, right.. apart from less random killings and mindless brutality, the devolution of power and the gradual realisation of self-determination, what did 20 years of peace ever do for us? A new sense of community..? Oh feck off now.. Would you ever just feck the feck off with your grandiose, hippy shit 'sense of community' bollocks! We've got something far more relevant, happening & hip to the lip Something the kids today can latch onto and have for their very own Something vital and fresh A new mindset, a new dream A new beginning, a new revolution.. A New Era
Biographical Note: Susie Gharib Susie Gharib is a graduate of the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow) with a Ph.D. on the work of D.H. Lawrence. Since 1996, she has been lecturing in Syria. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Grey Sparrow Journal, the Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and The Blotter. More poems are forthcoming in other magazines. She is a lover of Nature and enjoys swimming.
Lord Byron Consanguinity was a common state in the ancient, Egyptian line of kings, a fact alleged by various historicities, and though you disapprove of sibling-marriages, you flock to far-off museums and galleries to see busts of Nefertiti and other deities. Childe Harold, reproving the goring of bulls, became a metaphor for consorting with trulls. He who condemned what “got drunk with blood” was to have his name besmeared with mud. He who crossed the Hellespont became more famous for bathhouse boys, and compassionate words for the Prisoner of Chillon grew pale before his sexual liaisons. When church and state had been divorced why can’t a poet’s life remain unknown? Why can’t his work stand on its own, leaving all Judgment to Almighty God?
Leo Tolstoy’s Ahimsa “As long as there are slaughter houses there will always be battlefields.” Tolstoy When I was a child, I had to chew my fellow creatures but with utter disgust, their limbs shoveled into my mouth by sagacious adults. Despite the aromatic spice, I inhaled their plight, so my stomach eventually ejected them up. It took Leo Tolstoy who reported their lot, their terror and agony at the slaughter house, to make me altogether give it up, this licensed habit of consuming murdered blood.
Release Death was omnipresent in my childhood. It had claimed many dear ones, my dog, but it took Catherine and Heathcliff on the Yorkshire moors to make me ponder over the metaphysical core of such inevitability that most people abhor. Emily Dickinson drove with Death in a carriage but in an oven Sylvia Plath held her rendezvous. Virginia Woolf embraced it with a pile of stones. The Cathars gladly went into fire to defend their cause. My own battle with death started when I was seven years old. A fever devoured my brain cells and temperatures soared, but I never felt comfortably numb as in Pink Floydâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s. I only remember crawling on four like a half-anaesthetized worm. Now I daily think of death as an invisible boat that will ferry me across the mud to the other side of the cosmic road, to a clay-free world, where the light that is cloaked with so much fog will be released from this bundle of bones.
The circular hearth by the sacred lake where arboreal alphabet remains mnemonic. The fertile horn. The twilight gate. The Celtic torque for the genderless neck. The cluster of stones that stand erect. The cloak of invisibility, to rob wars of armament. The forest where fairies are safe from cynics. Fraternity with storytellers, healers, and Druids.
A Tenacious Tear Racing with raindrops on windowpane, a tenacious tear decodes her grief. The winter's remonstrance blanches its face, so wan and grave, with a pallid tale. It anchors defying a wind that slays, clinging sedate to my hungry gaze. Betty's is the emerald of evergreens, the hue that heralds a spectrum of jades, the eye that harbors aquamarines, the Pleiades.
Afloat and Aloft When heads were being chopped and abodes being bombed, stray dogs being clubbed, and savings being robbed, when lungs were being clogged with sprinkled chemical dust and rockets being dropped on kindergartens and shops, my sanity clambered up an atmospheric top to remain aloft. When out our lights were stubbed and psyches with fears were drugged, when fleeing vessels chugged displacing dupes and duds, when El Dorados bluffed trickles of refugees who sobbed, when human dignity was dumped in a pool of refuse that stunk, I kept my home-tied ark anchored, to remain afloat.
Which? I have read so many books on dad's bookshelves, in library nooks, with pure white sheet, crinkled with moth, with altered lines, foaming with froth, some still intact with invisible words, some pierced with spears bespattered with wrath, sparkling with wit, dotted with blood, with royal stamp, sanctioned or damned, but which vouchsafe to tell the Truth? I have exchanged so many looks, with poor and rich, angels and rooks, some spark off love, some send forth hate, some signal lust, some foretell fate, but which looks beam with fragrant Truth? I have heard so many words spoken by man or sung by birds, some make one thrive, some would entice, some leave one dry like shriveled youth but which words are pregnant with Truth? â&#x20AC;&#x153;Which?â&#x20AC;? was self-published.
Biographical Note: Robin Dunn Robin teaches poetry, he was a finalist for poet lauret and has several books of poetry out http://robindunn.com/
now and when that grave again my heart should fire when you dare to ope your eyes and see what you've become my northerners
(Robin Wyatt Dunn)
nations gift givers barred hands narrow agents stand and delight beautiful locked men and chains! cut them open on the floor and give me god
(Robin Wyatt Dunn)
name takers and oarsmen shapes and sifter sands stake and ready men women under the broad ship of sky daggers and dead legacies kept under the weight of the hull under my hull the rake and rill of the wasp and sea shall fill me and mine for you, dear dread heart to time the way and say how I have come to thee not free but shredded and serene to see how far it is to the edge of the land
(Robin Wyatt Dunn)
Biographical Note: Thomas Elson
Thomas Elsonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, Pinyon, Lunaris, New Ulster, Lampeter, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Adelaide Literary Magazine. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.
