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Issue 34 December 2018 Prose Rey Armenteros “Eleven Twenty” Don McMann “Driving to the End of the World” Poetry J.R. Solonche “Sonnet X,” “WALLET” and “The Perfect Poem” James Croal Jackson “Late,” “Boredom” and “Marshmallow in the Microwave”
Hello. Welcome to Issue 34 of Umbrella Factory Magazine. In the spirit of remaining a small magazine, we have curated an intimate issue that we're excited to share. We have for your consideration new prose from Rey Armenteros and Don McMann and poetry from J.R. Solonche and James Croal Jackson. The intimate feeling of this magazine was something that just developed over the years. For most of our 34 issues, we have featured two poets and two writers of prose. Four featured writers, and the occasional artist, we showcase about ten creators each year for the last nine. Keeping things so small has benefits. The biggest benefit of all, I suppose, is that we can really chose the best of the best of the submissions we receive. Secondarily, it has always seemed to us that reading an online literary magazine should be a brief endeavor, a chance to get a small dose of art and move onto an otherwise busy modern existence. Then there was the practical reason why we kept each issue such an intimate affair: logistics. Over the years we've used a few different platforms for our magazine. From March 2012 until September 2018 we used issuu.com and interfaced it onto a blogger website. Although this was an easy task for us, it became dated, limited, visually unappealing. Moving forward from this issue UFM will have the capability to evolve. So, changes are on the way as we learn this new interface. Our 2018 Pushcart Nominations are Sanjida Yasmin's poems “Naughty Boy,” “Small Glimpses” and “Two Smaragdine” which appears in Issue 31, March 2018. And Ann Harper Reed's short story, “Brooch” which appears in Issue 33, September 2018. Until next time. Read. Submit. Tell everyone you know. Stay Dry. Anthony ILacqua
ELEVEN TWENTY by Rey Armenteros
Eleven-twenty is the new one in her repertoire. She was going from one to ten and then passed ten with eleven, twelve, and then thirteen. With hints of seventeen, sixteen, twenty, and twenty-five in frequent conversation, she is getting the understanding that there are other numbers beyond the ones she knows, beyond her ability to count to ten. When something is so much that you can't possibly fathom it, it is eleventwenty. She brings it up all the time now when trying to impress us with the amount. From the back seat, she said the cars were eleven-twenty, and I looked around, and there were a lot of cars on the freeway. We dropped her off at the Sunday school, and I was quiet, thinking about the significance of those two numbers as they applied to my own learning process as a child. Sesame Street was my earliest memory of counting numbers, and back in my day, they had a skit that counted to twenty. It was animated, and the numbers were lined up one to ten in one direction, but then they turned around a corner to continue from eleven to twenty. This made the numbers configured like an L, and that was my eleven-twenty.
I know that in my search for connection, I am stretching the boundaries of relationships just to have something tie in with my daughter's experience. Her eleven-twenty has to do with an amount she cannot yet comprehend. Mine is different. I assume Sesame Street made eleven to twenty turn because they needed to fit the long line inside the squarish shape of a TV screen, and that is the only significance that corner had. But it affected the way I configure numbers in my head. That corner was multiplied in my brain because of this skit that originated one cool morning in Miami when I was witnessing each number sound out its name. And it did no less than shape the way I will always picture the order of numbers in my head. Since that day, I begin the one to twenty in the same way. Every time I picture any of the numbers from one to twenty, it is always going around the corner with eleven. Not long after I saw that on TV, I took that basic L-shape and constructed an architecture on the Sesame Street foundation. After twenty, the configuration makes a right turn at twenty-one. From twenty-one to a hundred, it is a straight line. This straight line continues to one hundred ten but then turns left again, following the Sesame Street logic and then following the rest of the rules, but when it gets to two hundred, I make a new column on the right, like creating a new street that is parallel to the first â€” just like returning the carriage on an old
typewriter to start a new line. And the next hundred would be the next block over, and so on. The Sesame Street left turn happens in a greater scale at the eleven thousand and then the right turn at twenty thousand with the hundred thousands also becoming parallel blocks of this advancing city that, instead of starting in some central space by a river or harbor, actually began in a corner of nothing and blew outward like a blast. For my entire life, this has been the way I imagine the placement of numbers. Numbers have power sources in them. I have been drawn to numbers without ever understanding them. In childhood, my lucky number was eleven; this was due to the baseball uniform my grandmother made for me having this number on the back, and it also happened to be the issue of the first comic book I read seriously. What I liked about it physically, was that it was nothing more than two sticks, and that might have been why my grandmother chose that number when cutting the patterns for them, because a one is easier to cut than any other number. Eventually, I included fourteen as another lucky number. Later, I was drawn to seventeen, partly because in guessing games of the one to twenty type, I would win most with that number. Tarot cards have an important connection with numbers and numerology. The major arcana are numbered from one to twenty-one, and the Fool is the non-
