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September 2013, Issue 15
CONTENTS Prose: Jean-Luc Bouchard “Assisted Living”
M.E. McMullen “Duck Island”
Abbigail N. Rosewood
“Stolent Things” 16
Poetry: Steven Stark “Today’s Google are we” “picture perfect” “punctuated copy”
22 24 25
Dan Pinkerton “Avian Internission” 26 “Moth Extravaganza” 27 “Observation Deck” 28 “Release Valve” 29 “Ejection Seat” 30
Editor’s Note About Us Submission Guidlines Bios and Credits
5 4 6 32
UMBRELLA FACTORY WORKERS Worker in Chief
Anthony ILacqua Fiction Editor
Amanda Bales Poetry Editor
Julie Ewald Copy Editor
Janice Hampton Art Editor/Design
Jana Bloomquist Nonfiction Editor/Web Developer
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Umbrella Factory isn’t just a magazine, it’s a community project that includes writers, readers, poets, essayists, filmmakers and anyone doing something especially cool. The scope is rather large but rather simple. We want to establish a community--virtual and actual--where great readers and writers and artists can come together and do their thing, whatever that thing may be. Maybe our Mission Statement says it best: We are a small press determined to connect well-developed readers to intelligent writers and poets through virtual means, printed journals, and books. We believe in making an honest living providing the best writers and poets a forum for their work. We love what we have here and we want you to love it equally as much. That’s why we need your writing, your participation, your involvement and your enthusiasm. We need your voice. Tell everyone you know. Tell everyone who’s interested, everyone who’s not interested, tell your parents and your kids, your students and your teachers. Tell them the Umbrella Factory is open for business. Subscribe. Comment. Submit. Tell everyone you know. Stay dry
Welcome to Issue #15 of Umbrella Factory Magazine On behalf of all of us at Umbrella Factory Magazine, thanks for reading. I’m tickled at the very idea that we have been able to continue with our work for 15 issues. This may not seem like a big deal, but let’s consider the plight of the small magazine. For many small publications, lack of funding, lack of staff and lack of readership tends to lead to lack of future. Many magazines fold within the first year. This, of course is tragic. Literary magazines, and not to beat our own chests, are the very front line of our literary future. These small magazines are the places for new writers, new ideas and new directions. For 15 issues now, UFM has continued to do what we do. I recently read an essay by Carolyn Kuebler entitled Literary Magazines in Context: A Historical Perspective. http://www. clmp.org/adoption/pdfs/Carolyn_Kuebler_essay.pdf With elegant language and pertinent perspective, she explains the historical significance, modern importance and constant challenges of literary magazines. Suffice it to say: literary magazines are important. They are important to the writers and poets we represent. In issue 15 we have fiction from Jean-Luc Bouchard, M.E. McMullen and Abbigail Rosewood. I believe that poets make up the backbone of all literary magazines, and UFM is no different. As for our poets Dan Pinkerton and Steven Stark, I am grateful to represent them and their work. I do not want to give the impression that the work of an editorial staff is that of altruism. Nothing can be further from the truth. Most small magazines like ours have unpaid staff, and sometimes their staff is but one person. I feel like we are lucky at UFM to have a relatively large staff: Amanda, fiction; Julie, poetry; Mark, nonfiction; Jana, design/art; and Janice, copy. Like the writers, poets and artists we represent, we get something from all of this too: it’s a resume builder, a CV enhancer and a great barroom story. I suppose when it gets right down to it, what we’re all trying to do is get more readership and gain professional development. All said, as we present this issue to you, we’ve done our part: we’ve curated the best issue we can, and with humility we ask that you read, think, enjoy and share what you discover within these pages. Whatever the reason might be that you’re reading these words, because you know one of our contributors or editors, perhaps you’re a writer looking for a potential market, or you’re a fan of small presses and fresh writing, you have come to the right place. Please help us continue doing what we do and start today: Read. Submit. Tell everyone you know. Stay Dry. Until we meet again in December, please keep us in mind during any lulls in conversation. If you think any introductions may be mutually beneficial, do not hesitate to make the appropriate connection. Stay Dry, Anthony ILacqua, worker
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Yes, we respond to all submissions. The turn-around takes about three to six weeks. Be patient. We are hardworking people who will get back to you. On the first page please include: your name, address, phone number and email. Your work has to be previously unpublished. We encourage you to submit your piece everywhere, but please notify Umbrella Factory if your piece gets published elsewhere. We accept submissions online at www.umbrellafactorymagazine.com
ART / PHOTOGRAPHY
Accepting submissions for the next cover or featured artwork/photography of Umbrella Factory Magazine. For our cover we would like to incorporate images with the theme of umbrellas, factories and/or workers. Feel free to use one or all of these concepts.
We accept submissions of three to five poems for shorter works. If submitting longer pieces, please limit your submission to 10 pages. Please submit only previously unpublished work.
In addition we accept any artwork or photos for consideration in UFM. We archive accepted artwork and may use it with an appropriate story, mood or theme. Our cover is square so please keep that in mind when creating your images. Image size should be a minimum of 700 pixels at 300 dpi, (however, larger is better) jpeg or any common image file format is acceptable.zz Please include your bio to be published in the magazine. Also let us know if we can alter your work in any way.
We do not accept multiple submissions; please wait to hear back from us regarding your initial submission before sending another. Simultaneous submissions are accepted, but please withdraw your piece immediately if it is accepted elsewhere. All poetry submissions must be accompanied by a cover letter that includes a two to four sentence bio in the third person. This bio will be used if we accept your work for publication. Please include your name and contact information within the cover letter.