PAUL’S GHOST by Thomas Elson
The single ceiling light cast a shadow against the limestone wall. Wind hissed and battered against reinforced windows. Disembodied sounds rattled like verbal shrapnel. Effluviant stench rose as if from an underbelly and merged with sourness from men long isolated. “This place’d gag a maggot. When Maryam takes office, I hope to hell she cleans this place up,” said Kevin as he walked next to Paul. No response. Kevin jammed his hands into his pockets, stomped his feet on the damp cement floor in a futile attempt for warmth. He usually walked with a vigor that belied his heart condition, but that night Kevin had to stop. He leaned against bars of an empty cell, struggled to take a few shallow breaths, then, despite the chill, wiped sweat from his forehead. “Should’ve worn a coat,” he said to Paul. Again, no response. Back within the warmth of his ninth-floor chambers, Kevin spoke softly. “God, this is a lonely place at night.” Gone were the bailiffs, the clerks, the court reporters. No
plaintiffs, defendants, attorneys, jurors, witnesses. No spectators waiting. Only Kevin Grady, Paul Williams, and the consequences. The phone rang. “Okay, thanks. See you in a minute.” Kevin struggled to return the phone to its cradle, heard the clatter of receiver against stirrup, and shoved the phone toward the corner of his desk. He rubbed his hands together to lessen his tremor. “Maryann will be a little late. Guess she’s busy since she was elected Sheriff.”
Weeks earlier, after Paul’s funeral with eulogies by the state’s Chief Justice and Attorney-General, Kevin wrote to Maryann. He wanted to pour out his admiration for her father, but mustered only a feeble, “This will not be a good letter, Maryann. I feel too sad. I loved your father and pray for you.” A couple of weeks later, Maryann called. “Kevin, I know you live a few blocks over, but could we meet in dad’s- your chambers?” She laughed with a slight self-consciousness. “I’ve got some questions.” Kevin had known Paul’s oldest daughter since she was a chubby-cheeked little girl in the third grade. He attended her high school graduation as she stood on stage - tall, awkward, out of place; her college graduation when she strode across the stage confident with the world in front of her. He sat with the family during her wedding, and, when she filed for divorce, Paul assigned her case to Kevin’s division.
“Judge.” Maryann’s contralto voice was as familiar to Kevin as her red hair. “I see you’ve kept things pretty much the way dad did.” Framed in the doorway, taller than her father by at least two inches, her swimmers’ shoulders and green eyes echoed her father’s confidence and determination. “He was always glad you were here. He’d be proud you took his place as Chief Judge.” She placed her briefcase next to the desk. “I used to leave my school books here. Dad was always telling me to get ‘em off the floor.” She pointed to the photo of two smiling young men in tuxedos. “That’s new.” “It’s of your dad and me when he was best man in my wedding,” “You mean your first wedding.” She cocked her head, grinned. “I mean all of ‘em.” “You still have his robe.” She walked toward a wooden coat rack near the door to the courtroom. She stroked the shoulders, eased her hand down to the cuffs, pressed her face into the fabric. “It still smells like him. You know, he only had this one robe. In twentyeight years, one robe.” She moved her fingers over the sleeve as if it were a relic on a cathedral’s side altar. “What are you going to do with it?” “It’s yours.” Maryann tapped on the courtroom door. “Could we use his- this door? I’d like to see it one more time the way he did.” She picked up her briefcase and walked from the chambers into the courtroom.
Standing behind the judge’s bench, Maryann scanned the courtroom from court reporter’s nook to witness stand across to the jury box and spectator gallery. She touched her dad’s old bench, drew back, then pressed her hands against his leather chair. “I haven’t been up here in years. You know, sometimes I’d wait for him right over there.” She gestured toward the northwest corner of the courtroom, turned slowly toward Kevin. “So, tell me about my dad. And those jailhouse walks you two took. His last piece of advice to me was, ‘When you get elected, walk the jailhouse once a month with someone you trust.’”
The two men had come together four decades earlier on their first day in law school when Kevin was struggling to open an unwilling door. “Open it from the side where the hinges aren’t.” The voice came from Paul – his panhandle-lean face without a trace of the jowls that came later. Kevin – his thinning hair on its genetic retreat, which, with his deep reservoir of denial, he kept hidden from himself for years. Paul, orphaned at age six, was raised by his grandmother in a shotgun house on the outskirts of Guymon, Oklahoma. He worked his way through Panhandle A. & M.; married Alice during his senior year. Three years later, Maryann was born. He had served in the 101st Airborne when there were Czechoslovakian soldiers, Russian rifles, former French diplomats, American advisors, and “Dien Bien Phu” was a synonym for failure. Kevin, eight years younger than Paul, was an only child, raised by a strong mother whose word was not merely the law, but also expected to be obeyed as if one of the commandments, a father who had no intentions of being one, and two grandfathers who rarely told him ‘no’. He would joke about his childhood, “It was a hard life. One Christmas,
it didn’t snow.” And, at some point during their three years in law school, Paul became Kevin’s older brother maybe even a father substitute. “When I didn’t know what to do, I acted like you,” he told Paul years later. After graduation, Paul’s multiple struggles to pass the bar exam limited his job prospects. His only offer was from a Delano lawyer who later lost his license. After that Paul worked for a fundamentalist lawyer who stole money from his client’s deposit accounts. Kevin began his practice with Mr. Clarence, who had been a lawyer in Delano since 1913. Over many decades, this ailing, eighty-one-year-old had built a substantial divorce business and a reputation for burning through young lawyers.
Three years later, during a Monday morning docket call, Mr. Clarence’s private investigator walked into the courtroom his arms piled high with files. “Mr. Clarence died last night.” He leaned forward, extended his arms, and deposited the files into Kevin’s open attaché case. “These are yours.” “You know, we could have done this at the office.” “Not really. These are for today’s docket. When you’re done here, his widow wants to see you.” Six hours and two signatures later, Mr. Clarence’s widow, the sole beneficiary of office buildings, substantial insurance proceeds, and multiple houses, said, “Kevin, I don’t know how you put up with that old man, but he seemed to like you. This damn place has
been a royal pain my whole married life. It’s all yours. I don’t want anything here.” She slapped her office key on Mr. Clarence’s old ink blotter, pivoted, walked away. Kevin Grady, an attorney for three years, wearing the same blue blazer and gray slacks he had in law school, was now the owner of one of the state’s largest divorce practices. Old clients begat multitudes - all willing to pay for the freedom to pursue a life they knew their spouse had long-denied them. Kevin’s professional life became an assembly line of identical melodrama performed daily - mornings reciting the same lines in repetitious default divorces; afternoons and evenings dominated by clients with interchangeable crises of separation anxiety. Close your eyes, change the names, it was the same story. Within a short time, Kevin’s personal life was transformed. His suits – no longer from J.C. Penny’s, now well-tailored. His car – no longer a well-used Volkswagen, now a white, twelve-cylinder Jaguar. His first wife – no longer tolerant of Kevin’s appetites, now divorced and collecting alimony. As young lawyers, Kevin and Paul often spent Saturday evenings over Alice’s chili suppers. One evening when Kevin was leaving, Paul asked, “Can you meet at the courthouse for breakfast on Monday?” As soon as Paul sat down in the cafeteria, he said, “Alice is pregnant. She’ll have to quit her job.” His eyes fixed on his oatmeal, two words followed, “Probably twins.” Kevin did not hesitate. “How about practicing with me?” Paul raised his head. “Really? What about your income?”
