Fredericksburg Literary Review: The Anthology Volume 1, Issue 1 Fall 2013
Volume 2, Issue 1 Spring 2014
Volume 2, Issue 2 Summer 2014
FLR logo by Elizabeth Seaver Â© 2013 Cover Art: Chatham Bridge by Hsi-Mei Yates
EDITORS Susan Carter Morgan Elizabeth Seaver Wendy Gayle Reilly Cundiff Steve Watkins ANTHOLOGY DESIGN EDITOR A.E. Bayne PUBLISHERS Water Street Writing and Art Studio & Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1 Welcome to our first issue of Fredericksburg Literary Review. We are happy to share writing not only from our region, but also from across the country. Established writers, as well as those who publish here for the first time, have found a home in our magazine.
~ Editor, Susan Carter Morgan
Special Guest Author: Steve Watkins Steve Watkins is the author of several award-winning books including Juvie, his latest novel, which has just been released by Candlewick Press. He is currently at work on another book for Candlewick, a post-Iraq War novel, and the first two books in a series of paranormal war history middle grade novels for Scholastic. He is also a professor emeritus of English from the University of Mary Washington, and a partner in The Yoga Foundation of Fredericksburg, which opens in 2016.
The Horrible Disfigurement Club The name was my idea. It came to me at our inaugural meeting, which was just me and Leper Larry getting together for drinks after work. We were on our third beer at a restaurant/bar called Muffin’s, still getting to know one another, still telling our stories—him about the time his nose fell off, me about my marsupialization—and I said “Larry, I believe you and I speak the same language.” He said “You’re right there, Bill. We ought to start a club” and I said “Yeah. The Horrible Disfigurement Club.” Larry snorted as best he could, given his condition, then clinked glasses with me and said “Here’s to scars and deformities.” “Here’s to prosthetic noses,” I said back. The nodules around his eye sockets reddened more than usual and he looked at me funny, as if I had crossed a line, but then he shrugged and said I could be president. I asked him what the duties were and he said I had to buy the next round of drinks. After that Larry and I became pals, getting together once a week at Muffin’s, e-popping one another over the office network, making fun of the other Dilberts at work. We were both in tech-support at Dynatronics, a defense contractor just outside the Beltway. Larry used to tell people we were the guys who put the smart in smart bombs, but after the shock and awe of the war wore off–and after all the publicity about the fractional miscalculations and the decimated wedding parties–he stopped saying that, especially in mixed company. We picked up our next two members in short order. Sarah Face worked in the kitchen at Muffin’s; Hemicorporectomy Steve tended bar. Both had a sense of humor about their own horrible disfigurements, which was a plus. “Hi guys,” Sarah said the first time we met her. She winked her one good eye. “Don’t mind the face.” Steve stabbed his cigarette out in an ashtray on his wheelchair where his lap should have been. “Excuse me if I don’t get up to shake hands,” he growled. Afterwards, Larry grabbed my arm in the car and said, “Did you see the way that chick was checking me out?” I told him he was crazy, imagining things, and besides, how could he know who she was looking at since she only 1
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had half a functioning face? Heck, I said, she could have been checking me out instead. “Yeah,” Larry said, adjusting his prosthetic nose, angling it just so in the rearview mirror, trying to find a way to make it look less conspicuous, more jaunty. “I’m sure.” A couple of weeks into the club, Hemicorporectomy Steve made a motion that we hold the meetings somewhere else. He was self-conscious about wheeling himself out from behind the bar, about the gasps of the Muffin’s customers—although people were already getting an eyeful of Larry and Sarah Face at our corner table. And wondering about me, since I have a decent face, no visible scars when I have my clothes on. People who notice me—and some do–see an average guy, 40 something, fit enough, financially secure, 5’10” in shoes, brown hair, brown eyes, Brooks Brothers. Not that I wasn’t as self-conscious as everybody else about my horrible disfigurement, even if it wasn’t out there for the world to see. Maybe I was a fraud, as some said later—passing for one of them—but it still bothered me plenty whenever some Normal I barely knew did a double-take at the swimming pool and said, “Jesus, Bill. What American butcher got ahold of you?” We passed Steve’s motion to relocate and found a room downtown at the Community Center. It was one night a week in the time slot between the Seniors Swing Swing Class and a Near Death Experience group, which only had a couple of members. There are a lot of horribly disfigureds in the world, though, especially where we are, so it wasn’t long before we were feeling the squeeze. It’s not generally enough to be horribly disfigured. You have to have your story, too—your horrible disfigurement narrative. With me and Larry there were the exotic settings, of course: him in Angola where he was a missionary with a pretty, devout wife; me in India my senior year of college for a December mini-mester study abroad program in World Religions. Him visiting a leper colony, like something out of the 18th century, staying just long enough to contract it himself; me tripping over the edge of a cliff outside a Tibetan refugee village in Utter Pradesh. Him trapped by civil war, his face ravaged by the time they got him out; me
landing on a rock shelf, tearing a three-inch gash in my liver. Him losing his nose, then his pretty, devout wife, then his faith; me going through surgery after surgery, leaving me with a hole in my back—the marsupialization—plus metal sutures buried throughout my torso, and a maze of keloidal scars that spread like kudzu– rare, I know, in a white guy who isn’t a burn victim, but there it was anyway. With Hemicorporectomy Steve it was bone cancer eating him from the bottom up: first his feet, then lower legs, then thighs, then butt and pelvis. He still had most of his rib cage when I first saw him, with the skin flaps sewn together underneath. He balanced on a booster seat cushioned with pillows high on his wheelchair, ileostomy and colostomy pouches hanging to either side like a pair of six guns. There were already indications that they hadn’t done the latest amputation soon enough, though, and the cancer might already have had a purchase on what was left of his spine. It was no wonder that Steve smoked so many cigarettes, almost as if he couldn’t bear the suspense and wanted to hurry things along. Sarah Face’s story was terrible, too. She passed out drunk one night on a lit stove so one side of her face and scalp was a snake’s nest of keloid. She was always walking around with silicone sheeting taped to her bad side to soften up the scars, maybe shrink them back a little, but it was wishful thinking. She’d already tried lasers and radiation and grafts and nothing much worked. At least it helped with the itching, which was something I knew a little about myself, one of the things Sarah and I had in common. It was Sarah Face who suggested we use the AA format for our meetings. “Hi. My name is Sarah Face and I’m horribly disfigured.” “Hello Sarah. Welcome.” “It’s been six years and I still can’t look in the mirror much. I do have one in my apartment, on the door of the medicine cabinet, but that’s all I can stand. I’m tired of being a metaphor for the duality of human existence—the grotesque and the angelic—even though I know that’s what people end up thinking when they see me. I don’t blame them. I do it myself. But my bad side is me as much as my good side. I don’t even like to think of it as sides. My hemispheres. I could say that but it sounds too technical or something. Anyway, I don’t love my scars the way some people tell you to, but they’re me. My bad side or hemisphere—it’s as good as my good side. Or, really, it’s not even a question of good or bad. It’s neutral. It’s just face. But sometimes I wish if I couldn’t go back in time and undo what happened—not get so upset because of some stupid, stupid guy, not stop at that liquor store on the way home, not decide after slamming four Seven and Sevens that I just had to cook some scrambled eggs—then I could at least go back and, I don’t know, burn all my face equally.
Sometimes I get a kink in my neck from always turning my un-burned side to people, and my chiropractor says I need to knock it off—he’s running out of ideas for my adjustments. So I would just love to meet somebody, man or woman, at this point I don’t care, who wouldn’t discriminate, who would love me for both sides equally, who wouldn’t make me feel like I always have to be turning my head that way.” Listening to Sarah that night—it was a couple of months into the Club and we already had a dozen more members—I knew exactly what she meant. Probably we all did. But as she talked I was sure it was me she was looking at. How could I not respond? Such a raw, naked appeal, and from someone as horribly disfigured as me. Not the sort of person who would ask, once we were intimate, if there wasn’t some way they could, oh, maybe fill in that hole in my back. Not the sort of person who would complain when a metal suture worked its ragged way loose from my deeper abdominal tissue and pricked us both where our bodies came together. Our eyes—my two and her one–met and held in that pause once Sarah finished her confession. I was sure of it. Then the moment passed, the meeting broke up, chairs scraped the floor, coats shrugged themselves around people’s shoulders. And Larry, who had been sitting next to me the whole time, apparently convinced once again that Sarah had been looking straight at him, elbowed me out of the way. He was surprisingly fast for a leper, practically hurdling one of the new guys, a Peruvian named Condensacion, who wheeled himself around on a mechanic’s dolly on account of his horribly twisted limbs. Condensacion told us his parents deliberately broke and reset his arms and legs at impossible angles when he was a boy to better his chances as a professional beggar, part of a street cartel in Lima. He was eventually rescued by nuns, spirited away to the U.S. where he attended Catholic schools, earned a B.A. in business administration, and landed a job as a loan officer at Fannie Mae. The funny thing was that he was still always bumming coffee or cab money. He was very good at it, too. In fact I might have beat Larry to Sarah Face that night, even with all of Larry’s elbowing and hurdling, if a hand hadn’t grabbed the bottom of my pants leg. “Por favor, Senor.” As I pulled out my wallet I could hear Larry and Sarah already making dinner plans. “Someplace with candlelight,” Sarah was saying. “You like romance?” Larry asked, a little too eagerly it seemed to me. “No,” Sarah said. “I like the dark.” I gave Condensacion a twenty but waved him off when he protested, “No, no, no, is too much, is too much.” Hemicorporectomy Steve buzzed up next to us in his motorized chair, glared at Sarah and Larry, and said, “The fuck’s that all about?” I read somewhere that every good horrible disfigurement narrative has to have a back story to explain a person’s motivation, as if horrible disfigurements themselves aren’t Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
explanation enough for the way we are. The guy they wrote about in the Post the other day—the 600 pound man who hasn’t been out of bed in seven years but who they’re finally hauling to his feet with horse pulleys: still needs a back story. But how do you explain loneliness? You can point to this event, and that influence, and those genetic predispositions. You can blame it on the death of God and the birth of existentialism. You can list random things and see if they add up to a pattern that makes sense to anybody. Or you can throw up your hands in despair. My parents once had a little boy they named Bill who only lived for a few days. There was a problem with his heart. When I was born a couple of years later they gave me the same name, so all my life I had to wonder if it was truly me they wanted or if they would have preferred the other Bill. I asked my Mom once why they named us both Bill and she said it was just a tradition, that back in the old days people had big families, and high infant mortality rates, and not always enough names to go around. I pointed out that there were just the three of us in our family—her and Dad and me—but her face got cloudy. “And Bill,” she said. “We can never forget little Bill. He was a part of our family too.” “But I’m Bill,” I said, not that it did any good. Mom just nodded and said “Of course you are, and we love you very much.” So maybe it’s no mystery that when I was younger I didn’t have self-confidence. I was nervous and spent a lot of time in libraries, lying on dusty floors, surrounded by walls of books. I wasn’t athletic, or good-looking, or charismatic, or any sort of genius. I didn’t follow baseball and I didn’t work on cars. I barely spoke the same language as other people, although my mother tried to make up for that by volunteering to be my Den Mother, Sunday School teacher, Field Trip Chaperone, and Home Room Mom. She often spoke for both of us, which was fine by me: “Oh, Bill and I would love to come to Lester’s birthday party. What can we bring?” So that was one thing. Another was that we moved all the time. I convinced myself for several years it was because my father was a spy, but I came to understand that he was just restless. My Mom and Dad bought me clothes and food and band instruments that I never learned to play very well. My one virtue was an angelic voice. I couldn’t read music but had enough of an intuitive feel for the hymns we sang in the many choirs I joined in the many towns we lived in that I could follow along with almost no one noticing—never more than a fraction of a beat off. But a little off just the same. I set my sites on the Vienna Boys’ Choir, but it was the same old story: my voice cracked at the critical audition. Leper Larry lost his faith in Africa. I don’t think I ever had a chance to find mine. All those churches didn’t make sense if I couldn’t perform the high solos in their vesper choirs. Once you’ve sung soprano, it’s hard to drop back to being a lousy tenor. In those choirs I was somebody, I had an 3
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identity. My voice transported me and those who heard me sing, including my Mom and Dad. Once when I soloed through a verse of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” the congregation leapt to its feet and broke into spontaneous applause until the minister glared at them for the impropriety and they shrank back into their pews. My Dad thought all I needed to regain my confidence was Dale Carnegie. He gave me books and tapes on How to Win Friends and Influence People and it did help some. I picked up enough tips to help me talk to girls when I was in high school and college. I did well in my studies. But something was missing. My Mom said it was “seasoning,” and she said a little study-abroad was just the thing I needed. So I bought a backpack, said goodbye to my last girlfriend, and set off with a tour group for that mini-mester in India. We visited shrines, sat in ashrams, gave rupees to beggars, wept through curries. One day on a crowded bus in Agra a man wished me Merry Christmas. I thanked him and he said he was Hindu but knew this was the most special day for Christians. I thought about all those churches from my past, all those choirs I’d left behind, and then told him I wasn’t a Christian. He was puzzled. He asked what my religion was in that case and I told him I didn’t have one, that I was an agnostic. He was still puzzled. “But you must have a religion,” he said. I assured him that I didn’t. He shared his bag of burnt peanuts with me, and said it again: “But you must.” A week later I stepped off another bus in the Himalayan foothills not far from the Dalai Lama’s summer house, stumbled, caught myself, stumbled again—one of my legs must have fallen asleep–and then pitched over the edge of the mountain. When I came back from India after the accident, almost dead for the longest time, my Mom and Dad stayed by my hospital bed day and night as the surgeries and the complications multiplied. They tried to talk to me about what happened whenever I was lucid; I think my Mom blamed herself since the trip had been her idea. But I had malaria on top of everything else that was wrong with me, and the quinine treatment left a loud buzzing in my ears so for weeks I could barely hear a thing. When I finally left the hospital I had train tracks criss-crossing my torso and gauze pads stuffed into the gaping hole in my back. The surgeons had removed a rib so they could pump out old blood and bile and the yellow detritus of toxic infection. I weighed a hundred pounds and still couldn’t hear very well. A minister at my parents’ church told me it was all God’s will. You get cautious when you lose things. It’s because you know loss is real, and it’s because you’re afraid you will lose more if you’re not careful, and even if you are. So I became careful. I was meticulous with my laundry, avoided spicy foods, carried an umbrella, paid off my credit card bill every month, hid my horrible disfigure-
ment. It didn’t stop Mom and Dad from dying, eventually, but I consoled myself with the idea that maybe they were finally back with the Bill they had wanted all along. It was hard seeing Leper Larry and Sarah Face together over the next couple of weeks, leaving meetings together, whispering stuff nobody else could hear. I wasn’t the only one who noticed it, either. One Saturday Sarah got so distracted that she forgot to pick up Hemicorporectomy Steve for a weekend doctor’s appointment. Condensacion and I drove him instead. Steve brought up Sarah and Larry as soon as we seat-belted him into the portable car seat. “Alls I’m saying,” he said, “is that once she gets a look at the rest of him, it’ll be all over.” Condensacion disagreed. “After the face is no surprises any more. After the face is just a man and a woman.” Steve waved dismissively. “For god sake look at the facts,” he said. “The man already lost his nose. Who’s to say he won’t drop his shorts one day and see he also lost his door knocker?” Condensacion said “Jesus Joseph Mary” and Steve said “Don’t you mean Hay-soos, Jose, y Maria?” Condensacion thought that was pretty funny. Those guys had turned into a regular vaudeville team, and it occurred to me that if you put them both on the ground they’d be about the same height. But I didn’t say anything—about that or about Sarah and Leper Larry. I just gunned the car off for the doctor’s office. Steve looked gray after his appointment. I asked what was up with the doctors but he just growled. “You’d think they’d give me half off since they ain’t but half of me left,” he said. “Charge a arm and a goddamn leg just to snake out a couple of pipes. A arm and a leg.” Condensacion said didn’t he mean they charged him two legs and a bum and Steve roared. “At least I got some change back,” Steve said. “A spleen.” “Hoo-ha,” said Condensacion. “Don’t forget your intestines, Senor. It’s a blue light especial.” They kept up the routine for a good half hour–whistling past the graveyard the whole way back to Muffin’s. Leper Larry, meanwhile, was proving to be big on the guy talk, which I thought was disgusting in and of itself, and also hypocritical for someone who used to be a Christian missionary, even if he had lost his faith. “i tell u, bill, it’s a whole other world with this woman.” He told me this one day in an e-pop. “what do u mean?” I typed back. I told myself I didn’t really want to know, that I was just being polite—and also that I didn’t want Larry getting paranoid that I was interested in Sarah Face, too. “its one of those ‘who let the dogs out’ situations,” he popped. “forget about the foreplay and forget about the kissing. nothing face to face. i told her i was expert on the missionary position—it was a joke—but she just said no, thats all right.”
