Edify Fiction May 2017
Volume 1, Issue 2
"Portrait of an Asian Woman" by Michael Paul
Editor Angela Meek
Assistant Editors Craig Mardis Michelle McMillanHolifield
Submissions: First and foremost, we love a good story in prose, poetry, flash, or photography/digital artwork form. Secondly, we welcome all writers and photographers, whether you have been
Edify Fiction Magazine
published worldwide or this is your first story. We do not subscribe to a specific genre, as we enjoy reading all kinds of things ourselves including mysteries, fantasy, scifi, romance, historical, comedy, and YA among others. What unifies Edify Fiction's content is its ability to be positive, inspirational, and motivating. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis online. Full guidelines and the submission link are found online on the Submissions page of our website.
Best of the Best: Published contributors are automatically entered into the
Cover Art: Portrait of an Asian Woman Artist: Michael Paul Michael C. Paul is a short story author and illustrator living in Northern Virginia. View his work on his website: http://mcpaul1998.wixsite.com/mcpaul. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCPaulArt and Instagram @Mikepaulart.
annual Best of the Best contest. This contest provides cash prizes for the pieces that were audience favorites. Contest is held annually each Spring.
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Contributors 1 3 7 10 11 15 17 21 22 23 31 33 35 39 41 48 49
Portrait of an Asian Woman by Michael Paul The Note by A. Elizabeth Herting The Daytime People by Philip Ivory Old House by Norman Klein To Market by Michelle Dotter Shadow Falls by Sandra Hosking All ThixthyThix Bookth by Samuel Cole How to Hold Your Head Up by Jacob Paul Patchen Fabric by Lynette G. Esposito When The Train Stops by Dennis J. Kafalas Dusk Monument Valley Utah by David J. Thompson Clowns in Love by Tushar Jain Pinks by Nancy Gold Grandmother and Al by Roshanda Johnson Party by Matt Kolbet Domingos en Chile by Watt Burns Finding Pakistan in Grenoble, France by Rukhsar Palla
The photos found on the following pages are from StockSnap.io, Pexels.com, and Pixabay.com and fall under the Creative Commons CC0 license: pages 3, 7,9,11,13,17,21,22,23,33,35,39,41,48, and 49.
From the Editor . Summer is upon us! What's great about that is the days are longer and have a more luxurious feel to them. The days slow down a bit and the world gives permission for us to take a 'timeout' (a.k.a. vacation). I feel like I have more time to be exorbitant in my thinking; that I can have the luxury of letting my mind work on juicy mental exercises, explore some dreams, and expand its mental horizons. I think you’ll find some of this month’s reading to be quite thought provoking. It’s an edition that will let you stew in your juices and reconsider your position on the grand topics of love, motivation, overcoming diversity, and relationships. Stretch out and relax with this one. Slow down and make time for yourself to just read and be. When you're done reading, don't forget to comment on your favorites on our website. The comments put our contributors in the running for cash prizes in our annual Best of the Best contest. (We also have an annual random drawing to award gift cards to our commenters.)
Angela Meek Editor, Edify Fiction 2
The Note By A. Elizabeth Herting Jack Thornton stood indecisively against the wall, feeling her presence all the way down the long hallway without ever seeing her. He could always sense when she was near, keeping one eye out at all times just in case she should suddenly appear. Jack was not a stalker; would never in a million years think of himself that way. He was just a guy with a serious crush and a serious problem. How would he ever get up the nerve to tell her how he really felt? She didn’t notice him as she passed by, surrounded by her two best friends, deep in some mysterious, feminine conversation. Jack sighed as he caught a whiff of lemon, trying to hang onto the scent as long as he could before it faded away. He couldn’t exactly place ither favorite shampoo, perfume or lotion perhaps? Whatever it was, it immediately made his heart beat a little faster as he went over in his mind, for the millionth time, what he could possibly say to win her over. # MaryKate Miller. The name rolled off of his tongue like the sweetest song he’d ever heard as he worked out the perfect turn of phrase to catch her attention. It was a beautiful, traditional name for a oneinamillion girl. His best friend, Taylor, kept teasing him, pushing Jack to go and talk to her in the cafeteria at lunch. Every day, Jack would swear that this would be the day that he would finally do it, usually making it a few steps in her direction before turning around in defeat. Normally Jack was a pretty outgoing guy, able to talk to anyone in a social situation, but the feelings that he had for Mary Kate were turning out to be anything but normal. There she sat, a vision of loveliness in her pale pink sweater; the center of attention as she always was. Everyone seemed to be drawn to her without even knowing it. She had the bluest eyes he had ever seen, captivating and intelligent. How could he possibly hope to compete with the group of admirers who surrounded her day in and day out? Jack agonized over it for weeks before coming up with the perfect solution. If the spoken words wouldn’t come, he would find a different way to pour out his heart. Jack decided to write a note. 3
May 2017 # Jack sat in his room and thought about the best way to go about it. He instinctively knew that such things should never be texted or emailed, even in this modern age. No, it had to be heartfelt and handwritten, getting his feelings across without sounding desperate or needy. It was an extremely fine line he needed to walk, but he knew that MaryKate was well worth the effort. He’d always been pretty good with words, getting good grades in all of his English classes. Jack was also a voracious reader and enjoyed writing. Maybe he could write something so spectacular that MaryKate would instantly become smitten and agree to go out with him. He sat at his desk, the blank page before him, and took a deep, cleansing breath. Nothing. He got up and walked around the room, trying to clear his mind. He tried thinking of all the things he liked about her and decided that if he were to write them all down, the note would soon become a novel. He needed to keep things short and sweet, just enough to give him an opening. He picked up his pen and began: Dear MaryKate, I know that you don’t know me very well, but I have admired you in secret, wanting to tell you how much I Jack ripped the paper off of his desk and balled it up in frustration. He threw it at the trash can in the corner and watched as it hit the rim and fell to the floor. Four, five, then six more balled up notes joined the first as Jack continued his vigil late into the night, writing and rewriting until his hand ached. He tried writing her a poem, but the words sounded too clunky and awkward. He talked about her beauty, her kind heart, and intelligence. He tried giving her clever clues as to his identity but thought that might come off as too childish. Every word, absolutely all of it, went into the trash as the hours continued to tick by. Finally, Jack decided to keep it simple. He folded up the note and wrote her name neatly on the envelope, placing it next to a single pink rose that he’d picked up earlier. He hoped that the little plastic watering tube would keep it fresh until morning. Jack also enclosed a small gift, something he was certain that she would like. He had done his research, quietly observing and talking to her friends, trying to glean as much information as he possibly could, and felt confident that his gift would be a hit. MaryKate lived nearby they were practically neighbors. Jack decided to leave the note at her door then hurry off before she could see him, praying that his plan would work and she would meet with him. Everything finally completed to his satisfaction, he flipped off the light over his bed and settled down to sleep, his stomach a jumble of nerves and anticipation. # MaryKate Miller was getting ready, applying her makeup carefully in her lighted mirror, when she heard a hurried knock at the door. She sighed and looked at her watch. Maddie was fifteen minutes early as usual. Most of the time, MaryKate was only halfdressed when her friend would show up, wanting to gossip with her while she rushed around to finish her morning routine. It looked like today would be no different. She finished her mascara and padded over to the door, getting ready to admonish her friend as she pulled it open only to find no one there. Puzzled, she looked down and saw a rose on her doorstep with some kind of note attached to it. She carefully picked it up, looking around to see if anyone was there. She lifted the rose up to her face and breathed in deeply. Pink roses were her absolute favorite. MaryKate went back inside and closed the door, lost in her thoughts. Who would leave her a note? She 4
really had no idea. She hadn’t gone out with anyone since that disastrous spring dance with Peter Vernon. She remembered that he had stepped all over her feet, ruining her new white pumps and giving her painful bruises that lasted for well over a month. It couldn’t possibly be him. MaryKate slowly opened the note as an object fell from the envelope and into her hand. It was a pendant on a delicate chain a tiny golden bee. She could feel a hot blush rising to her cheeks, noticing that the words on the page were neat and precise. Dearest MaryKate, Would you beelieve? Please make me the happiest guy in the entire world and agree to have an early dinner with me this afternoon, 4:00 in the cafeteria. Yours Truly, An Admirer MaryKate loved bees. Her room was decorated with them: she had bee pins, earrings, and scarves. She adored the little creatures and was enchanted that her secret admirer had known this and would give her such a thoughtful gift. Who could this possibly be? She wracked her brain, going over every possibility: who it might be, who she really wanted it to be. A loud knock on her door shattered her romantic musings. Maddie must be here at last. MaryKate went over to let her in, thinking of just the perfect outfit she would wear along with her new bee pendant when she went to meet her secret admirer later in the day. # Jack went through his daily routine in anguish, watching the minutes on the clock slowly tick by. He’d arranged everything for their first meeting with great care. Denny, the cafeteria manager was an old friend of his and owed him a favor or two. He’d agreed to let Jack have the cafeteria at four o’clock before opening the doors at five for their regular dinner service, giving him and MaryKate a full hour for a private, and hopefully romantic, dinner. Jack and his buddy Ralph Taylor went in to decorate the place, hanging Chinese lanterns from the ceiling and setting the best corner table with a crisp white cloth and the finest silver cutlery. He brought down two crystal goblets from his place and opened up a bottle of dry red wine, letting it breathe. To top it all off, he lit two taper candles and asked Denny to play his favorite Sinatra album softly on the overhead speakers. It was spaghetti night, his favorite night of the week. Jack fervently hoped that MaryKate would be there at the appointed time and would agree to have dinner with him. Taylor punched him on the arm, wishing him luck and hightailing it out of the cafeteria just before the clock struck four. Jack stood and smoothed down his best blazer, the one with the tan suede on the elbows and adjusted his tie. He’d polished his shoes just this morning after rushing back into his apartment, out of breath after leaving her the note. She lived four doors down from him and had said good morning to him every day for the past year, never knowing the profound effect she was having on him. God! How he hoped she would agree to go out with him. Sinatra’s sultry voice began to croon his favorite song, “The Second Time Around” as he stood, ramrod straight, just like in his military days and anxiously awaited her arrival. The door to the cafeteria slowly opened and MaryKate Miller walked in, right on time. He was instantly enveloped in the familiar scent of lemon verbena as she came towards him like a dream. He took a big, fortifying 5
May 2017 breath knowing that he was in deep, deep trouble. The years melted away, and he realized with a sudden shock that he hadn’t felt this way since the first time he’d met his late wife, some sixtyodd years before. He’d been widowed for almost ten years now, and knew that MaryKate had also lost her husband some time ago. Was there any chance that she might ever consider him? Well, he thought nervously, he was about to find out. She wore a lovely floral pattern dress, the bee pendant he’d given her prominently displayed around her elegant neck. She styled her long, flowing white hair down around her shoulders like a girl and Jack marveled that he couldn’t even guess her age, so youthful and beautiful did she appear in that moment. He swallowed hard as she approached him and he offered her a second longstemmed pink rose. His carefully prepared speech went right out the window as he looked into her deep blue eyes and found real affection there, giving him courage. “Hello MaryKate. Would you beelieve?” She reached out to him, taking his hand in hers and saying softly, “I would, Jack Thornton, for I’ve had my eye on you for quite some time now. I thought you’d never ask.” Without saying a word, he took her gently into his arms as they began to sway in time to Sinatra, the words etching themselves onto his heart. “Who can say what brought us to this miracle we've found? There are those who'll bet love comes but once, and yet I'm oh, so glad we met the second time around” They continued to dance around the cafeteria, completely oblivious to the outside world under the soft glow of the paper lanterns. Taylor and a few of the residents peeked in through the windows, watching them move together, already matched in perfect synchronicity. Denny and the kitchen crew crept quietly back into the kitchen, not wanting to interrupt their dance. The plates of spaghetti went back into the oven, for love was in the air at the Happy Haven Retirement Community and dinner could wait. # Ralph Taylor turned and smiled at Maddie Travis, holding out his hand for a spontaneous dance right there in the lobby, following his best friend’s example. Maddie giggled a little, taking his hand and twirling around him like a giddy schoolgirl. They both understood in that moment, one universal truth that any of the residents in the Haven would happily agree with: that when it comes to love, there is no time like the present and age is nothing but a number.