Kevin placed his right hand under his chin, raised his head as if gasping for air, said in a choked tone, “I’m drowning. If I don’t get some relief, I’ll-”. He interrupted himself, “Plus, I trust you.”
Their partnership was a continuance of their friendship; nevertheless, despite their revenue stream, the demands of their expanding business seemed to freeze their ledgers in the red. The revenue rarely kept pace with expenses that accelerated due to auxiliary staff, office space, and newly-acquired young lawyers always on a learning curve. Paul, now the father of five daughters, began to echo Alice’s desire to break away from their life of rental houses, no savings, hand-me-downs, and “Have a proper home with good schools and nice clothes for our girls.” Kevin, with his social and ethical snowboarding, always a few months away from one cataclysm or another, skated on the edge of propriety.
One February afternoon, after Kevin’s full morning of default divorces and marital motions, his secretary walked into his office. “Kevin, your friend referred a Mr. Johnson. It’s about his son,” she said with her usual smirk about the friend Kevin met one afternoon when he rolled out of his Jaguar, raised his head, and saw a six-foot, mini-skirted, blond who occupied his time between marriages. Mr. Johnson’s son, a sixteen-year-old high school junior and varsity high jumper with a B+ average, was T-boned by a Delano city truck. His second surgery was scheduled for the next day.
The case screamed big money; however, the city of Delano was known for retaining defense lawyers who employed numerous delaying tactics: multiple interrogatories, overlapping depositions, motions to resolve differences, continuances, inevitable appeals and retrials – all with the goals of increasing defense attorney fees and inching the case closer to the time Johnson’s son might die and the state’s wrongful death statute would kick-in. Overnight an injury once worth millions would be reduced to a few thousand dollars. “Good case, but it’s gonna take years,” said Paul after Kevin handed him the file. “But, it could be a way to get us out of this divorce mill,” said Kevin as he walked back to his office.
As their practice expanded, so did their time away from home. A devolution occurred as shifts and tilts of unvoiced avoidances corroded the well-practiced marital ebb and flow. Never enough time. “We can talk when I return.” Always an excuse. “It can wait. Not that important.” One afternoon, Alice telephoned Kevin. “You have to help me with Paul. He’s never home. And he’s coming home drunk now. He never did that before.” Kevin didn’t need to hear anymore, Alice was right, and without saying it, she was correct about him too. A few minutes later, he walked into Paul’s office. “I just got off the phone with Alice.”
Paul dropped his pen on a legal pad, exhaled, rubbed his temples. “Did she give you an ultimatum? “Sure as hell sounded like it.” “Probably the same one she’s been giving me.” Paul waited a moment, then said, “Let’s take a ride.” Walking to the car, Kevin asked, “Why did Alice call me?” “A couple of reasons. A week ago, I drove home at two in the morning.” As he continued his voice a staccato rhythm. “In the middle of the road. On the turnpike. Drunk. And I made the mistake of telling her.” Once outside the parking garage, Paul said, “At this rate, I’m going to lose my family. My kids are growing up and I’m never there. I’m starting to feel the way I did when my parents died.” He stopped his car at an intersection, and, as if weighing what to say next, waited a few moments. “You know, Alice is worried about you. She’s known you since law school and sees how you’ve changed. How both of us changed.” After a moment Paul added, “Plus, you’ve blown through two marriages, carrying alimony payments and you and I both know you’re one drink away from being a fall-down drunk.” “Bull shit.” “Kevin, I love you, but you’ve already had blackouts. When’s that gonna hit you when you’re with a client or in court?”
Paul rested his head on the steering wheel, raised it. When the light changed, he turned left into an upscale neighborhood. “You know, the defense attorneys will continue to delay the Johnson case until the boy dies and the wrongful death limitation kicks in.” Paul’s voice assumed the resonant tone he used when laying a foundation to proffer trial exhibits. “We’ll never see a real payday from it.” He glanced at Kevin. “And the city council’s feeling the pressure from the publicity about depriving the Johnson kid of his just due.” Paul slowed the car, veered right, parked in front of a Tudor-style house. “Their offer is still on the table-” Kevin interrupted, “But, Johnson might be able to collect a hell of a lot more. Anyway, how would that help us?” “They’ve sweetened their offer. Said we’d be appointed to those two judicial openings in January. The way they did six years ago with Judge Konig.” Paul gestured to the right. “That house would be yours as part of the agreement.” He nodded toward the twostory Tudor. “Mine will be about half a mile over. Both free and clear. Just like they did with Konig.” He added a phrase Kevin hadn’t thought of since law school, “Fee simple absolute.” “Both houses in foreclosure?” “Yep.” “How would they handle the judicial appointments?” “It wasn’t difficult, since the governor makes the appointments, and we heavily supported the guy each time he ran. Not to mention the favors you did for him during his divorce. He thinks you’re a damn miracle worker,” said Paul.