“r u sure we should be e-popping about this at work, larry?” I wrote him, glancing nervously around the office. We were in cubicles and you never knew who might be standing up and looking over the partition at your computer screen. Another attitude reprimand and Larry might get in some real trouble. “i thought we were buddies,” Larry wrote. “i just need your opinion. u have a normal face. u know how women r. what’s the deal with this one? that’s all im saying.” I told him maybe they should try getting to know one another better, stop fooling around for awhile, take things slow, etc. “good one, bill,” he e-popped back. “funny. u bet. lol.” Then he signed off. I couldn’t tell whether he genuinely thought I was being funny or if I had hurt his feelings. That’s the problem with e-pops. You can’t control tone. You never really know what anybody is saying. We had a guest speaker that week at the Horrible Disfigurement Club. The topic was Necrotizing Fascitis, a terrible bacterial infection that turns white blood cells against you so you devour your own tissue, eat yourself up from the inside out. The speaker had it himself and half of his leg was already gone. He seemed philosophical about it, though. Had they tried surgery? Fourteen procedures. Had they been able to check the spread? Prognosis positive. Had the experience shaken his faith in the Creator and His divine plan? Diagnosis negative. That’s how he talked—all rhetorical questions and clinical responses. When it came time for Q&A nobody had anything left to ask so we made him an honorary member and went straight to the donuts. I had just picked up one of those powdereds with sprinkles when Sarah Face touched my arm with the tips of her fingers, right above my elbow. She asked if we could talk and I said sure. She said she didn’t mean right there. I didn’t want to waste time finding a trash basket and risk running into Larry or Condensacion or Steve, so I was still holding the donut when we got to my car. I broke it in half and by the time we were done eating there were sprinkles all over the front seat. It was about Larry, of course. Or, more precisely, his leprosy. “You’re his friend,” Sarah said once we were driving, “and I know this is terrible, but I can’t get it out of my head. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s got a great body. I bet he does a thousand crunches a day.” I nodded. “He told me he’s got Nordic Trac.” “That’s true,” Sarah said. “He does that every day, too. He loves his Nordic Trac.” “But the leprosy,” I said, not wanting us to get sidetracked onto Larry’s virtues. Sarah chewed on her hair. We’d been cruising through Old Town Alexandria but now we were merging onto 495, headed for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The Potomac beneath us was black as an oil spill. Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
“I can’t kiss him.” She blurted it out. “I’m afraid something might fall off. His lips. His ears.” I asked if she’d ever tried and she said yes, once, but his prosthetic nose got knocked out of alignment and that freaked her out, too. I didn’t know what to say. We were in Maryland now, following the Beltway around the capital, or toward Baltimore, depending on what we did 20 miles further on where I-95 broke off from 495, if we made it that far. I knew I should say comforting things—and supportive things for Larry. But I kept picturing what he had told me about him and her together, and who let the dogs out, and what she had said at that meeting, and the way she had looked at me—not him. And then I did a sorry thing. I said I guessed she had a right to know—that her fears weren’t unfounded. “You mean it really could happen?” “No,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “I mean it has happened. What do you think he was doing when he lost his nose?” “Oh god,” Sarah said. “I think I’m going to be sick.” She didn’t ask for details and I was glad because I didn’t have any to give her since I’d made that up about his nose. Instead I patted her knee. We drove in silence for ten minutes before I thought of some more things to say. It was all a string of clichés, but the best I could do given the situation. “You didn’t make him the way he is,” I said. “It’s not your fault. You have a right to be happy. You shouldn’t have to settle. You’re an attractive woman. I bet you could have just about any guy you wanted.” It wasn’t true, of course, but I was on her good side, the one that represented her angelic nature in that duality of human existence thing, so it was easy to pretend. She really was quite good looking from where I was sitting. “You’re lying,” Sarah said, but she took my hand in hers anyway. I told her no I wasn’t and she said, “Jesus, Bill. Have you not had a good look at me lately? Larry’s probably been telling you he’s worried about bits of me falling off.” I hesitated just for a breath and then added my final cliché. “Not hardly. Anybody would be lucky to have somebody like you. I know I would.” “Well you’re sweet,” Sarah said, still holding my hand. She settled back into her seat and the next thing either of us knew we were taking the I-95 fork toward Baltimore. I sped up to 80 but cars were still passing us easy. They seemed to be pulling us along. At one point I asked her if she knew why they called Baltimore “Charm City” and Sarah said no, but maybe we should drive on over there and find out. It was around that time that the first soldiers from the Iraq War showed up at the Horrible Disfigurement Club—a couple of burn victims and a paraplegic. This threw everything out of balance because right away we realized that no matter how powerful anybody else’s horrible disfigurement narratives were the soldiers’ stories trumped them. Car 5
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bombs, suicides, land mines, snipers, cutthroat insurgents, even friendly fire and fraggers: it was hard to see how cancers and accidents and near-fatal bacterias could hold up very well in comparison, no matter how horrible the disfigurement. One of our own members—Dr. Necrotizing Fascitis, actually, who turned out to be a lot less of a guy than we originally thought—started the rumor that they weren’t actually soldiers but defense contractors doing security work driving visiting politicians back and forth between the airport and the Green Zone in armored Suburbans. We didn’t want the soldiers hearing any of that nonsense, though, so me and Larry and Steve and Condensacion and Sarah, as members of the Executive Committee, revoked Fascitis’s honorary membership. He cried and apologized, said he had nowhere else to go, but we told him all decisions were final. After that we tried very hard to make the soldiers feel at home; Larry and I mentioned our work at Dynatronics, but they weren’t interested in technical discussions about the war. They just wanted to talk about what happened to them and the others in their units, and to complain about the V.A. One of them might have even rolled his eyes when Larry brought up the smart bombs, though that could have been a spasm caused by nerve damage. Sarah took on sponsorship of the first two and we got Hemicorporectomy Steve to pair up with the other guy. Sarah turned into a regular mother hen and I was jealous at first, which of course I couldn’t let on about since we were keeping everything a secret from Larry and everybody else. Steve, we suspected, was mostly just taking his paraplegic over to Muffin’s after hours for drinking. Larry bugged me for awhile at work: Did I know what was going on with Sarah Face? Things had been all Hootchie Mama but now she never wanted to get together any more. She was always busy. Would I talk to her for him? Did I think she was seeing somebody else? Did I think it was one of those soldiers? The e-popping got on my nerves, and even though I was the one Sarah was with, he didn’t know that so I felt justified when I played the tough love card on him. “look, larry, u cant keep going on like this. if she doesn’t want u theres nothing u can do about it but get over it already. im sorry but i have to be honest.” The Post got wind of us not long after that—it might have been from a source in the Veterans’ Administration because we had the soldiers now—and that served as a distraction for everybody. Even Larry seemed to perk up for a while. There was some debate in the club about whether to allow the article—I was against it from the start—but once we found out the reporter had a club foot the majority said they guessed it was OK. Not that there weren’t some grumblers. A club foot! What’s next? Hang nail? I didn’t let them photograph my train-track scars, or my marsupialization either. The others went for it, though:
Leper Larry, Hemicorporectory Steve, even Sarah Face. They let the paper use their nicknames, too, which were supposed to be an inside joke, a mechanism for bonding, not something public. Nobody was prepared for what came next. They made us the lead story in the Style section (“Disfigurement Club Not So ‘Horrible’ To Those Who Find a Home There”) and then suddenly everybody wanted in: infected cuts, botched rhinoplasties, chainsawed legs. The worst were the Broken Hearters with their sob stories and twisted handkerchiefs. The Associated Press picked up the story right away and it must have gone international because for weeks I was getting calls from all sorts of strange places: Guam, Uzbekistan, Dallas. Sarah and I got into our first fight over it all. I said the paper had turned us into a freak show and we were idiots for cooperating. She said I was jealous because my nickname never caught on with anybody and I had to admit she had a point there. I was supposed to be Kangaroo but for some reason, unlike everybody else, I had stayed just Bill. I had some points of my own I wanted to make back but the phone rang just then. It was a fact-checker from Time Magazine, calling to make sure they had the right spelling for everybody’s names. Sarah and I had our second fight when she accused me of making love to her good side. It was true, but I wasn’t about to admit it and so got righteously indignant to cover myself. Things had been great between us for a month or so, despite the Post article—me sneaking over to her place, her sneaking over to mine. Trips out of town—to Great Falls, where she used to skip school and smoke pot with her friends when she was in high school; to the National Cathedral, where I used to sing in the vesper choir when I was a little boy soprano. One night I even told her about little Bill. Sarah didn’t get it, though. She said maybe that wasn’t some other Bill; maybe it was me–not yet ready for this world, not strong enough to survive, not enough of a heart. She said maybe after I was born that first time I had to go back and try again. She said maybe I was the Bill my parents had wanted all along. I told her I couldn’t hear that—it was a settled question in my mind about me and Mom and Dad and little Bill. Sarah got quiet and we never got around to talking about it again. That night of our second fight, it wasn’t so much a fight as it was Sarah complaining about me shying away from the dead side of her face. I listened for about an hour and at first I was apologetic, but finally I couldn’t take it any more. I took both her cheeks between my hands–only flinching a little at the webbed feel of her keloidal scar: the suggestion of a flinch; she couldn’t have detected it with an electron microscope—and I said,. “Goddamn, Sarah. Weren’t you the one who dumped Larry because of his horrible disfigurement?” She jerked back and pulled her sheet up around her leaving me naked and exposed. All my own scars stood out like
raised hieroglyphs, or like Braille, there in the dim light of her bedroom. I knew she felt guilty about what we’d done to Larry. I’d read it in her diary when she was in the shower. I pretended to feel bad, too, but I didn’t seem to have a conscience where Larry was concerned. I couldn’t say why except that I’d been so lonely, and Sarah–half of her anyway—had looked like someone I could love. She gathered the sheets more tightly, as if she might disappear beneath them in the growing dark, and said, finally, “You don’t have a horrible disfigurement, Bill. You’re just horrible.” I didn’t understand for awhile that that meant we were through, even when I saw her whispering with Larry at the end of the next meeting, and even when he gave me the brush-off at work. What I had said to Sarah was such an obvious truth that I didn’t see how it could be a deal-breaker for us. But it was a deal-breaker. I was just too logical to see that right away. I sealed my own doom, in any event, when I proposed the Standards Committee. It happened the following week when a woman named Betty S. came to the meeting and took the podium. She had a cadaverous look about her but no horrible disfigurement in evidence. And just as we expected she turned out to be the third Shattered Hearter since the Post article came out, with her “Blah, blah, blah, Some wounds nobody can see but they’re here and they’re real. And blah, blah, blah Horrible disfigurement of the spirit. And blah, blah, blah I may be crippled on the inside but I refuse to be a victim.” Here she flashed her tan teeth at a couple of the soldiers, who always wore their fatigues, even though they were withering away and barely filled them out anymore. Betty S. waited for applause that didn’t come. Instead, Hemicorporectomy Steve yelled out from the back of the room, “Go hang yourself from a bridge why don’t you?” It wasn’t very nice but it was what everybody was thinking. Betty S. left in a huff, followed by two other Normals and a guy with a limp. Leper Larry volunteered to chair the Standards Committee. Steve and Condensacion agreed to serve as well and they held a brief caucus after the meeting broke up. I was straightening chairs with Sarah Face, working my way close enough to try and talk, so I couldn’t hear what they were saying. All three flashed me the stink eye as they filed out of the room. Sarah followed though there were still chairs and I called out after her—“Sarah, wait”—but she didn’t even turn around. I sat in a folding chair as the weight of what was happening settled into my chest, and for awhile I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what Sarah had told Larry, or what Larry told the guys, but I knew what a stink eye was, and I knew in that moment that what Sarah and I had found in Charm City, we’d already lost. All three members of the Near Death Experience Club introduced themselves when they came in half an hour Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
later: Sally, a massage therapist, Dexter, a city planner, and Leeanne, a mom. Leeanne was the friendliest. She wore a Hands Across America sweatshirt, and a crystal on a braided necklace that looked like the lanyards girls used to make in summer rec programs. “Are you an Experiencer?” she asked. “Or are you just here about the Afterlife?” The others nodded behind her. It appeared to be a standard opening question, but I wasn’t sure how to answer. Dexter explained helpfully: “Experiencers, like us, have died and come back.” I smiled in appreciation. He had a remarkable comb over. Sally, the massage therapist—who was kind of pretty– pressed her right thumb into her left palm. I wondered if she and Dexter were a couple. “The ones about the Afterlife,” she said, “they’re often people, depressed people, terminally ill people, very sad people going through difficult times, contemplating suicide. And what’s holding them back is that concern—about what’s on the other side. And we know, of course, having been.” I sat up in my chair. A dim memory shook itself loose from somewhere deep in my heart or my brain—a moment in a hospital: rapturous warmth, a white and steel recovery room, blue numbers throbbing on a monitor, my mom and my dad. “Leaving your body?” I said. “Looking down on yourself and everyone else?” Dexter nodded. “There’s that.” “A tunnel and a light?” “That too.” I rubbed my hands together. “I’m pretty sure I’ve been there,” I said, whispering, though as soon as I spoke I seemed to lose the pulse of that diaphanous moment. They asked me to tell them what happened and I did, hoping it would impress them: India, the study-abroad mini-mester, the Dalai Lama’s house, the bus, the stumbling, the cliff, the operations, the hideous scarring, the hole. It was a great story, and had been a hit when I shared it—three times already—at the Horrible Disfigurement Club. But they were disappointed when I finished. “But then what happened?” Leeanne asked, fingering her crystal and dusting her bangs off her forehead. “Yes,” said Sally. “Would you mind fast forwarding to the good parts?” I had my warning about what was coming next. Hemicorporectomy Steve called me late one night when I was catching up on my ironing. It was what my life had been before the Horrible Disfigurement Club. “You might want to skip the next meeting,” he growled. “How come?” I said. I was working on a white button down. Leno was on. Steve made a noise that sounded like he was being strangled and I asked if he was all right. He said it wasn’t his ass I should worry about, it was my own. “Not that I actually got an ass,” he added. When I didn’t say anything back—I was working on the collar, which takes a lot of concentration—he kept talking. 7
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“They want you out. They’re getting you on a technicality. That’s the plan.” I said “They who?” and “What technicality?” and he said “You know damn well who and you know damn well why. You been shacking up with his girl, like you think nobody noticed. And the technicality is you aren’t horribly disfigured enough. It’s either you take your shirt off for the meetings, or you’re out.” I told him I wasn’t about to take my shirt off. Nobody took their shirt off at the Horrible Disfigurement Club. And what about my horrible disfigurement narrative? And what about the honor system? Steve said it was all politics, and besides, you don’t shit where you eat. “But you didn’t want them together,” I said. “You were always complaining about them.” I heard that strangling noise again, then labored breathing. My collar started smoldering and I jerked the iron away. After a minute, Steve, in a frog voice, said it was nothing personal about Larry and Sarah, he didn’t like anybody pairing up, and if he couldn’t do it, fuck if he wanted to see anybody else. “Steve,” I said. “I know what I did was wrong to Larry, but it just happened. The heart wants what it wants.” I heard yet another noise, then a struck match, then the crackle of a cigarette. I tried again. “Everybody wants somebody. Nobody wants to be lonely. Misery loves company.” Steve exhaled. I could practically smell the smoke. “No it don’t. Misery don’t love company. Misery loves miserable company. Asshole.” I said that sounded horrible to me and he said, “Yeah, well don’t say you wasn’t warned.” Steve died two nights later. He was drinking at Muffin’s with one of the paraplegics. One minute Steve was sitting up in his wheelchair alive, the next minute he was sitting up in his wheelchair dead. There wasn’t enough of him left at that point to even fall on the floor. I never went back to the Horrible Disfigurement Club. I didn’t see there was any use. I made a point of showing up late for Steve’s funeral, too, so I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody. That turned out to be a bad move, though, since I about had a heart attack when I ran into Steve himself on the steps of the church, smoking a cigarette. He had his legs back, his bum, all of his spine, even his froggy voice. “Go on in the balcony,” he said. “They already started the service.” I thanked him but couldn’t move and couldn’t stop staring. He plucked loose tobacco off his tongue and then spat toward his shiny black shoes, patted himself on the chest, and said “Twin brother.” My heart started beating again. I shook his hand and then made my way up to the balcony. They were all there, sitting in a pew below me near the front of the church: all the members of the Horrible Disfigurement Club. Sarah Face wore a black veil; Condensacion cried hard and held her one hand; Leper Larry fumbled with her other. Hemicorporectory Steve
was in a child’s coffin balanced on a single chair in front of the altar. A minister prayed. A choir sang hallelujah. There were a lot of hallelujahs. I thought about the Near Deathers and what they had told me about the beyond. They said it was a river full of sparkling drops, and that every drop was a human experience. They said that all the drops together were the connection of all people and the sum of all knowledge. Dexter said it was the mind of God, the perfect place of being, and so when the EMTs snatched him back from the dead he didn’t want to come. They had to drag him kicking and screaming.
But then it hit him, lying there on a gurney next to his mangled car–a suddenness and a clarity that nearly sent him spinning into another cardiac arrest: that the meaning of life, the reason he was supposed to be alive, was to add to that river of knowledge and experience. I asked if it was a big metaphor, what they described, and all three—Dexter, Sally, and Leeanne—said no, it really was a river and there really were the sparkling drops. Always the smart aleck, I said I hoped there was a rope swing but nobody laughed. They said Maybe there is, Bill, maybe there is, but at some point, swinging out over that river, you have to let go.
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Eulogy As a young man, my father fell in love with the mic. The airwaves carried his voice from the radio station’s musty cell in Illinois all the way to Missouri, which, he assured me, was no small feat. His voice was deep and strong, but tinged with warmth. It was a voice that commanded respect, if not total attention. When I was a child, the radio days were long gone, but the voice was still beloved. Every Christmas, my father would narrate a Christmas pageant, reading scripture with godlike presence and authority. In my dreams, he talks to me in the slow, patient tone he rarely deviated from in life. He tells me goodbye in various ways, keeping his hands together, body tight and compact. The skin is ruddy again, having sloughed off the pallid sheath of bloodless repose. I can tell it is a farewell speech, although the words themselves are incomprehensible – a jumble of foreign language and muffled pronouncements. I nod dutifully after every sentence, as though I actually understand. I push my ignorance aside to keep him talking. During waking hours, that nod has become a familiar tic. Head down, feigning comprehension, it’s the gesture I turn to when nothing seems to fit. With grief hollowing out my heart, there isn’t much left to offer anyway. A shrug, a nod, a sigh, and my repertoire is exhausted. When tragedy calls your name, it’s like having fresh cement poured over you. At first, you feel the shock of the ugly baptism, but it’s still possible to move with slow, cautious steps. As the shell hardens, it begins to immobilize you more thoroughly. There’s more to struggle against, fewer reasons to fight. Eventually, given enough time and exposure, the casing turns brittle and starts to flake away. But the outer prison’s disintegration does not denote freedom. The shell lingers on the exterior until it burrows deeper and encloses your ribs in brutal constriction. The telltale signs of sorrow begin to dissipate, but the prison has just gone underground and established its fortress elsewhere. The heart doesn’t open as willingly or readily. Interaction is reduced to mute charades. And I am left nodding in numb disbelief.
Courtney McAllister travels, gawks, and scribbles. She lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with her fiance and cat. 9
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We the Living are Gathered Together Across the sprawl of this apartment complex knitted into hills north of Fredericksburg, gravel paths spread like fingers reaching into dark woods, dip and disappear in little lights mysteriously hovering above basement laundry rooms and oddly painted stairwells. Men once left behind all they loved and traveled to these hills and died. Fragments of battle scattered through loam and moss tweak metal detectors of weekend historians exploring slopes, ridges, and ruts. I know this about my neighbors â€” the Chinese man makes a ritual of walking his son to the trash bin at the end of the parking lot every Wednesday morning, Tuesday and Thursday two women in their early seventies walk the dirt trail beside the road like a solemn act of passage before the sun crests the ridge of oaks, the black woman in the apartment below me always straps her son in the car seat of her Mazda as a prelude to unwrapping the tin foil of their breakfast bars they chew driving away, and there are those with late night loud music, those pitched in the dark with babies wailing, those in drunken bouts dissolving in absurd accusations and curses, those with throttled anger in marital discord, those with lights out before sunset, and those that are known by a stack of newspapers that collect a couple of weeks before vanishing behind rusty orange doors. Where men became stones in earth under oak, hickory, pines rising along slopes, along the stream babbling over rounded rocks, we the living are gathered together, etched by daily turmoil shifting and settling us into relics of time.
James Mackie is currently the Mental Health Therapist at the Rappahannock Regional Jail in
Stafford, Virginia. In 2011, his poems appeared in Pudding Magazine and Poem. His two books of poetry, A Portrait in Green and Letters to My Imaginary Wife, are available on Amazon. Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Incarnations i. The smell of leaves baking in dry grass is October. There were exorcisms of natural talent each Wednesday At the 3 PM piano lessons beginning that month. The chords, rickety like a ladder missing rungs, climbed and descended Under shaking fingers and a bright bulb that brought attention To ragged fingernails, a plaster rendering of Johann Sebastian Bach, and The liver spots on Mrs. Grayson’s hands. We played Red River Valley Until the notes could be heard like a phantom limb is felt, In leaf houses with an architecture like the circle of fifths. ii. The Making of Americans is the essential concern of most systematic theology. Children are raised pious schizophrenics on accidental influencers: Gertrude Stein, Reinhold Niebuhr, William Golding. We’re anonymous until a phrase is read out loud. Until an ‘S’ is formed perfectly in cursive hand after many attempts. Then dirty fingernails under an LED bulb define and inform and categorize synapses. And revolutions are not expected. Only outcomes. Five daughters meant that Mama didn’t know how to raise a son. She knew only of folk songs and dutch ovens. He talked with God and squeezed black cherries between his fingers In a house of leaves that the wind was destroying in November, While we sang the words of Red River Valley and stirred things in pots. His ‘S’s’ were wobbly. He read encyclopedias, fixating on facts. iii. One day, he stopped talking to God. And we stopped taking piano lessons. iv. In a cohesion of Octobers, less and less factual, We learned to grant our more personal deities clemency. Our sweaty-palmed recitals became more covert, less performance And less like hammers on strings, pounding a clear treble or bass, But a series of stammerings, in Arcadian rhythms. We poured ourselves into hollow objects, trying to become. Trying to grow up. We vacillated between smooth and rough surfaces. We scraped our knees on the cherry bark of twisted perceptions, Applied the slick salve that stung our pride, And imperceptibly we transformed. We were no longer children.
Laura Page is a 2011 graduate of Southern Oregon University, where she studied English Literature and Sociology. She has been a reader and writer of poetry since she was 12 and continues in her bibliophilic ways now, as a 12-year-old at heart. Laura’s work has appeared in Decades Review and The Magill Review. 11
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The Goose I saw your broken body lying in the highway Silently I blessed you Your life ended violently and abruptly I wanted to stop to cradle your soft crumpled body carefully lifting you out of the road I could imagine sinking my fingers through your chalky feathers into a cloud of down I wanted to become part of you But I didn’t stop I was too afraid. ~ Jill Deming
instinct ghost crabs scuttled beneath the cover of darkness, evading our fingers as they danced their rivers of white upon the sand i watched them wondering what motivated them to forage in the dust, and what were they looking for? i think i found a piece of myself in those night ocean breezes, in fragments of moon silver breathing, and in the faces of those crabs persistent in their endeavors to find whatever they were searching for — i wonder if they ever found it because i know that i’m still looking inward and outward for the source of my scuttling dreams for the motivation that breathes and beckons me forward in its light; perhaps, it’s just impulse dancing thoughts into being, but i’d like to think it’s more than instinctive movements fingering its way through the sand. ~ Linda M. Crate
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Airs Above Ground Galloping on my ghostly white steed fleet with hoofless beats racing across the heavens in aerobatic leaps like a Lipizanner stallion. Glancing below 32,000 feet to survey roiling masses of dark clouds brooding and fomenting rebellion. Equine ballet jumping over the surly crowd navigating a serene course above searing illusion of Saharan sand. Wondrous magicians are clouds with sleight of atoms shifting constantly . . . Speeding past white islands dotted in sea of blue and barges in linear formation chugging across ocean channel. Dodging a smoky gray mushroom of erupting ash above fiery lava, hurricaneâ€™s eye curled like a cat on braided rug. Tempest tamed to white sheep sheared, chewing cuds peacefully. Taste of rock candy touched in rose pink crystals climbing out of dish. Next a tumbling curly beard on Grecian statue slurping creamy vanilla ice cream ridged along waffle cone. Billowing haze of California forest fire melts into shaving cream lathered on a whiskery chin. Fork edges on Mommaâ€™s apple pie crust, but then the airplane and I are gobbled up by a black mist hiding secrets like a veiled Muslim woman. Obscurity flung off to emerge seeing migrating herds puff dust along sky savannah and flukes of waterless whales silently hum along, providing accompaniment for mirages of my song. ~ Tracy S. Deitz
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Discarded Beauty Layer upon calcified layer, you lost your beauty long ago Tumbled by purposeful currents Scarred by jagged corals and stone When at last the ocean discarded you, and warmed by the sun, A small hand finds you and calls you Beautiful ~ Lynette Reed
Crapshoot Ghosts of gaff-rigged sloops and catboats strain at moorings, holding them off jagged rocks that protect friendly shores from unwanted guests. At dawn, unaware of gathering storms, they rest on bays of glass and gently nudge the buoys that mark their hospice doomed. ~ Paul Kaller
The Fall A woman with a rope stood in the street, while a man with a chain saw cut the base of an oak tree, a forest remnant from before the subdivision. It grew tall and narrow in the neighbor’s yard with a shock of hand-sized leaves. I went outside to watch as she pulled the rope. He ran to pull, too, and it began to fall slow motion at first, then quicken near the earth and land. Above the fall there was a sudden space, and the light and air rushed in while the tree cutters, husband and wife stood up to their hips in tree tops.
Spring Snow The morning I dreamed that I went to the theater in my pink nightgown, it snowed, falling in large solitary tufts drifting down like tattered ballet tulle. ~ Two by Carol Phifer
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The Simplicity of Boxers Three children produce an enormous amount of laundry, and there it is, piled up on the folding table like the Polyester Appalachians. I’d like to retreat to my studio, but that would require tempting an avalanche, and I’m afraid, because any sort of misplaced step or unintentionally thunderous footfall and the mass would shift and So time to fold it is, and that’s when it strikes: judging by the oddness of their clothes, women are not shaped like the rest of us. Straps and Velcro and long lacy strings of jinglies entwined in cotton knots so tight my fingers ache from prying them apart. It makes me think of the simplicity of boxers. I hold a flat piece of material that looks like a smashed spider. Is it misshapen on purpose, or is this just normal wash and wear? Perhaps if one should drape it over his head? Tie the loose ends under the chin, you know, for support? These jeans aren’t jeans. They’re canvasses of puffy pink paint and sparklies and glitter. Even the socks have frills, and they’re so tiny. I can fit one on each toe. The underwear, at least that’s something I understand. There’s little one can do to panties and bras without altering the shape of the wearer, though they don’t fit my frame very well, especially the panties, so up they go on my head with the smashed spider. Soccer socks and a wired girdle-like device; the former make nice sleeves, the latter fits my right thigh. The shrug is a particularly vivid shade of lavender, and it makes for a perfect robber’s bandana. Then I spy the children’s dress up box in the corner, overflowing with purple angel’s wings and gauzy white lace and tufts of fake brown fur and diamond tiaras and pink bunny ears jutting out of the top. I’m scrambling for some kind of justification. We all play dress up, right? But all I can think about is Joe Potter from High School— while most of us wanted to take these kinds of things off our girlfriends— he just wanted to wear them. ~ James Noll Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
On Marchesa Elena Grimaldi’s* Servant The elegant young lady strode away from her stiff pose. She glared toward the easel where Van Dyck still painted on. A break declared, the black skinned lad stepped down, quick stole a glimpse of that wet art which soon would garner fame. He thought: “This isn’t me! This is another boy! This painted lad looks older than his height would say—his face is too mature. I was a playful lad of eight when captured by the slaver’s snare. I now would be almost twelve years; I’d hunt beside my brothers there; I’d spear gazelles, baboons, and gnus. In two more years, I’d kill my lion. “That isn’t me! It is another boy! He seems content to serve all day his lady’s needs or wants. Today he shades her pale, sick skin from glorious sun shining bright. He stands a Moor with clouds of dark. She stands pure white above it all. He gazes up as if she were a goddess high. “That isn’t me, nor other boy! These aren’t my clothes, this satin robe. Those aren’t my ears! This painter has portrayed me bad: an Other—vile; a devil-boy with pointed ears. Tonight I’ll run: Run far! Run south! I’ll reach the sea—then I will swim back to my home in Africa. Tomorrow morn I’ll go to hunt for game—and for the boy that’s me.” ~ Rich Wallace
*Anton Van Dyke, 1623 National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
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Proud Proud parent sitting in the stands, I know nothing about basketball. That is, I know a foul is what the ref decides it is, and a walk is a bore I usually don’t see happen; isn’t that the way the big world always worked? But when Ellen comes pounding down the court she’s like a halfback punching through the scrimmage line, and Emily brings the ball with shoulders back like Diana chasing deer through the mountain woods behind a pack of hounds. There’s skill and energy, but a moment comes when the loveliness of their design can’t be abstracted from the moving clock that runs the game like a perfect world; two girls ride dolphins’ backs buoyed upward through troubled seas, sure-footed beside magical fins, uplifted by tensions of adversity; up at the goal long arms reach to block the shot; the round ball rolls slowly off the fingertips— sets off on a course it’s lost a thousand times in practice, then whips the net, never touching iron, my God, how can anyone not believe Ulysses’ arrow zipped through twelve axe heads, and the crossbow shot of William Tell cracked the apple on the head of his son? or that a lens in space can photograph seven planets posing in a line for a portrait of the nearer universe? I who cannot get two quarters in a slot have seen a row of Stalinist states implode as if in a gust of wind. Where is the one who doubts that stone may rise and sing? It’s by design; the ignorant believer sees it happen all the time. ~ Earl Simpson
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Light on the Marsh The evening was still and quiet, yet teeming with life and deafening with sound. The white streak of light stood out amid the sunset hues. The grasses, a mixture of over-saturated green and sandy brown, the sky, shades of pale blue, lavender and pink, and there she was, brighter than everything around her, despite her obvious shortage of color. She stood primly at the marsh’s edge without moving. I paused in my tracks to admire her, held rapt by her poise and grace. It wasn’t until after she had lifted off that I realized how much she illuminated everything around her. By the time I turned upon my tracks to retrace them, the long fingers of dusk had begun to trail across the tall grasses. That was the moment when dusk held one finger to the lips of the wandering waters and whispered, shhh. And the symphony of sounds began to subside. When I came again upon her, she had settled atop the ruin of a tree farther from the marsh’s edge. The gathering of nightfall, rather than robbing her of her light, only made her shine all the more luminescently. I offered her a slight bow before I continued on, feeling a twinge of envy at the fallen tree’s new found glory. ~ Lynda Allen
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Slipping Stitches Fingers like bobbins slide yarn from point to point – slip, wrap, finger, draw through, repeat. Quicker than the eye her needles clack and scissor – knit, purl, knit, purl, drop a stitch and carry to the back. My hands on her hands, skin like iced tissue paper, yarn moves the blood. She moves my fingers, needling them – nudge the tip, hold it steady, wrap the yarn, pull through the loop, we’ve moved the world. Picking up speed: now a purse, some socks, mittens, silky scarves, a tam; now booties and a blanket for my boy, a jumper for my boy, a sweater for my boy. Oh! The patterned textures that pass over two slender bodies, stitches lost, yanked clean out at times, then retrieved to rest with the others. Even after thin fingers grow still, after joints grow too stiff for needles, her hands are my hands and in my hands, her hands, always.