SUBMIT YOUR WORK ONLINE AT WWW.UMBRELLAFACTORYMAGAZINE.COM 6/
NONFICTION Nonfiction can vary so dramatically it’s hard to make a blanket statement about expectations. The nuts-and-bolts of what we expect from memoire, for example, will vary from what we expect from narrative journalism. However, there are a few universal factors that must be present in all good nonfiction. 1. Between 1,000 and 5,000 words 2. Well researched and reported 3. A distinct and clearly developed voice 4. Command of the language, i.e. excellent prose. A compelling subject needs to be complimented with equally compelling language. 5. No major spelling/punctuation errors 6. A clear focus backed with information/instruction that is supported with insight/reflection 7. Like all good writing, nonfiction needs to connect us to something more universal than one person’s experience. 8. Appropriate frame and structure that compliments the subject and keeps the narrative flowing 9. Although interviews will be considered, they need to be timely, informative entertaining an offer a unique perspective on the subject. Please double space. We do not accept multiple submissions, please wait for a reply before submitting your next piece.
FICTION Sized between 1,000 and 5,000 words. Any writer wishing to submit fiction in an excess of 5,000 words, please query first. Please double space. We do not accept multiple submissions, please wait for a reply before submitting your next piece. On your cover page please include: a short bio―who you are, what you do, hope to be. Include any great life revelations, education and your favorite novel.
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Assisted Living Jean-Luc Bouchard
prose My father was not a tall or handsome man but he had beautiful hands. I can still remember his hands—jotting down notes in flawless cursive or arranging flowers in the window—far better even than I can call up the image of his face. A man of many maxims, one of his favorites was: “Where your mind ends, your hands begin.” He had a deep love and respect for fine craftsmanship, art, and technical skill that I always assumed blossomed during his time in art school. My father’s stories rarely went farther back than his first day at The Westbridge Art Academy, but he did say once or twice that he had a normal, boring childhood, complete with the relatively uneventful move during his adolescence to the United States from the “Fatherland.” He also mentioned on more than one occasion (not without a touch of pride) that he had, at an early age, a clear predisposition for drawing. He entered Westbridge with an impressive portfolio and a desire to learn painting, sculpture, and ceramics from the Greats, but within a semester and a half he gave up these lofty dreams in pursuit of his new passion: handwriting. Westbridge was a melting pot of different scripts and styles from around the world; in class, while all the students were watching the professor demonstrate proper perspective drawing, my father would be too engrossed in the blocky As and Rs of his neighbor’s notes to pay attention. Rather than drop out or fail his courses, my father, ever the pragmatist, made a deal with his professors. “I would show them my skill at drawing,” he said to me over many dinners, gesturing with his crust of bread. “I showed them my fruits and my figures and my landscapes. I said, ‘Is this the work of a lazy man? Is this the work of someone who should not be in art school? No. I will take your courses, but I want to use them to further my passion, my love of handwriting, of styles and letters.’ And so I made them all a deal.” If a teacher assigned a pastel still life for a course, my father would hand in an essay on
the nature of the pastel still life in one hundred different handwritings. “It wasn’t enough,” he would say, poking my chest, “for the scripts to be good. The essays had to be good, too. I had to move them. And so I learned and I got better and I grew.” After spending his senior year learning every Westbridge student’s unique script by rote and pouring over library books to sharpen his English, my father produced a book-length thesis on the history and cultural impact of modern American handwriting techniques and pedagogies, rotating each sentence in a different student’s style. I remember many dinner conversations in which my father would dare us to pick a word, any word, and have us gather around as he copied the word over and over in each student’s script, in alphabetical order, decades later. He would end up graduating salutatorian of his class, behind a girl who made what my father begrudgingly admitted was a “not-terrible sculpture of the Virgin Mother.” My father chose the path blazed by so many immigrants before him—entrepreneurship. “de Grâce Suicide Notes” first opened its doors in 1964, the same year my father and mother met in a bank teller’s line and shortly thereafter married. By the time I started forming memories, “de Grâce Suicide Notes” was a profitable little store (with upstairs apartment) resting on an intersection in Manhattan’s Garment District. My father was working six days a week and bringing in just enough money to make rent, keep his family fed and clothed, and go out to have the occasional meal of Peking duck and rice with my grandparents. If you took any heed in my mother’s current Saturday afternoon ramblings, her mouth propelling little bits of spinach salad onto your shirt and face, you would have a very dark picture of my father’s mother. “Dull, selfish, completely unlike your father. I’m still not sure he wasn’t switched at birth.” But if nothing else, I remember my grandmother as a very sharp woman. Wise, with quick, intelligent eyes. And although she shared my father’s serious-
ness, I remember many short yet meaningful warm glances, touches on the back of the neck, squeezes of the hand, secret pieces of Turkish Delight. My memories of my grandmother are strongest in a short window of time between my grandfather’s death and her own, a span of four years. I don’t remember much of my grandfather or his death, but I do recall meeting Mr. Fazio for the first time very soon after my grandfather’s funeral. The home of our store and apartment was originally called “34th and Highland,” once a perfectly acceptable name for the intersection. In the early 70s, however, it began to be referred to by locals as “Suicide Corner.” The Corner did not necessarily provoke any unusual spike in suicides by the neighborhood’s residents (though my own observations are hardly a substitute for any statistical proof), but it did house the city’s only two professional suicide note shops—the aforementioned “de Grâce Suicide Notes,” run by my father, and “Fazio’s Textual Remembrance,” run by the thick-lipped Bertrand Fazio—directly across the street from one another. “It’s bad luck,” some older kids told me once, before they found out that I was a de Grâce, “to walk in between the shops on a Sunday. That’s the Lord’s day.” I no doubt nodded politely and feigned awe. “No joke, kid; it’s like breaking six mirrors at the same time!” I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand Mr. Fazio’s reasoning in opening a suicide note shop forty feet from his only competitor, unless he truly did thrive off my father’s anguish, as my mother suggested nightly. “Fat-lips” Fazio (children can be so cruel) opened his “Textual Remembrance” within days of purchasing the vacant space and immediately advertised in the papers as charging less than my father for “double the quality!” My father was livid. I know now that he was likely also terrified, but at the time all I saw was the anger and fierce determination. He knew he was the superior handwriting artist and note-drafter. He dropped all extraneous distractions—relaxation, rumination,
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prose “family time,” unnecessary sleep—to hone his craft and go above and beyond for his clients. The first few years against Fazio were some of the toughest we would see, but as bad as it got, my father always managed to make just enough to keep us going. He depended on the positive word-of-mouth of his satisfied clients, which, though always brief in its duration (as is the nature of the business), was glowing with admiration for his craft. My father’s clientele meetings always began with an offer of beverage (hot or cold depending on the season) and a long series of questions from a chipped clipboard. “What do you want the overall tone of the note to be? Angry? Sad? Bitter? Resigned? Who do you want it directed toward? Do you want me to mention why you’re doing this? Why are you doing this? Do you want me to mention how you are doing this? How are you doing this? Do you want me to mention any names? Do you want it to be literary or blunt? Do you have any authors that you’d like the note to sound like? What kind of paper and ink do you want this note on? Can I please get a handwriting sample? How do you want the handwriting to appear? Rushed? Manic? Calm? Self-aware?” Of course, clients were free to disclose as much or as little information or instruction as they wanted. It would only end up creating a narrower or broader note in the end. My father enjoyed forging both types of notes. The morespecific notes had the capacity to be particularly jaded, hurtful, spirit-crushing. “There is power in words,” he would say to me, not looking up from his desk. He always said that when writing a particularly devastating line. “More power than The Bomb.” The less-specific notes, though not as thrilling, were more creatively rewarding, cerebral, contemplative of the nature of the act and its causes. More room for references to the literary Greats, to myth and philosophy. Each new note was a reason to skim the bookshelf, or to stare out the window at the back alley, motionless, until a thought finally took hold and the pen was brought back to life against the paper.