“We could get in a lot of trouble over this. It’s illegal as hell.” Paul sat silent as if waiting for Kevin to make an argument against accepting the offer. When Kevin said nothing, Paul continued. “Or, we could kill ourselves on this damn assembly line.” Paul’s eyes were red-veined. “Kevin, I’m losing my family.” Judicial appointment. Instant status. New house. Built-in equity. No mortgage payments. No more assembly line work. Stability. Kevin was in for at least five of those benefits. “Would all this be in writing?” “No, but we’d sign the Johnson agreement after we’re sworn in as judges. They’d backdate it and get Judge Konig to seal the court records. Then, we’d get title and possession of the houses.” Paul grinned.” And, we could still sell our practice.” “They’ve got this down to a science. But we’d have to convince the Johnson kid’s dad,” said Kevin. “They’d get a lot less money.” “True, but he’d get a bundle of cash right away. I’ll convince him,” said Paul. # Inside her father’s old courtroom, Maryann asked Kevin again, “What’s the real story about those walks you two took?” She leaned forward, opened her briefcase, pointed to a bottle of Johnny Black, raised her eyebrows, cocked her head. “Let’s talk in my dad’s- I mean your chambers,” she stood and led the way back.
Maryann set the drinks on the desk, pulled up a side chair, took a breath, repeated her question about the jailhouse walks. Silence. After a moment she said, “He also said I should ask you about the Johnson case.” Kevin hesitated. He thought, if ever asked, he would say their walks were to keep them grounded. Instead what came out was, “We walked the jailhouse because of the Johnson case. We both lived in fear of ending up in one of those cages.” Maryann’s dark green eyes fastened onto Kevin. She took a sip of scotch and did not look away. Maybe she would ask a child’s one-word question, maybe not. Maybe later. Maybe she already knew.
Within a year Kevin was no longer able to hide his deterioration and carried a cane on their jailhouse walks. He needed to retire, but then what – sit and wait for death. He could do that as a judge. He’d continue until some morning a janitor found him slumped lifeless in his chair. During one of their jailhouse walks, Kevin said to Paul, “Maryann’s done a good job.” There was no response. The effluviant stench was gone. The floors were dry. Light filled the walkways and cells. Their walks were warmer since Maryann assumed office. “Whatever she’s doing works.”
Again, no response. Kevin saw a shadow, felt Maryann brush past. She turned her head slightly, then smiled. Kevin watched as Paul left his side and walked next to his daughter. Kevin watched. After a moment, he knew it was time to return, once again, to his chambers to sit and wait for the morning. -
THE END -
Biographical Note: DS Maolalai . DS Maolalai has been nominated for Best of the Web and twice for the
Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, "Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden" (Encircle Press, 2016) and "Sad Havoc Among the Birds" (Turas Press, 2019)
the king swings and flips his feathers. he is perched on the wall of the quay, neck stretched, to search the ground.
grey feathered lizard with sharp cruel eyes; look at them and you can see evolution.
yellow is a naturally warm colour, except when reflected on a beak.
Weekend in Cork
we drove on with tables laid ahead of us - family to visit all over bandon. weekends twist in ireland like a bad sat nav, taking you from the highway to a more direct and scenic route, through those backroads over hills down country with grass like spines cracking their centre.
we had planned a long hike in the mountains around skibbereen, wine in the evening, a barbecue and maybe cobh to see the harbour and all the coloured sails. instead
drank tea in 50 cracked sitting rooms hanging with jesuses,
ate ham sandwiches and chocolate biscuits, and my girlfriend heard so many stories about stupidity and my childhood visiting the farms together and meeting and shaking hands.
the day is hot as fresh dropped dogshit
and I labour while the window concentrates rays.
outside cars bang forward, like cats in heat. the sun
is a full peacock, flourishing over rooftiles.
After hours at the grand canal.
at night rats dance over canalsides.
parties departed, leaving behind cigarettes and sandwich crusts and the drips of drained beercans. girls have lost shoes in the grass on the verge and the swans are well fed on filters and pieces of tobacco paper. the rats have a party, you guys get slammed on drips of corona and take bites out of drunken lime slices.
from all over town more of them come, with mice and crows,
bats and magpies. even a cat walks in, and a fox, so interested in left over chicken bones they forget all about stalking.
our parties on the canal are over at 10 when the sun gets tired and the bars get full. the one after that goes on all night and is much more honest and less pretentious about being al fresco.
A little more than memory.
she was very cool about it, really, when after 3 months I admitted that, actually, I did know how the stain on my blue duvet had come about -
that once, before we'd met, I'd had a girl over one night in March during the worst of the snowfall and during her period which left, as these things do, a little more than memory; a rusty mark the shape of south america with a dripping bathroom where she'd tried to wash before.
it turned out
what surprised her most was that I hadn't known anything about how to clean out blood, and she showed me, taking my duvet, something which young women of course learn earlier
Biographical Note: Gary Beck Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director. His poetry collections include Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press), Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions, Fault Lines, Tremors, Perturbations, Rude Awakenings and The Remission of Order (Winter Goose Publishing). Conditioned Response (Nazar Look), Virtual Living (Thurston Howl Publications), Blossoms of Decay, Expectations and Blunt Force (Wordcatcher Publishing). His novels include Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing), Call to Valor and Crumbling Ramparts (Gnome on Pig Productions), Sudden Conflicts (Lillicat Publishers). Acts of Defiance (Wordcatcher Publishing). His short story collections include A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications), Now I Accuse and other stories (Winter Goose Publishing) and Dogs Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t Send Flowers and other stories (Wordcatcher Publishing). The Republic of Dreams and other essays (Gnome on Pig Productions). Feast or Famine and other one act-plays will be published by Wordcatcher Publishing. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of magazines. He lives in New York City.
Confined I sit in prison cell still revolted by the smell of fellow inmates, some more animal than human after years in cages barely ventilated, insufficiently cleaned, storehouse of bodily waste, and the snores, belches, farts, a surreal symphony of primordial sounds that keep me up at night when my fatigued body clamors for restful sleep. But I think of the inmates, most guilty of a crime trying to endure the time with many years to go before they are set free in an alien land that will not welcome the men who are unfit to join the evolved world.
Progress I look forward to the driverless car that will eliminate drunken driving, carjacking, tailgating, leaving the scene of an accident, all the other abuses inflicted by human drivers on our fellow citizens.