About the author A. Elizabeth Herting is an aspiring freelance writer and busy mother of three living in colorful Colorado. She has had short stories featured in Bewildering Stories, Cafe Aphra, Dark Fire Fiction, Fictive Dream, 50Word Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Friday Fiction, New Realm, Peacock Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, Speculative 66, Storyteller, The Flash Fiction Press and Under the Bed. She has also published nonfiction work in Denver Pieces Magazine and bioStories, and completed a novel called Wet Birds Don't Fly at Night that she is hoping to find a home for. For more of her work/contact her at sites.google.com/site/aehertingwriter and Twitter @AmyHerting. 6
The Daytime People By Philip Ivory They sit on yellow contoured plastic, eating French fries and slowly sipping large Dr. Peppers, their elbows resting lightly on the dayglow orange tabletops. The three o’clock hour passes, largely unremarked. They are the Daytime People. Six women of varying sizes, in age ranging from 20s to 40s, some in jeans and others in vibrant stretch pants, pass time at the two central tables. Between two and fourthirty every day, those tables transform into a social arena defined by their friendship. Preschoolage children bound in and out from the refuge of the play area, checking with their mothers. There is a groove the women get into. The recurrent jokes. The gentle and friendly prodding, about men, about jobs. The complaints about neighbors or a problem relative. Sometimes, for a moment, the comforting flow is interrupted by a crying child; or the tone darkens for discussion of a doctor visit or health insurance crisis. There is nothing too serious for too long, for that is an unspoken rule of the tables. Soon enough, there is laughter again and the shared energy of their friendship is flowing, lifting their hearts for the time they are there. By the window, a teenaged boy and girl, skipping out early from school, pay more attention to each other than the drinks and dollar chicken sandwiches in front of them. She tentatively drums her fingers against his hand, her hoop bracelets grazing his wrist. Then he unveils purple headphones from his jacket and, obtaining her permission, drapes them around her ears, moving strands of hair aside so she can hear the playlist on his phone. Her eyes go wide at the first tune. Asphalt fumes, from the repaving job going on at the “Toys ‘R’ Us” next door, drift in whenever the main entrance door opens. This fragrance is welcomed by, and mixes amicably with, the resident smells of grease, salt and perfume. From the thoroughfare outside comes bleating truck horns and caustic shouts. The sense of urgency and stress these sounds transmit goes largely unnoticed inside the restaurant, where unwavering fluorescent lights shine down with loving constancy on all. Near the counter in front, a gently hulking figure in a Hawaiian shirt, lime green shorts, and sandals strokes his unkempt gray forest of a beard, mulling the menu as if he had not seen it every day 7
May 2017 for the last two and a half weeks. He totters back and forth from the counter, as he commits and un commits to being ready to order. An older couple, the man rolling an oxygen tank, makes their entrance. They move inexpressibly slowly. But no one minds and the two women behind the counter call out greetings. Three or four hours later, when professionals will be bringing themselves and their children for easy, quick after work meals, the slow passage of this older couple would be tedious, out of place, an irritant. Now it is fine. Meanwhile, the two earnestfaced young women working the register peer in puzzlement at an unclaimed tray containing an iced coffee and small salad, their joint concentration failing to solve this enigma. They wear ludicrously oversized beretstyle caps, maroon to match their fastfood scrubs. A male manager in shirt sleeves, balding and with spirals of frizzy white hair shooting out from his temples in a mad scientist kind of way, has a jangling clip of keys at his belt. He consults with a third young woman who is at the takeout microphone, nods, then ducks through the swinging doors. He is delivering instructions manually back and forth because a speaker has gone defective in the food preparation area. He is unutterably calm. It would be interesting to see a map, like the TV weather maps that show those moving swirls of color; but instead of being about weather, this map would show how time flows at different rates all over the city. At the hospitals and business towers and courthouses, there would be blossoming spikes of orange and red, and the highway would be a molten river, always writhing and shimmering with flame. But this place this home of combo meals and daily catching up would be a placid blue gem on the map. At least it would now, at this moment, when the Daytime People are here.
About the author Philip Ivory studied literature at Columbia University and lives in Tucson, AZ. His fiction has appeared in The Airgonaut, Literally Stories, Devolution Z and elsewhere. Nominated in 2017 for the Pushcart Prize, he was previously a winner of Bewildering Stories’ 2016 Mariner Awards. Philip teaches at Writers Studio and maintains a blog at writeyourselfsane.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ivoryscribe. 8
Old House By Norman Klein My daughter Beth is here for the summer. She loves the old house and will repair its cracks and remove the sumac sprouting from the capped kitchen chimney. Then there’s the barn, its roof holed with light, its loft full of swallows who appreciate its missing panes and taunt the mice who live in its empty stalls in fear of the hawk. Next to the barn is a stone wall with a stone missing – that’s where the fox lives that killed the wild turkey and left the claw for me to admire and bury. Yesterday, just before noon, she called me out out to watch our cheapo rubbish cans dance through our neighbor’s thigh‐high alfalfa on their way to the river. It was her old man who knew the berry patch that would stop them, and returned them to his daughter who then tied them to the porch post and asked where the lids were. That’s the way it is with Beth, give and take. The house suffers her nails and paint while I plant and harvest knowing it’s the garden, the old house and Beth that own me.
About the author Norman Klein has an Iowa MFA in fiction and has published 12 stories and 15 poems in the last 12 months. He has also edited for Ploughshares and taught writing at Simmons College and UMass Boston, and later in Chicago. He is currently living and writing in the back woods of New Hampshire. 10
To Market By Michelle Dotter
Omar took beauty to the market in a silver cage meant for a canary, and the market men laughed at him. Beauty wrapped his fingers through the bars and listened with Omar to the little men in their knobby red hats as the one with the biggest mustache explained to him that beauty was, indeed, very beautiful, but that beauty wasn’t selling just now and that he couldn’t take beauty off of Omar’s hands for more than ten rupees, if that. Omar considered the price but in the end, there was no choice to make; beauty chewed through the bars of his cage and ran away, wailing his particular wail. Omar chased beauty through the whole town, which was easy because everywhere beauty went, people had stopped to stare at him; their heads remained permanently fixed in the direction beauty had traveled, a long line of signpost faces, each one wondering what had just passed before its eyes. Omar followed the direction of their noses until he passed out of town into the wide fields beyond. Following beauty became more difficult when Omar reached the countryside because there were fewer noses to follow. Omar had to stop and climb up the sides of hay rigs and donkey carts to get a look around, and sometimes it took him a minute or two to see the next frozen figure pointing the way to beauty. Some of the masters of these hay rigs and carts had seen beauty and they didn’t much care what Omar climbed up but some of them had not, and one man with whiskers as long as his donkey’s, was in particular less than thrilled to have Omar clambering onto their merchandise. Omar tried to explain to this man and the others what it was he was looking for but curious thing, Omar found that as soon as he’d begun to explain, the image of beauty that he held in his mind faded, until he became very uncertain about the details: three tails or four? What color eyes? Did beauty have claws? And, of course, it was no help at all simply to say he was looking for beauty, because then the men thought he was searching for a woman and that was utterly sideways of what Omar was searching for. 11
May 2017 Late in the afternoon it started to rain, and as Omar took shelter under a tree, he complained to himself that he must be out of his mind to be chasing a little scrap of beauty worth no more than ten rupees, if that, through the mountains in a storm. He thought as well that his wife would laugh at him so hard upon hearing this story that she would probably swallow her teeth. The thought of his wife laughing at him was almost enough to make Omar turn back then and there, leaving beauty by himself for the night, which Omar imagined would teach beauty a valuable lesson. But then he remembered how beauty looked up at him with eyes that were no color at all, and the way beauty used to settle around his neck, perched on his shoulder with his three or four tails wrapped around Omar’s throat, crooning like a demon into his ear. Omar was so used to that weight on his shoulders that as soon as he remembered it his ribs began to ache, as though to balance beauty’s absence. So, Omar grumbled to himself and then he tied his handkerchief over his head and went on. Omar was halfway up the mountain and night was just coming on when he heard beauty crying. What beauty sounded like, Omar had not been able to describe. But as soon as he heard it he knew it was beauty and that beauty was crying for him. Omar hitched up the muddy hem of his robe and trudged on through the forest, following beauty’s whimper, until the trees gave way to reveal a great waterfall. Beauty was perched at the top of the fall, just at the edge, in a small niche the water had dug into the rock over many long years. Beauty whined and Omar took off his handkerchief and scrubbed his face with it, though it was too wet to do him any good. He put it back on and stood with his hands on his hips, trying to look angry instead of cold and a little relieved. “What are you doing up there, you scamp? Get down here.” Beauty didn’t answer, only turned his three or four tails (the rain made it hard to tell) to Omar and shuffled in his slow, longsuffering way back into the darkness beyond the rim of the waterfall, until Omar lost all sight of him, and had no choice but to scramble up himself. It took Omar a long time to reach the top of the waterfall, and when he did beauty paid him no mind, sulking in the back of the very small cave, with his tails to Omar and his head tucked into his chest. Omar was a little annoyed by his indifference, and he took a good long minute to rest himself before crawling over to beauty and putting a hand on his back. “Come now. There’s no need for that. It’s not so bad after all, is it?” Beauty whimpered. The wind whimpered with him, and so did the water, and soon it seemed that the whole world had taken up the whimper. Omar wondered if all the people in the faraway city, who might by now have recovered the direction of their heads, were whimpering, too, and whether the man and his donkey with the long whiskers might be listening to the sound, mistaking it for something the world had made up all on its own. “Come now,” Omar said again, borrowing a phrase his wife had used often when their children were little. He stroked his hand down beauty’s back, down the nubs of shoulder bones that had always looked, to him, like wings that simply hadn’t come in. “Cheer up. The market will pick up again in time. And after all, ten rupees is not all that much, but it’s more than anyone would pay for me.” Beauty bit him. Omar pulled back to look at the three or four puncture wounds in his thumb and beauty let out a long wail, a wail that shook the cave walls and was so dissonant and simultaneously so beautiful that Omar wanted to wrap his arms tight around himself to stop his bones from shaking. He
...and soon it seemed the whole world had taken up the whimper.