One day, almost four years after Mr. Fazio set up his shop, I heard my father let out a wounded howl from the front of the shop. Mother was out at the grocery store and I was in the living room, reading a comic book. I ran out to the front as fast as I could and saw my father standing at the open door, staring at “Fazio’s Textual Remembrance” with his hands on his cheeks. “Dad! What’s wrong?” I asked. He wouldn’t take his eyes off of Fazio’s door. “Is this some cruel joke?” he said to no one in particular. He was pulling down on the skin of his face, making him look a bit like the villains from my comic books. “What is becoming of my family?” “What?” I was terrified. I thought he had learned of my recent string of minor thefts— baseball cards, Baby Ruths—and that this was some ancient form of interrogation technique from the “Fatherland.” He pointed to Fazio’s shop. “You just watch. Just watch.” What felt like one hundred years passed by and finally I saw a customer leave the shop, stopping to thank Mr. Fazio on her way out. I squinted to catch her face. It was— “Grandma!” My father pointed his perfect finger at my grandmother. “Mama!” he yelled, causing her to turn in our direction. She stared at us, hesitant to speak, not-quite embarrassed, not-quite scared. Finally she made her way across the street and into the shop. I followed her and father into the backroom, leaning against the doorframe, eager and also not eager to hear what she had to say. “Mama,” father said. He led her into a chair and crouched down next to her. My grandmother couldn’t look him in the eyes. Hers were beginning to water. “Mama,” he repeated. “Why?” He too looked like he was about to cry, something I had never seen (and never would see) my father do. She was rubbing her gloved, imperfect hands together. “It’s been…four years almost alone, now…” she stammered, addressing the
floor. My stomach felt full of cold stones. I didn’t want her to finish. My wish was granted with an interruption by my father. “Mama, he is my rival,” he said in his original tongue. His thick eyebrows quivered over steadfast eyes. “Think about what people will say. I can’t imagine a greater disrespect.” I looked at my grandmother, wondering if it was just me who was confused by father’s response. She stared up at my father like he was speaking in gibberish. “Bertrand,” she replied, her speech almost florid in her native language. “I did not think you would want that kind of business from me. I thought—” My father stood up very quickly and gestured towards the sky, raising his head towards the ceiling. “She did not think!” he yelled. “Did you hear that, Lord? She did not think of the embarrassment, the financial toll she would cause her only son by giving her business to that greasy hog across the street!” He turned back towards my grandmother. “What will people say, do you think, Mama, when that hog goes around telling people about how Mr. de Grâce’s own mother preferred a cheap, rushed job to a truly quality product? They will never send customers my way again!” He turned away from her and leaned against the table, resting his delicate fingers in a spider leg formation. My grandmother swallowed something large and looked down at her lap. “I’m sorry, my dear,” she said. Because I was ushered from the room moments later, I remember the rest of this conversation merely as a collage of muffled grunts and barks through my bedroom wall, but I do recall the look on my grandmother’s downturned face just before I turned away. Less shocked than I expected, it was sagging with what seemed like the great weight of fatigue, an impossibly heavy load of time and regret. That was the face I remember seeing, underneath layers of cheap makeup, at her funeral two weeks later, just before my father’s beautiful ivory hand brought the casket lid down a little too quickly.