numbered card. In some decks, he is represented with zero, and I have heard that this is actually incorrect. I wonder. I think of natural numbers versus whole numbers. We learn that the conception of zero must have taken a foothold in ancient times after much resistance from the clergy of many cultures. The traders are the ones that had to win in the end because the concept of zero serves an important function as a tool, especially when adding and multiplying through numbers. The Fool is empty; he has yet to live life, and that is why there is no number attached to it. It is often set in the beginning of the major arcana and no doubt that is why he is sometimes numbered zero while in front of the Mage, who is number one. Is a numberless card the same as one that is marked with a zero? I think certainly not. But they can be synonymous, at times. I guess we start with nothing, not even zero. I have a solid memory of pondering zero and just not getting it. The first grade mathematics question was eight plus what number equals eight, and I couldnâ€™t believe they were asking such a question, because the puzzle it caused was of the type I thought could never be solved. According to the teacher, however, the answer was zero. And I was enlightened. It was like a magic trick, but when you know a trick, it is no longer fascinating. In a short time, zero became just another number. Eventually, you
conclude that zero is not nothing. But zero is a concept, and nothing (if it exists) is the reality. Yet I think the nothing that we start from has something in it. When our daughter was just born, she came from some mystery that we equate with nothing, but with the little that she had, she understood some things. We call this incipient knowledge instinct. I donâ€™t know where this comes from but I do know she came already knowing something. And from there, her knowledge has grown. Perhaps you need the basics in instinct to grow from. The daycare she goes to does a good job of teaching her. It used to be that we were aware of everything she was learning because she was exploring things in front of us. Now, she comes home and she knows the alphabet. One day, she will understand the concept of zero, and we will be talking about basic arithmetic problems. She came home from the daycare with two goldfish one bright afternoon. The daycare was supplying them to teach the kids about feeding and taking care of pets. We felt obliged to buy a fishbowl and fish food. One week later, one of the fish was floating belly up. I was the one at home when this happened, and I went through emergency procedures to revive this thing, almost panicking because the one thing I did not want was for my daughter to understand this thing had died.
Twenty minutes later, I had to flush it down the toilet anyways, and I gave a good deal of thought to all the times I wondered about when she was going to one day know about this thing called death. Well, here it arrived. I told her that afternoon that the fish died, and she cried a little, but this was not traumatizing. The second fish was dead one week after that, and she didnâ€™t cry for that one. The Tarot card known as Death does not mean what most people think it means because it is about change and not necessarily death. I canâ€™t remember just now what number pertains to this card. Regardless of the number, I donâ€™t think my daughter actually knew what had happened to her fish because she had yet to internalize the idea of death. Our family is partly Korean, and in Korea, the number four equals death. From my understanding, this is simply because the number is a homophone with the word death. There may be no other reason. Four is the only natural number that can be reached by adding a number to itself and also by multiplying the same number with itself. I can see the significance spelled out anew for me when she observes this coincidence one day. Unlike language, this connection is not by design. It arrived at such a condition by accident or higher power. Numbers populate the one system that allows no linguistic interference. They are what they are, and you reach solutions by
following prescribed rules. Counting in numerology runs against what we commonly understand as addition. You take a number that has more than one digit, and you add each digit to create a new number. If that number is still more than one digit, you do it again and again until you get the one digit. That means that the numbers of greatest significance are one to nine. You can't break them down. They are the numerical elements from which all other numbers come from. Some numerologists believe the number nine is a highly-spiritual number, and if you add all the one digit numbers using the numerological way of adding, you arrive at nine. (When you add every number between one and nine, you get 45, and when you subsequently add the four and five, you get 9.) In three, you find creation because it takes two to make a third thing; it also has an edge when it appears as a triangle, so I interpret this as sharp or confrontational. Four is stability like the cubic structure of buildings. This is all fascinating stuff because I can understand the symbolism, but what does it all mean in the end? I use my personal significance with numbers as an interesting way to interact with my world but it might mean nothing more than that. I know that my preferences for certain numbers over others came from