settled for pressing his hands over beauty’s mouth, holding the squirming body tight against his chest until the echoes had forgotten them. In the silence, beauty stilled. Omar lifted his hands a little. Beauty vaulted from his lap and settled onto the cave floor again, just out of reach, twitching his three or four tails—and through the twitch, which was a very desolate twitch, Omar understood that it was not the price beauty was upset about so much (the price was the last straw, more than anything) but that it was the tone the market men had taken with him, and the way they had laughed at beauty in his silver cage, that rubbed beauty so raw, because he was not used to being belittled. And Omar understood, too, that beauty resented Omar had tried to sell him at all—though beauty wouldn’t say that, because like most creatures born for the show, beauty wanted to be seen by more eyes than just Omar’s, and felt guilty in his lust. Omar felt a little guilty, too. When he’d set out for the market that morning, he’d thought he needed cold hard cash (even ten rupees of it, maybe) far more than he needed this exquisite, impractical thing. The ripple making its way through beauty’s fur made him wonder. He had never had much money but all the same he knew that it didn’t shiver or hunch in on itself the way beauty did, as though he needed more than anything a reminder of his worth. Money knew what it was worth. Beauty ought to have known, too, Omar thought but beauty’s eyes that were no color at all, glaring at Omar over one tawny shoulder, told him that beauty didn’t know. Omar reached out and let his hand settle on the ground next to one of the indignant tails. “You’re a silly thing. You know your beauty, don’t you? You’re so beautiful that everyone in the market turned to look. You are so beautiful that the world sings along with you. You’re so beautiful that I chased you all the way here, and here we are, and you’re still crying. What more do you want?” Beauty hummed and the world hummed with him, and Omar’s bones hummed, a resonance that rattled his crooked teeth. Omar thought that perhaps the hum meant beauty didn’t know. Omar certainly didn’t know. He did know what he wanted, however, and it occurred to him slowly that perhaps beauty wanted the same things. “Listen,” said Omar, taking one tail in his hand and tugging just a little at the fraying end. “It’s cold and it’s wet here, and it’s getting dark. I don’t think spending the night here is really best for either of us. How about we head on home now and make some basil and badam soup, and we can take a warm bath and wrap ourselves up in the winter blankets and just sleep on the whole thing. In the morning, maybe everything will be a little clearer. How’s that for a deal?” Beauty tipped his head to one side and then to the other, which Omar took to mean he was considering it. Then beauty coiled back and slashed him across the chest with three or four of his claws. They went in deep, all the way through Omar’s robe and through his flesh so deep that when beauty pulled back Omar could feel the sickly cold air of the cave licking the outer skin of his heart. Omar gasped and his heart gasped with him, breathing now through the holes that would become scars that beauty had left him. Beauty began to howl and Omar put his hands over his ears, astonished by the pain in his chest and his ears and the little drums inside of his ears that were breaking, as though they were hearts. He heard beauty all the same. At first all he heard was anger. Then he began to hear the underweave in beauty’s voice, the note maybe beauty did not know he was singing, and slowly slowly his hands came away from his ears, and he listened. Then he pulled beauty into his arms and pressed him to the wound, 13
May 2017 even though beauty’s howling was so loud, that close, that he almost couldn’t hear it at all. Then suddenly Omar found he really could hear nothing at all, and he wondered whether the hearts had broken in his ears, or whether beauty had stopped crying and the world had stopped crying with him, just listening, listening. Omar began to rock, and beauty rocked with him, and their motion took the place of sound. “I understand,” Omar said. “It’s not enough to be looked at. You want to be remembered. You want those people in town to wonder for the rest of their lives what you were. You want the people in the fields to be frozen there forever. You don’t want me to leave you. It’s all right. Here’s what we’ll do. You can crawl inside my heart you’ve already made the door and you can stay there for as long as you want, and not a moment longer. Then I’ll never leave you and even if you leave me someday, you’ll leave a wound in me that will never heal. I’ll put my hand on my heart from time to time and wonder where you are, and remember how beautiful you were, and I’ll despair. You’ll have ahold of me forever, and not a moment less. How’s that for a deal?” Beauty had gone cold in Omar’s arms, and for a moment despair truly did take him, because after the thought of having beauty in his chest, the thought of not having beauty in his chest was intolerable. Then beauty sat up and pressed his nose against Omar’s lips, and slithered through the hole in his shirt and into the raw cavity in Omar’s flesh, and the cavity was filled. Omar closed his eyes as beauty nibbled on his breastbone and then turned around three or four times and settled down to sleep there, in the annex of his chest, in the home he’d made. Omar opened his eyes to the darkness of the cave around him, the damp glimmer of water on the walls a world uneasy without beauty. The silence made him uneasy, too. Omar pressed a hand over beauty and then drew back with a start, surprised by movement under his fingers. One of beauty’s tails hung down through the void in his flesh, and it was twitching back and forth against his gut like a pendulum, the plumb of a clock already in motion.
About the author Michelle Dotter is senior editor for Dzanc Books, a small independent press based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her work has been featured in The Molotov Cocktail, The Leviathan, and the No Extra Words podcast. Follow on Twitter @m_dotter. 14
by Sandra Hosking
About the photagrapher Sandra Hosking is a professional editor, writer and playwright based in Spokane, WA, USA. Publishing credits include The SpokesmanÂReview, Journal of Business, Glass International, Inland NW Homes & Lifestyles, Down to Earth Northwest, Insight for Playwrights, Literary Salt, Redactions and the Midwest Book Review. Photography has recently appeared in 3 Elements Review and Joey. Hosking holds an M.F.A. in theatre/playwriting from the University of Idaho and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University. Follow her on Twitter @SandraHosking and view her website http://sandrahosking.webs.com/.
All Thixthy-Thix Bookths By Samuel Cole My spirituality became a lot more devout on September 5, 1992, the first day of sixth grade confirmation class at Emmanuel ELCA, when the teacher, senior Pastor David VanOrman, (whom the girls called Pastor VanHormone), announced we had eight months in which to memorize, in chronological order, all sixtysix books of the Holy Bible. Adding, “If you want to be properly confirmed under the auspices of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Saints, you will readily stand in front of the congregation and recite them out loud, proving to me and to God above your affinity for godly fortitude demonstrated by biblical dexterity.” Then he announced the big clincher. “The student who can recite all sixtysix books the fastest, and the most coherently—okay—will win four tickets to the Minnesota State Fair and fifty dollars for rides, treats, and souvenirs.” Right then I realized two important things about myself. One, life is a price tag, and two, I could be bought. In less than a month, in eight seconds flat, I nailed like Luther’s 95 Thesis, the twentysix books of the New Testament. Names like Matthew, Mark, Jude, and Peter were so easy to pronounce, even a kid could do it. First and Second Thessalonians proved a bit more challenging, but after I changed first and second to one and two, Biblical dexterity flew out like an evangelist’s drool. If Pastor VanOrman took issue with the minor changes, I was ready to quote Matthew 18:3: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of God. If he still wasn’t convinced, I’d quote James 3:8: Let no man tame the tongue. I was ready to use God’s word against him, willing to back him into a corner where I hoped he’d feel the hotword squeeze. The thirtynine books of the Old Testament (that boring anthology of begets and behooves and bereaves), proved inarticulately tongue twisty, especially to a boy with a first class overbite and interdental lisp. Coherent took on a whole new meaning. Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. So many of S’s to slur through. Almost unbearable. Thank god for Deuteronomy. Joshua, or as I called it, Jothua. Judges sounded a lot like Judgeth. Good ‘ole Ruth. First and Second Samuel. First and Second Kings. First and Second Chronicles. One and two. One and two. One and two. Ezra. Nehemiah. Esther. Job. 17
May 2017 Psalms. S at the beginning and at the end. How alpha and omega. Proverbs. Ecclesiastes. Seriously? Song of Solomon. No way in hell. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Lamentations. Ezekiel. Daniel. Hosea. Joel. Amos. Obadiah. Jonah. Micah. Nahum. Habakkuk. I’ve always loved Habakkuk. Just listen to it. Habakkuk. So many easy K’s to pronounce. Zephaniah. Haggai. Zachariah. Malachi. Such fluidity. Almost like a song. I spent a majority of weeknights, and most weekends, in front of the mirror holding my mother’s tape recorder to my lips. If practice made perfect, and perfect made losers winners, I was a shoein to not come in last place, my biggest fear. I wore out two blank cassette tapes in the first month. Rotten Ecclesiastes. Two weeks before confirmation Sunday, Pastor VanOrman announced an impromptu inclass practice session. “We’ll start with the girls,” he said. “Let’s see what’s going on inside those cute little sweaters and pretty little hairdos.” Not one of the girls carried the sixtysix books without a fumble. But some of them were fast. Jill Ward, the most popular girl at school and church, finished the list in 25 seconds. Yeah, she mixed up Hosea and Joel and called Zechariah “Zebania”, but she was coherent and formidable and eager to win. I saw those State Fair tickets and that fifty dollar bill slipping out of my hands and diving head first into her glitterpink DuranDuran purse. She had to be defeated. By me. No more excuses. “Now for the boys,” Pastor VanOrman said, unenthusiastically. He took a seat and crossed his long legs and skinny, hairless arms. Chris Pendelton made it to Nehemiah. Andy Bollant called it Third Kings. Patrick Olsen said, “Memorization, like confirmation, is a huge waste of time.” Lance Kurtz strangled his neck and blamed laryngitis. Tim Wegshied had a really, super, terrible, unbelievably wicked, maybecontagious, cough. Alan Schneider, whose father was the single attorney in town, asked for a temporary recess to which Pastor VanOrman responded, “Not in my court, mister. Now get up here and confess.” Alan botched the Torah and after the book of Ruth, excused himself to the bathroom. Then it hit me. I was one of two boys remaining. There was a fifty percent chance that it was either going to be me or my school tormentor, Tommy Pokorney, the mayor’s son. Then it hit me even harder. How in God’s good graces was I going to do this in front of the congregation? I barely spoke a word to anyone, not even to my parents, who, lucky for me, were field workers and not mealtime talkers. At school, and at church, I pretended to be deaf, walking around with a woolknitcap pulled 18
over my eyebrows and ears. I never spoke in class unless I was called upon, which was rare, as I was quite adept at keeping my head down and tucking my hands between my legs. I knew Jill Ward and her shimmerminions called me Liplock Lonnie. I also knew most of the boys called me the same thing. But because I was the only fifth grader who could touch the bottom of the basketball net with very little effort, the boys never said it to my face. Except for Tommy Pokorney, who started the nickname and kept it rolling, ruining my attempt at achieving invisibility. Like most nicknames, it caught on fire and spread like childhood gossip up and down the whitebrick walls. “Lonnie Lancaster.” Pastor VanOrman called my name. “Take off that hat and get up here.” I made my way to the front. My legs were chains. My cheeks felt hot and wet. A quiet hush took over the crowd. Feverish and dizzy, I turned around and faced six rows of smiling smirks, brooding eyes, and a bunch of oddlyshaped noses sticking up in the air. Not one friend in the bunch. “Well,” Pastor VanOrman said. Hat in my hands, I shrugged. “You can’t or you won’t.” “Uh, I…I…I...” “Liplock Lonnie,” Jill said with a cough. “You’ve had seven months to prepare,” Pastor VanOrman said, waving an index finger. “How many times do I have to tell you that a sluggard is worse than a pig on vacation?” He’d never before said that to me. Not once. “Thonnie’s justtho thscared.” Tommy mocked. The class erupted in giggles. Right in front of Pastor VanOrman. No shame at all. The audacity. The gall. A mounting pressure to punish them infused my bones and supercharged my tongue. I had no choice but to surrender and proclaim the good news. “Genethith,” I blurted out. A surge of relief swept over my body. “Exthoduth.” I couldn’t contain it. Leviticiuth.” My lips were ablaze. Even if I wanted to stop, which I didn’t, I couldn’t. I spit out the sixty six books so fast, Pastor VanOrman took to his feet and bumped backward into the chalkboard. Jill wrote 29 seconds on her left palm and circulated the news above her head. Tommy, Alan, Tim, and Lance sat straight up, their stupid mouths hanging wide open. After I finished, I smiled at the ungodly degenerates and crossed my arms. Top that, orthodoxtongues. If you dare. Pastor VanOrman pointed me to my seat, and said, “The tongue is a tool often measured by lies, but sometimes it is also an instrument of courage.” I wasn’t sure if he was paying me a compliment or calling my tongue a tool full of lies. I didn’t care. He told us to bow our heads and pray quietly, which is exactly what I did. I prayed to win. I prayed Jill Ward would lose. I prayed Tommy Pokorney would die a painful death of arthritis and gout. Those were the only two diseases I knew back then, so they’d just have to do. On May 9, at 10:18am, I stood in front of the congregation in my first whitecollared Oxford shirt, black tie, pleated khaki pants, and black dress shoes and recited the books in eighteen seconds flat. None of the girls laughed and none of the boys pointed. Tommy Pokorney clapped along with everyone else, including my parents, who sat in blue jeans and plaid shirts in the back row. After church, Jill Ward’s mother unexpectedly invited my parents (and me) to her house for a congratulatory brunch. I almost swallowed my tongue when my parents accepted the invitation to go
A mounting pressure to punish them infused my bones and supercharged my tongue.