~ A.E. Bayne
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Apartment In my apartment I look down the street, the bubblegum pink cherry blossoms blooming, what a beautiful day.
Dragons Must Be Out of Work
I’m on the canal, ahead I see the bridge I know. I’m almost home. I see the wide crocodile green house with trees in the distance, home sweet home.
Dragons must be out of work, Much like our Great Depression, For all the dwarven mines have closed, They’re having a recession, No more humans hoarding gold, In some great cities anymore. Dragons must be out of work, I wonder what they do, I swear just yesterday I saw one, With a sign reading ‘Will herd sheep for food.’ Dragons must be out of work, Where do they go all day, I suppose their claws would make it Difficult to crochet, Do they play charades, Or read tales of dashing dragons Rescuing the lovely, scaly, lady From the dastardly human? Dragons must be out of work, But I suppose their economy tanking Is something we have no cares about, It certainly helps us With no worries of great, flamey, beasts Eating us for dinner And using our bones as planking. Dragons must be out of work, What do they use for cash, I must say I will not rue the day If the gold stock crashes.
~ Two by Noah
~ Peregrine Hayward
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Index of Poets Allen, Lynda is in her joy when she is writing, sharing her stories and poems, spending time with her loved ones, sitting beside the river with the birds, and following her creative inspiration. Lynda’s two published collections of poetry, Illumine and Rest in the Knowing, share the insights and highs and lows of her spiritual journey, and her self-published novel, Sight to See, is available for the Kindle on Amazon.com. Bayne, A.E. is a teacher, writer, and artist who has lived in Fredericksburg for fifteen years. She enjoys sharing her love of language with her friends, family, and middle school students, and has been monthly contributor to The Front Porch magazine since 2011. Crate, Linda M. is a Pennsylvanian native, born in Pittsburgh, yet raised in the rural town of Conneautville. Her poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines. Her chapbook A Mermaid Crashing Into Dawn was recently published by Fowlpox Press, and her fantasy novel Amethyst Epiphany is forthcoming from Assent Publishing under their imprint Phantasm Books. Deitz, Tracy S. has resided in the Fredericksburg area for 20 years. With much encouragement from the Riverside Writers, she published two nonfiction works. Employed by God: Benefits Packaged with Faith won Religious Nonfiction in the 2012 Next Generation. The United Methodist Women’s Reading Program selected the second title, Break the Cycle: Healing from an Abusive Relationship, for its 2014 list. Deming, Jill enjoys expressing her visions of nature through poetry. She works as a bodyworker for dogs and horses. Hayward, Peregrine Eliana Davis is a thirteen years old eight grader who enjoys reading, writing, Dungeons&Dragons, going to conventions, and playing video games, namely World of Warcraft and Minecraft. She hopes to be an author when she grows up. Kaller, Paul has lived in the DC area since 1966 and began visiting downtown Fredericksburg fairly regularly about 15 years ago–primarily to photograph and enjoy its unique energy and atmosphere. Nine years ago, he moved to Colonial Beach and since has been and felt even closer. Hyperion remains his favorite coffee shop in the country–top of the line for reading, writing and meeting terrific people. Noah is 10 years old and a fifth-grader in a school in DC. He has a great imagination and is always eager to put it to practice. Noll, James has worked as a sandwich maker, a yogurt dispenser, a day care provider, a video store clerk, a day care provider (again), a summer camp counselor, a waiter, a prep. cook, a sandwich maker (again), a line cook, a security guard, a line cook (again), a waiter (again), a bartender, a librarian, and a teacher. Somewhere in there he played drums in punk rock bands, recorded several albums, and wrote dozens of short stories and a handful of novels. He teaches English in Spotsylvania County. Contact him online at: www.jamesnoll.net Phifer, Carol writes poetry and makes art at Liberty Town Arts Workshop in downtown Fredericksburg. Reed, Lynette is a Fredericksburg artist. She has a studio at LibertyTown Arts Workshop. Simpson, Earl graduated from Baylor University in 1965 and the University of Iowa in 1971. He taught at Rappahannock Community College for more than thirty years while helping his wife, Bonnie, raise their three daughters, Ellen, Emily and Sydney. Emily and Sydney live in or near Fredericksburg. He has occasionally published poetry and produced two books of poems, Unrolled E’s and S’s and News from Wake. He has recently completed a comic epic entitled Deus X, and currently enjoys creating en plein air poems and putting them up on his News from Wake Facebook page. Wallace, Rich is a retired engineer who moved to Fredericksburg, following a career which meandered from St.Louis, MO, to Santa Barbara, CA, to New England. He is married with three daughters and seven grandkids.
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The Wait How long would he have to watch? Boredom crept into his young soul, and as a breeze began to blow, giving some relief to the scorching sun, his thoughts began to wander, his head to nod. A rude awakening greeted him as something slimy slid up and down on his face. Drool and the rough skin against his cheek immediately brought him back to the reality from which he had tried to escape. The first thing he noticed was his hands were empty, yet nothing had changed. Still there, red and white, laughing at him, telling him that although this seemed to be really boring, this was not going to change. Upset with himself for losing concentration, he fixed his gaze anew, to be ready when the time came, if it ever would. This is how he spent most of the afternoon, determined to keep watch, yet finding himself distracted. Fighting the ever-present desire for his mind to wander, brought about by the tedium of waiting versus the conviction that he needed to keep his attention sharp, he sat. When the moment finally came, he was surprised not at the sight, but at the feeling. He noticed the initial movement of what he had so long fixed his eyes upon. It went under only to pop up again and then went under a second time, hard and fast. Energy seemed to go into his arms. He could feel the movement as it went back and forth in a frantic effort to go deeper and farther away. To no avail, he sensed its quest for survival as it was pulled upward. He worked as he had been taught as it valiantly fought a losing battle, reaching the edge with a mighty last ditch surge in order to break free. Up, up into the air with a display that brought forth from him a sound of awe as he observed with almost unbelieving eyes. As the dog barked, he shrieked with delight for all to hear and exclaimed, “Dad! Look! I caught a fish!”
Scott Richards is a food and wine writer who has been published in this region
since April, 2008. In addition, he covers high school sports at Caroline High School, where his wife and he live and tend their vineyard.
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Slamdance Superstar Oh, we were ready! First: We practiced every other night from six to ten p.m.: one sunburst red guitar, one baby blue bass, one standard-issue-black piece-of-crap drum kit, two tolerant parents, eight rattling windows through the suburban cottage, and the throat screeches of a sixteen-year-old’s perception of injustice. A sound we didn’t know we knew how to make. Fingers ground across fret boards, and grew rocky, got tougher. The calendar pages turned, we screamed out new two-minute anthems weekly, and then we got a gig. The bassist, Joe, his cousin knew a guy. Packed our gear into mom’s SUV, told all of our friends. We readied to unleash ourselves, three friends with a penchant for noise and destruction, onto the unsuspecting, ordinary, static world. We were a new force, ready to move anything. Thirty seconds into song number one, and a flurrying circle ate up the dance floor. Unbridled and relentless as we thought ourselves, here came someone else: he thrashed and slammed and bumped and moshed against the others in the circle, and an ocean of bodies swallowed him whole. Later: A knuckle to the nose. Sunburst guitar became garnished with blood drops. Not long after that: We screamed and sweated our way through twenty minutes. We hit our last distorted power chord, and screamed our last “whoa.” We sauntered off stage, barely able to speak, feel our fingers, whatever. The guy who started it (bloody and now shirtless) found me in the parking lot, gave me a hug; it was an enveloping, back-breaking kind of thing. He clapped me on the shoulder, looked straight over his broken nose into my eyes, said: “When the fuck you playing again?”
D.R. Baker is an American writer. He currently studies theatre at Ohio University. Slamdance Superstar is a semi-true story.
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
How Bobby Stone Really Broke His Arm Mom said, ”Don’t go climbing up that fence.” Mom didn’t know that today was the day Bobby Stone and I were learning to fly. My little brother wanted to fly, too, but he was a “good” boy and didn’t have a lot of dare in him yet. We didn’t have wings or capes. The top of the chicken coop looked high enough. I snuck a big, black umbrella from Grandma’s stand. It wasn’t a parachute, but it did open up pretty wide. “Bobby,” I said, “I’m going to jump with this umbrella.” “Dare you to go first,” he said. “Double dare you. You can use the umbrella if you go first.” Bobby climbed the fence to get on the roof and jumped. The black part of the umbrella flew backwards. Bobby hit the sidewalk pretty hard. When he stood up, his arm just sort of hung there. Bobby said, “Don’t tell my mom I was trying to fly. She told me not to talk nonsense.” He started to cry big tears and held his funny arm. I folded up the umbrella and pushed it through a hole in the fence into the neighbor’s yard. Mom said, “What happened?” “Bobby just fell down on the sidewalk and hurt his arm.” “Really?” and her eyebrows went up. Later Grandma asked if I had seen her umbrella. I said no. Grandma said, “Memories may be elastic, but the truth never is.”
Ruth Ann Allaire, Ph.D., is a retired college biology professor, who lives in Fredericksburg, VA. She is ac-
tive in writing, gardening, genealogy research and studying various healing modalities. Married, she volunteers for Mental Health of Fredericksburg and the Virginia Master Naturalists.
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
The Irony of the Kindle or
How I Missed Out on My Chance to Meet Diane Keaton As an avid reader and a high school English teacher, I care about books and the written word. I also care about my paycheck, small as it is. Therefore, I hardly ever buy books; instead I frequent the library, using their electronic system of reserving and renewing books at my leisure. My husband is also an avid reader, but more noticeably a gadget guy. He has a smart phone, an iPad, and a Kindle, and he’s attempting to convince me we need “the cloud,” whatever that is. While I lie in bed attempting to comfortably support 786 pages of The Passage, he holds our Kindle easily, reading the latest Game of Thrones tome. I didn’t begrudge him this difference until I was fully hooked into The Passage and attempted to balance it on an elliptical machine at the gym. A poor workout, bruised knee, and little progress on my reading left me frustrated. That experience, combined with my 22nd position on the waitlist for Diane Keaton’s Then Again memoir, left me willing to take him up on his “generous offer” to share the Kindle with me. One afternoon I picked up our Kindle, an older model with the keyboard. I examined it with trepidation, but I liked the heft, or lack thereof, compared to most print books. The hold screen was interesting and seemed to change each time I turned it off. My husband had bought a leather cover with a reading light, which I knew would benefit him, considering that he is an early-to-bed kind of guy while I am a late-night reader. I did a quick search for Then Again, and it popped up with a darkened “Buy” oval. I pressed a button on the keyboard, and one minute, forty-seven seconds later my husband called to verify that I was indeed buying something online. I assured him it was my purchase and marveled at the surprising ease. My fate was sealed. It’s important to mention this was a few days before Christmas, and I am notoriously stingy around the holidays. This particular year we were flying our four-person family to California for the week between Christmas and New Year’s so I was already feeling underwater from the high cost of the plane tickets. Part of me shrieked over what I had done so carelessly. Why couldn’t I just wait until I made it up the library queue? But I was reassured to find I was in the 17th position, a mere 6-9 months away from receiving the book in hand, for free! As we settled into our cross-country flight, I leaned back and clicked my way through Then Again until I was 75% complete.
Hold it. I didn’t realize the Kindle would track my progress in percentage. What a sense of accomplishment that little number created. I found my eye checking it often, realizing that if I changed the font size the percentage would move up that much faster. This combination of reading with competition (albeit with myself) filled me with joy. Perhaps I could get on board with this e-reading craze after all. The next day as I sat on the beach in the little cove near my parents’ house, I dug my toes in the sand and achieved 90% completion, when my mother casually tapped my shoulder and said, “Honey, there’s Diane Keaton.” Huh!?! As my head whipped to the side, I saw that, indeed, Diane Keaton herself was at most fifty feet away from me. Speechless, I watched her open-mouthed as she cheered on her family playing beach football. She shouted; she iPhone-videoed; she gallivanted; she Diane Keaton-ed all over the place, almost into my lap at times. She appeared tall and lithe, surprisingly thin, in fact, with beautiful, bouncy hair. She was bare-footed, with an ankle-length parka jacket open to reveal a white t-shirt and rolled up jeans. She was not Annie Hall at the beach, rather a happy, relaxed mother celebrating her family. As soon as she stopped cheering and sat down in a beach chair, I was prepared to jump up, introduce myself, explain how much I enjoyed her book, and fawn/gush appropriately, of course. Then the realization hit me like a ton of, well, books: I was not holding her book. In fact, I was holding an electronic gadget that happened to have her book downloaded on it– on page 271, to be exact. Diane Keaton sat down in that beach chair, and my heart sank. I could not casually stroll over with a copy of her book, cover photo, pages, and all, to introduce myself. An author cannot sign a Kindle. It would be humiliating to rush over, point to a screen and say, “See, see, I’m reading you! I’m 90% through YOUR work!” This fateful moment where Diane Keaton and I would smile, laugh, and talk about the book was a cruel electronic joke. My family would not be invited to join in the football game with her children. She and I would not develop a lifelong bond… or at least a really cool memory of talking on a beach. I have only read one other book on the Kindle since then, and no, I did not run into Tina Fey during that time.
Kit McFarland is a high school English teacher who strives to share her love of literature and writing with others each day. She is also the owner of Dragonfly Yoga Studio in downtown Fredericksburg and is working on her yoga teacher certification. She and her family live, play and thrive in the Fredericksburg community.
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Parenting Goals, Rationalizations, and Regrets
1. Toughen up about dead animals, especially animals that are not pets. 2. Trading a dead mouse for a stuffed animal seemed like a great opportunity for both my five-year-old daughter and myself. 3. The mice were chewing on her curlers one night in bed. They had to go. 4. My daughter was intrigued to see if the eyes were closed or open in the traps. Open. I felt like puking. She was enthralled. 5. “She has you doing what now?” I heard her Indian father scream over the phone. We live in different worlds. 6. One night we set 8 traps, then hopped in the bathtub, hoping for a reprieve from the mice. Within minutes we heard the traps go off. I felt like puking. Daughter started listing the stuffed animals she’d get the next day. 7. “You may want to try live traps,” daughter’s Montessori teacher suggested one day. I could tell she was hoping my daughter’s story wasn’t entirely true. Surely we didn’t find nests in our dresser drawers. Surely we didn’t kill 30 mice in one week. And worst of all, surely my daughter wasn’t emptying the traps, trading the mice for Pound Puppies because the big stuffed animals were getting too costly. 8. If only our mouse plan remained within the walls of our house. It sounded much worse to Outsiders.
Diane Payne is the author of the recently published short story collection Freedom’s Just Another Word, the memoir Burning Tulips, and the young adult novel A New Kind of Music. She’s been published in hundreds of literary journals. Diane teaches creative writing at the University of Arkansas-Monticello where she is also the MFA director.
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Night Songs I don’t ever remember being able to hear quiet. The sound was new and intense, but somehow safe. Safe was a new place. Cicadas and crickets I knew as bugs, but this ‘noise’ was pleasant. I was beginning to enjoy this sound. Thinking about New York made me tight. It demanded attention – intense and immediate. Bugs there did not sing pleasantly – they issued warnings, and you reacted instantly. I did not have to lock up the house anymore. Nor did my neighbors. Windows were left open so the night songs would drift in. I walked freely onto my porch or stood in my backyard and watched the stars. No city lights to blot them out. We were protected by a simple slip lock on the screen door. It held us safe inside – more a thought than an action – certainly not security. I did not miss the fluorescence, sirens or trash. This quiet provided a new freedom. It was different here. A small town of 2,000. My high school in New York graduated 2,500. Here there was one school, one grocery and one stoplight that guarded the town’s only intersection at the corner of the pizza place and the boarded up movie house. This light controlled the entire movement of the town. Turn left and you ran into the Ohio river – turn right, you found the way to the interstate – go straight ahead for 30 miles, and you found the next town. I didn’t put up a fight when my husband, a West Virginia farm boy, wanted to move back to his roots. He was not motivated by his longing of family and history, just the promise of a quieter, less stressful life and a long-term job with the local mill. And a home – our own home. This was enough to separate me from my family and the prospect of becoming a permanent statistic on the New York unemployment rolls. We found the house of our dreams. Our early dreams. The kind of home you buy when you first marry and believe life never changes and will go on forever. A house on Cherry Street with a wooden fence, faded but white, and a bit of a backyard. Two children, one bath, sculpted carpet, no dishwasher. The kind of house that you again yearn for after forty years of marriage. It was a bit above our budget, but well worth it. Our daughters would grow up there, go to school, and marry. Marry someone who had a good, steady job. Someone who worked at the mill. Everyone in town worked at the mill, and you were either management or union. And though neither mixed with the other, it was fine, as long as you knew where you stood and stayed there. Jerry hired on as a foreman – management in the terms of mill life. Good pay and family benefits. The hard part was the shift work. But, that’s what bought in the salary to pay for our home. The 11:00 p.m. – 7:00 a.m. shift was the toughest for me. I was not used to Jerry being away from my bed all night. I was a tough broad from the Bronx, but I missed the security of this farm boy’s leg across my thigh each night. It was late summer and almost eight months since we had arrived. I was beginning to enjoy life and even found myself relaxing. The summer evenings were foreign to me. The absolute stillness and then the crescendo of the locusts were overwhelming. I could ‘feel’ the stillness. Shannon was now three, and Samantha was eighteen months. I felt relieved and blessed they would grow up in a small town instead of New York. A place where morals and principles were valued. Our next-door neighbors, Mary and John Paul, were the
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
kind of southerners whom I’d read about in magazines. Warm, hospitable and down-to-earth, good people. It didn’t matter that John Paul was union, they were our neighbors. Fourth of July weekend they had a family picnic, and we were invited. Grilled burgers, salads, watermelon, Fantasia (jello with whipped cream and canned fruit) and homemade peach ice cream. Made with fresh Georgia peaches and heavy cream – to this day I have never tasted anything more wonderful. The day went smoothly except for that little ruckus when John Paul’s brothers and cousins found out that Jerry wasn’t union. I didn’t care one way or the other, but the next day Mary knocked at my door and said she would understand if we didn’t want to speak with them anymore being that John Paul’s kin had treated us badly. Jerry had put the incident to the side – good ole boys, keg of beer. Tempers had flared a bit – no big deal. I’d had worse confrontations with NY cabbies. But, the incident still bothered me. The August heat quickly turned to a beautiful September autumn. Trees were draped in color, and evenings carried a chill. The night songs of the cicadas and crickets faded earlier each day. It would soon be time to pick apples and attempt scratch pies. It was also the time to renegotiate the union contract. Jerry said the talks were not going well this year, and tempers were flaring. Neither side wanted to give an inch, but things would work out. They always had. I got the girls to sleep. They had played hard all day in our backyard, and I barely kept them awake for their baths. Fresh and sweet smelling they fell on their beds and went right to sleep. Jerry was leaving on midnight shift and brushed each of their foreheads with a kiss before he left. They didn’t stir. I watched him leave and stood on the porch enjoying the slightly warm breeze I knew would soon be gone. I walked inside, made a cup of tea and settled onto the corner of our sofa. I had to admit that I looked forward to my late night TV. Those black and white Bogart and Bacall movies. You just couldn’t beat it. About 2:00 a.m. the phone rang and startled me into awareness. It was Jerry, and his voice was strained and urgent. They were locking down the mill. The union had called a strike, and the situation had become explosive. Threats had been made, and management was concerned for their safety. They locked out the union members, and management was left to run the mill. They would bring in cots and food for the men, but no arrangements were made for their families. He thought the plant would ask the Governor to call out the National Guard by morning if something didn’t break. Jerry told me not to worry, but to pack a few things for the girls and me and to be ready to leave should that be necessary. He said to take the shotgun out of his closet and load it – just in case. I didn’t want to listen. Within minutes, phones were ringing throughout town spreading panic and fear. My neighbor Mary called. She was upset, and said she would do her best to keep us out of harm’s way. The five-man police force would not be able to keep things in check, and with most of their families union members, it was not likely they would be eager to respond to a non-union call for help. My arm felt very heavy, and it was difficult to hang up the phone. I stared at the back door and realized it was open. Only
the screen door with the slip hook separated us from the outside. I could not make my limbs move. The girls were in the back of the house – the pump shotgun was hidden on the top shelf of Jerry’s closet. Where were the shells? The kitchen drawer, his bureau, the garage? He didn’t say. I could not draw a breath, and the sound of the cicadas ceased. This silence became a threat, and my head started to pound. What should I do first? Secure the doors, the windows, get the gun? Would they come? When? How? I willed my legs to move, but they would not cooperate. I had to get to the girls. Nothing else mattered. I fell to my knees and crawled down the hallway to their bedrooms. They were still asleep and peacefully unaware of the fear that had taken over the town, and me. The moment I saw them my adrenaline took over. I dropped the shades on their windows and got to my bedroom. I pulled everything off the top shelf of his closet. The gun fell and hit my foot – I felt relief not pain. I had held this gun only once. Three years ago when he received it as a gift from his dad. I didn’t like it then, but now it seemed different. I remembered the weight of the gun and its awkwardness and Jerry trying to explain how the “pump” worked. I had seen the shells – short and thick, rounded red plastic with a brass bottom. Not particularly memorable but, used correctly, they would protect my family. Where were the cartridges now? I opened the drawers in his bureau and caught sight of the old cigar box. There they were, nestled in among his Army discharge papers, passport and locks of the girls’ hair. I picked up the shotgun and pulled open the cartridge chamber. I touched each red plastic tube and pushed it into the open space until no more would fit. It seemed loaded – it had to be. I could feel my heart pounding, and the pressure in my ears increased. As I stood at the end of the bed, I heard the latch on the screen door jiggle ever so slightly. I commanded myself to keep alert. Think, dammit, think! I crawled into the hallway dragging the gun. I could not walk back to the kitchen. The windows and doors were open, and the shades were up. My every move could be viewed. I stationed myself in front of the girl’s bedrooms. I balanced the gun on my knees. No one would pass me – no one. I made deals with myself and with God. If I heard a slight noise outside the house, I would sit and wait. If the noise got closer, I would cock the gun. If it found its way into the house, I would shoot. The kitchen phone rang, but I would not answer it. I couldn’t; I was terrified to pass the open window. Behind me I heard a soft thump. My neck went taut, and I turned quickly – it was Shannon’s Raggedy Ann that had slipped from her bed. Then a knock, but not at the door. It was on the side of the house. Again and again. Someone was hitting the side of the house. It grew louder, and the girls stirred. My body constricted. I opened and closed my eyes quickly, expecting it would allow me to see or hear better. I stared down the hallway and tightened my grip on the gun. The knocking abruptly stopped. Absolute silence and then the frenzied barking of Mary’s dog. I heard a thud, and the barking
stopped. Then the knocking again started with an increased fervor. Short gaps between the knocking allowed me to hear the slip hook jiggling. The screen door was being pulled back and forth very quickly. The baby started to cry, but I could not comfort her – I was frozen in position. God, please don’t let her get out of bed. The knocking stopped, and I heard the screen door close. Someone was in my house. In my kitchen. Twenty feet from my girls. I could only see shadows, and I hunched down lower in my corner and waited. I tried to become invisible. I turned my gaze from the baby and saw something at the end of the hallway. I hoped it was the flickering of the TV, but it had shape. It remained stationary for too long a period and then slowly moved taking two steps down the hallway – toward my girls. I felt dizzy, and my throat and mouth were parched. I could not open my mouth to speak. The barrel of the gun was resting on my knees, and I bent forward, cradling the stock against my arm. My finger closed around the trigger. How far could I pull it back before it fired? How long would it take to pump it and shoot a second time? Would I need to shoot again? The figure took another step, and I pulled the trigger. The gun kicked back, and I felt my collarbone break. The gun fell to my side, and the girls were screaming. The figure continued toward me. I pulled the gun up and shot – again and again. I kept shooting until all the red tubes with brass bottoms were gone. I was still sitting in the corner, and my nose and eyes were burning. I turned, and in the glow of the bedroom nightlights I could see my girls’ faces filled with tears, but I could not hear them crying. I couldn’t hear anything. The gun had hit my chest several times, and as I tried to take a breath, I knew my ribs were broken. Minutes passed, and neighbors seemed to flood into the house. Mary was running down the hallway. She stopped to touch my shoulder and then went into the girls’ rooms. She picked them up and hugged them. My hearing was spotty, and I kept asking for Jerry, but he was locked in at the mill. A strange man sat by my side and asked if I had been hit. I didn’t understand the question. He grabbed my arm, and I felt a pinch. It produced a soft, warm haze, and it no longer mattered if I could hear. Nothing mattered. When I finally opened my eyes, Jerry was at my side, his hand laid across my arm. The nurse said he had not moved the entire twenty hours that I had been asleep. He had been with me and not at the mill when the National Guard arrived. Other shots were fired, and others had fallen, but within days the strike was resolved. Mary and John Paul were taking care of my girls. I would not be out of the hospital in time to attend funeral services for John Paul’s cousin. Spring was one of the most pleasant times. Snow had gone, and the cicadas were back. The trees were full, and evenings were again filled with warm breezes and soothing night songs. The front porch was overflowing with newly potted flowers. Jerry and I had finished repainting the hallway. The only new item we needed was a slip hook on the back door.