Duck Island M.E. McMullen
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prose The subject of “Lost” Uncle Will Lusk has come up again. As if to pause in formulation of an answer in her classic style, Aunt Grace ponders the question, rubbing her chin. He is her uncle, after all, not theirs, which may not count for much with them, but makes all the difference to her. It is a matter of having been in the presence of this family icon, while they can only imagine him. “Starch,” she says finally, giving her ear lobe a little pinch, a self-hypnotic prompt she relies on to remind her to let the morning flow where it would, as part of staying in the present even while considering the past, to compress these past experiences into a single thought like a pin prick, busting their sweet little self-involved youthful balloons. Because she does not relish growing even a single day older, Aunt Grace tends to wax nostalgic about this “past” of hers, filled with rascals, jaspers, kleptos and vagabonds, and a few lost souls like Will thrown in as it happens. The younger generation, because they can’t touch it or see it, are skeptical of the past, but somehow this “Uncle Will” business keeps coming up because somewhere down deep inside they need to discover a resolution. “I remember that smell,” Aunt Grace says. Grandma Myrtle’s laundry room reeked of it, with overlays of bleach and that perfumy purple soap she liked. She was a case. She saw a peeping Tom once, standing outside on the porch rail, just around bedtime. She threw open the window and heaved a plate of leftover spaghetti at him, knocked the little bastard ass over appetite right off the rail. A couple days later, a neighbor boy turned up with a broken arm. “Served the little son of a bitch right”, she said. Grandma Myrt was not to be messed with. Grace turned nine that summer. “Oh, God, it was great. All your life ahead. I can close my eyes and feel myself down inside those times again.” Down in the basement, with the back door open and the spring sunshine pouring in, heating up a nice warm square on the concrete floor,
Uncle Will came ‘round to see his only sister, Myrt, and get his laundry. He’d fuss over Grace and give her fifty cents, ‘to buy some candy’. He was tall, with dark, wavy hair. Handsome as any Bible salesman, Grandma Myrt always said. Straight up and down bones. He wore black high-topped riding boots and smelled of cologne. Grace thought he was the handsomest man that ever was. His smile was all straight white teeth and a black, pencil mustache. “Will’s quite captivating to the ladies,” Myrt would allow, refusing to take money for the laundry, of course. He’d leave five on her table when five was a lot, all some people made a day. “Starch.” Kate allows the word to open realms of possibility. She is a sensible, kind girl, sixteen and full of energy. She shares a family resemblance with Sister R, but they are unalike in almost every other way, and each is glad they are not the other. Kate’s at a place in life where she tends to ignore nuance and cut to the chase of things, a propensity whose underlying motivations are not always clear to those around her, especially little Sister R., who has been saddled by a cumbersome passion for detail since she was seven and will probably grow up to be a writer. Kate’s hair is honey blond and flows across her head like strands of wheat in the wind. She writes excruciating verses about young girls dying of boredom in their rooms. She makes crude drawings of evil witches modeled after Mrs. Krantz, an elementary teacher who still menaces her in dreams after all these years. Kate runs her fingers through her tresses, proudly sweeps them off her face in grand gesture, throwing back her shoulders and lifting her chin when drama and protest are in order, which is almost always. “Maybe Uncle Will was lost at sea,” Sister Rambunctious offers. Sister R. is fifteen and knows everything there is to know about everything. She thinks the past is an inside joke made up to confound her. She thinks everybody knows more than they’re saying about what went on before she was born, this whole “lost”
Uncle Will thing being a prime example, with the stories about barnstorming actors, jugglers, clowns and tumblers, children of the road, the drinkers and winkers Aunt Grace called them, the wild sons and daughters of rectitude and respectability. “Aunt Mattie told us about the time they salvaged Uncle Will’s rosewood table and three red-tasseled lamps from a, --” “We heard, dear.” “---whorehouse.” “A brothel,” sophisticated James says, accenting the last syllable the way Sister R. did when she first tried out the word with the family. Sister R. knew more off-beat words than anybody and was constantly dressing up her poems with old fashioned sounding phrases like water closets and corsets laced tight as closed coffins. “Mattie called it ‘Will’s table’ but never said what it had to do with Uncle Will,” Sister R. says. “Part of his magic act.” A smoking cork tip cigarette bobs below Aunt Grace’s nose as she pinches her ear lobe and smiles, silently thanking Sister R. with those ghostly eyes for not pushing the matter of the table’s fate, like who among them might claim it when the time came. Cletus has run upstairs and grabbed his note pad, come running back joyously, sensing that a new flag’s about to be unfurled. “County fairs and tent shows,” Grace continues, “`delving into the diversionary arts’ as Uncle Will once wrote on a photograph signed for Bella.” “Bella?” “Bella James-Rickson, who collected autographs of the famous and infamous for many years,” Grace says. “She was Mary Newell’s cousin from Bellefontaine, quite famous on the ladies’ club circuit. A prune of a woman, teetotaler and scold of the first order. Lived upstairs from an undertaker, told of scandalous parties down there after midnight. The corpses were there, propped up in coffins while lowdown swamp water music rattled the place, and everybody got stinking drunk and ran naked through the night freaking out the neighborhood. Will
worked some big time venues in his day. Chicago, New York and LA. There are press clippings upstairs. One day, the unthinkable happened.” “What unthinkable?” They sit in silence trying to think up something unthinkable while Aunt Grace glides off to the kitchen to refresh her Sangria. Determined somehow to come to terms with Uncle Will and pull him from the past like a sore tooth, Sister R draws close when Aunt Grace returns. “Unthinkable drinking?” Sister R’s real name is Naomi, but no one calls her that. Kate’s first prayer in the morning and her last at night is that her dear Sister R. will outgrow her obnoxious Little Miss Know-It-All phase sooner rather than later. “Summers they had their place down on the river bank west of town,” Aunt Grace recalls. “Young and old, gadding about doing headstands on bicycle handlebars, doing the old buck and wing, pulling white rabbits from top hats. Eating stolen corn on the cob was big. Drying the corn silk and smoking it was supposed to get you a buzz, but it didn’t. Afternoons were spent rehearsing new tricks and perfecting old ones. Drinking, swearing and gambling were not unheard of. A few went to church.” In his notebook, skeptical Cletus sketches a flat, low profile stretch of beach along the lowland river, populating it with flying fowl, lavish flora and stands of bright green willow saplings rising up from the water’s edge. Wood ducks and mallards bob in the still backwaters. Eagles and hawks soar above the undulating treetops like regal lords surveying their vast estates. It’s the Duck Island of family lore, of “lost” Uncle Will, a magical place filled with amazing people who did marvelous tricks and told funny stories; who had been everywhere, seen everything including the seven marvels of the world, met anybody who was anybody. Grace’s eyes sparkled when she talked about it. When they passed around the old photos and news clippings of days gone by, she made it all sound lovely. “I will write an opus profundus,” Sister R.