some early interactions with numbers, perhaps while I was playing with toys and noting the dynamics of when you had three action figures rather than two, for instance; three might have had more possibilities because you can do more with a greater number of things. I prefer odd over even numbers. Odd numbers are more dynamic. Even numbers are made to be balanced, to be "fair." You need to share, and you need more than one thing to be able to share. But most people, I feel, prefer even. It is a preference that is culturally instilled. Just look at the language. Even sounds justified. Odd sounds like it's not normal. One is the number of all things, the beginning, the individual, best represented in my thoughts as a circle. Two is one split down the middle; it summons concepts for the sake of all duality. Though I prefer odd numbers, two happens to be my number, because I am a dualist by nature since I need to have both sides represented in every important decision I make. The way I look at every concept has to do with how I can split it. My art is split in two: pictorial art and verbal art. In my pictorial art, I make drawings and paintings. In drawing, things are hatched or they are massed. Hatching is when you draw parallel lines to shade an object in a drawing. Massing is when you get the side of a crayon or a broad brush and you shade a mass of color in one sweep.
Massing is virtually uncountable, whereas hatching is arguably countable, even if there are hazy or broken lines that are indistinct from others. The time 11:11 shows me four hatched lines. I always liked it for that reason, and also from the conceptual aspect that it is the only time on a digital clock that has four of the same number. In my dualistic outlook, the conceptual subsets can branch into twos, but there is no symmetry in this because certain things are not split further; if I diagramed these branches, it would look like a family tree that is heavy on one side. After dropping our daughter off at Sunday school, my wife and I went to the coffee shop. We were talking about the words she's been using lately. This morning, I heard her use crappy three times, and I was not sure if it was what I thought it was. We agreed that I had to stop using that word around the house. These days, she always finds the opportunity to say, "I know, I know." She said it in the car this morning, when I called to her attention a balloon she used to point at as a smaller child. The balloon was missing, and when I pointed that out to her, she said, â€œI know, I know.â€? Where did she pick that up? Where did she learn die? She learned the word before the fish ever entered our household. Words can be like numbers, it seems. They line up to get learned, one way or the other, in
whatever order they might come. At the coffee shop, I kept looking at the time. We had to pick her up soon. It was 12:34; this was another minute in the day represented by this strange grouping of numbers based on the units of twelve and sixty that I particularly enjoyed on a digital clock. Her time at Sunday school is the only time my wife and I have together without her. Over cups of coffee, we were talking about our lives. There is a lot that we still need to reach. We have been living life with the gear stuck at neutral for several years now. She asked me how I would like to live life. I told her I didn't know. I was thinking that as an artist, I was already doing just that, but I did not mention this. What about our family life? I didn't know, but I told her I've been thinking about it. When we returned to pick her up, we took her to the playground just across the parking lot. It was too hot. I really didn't want to be there, counting the minutes till we could go home, but I played the part, goofing around, and yet taking every opportunity I could to sneak under the shade. Moments later, I realized that this is the kind of day people idealize. I was finally sitting on a bench, and sunlight was crowning the tree above me. I was looking at the leaves, and through the spaces, the sky was broken into pieces and the sunlight was glittering through them. I found that I was struck with a quiet sadness in this
comfortable moment where my wife was talking to another mother and our little girl was running around with a piece of bark in her two hands. It was a moment that we would later look at with fondness, where we were in the same space even if we were not partaking of each other's direct company. And it was natural to do this, as if it were our routine, and as if it were a day-by-day display of how it always will be till the very end of it. Before this, she was giving us pieces of bark, telling us they were tickets. Her super power was the ability to turn these tickets back to life. But if anyone else touched them, it would make them die. She mentioned "die" several times when running around the playground. She was picking up a sliver of bark from an elm when the ticket playing was over, and she was aiming it at me saying I couldn't do anything or she would shoot her gun. For my wife and I, today presented the moment when the complete innocence we sensed in her was no longer complete. Regardless if the concept of death and using guns were still well beyond her, it was the beginning of something on the long line of symbols, objects, and concepts that would arrive into the field of her understanding and calculation. And that is the way it should be, I guess.