jd young is a displaced Bronx native and resides in Wilderness, Virginia with her husband. She has published
three books. Scarlett’s Letters and The Butter Pecan Diaries are filled with laughter and wry humor. Her latest offering, The Woman on Pritchard Street, opens the door to reveal her intense and often times darker view of life. Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Soy Nuts My daughter recently turned three years old and to mark the conclusion of the “terrible two” era, she stuck soy nuts up her nose. The internet tells me that soy nuts are similar in texture and flavor to peanuts, and my wife tells me that they are a healthy snack. They are slightly smaller than peas and are the perfect size to obstruct a three-year-old’s nasal passages. My wife had taken our seven-year-old son to art lessons, and my daughter, exhibiting an uncanny ability to recognize that she has been left alone in the care of her father, had both nostrils clogged within moments of my wife pulling out of the driveway. I had been talking to a friend of mine about high school field hockey when my daughter said, “Look, Daddy!” I looked at her sitting on the sofa, mere feet from my chair, and there was a soy nut stuck in each nostril. It is indeed rare that one ever gets to end a telephone conversation about high school field hockey, or any conversation for that matter, with, “Garland, I gotta go. My daughter just stuck soy nuts up her nose.” I tried to tell my daughter, with some composure, that putting soy nuts up her nose was not a good idea, and she plucked the one out of her right nostril with no problem. Unfortunately, the technique used on the right nostril only complicated things in the left nostril as she tried to pry it loose with her finger, but only succeeded in pushing it further up her nose. Calmly I told her to try to blow her nose but, to her, that means making as much noise within the nose as possible, so she simply inhaled as hard as she could and sucked the soy nut out of plain sight and further toward her sinus cavity. I had my daughter lie back on the couch. I peered up her nostril and could see the soy nut, but it was obvious that any effort to pry it loose with her finger or mine was not going to get it done. I told my daughter, who was a little concerned at this point, that Daddy would be right back, and I went to the closet by the front door. It was obvious that the situation required suction, and the equally obvious solution to me was the greatest form of suction in any household—the vacuum cleaner. I returned to my prone daughter with the vacuum cleaner and one of the many attachments that I never use when I vacuum the house. Now understand, I know how to properly use the attachments, but, when vacuuming the steps, it’s much easier just to lift the vacuum from step to step than to stop, add an attachment, and then proceed. I found the narrowest attachment–I believe it is generally used for corners and kind of looks like the nose of an anteater– and attempted to soothe my daughter and convince her that the vacuum cleaner was our best solution at the moment. I plugged the vacuum in, tested out the attachment on my hand, and then gently held my daughter’s head down on a pillow as I proceeded to suck the tip of her nose until her 35
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
screams drowned out the noisy hum of the vacuum. I turned the vacuum off for a moment and gently scolded my daughter with the choice of “vacuum cleaner or going to the doctor.” She lay back on the pillow with trustful resignation, and I went in again with the vacuum cleaner attachment. It became obvious that her nose was too little to offer more than the tip for the suction of the vacuum. So after further sucking, piercing screams of “I want to go to the doctor” and turning her nose to a frost-bite pink, I stopped. We were both rather flustered at this point, and it appeared that the soy nut was continuing its Sherman-like march toward the sinus cavity. I needed help, and my wife doesn’t turn on her cell phone, so I called my neighbor Freddie who is a state trooper and, one hopes, medically trained for situations such as this. “Hello,” said my medically-trained state trooper friend. “Freddie, is your wife there?” I said, bypassing the medically trained state trooper for a mother. “Yeah, hold on.” “Jen?” I asked. “Yes?” “My daughter stuck soy nuts up her nose, and I was wondering if you knew how to get them out.” “Your daughter stuck soy nuts up her nose?” Jen asked with what I suppose was an appropriate level of disbelief. “Yes, I tried a vacuum cleaner, but that didn’t work.” (State trooper in the background: “Tell him to try the vacuum.” His wife: “He already did. It didn’t work.” More howling from the state trooper.) “How about a tweezers?” “That’s what I was thinking I should try next.” When, in actuality, I was thinking nothing of the sort. “Do you want me to come up there and help?” “Would you?” “I’ll be right up.” My daughter seemed relieved when I told her Ms. Jen was coming up to help. Ms. Jen is one of her favorite people in the world, but I tend to believe that any female presence in the household at that moment was preferable to being left alone with Daddy and assorted vacuum cleaner attachments. Jen showed up while I searched the house for a tweezers. Unlike the vacuum and its attachments, I’m not overly familiar with where we keep a tweezers. I had found a lot of partially used lip balm in my search but not a tweezers when the phone rang. It was Freddie. “Hey, Jen told me to check Google, and Google says it’s like CPR. You have to close off the other nostril and then blow, hard, into her mouth. Make sure you blow hard.” If Google suggested this means to an end, it seemed reasonable and a lot quicker than trying to find a tweezers. I suppressed the urge to ask if Google mentioned anything about vacuuming it out as option number two and quickly
told Jen what the plan was, and she sat with my daughter on the sofa and rubbed her feet. “Okay, Daddy is going to give you a big kiss,” I said to my daughter. My daughter smiled because I’m guessing this sounded a heckuva lot better than Daddy is going to get the vacuum cleaner again. I pinched her right nostril, recalled CPR training from 8th grade health class, formed a tight seal around my daughter’s mouth, closed my eyes, and blew…hard. When I opened my eyes and gazed down upon my little girl, there was a crystalline string of snot running down her cheek, and at the end of this string was the soy nut. I nearly wept with joy and then gave my daughter a lollipop. At moments such as these, there seems to be a need for the child to share the experience immediately. She wanted to call my mother and tell her about the ordeal.
“Grammy, I stuck soy nuts up my nose and then Daddy sucked my nose with a vacuum and then gave me a big kiss.” There was much more to the phone call, but as I stood there listening to my daughter’s end of the conversation, I started to wonder how this would be communicated to her teachers at preschool the next day and how much they would truly glean from the story other than Daddy sucked my nose with a vacuum and then gave me a big kiss. Would, in fact, child services believe me when they showed up on my doorstep, and I carefully explained to them that I was simply talking to a friend of mine on the phone about high school field hockey when my daughter stuck soy nuts up her nose? (State trooper friend started howling in the background.)
Drew Gallagher graduated from Mary Washington College (UMW) with an English degree. While at Mary
Washington, he studied under Steve Watkins, and despite that oft-perceived handicap, he has managed to forge an exciting career in insurance claims. He once had a poem published in a journal called Kumquat Meringue, and you can look it up or simply take his word for it that he is not creative enough to make up a journal called Kumquat Meringue. His literary agent is Jeannie Dahnk who had the foresight to become a much-respected lawyer rather than wait on any millions that she would receive as his literary agent. Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Fredericksburg Themed Entries
Fredericksburg 1942 It was war time. It was easy to know that, even for a young child. Gasoline was rationed. Meat was rationed as well as sugar and butter. My mother and I used to walk across busy Glebe Road in Arlington, Virginia, to go to the school where we would apply for and receive our ration books. My dad had a “B” sticker for our family car, so he could buy up to eight gallons of gas a week, rather than those with a four gallon “A” sticker. You even had to have your tires inspected quarterly to make sure you were driving and using the gas allotted and not selling it on the black market. Due to gas rationing, we traveled by train whenever possible. All the trains were packed with service men and women. My mother grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She moved there from the country. As she always told us, she was born in Caroline County. Her family moved to the city so that she and her sisters could go to Fredericksburg High School. Their home schooling had probably reached its limits. My mother, father and I had moved to Arlington, Virginia, because my dad was stationed in the army in D.C. My mother was very close to her mother, who still lived in Fredericksburg. They wrote to each other every day. Needless to say, they wanted to spend as much time together as possible. So in spite of the transportation rationing, my mother and I took the train from Washington to Fredericksburg often. With the trains full of soldiers, every seat was taken and many were standing. Hardly anyone had gasoline to drive. When we did drive, it was common to see a serviceman standing by the road hitchhiking, and everyone would pick up one, grateful for his service in protecting our country from our enemies. Every time we got on the crowded train, some young soldier would offer my mother a seat and, I would sit on her lap or on the suitcase in the aisle. The trains were noisy with loud laughter and the talking of these young warriors who were likely trying to forget that they were soon headed to battle zones. There was no air conditioning, so the train windows were always open on the warm days. On top of that, the engines pulling the trains were coal-fired so the window sills were black with soot, and it wasn’t unusual for some debris from the engine to come in and land in someone’s eye. “Don’t put your arm on the window sill,” I can still hear my mother say. I wasn’t immune to cinders flying in the windows. So, as most mothers did, my mother would take the corner of a handkerchief and try to get the cinder out of my eye. Then she would spit on the handkerchief and rub any smudges off of my face. After I stopped crying, I did appreciate it and liked to imagine that her mother had done the same for her when she was a child. When we reached Fredericksburg on the train, we would walk the eleven blocks, carrying our suitcase, to my grandmother’s house on Lewis Street. It was a lovely home, with a wraparound porch. It was a block or so from Kenmore plantation, the home of George Washington’s sister. There was a little park in front of Kenmore. I used to walk to the park and stare up at the statue of Hugh Mercer. I took great delight in walking around the little wall in the park, only a few inches high but a balancing challenge for me.
Kenmore Plantation is a beautiful 18th century mansion open to the public for tours. An old family tale that would make us laugh is that when my grandfather was looking for a place to move to in town, he was offered the opportunity to buy Kenmore. He refused, citing that he did not want to live in an old house with no central heating. We could have owned an historic treasure. A highlight of our trip to Fredericksburg would be when my mother’s older sister, who lived with my grandmother, would take me on a walk to downtown. There was always a stop in Goolrick’s Drug Store for a fountain coke and a chance to play with the little straw dispenser to the point where my aunt would have to tell me to stop. That coke was always a great treat on a hot day. Then we would visit the J.C. Penny store, or as my aunt would call it, “Pinny’s.” This was basically boring for a child to try to find something to do while the adults shopped for clothes, but there was always the amusement of watching how payments were made in the store. The sales associate would put the customer’s cash payment and the sales order in a metal cylinder, close the top and put it in a device that would whisk it up to the second floor balcony. There a cashier would collect the money, put the change and the receipt in the tube and send it back. It was fascinating to see a tube whisk down to the sales floor and try to guess which salesperson was going to receive it. The Colonial Theater was just down Caroline Street from Goolrick’s. I was too young at the time to be taken there to a movie, but in later years going to the movies there was a special treat. You could look up at the ceiling and see the painted blue sky with its fleecy clouds and see on the walls the four lighted silhouettes of men with Fredericksburg connections: George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, James Monroe and James Madison. There was nothing like it in the movie theaters at home. Sundays meant going to the Fredericksburg Baptist Church, where I felt that I was being abandoned by my elders in a Sunday school class where I knew no one. The Fredericksburg children certainly spoke English but with a slightly different accent such that I could not understand some of the things they said. My mother spoke “Fredericksburg,” but she must have lost some of the accent because some of the children’s words were lost on me. However, I did understand some words in context. For example “foe” meant “four” when said in the sentence “I’m foe years old.” They were all nice children, but I had trouble assimilating into a group that grew up together and played together every day. At night I would go to bed early, and I would lie awake with the open, screened windows and hear the conversations of people walking on the sidewalk just outside the house—muffled voices without content for me, soothing background sounds. When my aunt would have friends over for bridge, I could hear the sounds downstairs of card shuffling, unintelligible conversations and long pauses where someone would say “one no trump,” or the like. It was a music that would allow me to drift off to sleep. A small child grows to think that the world is exactly as it is presented to him or her. That is why I thought that visiting Fredericksburg was a way of life, and so it was for me for another eight years. It was a delightful time of warm summer days, long walks through an historic city, a comfortable time of family and familiar sights and sounds that became part of the fabric of my childhood.
Peter Paul Olejar is a musician, composer and occasional non-fiction writer with maternal family roots in Fredericksburg, VA.
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Fredericksburg The Bradford pears are in bloom,
Of slave feet on the way to the block
Maiden fragrance in the rain,
And the petals fell with the rain
Dancing with an old, old town,
On your hair. But death,
Stooped with history
Never welcome, is no stranger
And chortling at death,
In this town.
Where the bones of thousands
The Bradford pears are in bloom
Lie stacked like sticks
Again, and it is easy to grieve
In civil war trenches,
Here in the rain in a town
Now manicured lawns.
Where blood and tears
The Bradford pears were in bloom
Have always mingled with sorrow
In that spring when we walked
And rain and nourished the pears
On bricks worn smooth by the tread
And the ground.
Ruth Ann Allaire, Ph.D., is a retired college biology professor who lives in Fredericksburg, VA. She is active in writing, gardening, genealogy research and studying various healing modalities. Married, she volunteers for Mental Health of Fredericksburg and the Virginia Master Naturalists. 41
Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
The Ghost Tour I like being the center of inattention. It makes me feel like the ghost that I am. Freedom to move around, undetected by most. I raise havoc by causing people to trip, drop things, and whisper unusual thoughts into their unsuspecting ears. Sammy T’s is at full capacity. Its original tile ceiling was recently painted a rustic red. The booths are tall and dark, hiding their occupants with cozy comfort, but conversations float freely to others. A group of people have a heated conversation at the bar. Ah, the bar ofsolid wood, from days gone by, runs the full length of the room. You seem to sense my presence in the mirror that is as long as the bar. I whisper in your ear, “Take my advice, leave this dreadful place, and join me in the underworld of life.” I extend my hand to you, waiting. You hesitate, and then placing your hand in mine, we move toward the door. I tell you that now we are invisible to everyone else, except each other. You smile but don’t believe. Our very first encounter is a man late for his date. He runs through us. You shudder as you feel your body violated. I assure you this is normal. It just takes a little getting used to. A man spits his chewing tobacco juice out on the sidewalk. His wife has a horrified look on her face. Knowing that people are close by, his wife says, “Gross.” He wonders what he did wrong. I laugh hysterically at the clueless, spitting man. You look down at your white sneakers. Finding no tobacco juice stains, your facial expression speaks volumes. You still don’t believe. I am selfish being the center of inattention. I need to show you more, so I hold on tight to your hand. We walk the brick sidewalks of downtown Fredericksburg. There is a book-signing going on outside The Griffin Bookshop and Coffee Bar. A woman sits with her self-published book about her father’s suicide. The woman smiles at people passing by and jumps up to hug a close friend. I feel you squeeze my hand. Together we give the woman an encouraging pat on the back. The woman turns, the sidewalk empty behind her. She smiles and whispers, “Thanks.” You wonder if she can see us. I can only tell you that the woman, just like yourself, can sense our presence. The foot traffic on Caroline Street’s worn and cracked, brick sidewalks is getting heavier. As more people walk through us, you no longer have disbelief in your eyes. We stop to admire The Cat’s Closet’s huge glass display windows. Two of their resident cats sleep peacefully on pillows. The tabby wakes, stalks towards us. With all its hair raised, it hisses and growls like a lioness. You jump, and I laugh. Cats are such fascinating creatures. We move quickly away before the other cat wakes up. We sit for a spell, to people watch. Teenagers make their own fashion statements, with multiple piercing, mohawks, tattoos, and pink hair. Children create their own version of the Civil War, playing with their toy replicas of guns, swords, and cannons. Elderly couples stroll by still holding hands. A young couple argues as a toddler cries, strapped securely in the stroller. Dogs precede their owners, while others lag behind.
I have seen it all before. You, however, discover the best way to experience downtown Fredericksburg is by walking and observing. Especially satisfying to you is that no one can see you. I still hold your hand. Rising up, I have one more place to take you. As I lead you toward this place, I hear a familiar sound. You seem not to notice as the clop, clop, clop, of horse hooves on pavement grows louder. You finally catch the sour, yet sweet smell, of sweat drenched horses. We watch as cozy couples in the horsedrawn buggy pass by. A slow, romantic ride as they relive an archaic way of stress-free travel. Knowing that horses spook easily, you ask why the horses remain calm after sensing our presence. The two, almost identical, white horses, and I are kindred souls. I always see recognition in their scared, but accepting eyes. We stop to obey the flashing red hand. Antique stores populate one side of the street. The strong aroma of coffee beckons us to hurry. Traffic is heavy and the numbers counting down pedestrian safe crossing quickly return to the flashing red hand. You jump and shudder as cars pass through you. Caught up in the journey, you forget that we are together though not here. I lead you to the source of the rich aromas of specially blended coffee beans. As we approach Hyperion Espresso an assortment of people, populate the outside tables. Individuals focus on their laptops, some seem to be talking to themselves. Others are in deep conversation as they sip their coffee. As we move toward the door, a large dog rushes toward the water bowl next to the doggie hitching post. You ask why the dog didn’t react to our presence like the cat did at The Cat’s Closet. I explain that dog is god spelled backwards, so dogs pay no attention to us. We go inside Hyperion Espresso, soaking in all the smells, sounds, and soothing atmosphere of a very busy place. We overhear a woman complaining about neighbors in Ohio that did nothing about their suspicions. I sense your interest in hearing more. We stand listening as the woman says, “If only those neighbors had gotten involved. They should have told authorities about the boarded up windows and loud music. Those three teenage girls, who were abducted and held captive for ten years by that horrible man, would have been rescued from that house of horrors a long time ago.” I feel your deep sadness. We move inside, noticing the center portion of the walls that have been painted sunrise yellow. Barely noticeable are delicate, wavy lines of orange, rising up from where the yellow begins. The larger windows allow natural lighting to fill the room. You seem unwilling to move. Your sadness is gone. You sense the shift in energy. I release your hand. Sammy T’s is at over-flowing capacity. You sense my presence at the bar. You return to your personal center of attention, talking with your circle of friends, but glance around. I return to my own center of inattention as downtown Fredericksburg’s wisdom keeper.
Teresa Mohme has lived in the Fredericksburg area for the past ten years. She is the self-published author of A Daughter’s Reflection on the Suicide of her Father, a collection of poems, writings, and narratives. The book is available on the websites of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million. Fall 2013 Volume 1, Issue 1
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
A Seasoned Love It is strength of mature years and memories of loves too eagerly claimed and lost that keep me from running my fingers through your hair too soon. I've learned to savor and taste each spice, each fruit, each flavor. Still lightning flashes when you look at me so close. Your eyes are soft now but I've seen them steady and brown like trees so tall and strong. I've climbed them to their tops to see the promise of our future. I can only imagine what you see in mine.
~ Tramia Jackson
Marriage to a Widower This morning, at breakfast, my husband regales me with stories and poems, bits and pieces of yesterday’s news, so many memories crowding his mind. Yes, it’s sweet, but throughout his long litany, the word we rears its hissing head and I am left to wonder: to what degree are the dead really dead, how much more than an urn of ashes under the snow, under the marble bench engraved with both their names? I’ve pulled out my best recipes, my checkbook, my most alluring gowns. I’ve lotioned my limbs, made warm the marital bed, but who can compete with this ghost from the grave? I find her in the hallway, her ear pressed to the wall. She creeps into the bedroom. Above our love-making she whispers, staring down at me from the airy ceiling.
~ Pia Taavila-Borsheim
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
Three Deer on the Last Day of the Year Time is frozen in gray snow recedes to blotches in patch work downed trees and branches small pines absolutely green absolutely motionless until nudges by browsing deer deer licking winter fur necks torqued to impossible degrees unimaginable angles their long slender necks flexible to surprise. A white light hovers on the horizon low to the ridge. There is nothing here to resolve brittle leaves air so cold it stings and chafes. Barren or beautiful is in the rhythm of the heart hands too cold to move head too cold to think three deer vanished the air infinitely still nothing moved in their movements like the heart between beats.
~ J.P. Mackie
Asleep in the Snow Tires spinning in snow, muffled Veil of exhaust lifts its ghostly shoulders The rooster crows, feathers rustling A shiver beneath the crisp sheet of dawn. Inside and under our window Wool and cotton wrap arms and feet Small clucking sounds huddle in babyâ€™s throat Sleep nursing, his smooth round cheeks a rosy warmth. I breathe in close to his skin, careful not to wake A memory drifts in, the boy with crumbs on his lips and a tear in his eye How peacefully he now sleeps My heart lifts and settles with the snow on the windowsill.
~ Amy Raposo
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
Burgeon Lifeless now. Hard beneath the concrete her essence stands, still. In decay she feeds Mother Earth with rough-climbing branches that will never kiss the sun. I watched her bloom late and root shallow in a craggy urban foothold. She taught me to fight the rain, collect due with outstretched limbs, snap without bending, and scrape dust in drought. She all but shut down to survive and never went deep enough to hold. Shoots absorbed with blight, produced fruit that was untouchable. Her friends were fences and we, the children who played around her just outside. In her spring she could warm the sky. Beautiful, buzzing, humming with promise of growth. But as time moved we watched her face fall in anticipated dormancy. And when that bitter winter came, her hollow rotted structure gave. I saw her wither, withdraw, and leave. I must now tend This bitter seed that grows in me.
~ Lauren Nalls
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
Lunacy The golden sphere haunts the night, Inspiring poets and wiccans alike. Its alien face hangs in the blackness Seeing all and saying nothing. Some dread this nocturnal showoff As an omen of evil things to come, So it subtly sinks in over the month Like a thief creeping towards its prey. Then swelling with self-importance In its role as the midnight sun, It causes bashful stars to recoil As its light obliterates the universe.