vows, misty-eyed, “telling the story of Duck Island and the wonderful people who graced her shores.” “They called it an island because it was squeezed between the river and the main highway, cut off by railroad tracks so that you could only enter and leave by one narrow road. It wasn’t really--” “We should go down there and see the spot.” “The camp was bulldozed before your mother was born,” Cletus observes, steady on his mission to keep reality in view, if not always in focus. Cletus’s strong sense of loyalty to the others is born out of the feeling that he somehow ended up by default as being the one to guide and chronicle their survival as a family unit operating without a mother or father. “If the mind’s eye is focused on truth, it won’t be misguided,” James says in defense of his sister’s literary ambitions, sounding more like some bible-thumping Cotton Mather than he intended, sounding a great deal more selfrighteous than he actually was. Recently immersing himself in an introductory philosophy course, sorting through hoards of cascading deep ideas like ice cream flavors to see which ones fit best on his two, perhaps three, dip personal philosophy cake cone, James is fond of saying that his station in school is that of a wise fool, a sophomore. He’s a handsome boy with great dimples, but Aunt Grace’s eyes are focused on unseen places and faces miles and decades away. “These footloose folks lived cheap summers down on the river in Will’s day,” she says. “Tap dancers and acrobats, Irish tenors, warbling coloraturas, singing sisters, magicians and tragedians, ventriloquists, pony masters and wire walkers, jugglers, dog acts and mentalists who could guess your innermost secrets. This was a fast crew living a fast life, and trouble found Uncle Will Lusk soon enough after he started going down there.” “Trouble?” “He was soon keeping company with a big splashy, trashy blonde named Dolly Hollister.
Big drinker, free thinker. Married to Pat Hollister but estranged for many years. Dolly ran for mayor and lost, but she had the fixers downtown nervous. She could tap dance, recite bawdy poems, play the piano, out cuss a stevedore, out kick a mule and out drink any man she ever met. She liked Will because he was a young, good looking boy who could go drink for drink with her and never get any nastier than he was to begin with. He was a free spender when he had money, lived off the generosity of mature women when he didn’t. It was said Will had a way with ladies and could sweet talk a sow out of her pork chops.” By some standards, unthinkable. Sister R. nods rather too maturely to suit Aunt Grace, who thinks her niece might just be concealing some puerile heroine worship for this hard-drinking foulmouthed woman from the past, glamorized as part of a daring breed that populated a young girl’s flighty visions of a Duck Island sub-culture that never really was. She insisted meanwhile that Duck Island was surely further off the water than Cletus put it in drawings, where the sacred spot was left languishing just a few feet above the steamy river, tucked somewhere back between marshes and backwaters like some freaky smudge of stinking mud that would wash free on the next flood. “Saturday nights, they held dances,” Grace recalls as Cletus continues to sketch. “Blacks and whites dancing together, which wasn’t done in those days. Libertine people, sitting around the fires in the evening smoking green ganja smuggled in from the Orient, listening to the stories of dishonest managers and deprivation on the road, getting loaded and singing the old songs long into the night.” Sister R. could see it all clearly. Beefy Dolly all tipsy, dancing around, shaking her tail like a Texas game hen, throwing big sloppy smoochies in the general direction of that handsome chap in the black chapeau. Drunk since noon, practically pasted into a snug sexy dress, she was a mass of putty, quivering and rippling as she danced, loving her own go-to-Hell audac-
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prose ity as she forced other dancers to the side with her kicks and fancy twirls. Sister R.’s imagination could not resist the thought that Dolly once existed in flesh and blood. Cletus’s Dolly is younger and slimmer on the sketch pad than in Sister R.’s fancy, or in real life, if what Aunt Grace has gathered is true. Cletus has given her a boozy smirk made of pouting, puffy lips and droopy, half-mast eyelids. She has a great set of knockers which she flaunts when she dances. She is, as they say, all around ready. These young bucks in fancy shirts might twirl the floor with some runaway society girl types out on a spree, but they knew better than to mess with Dolly. Cletus’s art, deemed disturbing by his sisters, fairly teems with uncommon mixtures, a reflection of his uncommon mind, that would find the essence of everything and the proper texture and color and expose it without apology in some weird way, his sisters contend, that nobody but Cletus could understand. At school, Kate says, Cletus is idol to a gang of misfits, geeks and oddballs. Aunt Grace reads from her own notes for a poem about Duck Island, sipping idly her Sangria. Fancied herself as a poetess in her day. In the genes. “Couples shuffling on the dance floor like old windblown shirts and pants flapping on a clothes line,” she reads, “with festive red and green Japanese lanterns glowing above their heads. Behind, a swift, silent river shimmers in the silvery light. It is moonlit Duck Island, and the light is from another time. Those dancers will never be again. Their smiles are lost forever, that saw them through these stormy nights, that helped them whistle by the graveyard and let them pretend they would live forever.” Cletus dashes in silhouettes, dancers in the half-light. Behind, etched in cross-hatching, a tree line gives way to a misty clearing and the rambling, ubiquitous river. A trombone player in candy striped suspenders and a straw hat puffs
away in the foreground, flanked by a handle bar mustached banjo man. A fat cheeked chap in a waist coat is caught in mid-stride, dancing with his twirling stand-up bass. Each of these is done from cleverly dashed pencil lines and skillfully shaded curves. “Dolly Hollister arrived in a two-seater,” Aunt Grace says, her face glowing red. “A big yellow beast with beady lamps and enormous whitewall tires.” Grace lowers her voice and makes fleeting eye contact with each kid in turn, resting finally on Kate. “Dolly’s a dishrag draped over Uncle Will on the dance floor. It’s late and their eyes are shut tight. Her blond hair sits on his shoulder like a mop,” Grace says. “She liked these strapping young types.” “A curly-haired devil,” Sister R. says, making a silly face to start Kate laughing. It was a term she’d heard her sister use to describe men who were hits with the ladies. “Shush,” Kate says, poker faced. Cletus is touching up Pat Hollister’s curly hair meanwhile, giving him a mustache to match the banjo man’s. Pat and Dolly had been apart for years, Grace says, but Pat still considered her his wife. Dolly thought of Pat as an idiot stuck in the past. “Pat ran the swing shift at the packing house on Spring Grove,” Aunt Grace says. “He was known to carry a blade they used down there, curved and long as a butcher’s middle knife but thicker and deadly, deadly sharp.” “I don’t want to hear the rest,” Kate says. “Pat saw his wife out on the floor but just ordered up a beer. Did nothing, said nothing; just sat there and looked.” “No slaughterhouse knife rampage?” Cletus was roughing out a slasher flick poster with a severed head in the trombone player’s lap and a psycho in a hockey-mask waving a scimitar dripping with blood. “Nothing?” Kate is soon giggling at this pregnant word, which, when considered in repetitive isolation,