DRIVING TO THE END OF THE WORLD by Donald McMann
The first sign of trouble was a conversation Tyler had with his parents a month or so before his eighteenth birthday. Tyler readily accepted the fact that eighteen is one of those milestone birthdays. You suddenly become an adult able to vote, sign contracts, get married, smoke, drink. All those adult things. To mark the occasion, he’d even—however reluctantly—yielded to his parents’ pressure and obtained his driver’s license. In Tyler’s black-and-white world, cars were black. Pitch black. Impenetrable by any ray of light. They were wasteful. Harmful to the environment. To be used only when no friendlier conveyance was available. Or to relieve your parents from having to take your little brother to his damned piano lessons across town. And his hockey practice. Also across town. Even though that little brother wasn’t little anymore, rather a sixteen-yearold, six-foot-plus mutant who seemed to remember in excruciating detail every tiny grievance he’d ever had with Tyler, when Tyler was the bigger brother.
Anyway, driver’s licenses aside, Tyler was up for a birthday celebration. But then there was the issue of the gift. According to Tyler, his parents had been seduced by the rampant consumerism that was undermining contemporary society, destroying both culture and the environment. Tyler felt sorry for his parents with their house filled with technological conveniences or things that looked like conveniences but were really a kind of drug robbing people of their self-reliance. Handheld vacuums, for example, or blenders. “All any house needs is a simple cell phone, a few essential apps, and a big data plan,” he told his best friend, Geoffrey. “You need some furniture—made by local artisans—and a high-efficiency microwave. And a dishwasher. And all the other shit can go.” “A dishwasher?” “Conserves water. Honest. I’ve read about it.” “And a microwave? What happened to the open hearth and the pot of venison stew?” “Woodsmoke? Deadly. And you know I’m a vegan. And just so you understand, microwaves are highly efficient.”
“I’ve read about it,” they both said in unison. But eighteen is eighteen, and after thoughtful consideration, Tyler acknowledged that it is a pretty big deal and that it requires a significant birthday present. And he was more or less okay with that. Even in these dark days of unchecked consumption, he could agree to accept a gift. A reasonable gift. Even a reasonably big gift. In fact, he had readied himself for when the inevitable question came: “What would you like for the Big Eighteen?” “A new bike.” “A bike?” Tyler’s father, Dean, asked. Dean was suddenly flushed, and his jaw tightened. Tyler had seen his father’s expression before. The first occasion that came to mind, though, was when Tyler had thrown up in the backseat of his father’s new Benz, an act Tyler now thought of as an editorial comment. At mention of the bike, Tyler’s mother, Hanna, said nothing. She looked at Dean. No contact made. She looked at the floor. “Yeah, a bike, something really sturdy for commuting to university next year. High end. Something like the Electra Amsterdam Royal 8i. A great commuter. Good for the environment, good for
fitness, good for the wallet.” “The wallet?” Dean asked. “I have to say, Tyler, this may be the first time I’ve ever heard you mention your wallet outside of your need for me to fill it up.” *** “A car. They’re gonna buy me a car. I’m sure of it. They’ve probably already bought it,” Tyler said to Geoffrey. “That’s what that campaign to make me get my license was about. Fuck my brother. (Well, don’t—just an expression, you know.) It’s all clear to me now. You should’ve seen how they looked at me when I said I wanted a new bike.” Tyler took a last drag on his cigarette, threw it to the concrete, and with his Birkenstock crushed what was left of the poor glowing thing. “Well, there are worse gifts. Aren’t there? I mean, I’d be pretty okay…” “Don’t you get it? Cars are bad. They’re responsible for air pollution. For global warming. The exploitation of workers. They’re one of the most profound manifestations of the evils of capitalism, and they’re destroying the world as we know it.” “I don’t think they’re as bad as cows.” “Cows? Don’t get me started on cows. At least my parents aren’t buying me a fucking cow.”