~ Mary Lou Sawan
Nosotros Que Suspiran We wake up, arms empty. He rolls over in the middle of the night, subconsciously reaching out for me. I sequester myself to half the bed, forgetting he doesn’t occupy the other side— only pillows and static air. When sleep wears off, we remember too slowly that we’re alone. We roll over, expecting to find each other— instead, unearthing cold sheets and dead dreams.
Mustang Island, February, 2013 In bulbous profusion The sea lily Stretches along sun-baked sands As far as pelicans glide, In contours Left by tide And gentle wave. They conjure habitations unimaginable Where flowers On exotic isles Bloom, Rich in colors Pink, fuchsia, rose, And nestled among birds Green, red, and purple. Each bringing Enchantment To a people Fashioned as we In grace By Grace.
~Vivian P. Worrell
~ Nikita Hernandez
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
The Dance I remember the dance That began at a kitchen table on West 85th Continued in the Village And reached its finale in Brooklyn I remember what it was like To sense the motion in the night As music flowed around between and within us And we were open And alive And desiring And shy So we just danced In the streets and the dark cafes and clubs We danced to conversation Our stories like oriental lanterns Floating on dark water Illuminating only a small patch In the larger ocean of what we were feeling We danced to music too loud To do anything but synchronize our rhythm Like birds gliding on air currents Or leaves drawn up in a spiraling autumn wind We danced to the flavors Of scotch and tobacco Later sweet on your lips As I recall When in the dark we could feel Our bodies still answering deep rhythms And the secret textures of skin I remember the dance Not the flesh Because it was all dance Everything we did was motion Harmonized to the City To our lives To our hearts Like a key that turns the bright lock How easily all that can fade away Many winters later As the layers of life blanket us But the dance has not stopped It has only become muffled And we have been sleeping
~ John Warner
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
Index of Poets Hernandez, Nikita Born and raised as a military brat, or a “professional gypsy” as my mom likes to say, I grew up in the Deep South drinking sweet tea and plucking pecans from my next-door neighbor’s tree. Eventually we moved to the Midwest, where I fell in love with mountains and snow, and finally settled in Florida. After graduating college a year early and settling into “the real world” as a legal writer, I spend a lot of my time fantasizing about winning the lottery, opening a bakery with my best friend, or running away to the Rocky Mountains. Jackson, Tramia is from Stafford, Virginia. She holds a bachelors in history and a masters in history museum studies and currently works at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center. Between working and spending time with her family, Tramia loves visiting Water Street Studio. Mackie , J.P. has written three books, Portrait in Green, Letters to My Imaginary Wife, and his newest book, Riding Light. He works as a mental health therapist at the Rappahannock Regional Jail, and has been writing and publishing poems long enough to be unknown to the vast reading public. In 2011, his poems appeared in Pudding Magazine and Poem. Nalls, Lauren currently resides in Fredericksburg, Va. She is currently working on her first literary fiction novel. Lauren is an active member of Fauquier Writers Meet and Critique, and she really enjoys the critique process. She is a Reiki Master/Teacher and owns a small business in the Fredericksburg area. She enjoys reading, writing, and nature. She is blessed to have two amazing kids and a supportive husband. Raposo, Amy lives with her husband and their two young sons in Spotsylvania, VA. She finds inspiration in daily life and nature. Sawan, Mary Lou says she finds it easier to write from the heart in the form of poetry, rather than saying the same things in prose. She has lived in Fredericksburg for many years, and is employed in a local museum. Taavila-Borsheim, Pia lives in Fredericksburg,Virginia. She received a BA and an MA in American Literature from Eastern Michigan University (1977, 1979) and an interdisciplinary PhD (1985) from Michigan State University in English, Sociology, and Philosophy. She teaches literature and creative writing at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. Gallaudet University Press published her collected poems, Moon on the Meadow (1977-2007); Finishing Line Press published her chapbook,Two Winters (2011). Her poems have appeared in many journals including: The Bear River Review, Appalachian Heritage, The Comstock Review, Threepenny Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, storySouth, The Asheville Poetry Review, 32 Poems, Measure, Ibbetson Street Review, and The Southern Review. She is a frequent participant at the Bear River, Sewanee and Key West Literary conferences. Warner, John was raised in Santa Cruz, CA but left after high school for New York City. He has been a freelance writer, an academic, and currently is a program analyst. At 61, he is exploring novel writing (genre fiction) and poetry (personal explorations) as a way to bring out the stories in his head. John lives in downtown Fredericksburg with his wife, two dogs and a cat. Worrell, Vivian P. has been scribbling little poems on scraps of paper or in journals or in notebooks for years. It seems that at times there is not sufficient space inside for all the beauty or the joy or the reverence or sadness. She has found that putting it on paper is a very satisfactory way to contain it and express herself in the process.
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
In the Company of Many A tinted glass door with block letters reading Women’s Center stood between me and an uncertain future. I went to the center between classes, but I wasn’t thinking about Margaret Sanger or women’s liberation. Nor was I pondering the ranks of women I was about to join in the exciting and unsettling tradition of pregnancy testing. Somewhere in my mind I appreciated the fact that I was able to enter this clinic, very privately take a pregnancy test, and talk to a counselor; but my most immediate thought was whether I drank enough water to be able to pee into the sterilized cup. “Please sign in.” Without looking up, a technician sitting behind a clear partition beckoned me to the desk and handed me a clipboard. The list on the paper was short. I signed my name and phone number and handed the clipboard back to the woman behind the glass. “Have you visited us before,” she asked, entering data into the computer with highly glossed fingers that rapped across the keyboard like rain. “No.” “And what are you here for today?” She continued executing a punctuated dance across the letters. She had not yet made eye contact. “Um,” I cleared my throat, “I want to take a pregnancy test.” I struggled to say it and lowered my voice, even though there were only two other women in the office. “I see.” She finally raised her head and smiled, “Well, that’s eight dollars then.” She had fine laugh lines around the corners of her bold mouth. I slid the money through the hole under the glass and fingered the receipt that she returned to me. “You can have a seat in the waiting area. We’re not too busy, so it won’t be long.” Her smile lingered behind her eyes as she motioned to the chairs behind me. The other women glanced up as I crossed the room. Neither appeared nervous, with crossed legs and magazines flipping. The receipt remained in my hand and I noticed its bounce as I sat down on a boxy chair. My hands trembled. I was probably pregnant. Calm down, I told myself. It was nothing. Everyone was right and I was going to feel stupid for freaking out about this whole thing when the doctor told me the test read negative. Shallow huffs puffed from my nose and I was going to burst out of my skin. I was alone, truly alone, with no advocate other than myself. 55
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Though I was nearly finished with college and living on my own, it was a first for me. Was I strong enough to hear this? Was I strong enough to do this? The technician was saying something through the glass. “Miss...Miss? You can come back now.” She gave me that reassuring smile, saying, “It’s going to be okay.” I crossed through the threshold and she handed me the cup on the other side, pointing me down the hall to the bathroom on the left. “When you’re finished you just put the cup in the rotating cubby and slide it over to the lab, okay, Sweetie?” “Okay,” I choked. I closed the bathroom door and peed into the cup with ease, then rotated my fate over to the lab. I tried desperately to calm my quivering hands with cold tap water. The amiable receptionist saw me exit the bathroom and said, “You can just have a seat in the waiting room. They’ll call you in about ten minutes.” Back to the stiff chair and the glossy rags. The two women who were formerly in the waiting room were gone. My leg jerked tellingly up and down on my knee. Time behaved like a scrawny kid climbing the rope in gym class. Finally, the technician slid back the glass and called, “Miss, the counselor will see you now.” A square woman approached me briskly from a side door. She stretched her hand and ushered me into a private room with walls covered in advertising for various contraceptive devices and hotline numbers. We sat opposite each other at a cavernous desk, she with pamphlets lined up like a game of blackjack, and I with my eyes on their gleaming covers. She began, “Well, your test came back positive.” She paused as I gasped. “You were expecting this, or no?” “Well, I kind of thought...” “It’ll be okay,” she started. Everyone kept telling me this. “Have you thought about your options? Are you in a position to keep the baby, or have you considered aborting the pregnancy? Or adoption? There are many families out there who desperately want an infant to love and raise.” The room spun. Phrases like “unwed mother” and “single parent” cartwheeled through my mind. I’d been toying with this scenario all week. It certainly
wouldn’t have been outside the norm to choose abortion at that phase in my life, and I wasn’t against it; however, from the moment that pregnancy became a possibility I knew my answer. I had run the scenarios and thought about the outcomes. Even in truth’s vice, my mind was certain. The counselor was staring at me. “Um, I am going to keep the baby,” I said, forcing myself to look at her, to show some kind of conviction. A slight sigh escaped her, and did I detect a rolling of her eyes? She recovered, saying, “Of course. Well, let me just give you some information to take with you to look over. You don’t have to make up your mind today; there’s time for that.” She grabbed a Technicolor array of pamphlets and offered each accordingly. “This pamphlet will give you some information about Medicaid and tell you a little bit about visiting a doctor. This pamphlet gives you a list of adoption agencies. And this one,” she tapped the one with a purple cover, “gives you some information pertaining to
abortion. Do you have any questions about any of these options?” Questions? My mind had split in two. One side was abuzz with static, while the other side had slipped into stasis. It was from that void that clarity surfaced and I muttered a response, “No, no questions right now,” and then, “thank you.” “Well, okay then, just sign these forms stating that we talked about your options and if you have any questions, please call the number on this card. You can pick up your test results at the front counter. You’ll need to take them to the doctor on your first visit, or they will bill you for another test and it’ll be more expensive through the doctor’s office.” She escorted me to the front of the building and paused before turning around, offering, “Good luck.” I picked up the test results from the receptionist, searching for that reassuring smile. She, however, was deep in a phone conversation and didn’t look up as I took the paper before exiting through the gleaming, glass door.
A.E. Bayne is a writer, artist, English teacher who calls Fredericksburg her home. She studied creative writing and literature at Virginia Tech in the early 1990s and has been writing and creating ever since. Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
Rope Collar, Flannel Collar Scrappy was a bit of a hellion. The county postmaster general had the Sherriff send a deputy to our house one summer afternoon because of complaints about him from the mail lady. I was fifteen at the time. The traditional Deep South teaches its children to live their lives through skill. In times of trouble, you rely on your oldest skills—so when the Sherriff’s deputy pulled into our driveway to speak to me about Scrappy, I fell back on the oldest skill mother’s Bible and father’s belt had taught me: obedient stillness. The deputy stepped from his cruiser and fixed his hat and aviators before shutting his driver door. As it closed behind him with a firm whack, I came through the front door of our house and headed down the porch steps to greet him. He stood by the gate of our chain link fence, hands folded above his belt buckle, looking down at scrappy. Scrappy was four months old by then—the age when a Golden Retriever is going through this awkward g phase with their coat. Somehow he was missing the tassels on his back legs, and he was two shades of yellow which tangled with one another in the middle of his rib cage. He sat perfectly, the way I’d been trying to train him to do for two weeks. That was the first time he did it. The Sherriff was quiet for the first few seconds after I made it to the gate. He just stood there looking at the dog as he sat wagging its tail, tongue gently dropping through the front of his jowls. “How can I help you Deputy?” I asked. “’Ats the dog, uh?” “Yessir, I replied. I stood up straighter and stuck my hands in my pockets. For the whole walk down from the porch I’d been hoping that he was there by accident or for any reason but Scrappy. As Scrappy had grown over his four months, his crimes escalated. What began with chewing the legs off our dining room chairs during teething soon became breaking loose from his rope to run through the neighborhood, digging up gardens at every house. Every day for the week prior to the deputy’s visit, Scrappy broke free of his rope and lurked in the woods alongside the road in front of our house. He would rush from hiding and snatch the mail from the mail lady’s hands, giving 57
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the envelopes a quick shredding before he would run off to hide in the woods near the next mailbox along our street. “Where’s his collar?” The deputy asked. “Broke it,” I said. “Put a collar on ‘em. Chain ‘em. Whatever you gotta do.” “Yessir.” “Next time, he’s comin’ with us, and He’ll get put down if he bites anybody . “Yessir.” Won’t happen again.” When the deputy got back into his car and backed out of the driveway, scrappy was still sitting beside the gate, wagging his tale. For two weeks my mother had called my father while he was at work, to ask him to bring home a new collar for the dog. He did so every day, commanding me to put the new collar on the dog and tie him to the post beside the barn. Scrappy broke the collar every afternoon when he heard the mail lady’s approach. The night of the deputy’s visit, mother and father were in the kitchen arguing about her sister, who’d been the one who dumped Scrappy on our porch. She picked him up from the county shelter, but decided she didn’t want to raise him after a day or two of having him a young puppy in the house. My father kept yelling about how he refused to take care of anything else just because her family decided to push it on him. She kept reminding him that her family, at least, question whether or not he actually was my father when they got married. I’d known for a few years that my parents never meant to marry before they found out my mother was pregnant with me. They’d told me so plainly, and I also knew that mother had questioned whether or not he was my father at their wedding, and she never let that go. I went in to work the next day at the town farm supply company. My supervisor, Lonny, rared back in his swivel chair in the office and laughed at me when I told him of the trouble Scrappy was giving me. His fat sides jiggled under his Dale Earnhardt commemorative t-shirt. He righted himself in his chair and let out a sigh that whistled through the gap in his front teeth as he finished laughing.
“Had a blue-tick do about the same to me a while back,” he said, “broke near everyone a them collars I bought him, ‘cept that one I made o’bailing wire. That’s what you should do. Fasten ‘at dog with bailing wire, and if he busts loose...well, damn. If he busts loose o’that call ‘em a lion a sell his ass to the damn zoo and get your money back. $7.50 for the wire. Employee discount. No refunds.” “How do I weave it so he doesn’t break it?” “Well...that depends on the dog, and to be honest I only did it once, so you’ll have to feel out how to tailor it to him. Some pull with the chest, others pull with the head.” “Yessir.” “And don’t rile off and get pissy if your knots turn loose while he struggles, that’s your fault. Remember, he’s a dog. All he knows ‘a run a cat up a tree.” “Yessir.” I took home the bundle of red, nylon bailing wire and roped the loops, first around Scrappy’s collar, then under his brisket and over the arch of his upper ribcage in a simple harness style, firm, but not so tight he couldn’t give and breath with him—just the way I liked to wear the flannel shirts my grandmother made for me every fall before school would let in. Once finished, I took him out on a leash for a quick trot through the woods to try out the new rig. It held and Scrappy didn’t seem to mind that the new collar put me in total control of where he went as we ran. He didn’t tug. He didn’t strain at my arm, or try to veer off on his own. He seemed content to follow the path we were running down, the same path we’d always been on. That night I tied Scrappy to the post with an extra yard added to his rope with the leftover bailing wire. As soon as I had knotted it to his collar, he pressed it to its length and sniffed the edge of his circle in a frenzy,
prancing briskly the way a fool would after being rewarded for doing as he always would. The rope was just long enough for Scrappy to reach the door of the chicken coop. My father came home to discover that Scrappy had flipped open the latch of the coop door and had took after my mother’s hens, her most prized layer being his ultimate target. He had never killed one of her hens. He would simply run them into a tree, and then help himself to their eggs while they ranted helplessly. There was Scrappy: nose aimed straight for the nearest nesting box, stretching his rope, straining to reach the egg when my father rounded the corner of the house. When he saw it, he ran to the dog and snatched him by his collar so harshly that the rope cut into the flesh beneath it. I heard Scrappy yelp and came out to see what was going on, and my father questioned me about why the rope was long enough to let the dog reach the hens. I told him that I wanted to give him some extra rope. It was my rope. I bought it. Scrappy had behaved all day after I put it on him, so I figured he could do with some extra freedom. Once I had spoken, my father slapped me so hard that I buckled. As I started to sink to the ground, he snatched me back to my full height by the collar of my flannel shirt and shoved me towards the post. “Fix it,” he said and went inside. Scrappy was sitting still again when I walked up to him, and I could see a bright trickle of fresh blood dampening his coat under the collar. Without any motion of resistance from Scrappy, I cut the hem from my shirt and wrapped it around the rope collar until it was only cloth pressing against his neck, tying off the slack just under his chin, leaving the slightest tassel hanging down before his breast. Then I turned and went inside without a word.
Robert McDaniel was born in 1992 in Conyers, Ga., and is currently enrolled in Georgia College and State University, studying English. He writes stories of times when nature, and others, sharpened him. He grew up along the fall line, in the heart of the old south. Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
Anthropomorphize When I was eight, I believed I had a power over all of nature. Bare-foot and wild, I laid on grass fed by the shit of dogs to watch ants, pincer-bugs, millipedes and black grass-hoppers carve out a living in their miniature forest. I was their god, obstructing their path and granting salvation to the chosen few. Then, in a passionate wail I would call upon the garden hose to flood their tiny homes, villages, refuges, and raise my hand to the afternoon sky. I controlled their world, their lives, and their deaths. I didn’t understand why that power, that effusion of cosmic energy, couldn’t save me from the fists of my keepers. The belt had silver brads, protruding pain. When it clapped against my thigh, like a fat belly flop into cold water, I went blank. The next thing I could feel was warm, putrid water between my legs and underneath my bare toes. When I was ten, I saved a housefly’s life. His wings had sealed against his fuzzy body in the presence of dishwater, and just before he slipped down the grinding drain, I scooped him up and nestled him to my palm. I’d always hated flies, but dying flies weren’t like flies at all. They were special, sad, sorrowful little beings. “You have great things to do, little friend,” I whispered. I granted the fly a reprieve, and in return I begged for his friendship. “If you live, you have to stay with me, okay?” I said. His left wing pulsed, then,miraculously, separated. I took the one-winged wave as an answer, a promise. For two hours I gently stroked the fly’s back, and whispered my tokens of friendship. When at last, the remaining wing fluttered from his body, I decided freedom was the final rite of our ceremony. “It’s time,” I said. I carried the fly to the damp outdoors. He circled the tip of my finger, a thank-you, and then rose into the air. I pretended it was rain drops that slid down my cheeks, but I was lying. I missed my best friend. Both my parents had large palms. I couldn’t tell the difference between the moist inside of either of their hands when one crashed into the back of my skull. I learned to collapse in a sudden heap, to present myself as defeated, worthless, nothing, so that the pounding of their open hand onto my aching head would cease. 59
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When I was eight, I did something cruel. We lived in an old church that had been renovated into a rental home on two brown acres of unkempt field. My brother and I agreed that it was where the church cemetery must’ve been. A neighbor kid rode by on his bike, and skidded to a rubber-smearing stop to tell us the big news. “Did ya’ know if you put salt on slugs they’ll sizzle up like a fried egg?” he asked. I was standing in my fenced-in front yard, holding a dog turd in my bare hands, my upper lip curled in defiance. “Na-ah,” I said. “Yah-huh,” he argued. “I saw it with my own eyes.” I threw the turd at the boy and he screamed, then rode away and called me a dirty bitch. The next morning, before anyone woke up, I filled my pockets with salt. Ten a.m. was when our babysitter, Hunchback Martha locked me and my brother out of the house, once her geriatric boyfriend drove up for adult time. My brother took off on his bike to play basketball with his friends, and I was left to plot murder. There was a shady spot on the backside of our front yard, where two mission-fig trees grew, and where I’d seen hundreds of slugs mounting each other’s sticky bodies. I caught a shimmery glimpse of a slug-trail and followed it to a family, or an orgy, of four meaty slugs, all bigger than my fingers. I carried each one of them to our walkway, where there was no shade or grass to hide. I felt evil as I stood over their displaced bodies. Slowly, so slowly, I reached into my pockets with both hands and pulled out handfuls of salt, then I poured it over the slugs like a fast moving hourglass. The boy was right. I watched, emotionless, as the slugs writhed under the acid foam coating their bodies. The smallest one, I remember thinking it was the baby, lasted the longest. Minutes after the others had ceased to move anymore, his wet antennae undulated as if an invisible finger was lightly tapping it back and forth. I smashed my sandal into the baby-slug’s head and smeared him across the cement. I never told anyone what I had done. “I want to see if it hurts,” I said to the neighbor’s daughter. I struck the little girl, who was at least two
years younger than me, across the butt with a pingpong paddle. She laughed. I hit her again, this time harder. Then, I pulled the back of her shiny, coiled blonde hair. “Stop it,” she said. She was just starting to cry. I hit her again, and again. Each time the sound of flimsy wood striking her pink sweat pants got louder. I was on a roll. She had a steady stream of tears running down her face. I only stopped when a splash of hot pain washed over my lower back.
“How do you like it?” the little girl’s mother screamed. She hit me two more times, making me wet my underwear before taking her sobbing daughter by the hand and leaving. “Don’t you ever touch her again or I’ll do you worse next time!” she yelled. I ran home to tell, and made it as far as the kitchen, where my parents stood, talking. My breath, heavy, fast, alerted them to my presence. “What?” they asked. “Nothing,” I lied. I walked to my bedroom, uncertain, and closed the door.
Bryanne Salazar is a freelance writer and copy-editor, a military spouse and mom living in Southern California. She currently works for three Los Angeles based websites as a contributing lifestyle author. Bryanne graduated from the essays in her spare time. Her previous nonfiction work and poetry has appeared in Rain Bird, a literary and art journal based in Hawaii. Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
Crossing the Swamp No one spoke inside the car; the only sound was the road telling us to go back. My sister’s car drove north, a three-year-old late fifties coupe plowing through the level marshland of the Florida panhandle. Around us the swamp meandered south toward the Gulf, oozing out a pattern of streams and canals that dumped into the Blackwater River and then on into Pensacola Bay. The road was razor straight, and the summer heat buckled the road in an evenly measured pattern. When the tires banged over the buckle humps, it made a clack-clack sound. As I listened the sound changed into words, “Back-back.” “Back-back. Back-back. Back-back.” On it went, repeating its unceasing cadence to go back, and we heeded its call as we drove north. The view from the back seat window revealed green marsh grass blending into the blue horizon—a view distorted faintly by the dust patterns dried onto the unwashed glass. It was late summer, and we were driving from my sister’s home in Pensacola to my home just north of the Florida line in lower Alabama . . . where my Father waited. At the end of this journey, I hoped to see my Father sober for the first time in my life. The four of us sat in silence in the car. The growl of the coupe’s engine throbbed in counterpoint with the rhythmic instructions coming from the road. My sister, fifteen years older than me, sat in the front passenger seat. When I turned my head her way, I could see her face in profile, her dark hair pulled into a ponytail that fluttered wildly in the wind coming into the car through her open window. Her pursed lips barely controlled the quarrel that erupted out from them at about 15 minute intervals. One was due to arrive any minute now, and the rest of us waited for it in silence. Bob, her new husband, drove with the scent of his Aqua Velva aftershave mixing with the cloying smoke from his cigarette. I didn’t need to see his face to know his jaw muscles hammered a constant tattoo—a sign of his poorly controlled Vesuvian temper. In contrast to my sister, his red hair—plastered back by about a metric ton of Brylcreem—remained unmoved by the wind blowing into the open driver’s window My mother sat next to me in the backseat, wringing her hands in the folds of her pale house shift. She exuded worry like it was a strong odor, and no one in the car was untouched by its reek. 61
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I sat and looked at my hands—they were dirty. My fingernails were cracked and uneven, and dirt was ground under my nails and in the cracks in my nails; scars and scabs from playing in the yard scored my hands. They were the small, dirty hands of an unkempt ten-year-old boy. Why weren’t my hands clean? Who was I to know to wash my hands? I was a kid. My Mother made most of my clothes and she made the shirt I wore from cloth dyed in a rope-and-knots pattern on a blue background. The material was better suited for curtains on a sailboat than for a boy’s shirt. I liked it though . . . that is until the other kids teased me about it, calling me Popeye the Sailor Man. I liked that my Mom made it for me, but I never wore it again after being ridiculed for wearing it. Sweating in the late August heat, I fell into a daze and started day-dreaming about the road ahead. Built into the road were a series of bridges that crossed the winding bogs; some bridges were short, some were long. When the car passed over one of these bridges, the rhythmic “back-back” caught its breath for the few seconds we were on the bridge. Could the bridges be dots and dashes? I wondered if these bridges were a Morse code message. What would the message be if I deciphered the dots and dashes? What was the road telling me? What was God telling me? My Mother’s question broke through my stupor, “Isn’t there some way we can get Mike into school in Pensacola?” She wasn’t asking anyone in particular. “Nope, not gonna happen,” Bob said, and flicked his butt out the window with a flourish to punctuate the point. “The boy needs to go home and start school back in Alabama. That’s where he belongs.” He punched the cigarette lighter to heat it up for his next smoke. I reached over and patted my Mother’s hand, “Momma, it’ll be okay. Daddy’s sober. We talked to him last night. He hasn’t had a drink since we left him in May.” She said nothing, but glanced my way and then sighed before looking back at her hands as they lay fidgeting in her lap. Her silence could fill an encyclopedia about the gullibility of youth and the treachery of men, subjects to which she had earned an advanced degree. “Mom, if things get bad again, just phone us like you did in May. Bob and I can be there in three hours,” my sister said without turning around. Snatching the lighter from its holder on the dash, Bob looked at her and blew a plume of smoke out of
the corner of his mouth in her direction. To her credit, she just stared back at him—waiting for him to say just one more word about the situation, and to his credit, he didn’t. He put the lighter back in the dash, sucked one long drag on the fresh butt and then blasted it out through the open window. I didn’t need to see his face to know his jawbone was getting a workout. I looked up. In the deep blue summer sky a flock of blackbirds—millions of blackbirds—flew in a single line. This ribbon of blackbirds stretched from horizon
Mike Smith Stafford.
to horizon, they seemed a narrow band of black against a bluer-than-blue sky. We drove north. They flew south. I wondered if blackbirds knew Morse code. I wondered if their claws were clean. We returned to silence, punctuated by the road ordering us back. We complied, with the men in the car—that would be me and Bob—okay with following the road’s guidance . . . and the women—well, not so much.