Maximum Resistance When prey are grabbed by predators in the animal kingdom a tranquilizing submission takes possession of the soul of the helpless victim making death less painful.
Humans lived the same way for thousands of years, resigned to their condition blindly accepting fate, most bound to the land in the service of a master who determined existence.
There were always exceptions, men who were more than animals, but there probably werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t many, or they would have been destroyed the early stages of cooperation and we never would have evolved
beyond the tribal system.
But another breed arose rejecting brutish conditions and united, and built cities, created a new environment that superficially resembled the traditional way of life, yet fostered greater isolation, despite proximity.
And a middle class emerged who asserted their beliefs that they were as good as anyone else. And the owners of the land tolerated them for a while, until they began to imagine that they governed the land.
Then the owners of the land began the deaccession of those who had forgotten who the rulers were.
All their art collections, luxurious houses, the material things that comforted their lives were slowly taken away and they no longer possessed narcotic acceptance to ease remaining days.
Removed I visited a foreign land and took long walks on the beach where the privileged safely basked shaded from the burning sun by large, colorful umbrellas, guarded by alert protectors ignoring sensual bodies weighed down by jewels and tablets, completely enrapt in shopping for goods denied the masses, while the men babble business deals intent on making more money to acquire more costly treasure.
E Pluribus Unum Once we built a country made it run, worked on it all the time, brought in lots of strangers made them one, now its become a crime. Separate this. Separate that. The myth of unity fraying beyond repair, as different agendas are more important then the fate of the nation and we finally resemble the old world.
Biographical Note: Abegail Morley Abegail Morleyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s debut collection, How to Pour Madness into a Teacup, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize Best First Collection. Her most recent collection is The Skin Diary (Nine Arches Press) and Cutting the Cord is forthcoming from Nine Arches Press. She is one of the co-editors at Against the Grain Press. She is also editor of The Poetry Shed.
Birth Father to Daughter (a conversation) We talk about your birth. Our pockets empty. Her womb flushed. We both know you were in there, staining her insides, fingers fumbling the ultrasound, prints not yet developed, focusing and unfocusing, leaving a blur on film. I know it is you, my heart bumping in a baby’s living on her plug of origin and yet you lay there content, in the shape of a petal and I didn’t hear you whimper from the room outside, where I hid. I remember taking my hand off your mother’s belly and feeling the earth crack in two. I just didn’t think it was you I was losing in a shudder of blood on a Sunday night along with Father’s Day cards and a promise I couldn’t keep. I let you go somewhere in your mother’s exhaustion knowing I’ll not be your father tonight, or any other night. I know you’ll not think of me. Birth Father. But tonight I think of your tiny fist and the way each finger looped mine and your hand crawled with my DNA. (Abegail Morley)
The hollowing of the empty place It was just that I didn’t know why I wanted to go on. Kay Redfield Jamison Don’t be surprised when she stares you out in amber-thin light, repeats herself, as if counting valves and ventricles with a child’s slim fingers, rolling over each muscle in slow motion, each time she ends up in A & E, incubated, trolley-moved at dawn to AAU. She doesn’t have a story of tanks, knee-capping, an A-Z of horrors that keep her awake. She has this. She has this every day and some days it’s better, and some days her blood doesn’t screech under skin. She shapes crushed lips, shoals vowels, spits them in a long line like a spine, each nubbin a stuttered word. She remembers the sky, its lack of blue, every sentence he said, and the way he planted a word in her mouth to germinate after he’d gone.
Cut I cut off my hair this morning, hid its moon tossed tussles under the mattress, let it suffocate on wooden slats, weighed down by wool, springs. I thought I could repair it later, in the long day ahead, but here we are twisting through country lanes that narrow like arteries and we are caught-and-releasedcaught-and-released by sunlight twisting through overhanging trees that reach to each other. I know they pass messages through their roots. They love to touch. You once cut down our cedar, loosened its branches like wings, plucked them off, one by one as a schoolboy might with a moth or butterfly. I lean back, feel the headrests’ rough fabric on my neck where my ponytail should be, remember the scissors and prowling the kitchen at dawn to be humbled by one quick snip ̶ got carried away as if cutting a stream of paper people hand in hand. Here, he says in his hourglass voice, words sifting their slow patter from tongue to aching lip. Even though they’ve changed the entrance I feel my own emptiness run up to greet me, know the layout of the ward, tiny pills, laughter starving itself in corners in the early evening and all sharp implements locked away for good.
Grief: Stage 4 I’m feverish. The moon that tilts my head, presses madness to my mouth. I swallow its toxic mistletoe, warm Jerusalem berries, sun-sapped yew seeds ‒ slide them down my throat. Sheltered under my tongue a whole string of rosary beads open and close their eyes like starlight in a Hebridean winter. Earlier you ransacked every inch of the house, thrust your voice like a skean into each room, slashed our bedroom curtains into strips to bind our wounds with bolts of cotton, but left us bleeding. Before that, you’d carefully traced where my heart beats routinely under skin.
Biographical Note: Sean Hannaway
S.P. Hannaway’s first story appeared in Litro Online in 2014. Since then his work has featured in journals such as Dream Catcher, Brittle Star, Lighthouse, The Incubator, Neon and The Interpreter’s House. He’s studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths. He’s worked as an actor and lives in London.
The Lake for Other People
Moon’s stuck. He’s tried but he can’t move. He’s frozen. His feet, they’re slabs, heavy like stone. They don’t feel attached to the ends of his wiry legs. Is there something the matter, something wrong? They’re loath to come away from the bottom of the boat. It isn’t cold feet; that’s not him. —It’s not funny, he mumbles. There’s no one about to laugh. It’s just he didn’t imagine what it would be like, what would happen, out on the lake, gouged into the mountain hollow. With tongue in cheek, he calls it The Lake for Other People — it rarely sees a soul. He didn’t think about the deathly stillness, the sullen water, how far he is from the sides, the jetty, his off-colour van; the knockabout world. The dinghy drifts. It sways a little, then catches. And he tilts. He doesn’t have a handle, a thing to hold. There’s nothing, nothing to reach for in the dank air, the night, nothing there for Moon. But he’s determined to stand up straight — his toes squidge together, bunch up. He wants to remain respectable. If someone on the shore were to spot him, unlikely as it is, in his sorry singlet, and he was wilting, in the middle of the lake, oh, he’d never live it down. He never thought about the edge, what would happen when he stood up, let the oars slip, watched them slide away, dissolve, he never thought about ... balance. The water’s calm but there’s a hungry ebb and flow beneath, somewhere, down in the bowels, in the hidden caverns of the lake.