May 2017 and sit in Jill Ward’s parent’s sunflowerwallpaper dining room and eat soggy pot roast and drink warm 2% milk. Jill’s mother rambled on about my victory as if she knew all along that I was going to win and that Jill was going to lose. “Who are you planning to take with you to the state fair?” Jill’s mother asked me. I shrugged. “Well, I know someone who’d really like to go with you.” She and my mother giggled. Jill’s father shook his head. My father, like usual, said nothing. Jill stared blankly ahead, neither giving a look of disgust, nor one of approval. Just boredom. Until she smiled and said, “Congrats, Liplock.” After brunch, Jill’s mother pushed me and Jill out the back door. “Go do whatever it is kids your age are doing these days.” I followed Jill to a patch of wet grass behind an old tool shed where we sat, Indianstyle: face to face, eye to eye, chin to chin. Jill picked a handful of grass and blew from her palm the blades which tickled my face. I closed my eyes and replayed the highlight reel of my eighteen second win: my tickets, my cash, my tongue, my win. “If you show me your tongue I’ll let you touch my boobs for two seconds,” Jill said. I stuck out my tongue and waited. Why not? I was the champion. Have at it. She clamped onto my tongue with two cold fingertips and pressed up and down and side to side. “Well it feels normal.” Then she let go and wiped her fingers on my pants. “Tongues are gross anyway so if I were you, I wouldn’t worry about it.” We sat quiet for a short time, listening to and waving away the sounds of a flyzonechoir. “Well, go ahead,” she said, uplifting her chest. Now that experience was truly a revelation. Revelation. Not one S to slur through. Not one fear to overcome. Just one excellent squeeze for two, maybe three, seconds. Until a light flashed on, and off, in my brain. As for Jill, she never called me Liplock Lonnie again. Unfortunately, she told everyone I touched her boobs. I wanted to deny it, but I wasn’t courageous enough to admit disgust. As for my overbite and lisp, I learned to accept the benefits of speech therapy. Thanks, Mrs. Weggum. As for the tickets to the state fair, I sold them to an upper classman from church who easily convinced me that by going to the state fair, he and his girlfriend would reach their ultimate fantasy. How could I refuse such stupid simplicity? Besides, my parent’s didn’t go to places like the state fair. Looking back, I’d have liked to have seen my parents eat corn dogs and ride a rollercoaster, waving their hands like they just don’t care. As for the fifty dollar bill, I still carry it with me in my wallet. Folded and tucked underneath my driver’s license and credit cards, it leads me back home, sometimes in tears, to that wildly frightening, madly exhilarating, spiritually innocent, tonguetwisted gloriousness.
About the author Samuel Cole lives in Woodbury, MN, where he finds work in special event management. He is a poet, flash fiction geek, and essayist enthusiast.
How to Hold Your Head Up By Jacob Paul Patchen
Stop watching where your feet go. Aimless steps into the shadows of a burnt out hallway light, too high to reach, too high to care, tripping over angled hurdles placed there by a careless moon; gilded in the darkness for the lost to find; armored, and shining for your curses and flying stones. Aim high when you’re desperate. Pot shots at the moon, at the sun, both too bright for your dark thoughts. Angry haymakers wild at a wall that is there to hold up the shell that you are. And now you swing holes into it, like a lunatic aiming to break, you shatter. Cold on the dark floor, you look up for help.
About the author Jacob Paul Patchen was born and raised outside of Byesville, Ohio where he spent his youth tormenting babysitters and hiding in trees. Patchen earns his inspiration through experience, where he writes abundantly about love, war, sex, and drinking. Jacob is a poet, blogger, author, and combat veteran. He has been published by several journals including GFT Presents: One in Four, 0Dark Thirty, and The American Journal of Poetry. Follow him on his website Jacobpaulpatchen.com, Twitter @jacobpaulpatchn, and Instgram @jacobpaulpatchen. 21
Fabric By Lynette G. Esposito
Yo Yo birds seam the sky quilted to the clouds. A blanket folds itself invisible fingers rub the unseen edges. All the warmth of the universe is stitched into scraps of white and blue and you wrapped up there somewhere asleep— I down here stitching with my eyes, a needle so fine it does not glint slides through reality with its sharp point to reach the other side your story still being told in the images set into the fabric I hold in my mind.
About the author Lynette G. Esposito has recently been published in Haiku Journal, Fox Chase Review, and Right Hand Pointing. She lives with her husband, Attilio, in New Jersey. 22
When the Train Stops By Dennis J. Kafalas The new kid was dead. Tommy and I were talking about Yaz and the Red Sox when Bonehead said, “Look.” Bonehead, the meanest seventh grade jerk at Saint OilyFishes Grammar School, didn’t like fourth graders. With an overbite and bulging eyes, he looked like a snapping turtle. The kid leaned against the school door with his creased gray school pants, blue clipon tie, and freshly ironed white shirt—he might as well have held a sign: New kid! New kid! His hair was course and wiry, and his cheeks were bright red. “Hey, Brillo Boy,” Bonehead said, but the kid didn’t look. He hugged his book bag, waiting. When the morning bell sounded, I ran with Bonehead, but Sister MarieLooksLikea Man grabbed my collar and stuck me in line. I was behind the kid, his neck and ears shiny. I figured he’d was in second grade, but his polished black shoes shuffled into my classroom and waited by Sister Marie’s desk. Tommy said, “Fourth?” We stared. The kid looked at his hands, whispers buzzing, until Sister came. She had hair on her lip and chin, and made us stand in the corner if we forgot our milk money or talked in class. The kid 23
May 2017 wasn’t lucky to be in this class. “Children, a new student for Saint Aloysius.” Grabbing his arm, Sister tugged him forward. He was close to my desk, his warm breath on my neck. “Peter Stankowski. What do we say?” “Good Morning, Peter.” “There’s a month of work for him. Anyone want to help?” Annoying Amanda’s hand reached for the ceiling, “Oh! Oh!” “Franklin, you’ll help. Peter can sit behind you.” “But that’s Michael’s seat,” Tommy said. Sister Marie’s black eyes glared. “Were you asked a question?” Peter put a little kid’s book, Our Friends on The Train, onto the desk. The cover had a blue and black locomotive with smoke drifting skyward, waiting for passengers. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance, then our prayer, “Jesus is the Light of the World, a Light which never knows darkness,” to start the day. I was nervous about helping, but after Sister collected lunch money, the morning went fast. He was good in math, but took a long time writing numbers. He moaned as he moved the pencil in short, twitchy jabs. “Kid’s smart,” I said to Tommy in the cafeteria. “Just takes long.” “I was in public school before,” the kid said later. “What’s with the train book?” I asked. He shrugged. “Just like it,” he said, his fingers tangled around the spout of small milk carton. He lived with his grandmother in a first floor tenement on Benevolent Street because his parents wanted him to, “It’s closer to the doctor’s office,” he said. “Plus, they like the school.” “Like the school?” Tommy said. “That’s weird.” “You sick?” I said. “Sometimes.” “What you got?” He sniffed the milk. “Something I was born with.” He took a small bite from a ham sandwich. “Going to eat those?” Tommy asked, pointing to five Oreos. He shook his head, and I felt the eyes of others upon us. “Hey, Brillo Boy,” Bonehead said. He and his jerky seventh grade friends, Jimmy, Michael and John stared at us. Bonehead was the loud mouth, but John was scary. No one messed with him, not even the Sisters, who’d smack a kid for breathing. I laughed at him once and he grabbed my neck, squishing it like a banana. At dismissal, the kid waited for me. I smiled, then saw Bonehead. “See you,” I said. The kid turned for home. Bonehead and the goons ran behind a row of tenement houses. “Here we go,” Tommy said. The kid, with his shoulders forward and chin pointed down, walked along Ascension Street. Tommy and I took the shortcut. We waited across the street under a porch until he kid came along, kicking at rocks. Bonehead grabbed him, and they disappeared into the alley behind the fish market. We hustled closer. John stood on the sidewalk with a cigarette. Bonehead pushed the kid against the wall, grabbed his bag and dumped it. “Like trains, little baby?” 24
He pressed the book against the kid’s face, then dropped it. “Pick it up,” but the kid didn’t. Jimmy stomped on it. “Go ahead,” Bonehead said, motioning to the book. “It’s okay.” The kid reached, his fingers dangling, when Jimmy slammed a knee into the kid’s gut. He fell, thump, to the ground. Bonehead checked the kid’s pockets. “Nothing,” he said. They dumped a barrel full of sticky trash on him. We waited until they ran off, laughing and whooping. Once they were out of sight, Tommy and I went to him. He was on his side, eyes closed. “Hey, kid,” Tommy said, but he didn’t move. I grabbed the book. The cover had an oily sneaker print, and a few pages were torn. Between the houses of the alley, I saw the white Catholic cross of Saint OilyFishes high above the tenement rooftops, shining in the autumn sunlight. “Kid,” Tommy said, shaking his shoulder. He opened his eyes. Pebbles stuck to the skin of his forehead, and his nose bled from a scratch. “Let’s go,” I said, but the kid didn’t move. “Come on. There’s a shortcut.” His arms and legs then jerked like someone yelled, boo! He shook his head. Dazed, he wiped blood onto his shirtsleeve. Tommy and I ran ahead. We waited for him by the wooded opening near an abandoned cemetery. When the kid was close, we jumped into the shadows. ”This way,” Tommy said. He paused and looked down at the dirt path winding into the darkness. A bolt of guck flew from of his mouth, splashing at his feet. He leaned forward, head bobbing, mouth open. Finally, he stopped, and we called to him. Looking back at Ascension Street, he sighed. The kid stepped ahead like someone sticking a toe into cold water. “Bonehead sees us, we’re goners,” Tommy said, walking fast. The kid followed behind, breathing hard. When we reached the end, I pointed to Benevolent Street on the right. Blotches of mud and grease stained his pants and shirt. His face was covered with blood and snot. He wiped the streaky tears from his eyes as he walked home. # The kid wasn’t in the next day, or the day after. On Thursday, he came to school. After recess, Sister kept Tommy and me in the hall. “Who hurt Peter? Was it Tony or John?” It was a sin to lie and, wow, this was a big one. “Don’t know,” I said, feeling a mark burned onto my heart. “Tommy?” she asked. He shook his head. “Right hands, please,” she said, pulling a thick maple ruler from the pocket of her habit. She looked at us, her eyes focused and unblinking for so long my hand began to shake. One solid slap sent a shock of pain up to my shoulder. I stuffed my fist into my pocket and took slow breaths. Finally, she said. “That’s for lying.” As she walked away, I whispered to Tommy, “We’re okay. We didn’t rat.” Lucky for me, Dad was on the road. He knew when I wasn’t telling the truth, and said I shouldn’t 25
May 2017 play poker. If he found out about the kid, he’d make me tell Sister. Later, in bed, I added up all the sins I’d committed, and knew I’d have to lie about them during confession. If I died now, I’d go straight to hell. # I woke with a plan. What was the big deal anyway? It wasn’t like we didn’t get picked on at Oily Fishes—the kid’d be okay. As it was, Bonehead didn’t bother him, he knew better. The Sisters had Bonehead and his goons pegged, so they had to lay low. Helping him with schoolwork was easy—the best part of it was the red and white peppermint candy he’d slip to me when Sister wasn’t looking. Before long, we were friends. We sat together at lunch, played at recess and walked home by Park Avenue, a busy street. On Saturday, I met his grandmother, Babcia. She had white hair and kept a rosary in the pocket of a pink housecoat. Outside, he tried my bike. I helped him onto the seat, but he couldn’t push the pedals hard, so we gave up. Later, while sitting on the porch, he whispered that he liked Amanda. “Yuck!” I said, and the kid laughed like I’d tickled his belly. He always wore new sneakers. “Got lots of them,” he said, because his mom and dad worked at a shoe factory. “Do you miss them?” “Yeah,” he said. “How about you? You’re dad’s gone a lot, huh?” I nodded. “Sometimes for over a week,” I said. “How long you staying here?” The kid shrugged. “Until the doc says I’m okay. Go twice a week.” He held out his right arm and pointed to the red scabs on his pale skin. “Take blood from here.” “Does it hurt?” “I’m used to it,” he said, hiding the marks with the flannel sleeve of his shirt. Later, we shared baseball cards and ate sugar cookies until it was time for the kid to rest. In bed, he rolled onto his side and fell asleep. Babcia stood in the doorway, her eyes shiny. In the kitchen she said, “Always so tired . . . Come again, okay?” “Sure.” I hopped onto my bike and zipped home, pretending I was on a motorcycle and the police were after me. The kid wasn’t in church on Sunday or in school Monday or Tuesday. On Wednesday, we made getwell cards, and Sister asked if I would bring them. I said yes, and my chest swelled. I marched home. “Not contagious, is it?” Mom asked, as I was leaving. “Don’t want you sick.” “Nah. His arm’s broke.” Oops, another sin. I knocked, and Babcia opened the door. “Brought these from school.” Her hair stuck out from behind her ears, and her face was sweaty. The house was dark. Blankets covered the windows, and the radiators hissed. Sweat curled on her lip. “Peter’s in bed,” she said. “Hey, Kid.” He was under the covers, sipping orange juice from a straw. His cheeks were red. “Aren’t you hot?”