Originally from Alabama, Smith moved to Fredericksburg in 2005 after he retired from the Army in
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The Sound of His Truck I remember the sound of his truck. The whining motor straining as it climbed the hill to our house. To this day my chest tightens when I think about it. No matter what was going on, everything stopped and little voices screamed, “He’s home. Daddy’s home. His truck is coming!” And little bodies and tiny feet scurried everywhere. I was ten and Peggy was nine, yet we screamed like wardens at our seven-year- old brother because he had not taken out the garbage, at the five-year-old twins because their clothes were scattered on the floor, at each other because we knew what was about to happen. He would soon come through the door and life would change, instantly. Arriving home after school, all of our time was spent in frantic anticipation of what would happen. And something always happened. The front door opened and he slammed into the room. His black, curly hair soaking wet from working construction all day and a red bandana tied around his forehead did little to slow the stream of sweat running down his face, allowing his tee shirt to stick to his thick body. His countless tattoos were barely visible through the dirt and grime, and his breath always smelled of beer. I learned early that chores were critical and if the younger ones did not complete their list I’d hear, “You better damned well do them or make sure they do.” It was his rule that retribution followed and not just for one – but for all. He never demeaned one. When he started he went down the line – everyone got his or her shot – that lousy, vicious, hurtful, belittling, shot. When you don’t know any better you get used to it. It was normal – for you. Dinner was never pleasant. It was always met with anticipation, terrified anticipation. I could have survived on crackers and water had I been given a choice. There was no laughing or telling of stories. There was no asking questions. There was no, well, anything. He demanded his supper and quiet. I mean absolute silence. We sat at the table, all ten of us. My mother at one end, he at the other, and the rest sprinkled along the sides and baby in the high chair. We ranged from fourteen months to ten years. We all sat very quietly while he recited grace. When I think about it now, I find it ironic because the moment he finished the prayer, he looked up to start cursing and screaming about the day he had endured. Telling us how stupid our teachers were, about how we never did anything in the house, about how hard he worked to put food on the table and how we did not appreciate anything. How selfish we were, which was why he couldn’t get ahead. He ranted about the lack of work, the chafing between his legs from sweating all day, about his employees. “Those bastards keep trying to take advantage of me!” And it went on, and on, and on. I don’t ever remember being asked what I was doing in school, how my friends were or if I had any friends, or if I needed help with anything. I only remember knowing that I had to be silent. And never question anything.
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
We were not allowed to speak at the table. And we could not drink any liquid with our meal. Milk was not allowed until after our dinner was completed. And, if we did not eat something on our plate – well – it was there on the table the next morning for our breakfast. We were to eat everything on our plate and not waste food. After all, our mother had taken the time to cook it, and he worked hard to buy it, and dammit, we were to eat it. Liver, spinach, carrots; whatever item happened to be unpalatable to a six-year-old did not matter. “You either eat it for dinner, or it will be your breakfast the next morning.” We ate everything on our plates...oft times for breakfast. One time, I was probably fourteen or fifteen, and I must have said something snotty to him. I don’t know what or why. To ask would make him become truly enraged. I do remember we were having spaghetti and the pot of sauce was on the table. Without a second thought, he picked up that pot and threw it at me. I ducked and it hit the wall spraying the red sauce over the wall, the floor and the guns mounted in his prized gun rack. I ran for my life. I ran so hard and so fast up the stairs until I tripped, banging my head and knees and crying as I slid under my bed. I heard my mother yelling at him to stop and not follow me. So he simply hit her. I was spared – I got away – she didn’t and neither did the rest of the kids. I stayed in my room, under the bed, shaking until I fell asleep. When I got up the next morning the sauce had dried like cement across the knotty pine walls, the floor and his guns. I scraped, cleaned and polished everything before I left for school. There was not a question in my mind - I knew it had to be done – by me – right then. With that penance completed, I left for school and tried to clear my mind so I could try and learn something because in the end I always started the day as a “stupid, useless, son of a bitch.” These days, I sit some evenings unsure why the dark, low whispers continue crowding my head. I have begged them to stop for so long, but they are there; the memories are always there and sometimes they scream. They greedily take my few moments of peace and push me to revisit that chaotic hell that I survived so long ago. My mother was artistic – a painter, seamstress, and writer. My father screamed and cursed and hit. She was incisively articulate and used words instead of physical force. With one sentence, she could put my father in his place, and he hated that. He could not win against her words so he used his fists. She learned quickly to keep her words to herself. In later years he calmed down. He left the scotch in the cabinet and stopped his physical abuse. He was finally afraid, afraid of her leaving for good and his being left alone – all alone. She had become so good at shutting down and making herself invisible that he finally understood what he had done. She took advantage of his fear, became brave and used her words. He was terrified of being alone and no one wanting him around. I know my mother died first to spite him. She could
have survived quite nicely had he died first. She liked the silence and being able to enjoy reading, painting and writing. She knew he would not fare as well and did not care. He never forgave his children and felt they had taken advantage of him all his life. Given that he would get up in the middle of a snow storm and drag one of his kids out of a snow bank or plow their driveway or give them money or bail them out of jail and take them home. Yet no thanks from them were ever enough – nothing was ever enough. He wanted love and admiration yet he never knew how to earn it. He expected all of us to be pleasers, doers, and a don’t-make-waves kid. When we didn’t respond exactly to his expectations he got angry – so very angry, it is unfathomable. He wanted unconditional love, but did his best to push it away, beat it down and totally annihilate it. He always, always followed up the occasional nice word with a hurtful, demeaning remark. We could have cleaned the living room to Army specs, but there always seemed to be that piece of lint or smidge of dust left on a table. “So really, you didn’t do such a good job – did you?” When my mother learned to become invisible, I took her place and became caretaker. When she got sick, which she did often to be out of sight, he came to me to scream about the kids, the housecleaning or dinner. When he found a less than clean fork in the drawer, he emptied the contents of the entire drawer, as well as the dish cabinet, into the sink for a total rewash and dry – then, right then, at that very moment. My sister and I would spend an entire evening rewashing, by hand, drying and putting away dishes from every cabinet. Then we could go to bed. We were 10 and 11 years old. I made excuses. Not because the others needed or deserved them, but because excuses kept him semi-calm. I tried reasoning then resorted to manipulation just so he didn’t hate me and everyone else. It was an untenable position. I thought it would keep life stable because he focused on me and on what I was doing instead of everyone else. He totally discounted his other children. How could he do that? I made up stories as to why I was the only one – in his eyes – that ever amounted to anything. Why I was the favorite. If they only knew. If only they understood the fear, pain, and unbearable sadness that I carried each and every moment and which still haunts me today. I thought if he liked me maybe I could say things that might lighten the horror for the others. If he were calm, they would be safe. We might all be safe. I gave up everything to make him and my mother love all of us. But I failed. And I bear the burden. I am the loser. When my mother gave up and willed herself to die, he was inconsolable. He had no coping skills. He had led such a fierce,
unhappy life, he had no tools with which to try and gain the love of his children. After spending his life pushing all of us away he said, “I don’t give a shit one way or the other about what you think of me.” But in his own hell he did. They felt no love for him – just fear - horrific, chest crushing fear. He had no concept of what a hug, a kind word, a touch to the shoulder would do for them. And to this day, each of us relives the question, “Why didn’t he love me? What did I do?” I cannot imagine the sorrow that burdens their hearts nor can they imagine the anguish that resides in my gut. It is too late for us to be whole – to be truly friendly or warm. We have each gone through the fire and survived, but we have not emerged unscathed. Our spouses, our children and our careers bear the scars of our early years. We have not overcome the anger and jealousy, nor do we have the inclination to do so at this stage of our lives. We have gone separate ways and simply cordoned off those pieces of our lives where we are safe. We do not venture past those gates. We have married into families and formed some sort of reasonable relationships. Our own children have gone forth – perhaps not to our liking, but not bruised nor beaten. I believe we would all love to gather – no spouses or children, and just hug each other. Admit, allow, and understand what we went through and forgive – forgive those actions of children – born of fear and rage and sadness – that we leveled upon each other. In my soul I am afraid it is only I that wish for it. Our lives have changed; our needs are different. Each has our own history book of childhood and the part we chose or were assigned. We believe we have left that terror behind except during the dark hours when we can’t sleep and we remember. When we chose not to remember, we drink, or eat or rely on pills or mentally sing very loudly. We try to make that fearful noise go away. We pray and imagine it never happened. But it still exists as that dark, low whisper in the bottom of our hearts. It makes us uncomfortable, and we don’t know why. It makes us angry and we don’t know why. It brings on sadness that knows no boundary. We are all we ever had – we did not acknowledge it at the time – but in the pit of our souls – we know. And we are too old, too proud, too tired and too afraid to go back and relive the terror. Those of us who hear the dark, low whispers, grieve - a paralyzing grief that no one understands. No one but the souls who grew up in that house could understand. The ones who were there when the grief was born and still carry the burden today.
jd young is a displaced Bronx native and resides in Wilderness, Virginia with her husband. She has published three books.
Scarlett’s Letters and The Butter Pecan Diaries are filled with laughter and wry humor. Her latest offering, The Woman on Pritchard Street, opens the door to reveal her intense and often times darker view of life. Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
Lost Among the Stars Lost among the stars; unable to differentiate between home and a foreign land. All looks the same through the blinding tears, or is it rain? She can’t remember where the water is coming from. Does it rain amid the stars? Or do the stars weep with her? It makes little difference to her now. Yesterday she would have been grateful for the companionship and sympathy of the stars, but today those feelings are the foreign land to her. Today she no longer remembers how or why she walks among the stars to begin with. If she doesn’t remember soon she will fall from them. They would try to catch her but there will be no stopping her fall if she doesn’t remember. She continues to walk among them weeping. If only she could remember the cause of the tears. It seems as though she is not just lost but lost something dear to her. Perhaps she left it behind Cassiopeia. Yet she can’t remember where to find her in the vastness of the Universe. Memory is a strange commodity, as shimmering and uncatchable as stardust. Changeable, it can’t be pinned down. Distance and age, loneliness and rage, distort it. So why should she try to remember something that is so easily molded anyway? To fall would not be so bad really. Surely, it would be better than this aimless wandering between the glittering beings that light pathways she can no longer remember walking. Falling. It begins to sound easy and safe. There is a murmur that ripples through the stars at her thought. Her realization that not only did they hear her thought, but that she knew what their murmur meant sparks something in her. She pauses momentarily, lifting her eyes to the nearest star, then continues on. The collective breath that they held at her pause is released and a comet streaks by. She feels a touch of warmth as it passes. Warmth; she realizes that she is cold and begins to shiver and so moves closer to the nearest star. It is a large and ancient star nearing the end of its light, but its warmth soothes her. She reaches out her hands toward it to warm them. The star extends a tiny ray of light almost too small to be perceptible towards her hands in return. Playfully the light weaves between her fingers and she feels the blood flow in them again, feels the pulse of her heart and the pulse of the star. They beat in time with each other.
The warmth moves up her arms and floods her body, enveloping her. She pulls back slightly as the heat touches her but cannot resist it for long before she surrenders to it. The tiny ray of light takes her hand and raises it up spinning her like a little girl at play. Laughter cannot resist the power of the star either andescapes from her, adding song to the dance. The sound rings among the stars and is answered by the indescribable sound of stars laughing. The joy of the stars rings in her ears and reaches from there to her heart where her true memory lays, the memory that waits undisturbed for her to feel it again. Through her dizzying twirling she begins to feel it. The beat of the song changes. A strong and steady beat as of a drum, can be heard within her. It pounds out a rhythm in her chest that would burst her in two, yet she has no fear. The beat is familiar, but still it seems to her as if it is coming from very far away. If only she could get nearer to it. Then the star dips her. Gleefully she moves with the star and throws her head back taking in the stars upside down, back arched, hair falling, eyes dancing to a rhythm of their own. Within that moment of freedom it breaks free. The memory is released through the drum and the beat and the light and the heat. Her head spins now as the star returns her to her feet. She stands absolutely still and though the beat goes on the stars again hold their breath. Her expression is unreadable and for a moment the Universe stops expanding. From her dance partner there is the slightest of movements, imperceptible to the unknowing eye, but she is unknowing no longer. She remembers what it looks like when a star smiles. She shines back at the star, blindingly bright in her joy. The rapture of the stars is seen in even an unknowing eye this night. The expansion of her heart reaches out beyond the edges of the Universe, leaving a trail of stars as it moves on a wave of pure joy. Free and dancing she turns to her star partner and her lips move with words none but the star will ever know. They bow to each other and the dance goes on as she is at home again among the stars.
Lynda Allen is in her joy when she is writing, sharing her stories and poems, being with the birds and her loved ones, and following her creative inspiration. Lynda is the author of two collections of poetry, Rest in the Knowing and Illumine, a novel, Sight to See and her forthcoming nonfiction book, The Rules of Creation. Through her work she strives to inspirepeople to open their hearts and embrace their journey, both the dark and the light, with joy.
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
The Ghost of Chatham Manor “(Walt) Whitman came to Chatham searching for a brother who was wounded in the fighting. He was shocked by the carnage. Outside the house, at the foot of a tree, he noticed "a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc.-about a load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near," he added, "each covered with its brown woolen blanket." In all, more than 130 Union soldiers died at Chatham and were buried on the grounds. After the war, their bodies were removed to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Three additional bodies were discovered years later. They remain at Chatham, their graves marked by granite stones lying flush to the ground.” (Text from Chatham Brochure) I’m not certain if it’s the same tree that Whitman noted in his journal, but I once had sex with Melissa beneath a magnolia tree at Chatham. You could ask her, but I don’t think she wants to talk about it or even think about it since we’re broken up now. The end was her doing and in the grandiose show of selflessness one likes to project at the end of such things, I don’t blame her. It certainly wasn’t the sex under the magnolia tree that ended it. In fact, more accurately in Civil War terms, that moment may have been the high water mark of the relationship—the copse of trees at Gettysburg. When you’re having public sex beneath the leafy veneer of a tree with low-hanging branches it’s safe to say that things are pretty good in a relationship. Obviously that changed, and I guess that magnolia trees probably don’t live for 150 years either so it clearly wasn’t the same tree. Maybe it was the seed of a seed of a seed from the same tree. Ever since I moved to Fredericksburg and discovered the relative seclusion of Chatham Manor and the surrounding gardens it became my favorite place to visit or simply just spend an afternoon sitting under the trees or taking a nap on the grounds. So after a night of drinking at J. Brian’s and the sting of a recently ended relationship turning to another woeful game of wondering if “she was the one”, I turned the car off Route 3 and onto River Road near the lower exit from Chatham. The River Road exit is gated and the gates are padlocked every day at 5 p.m. when they close Chatham to tourists. But the black iron gate only spans the gravel roadway and you can simply walk around the brick pillars and then trudge up the hill to the Manor House. At least it seemed that way in principle since I had never had the urge to visit Chatham at night. Until this night. I pulled off River Road and hit the lights as I gently eased the car over onto the shoulder below the gate. I thought about tying a t-shirt to the antenna to cover my trespassing, but the potential of that bringing a trooper and a tow truck driver to the scene outweighed the plan for a cover story. Odds were that marker or no marker on the car at 2 a.m. it was going to draw a trooper’s interest if they really cared to investigate it further. But they rarely drove River Road since they left that to the Stafford County deputies who didn’t police the grounds of Chatham due to some fight with the National Park Service years ago. There are no lights on River Road and there are no houses near Chatham, so 2 a.m. is very dark on the grounds. The gravel drive coming down from the heights is white so that, coupled with the reflection of a full moon, provided enough lighting to get me to the top of the drive and the back of the Manor. I could hear the occasional sound of a passing car below me on River Road, but mostly the sounds were limited to the crunch of gravel beneath my feet as I wound my way up the path.
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
The bricks at the rear of Chatham are sun-bleached and look almost white at night. There are brick walls throughout the grounds and I gently took a seat against one and settled into the grass which was not quite wet yet with dew. My seat gave me a view of the restored Pan statute that also shone in the moonlight. I may have nodded off or been quietly singing a lovelorn ballad to myself, but when the light hit my face I knew it was far brighter than the moon. “Hey buddy, whatcha doing here?” It was hard to make out the figure behind the light, but I believe that was the point. “Who are you?” I stammered as I cupped my right hand over my eyes in an effort to make out the figure. “Trooper Childs. And I’ll ask again, what are you doing here?” He had cropped the beam of his flashlight just enough for me to make out his hat and badge. Then he lifted the beam again and I was blind. “Don’t know really.” “You crying?” “I don’t think so.” “Been drinking?” “Yes, sir.” “How much? And don’t give me any bullshit about two beers or a glass of wine with dinner.” “Don’t know sir. Lost count.” “I assume that car at the bottom of the drive is yours?” “Yes.” “And I assume you drove it here, correct?” “Yes, sir.” “Probably not in any shape to drive it here are you?” “Probably not.” “You come up here for some Pan tipping?” “Excuse me?” “You looking to fuck with the statue again? We’ve been waiting for someone to come back and mess with him.” “I love Pan. I’d never hurt him.” That made Trooper Childs laugh. “Jesus, how much were you drinking?” “A lot. My girlfriend dumped me and I decided to come up here to remember her.” “That’s probably something better left for the daylight hours don’t you think?” “Yes, sir.” “Alright, so do we have to walk back to my cruiser for the breathalyzer or can we both agree that you’re drunk in public?” “Agreed.”
“Excellent, that makes my life easier,” and he lowered the flashlight beam. I could now see the Manor House behind him as my eyes again adjusted to the darkness. At first I thought the flickering lights were residual flashes from the bright beam of the flashlight until it slowly dawned on me that it appeared to be a candle in a second story window. “Hey chief, you still with me? Come on now, let’s focus on the present and not on the girl who got away.” I looked back to the trooper’s face and then pointed to the house. He turned and stared for a moment. “What the fuck?” Then the light went dark in the room above the rear entrance briefly and then appeared in the window immediately to the left. “You here with someone?” His tone had changed as he stared up at the Manor House. “And don’t fuck with me.” “No, sir.” “Did you see someone else here when you got here? Lights on when you got here?” “No, it was completely dark...until now.” “Fuck,” he muttered and then paused as we both watched the light flicker around in the last room on the second floor. “Okay, here’s the situation. I have to go check that out and I’m not calling backup in for a ghost. Wouldn’t live to see the end of that one. However, I don’t need you running off on me while I go exploring.” “You want me to come with you?” He looked at me incredulously. “Fuck no! I’m not taking a drunk in public into a dark house with me to see who or what is bobbing around a historic mansion at two in the morning.” “You want to handcuff me?” I offered, simply trying tto be helpful. “Now I’m not sure if you’re drunk or just really dumb,” and he crouched down in front of me. “Here’s what we are going to do...you got a cell phone?” “I do.” “Does it work?” “It does.” “Okay. I’m going to go up to the house, alone, and then I’m going to go into the house and find out who the fuck is walking around inside with a candle. You are going to stay here and sober up some more. Not sleep or run off. Understand?” “Yes.” “If something happens inside, I’ve got my radio, but I want you to call 9-1-1 just in case I don’t come out immediately. Understand?” I nodded. “Sit right the fuck here and be ready with that phone. It’s probably just some kids screwing around, but if they’re here to fuck with the house or with Pan I’m not going to wait around for them.” “Got it.”