He dreads a chill. He should take the plunge; do it. He shouldn’t overthink. He should switch off, step out over the rim, throw himself in. But he can’t. And now he knows why. It’s shoes. Of course he’s got shoes on, but not his proper ones, his wingtips — high shine finish, fine waxed laces. These are slip-ons. How embarrassing. These aren’t shoes for diving. He can’t be seen in these. What if they were to find him — oh, rescuers, say — and dredge him up, drag him to the surface in the wrong shoes? Unimaginable. On the shore, he’d considered a hat, something smart, a furry Astrakhan, for the journey into the middle, the grey. It would keep the dome of his head warm if there was a cheeky cross wind. It would complement his hangdog look, his leg hair. And he wouldn’t feel naked in a hat. But a hat, even an Astrakhan, would cause all kinds of problems. What if it dislodged itself mid-leap or after he dropped in — Moon, all the while grasping, reaching out — and then just hung about, bobbing on the surface with no head to fill it. What then? How foolish he’d feel down in the water, in a deep cloud of bubbles, hatless.
He’s never understood water, trusted it, the through-ness of it, the no-end-to-it. As a strip of a lad, he’d shied away, afraid. He couldn’t swim. In a pool of reckless boys, his body sank. He was the scaredy-cat, clinging to the edge. And when the water rose up, up, over his head, and he couldn’t see, his grip would go, he’d panic, thrashing — Air, air! Breathe! — water up his nose, his lungs bunching up. He’d gasp and splutter, mouth agape. For a moment, that seemed it was his last, he was drowning. Oh, the
terror! But the thrill too. Death — in the water — was taking him, consuming him.
The water’s coat is an inky black. Its surface paws the sides of the wooden boat. Moon doesn’t know how deep it is. Is there a bottom? How far down will he go? —Jump, Moon! He’s on the edge of doing it, the cusp. It’s just a swim, a little swim. But first, he’d like to see what he’s getting into. He’d like a last dekko at himself, half-naked, no belongings. But if he leans too far forward the boat will tip, he’ll wobble, Moon’ll lose his nerve. The last thing he wants to do is topple in, all gangly. How would that look? If a passerby on the mountain ridge looked down, imagine the hilarity! So, instead, (and, he thinks, cleverly — he’s rather pleased with his technique) he bends his stringy legs and lowers his torso, skinny hams and all, nears himself to the surface. It’s awkward, the squat, but strangely satisfying. He peers into the water, past where the reflection of his blacked-out eyes stare back, lost, wretched. Down below, there are ... well, the shadows of fish. A suspicious lot, they hover, ghost-pale, as if they’d rather not be there. And then, in a silvery flash — Moon has to blink — they dart from one nowhere to another. They go about uncomplicated business. They sense Moon above, approach. —Is there room down there for me? Gentlemen? Theirs is a private world. Moon imagines they’re rarely seen, ascended from unknowable depths. In any case, they’re unseeing. Their eyes mirror the depths. And
he thinks there’s hope down there for a Moon among the dark ones, swimmers of the netherworld. Buoyed, he straightens up. He didn’t need a boat after all. He could’ve walked in through the rocks, from the shore, started his swim just as easily. There wouldn’t have been a moment of crisis, a wobble — the wall of the boat jutting up, impossible to cross. It would’ve been natural. Through the hanging mist on the lake, he tries to pinpoint where he pushed off, solid ground. Why did he let the oars go? Moon pictures himself there on the shore. He has the right shoes on — oh, the shine — the relief is physical. He sees himself step into the lake to swim. The shoreline is steep. The land at the water’s edge is there, then it plummets. But Moon is caught up in the moment, dressed up. He’s oblivious. He wades in. The rock beneath his feet is there, then gone. He’s under.
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June 2010’s MESSAGE FROM THE ALLEYCATS:
Lately due to Amos’ asthma the doctor has had to change his medication, then there’s been all the hospital appointments and surgery’s. Seriously don’t they realise this interferes with our feeding schedule? Ungrateful humans. Where does the time fly? It seems like it was only last week when we were busy making the January issue meow!!. Well, that’s just about it from us for this edition everyone. Thanks again to all of the artists who submitted their work to be presented “On the Wall”. As ever, if you didn’t make it into this edition, don’t despair! Chances are that your submission arrived just too late to be included this time. Check out future editions of “A New Ulster” to see your work showcased “On the Wall”.
We continue to provide a platform for poets and artists around the world we want to offer our thanks to the following for their financial support Richard Halperin, John Grady, P.W. Bridgman, Bridie Breen, John Byrne, Arthur Broomfield, Silva Merjanin, Orla McAlinden, Michael Whelan, Sharon Donnell, Damien Smyth, Arthur Harrier, Maire Morrissey Cummins, Alistair Graham, Strider Marcus Jones Our anthologies https://issuu.com/amosgreig/docs/anu_present_voices_for_peace https://issuu.com/amosgreig/docs/anu_poetry_anthology_-april
Biographical Note: Karen Petersen Adventurer, photojournalist and writer, Karen Petersen has travelled the world extensively, publishing both nationally and internationally in a variety of publications. Most recently, her poetry was published in The Manzano Mountain Review and Pilgrimage Magazine in the USA, Orbis in the UK, and The Wild Word in Berlin. Her poems and short stories have also appeared in A New Ulster in Northern Ireland and The Bosphorus Review in Istanbul. In 2015, she read "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" at the Yeats Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the KGB Bar in NYC. Her poems have been translated into Persian and Spanish. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy and Classics from Vassar College and an M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and teaches English Composition at NNMC.