"Does it hurt?" "I'm used to it," he said...
I put the envelope on his blankets by the train book, open in the middle. “Can I see?” I asked. It wasn’t much, just a boy taking a train ride to visit a cousin. The conductor promises he’ll get the boy to the last stop, “Providence Station.” “Like Rhode Island,” I said. The kid’s initials, “P.S.” stood in shaky, inky letters on the inside cover.The boy on the train tags along with the conductor where, at each stop, a fireman, baker, farmer, doctor or police officer steps off. The conductor thanks them for either baking bread, growing food or for protecting others. As the train approaches each station, the boy asks, “Is this it?” but the conductor shakes his head. “No, it’s the last stop,” he says. “But it stops all the time!” Finally, the train reaches the Providence Station, and the conductor thanks a priest for a safe journey. The last scene is of two smiling boys standing together, the sun, bright orange, low against a wide, freckled sea. After the kid read the cards, he smiled. His eyes were gray, and the skin around his neck sagged. “What do you want to play?” I asked. He pointed to the cap on the floor near the window. We scaled baseball cards. He wasn’t very good, so I won easy. Sometimes he’d sigh, then rest. I wait, too, when he stared wideeyed at something, somewhere. Finally, I said, “I like the book. Ever been on a train?” “No.” Babcia brought two pieces of yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I ate my piece and the kid’s. I put the plate and one empty glass on the kitchen counter. Babcia sat in a rocking chair by a figurine of The Virgin Mary. . With her eyes closed, she moved rosary beads through her fingers, her lips moving in silent prayer. Her chair creaked to the rhythm of a ticking grandfather clock. The kid lay curled on his bed, small like a doll. “Don’t you like milk?” I asked. He looked at me, eyes big. “What do you want to be some day?” “A motorcycle racer.” “No baseball?” “Oh. That too. You?” “A ship captain,” he said. “Like the big ones that go all over.” “Trains?” “No.” He flipped to the book’s last page. He ran his finger over the setting sun. “Just like how it ends,” he said. “Plus, there’s an ocean.” I promised to visit the next day. “Sorry you got beat up,” I said, but he didn’t answer. He’d already pulled the lumpy comforter over his shoulders, his body hidden. So small, like the world was too big for him. During recess, Bonehead grabbed my collar. “Frankiewankie and his little pal reading baby books.” The goons circled us. “That kid’s creepy,” Jimmy said. “Better not go there.” “Why?”
The conductor promises he'll get the boy to the last stop.
May 2017 Bonehead pulled me closer, socking my gut hard. “Because, that’s why.” “Sister!” Tommy yelled. “Stay away from that leper.” John said. He punched my shoulder, “Get it?” I nodded. I’d been afraid before at the movies. Sometimes it was a bad dream, or a bang at night, but that’s all. At lunch, John smacked his fist into his hand—pow! Bonehead and the goons got to me. By dismissal, I’d decided. I broke my promise; he’d understand, right? Another sin. Later, I sat in the living room, watching “The Little Rascals” on television. The door was locked and bolted. I stayed away from the windows, and shuffled baseball cards. I tried not to think about the kid, but I got jumpy. How would Bonehead know? He wasn’t God! Still, I waited. Tomorrow, for sure, I’d visit. I’d say, “Sorry, kid. Sister kept me after for swearing at Bonehead.” He’d like that. I felt better. I got the willies again the next day, but went on Thursday. Wearing my older brother’s jacket and hat, I took his bike. I pedaled fast, zipping through an intersection. The blankets were down from the windows, and the kitchen was bright. Looks like the kid’s better. Babcia came to the door. “Peter not here. Home,” she said. I stood, surprised. “Come,” she said, turning from the door. I sat at a shiny metal table. The kid’s room was empty. “For you,” she said, handing to me a thank you note and the kid’s book. The note, in his shaky script read, “Sister M., Thanks, P.” “Please give to teacher,” Babcia said. “The book, too?’ “No. For you.” “But, I— She pushed it to me. She smiled and I couldn’t say no. Maybe a little kid’d want it. I sat for a while eating ginger snaps. Babcia brought milk. “Peter’s feeling better?” I asked. She sighed, then looked at her hands. The clocked ticked. “Yah.” “I’m glad.” Riding home, it was tricky holding onto the handlebars, and I almost chucked the book into a dumpster. I hid it in the closet under my Easter shoes, the dust making me sneeze. I’d miss the kid, but no crap with Bonehead and his goons was nice, too. By the time we’d returned from the Thanksgiving break, we’d stopped talking about the kid. One day, before Christmas, a tendollar bill fell out of Bonehead’s pocket when he left the lunchroom. Later, I hid it inside the kid’s book. Another sin! A week before Easter, Mom and I went to Sunday Mass, and I saw Babcia. She lit a votive candle. “Mom! That’s the kid’s babcia,” I said, as she slowly walked to the first pew. “Who?” “The sick kid from school.” After mass, I waited with Mom in the foyer. Babcia walked, a trembling hand on each pew, as she passed. “How’s Peter?” I asked. “Oh,” she said, squinting her eyes. “I’m Franklin’s mother,” Mom said. She nodded. Babcia’s eyes watered. “Oh. He’s a good boy.” 28
“I’m sorry,” Mom said. Babcia held Mom’s hands in hers, squeezed, then let go. The old woman’s cramped, bony fingers hung for a moment in midair, trembling. Babcia turned. She stepped onto the staircase, legs bent, pointy knuckles tight on the rail. “Sorry for what?” I asked. “Nothing. Just something grownups say.” # It was Bonehead who told me. “Hey, Frankiewankie, your little leper friend croaked.” “Did not.” “Did too!” By the time I found Sister, I had tears in my eyes. We sat in the office and waited for Mom. “I never thought he’d die,” I said. I leaned against Sister, who wrapped me into the black cloth of her long habit. Later, she said to Mom, “Franklin truly was a blessing.” As the days went on I thought, why did Sister pick me to help? I was sad for a while, then decided that school stunk and the Jesus stuff was a waste of time. I got jumpy in class. Instead of doing my work, I’d look out the window, or try to get Tommy’s attention. I was fresh to Sister and talked during lessons. I called Bonehead a stupid jerk, and got a bloody nose for it. I wasn’t a blessing. Most of my recess time was spent in the corner on my knees. In May, Mom came to school. “He’s going to stay back,” Sister said, “unless— Anger exploded within me. I stood and banged on the desk with my fists. “Franklin!” Mom said. I pounded the desk again. Mom and Sister went into the hallway, and I waited. Hands sore, I sat, head in my arms, blackness all around. I was weak, tired. For a moment, I felt the kid behind me. Mom shook me and said, “It’s okay. Let’s go,” and she led me by the arm. The next morning, I woke to find the kid’s book by my pillow, its shiny cover bright in the early morning shadows. I tossed it aside, the book flipping open to the last page. Written above the cousin was, “F.” The other boy had two red crayon dots for cheeks and, above his head, was a shaky gold halo like an angel’s. I smiled, the kid was funny like that. In fifth grade, Sister Marie became my friend. I’d go to her classroom and sit when I was jumpy or mad. After school on Wednesday, I’d meet her in the chapel. I’d asked what to pray for and she’d say, “To let Jesus into your heart, and for Peter.” So I did, but it didn’t matter. Babcia had prayed, but the kid was gone. Kneeling next to Sister, though, close to the soft whispers from her lips, I’d let my mind rest. In the hushed quiet of the chapel, I hoped I’d never die. In sixth grade, the diocese closed OilyFishes. On the last day, I brought the kid’s book to school. Sister read the last page. “He was your friend. How nice.” “I know who hurt him, but didn’t tell.” “And still he gave you a gift,” she said, pointing to the “F.” I nodded. “It wasn’t right.” “Have you confessed?” Hate filled my mouth. “No!” I said, shaking my head. “Why’d you ask me to help him?” “Because you’re a good boy.” 29
May 2017 “It wasn’t fair.” She stood by the window, her black veil and tunic like a long, dark shadow in the daylight. “It was God’s plan,” she said. “Great plan.” “Some respect, please.” “Right. So important, God had to take him.” She closed her eyes, and I thought she was angry. I put the kid’s book in my bag and grabbed my cap. She took a deep breath, and her eyelids fluttered. “It’s not for us to know,” she said, wiping at a tear. I held my hand out—I was too big to hug anymore—and said, “Goodbye.” She brushed my fingers aside and wrapped her arms around me. She whispered, “Be good.” # Tommy and I went to public school in September, and we never saw Sister again. I gave up on the sin business—too many to count. By ninth grade, Tommy was strong enough to play varsity football. In the hall one day, he slammed his shoulder into Bonehead’s chest. Tommy held him against a locker as he struggled to breathe, then let him slide to the floor. “Was that for the kid?” I asked. Tommy, his eyes gleaming said, “Who?” Bonehead sat on the long corridor floor, arms around his waist, as others casually walked by. I thought of the kid, a small lump in his bed, and a world too big. # Later, when packing for college, I found Our Friends on The Train stuffed into the corner of my closet. The greasy shoe print on the cover had faded, but the tendollar bill was clean and crisp. I reread the story, happy for the comfort it brought him. The kid was always looking ahead, waiting and hoping. Maybe, in heaven, he was sailing a boat on the ocean. Before leaving home, I tucked the book into my college backpack. Pretty smart of him to leave it for me, but the kid was like that. He knew darkness, but lived with light.