like all words loses meaning and has dear suggestible Sister R. laughing at the futility of trying to guess what somebody would do in any given situation. Aunt Grace’s face has twisted meanwhile into a grotesque frown mask. It’s a look they’ve seen before. Cletus sets his pencil aside, serious about hearing her out. Kate and Sister R. ease down in their chairs. “The band saw Pat Hollister and thought some rough stuff might be brewing, so, they quit playing.” “How do you know this?” Cletus wonders if her locomotive of focus has run off the track and into the weeds of minutiae. Cletus depicts the moment: thick ruts through the ground leading back to the jumped tracks, with Aunt Grace up there in the driver’s seat, gritting her teeth and squaring her jaw as the train sits steaming in the middle of deep weeds. “Rough stuff?” Sister R. loves the sound of it. She rolls her eyes and grins. “What rough stuff?” “It happens very fast,” Grace says, nodding sagely. Poised on a straight back cane chair, she holds her wine glass in one hand and gestures deftly with the other. “Pat Hollister started for the dance floor with murder in his eyes, the story goes, sending the confused dancers scurrying away, all but Will and Dolly, the clinging lovers, still slow dancing through the sudden terrible silence. Pat’s eyes were marbles. Trouble was in the air, and there was the matter of the knife he was thought to carry. Just as he reached them, and seemed as if he was about to strike, Pat was seized by an invisible hand. He went to his knees and began clutching at his throat. In seconds, he was heaving about like a fish out of water, covered with dance floor sand, clutching his throat, a man in the grasp of death.” “Death?” Sister R. cocks her head. “Madeline’s diary tells all,” Grace says. “Who’s Madeline?” Everyone asks. “Madeline Crane was a young woman who lived with a family of troupers on Duck Island. She was a balloon ascensionist, a wild animal
tracker and a writer. She’d kept a diary dealing with her youth on Duck Island. It was eventually serialized in the papers after she’d become famous for her derring-do. She was quite an astute young woman. Her account begins with the events of that Saturday night when she saw Pat Hollister go down on the dance floor, having little notion at the time as to what’d preceded his fall. She wrote: ‘All the shouting and carrying on changed nothing. Dolly knelt beside Pat, pushing people away, eventually cradling his head in her arms. There was much excitement and crying. Dolly began pummeling Pat’s chest, cursing him for dying and leaving her alone, demanding that he come back to life and take her home.’” Another sip of Sangria finds Grace’s lips. “Slander!” she barks out, seriously startling them. Thrown off by red herring hints about a knife, the kids are misled as well by these intimations about a “lost” uncle, as if he’d been done in and buried in the woods somewhere, one of their own flesh stuck in some sordid pulp magazine plot no less, out of a dim past that is not theirs but needs to be reckoned with as if it were. Not sure where Aunt Grace is going with the story, the kids are faced with the ugly prospect of something they despise, one of Aunt Grace’s unresolved ambiguities. “There was a slander, pure and simple,” she says as if to confirm their discomforting anticipation. “That is the heart of Uncle Will’s story.” “Madeline writes that Dolly was taking swings at anybody who tried to come close to aid Pat,’” Aunt Grace says, “like some animal defending a fallen mate, calling them vile names and accusing them of murdering her husband. As the cops were dragging her by dumbstruck Uncle Will, she stopped and pointed at him hatefully. ‘There’s the dog killed my Pat,’ she said, lunging at poor Will, swinging at him with clenched fists.” The enormity of the unfairness of these accusations had all but overwhelmed Kate, who
insisted it was Dolly’s guilt to bear, not Uncle Will’s. “If anybody deserved being hanged out of the affair,” she says, “it’s Dolly, not foolish Uncle Will.” “A most egregious turnabout,” Aunt Grace agrees. “Hanged?” Cletus laughs, working on a gallows. “Will didn’t drag her out onto the dance floor, you know. Will’s attention was genuine. She left town without ever seeing him again.” “How do you know this?” Cletus wonders. “Family lore,” Aunt Grace offers. “Things cousins talk about around the table when they pass the bottle. Things they heard the old timers talking about. Wasn’t long before Will was the villain of the tales around town.” “Poor Uncle Will,” Kate says. “Life’s not fair,” Sister R. says. Nobody disagrees. “Some called him scapegoat.” Cletus sketches voluptuous Dolly meanwhile, next to a spooky old gallows. There’s a white lace doily adorning her neck, of the kind seen on grannies in old photos from the attic. Cletus is thinking about poor Uncle Will, slandered as a home-wrecking murderer for all eternity, driven from the community like a rabid cur. Scattered around, the kids brave Aunt Grace’s scrutiny in turn. Cletus is sketching the finishing touches on wicked Dolly and looks up when he senses that Grace has come to him. He shrugs. “It needs to be righted,” he says. Kate and Sister R sit facing each other on the opposite umber chairs, while James occupies the large comfy chair by the fireplace. “How can it be righted?” James says. “He’s lived his life and died. His time is past. There’s no righting.” “The truth should be told,” Kate says. “How did Hollister die?” “Some said heart attack,” Grace says, “some said poison. He was clutching at his throat like he swallowed a hot coal, that’s for sure. Dolly had the body cremated. There was no autopsy or
inquest, nothing like that. There was talk about them charging Uncle Will, but it didn’t happen. Everybody saw that Will had his eyes closed and his back turned on Pat. He didn’t know Hollister was there on the dance floor until Pat went down and the commotion started. Wasn’t like he struck Pat or gave him something to drink that made him sick.” “He and Dolly must’ve been pretty far gone to keep on dancing after the music stopped.” “Too much beer maybe,” Cletus says, drawing a look from James. “Totally self-engaged maybe,” Kate adds, mindful that Aunt Grace, God love her, does not countenance remarks critical of good clean fun, which includes the modest and occasional imbibing of spirits. “What happened to Will?” “He left town,” Aunt Grace says. “Some had him working his act in Atlantic City. Some had him enlisting in the army and rising to lieutenant before he was killed in the Pacific Campaign. Nobody could say for sure that it wasn’t just somebody with the same name. Whatever happened to him, he never came home. To this day, when I smell starch, I think of Will Lusk.” “We should go down there and see the place,” Kate says. “Nothing to see,” Aunt Grace says. “It’s long gone.” Cletus shrugs and makes a face, amusing Sister R. to no end. Later, she will ask him to duplicate it in the mirror and draw himself, but he draws Lost Uncle Will instead, taken from the back row of an old photo. “The river washed it away years ago,” Grace adds. “It’s too bad,” Sister R. says, suddenly serious. “It really is. Too bad about Uncle Will, I mean. Too bad about Duck Island.” Nobody disagrees.