Reprieve --for Clifton Wiens It was cold today in Paris; the pond by the Parc Monceau's crumbling stone ruins iced over, glistening like white steel in the early light. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m haunted by grief, aging, illness, in a heartless Internet age. Not sure I can suffer this broken world so I took a walk in the woods to soothe my soul, and lay on a blanket of soft moss surrounded by a palisade of pine trees creaking and swaying in the wind; my green family of sentinels, so alive on this new morning.
Provence Sunflower giants nodding in the sun cicadas restless in the grass you turn, and I touch your cheek. The cat stretches in the languid heat I kiss your hair, hearing the sound of a car in the driveway. Your eyelashes brush my skin as moths nervously flutter across the table. You can lose your shadow drunk on pastis: A man could go mad here. (Karen Petersen)
Corsican Melodies Like a small love letter, dried paper thin from the winds of the ancient Mediterranean a bougainvillea leaf drifts down from the cloudless sky, and falls on the table. Nearby, a beautiful woman tosses her hair impatiently, as the trees of the maquis shift in the breeze while the old, their faces impassive, tend to their cheese and charcuterie with hard, black, bird-like stares. Unbending, eternal, this is the land of the vendetta, stiletto, the slow passage of time, of birth, death, the centuries of life, and of church bells at noon, the melodic rhythm of their notes Back and forth, like a cradle under the deep blue Corsican sky. The wind rolls in like a tide carrying the buzzing of the cicadas, the relentless beat of a hall clock counting down brittle hours. But history can beguile; for me there is only the heaviness of the sun, the heat, stilling all my thought and action, the deep silence of the mountains, the scented air of rosemary and myrtle, the drunken bees in dizzying spirals.
This is the story of a chance at love that happened many years ago. Claus and his Swedish wife and young daughter had drifted in and out of Mary’s life like shadows, always in the background one way or the other every time she went up to Connecticut to visit her great aunt Hilda. The elegant Hilda had married a wealthy man, and they lived in a grand house on a hill with its own beach and a spectacular view of the Thimble Islands. Claus and his family, one social rung removed and with little money, lived across the street. They might as well have lived in another state. Claus was the son of German immigrants who had come to America after WW2 and faded away into the fabric of American suburbia. He had grown up in Yonkers with an unremarkable childhood and had been an unremarkable student. He loved cameras though, so he became an itinerant commercial photographer who was rarely around. He had met his future wife, a tall blond beauty, during one of his assignments overseas and they’d married in Stockholm. Mary had no idea what he looked like and only knew of him and his past through the various stories that his wife, Elsa, would tell over tea at Mary’s great aunt’s. Their young daughter Lily was a charming, bright girl, and both Mary and her great aunt were fond of listening to Lily chatter away in that bubbly way that happy little girls have. After Mary graduated from college and was working all over the world for about a decade, she finally found herself back in Connecticut again for Thanksgiving at great aunt Hilda’s. During that time, Claus and Elsa had split up in an ugly divorce, and young Lily had turned into a sullen teenager with a bad case of Lyme disease.
Inexplicably, Hilda had invited all of them to the meal and seated Mary directly across from the mysterious Claus. As Mary entered the room Claus was already seated and their eyes locked. He had a kind of animal magnetism about him and was handsome in a brutal, rough kind of way. The attraction was instantaneous and did not go unnoticed by his ex-wife and daughter. It was one of the most uncomfortable situations Mary had ever experienced. She held out her hand to introduce herself as she was sitting down and instead of shaking it, Claus stood up and kissed it. Elsa’s eyes flashed with rage and Lily just looked even more sullen. Claus was tall, about 6'3"--a delicious height--and Mary was very flustered, wanting to drag him into a closet and jump on him then and there. He smiled and said, “I’ve heard a lot about you over the years from Hilda.” She looked at him and replied, “I’ve heard a lot about you too.” They both just stared at one another, oblivious to the storm of family emotion swirling around them. As the dinner progressed thanks to too much wine they had become openly flirtatious. By the end, neither of them cared what Elsa or Lily thought and they exchanged cards, fully knowing that it meant they were going to bed together as soon as possible. In the weeks that followed, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Two months into the romance Claus proposed and Mary accepted, not realizing yet that their relationship was only a fantasy for him and a dream for her. A telltale sign was that he hadn’t even bought a ring for her, only the words, which were spontaneously said at a traffic light... But she took him seriously and solemnly went out and bought an embroidered simple white Mexican folk dress as her wedding dress, and when Mary showed her mother, she responded with, “Do you really think this is going to happen?” which pissed Mary off.
The next month she was at Claus’ apartment and saw that the photos he’d taken of her had disappeared. “What happened to my photos?” she asked. His face reddened. Clearly something was up. “Um, I had Lily here for the weekend. She gets really upset.” “Seriously?” Mary said. “You’re going to let a teenager decide what things you can and can’t have in your own home? Who’s the parent here?” He shrugged sheepishly. “It seemed a small thing...” “Really?” she demanded. “Have you thought about when we’re married?? Is she not going to visit us then, or what exactly???” “I don’t know, “ Claus looked sad. “She’s so sick all the time that I find it difficult to get into any kind of conflict with her. It makes me feel really guilty. And Elsa is constantly talking about us to her. She’s so angry I finally found someone else to be with. Lily’s around that anger all the time and it’s not good.” “True, but don’t you see you’re enabling it by hiding the photos? Lily needs to deal with reality and get used to the fact that things change. That’s life!” Mary really didn’t understand why Claus was so intimidated by a 15 year old kid. But intimidated he was, and at Thanksgiving that year, just before they were about to leave Mary’s apartment to go have dinner with her elderly mother the phone rang. It was Lily, hysterical, because the UPS truck had run over her little dog and killed it. It was an accident, and Claus had always been telling her not to let the dog out but it had escaped for one final time. He put his coat on, and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go to her,” and left. Mary understood this but when he didn’t come back for three days she began to wonder. He claimed he always slept on
Elsa’s couch when he was visiting his daughter but somehow she rather doubted it. They had planned a trip to New Mexico shortly after that which began with him telling Mary at the car rental in Albuquerque that he had no money. “If you can just cover this trip for me I’ll pay you when we get back to New York. I spent all my money on Lily, trying to cheer her up,” he said. “WHAT? Why didn’t you mention this before we got on the plane?? What if I didn’t have the money??? I should have had a say in this! How incredibly selfish of you!!” Mary was livid. Claus just stood there. It was obvious their trip in Claus’ mind had been only for him, to get some photos he could sell, and had not been worthy of discussing with her, who apparently was supposed to front the money for all of it. Incredible. Her scorn filled the entire big Western sky. It was during this trip that she began to feel a sense of unease but she kept telling herself that she’d made a commitment, and that all marriages had their ups and downs. So she stuck it out, in spite of his engagement present being a slender $5 silver Navajo bracelet he’d bought at a pawn shop in Taos. When they got back to New York, he did repay her but it took a few weeks, and they were stressful since she had to do a juggling act with her finances. She felt a tiny seed of resentment beginning to form, which he must have sensed since he asked her to come to his mother’s for dinner for her birthday. Mary hadn’t met Claus’ mother before, and for her this seemed to indicate some level of responsibility on his part so she was pleased. Little did she know that it would turn out to be something else entirely.