About the author Dennis J. Kafalas is the author of Spending A Day, Shoreline Anthology (Stillwater River Press, 2016), An Obvious Life (Dare Empire EMedia ebook, 2012), Whale Pirates, (Debut Press trade paperback, 2003; ebook, 2012) and Inspired Learners, Active Minds: A Guide for The English Classroom (Rowman&Littlefield Educational Publishers, 2009). To learn more, please visit denniskafalas.com 30
Dusk Â Monument Valley, Utah
by David J. Thompson
About the photographer David J. Thompson grew up in Hyde Park, New York, and currently lives in Chapel Hill,
North Carolina. His work has appeared in a number of magazines, both in print and online. His interests include movies, jazz, and minor league baseball. Find him online at http://ninemilephoto.com.
Clowns in Love By Tushar Jain hiding from the circusÂmaster and his angry, braided whip, and peering over the seaÂlions jumping through hoops dripping with fire, the clowns fell in love at sundown, under a crimson moon, lit in the dayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s receding sounds, the clowns met and talked behind the tent of the Galician leper, who could ground a record between his teeth, and belch out music, like a turntable over the month, they met secretly, at times, in the iguana dens, or the deserted buggy of the bearded woman, and at times, made love amid a litter of sleeping cats who had been trained to moan, the scores of an operetta
then, one rainy day, when the sternbacked circusmaster noticed that the clowns had eloped to the hills on his pristine Persian rug, he, livid, wrung apart his leather whip, and burst into a flight of swallows, that dissolved in the rain since then, every year, when autumn razes the colour from the mango leaves, and drains the hibiscus near the shore, the clouds, scudding like water over the red hills, the glades, the clearings seared in the forest, bring in wisps of a clown’s laughter, holding its breath, held deep under love
About the author Tushar Jain is an Indian poet, playwright, and author. He was the winner of the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize, 2012 and a winner of the Poetry with Prakriti Prize, 2013. Subsequently, he won the RL Poetry Award, 2014. He was a winner of the DWL Short Story Contest 2014 for his short story A Humiliating Day for [Dr.] Balachander. He won the Toto Funds the Arts Award for Creative Writing, 2016. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Antiserious, The Nervous Breakdown, Read Leaf Poetry, Papercuts Magazine, Streetcake Magazine, The Sierra Nevada Review, The Young Ravens Literary Review and elsewhere. 34
Pinks By Nancy Gold Carved wooden masks leered from the first gallery window, roughhewn, angry faces seven or eight feet tall, with bulging eyes and protruding tongues. In the next, sat a row of delicate clay bowls, small pink spheres that could nestle in cupped hands. “Look,” said Julia, “each pink the smallest possible variation from the one before. Like an awareness of time, the passage of each instant as different from the one before, the one after, and the next.” Paul admired this about Julia, her ability to see things that didn’t always make sense to him, even after she had explained them. He peered at the bowls, but they all looked the same to him. Paul tried to walk on, but Julia pulled him back. “You don’t see it, do you?” Paul wanted to say of course, but he preferred to mark the passage of time by his watch; it was ever so much more convenient than pink clay pots. Instead he said “No,” then felt ashamed at having told the truth. “I attended the opening of the exhibit,” Julia said. “Heard the artist speak about his process. He said it’s like when you first realize you’re in love. One moment everything is as it has been, full of possibilities, but the next—you know that you’re in love; that one moment has separated who you had been from who, from then on, you would be.” Paul looked to the last window, hoping to find inspiration for a response. It contained empty wooden shelves, staggered from the top left to the bottom right of the space. He couldn't tell if they were part of an unfinished display, or the art themselves. He turned to Julia and took her hands. "Coffee?" he asked. * Paul had met Julia on the bus. He noticed her as soon as she boarded. Blonde hair spilled past her shoulders and a knit hat perched high on her head, leaving her ears bright red from the cold. When 35
May 2017 Paul stood to offer Julia his seat, a short woman with a pinched face slipped by and settled into the spot with a grunt. Paul had stood in the aisle behind Julia and thought about what it would feel like to cover her ears, to feel them warm beneath his hands. Months later he still liked riding the bus with Julia, his shoulder pressed against hers, their bodies swaying together as they lurched through the city. * Standing in line at the coffee shop, Paul felt a tug on his sleeve. He looked down at a woman wearing a purple hat inundated with silk flowers, ribbons, and a viciously yellow canary. Paul put his arm around Julia and turned her to face the elderly woman. “You remember me telling you about my neighbors, don’t you?” he said. “Julia, this is Rose. She and her sister, Pearl, live in the apartment below mine. Rose, this is Julia." Rose smiled at Julia and fluttered her false eyelashes at Paul. The bottom row of lashes leaned down at the end, almost brushing her cheek. “Where’s Pearl?" asked Paul. “It’s always been hard to get her to come out, and now that she’s getting older, it’s harder than ever.” Julia flashed a smile at Paul when Rose said “older.” Silver hair peeked from beneath Rose's hat, and fine wrinkles textured her face. “I think it’s on account of her broken heart.” “I’m sorry to hear that,” said Julia. “Would you like to join me?” asked Rose. “No, no more coffee for me, thank you. But I recommend the apricot scones. They are very fresh today.” They got their coffee and sat down across from Rose. “How did Pearl’s heart get broken?” Julia asked. “It was so many years ago, but I don’t think she’s ever gotten over it. Poor Pearl, she never married. My Morty and me, we had a good life together, God rest his soul.” Her lower lip trembled. Paul nodded and smiled at Rose. “Pearl was engaged to be married once. I was pregnant then with my son Monroe. He’s a car salesman now, out in Iowa. I hardly see my grandchildren, but Monroe makes sure I get a new car, every other year.” “And Pearl?” Julia asked. “Oh yes, Pearl. She’s my older sister, actually. She was twentythree and still unmarried, and there I was with my daughter Lindy, a year old, and Monroe on the way. Said she couldn’t find anyone who suited her. But when Lawrence came along, she fell hard and she fell fast. He came to town in August, and by the end of September they were planning a spring wedding. “He brought Pearl flowers every day. So many flowers. Daisies. Lilies. Even roses, one time. My Morty, he wasn’t much for giving flowers. Said there were plenty out in the garden, if I ever wanted any. My Morty was a salesman, and away most of the time, so Pearl moved in to help me with the children. Pearl and Lawrence did most of their courting in my garden. They planted tulip bulbs before he left, dozens and dozens of tulip bulbs. They talked together as they dug in the dirt, leaned their heads together as they scrubbed the soil from under their fingernails. I was glad to see Pearl with a man, and to see her so happy. I cooked briskets and hams and roasted chickens, baked sweet rolls and pies. Every evening I enjoyed her happiness at my table. “He needed to go back home to settle some business, Lawrence told us, before he could marry 36
Pearl. They would pick out a little house when he came back; until then, she would stay with us. He put a diamond ring on her finger, small but a diamond all the same, and told her he’d be back by the time their tulips bloomed in the spring. Pearl spent the winter embroidering pillowcases and tablecloths for her trousseau.” Julia turned a packet of Sweet ‘N Low over in her hands. “He never returned. The day the first tulip opened its petals Pearl said, ‘Why that flower must be ahead of its time.’ But day by day more of the flowers opened, and then dropped their petals. Still no word came. The tulips bloomed each spring, the children grew older, and so did we. Men tried to court Pearl, good men.” The bird on her hat nodded along with Rose. “But Pearl insisted she was an engaged woman, that she had promised to marry Lawrence, and she would wait for him for as long as it took him to return.Monroe and Lindy grew up and moved away. After my Morty passed four years ago, God rest his soul, Pearl and I decided to move into town. So now we live in the apartment below Paul.” Rose gathered her bags and wrapped the rest of her scone in a napkin. "For Pearl," she said. Julia had lined up packets of Sweet ‘N Low across the table. Paul covered Julia’s hand with his own, and she looked up at him. "Have you ever been in love?" she asked. Paul thought about the ragged pink construction paper heart he had given his mother for Valentine’s Day when he was five, and that had hung for months, limp and faded, on the refrigerator. Of Theresa, a girl who lived down the street when they were both twelve, and how he'd thought his heart would beat its way out of his chest when she gave him his first kiss. Paul had cried when his dog died, even though he was seventeen by then and thought he was too old for tears. He hadn't answered when Julia stood up. “I can’t decide if that story about Pearl is romantic, or foolish,” she said. As they left the coffee shop, Paul tried to take Julia’s hand, but she twisted away from him so that he missed, and his hand swung empty through the air. * Weeks passed before Paul saw Julia on the bus a second time. He stood up as she neared, oblivious to the open seats around them. She smiled and took a seat next to the one he'd vacated. After a few blocks she said, "You can sit down." Paul blushed when he noticed the empty spaces around them, but still sat down next to her. "I'm Julia," she said, and offered him her hand. "Paul." She got off at the next stop. Paul spent the rest of his ride wishing he had thought to take his glove off before he shook her hand. * Julia was quiet as Paul walked her home from the coffee shop. At first this was a relief to Paul, but when he said "See you tomorrow?" Julia simply shrugged and unlocked the door to her apartment building. Paul stood outside until he saw the light go on in her apartment. The next day he stopped at a little grocery store to pick up flowers for Julia. He held roses to his nose and smelled the greenery, and the plastic wrapping, but no sweetness. He realized they had been 37
May 2017 bred just for their color. Just for their pink. He looked at the other flowers. Each petal a different shape, a different size, a different color. Like the bowls at the art gallery, realized Paul. He gathered up as many bunches of the flowers as he could carry, carnations and daisies and mums and tulips and roses and lilies and alstroemeria. Everything the market had in pink. He rode the bus to Julia’s apartment, noticing the differences between the things he passed, things he had passed hundreds of times before. He saw how one brick differed from another on the side of the car wash. How each slab of the sidewalk varied in its tracing of cracks and stains. He observed the people sitting around him; how each set of lips and eyes, each nose and ear and hand varied one from the next; even the back of each head, bobbing and swaying before him.Why maybe, Paul thought, even each hair on each of those heads may be different, and he had to check the urge to go and examine each one, and content himself to look a little closer at the head just in front of him. A thinning spot on the crown afforded him a glimpse of a pink scalp. Paul called Julia. He would be there in a moment. After several rings, she answered. “Not today, Paul. I’ll call you later.” “The pinks, Julia. I understand the pinks now.” “Not now.” Paul stood and walked to the front of the bus as they neared the stop in front of Julia’s apartment. He looked up. A man’s face appeared in her window, looking down at the bus. Paul swayed, caught a hang strap. “On or off?’’ said the driver. Paul could feel the other riders watching him. Where were they all going? He fell into an empty seat with the flowers. The driver shut the door and drove on. * When he arrived back home, Paul paused before Rose and Pearl’s door. He looked down at the flowers, and then turned and walked up the stairs to his own apartment. He dumped the flowers onto his little balcony, and sat amid the bruised and ragged blooms before he picked up a bunch of carnations and shredded them over the railing. He twisted the heads from roses, tore off each petal, and tossed them away. He pulled apart the tulips and the daisies and the mums and made a great pile of the petals, which he scooped up in both hands and held over the railing. Bit by bit he allowed the stamens and pistils and petals and leaves to fall from his fingers. From the apartment below he heard Pearl call out, “Oh Rose, come and see!” She pulled the drapery open and the sisters stood side by side. “All these flowers falling from heaven.”