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Stolen Things Abbigail N. Rosewood
prose The three of us would have liked to leave, but the house held us there as captives, as guardians of the square corner of dirt in the backyard, which turned with the seasons from muddied snow to green and yellow specked with dandelions to blistered red and eventually an even brown of burnt grass. For Nelson and me, it was easier and perhaps even comfortable to be here. After drunkenly smashing a window and breaking into Riley Memphis’s house, our town council member, and becoming thence a felon, Nelson didn’t feel like he had many choices left. A certified pilot, he was now stuck busing tables at restaurants, groaning at the meager tips from Armani-suited men and diamond-adorned ladies. Nobody believed he’d been intoxicated enough to confuse the councilman’s freshly painted picket-fenced house for his own oxidized iron- gated rental. And I was waiting. For what I wasn’t sure−an opportunity to be braver, more honest—but I was more afraid than I’d ever been. Danny was the only one with any real motivation to get away. I had caught it in his eyes, a gleam of stifled hope and forgetting. Night after night in front of the computer, he’d searched for work or internships at hospitals out of state, sometimes out of the country. And I would reheat a slice of pizza, make black coffee for us, and silently, without words remind him that he couldn’t submit that application, couldn’t shrug off the weight he had brought to Nelson and I and asked us to bury for him. In November two years ago, I’d moved from the musky, electrically lit sky reflected in each raindrop of the city. Sitting at the crammed Greyhound bus station, I’d had to avoid eye contact for fear that if even one person I knew recognized me, I would be stuck there in the uncomfortable plastic waiting chair, forever transitioning, forever unmoving. I headed to the first small town with a familiar name−Ashwick, a name I might have overheard in conversation at the supermarket checkout stand or seen in one of the real estate flyers that always lined the damp pavement, sticky with rain and chewing gum.
I bought a used sedan on my first night in Ashwick. As I drove down the main street, I saw a large peacock casually cross the road and disappear behind a fence of grass. Though I’d had to stomp on the car’s brake once I saw him, I was cheerful to find such unexpected colors amidst curtains of darkness. As three men living together, it seemed, we were more aware than we should be of the spaces of we occupied. Each was overly cautious of intruding on the others’ spaces. At the house, Nelson was perpetually standing on the back porch smoking, American Spirits sometimes, Marlboros at others. He was one of the few people I knew who didn’t stick to only one brand. When I asked him, he said simply that he didn’t have a preference or any statement to make, that “Cigs are cigs”. Even at home he’d wear his waiter uniform, except his shirt was untucked and the black tie hung loosely on his neck. Our neighbor Nelly, a thirty something museum curator, had a crush on Nelson. Over the fence dividing our houses, she’d call to him in a tone of measured sweetness soured with desperation. I liked to stand with him back there, not because he needed company or because I smoked, but to leave enough space and quiet for Danny to study. For someone without a job or future prospects, I wasn’t envious but more proud of Danny, as if his accomplishments would somehow extend to me too. Perhaps we couldn’t have been more different, but each was our own tunnel that was inaccessible by the outside world, and that knowledge already bound us beyond the typical and polite roommate friendship. Nelson knew almost everyone in town, but I’d never heard him refer to someone as a friend, except for a girl from his hometown in South Carolina. Danny was often busy either studying at the college or interning at Ashwick Hospital. One time, I saw him with a group of nursing students at the Creek Bar downtown. I’d had three beers and was more forthcoming than I should have been. I came up and insisted he introduce everyone to me. He looked slightly embarrassed for me, but also for himself, that I’d found him there with
his own crowd. “They’re just classmates,” he explained. I nodded but didn’t immediately understand his flustered manner, bordering on hostility. Later, he joined me at the river, flicking the ash of his cigarette onto the boulder where we rested our feet. “I can’t smoke−−” Danny said abruptly, taking one last drag then crushing the cigarette on the stone between us. “I mean−can’t do much around them. At first it wasn’t like that. We were all different. Then someone started this idea that since our work revolves around saving others, it would be hypocritical to damage our own healthy body.” “Well,” I started. “You agree with them. It sounds like common sense. Humanitarian, we all are. But it gets tiring.” He stopped as if he was finished, then continued. “To tell you the truth, I don’t believe in saving anyone.” About a month after our encounter at the bar, Danny came home looking flushed and animated. His cheeks perspired but his forehead and lips were pale. Nelson was shaving in the bathroom and the sound of the electric razor droned on in the background. My mouth was stuffed full of saltine crackers and I could barely make out Danny’s whispers. “Help me, Kale. You’ve got to help me.” The words seemed to come from a deeper place inside him, somewhere frantic and yet determined. He looked surprise at the sound of his own voice. He crossed the living room to the back door and I followed him. He was still in his scrubs. Sweat dotted around his shoulder. I couldn’t help but noticed the smell of whiskey leaking from his pores. “Your mysteriousness is not sexy--No matter what girls may tell you.” I joked and heard my nervous laughter succumb to the darkness. The back porch was dimly lit and a strange yellow hue wrapped around the hood of Danny’s sedan. I puzzled over the chipped