“Now there’s a mental image. But at least you’d have a legit beef. Listen. Just because your dad really likes cars…” “What are you saying? I reject the idea of a car just because my dad is a car-crazed Neanderthal?” “Pretty much. Yeah. That’s what I’m saying. And, just to keep the record straight, Neanderthals didn’t have cars. It was that wheel thing. They hadn’t got to that yet.” “Jesus!” “No. Geoffrey. But I understand your confusion.” *** Tyler Richardson was five-foot-seven and 118 pounds. He had longish, straight black hair, a very pale complexion, freckles, some acne (not too bad), and a prominent black shadow where a moustache might one day feel at home. He was determined to build himself up. Push-ups were the key—last time he was up to a solid, perfectly executed four. In a row. Soon, he’d join the Y. Tyler’s brother Rich was two years younger. And much bigger. An athlete. Since the growth spurt (Tyler called it a growth geyser) that brought him physical dominance, Rich’s favorite expression seemed to be “Remember that time you…” And the rest of the question would be muffled by the muscular arm that wrapped
around Tyler’s head as he was taken both slowly and inevitably to the floor. *** “I know what they’re getting you.” Rich stood, filling the doorway to Tyler’s room. “Yeah. So do I.” “No, you don’t. No one has breathed a word near you. You’re gonna be totally surprised. Totally.” “No one needs to breathe a word when someone with a discerning intellect is around. I don’t need these things to be spelled out for me. If you think hard— and I do mean hard—you’ll remember that brain outperforms brawn any day. I mean check out the mirror.” Rich moved into Tyler’s room. He smiled. “Speaking of your discerning intellect, do you remember that time…” Carpet burn. *** What Geoffrey said was true: Dean Richardson was an unabashed car nut. The family home featured a three-car garage, and Dean rented a two-car garage from Mrs. Wazniak’s children. Mrs. Wazniak was a widow who lived two houses down the street and whose children had a year earlier executed a weekend
intervention to take both of her cars and her license. It was all about public safety, they explained. Mrs. Wazniak was unconvinced. She pursued the police with daily calls in which she accused her children of car theft; the police refused to lay charges. Gradually she gave up her resistance largely due to Dean, who was generously parking his mid-sixties Mustang in half of her garage. “You’ve got to come over to see my new car,” Mrs. Wazniak said to her friend Mrs. Morin. “It’s a Mustang. A convertible. That nice Mr. Richardson gave it to me, when Beth and John took my old Chevy and poor, dear Jack’s Cadillac. Mr. Richardson’s ordered a new set of keys for me. Says they’ll be here any day. Seems to be taking a very long time. But really, such a nice young man.” And recently, Dean had acquired a new gem: a 1965 Sunbeam Tiger, a small British roadster that featured a potent, Ford-derived V8. Dean had spent over a hundred and sixty for it at an auction in Portland, and the evening the transport truck dropped it off, he stood in his driveway admiring the little car from its refinished bright work right down to its rare Balmoral Gray paint. Dean didn’t notice the van driving by. He was distracted by the beautiful little car and by the fact that Hanna was not speaking to him. Just now. “It’s an investment,” he’d said. “It’s an outrageous…” and she stopped herself. “What’s the point,” and she
stalked off to the bedroom and slammed the door. She’ll come ’round. *** “Speed up. Drive past. Don’t stop,” Tyler shouted as he slumped down in the front seat of Geoffrey’s mother’s minivan. “Did you see that? That’s gotta be it. Not just a car, but a sports car. A little one. Rich won’t even fit in that, not with that disgusting hockey bag. Useless as tits on a bull.” “Ah, I’m pretty sure it’s ‘tits on a boar.’” “Bull.” “Boar.” “BULL!” “Okay. May the loudest man win. Gee. Besides, I think it should be tits on a refrigerator. Let’s at least be original here. Great way to get chilled milk, right?” “Gimme that.” Tyler snatched from Geoffrey’s hand the piece of beef jerky his friend had been munching and took a ferocious bite. “Um, can I have that back, Mr. Vegan?” “I need meat.” *** It was late for anyone but teenage boys. Geoffrey and Tyler had met up