About the author Nancy Gold lives and works on the south shore of Lake Superior. She is currently working on a series of essays about traumatic brain injury. 38
Grandmother and Al By Roshanda Johnson Once she was the only colored cook behind the counter at Woolworth. Now she heats up empty frying pans, her thoughts so scrambled that they don’t turn over easy. She clings to the scrap quilt my mama gave her. Perhaps it reminds her of time. Once she wore new suits from Joskey’s, chocolate nylon pantyhose, twoinch squaretoed chu’ch heels and hats that reached toward Heaven like the holy hands of the sistuhs on her pew. Now she wears urine soaked adult diapers and the green “I lost my mind in Vegas” shirt my cousin gave her last July. Once she captivated young neighbors gathered on her porch with her accounts of war with Arkansas rattlesnakes. She’d entangle them in the wiry stories of her youth just as wild ivies had once entangled her in the fields where she played. Now she grows tales from the seeds of hallucination. Once she pottytrained us, ran our bathwater, and cleaned our ears with Epsom salt. Now she cannot find her way along the corridors of her own temple. We run her bathwater, soak her disjointed memories in our tears, and shift the tracks of our words in attempts to rerail her train of thought. 39
May 2017 Once she dreamed of seeing all her grandchildren graduate with college degrees. Now there are so many degrees of separation between lucid moments that her grandchildren cannot travel the circumference. Once she was my salvation from my parents. Now she sits in a paisley chair, puzzled by her return to the womb. Yet sometimes, alerted by the sound of my keys in the door, she stands and asks, Kookalocha, would you like some MaltoMeal? And I know, somewhere, Granny’s spark is eternal.
About the author Born Roshanda Johnson on November 10, 1979 and raised on the north side of Houston, Texas, Sean came to know poetry at the age of six when her mother read to her from Nikki Giovanni’s Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day. From them on, she developed an insatiable love for the written and spoken word. Later in life, she slammed and performed spoken word throughout the country as well as starred in several local plays. Sean recently starred as Vanessa in the stage play Millicent Bradford: Adoption Story. In 2014, Sean’s poem Rearview Mirror was nominated for The Pushcart Prize in Poetry. In addition to her poetic endeavors, she is also a painter, teacher, rock star auntie, and humanitarian. Sean is known for her monthly homeless outreach ministry, and has recently begun a disaster relief program as part of the Body Gurlz Club. All My Heroes Were Assassinated is her second complete collection of poetry and she has been published in 18 anthologies worldwide. Follow her on her website: http://rizzo2d4.wordpress.com, Twitter: @ToFlyFour, and Instagram: @tooflyfor. 40
Party By Matt Kolbet Nicole was in a bad mood. Sarah had called on Wednesday to ask if they could possibly make it. “I’ve got everything planned for eight people, but Tom and Maria can’t make it. Some family thing, they say.” That Nicole did not know who Tom or Maria were, one more matched pair circulating on the social calendar, confirmed her outsider status. “Yes, okay,” she’d replied weakly, thinking of other plans that had to be put on hold: continued work on the kitchen cabinets, a new book she’d started. It saved having to make dinner, though. And there would likely be good wine. “Oh, thank you,” Sarah said. She sounded grateful. Friday arrived and they were late for the party. Though she considered herself young, just over forty, this tardiness seemed a denunciation. The party was a way to proclaim their continued relevance to the world: they went places together and they were invited. But then, this invitation had only come because someone else canceled. Like the humidity, the traffic on Friday had been heavier than expected. The world moved sluggishly. Yet when they pulled onto Sarah’s block, they were surprised to find a few empty spaces on the downtown streets. Joe said they’d never parked so close. “Maybe we aren’t the latest ones.” Nicole pushed the car next to several garbage cans already queued up for morning. Someone would have to truck out the paper plates and napkins when the evening was over. It wasn’t just how much people still threw away, but how quickly such removal took place. She let her seatbelt retract automatically; the metal tongue hit the doorframe a moment before she banged her door closed. Best to keep moving. Joe winced and shut his door softly. Nicole had knocked twice before he caught up with her. “It’ll be fine,” he reassured her. A woman they did not recognize opened the door. Nicole hadn’t asked who else was invited, but this woman was a bilious omen, with her red, wrinkled face. She must be nearly sixty. Sarah’s 41
May 2017 telephoned invitation began to feel fragile and papery. “Oh.” The woman’s expression, simultaneously vacant and alarmed, made it apparent she had been waiting for someone else, someone who wouldn’t make her want to lock up the silver. “We’re here for the party.” Nicole attempted to be graceful, in case this woman was catering the affair, hiding the lack of charity in her thoughts. Hired help felt extravagant. Perhaps Sarah’s husband was doing better than expected. Nicole introduced herself and stepped past the woman. There might yet be something to gain from her Friday evening, a chance to cement a wellheeled relationship. “That’s Joe,” she added as an afterthought. Joe nodded a hello. Yes, right,” said the woman. “I’ll just…” She withdrew to the back of the house, leaving them on the edge of the small mudroom. Nicole’s mood worsened. Parties depended on foot traffic and conversations that moved, yet she was trapped, waiting with the husband she saw every day. The only light came from a standing lamp in the living room. Nicole wheeled on Joe, angry she could not find cause for blame. Neither of them closed the front door. It was August, when late evening parties were advisable against the day’s heat. Somehow, Nicole felt they were too early. A man in the next yard was mowing his lawn. Coupled with the sound of the air conditioning rushing through the house, the world buzzed with life. For nearly a minute they remained motionless, waiting for the next cue. “Should we take off our shoes?” Joe asked. There was a short bench with room for footwear. A few heels poked out from it. “You might,” observed Nicole. “Sarah’s very particular about her carpets.” She set her purse down, having no intention of removing her own shoes, which helped complete her outfit, their black twinned with her blouse. Earlier Joe had asked if the outfit wasn’t a little dark for a summer party. Nicole contemplated explaining fashion’s foibles and quickly let the thought pass. Recalling the conversation, she said, “I think I saw some gorse crowding the driveway. She needs a gardener. More than she needs a cook, anyway. Make sure none of the thorns stuck on your cuffs.” “Is that who she was?” Joe glanced at his pant legs. When he caught Nicole staring at him, he kept his head down, partially to avoid her gaze. He bent over and made a show of smoothing his clothes. The woman rejoined them. She wore a parka, precautionary attire for the warm night in case a thunderstorm broke. “It’s good of you to come,” she said, as though this sentiment explained everything. “Very, very good. And since you’re here, I think I’ll be going.” “Going?” asked Joe. Nicole cut her eyes at him. He was as foolish as when she had married him. It grated more now. In those early days she had been too enamored to notice how cloddish he could be. She’d thought his bumbling was cute. Though she had misjudged this woman’s role, Joe had no cause to interrogate. “I’m Mrs. King.” The woman pointed to the other side of the street. “I live just there, the yellow house. I don’t like to leave Walter too long on his own, or his mind starts going in circles.” Her account concluded, she thanked them once more and walked out. Dusk had come and gone. They could just make out her silhouette moving steadily across the pavement. She opened the front door of the yellow house, forcing a rectangle of light into the night before the illumination disappeared. The mowing neighbor had finished with his lawn. In the ensuing quiet Nicole could have sworn she heard Mrs. King lock her door. Something clicked. “Maybe the party is another night,” suggested Joe. Nicole began to laugh, an unpleasant cackle like stones scraping. “What?” he asked. “You. This. It’s all just…too funny.” 42
Joe appeared not to see the humor of the moment. “We get a lastminute invitation,” said Nicole, “and when we arrive we meet a stranger. It’s like something in a movie.” She couldn’t say what she would have done if Sarah hadn’t arrived to close the front door and force them from the entryway. “Oh, you’re here.” Sarah had come out wearing a tattered bathrobe. Neither the clothes nor the greeting were what Nicole anticipated, but she saw that Sarah had been crying and hurried to her side. Joe did the same. Nicole noticed, with pleasure, Joe had removed his shoes. “What’s going on? Where’s Andrew?” Nicole’s mind had a habit of wandering; she easily imagined a world where husbands abused their wives. But in her version, women fought back immediately, not enduring years of battering. Instead, they crossed the threshold when they met it. She knew her disposition made her seem aggressive to her coworkers, even to Joe. She had never minded. “Andrew’s dead,” Sarah said. Nicole thought Sarah had killed her husband and was confessing. She began to think of what must be done to cover it up. Surely Andrew had deserved it. Joe, she could handle on her own. She would convince him the death was permissible, possibly necessary. Still, there had been the neighbor, Mrs. King, and probably the other guests—this was meant to be a party. “How did he die?” Joe’s question prevented Nicole from issuing instructions. “Heart attack. Earlier this afternoon. They’ve already taken his body.” “That fast?” asked Nicole. “Who?” said Joe. “The coroners.” She looked at Joe as if discovering some unexpected cache. “I’m sorry I didn’t notify you. I forgot I’d invited you instead of Tom and Maria.” “No, no, no dear.” Nicole pushed Joe aside so she could enfold Sarah in her arms. “That’s no concern.” She felt a bit like a double agent, always suspicious of what might be true. “That explains why it was easy to find parking,” said Joe. His ineptitude reinforced the women’s solidarity. They moved into the living room where Nicole and Sarah sat on the couch. Joe found a vacant rocking chair. Men always think they are irreplaceable, Nicole thought. It was not one she would voice. She was clutching Sarah’s hands. Sarah’s manner was controlled now. Her words did not run out at impossible speed. Evidently she had finished that initial, unconstrained stage of grief with the neighbor. “Of course, Mrs. King has been a big help.” Sarah confirmed Nicole’s suspicions. “I’m glad.” Nicole retreated to the opposite half of the couch. “And Andrew was always so good. That’s what makes it so difficult. He was practically a saint.” “Yes.” Nicole doubted sainthood had occurred for a least a century. Hadn’t they been warned time and again through poetry? “You read about everyone having affairs,” Sarah said. For a second she did not know what to do with her hands, finally setting them in her lap. She glowered at Nicole. “It doesn’t even have to be physical. A person might be emotionally involved. Some online chat. Maybe it starts with work complaints or some expected comments in a bar. Little rituals. I don’t mean to be unfair. Maybe it’s men obsessing over sports.” “Go team.” Joe tried to mock his half of the world. Nicole thought the word chat was unfair. Likewise, Sarah’s processing of Andrew’s death, and the current state of the online universe, was quaint. Maybe that was reality. Nicole could only guess how 43
May 2017 people reacted when loved ones died, if everything simplified to the halcyon days regularly captured in plays. She was an only child, her parents were still alive, and Joe had a fat inanity that felt eternal. While they spoke, it began to rain. It was too dark to verify, but Nicole envisioned night’s big drops trying to absorb the day’s heat. If they were lucky, the heat would gather in thunderheads and flash out lighting. Sarah would think it appropriate. Better still, it would be a distraction. “Is there anyone we can call?” asked Joe. Once more, Nicole was amazed and annoyed at his practicality. A women in mourning needed time. She was glad when Sarah shook her head. “It’s too late tonight. It will be a busy morning, but at least it’s Saturday tomorrow. So many places are closed on Sunday. People have plans. I’m just sorry you two had to drive out for nothing.” “It’s not nothing,” said Nicole. Joe added that Nicole liked to drive, and he liked looking at the city at night. “I see it often enough during the day. Everything becomes a predictable composition. You forget there’s another city after hours. The kind of thing you don’t notice right away, if you ever do. Living here, you guys must see it from both sides.” Nicole flushed. Her friend — she had begun to consider Sarah a friend as their time together lengthened — had just lost a husband, and a decade’s pattern had been disrupted, yet Joe spoke so casually. Joe was oblivious to how her color darkened. The lamp gave most of its light to the end of the couch were Sarah was sitting, barely touching Nicole’s half. “Andrew worked from the house,” Sarah explained. “I drove deeper into the city. I know what you mean, though. Nearly every week Andrew would bring me flowers. When he didn’t, I distrusted. Like he had to give the money to someone else, or that he’d forgotten because I wasn’t important any longer. Andrew always kept to a budget. If the gaps were donations to charity, I ended up feeling like a traitor.” She began to cry again, and when Nicole moved over to protect her with her arms, Sarah whimpered loudly to make herself untouchable. Nicole thought back to when she was a teenager because the moment felt mutilated. She had been Catholic then, had believed more. At one service she realized the local doctor was offering her the communion host. That two paths of healing should so neatly align bothered her. She quit attending Mass after she left for college, only going to church when she visited her parents, though they did not press her. Faith frequently disappears when you speak of it. Having the practice was useful in occasions like this though. She searched for words to help Sarah come round. The rain intensified, its drumbeat growing louder. Joe busied himself taking in the shadowy room. Nicole figured he was guessing at the pictures on the walls, trying to make shapes cohere, anything to help him forget that this was a party and he needed a drink. Meanwhile, her mind considered how different death was from divorce. The latter usually left both parties unhappy. When someone died though, it was possible everyone found contentment. Sarah spoke again after several minutes, Nicole started. She had been on the way to sleep, betraying her own plan: if Sarah continued to weep, they would pick the opportune moment to rise, disappear in the darkness and leave, like waiting for a child to fall asleep. Maybe they would let Mrs. King across the street know; the old woman wouldn’t want Sarah to be alone. “I used to think Andrew was having an affair,” Sarah acknowledged. “I don’t know how he could, not with a budget of conveniencestore bouquets. The suspicion made me feel cheap. I was the one paid for with flowers. If there was another woman, she was happy just with Andrew. But then he didn’t need to get a hotel room. He could bring her here while I was at work.” “Did you ever catch him?” Joe asked. His voice did not disclose if he too had dozed. “I mean, was there ever any proof?”