Trooper Childs looked at me once more and then unholstered his gun and walked toward the house with his flashlight in his left hand cutting a path on the ground to the back door. There was a reflection of the moon off his shined black shoes as he climbed the steps to the back. The door was unlocked and he opened it slowly before closing it soflty behind him. I could track his movement through the first floor by the beam of his flashlight. He was walking slowly. He did not yell, but whoever was on the second floor must have heard something because the flickering light moved back into the middle room and then the room farthest from the stairway. I could see Trooper Childs’ flashlight beam bounce up the stairs and then it scanned the room that the other light had been in moments before, and then his flashlight moved into the middle room as it continued toward the flickering light. The light in the third window was never doused as Trooper Childs’ flashlight beam moved toward it until the darkness was punctuated by two bright flashes and two cracks that shook the window panes and echoed in the night. Both lights went out instantly and I caught my breath. I waited for the Trooper to emerge or any sign that someone was moving on the second floor, but none came. I looked down at the face of my cell phone and waited for three minutes and started to dial 9-1-1, but did not hit send. Instead, I ran. I jumped off the brick wall and ran onto the gravel path and wound my way down toward the lower gate, hoping that my car was still there and that I’d be able to start it with my hands and legs shaking. I ploughed through some small saplings to the right of the gate and there was my car. Just where I had parked it. I hit the unlock button on my keychain and the interior light came on and I pulled on the driver’s side handle and was in and had the car started within seconds. There was a moment’s pause to consider what might’ve happened to Trooper Childs, but once I started running I knew that my actions were going to be inexplicable. I threw the car into drive and drove toward Falmouth, trying to remain calm and under the speed limit as I waited for the sound of sirens. My headlights danced through the trees at road’s side as I wound my way along River Road. Stopping anywhere, at this point, was too risky even if I felt like I had to throw up. I had to get home and that was my sole intention until I saw the sign across from the Riverfront Park. It was a small white sign, trimmed with royal blue, and one that I must’ve passed a hundred times previously. But this was the first time I had ever noticed it and I stopped my car in the middle of River Road and stared. “This Road is Dedicated to The Memory of Virginia State Trooper Fred Childs.” I looked in my rearview mirror and there was no one behind me. To my left, I could make out the river reflected in the moonlight as it slowly wound its way into the night and into the darkness beneath the bluffs of Chatham Heights.
is a book reviewer for The Free Lance-Star. His literary agent is Jeannie Dahnk, who had the foresight to become a much-respected lawyer rather than wait on any millions that she would receive as his literary agent. Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
It Steals Things Ben reached forward to rub the fog off the windshield with the cuff of his windbreaker, succeeding only in smearing the moisture. Rain sheeted the glass, and his struggling wipers could only slosh it back and forth. He squinted into the night, the winding road illuminated briefly by his headlights, the glinting eyes of the creatures in the woods. It had been twenty-nine years since he escaped Partlow. Twenty-nine years of lying about where he was from, of adopting the accent and attitude of wherever it was that he ended up. In this way his childhood remained a fog. He remembered some details, faces, moments, sounds, but not the contexts that gave them life and meaning. Mike’s letter sat on the passenger seat, held in place by an overnight bag. “Roundabout” fizzled in and out on the radio, finally succumbing to a sheet of static so sheer that Ben took a risk and removed his hand from the steering wheel for a second to jab at the power button. At that moment the road hair-pinned and he jerked to the right, applied the brakes, and started to hydroplane. He’d only experienced that kind of fear and panic once before—in a Jetbus that dropped two hundred feet in two seconds as he flew across the country. He gripped the wheel, eyes clenched, jaw clenched, sphincter clenched, for 360 degrees of pure terror, then the car hit the grass shoulder and cracked into a tree. When he finally opened his eyes and saw the road he now faced, he couldn’t help but laugh. Dunwich Drive. Mike’s road. The garage sat open like a yawning mouth. The car’s headlights lit upon the contents inside: drifts of newspapers listing in one corner, a workbench buried beneath a landslide of tools and plastic, a bag of kitty litter, an axe balanced atop a mound covered by leather tarp. A dark oily stain blossomed underneath. Ben cut the engine. A form appeared right next to this door. It was a man, a man wearing a hunter green rain poncho and a wide-brimmed camouflage hat. He ripped the door open and grabbed Ben’s elbow. “Get inside!” “Jesus!” “Get inside! Tornado warning.” It was Mike. Just Mike. Ben pulled his arm from his friend’s grasp. “Okay, okay,” he said, reaching for his overnight bag. 71
Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
The front windows, the ones in the living room, were bigger than Ben remembered. He stood before them, facing east, straining to see the fields that he knew were on either side of the driveway. When he was little he used to eat cereal on the front step, watch the crows hop in and out of the green stalks. He remembered the dust swirls in the driveway as his uncle steered the tractor up from the fields. He remembered the sun peeking out over the treetops, the sunflowers in the garden. Now when the lightening shot across the sky all he saw was dead corn, gray and silver in the night, and the black outline of the trees beyond. Mike’s reflection appeared in the window, standing right behind him, still wearing the rain poncho, his eyes obscured by the brim of the hat. “Do you remember the farmer’s market we used to go to? The one in town?” Ben turned around. “The one in Spotsy?” “No.” “Fredericksburg?” “You know the one.” A strong shook the windows, pressed down upon the house. Ben looked over his shoulders and saw the shadows of trees swaying. “Shouldn’t we get down to the basement?” “We’ll be fine.” “But the tornado—” “We’ll be fine. Do you remember the farmer’s market?” “Mike, what’s this about?” “I remember it.” Another rumble of thunder, distant, low. “When we were little, they used to build the straw maze.” Oh yeah. The straw maze. The smell of wet hay, of apple cider, the pasty, natural peanut butter, the moon pies. Maybe something changed in Ben’s face, something that, even in the warm, yellow glow of the candlelight, Mike recognized. “You do,” he whispered. “You do.” “Mike, are you okay?” “I was seven. Do you remember, Bennie? I was seven when it happened.” Ben winced. He hadn’t been called Bennie in twenty years. A hard gust of wind pressed against the house; the siding popped, sticks pattered on the roof. He turned again to look out the window, worried. The
shadows of the trees swayed in the gale. “Don’t look out there,” Mike said. “Look at me.” Ben did as he was told. “Do you remember, Bennie? When I was seven?” “Mike, I don’t remember what I did last week.” “You told me to go in. You told me to go in. ‘Just try,’ you said. Called me names. The mud wetted my knees. It ruined my new corduroys. The mud smelled, Bennie. It smelled like . . . like someone had . . . . It was dark. I couldn’t breathe.” Another gust rattled the panes. “It felt like this.” From somewhere to his left Ben heard the whine of a door opening, the basement door. “Bennie, I was only seven. I was only seven, Bennie.” A soft thump, then the subtle susurrations of something pulling across the floor. “You know in the middle? In the middle of the maze? It’s pitch black in there. It sits on your chest. It steals things.” “Is there someone else here?” Ben asked. “I could hear you and the other children above. You were laughing. I heard kids scream.” The noise grew closer. It sounded like someone dragging plastic across the hardwood. Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. Ben peered into the dark, into the flickering candlelight, trying to see anything at all coming from the direction of the dark hall where he knew the door to the basement now gaped. “What is that?” “It steals things, Bennie. It stole something from me.”
Ben’s legs flooded with adrenaline. He felt the urge to get off the floor, to leap onto the furniture. “When mother finally found me, I hadn’t moved from that spot for an hour. My pants were soaked through. I was shivering. You were gone, but I didn’t care. It stole something from me that night and I didn’t even know it and never really cared because it was gone.” They stood there like that, motionless, for a long time, Mike’s head lowered, the brim of his hat masking his face, Ben in a slight crouch, his hands balled into fists, the thing from the basement sliding nearer, nearer. Morning dawned with all of the warmth and cool clarity of early fall. The woods were alive with deer and raccoons. Birds flitted through the trees, lighted on the dead stalks in the fields, dive bombed the yard to peck at ants and worms. Puddles from the night’s rain potted the asphalt in front of the garage, the doors of which remained open. Mike was kneeling in front of the leather tarp, the poncho draped over his shoulders, the hat askew on his head. He grunted, pushing something farther underneath. When he was satisfied, he pulled a corner down as tight as he could, hoping he could tuck it in, but it was too big and wouldn’t reach. He found a cinderblock and pinned it down that way. Someone called from inside the house. “Hold on,” Mike said, pondering the stain. He reached for the kitty litter. “I’ll be right there.”
James Noll has worked as a sandwich maker, a yogurt dispenser, a day care provider, a video store clerk, a day care pro-
vider (again), a summer camp counselor, a waiter, a prep. cook, a sandwich maker (again), a line cook, a security guard, a line cook (again), a waiter (again), a bartender, a librarian, and a teacher. Somewhere in there he played drums in punk rock bands, recorded several albums, and wrote dozens of short stories and a handful of novels. He teaches English in Spotsylvania County. Contact him online at: www.jamesnoll.net Spring 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1
Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
Maywood Memories 305-A Paige Drive, a 2 bedroom section 8 apartment became my first home. Crossing the Tar River on NC-11 south, the first right off Memorial landed you in area occupied by the unluckiest people. Ghetto street life, no matter living in the “Big Apple” or the “Windy City”, creates obstacles and land mines making every step for survival crucial. The Arringtons ruled my block, surrounded by generations of tenants seeming destined to remain unopposed in their projects reign. Mom commanded respect, greetings and salutations were showered from everyone that she passed by. No one ever touched us. They never tapped us to hang on the corner and hold something that would require hard time if the cops caught me and my brother. Prayer changes things. The blood of my Savior covered the family while the bullets flew outside during summer nights, and kept us warm when the heater died every other winter. I grew up faster than most, so determined to slow down my son’s childhood by the fruits of my labor with the lessons taught by a college town in eastern North Carolina. ~ Tuwond Bernard
Words are Strains Words are strains Of muscles hidden— Convulsing laughter That peels old paint Echoes through Like inquisitions. Protests are baggage If you’re normal, So end the squabble And stupid squalor. We don’t give in Or understand you When you waddle, Wave and worship. I know that you Do have misgivings, But they are such Utter shit. Imagine this: A simple mindset Never veering Or commandeering. The key is never To be all-knowing And you feel this Is truer bliss. Be not mistaken, I only ponder, But I have such Enormous lists. ~ Kevin Sampsel
Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
Damaged Thinker #20 Drive the moon down, past knowledge & beneath the cables sewn up from the orchards I’ve never seen, where the artists make their deals, where they long to tease the diamond tethers that dance the firmament, gather the beauty into the essence of silence. I heard none of the explosion, because I was taken by a neck that won’t move. I fell face-first. I felt cheated by the placement of the dynamite. If I fell back, I could have had the sky.
Entering Heaven Will Be Like For Max Denbo
robbing that place on Wilshire, it is still early in the morning as we make our get-away, stash the car, change our shirts, step into the dewy grass and California sunshine, all the jewels in our pockets bulging, we gaze and act like nothing has happened and wonder what we’ll do the rest of the day. ~ Mark Jackley
~ Darren C. Demaree
Quiet Carefully I can remember that it was my father who carried my former selves away with his existence. Might I have reclaimed them had I taken the long swim out? (I cannot say) Instead, I chose, quite carefully, to remain afloat, atop this peacefully drifting recollection, as the sun set softly over the Caribbean. ~ Eugene Goldin
Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
Under the Carport He always made sure to stand next to her during prayer watching the patterns in the concrete floor shift as he inched gently toward her the lines were not compass or map but instead served to guide his attention Ignoring the ants who flowed like tiny rivers through valleys made by years of footsteps their goal was the same, just as hungry He looked up, glancing around the circle to be sure he wasnâ€™t the first one But all had bowed heads and joined hands So he returned his gaze to The ground Shifting his weight once more, slightly, ants barely escaping the worn rubber ridges of his work boots, he closed his eyes and slipped his hand into hers ~ Rochelle Cartier
a cursory inspection in such a place as this a hulk she rusts nothing to swell the expense account on nowhere to be seen ~ Christopher Mulrooney
Two Swans in a Pond Next to the Highway They have chosen well, these two swans, one swimming the circumference of the water, its neck a parenthesis, the other preening its feathers white as the steamy smoke boiling out of the stack on the roof of the aluminum can factory on the other side of the pond. They have chosen wisely, these two swans, for what do they have to fear here? A motorist having a stroke or heart attack and losing control of his car? Not likely. A stupid teenager with a rifle taking pot shots at them in the middle of the night? Less likely. A sudden and violent down draft blowing that toxic cloud over them? Least likely of all. How unlike ourselves, who have also chosen. The highway. The car. The rifle. The smoke. ~ J.R. Solonche
Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
Directions on a Map Snow dreams in the trees drifted long Sky to branch gathered light into itself light Unique to air lightly to lie on gray branches. I feel it ache to awaken to stretch its all embracing arms And shake it knowing head. In this compass of woods Time is the pendulum of the heart and the lessening light In crystal tinged branches upholds the slumbering snow Hovering above black-gray stones like unmoving clouds. When the heart is born in light stone is simply stone When the heart is empty the permanence of stone Is meaningful. Yes and no are invisible lines On the map I have in my hands a tinker’s hands folding Elusive dreams of requited and unrequited love. ~ James Mackie
Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
30 On the first day of your 30th year you’ll want to make a statementsomething sweet, yet sassy enough to command the lines around your eyes to smooth over. But when you wake, you’ll toss one arm across those eyes and wish for more sleep because the baby is cutting teeth and you were up five times last night. When the third decade rings its tarnished bell you’ll want to sit quietly in a café by the sea, sipping coffee, writing bad poetry, but your driveway has half collapsed, needs fixing, and you live too many miles from the sea anyway. You’ll wish the murky runoff collecting in the ditch, stirring up worms and rusty soda cans, was the cool bite of salt water at your toes. When the late morning heat has pinched your cheeks you’ll stand on a metal chair twisting a lightbulb above your head and you’ll wonder if the electricity will sense your age and faulty wisdom, run down your arm and through your chest, give you a new buzz for life. And then you’ll walk to the garden behind the house, behold the cilantro bolting skyward, and curse the heat. The clock stopped yesterday when you were still 29. Next door, your 80-year-old neighbor will be flicking his cane at the chickens and laughing a high pitch, and you’ll smile and wave because everything is all right, and the driveway still needs fixing. ~ Amy Raposo
Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
Plumber Days The plumber squats in my bathroom, takes a wrench from his tool box, then another, fixes my leaky pipe. We talk about the heat, the Saints, how hard it is to park in the Quarter, day or night. He leaves for his next job, and I envy him. He’ll work a full day with his hands and see the results of hard, gritty work: an unclogged drain a toilet that flushes, a strong, steady shower. He goes home to his wife and kids, hugs them all and forgets about the truck in the driveway. And I’ll write all night, like always, poems that may or may not succeed: “trash it,” “keep it.” Sometimes there are only lines, maybe a stanza or two, but the ending is a blank screen in the blue darkness … And the plumber drinks a few beers, eats a good jambalaya, sleeps now without dreaming, his wife’s arm across his chest.
In the Banyan’s Shadow Trees are markedly different here: weeping interlaced multiple trunks conveying impressions of latent power greedily overgrown, each a neighborhood extending its reach with bowers carefully calculated to block out sun. They speak another language, ancient, without words, stoic crowded witness to hunts and festive gatherings, flowers anchoring rainbow to earth, hardscapes melted by fiery stone. Branches dense and majestic, intricately complicated patterns forming nature’s complex puzzle, eagerly grabbing, possessing strength of many as one, creating awe through mass, presence, multi-rooted survivor, an artist of ages. ~ Gary Glauber
~ William Miller
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for Carmen Aiezza Our sycamore steps up in a patch of poison ivy jeered by wind chimes wrung from their hooks in shifty lakeside wind I remember how to fold my fingers across the seams for a curveball a fastball my knuckleball wild because wind doesnâ€™t germinate after all how could it? with a baseball lofted on wing sometimes our sycamore is the batter and I the pitcher the ball bunted away from bark I field it with fallen bark caught falling asleep at third dirt spits the ball toward my glove where trust is the seventh inning anthem our heart caverns a carnival a wave moving through the cottonwood crowd on the yard edge I throw straight still throwing into night two-seamed fastballs reliable in dust a melody of grass through the leather of my glove like jazz fingers a menagerie a piano chord in every grounder drums a hardball in my palm held below shale walls supporting the bluff an outfield fence more or less Italian for Safe at home the first to spin sycamore branches outward in our likeness textbook form at the plate a perfect swing for contact a single to drive runs home a backstop the shape of roots. ~ Nick Aiezza
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Index of Poets Aiezza, Nick lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. He is projected to earn an MFA in creative writing (Dec. 2014) from Manhattanville College. His work has appeared in The Paris-American andH_GNM_N. Bernard, Tuwond has a B.A. in English (2005) from Virginia Tech. Tuwond served in the United States Navy from 2005 to 2011 as a Nuclear Mechanical Operator. Cartier, Rochelle works as an editor and blogger at a small software company. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and dog. Demaree, Darren C. is the author of As We Refer to Our Bodies (2013, 8th House), Temporary Champions (2014, Main Street Rag), and Not For Art For Prayer (2015, 8th House). He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children. Glauber, Gary is a poet, fiction writer, and teacher. His works have received multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. New work is forthcoming in Fjords Review, 3 Elements Review, JMWW, Ginger Piglet, Stoneboat Journal, and Think Journal. His collection, Small Consolations, is coming from The Aldrich Press in 2015. Goldin, Eugene was born in Manhattan and grew up in Queens. He was most recently published in The East Jasmine Review, Stoneboat Literary Journal, and The Lost Coast Review. Jackley, Mark has a new book of poems, Appalachian Night. It is available from the author at no cost: email firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous books include Every Green Word (Finishing Line Press) and Cracks and Slats (Amsterdam Press). His work has appeared in Tampa Review, Sugar House Review, Melic, Sleet, Crate, Rougarou and other journals. He lives in Sterling, VA. Mackie, James is currently the mental health therapist at the Rappahannock Regional Jail in Stafford, Virginia. In 2011, his poems appeared in Pudding Magazine and Poem. His two books of poetry, A Portrait in Green and Letters to My Imaginary Wife, are available on Amazon. Miller, William has published five books of poetry, twelve book for children and a mystery novel. He lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans Mulrooney, Christopher is the author of symphony (The Moon Publishing & Printing), flotilla (Ood Press), viceroy (Kind of a Hurricane Press), and jamboree (Turf Lane Press, forthcoming). Raposo, Amy lives with her husband and their two young sons in Spotsylvania, VA. Finding inspiration in daily life, she enjoys writing fiction, poetry, and picture book stories. Sampsel, Kevin grew up writing poetry and fiction in East Tennessee. He currently makes his home in Norfolk, Virginia. His first book of poetry, Vibration and Swaying, was published in 2012. www.kevinsampsel.com Solonche, J.R. has been publishing in magazines, journals, and anthologies since the early 1970s. He is co-author of PEACH GIRL: POEMS FOR A CHINESE DAUGHTER (Grayson Books) and author of BEAUTIFUL DAY forthcoming from Deerbrook Editions. He is a four-time Pushcart nominee, as well as a Best of the Net nominee. Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
Creative Fiction & Nonfiction
Shoshee The first time I met Bring it was because his daddy brought him to the door. His daddy said to mine at the door, “Notice you got a little guy too. Was wondering if they should start playing.” Next thing, I was lacing my skates, trying out figure eights on the iced pond, falling and getting laughed at, and laughing at Bring’s falling too. Bring’s daddy watched us quiet on the side. Our friendship was always hockey. Bring left for a few years after high school, not far, just to Lansing for college, and I stayed in Kalamazoo. Bring would write me letters telling me how he played intramural hockey on Spartans’ ice. I know I could have took the bus to Lansing and tried to visit him every now and then like he said to. It’s not like having a license was the only way to get to Bring. Like Mr. Eddie says, “More than one way to carve a cat.” I didn’t really want to meet the Lansing people, though. The only one he made me meet was Samantha from Cadillac because that’s his girl. That’s his fee-on-say. I worried he might never come back. Even now, when I think of long periods of time I just think of Lansing the city. But Bring did come back. And we’re still friends over hockey. We watch a lot of hockey. All the Red Wings. All the Spartans too when they’re on. He usually comes over to my place even though he has a 52” and mine’s just twenty-four because he says Samantha gets migraines and doesn’t want to seem like a bitch when she asks us to be quieter about our hurrahs. “No offense, Ricky!” she said to me. None taken. This year, there’s Winter Olympics on top of it all. I like listening to all the national anthems (not just the U.S. National Anthem and O Canada like for NHL games). When the U.S. scores, Bring says stuff like, “This is what it means to be an American.” It makes me feel so proud. I only ever felt that way once before when Mr. Eddie took me to the cemetery and we saw my grandfather’s grave and Mr. Eddie read off all three of the wars he was in. They were carved in the stone: the World War II, Vietnam, and Korea’s War. Mr. Eddie and my grandfather were best friends. Two days ago, Bring came over for the U.S. game against Sweden. When we went up three-two, Bring said—you guessed it—“This is what it means to be an American.” I imagined what I was watching was like war on ice. I imagined that when all the U.S. players die in fifty years, they’ll have “2014 Sochi Olympics” on their gravestones. The thing I like about Olympics is that I don’t have to wait so long for Bring to come over. When we watch Red Wings play NHL games, it’s always primetime. Six p.m. east time or seven p.m. our time or eight p.m. mountain time or nine p.m. in the West like when we play the Kings. For Olympics, though, Bring comes over so early because it’s Russia time zone. We can watch the games at seven a.m.! 87
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This morning, Bring rang my bell, and I wasn’t even awake yet. I was supposed to have the Labatt’s “on the ready” when he showed up. Before I answered, I twisted off a couple caps, and I handed him a Labatt’s through the door. Bring said, “Rise and shine, Ricky! Time to beat them Russkies.” Bring took off this morning and told his boss he had to see a cardiologist. His boss believed him. Bring told me he’ll only need to see the cardiologist if the U.S. Team loses. Bring’s funny. One time when Samantha called during OT of Wings-Flyers and wanted to know what was holding him up, Bring took the oil out of the pantry and the kale out of the fridge, and he cooked the kale on the stove until it crackled, and he told Samantha, “Sorry, Sam! All I hear’s static.” (It really did sound like static.) “I’ll call you when I have reception again.” He sat back down on the couch and we watched the rest of the game and ate the kale from the frying pan. By the time the Russia National Anthem was finished, it was almost 7:10 a.m. The camera floated across the U.S. Team in a single file line on their skates and we saw Derek Shoshee real quick. It looked like he was just about to pick his nose, but the camera was too fast. Shoshee used to go to our high school. He used to be a Loy Norrix Knight like us! He’s a fourth-line defenseman. Bring and me clinked our Labatt’s together and say “Shoshee” at the same time. We’ve been doing that. I asked Bring if he told Samantha he took off work this morning. He shook his head and just took a sip of his Labatt’s. He needed another one before the game even got started. Once the game started, I kind of zoned out. I was still kind of sleepy, and I started seeing things on the ice that weren’t even there. I saw me and Bring skating on the ice, and when they showed the American coach Dan Bylsma, I thought he kind of looked like Bring’s daddy on that day he came and rang our bell. Occasionally, I zone back in when Shoshee’s on the ice: Shoshee poke-checked a Datsyuk deke; Shoshee cleared the puck for a Statsny breakaway; Shoshee whispered something to the goalie, Kessel. But then once Shoshee climbed the boards and’s off the rink, I saw me and Bring again, back on the pond practicing the quick stops that spray the ice. It’s all I ever really see when we watch the games on TV together. When Bring was at Michigan State, I stopped watching hockey. I had the magnet on my refrigerator with the schedule but I never felt like turning the TV on. I knew Bring was at all the Spartans’ home games. I even stopped watching the Wings. When Bring came back, I lied and told him I watched them all. Even the Wings’ six-O.T. game that went until two in the morning that Mr. Eddie told me about.
When I told Mr. Eddie he didn’t need to come today, he said I could suit myself. Bring finished beer number four as the U.S. Team scored a goal for the two-one lead. “It’s a good day to be an American,” Bring said. I gulped my beer too. It was still my first one, mostly warm by that point. Usually when I gulp, I cover most of the hole with my lip and just a drop comes out. It gets foamy sometimes when I do that, and then Bring says, “Ah Jesus Christ, Ricky,” and he gets a towel quick to clean it up. He’s mainly nice to me though. Eventually, Bring reached over to my side of the couch and held my hand. It took him longer this time than usual. I worried he might have forgotten. He always does it so quick like he doesn’t even know what his hand is doing. Bring plunged into his beer number five and didn’t let go once except to stand up and get another beer. “You need one?” he asked me. I looked at my still-full beer number one and told him “Nope!” I wiped our sweat from my palm onto my jeans before he sat down and snatched my hand again. Shoshee big checked Russia into the boards. I squeezed Bring’s hand. He squeezed back. The first few times he ever did it, I didn’t say a word. Later, though, I asked what it was all about. He said it’s no big deal, the Chinese “exchange girls” from Michigan State do it all the time. He said it’s how they show they’re friends. He said there are even men in Pakistan who hold hands too. I don’t think Bring is trying to be Chinese or Pakistan. Just means we’re friends, that’s all. The U.S. Team won the game, and Bring looked at his phone clock. He asked if I minded if he slept off the booze before he went to work, and I told him no go ahead. He started making the bed before he laid in it, which doesn’t make sense if you think about it, and I apologized for not making it myself. I told him I didn’t wake up on time ex actly. He said, “I know you didn’t, Ricky. It’s no problem. Don’t let me sleep too long, okay?” I told him I wouldn’t. I took his beer to the kitchen so I could empty what was left down the sink. I counted the empty bottles. He had eleven! Instead of spilling the last of his bottle, I drank the rest for him. He hates when I waste the Labatt’s. My head whirled.