with some friends for pizza. After, the two pulled up to the Richardsons’ house. The place was dark except for the light on in Rich’s room and the one in their father’s study. Tyler suspected that his father had fallen asleep studying some scotch. Recently, Dean had become quite studious. And Rich was always up late, but his door would be closed. From the street, Tyler could see that the master bedroom was dark. So, too, was the living room. The rest of the house faced the backyard, but Tyler guessed he could stealthily make his way to his room without disturbing anyone. He sat back in his seat and belched. “Sorry. Pepperoni pizza—not used to meat.” “Give it a rest, will ya? You were a vegan for exactly eight days, and your toes would outnumber the slices of pepperoni on that pizza. And vegans don’t eat cheese either.” “What’s the rush. You don’t have a curfew.” “No, but Mom’s car does, and it’s up in ten minutes. Out.” Tyler walked up the driveway. He stopped in front of the garage door and noted that the sports car was gone. They’ve hidden it to keep it a surprise, he thought. At the front door, he pushed the code numbers into the lock, waited for that resounding “click,” and crept in. It was too late for conversation. The hallway carpet muffled his footsteps as he quietly headed for his room. But something was
wrong. Rich’s room was open, and so, too, was his own. When he reached it, Tyler hesitated and peered suspiciously inside. “What are you doing in my room?” Rich moved over and patted the empty half of the bed. “We’ve got to talk, little/big brother. Big blowup tonight. Mom’s up in their room. Dad’s been passed out in his study for hours.” “Shit. It’s all my fault. If it hadn’t been for this stupid birthday…” “Will you just shut up? You know, Tyler, my very own narcissist, this time, this one time, this one time unlikely to be repeated in the future of Canada, of the world, it’s not about you. Listen to me. A couple of weeks ago, Dad had a few on board, and he was doing some surfing, and he found an auction site. I’m not sure how these things work. I just know that he acquired a little toy for himself, a little addition to his collection of collectible cars. That collection Mom loves so much. You know the one.” “Is that the sports…” “Yup. A 1965 Sunbeam Tiger. Apparently was made in Britain. Completely restored. Flawless. A ‘pretty car’ he called it. And it is pretty. Pretty expensive.” “How m…”? “A hundred and sixty.”
Silence. And then, “Thousand?” “Thousand. A hundred and sixty thousand. Dollars. American dollars. Mom is apoplectic. I heard the ‘D’ word several times.” “What did he say?” “It is a better investment than the pension savings he cashed in to buy the car. She had some things to say about decision making. About consultation. About partnership. About divorce. Do you remember that time when we were kids?” “Don’t hit me.” “Don’t worry. Not this time. But do you remember? Dad had had a cocktail or six with some old friends of his, and he brought home a grayish tabby kitten. We went nuts over the cat; Mom did too, but without the same enthusiasm. She had some things to say about decision making. About consultation. About partnership. About divorce.” “About allergies. About cats in general. I think the cat’s last words were ‘get me outta here.’” “Yeah. There was a lot of yelling and screaming tonight too. Mom was livid. Well, let me just say this: Tigers trump tabbies.” *** Hanna was in the kitchen when, three days later, Dean presented her with a
bank draft for 171,000 dollars. She looked at the draft and knew instantly what it was. Her cheeks flushed. “What’s this?” Her tone was distant. They’d barely spoken since the Tiger arrived, and what exchanges there were, were either intensely hot or numbingly cold. Her hands trembled a little as she took the document, studied it, and handed it back. “I sold the car. Shouldn’t have bought it without consulting you. I get that. But I do know cars. Made a tidy profit on this—seventeen thousand. Even after I deal with the retirement account, we’ll have something left over for a treat.” She met his eyes. “You really did hurt me, you know.”’ “I know. I just don’t know what got into me. Except…” His voice trailed off. “I even feel badly that you got rid of something you must have really wanted. Had a feeling you were going to sell it. I overheard your side of a phone call. You really should close the door if you want privacy.” “I know that. I’ve actually always known that.” “Oh. And I understand that you really know cars. I shouldn’t have worried. One thing, though.” “What?”
“Isn’t it time for you to become expert in some hobby besides cars?” “I don’t understand. Expert in what?” “Jewelry.” Later that evening Rich went to Tyler’s room. “So, it’s over.” “For now, at least.” “For now. But listen: Whatever they give you for your birthday present, pretend to like it.” “I’m not going to fake…” “Yes, you are. Or I’ll break your face.” He smiled sweetly. “I think you’ll like it anyway. I know I would.” “I take no comfort from that. None at all.” “Remember that time…” “No. I don’t. I’m suffering from memory loss due to repeated assaults.” “Good night.” *** This year, Tyler’s birthday was on the weekend, Saturday. Dean and Hanna sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee. They each had a section of the weekend paper. He raised his mug to take a sip. There was a noticeable tremor.