...because the moment felt mutilated.
Both women turned their frowns on him. Joe seemed surprised. “What?” Nicole said, “That must have been very trying.” There was something crude in talking about affairs, real or not. At least Joe hadn’t been stupid enough to ask what Sarah would do now, as though she needed to find another bargainflower shopper. Or if she’d ever had her own trysts in the city. Sarah’s face glistened from her tears. She rocked hollowly on the couch. “Unfair. If he didn’t buy flowers, I doubted. When he did, I thought he was apologizing, making up for a mistake. Except Andrew had been buying flowers forever. It was just who he was.” She swayed forward too far and something heavy fell from one of the robe’s pockets. “Oh.” It was not quite an exclamation. Nicole bent to pick up the object and discovered it was a gun. Had she been paying better attention she would have seen the weight in the robe pocket, too heavy for a handkerchief. She held the gun delicately in her lap, like an animal snare that might suddenly close. “I missed myself, earlier.” Sarah explained. “The noise brought Mrs. King over. Gunfire’s a bit unusual for this neighborhood. She was nice enough not to call the police. No sirens. It’s been very quiet except for this rain.” Nicole nodded, feeling that this was finally a funeral, where strangers were expected to meet. Yet unlike a proper funeral there were no funny stories to tell, no reminiscing until the deceased seemed like a caricature. At least Joe had the good sense to be quiet, not telling Sarah how people often made mistakes when they rushed. “Well, you needn’t try again,” said Nicole. “We’re here now.” Their presence would neither bring Andrew back nor alleviate Sarah’s loneliness, no matter how late they stayed. The modest house and the upscale neighborhood melted to nothing in the face of loss. Nicole was tempted to hand back the gun, trusting her admonition had changed Sarah’s outlook. It wasn’t the same as suggesting Russian roulette. Too late she realized they hadn’t brought anything for the party, not even a cheap bottle of wine. “Does anyone want something?” Nicole stood up. “Some tea, perhaps?” Joe waved an empty hand. She had mistakenly looked at him first. “Thank you, dear,” said Sarah in a motherly voice, though they were within a year of one another. Nicole mused as she made the tea. The evening’s experience could not have aged Sarah so greatly. The world went on. Tomorrow, trash collectors would do their jobs despite the rain. Sarah would not need to give Andrew any fresh pronouncements of love. He would not need to bring dying flowers. The women drank their tea in silence. Joe sighed. “Will you excuse me?” Sarah said when her cup was empty. “Tea always runs through me.” “Me, too.” “Of course you can,” Nicole corrected. Having lured Sarah to the front part of the house, Nicole did not anticipate any difficulty in bringing her back. She hadn’t decided what to do with the woman’s grief. Setting her teacup down, she noticed the gun was gone. In a moment of disbelief and desperate scrambling, she crouched to look under the coffee table. Nothing there. Nicole stood up, walking briskly to the back of the house. Rooms were black when she entered then. Joe followed, turning on overhead lights. Soon the house was fully lit; only the guests
Gunfire's a bit unusual for this neighborhood.
May 2017 were missing. When they found Sarah, she was locked in the bathroom. Joe tested the handle. “There’s art on every wall,” Joe told Nicole, who ignored him. She had not noticed. “Sarah,” called Nicole. The other woman shifted her weight. That was good. If Sarah had been settled, it meant waiting, immobile until the gun knocked her down. And if she died, Nicole might be liable, a participant in the woman’s death. But her dress had no pockets, no place to put the gun while she had tea. “Sarah…where did the bullet go, the one you fired earlier?” She wanted Sarah to talk about the gun as a thing of the past, like her husband. From the other side of the door, Sarah said nothing, apparently uninterested in the fate of a spent bullet. There were no broken windows. It was probably buried in the wall, or outside on the pavement, a curiosity yet to be discovered. “Should we kick the door in?” Joe whispered to Nicole. She shook her head. Why did men think of violence first? She hoped to solve this problem with strength, not force. “Sarah…who painted the pictures in the hallway?” Nicole couldn’t think of anything else to say and was pleased when Sarah responded. “Andrew,” came the muted voice. “Your husband?” It was a stupid question, but Nicole had asked it, not Joe. His brand of discourse had infected her, or maybe she had been caught napping again. She wondered if Andrew’s work might be more valuable now he had died. “I didn’t know he was a painter.” “Not many people did.” “No gallery showings?” asked Joe, and Nicole shushed him. “Never,” Sarah said. She settled on the toilet. Maybe all she needed was a chance to clear her bowels. Let the waste go. Nicole resisted the urge to laugh. “They’re very impressive,” she lied. Sarah did nothing with the compliment. “Only our friends knew Andrew painted, that he considered himself a painter. He had other occasional work, odd jobs on the side. Not much to speak of. If someone asked, I pretended he was an invalid, that he needed to be kept at home as much as possible. The second way I was unfair to him. It made me a martyr instead of a patron.” Nicole examined the paintings hanging outside the bathroom. There were circles and boxes that overlapped, like two kinds of coffins. It was good, as far as it went, and might show up in hotel rooms because it was inoffensive. Perhaps there was a face hidden among the stacked shapes. Like all life in paintings, it was petrified. “Sarah?” she called. Behind the locked door, Sarah said nothing. There were no sounds of using the toilet, and they could not hear her hands. The gun might be idle on the counter. Nicole called again and got the same response. She beckoned Joe into the hall, keeping her voice low. “She’s not going to come out. I think we should leave.” “Leave?” said Joe. “That’s ridiculous.” “No,” Nicole said, doing her best to avoid another senseless quarrel. “When we’re gone, it means she’s lost her audience.” “You think that’s—.” He could not trust her logic, even though he had very little at stake. If Sarah died the same day as her husband, it would not matter to Joe. Her death would be a painting no one viewed. The story would show up on the evening news, proclaiming the difficulties of middleclass living or suggesting the 46
hunger behind selfindulgence. The debate over the necessity of creating art or occasions would drag on, crowds clamoring futilely on either side. The only certainty was that it would be forgotten. Joe shrugged and walked back through the bright house. He left the lights on. If the gun went off later, there’d be no trouble locating the place. Once Joe had his shoes back on, Nicole slammed the front door to announce their departure and followed him to the car. She hunched in the rain as they stood looking back at the house. Her hand went to her purse. “Go ahead. Open it up.” Nicole shook her head. She wanted to go back. “Just to check on Sarah. She couldn’t help hearing us. She’ll probably come out now.” Like Andrew’s paintings, life was a work of art, one to be shared. “I’m sure she’ll be sensible.” Joe offered no protest. He stood among the garbage cans in front of the car and dug in his pockets for his own keys. Nicole left before Joe discovered he’d forgotten them. She’d decided she would ask Sarah to explain Andrew’s paintings to her. She would begin with the ones outside the bathroom, certain Sarah had them memorized. After all, she saw them every day. If that succeeded, she could lure Sarah out with questions about the paintings in the bedroom, the library, and the hall. Only Nicole would struggle to identify them, or deliberately mix them up. Sarah would leave the bathroom to clarify Andrew’s intentions. Nicole would keep her out, locking the bathroom with no one in it. That was easier than tackling her, as Joe was likely to propose. And if it doesn’t work, thought Nicole, I’ll say I’m going to steal the paintings. The threat will make them valuable. She’ll rush out to protect her husband’s legacy. Nicole was alone. These were private decisions, ones that could hardly be called moral at all. She would not tell Joe how she did it, or why. Secretly, she felt Sarah deserved another chance. To have flowers and memories of flowers, daydreams of affairs, or old paintings, or Mrs. King’s Walter. Or even Joe. There would be fresh parties. Fêted friends. Tipping from galas to grief was still life, motion nonetheless. If Sarah was determined to die, Nicole could yet be happy, having gone back. She wasn’t responsible for Sarah. Nor was she looking for thanks. Gestures were what the world expected. The front door was unlocked, foolish even in charming neighborhoods, except it had been set that way for the party. Andrew had died, blotted out by his overused heart. Sarah killed time. Nicole strode enthusiastically through the house, her shoes still tight on her feet, having left Joe to wait for her, a sculpture to be canonized by the rain.
About the author Matt Kolbet teaches and writes in Oregon.
Domingos en Chile By Watt Burns
a slow stoned Sunday stroll through streets of Neruda’s stomping ground. thoughts of colder whether usted es from some young pack of punks grasping on to skateboards or last grips of summer. sweat stained stomp, drenched completos. far beneath mi pais, mi familia catches backwards from the blues noticias aqui. burnt black sidewalk chalk, tar slit shut on Sunday. seven million sleeping or stoned snackstands and shops closed. laid back understatement, the poetry of stray dogs lounged in park shade barks way too hostile for Sunday. a woman in a light blue tutu dances at a red light in Bellavista, between stopped cars and strays, smooth fluid exertion. a quiet rumble before it all builds again. until next Sunday, when perros and pigeons waddle in peace and gatos stay asleep.
About the author Watt Burns is a poet, playwright, teacher, essayist, and activist from Milwaukee, WI. His poetry has been published in the United States, Spain, and Chile. He received his BA in Creative Writing from the University of WisconsinMilwaukee. 48
Finding Pakistan in Grenoble, France By Rukhsar Palla I. Lahori server pours a silver spoonful of pan masala in my palm: saffron, crushed mint, cardamom, dried dates, tobacco & crystallized sugar. Imported from Paris, difficile Ă trouver. II. An Algerian in tram B settles across from me, burnt umber eyes attempting to decipher my country of origin.
May 2017 A crescent dimple emerges when I tell him I’m Pakistani, appreciative of lapis lazulis and cilantro. Ahh oui, à côté de l’Inde. III. The owner of Nepalaya offers me authentic chai and a table next to the space heater. Grenoble’s froid dwindles to shreds when I taste familiarity in the first sip. His Urdu, all too familiar, becomes a basis for genuine friendship. Tomorrow I will become a chai dipped biscuit, returning for common tongue and cardamom.
About the author Rukhsar Palla is an undergraduate student at Seattle University. She is currently a senior Sullivan Scholar and is being published in May in Fragments, an annual literary publication. She is one of the coeditors of Fragments and an editorial assistant for Crab Creek Review. She is currently applying for various MFA fiction programs and finishing up her last quarter at Seattle University. 50
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