His mother still lived in Yonkers in the house he’d grown up in. It was starting to fall apart–the
wraparound deck was rotting and all the window trim needed painting badly. The front walkway was cracked, and Mary turned to Claus and said, “Why aren’t you helping your mother maintain the house? It’s an asset.” He looked at her like she was speaking Chinese. “I don’t have time,” he said curtly. She shrugged. He can be such a jerk sometimes, she thought. His parents had come to America after WWII and his mother still had strong traces of a German accent. She spoke to Claus in German, which surprised her, since he had never said he spoke or understood it. Her home was like the outside of her house; in need of repair. Mary felt badly for her and was determined to be a good daughter-in-law once Claus and she were married. There were a few traces of his mother’s life in Germany around: a lace tablecloth, a painting of the Black Forest, and a marvelous little carved gnome made from the root of a tree that hung on the wall. Mary remarked on it and she laughed, “Oh that’s for good luck!” Unlike her own family, where the events of the day and national politics were often avidly discussed, they ate dinner mostly in silence. They drank some decent German wine, a Reisling she thought it was, and his mother had made ham and dumplings and a weird fruit salad with jello which went well with the wine. Mary started to relax. “Where’s the bathroom?” she whispered to Claus as his mother was in the kitchen getting dessert. He pointed upstairs. She walked up the stairs and into his mother’s gloomy bedroom. The old wallpaper had little baskets of flowers all over it, and Mary saw the bathroom at the back. Her ornate wooden dresser was on the right, sitting there like some kind of silent being that was privy to her secrets. Out of
respect, that intuition should have kept her walking towards the bathroom but instead Mary’s curiosity got the better of her. On one side of the glass top was a large, framed black and white photo of Claus’ mother as a young woman and on the other side was her husband. Both were smiling happily as if it was the best day of their lives. But there was one detail that Claus had never mentioned. Claus’ mother and father were both wearing Nazi uniforms--officer’s uniforms–complete with the telltale dreaded SS lightening bolts. The horrific images from the concentration camps Mary had seen growing up and the SS involvement in those horrors came immediately to mind. The shock was overwhelming. Mary froze, and thought she was going to vomit. She walked over and stared at every detail. This almost didn’t seem real. There was no way she could marry Claus now, and tell their children that their grandparents had been Nazis, and particularly evil ones at that. It was out of the question. She composed herself and went down for dessert. They both were sitting at the dining room table as if nothing was wrong, and there was a delicious chocolate cake waiting for Mary. But she could only eat a small piece out of politeness and wanted to leave as soon as possible. She turned to his mother and said, “This was lovely but we should be getting back soon. Let me help you clear the table.” His mother tsked ,tsked her and replied, “I can do it. Thank you for coming, and happy birthday. It was so nice to meet you.” Claus then said, “I’ll call you a cab, I’ve decided to stay over.” As he walked Mary out he kissed her without a word. She knew then that Claus knew that she knew. His body language was rigid. Well, what did he expect? Mary thought. She got in the cab
feeling queasy and looked forward to being by herself that night. As soon as she got home she went to the closet and put the embroidered white Mexican folk dress, her so-called wedding dress, in the trash. Just seeing it, now so forlorn, made her cry. She couldn’t bear to look at it; it was like an admonition. She could just hear her omniscient mother saying “I told you so...” They didn’t really speak again until Claus disappeared Christmas Eve a week later. He was supposed to be at her apartment by 6pm and just never showed. Around 1a.m. he called from a pay phone in Baltimore and said that he had freaked out and just driven off, heading South. “I feel torn in two. You, my daughter, my mother, your mother...I never know where I’m supposed to be," he said. "Someone’s always bitching at me; it’s never enough. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to get away! Look, I’ll see you on the 31st.” Wow. She thought. This guy is a grown man and totally unable to deal with the kind of things most adults just take for granted. It’s a good thing that I’ve already decided to leave. New Year’s Eve, for what was to be their last night together, Mary wore the most amazing lingerie. They came back to her place from a nice dinner out and got stoned. She put Barry White on the stereo and gave Claus a completely unexpected lap dance that made his eyes roll back in his head. Then she sat on that big stiff German cock of his and fucked his brains out. It was a truly memorable fuck. She needed to be sure he would never forget this evening, and for Mary that was the ultimate revenge–him spending the rest of his life never being able to top that final night. Breaking up with him the next morning didn’t even bother her. They both knew it was over. He hadn’t really wanted to take the next step with his life, and all she could see looming in her brain were those obscene Nazi uniforms on either side of his mother’s dresser like they were simply
school photos of her grandchildren. Her anger and disgust was overwhelming. But also overwhelming was the sadness she felt--that forlorn dress had said it all--and that sadness lasted for years.