I took the empty bottle back to the bedroom. Bring was already sleeping. I had a seat on the floor. I rolled the bottle on the carpet like how my grandma used to make us family bread. Bring was snoring like he usually does during the intermissions. I thought about Samantha, about how she must wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and see Bring sleeping, hear him snoring. He looked like a pond trout with his mouth open for a worm. From down on the ground, it’s hard to imagine what it must be like to share a bed with someone. I like to stretch out a lot of times in the night. I can’t imagine just half the bed for me. Bring’s daddy would probably laugh if he saw the two of us now. I bet he never could have imagined Bring would be this kind of guy one day, in Ricky’s bed sleeping off the morning booze while a boss thinks he’s at the cardiologist. I wondered about what if Bring’s daddy never came over and knocked on my door. Worse is when I wondered if Bring’s daddy would have even come over if he knew I was me. He probably couldn’t tell the difference from all the distance and all the snow in the yards. I wondered what if Bring’s daddy took him to some other boy’s house. Damn. I felt like a fool then because sometimes I can make myself so sad even when everything I want is right in front of me right where I want it to be. I didn’t get up and lay in the bed with Bring or anything, but I did wonder if friends did that in China too. I just banged my head off the wall every once in awhile trying to stay awake. I did it soft so Bring wouldn’t hear. Then, I lifted the bottle and aimed it across the room. I made a plan so that on Bring’s next snore, I’d whisper “Shoshee.” I did it, and I swear I heard my bottle clink against something in the air. It’s the kind of magic I used to lie about when I was young, but I really heard it that time. Eventually my head stopped banging, and I just rested it against the wall. It felt like sleep was next. That’s one thing about the Winter Olympics: I like how I don’t have to wait as long to hang with Bring, but then the rest of the day feels like Lansing all over again.
recently graduated with his MFA from the University of Arizona, where he was editor-in-chief of Sonora Review. He currently lives in Sacramento, where he is the reviews editor and assistant fiction editor of DIAGRAM. His work appears or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Sundog Lit, Hot Metal Bridge, and elsewhere. In addition to being an adjunct lecturer, he is a successful bird owner, occasional hat wearer, and a steady friend. Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
Vocations “A sports-bra tester?” Erica asks, tugging at the seat belt, convinced this date with Sam has been an error, along with taking twenty credits this semester and attending a College Libertarians’ meeting. Riding with him in the January twilight, she wonders what kind of guy wants to be a sports-bra tester. What guy would admit—on a first date, no less—to such a career choice? Even more troubling—what guy would actually do it? She had only asked the standard what-do-youwant-to-do-when-you-get-done-with-school question. The scary part is he appears normal: tastefully baggy jeans and a coffee-colored shirt. For the first hour—while bowling—she was attracted to his nice green eyes, his shaggy brown hair, his pleasant voice, though he sniffled frequently, complaining of allergies. No dumb jokes. No excuses when she beat him two out of three games at Cherry Lanes. Now those positives mean nothing. Does he plan to try on sports bras? She hopes not. That he would watch women model them while he scribbles notes—on a yellow legal pad—about coverage, style, and comfort? Maybe the models run on treadmills, or play volleyball, while he observes (really, ogles) them to determine how the bras function. He must be the kind of guy who wanders purposefully through the lingerie section, stroking lace, satin, cotton, Lycra, spandex. She has seen guys do that, mostly older guys with receding hairlines and thick glasses, probably widowers. Not college juniors like Sam. She remembers when she was shopping for a sports bra a couple of months ago, and a middle-aged guy in jeans, a sweat-stained baseball cap, and a flannel shirt browsed the lingerie department. Each time she glanced from the metal racks, she saw him watching, and each time he turned away leisurely, not attempting to conceal his actions. She recalls the plastic hangers clacking against each other, their high, sharp notes as they slid across the metal bars. She snatched a hot pink bra (not her first choice) and scurried to the nearest register. While the teenage female cashier unfastened the bra from its hanger, Erica felt the man’s eyes on her—she knew he was still watching her. Now she is a foot from one of these guys, idling at a red light, beams of the facing vehicles erratically brightening his face. Warm air, dry and stale, blows from the vents, making her fidget. The light changes to green, and teh pickup 89
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accelerates. Maybe Sam isn’t planning to take her to the Chinese restaurant. Maybe he will whisk her to a darkly lit part of town, or out past the water treatment plant. Maybe he will want to “test” her bra. With one hand, she clenches her brown leather purse, and with the other, she releases the seat belt and lets the strap retract. A dull dinging sound. “You okay, Erica? Something wrong?” She opens the door. The tires rolling over snowpacked asphalt are louder than she expected. “Are you okay?” His hand grips her arm. “You want me to pull over?” Even with the thickness of her winter parka she feels the strength of his grasp. He is plotting to seduce her. “Let me go! I can’t date a sports-bra tester,” she stammers. “I said I wanted to be a sports broadcaster.” He still holds her arm. But is this an act? It doesn’t seem as though he is lying, or else he is very convincing. “Stop, or I’m out!” He releases her arm, moves his hand to his forehead. “A sports broadcaster. You know, do the playby-play for a football game, a basketball game.” But the vehicle has barely slowed. She spies the speedometer (the needle floating around fifteen), and then tumbles out the door. When her boots hit the street, she loses her balance and thuds on her side. She twists her head, watching as Sam pulls over halfway down the block. The pickup’s brake lights cast an electric red glow on the white street. She stands and brushes off her jeans. Directly in front of her is the Ace Hardware, probably the last place he will think of. She darts inside, and a woman at the register greets her, but without saying anything, Erica bolts past, picks a long aisle, and scampers out of view from the street-side windows. She finds herself facing paintbrushes when she hears the footfalls. She hasn’t heard the door, so she knows it isn’t Sam. From around the end cap saunters a sixtyish man in a red shirt with a nametag that says Marlon. “Can I help you, ma’am? You workin’ on a painting project?” An electronic bell rings, signaling the front door. “If that’s a guy asking for me,” she whispers, leaning closer, “tell him you haven’t seen anyone.” When he scrunches his eyes and cocks his head, she
adds, “please.” He nods, and disappears. “Will do, ma’am.” Erica feels her body start to release its tension, and in its place gushes in embarrassment and shame. “She jumped right out—that had to hurt,” Sam says. He sounds out of breath. “No, sir. Sorry, I didn’t see it,” Marlon answers. Eyes closed, waiting for the bell, Erica wants to run after him, to say she has overreacted, but she knows he
can’t possibly be expected to understand. She doesn’t even understand her absurd actions. She isn’t sure how she will explain to her roommate, Jill, her overreaction, especially now that she has to call her for a ride. After the bell rings, and the door shuts, she picks up one of the three-inch brushes and, turning it over in her hands, wishes she could slather thick white paint over the evening and start over.
Nathaniel Lee Hansen
Hansen’s chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian, was published by Spoon River Poetry Press (2014). His work has also appeared in Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Bluestem, The Cresset, Midwestern Gothic, and South Dakota Review, among others.
Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
Predators in the Bush Disgusting animals, the hyena! But everyone knew that, Nick thought. Still, seeing them live, in person, up close and active at their handiwork, put a whole new light on the subject. He gazed out through the protective glass of the Land Cruiser, bedazzled by it all. Six fiendish animals fought over a single gazelle carcass; their faces red in blood, red down the length of their thick necks like a scarlet bandana; their hind quarters, slopping freakishly, messed in their own defecation. It was not a vision he expected to see when signing up for this eco-friendly, photographic safari. It was a vision that would stick in his head in a bad way for a long time, he thought. Seeing it in a brochure was one thing. Quite another to see it in grizzly detail, disemboweled intestines being dragged out of a freshly opened cavity and covetously devoured; and hearing the sound of powerful jaws crunching down on flesh and bone. He watched as their glitzy little eyes looked furtively, lustfully, greedily at one another as if there was not enough meat to go around. It is a deplorable spectacle, he thought. It is offensive to the soul. One could easily argue that it was an animal not fit to share the earth. “I have no use for them,” he said flatly. “I’d add them to the list.” The young blonde woman sitting next to him turned and asked, “The list?” “Yeah, you add them to the list,” Nick insisted. “Which list?” “Along with flies and mosquitoes.” The woman looked at him curiously. “The list for extermination,” he said bluntly. “Come’on now, every creature has its place on this earth. As do we…” “They shouldn’t.” The young blonde gazed out at the hyenas. “It is very horrible to watch, I know. But it is nature’s work.” “Well, it’s a part of nature I can live without, and my future children can live without, and my grandchildren can live without. Exterminate them, I say. That’s my vote.” “Really?” “Yes!” The blonde continued to watch the hyenas, as did Nick. Their heads jerked violently as they ripped off chunks of flesh. Their powerful jaws snapped down on bone and sliced through the meat. Occasionally the animals looked up at the vehicles, with ears widespread, seemingly indifferent to the fact that they had an audience. It is an animal without empathy, Nick thought. An animal without moral conscience. “Remember, it is all part of the circle,” she said. Nick frowned. 91
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“They serve a purpose, you know. They’re the garbage disposals of the savannah.” “Ha! You got that right.” “Who then will clean up the mess left by the lions, and the weak, and the old?” “Don’t care. Let them decompose in the sun. Anything beats this visual.” There where a few vultures hopping along the ground nearby, wanting to get in on the action. But the hyenas wheeled their teeth at them, keeping them at a distance. “Can we go now?” Nick asked the driver. Kikanae, the dark Kenyan behind the wheel, turned back and looked at Nick. He smiled with a set of very white teeth. Beside him was their guide, Bernard Wambui. Bernard was not his real name of course. He was as black and Kenyan as Kikanae, but spoke English as well as any Englishman having had the benefit of being raised in an British orphanage. Bernard was his English name, assumed on his behalf because he liked how it sounded, and because his Kenyan name was too difficult for the tourists to pronounce. “It is part of the tour,” Bernard said. “You are lucky to see it. It is Africa as it really is. It is big money safari.” “What?” “It is what your rich Americans like best, the corporate types and Hollywood celebrities, to see the real Africa. They pay big money for it, and give big tips for a show like this. Really, you are lucky to see it.” “These places never look like the brochures,” Nick grumbled. There were two other tourists in the vehicle, an elderly couple from England, who were likewise appalled by the spectacle. They sat quietly in the back seat, taken aback by the feeding frenzy. “It is one thing to know about the wild; quite another to see it,” the English woman said with an elegant accent. “They are a well-evolved animal,” Bernard said. “Known for their thievery; known to be very thorough with their kill; known to prey upon themselves. And they are the boldest of thieves, even to steal from lions, even to take meat from an animal still breathing.” “That’s nice to know,” Nick said. “He is a hungry one,” Bernard said to his driver, chuckling, and he pointed at one of the hyenas whose head was completely buried in the body cavity of the gazelle. When the head came out, it had a long line of intestines attached to its mouth. The others hyenas tried to take it from him and he snarled back at them. Bernard took something from the dashboard, opened his window, and threw it at the animal, hitting it in its hind quarters. The hyena turned sharply, snapping wildly into the air. Finally it locked its eyes on Bernard and snarled at him. Nick watched as Bernard’s
hand reach for the shotgun he kept clamped on the inside door panel. Bernard’s hand remained on the shotgun, as if ready to pull it free, until the animal turned its attention back to the other hyenas who were trying to steal the meat from his mouth. “Yeah, that one, he’s a hungry one,” Kikanae said. “Do you know how Maasai rid themselves of hyenas?” Bernard asked the group. “They shoot one with a barbedtipped arrow, not to kill but to lame, lame enough to make it bleed and take off running and yelping, with enough blood trailing behind for his pals to get a whiff. What happens next is comical. A frenzied chase follows, his blood-thirsty pals eager to sink their teeth into what now, for them, is only a wounded piece of meat… an easy kill. “Once I shot an antelope and a pack of hyenas came out of the bush for it. Even though I stood there with a rifle on them, they were determined to take it from me. They were not afraid, even after I fired a warning shot. And it’s not as if these animals don’t know what a rifle can do. They do know. Trust me, they do.” “What did you do?” asked the English woman. Bernard paused. He looked over at Kikanae. There was a moment of silence. “I let them keep the antelope,” he said, letting out a chuckle. He returned his attention to the feeding hyenas. “They did not kill this animal,” he said, referring to the butchered gazelle carcass. “I am sure of it.
They stole it from a lion.”
They all remained in the Land Cruiser, witnessing the way of Africa. After ten more minutes, there was little left of the gazelle, and little left to see. Nature’s work had been complete. What was left for the buzzards was merely a bloodstain on the African earth. The Land Cruiser started up, moved forward, and wound its way down the dirt road, which was not much more than a faint pair of tire tracks. There was silence in the vehicle. The thoroughness of the hyenas had taken the conversation out of Nick, and the young blonde, and the English couple in the back. After fifteen more minutes, the Land Cruiser came to a place where the savannah was indented by a small gorge. The vehicle went into low gear and negotiated it way down to the bottom. There was a dry creek bed at the bottom, filled with rocks and surrounded by flat-topped acacia trees. Kikanae braked at the crossing and the vehicle rolled slowly over large boulders before lulling its way back up the opposite rim. Ahead now was the last of the acacia trees, beyond which was open range, and just as the Land Cruiser was about to push out onto it, there was movement ahead, there on the road. Three men suddenly appeared from behind the trees and stood in the middle of the road, blocking the path of the Land Cruiser. They all held rifles in their hands and pointed
them directly at Kikanae. “Nje! Nje!,” the large one shouted. “Get out!” He was a stout, dark Kikuyu, who stood a step in front of and in between the other two. Kikanae promptly placed the vehicle in park, turned off the ignition, and held his hands high where they could see them. Bernard did the same, cautiously, showing his white palms through the windshield. “Be calm,” Bernard said to the group in the back, whispering to them. “Be patient.” Bernard and Kikanae opened their doors and slowly stepped out, keeping their hands high. However, they did so in a way that left their bodies shielded by the opened doors. “Sawa! Starehe!” Bernard said to the large one. “Stay calm.” The large one said something in Swahili, and then he motioned to the passengers, waving his hand as if he wanted them to exit the vehicle. “Leave them,” Bernard said in Swahili. “They are tourists. They have no weapons. They carry only cameras.” The large one shouted again in Swahili, motioning with the barrel of his rifle for the them to get out. “We can supply you with whatever you wish,” Bernard said calmly. “We have money, and ammunition, and food, and supplies. The tourists, they’re our responsibility. They need to stay in the vehicle…” From behind the seat, Nick watched. He watched as Bernard continued to speak; he watched as Bernard’s hand reached for the shotgun on the door panel; he watched as Bernard slowly pulled it from the bracket and looked over at Kikanae, and as his finger found the trigger. In a flash Bernard’s shotgun was at the top of the door. In the same instant Kikanae’s, rifle came up too. The bright steel of the gun barrels flashed in the sunlight. Then the shotgun sounded first. Bam! And in rapid succession both rifles spoke; Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! So sudden was it that Nick and the others did not fully comprehend what had just happened. When they finally raised their heads and looked through the windshield they saw the three men lying on the road. Bernard and Kikanae were approaching them with their guns still extended. “Stay in the jeep!” Bernard shouted back without turning his head. Bernard knelt down beside the large Kikuyu and rummaged through his pockets, taking some papers which he tucked into his waist belt, and he found some trinkets which he examined and discarded on the roadside. Kikanae did the same with the others. Then they dragged the bodies to the side of the road and piled them on top of one another. Their weapons were gathered up and deposited in the back of the Land Cruiser. When Bernard and Kikanae Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
finally climbed back into the Land Cruiser, they were both breathing heavily from all the work. “Shouldn’t we take them, or bury them or something?” Nick asked. Bernard exchanged a glance with Kikanae and said nothing at first. “It is impossible,” he then replied. “There is no place for them in the jeep. And besides, we can’t bury them. The constable will want to see them, and identify them. He will want to see exactly how it happened.” Bernard looked back at them over the seat. “It has been a problem… robberies.” “What?” “They are thieves, no different then the hyenas; thugs preying on the tourists and the guide services. It has been a big problem, really, having an impact on the safari industry as a whole.” “You will just leave them?” the British woman asked. “The constable will be out here to tag them. He will gather up the bodies,” Bernard said. “He needs to see them exactly as they are.” Bernard looked over at Kikanae. Kikanae said nothing but turned on the ignition and let it idle. Then Bernard looked back over his seat at the group. “It is standard procedure in cases like this. The constable will take care of everything. He will notify the next of kin.”
The four of them; the blonde, the British couple, and Nick remained silent as the vehicle began to move. “Sorry you had to witness this,” Bernard said. “But it is Africa as it really is.” As the Land Cruiser began to move ahead, Nick thought of the three men left heaped on the roadside. In one moment they were living, breathing things; in the next they were a pile of dead flesh on the dry earth. He turned back and looked, resting his chin on the top of the back seat. He could barely make them out, hidden in the shadows of the acacia trees and as the Land Cruiser continued to accelerate away, they blended in with the earth. Now they were part of the indelible Kenyan landscape, he thought. And through the descending sunlight he saw them coming, the pack of hyenas, out from the underbrush and down the hillside in quick flashes of grey; their glitzy eyes caught in the angling light. As did all the good animals of Africa, they were returning for the carrion; to replenish from the dead, strength back to the living. Nick turned, stared forward, and said nothing. There was nothing to say, he thought. It was nature at work, the way of Africa; Africa as it really is. Life was given back to the savannah as it had been given back over many generations.
resides in Nipomo, a small town on the California central coast. His short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines including The Emerson Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Minetta Review, and the Hawaii Pacific Review.
Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
A Plan of Action When Willis Gillie arrived to open the Wayside bar, Charlie Overstreet, Hank Stanley and Dale Perdue were waiting at the door. “You boys are here early,” said Willis Gillie. “Ain’t you heard?” replied Hank Stanley. “Heard what?” “Scott’s has shut down. Tommy Scott has done laid everybody off. He’s closing the plant.” “That’s terrible. Why?” “He’s signed a deal with some bastards from Peru to manufacture everything down there. Says it’s more cost efficient. Say’s he’s sorry as he can be, but it had to be done. It seems like they can produce the same chest of drawers for less then a quarter of what it costs to manufacture here in town.” “When did this happen?” “As soon as we got to work this morning,” answered Dale Perdue. “Tommy Junior called us all in the warehouse for the usual monthly meeting and let us all go with two weeks pay. I’ve been working at Scott’s since I was seventeen.” “Y’all come on in,” said Willis Gillie as he held open the door. “How about some beer, Gillie?” said Charlie Overstreet. “Sure boys, just let me get some lights on in here so I can see what I’m doing.” “Yes Sir, I’ve been at Scott Furniture for over thirty years and what do I have to show for it?” “Well, if we was smart we would have seen it coming. You know that damn Tommy Junior. He never did care about nothing but the profits. It’s him that drove Scott Furniture into the ground.” Willis Gillie strapped on a white apron. “Now, what can I get you men?” “Beer,” said Hank Stanley, “and keep it coming. I mean to get drunk this afternoon.” “Start us some tabs.” Willis Gillie pulled three frosted glasses from the cooler and drew the beers. “Here you go.” “Ah, that’s good,” said Charlie Overstreet. He wiped the foam from his mustache with his shirtsleeve. “That hits the spot, Gillie.” “You know old man Scott is turning over in his grave about now.” “Are talking about Mister Tom?” “Well, him too, but I was speaking of old Edward Scott.”
“Did you know the old man?” “I remember him,” answered Dale Perdue. “You know my daddy worked for Scott’s. He was good friends with the old man. Back then, Scott’s built some fine furniture. They didn’t have none of that assembly required shit.” “Pine and laminated particle board,” said Hank Stanley. “That’s what ruined us. Tommy Junior though he could compete with that imported crap!” “He thought he was smart. That master’s degree from Wake Forest didn’t do us no good. I knew it was a mistake from the damn get go!” “When I first started at Scott’s we made some beautiful pieces. We had a reputation for quality. The old man and Tom Senior took pride in what we made. I remember we had a series called the Heritage Collection. It was solid cherry. It was made to last for generations.” The front door opened. Alvin Ledbetter and Mance Hall walked in. “Hey y’all,” said Charlie Overstreet. “Come on and have a seat. Gillie let us have a pitcher and two more glasses.” “Man, I need me a cold beer.” “What are y’all talking about?” asked Alvin Ledbetter. “We was just telling Gillie here how Tommy Junior destroyed his grandfather’s business and how the old man’s turning in his grave right now.” “Yeah,” agreed Mance Hall. “He’s the damn one responsible. Him and that damn Jimmy Calhoun.” “Hell, Calhoun just did whatever Tommy Junior told him to do. I liked old Calhoun.” “Jimmy Calhoun might have known about marketing, but he didn’t know a damn thing about the furniture business. He proved that down in High Point at the show.” “Well, I’m glad they fired his ass. I never liked him,” said Dale Perdue. “All the son-of-a-bitch knew to do was cut costs. Them damn companies up north in Pennsylvania ain’t trying to make cheap shit and they’re still in business.” “We should have moved to build pieces in the mid priced range,” said Alvin Ledbetter. “Gordonville is doing that down in Hickory and they’re building new plants. They ain’t laying men off.” “Well, it don’t make no difference now. What’s done is done.” Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
“I’ll tell you what chaps my ass,” said Charlie Overstreet. “Even through it all, we was making money. Scott’s was always turning a profit. Hell, that first year that the Modern Home collection came out was the best year we ever had. Damn Tommy Junior made more money off that crap then he knew what to do with.” “That’s a fact,” agreed Hank Stanley. That was all Jimmy Calhoun’s doing too. He’s the one that was behind that.” “Well, all I know is that we was making money. We didn’t have to shut down.” “Yeah, the thing was that we weren’t making enough to suit Tommy Junior.” “I’d like to know how damn much is enough? That’s what I want to know. Hell, he’s got that damn mansion down at the lake and all them antique cars. What the hell does he need?” “That’s why he’s moving manufacturing down to Peru. He just wants more.” “So he sacrifices everything.” “You mean us don’t you? We’re the ones getting sacrificed! He don’t have no sense of loyalty what so ever. Shit! We’ve done give the best part of our lives to Scott Furniture Company. I’ve been there for nearly twenty years for God’s sake.” “Dale’s been working there thirty!” “Since I was seventeen!” he said. “Give us another pitcher, Gillie.” The bartender drew another from the tap and set it down on the counter between the men. “Yes Sir, it ain’t nothing but greed. That’s the reason we’re out of work.” “Somebody ought to tell Tommy Junior off!”
James William Gardner
“Tell him off? They ought to beat his damn brains in!” “He don’t have the right to do what he done! We worked every day for him faithful.” “Hell, I ain’t missed work in three years, but Tommy don’t appreciate that a bit!” “He probably don’t even know.” “Old Barton Dooley done lost his right hand and half his arm on the damn band saw. Do you think Tommy Junior gives a shit? He don’t give a shit about nothing but the damn bottom line!” “He don’t just collect old cars. He collects damned old Jaguars. I’ll bet he’s got millions tied up in them cars of his. The more I think about it the madder I get!” “It ain’t only Tommy. It’s that wife of his. They say she goes through money like it was going out of style.” “She’s a good looking thing.” “She married him for the money. You know damn well she did. Do you think Tommy Junior could get him a wife like that if he didn’t have money? Shit no! There’s no way on earth.” “The more I think on it the damn madder I get!” “You know what we ought to do? We ought to get in the car and drive down to that lake house and give that little son-of-a-bitch a piece of our mind!” “Yes Sir! Of course it won’t make no difference, but it would do my heart good to tell him off!” “What are you boys going to do now?” asked Willis Gillie. “Don’t go running down there half-cocked! You’re libel to get yourselves it big trouble!” “We ain’t going to do nothing but tell the little greedy bastard a thing or two!” “Shit,” said Hank Stanley, we ain’t even going to do that. Pour me another beer.”
A native of Southwest Virginia, James William Gardner writes extensively about the contemporary American south. His work explores aspects of southern culture and society often overlooked: the downtrodden, the impoverished and those marginalized by society.
Summer 2014 Volume 2, Issue 2
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