“Feeling a little fragile this morning?” Hanna asked. He looked over at her but said nothing. “When did you come to bed?” “Didn’t notice. Late. Dozed off in my chair.” “Dozed. Doesn’t the drinking worry you? Just a little?” “No.” She got up, went to the counter, poured herself more coffee. “Want some?” “Sure.” And then: “Thanks.” “What’s that on your sleeve?” He checked the left one and then the right. On the right was something that looked like dried food. “Don’t know. Must’ve dragged it through something. I’ll throw it in the wash later.” “So, Tyler?” “What about him?” “Are we going to have a scene?” “About what? His birthday gift? Of course not. He’s getting what he wanted.” “He’s getting what he wanted. And then some. It’s the ‘then some’ I’m
thinking about.” They heard stirring from the other end of the house. Then water running. In twenty minutes, Rich appeared, dressed, hair damp. “Is he up yet?” Hanna asked. “Heard him.” Rich turned to his dad. “Are you all right?” “Yes. I’m fine. Why?” “Coulda sworn I heard you barfing late last night.” “Nope. Not me.” He put his right arm in his lap. There was a plate of cinnamon rolls on the table. Rich looked at them. “Can I?” he said to his mother and reached for one, but her look stopped him. “Maybe I should wait.” In a few minutes, Tyler arrived. Dressed. Smiling a little stiffly. “Happy birthday to you,” Hanna began to sing. Rich and Dean joined in an octave or two below her. Hanna went a little sharp near the end. “So, how does eighteen feel? Do you feel like voting?” “Yup. All I need’s an election.” *** Cinnamon buns were dispatched with alarming speed and complete relish.
There was an awkward lull in the conversation. “Your gift is outside. On the back of the car. In a bike rack. It’s one of those Copenhagen IRS bike things you asked for.” Tyler leapt to his feet, threw his napkin on the table, and dashed for the door. Hanna, Dean, and Rich exchanged looks and waited. Time passed. Then the door opened. Tyler stepped in. Slowly. He closed the door behind him. A little too loudly—not a slam, just firmly. He stared at them as they sat at the kitchen table. Rich shifted in his chair. Tried to make eye contact. No one said anything for a moment. Dean massaged his temples with the first two fingers of each hand. And then he spoke. “Well, do you like it?” “I love the bike. Just what I wanted. Thank you. Very much. Um? What’s with the car? I don’t recognize it.” “It’s new.” “Oh. New.” “Don’t worry. It’s not a birthday present. It’s just a car.” “That’s good. ’Cause you know I don’t want a car.” “When you drive, you’ll drive the new one, but it’s not a birthday present,” Dean said. And after a pause, “It is yours to drive. When you need to. Whenever.”
“I just wondered. Like, when did you pick it up?” “What does that matter. I didn’t pick it up. They delivered it.” “Yeah, I think I’m just calling bullshit on this whole it’s-not-a-birthdaypresent thing. It’s all about the bow.” “The bow?” “Yeah. Did you notice the bow? On the front? The bow with the tag: Happy Birthday, Tyler. Did you notice that bow?” “It’s electric.” “What’s electric?” “The car is. It’s an electric car. So, you don’t need to be concerned that you’re destroying the environment. It has no footsteps.” “Footprint, for God’s sake, no footprint. But it does, of course, have a footprint, and I don’t care whether it’s electric or powered by seventeen gerbils running on wheels. It’s a car, and I don’t want a car. I’ve never wanted a car. Do you know me at all? Were you drunk?” *** It was past eleven when Tyler and Geoffrey pulled up in front of Tyler’s house. Tyler had left—abruptly—right after the car discussion, or, perhaps, during it. The offending vehicle remained in the drive. Rich’s light was off for once. The
only light on was in his father’s study. I’ll bet he’s passed out—I hope he’s passed out. Tyler stopped at his father’s door. “Come in.” The voice was steady, calm. “Sit down for a bit.” “I. I want to—um—apologize. I was really stupid. And rude. And it’s even electric.” “I pretty much agree with all of that. It was very rude—not just the scene itself but blowing off everybody on your birthday. We cancelled the dinner reservation, by the way. I’m also with you on stupid. And, yeah, it is electric. I even had special wiring installed in the garage. Your own charging station.” To his surprise—chagrin too—Tyler found himself tearing up. He was exhausted. Embarrassed. Small. He sniffed. He had tried for a principled stance, and he feared he only looked petulant and spoiled. “I. Um. Geoffrey told me I was—am—an idiot. ‘Most guys,’ he said, ‘would kill for a car, and you’re having a tantrum.’ But you know, Dad, I’m honestly afraid of what’s happening to the planet, and electric cars also have, as you put it, ‘a footstep.’ There’s all the materials that go into making them—from plastic to steel and aluminum, the minerals that go into power systems, plus whatever is done to generate the electricity they drive on. Coal plants? Natural
gas? Maybe I can’t make it better, but I can avoid making it worse.” They were silent for a while. “I know all that,” Dean said finally. “Remember, I’m the car-crazed Neanderthal. But that car parked in the driveway is the latest technology. If people don’t adopt it—embrace it, even—then it will fail, and there may not be any improvement.” More silence. And then: “Okay. Can I sleep on it?” “For how long.” “Dad! Till tomorrow, of course.” “Why not? Do you want a drink?” “No. Thanks.” And then: “Sure. Eighteen, you know.” *** In a while, Tyler went to bed. As he lay there warm, exhausted, he thought that toothpaste and scotch were an odd but not entirely bad combination.
J.R. Solonche SONNET X
X is the first letter of the fewest words, one reason why X is my favorite letter. X is a person, a thing, an agency, a factor, etc. of unknown identity. X is the Roman numeral for 10. X is Jesus Christ, God's son. X is the designation used by the motionpicture industry for films no one under 17 years of age may attend. X is the sign that kisses you at the end of a letter. X is the power of magnification. X is the signature of an illiterate. X is used on a test to indicate an error. X is the last letter I write on most of what I write. X marks the empty spot.
J.R. Solonche WALLET
I open my wallet which contains who I am. It is right to be made of skin. There is one one-dollar bill, more than enough for a phone call if I can make the change. There is a picture of my wife as an infant. There is a picture of my wife as a teenager. There is a picture of my wife as my wife. There are three plastic cards which give me credit for being me. There are two library cards which, alas, I use seldom. There are two health insurance cards which, alas, I use often. There is a stub with which I will redeem a watch that needs a new crystal. It is the watch of my wife's father who is dead and who, therefore, has no wallet. I carry it in my hip pocket. I have never lost it. It has never been pick-pocketed, although for years I lived in a big city and traveled the subway, wary of a large population of strangers.
J.R. Solonche THE PERFECT POEM The perfect poem is not square, although I used to think the perfect poem would have to be square. I probably thought that the perfect would have to be square because I read a lot of sonnets when I was young, which, you know, sort of look like squares. Now I know the perfect poem is not square. Now I know the perfect poem is a sphere. Now I know the perfect poem is the shape of the earth or of any other body in space whose core is molten iron.
James Croal Jackson Late I am sorry I asked you out piss-drunk at Mikeyâ€™s at 3 A.M. a month after we stopped talking on Tinder you told me I think the time has passed which was the most polite way you could have considering this man you never met came up to you erratic and slurringâ€“ men can be time bombs single and desperate actions to regret I should have apologized sooner
James Croal Jackson Boredom
I inspect my bedroom’s walls for new specks after changing dead bulbs in the low sky of this house I’ve lived in for three years. Airplanes have always sounded the same, haven’t they? I’ve slept close to airports and railroads my entire life, hear engines coming on like symptoms no need to pay attention to, low hum in your throat mourning out of the night. By now you’ve watched friends soar into the horizon to break the illusion of life’s infinite line, seen the cord dangling down from the clouds and sometimes you reach for it
James Croal Jackson Marshmallow in the Microwave Water molecules cause the inflation– how the heart expands several times in the span of too-few seconds. The depths of my sweetness, you call suffocating– the airbag after collision. A time bomb– we promised to open the door before making a mess, but we kept growing inside ourselves. Body inside body, slow spinning made us dizzy. We were fine before. Small, we never knew the depths of our grandness. Even then, we were sugar. We opened our mouths and licked hot the walls. In the process of swelling, we long to burst, to stick to a heart that holds the excess.
Stay Dry. Stay Dry. Stay Dry. Stay Dry.
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