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prose paint and the scratches on the headlights. Danny opened the back passenger door and said meekly, “I have to get her out of here.” I gasped as I looked inside. A girl, young, I judged from her outfit−short skirt, pink suede Uggs, and an oversized winter jacket with a fur rim on the hood. She laid awkwardly on her side, her strawberry blonde hair caked with a dark liquid falling like a curtain over her face. Though I felt the surge of my dinner pushing upward, I suppressed the urge to vomit. “You need to take her to a hospital!” I shouted as quietly as I could. Danny cracked his knuckles and with his right wrist repeatedly hit his forehead. I watched him, full of dread and pity, and understood what he needed from me. I cursed him in my mind−angry at his stupidity but at the same time startled by the trust he’d placed in me. Without asking any questions, I helped Danny pull the flaccid body from the back-seats. With the after warmth of the girl still lingering in my hand, we laid her down on her back on the grass. “I’m sorry to involve you, Kale. I just can’t think--“ Danny began to weep. “She died as soon as--there was no time. I couldn’t just leave her on the road. I couldn’t.” He sat down on the grass next to her, his hands interlacing with her loose fingers. Together, they looked beautiful and almost familiar, as if they’d known each other for a long time. “Who is she?” I asked dumbly. Danny shook his head. “I don’t know. But this is a small town.” He looked straight at my eyes for the first and last time that night, perhaps to confirm that I wasn’t in too much shock, that I understood our situation. I nodded to reassure myself. I looked up to find Nelson smoking on the porch, his eyes gazing at us, void of any discernible emotion, except for curiosity. Like Danny, I too had believed in my own helplessness in waiting for death to slip in quietly and claim my sick father. During those last few months before Ashwick, I’d convinced my girlfriend at the time, Jenny, to move back
home with me. “It won’t take long,” I found myself trying to persuade her. But I didn’t need to−−Jenny was more selfless than I’d anticipated. She packed our belongings in a hurry, taking care to include framed photographs of my buddies and me from college, competing in Battle of the Bands. In her subtle way, she tried to show me that she’d be there as long as I needed. It didn’t matter whether it was only a few months or a year. When he was lucid, my father prized Jenny’s company. I had just been promoted to floor manager at Best Buy and worked longer hours. To compensate for my inability to be home with my father, Jenny quit her job as a Lancôme cosmetics sales associate. I thought I had found the best partner I could ask for. It was our three-year anniversary that day. I’d come home late after spending an hour too long at Tiffany’s. I’d felt like a cop-out with the expensive jewelry in my hand and still hoped that the earrings were beautiful enough to make her forget we hadn’t spent much time together lately. When we did, our conversation revolved around my father: the new medicine the doctor prescribed to decrease nausea and help him eat better, the amount of times he’d asked where my mother was. Jenny updated me on the most minute details of their routine, but grew quiet when I asked if he was getting better or worse. “Better. Better, I think.” She nodded to herself. “Sometimes, he thinks I’m your mother. But--it’s fine.” She reassured me. I’d gotten into the habit of tiptoeing around the house to not disturb my father. With the earrings rattling in my hand, I clicked the door close soundlessly behind me. Jenny was by my father’s side. Neither of them noticed me. I saw his eyes wrinkle like a smile; and he squeezed her hand while putting it against his hollow cheek. I watched her back, trying to decipher what she felt but hearing only her unintelligible whisper to my father. “My dear Jenny.” He reached up and pulled her face down to his lips. Jenny stood up to leave and did not look surprised to find me already home.
“Happy anniversary,” I said without taking my eyes off the blank screen of the TV, as if I’d never seen it off before. “Happy anniversary, Kale.” She smiled with a frazzled expression and immediately my confusion about what I’d just seen dissipated. “Here,” I moved forward to give her the gift. As I looked at the diamond petals, I no longer felt guilty---this was the right present after all. I lifted her hair and watched Jenny pull on her thin earlobe to put the earrings on. I suddenly felt more love for her in that moment than in the last three months we’d been at my father’s house. “Wait here,” Jenny disappeared into the guest bedroom, where we now stayed, and returned in an emerald green dress that touched the floor but was slit open in the back, revealing her defined calves. I kissed her then, first her toes, then her inner thighs. We made love on the couch that night with my father snoring softly in the background. “Danny. Danny.” I called and turned his head away from the sticky puddle of pink vomit. Lying on the grass had made little indents on his face, and aside from the stench of sweat, alcohol, and vomit, he reminded me of a small child who had fallen asleep under the sun. From the front porch, we looked like college students after a typical night. In her shrill voice, our neighbor Nelly offered to give Nelson and me a hand. I scoffed under my breath; and Nelson politely thanked and refused her. “You’ll kill yourself if you keep this up, Dan.” Nelson threw a towel at Danny. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. We only did what we needed to do. Kale agrees.” Nelson stared at me and I nodded. “This is bullshit. I wouldn’t have helped you if I knew you were going to act like this.” Nelson yanked on Danny’s arm and pulled him upright. I ripped off the missing person flyer that was taped on our mailbox. Andrea Lane. Sixteen years old. Last seen−I balled up the paper and
tossed it in the corner of our neighbor’s yard. It was an accident. I repeated to myself, as if I were the sole perpetrator of her death. Danny stood up without making eye contact with Nelson or me. He wobbled from the yard, past the living room, into the bathroom. We heard him turn on the faucet, and among the sounds of running water were sobs so knotted at the throat they came out raspy and thunderous like laughter. I told Nelson about my father----not of the last few months before he died but of how I remembered him my whole life. Death seemed to take all the variegated, broken pieces of my memory of him and consolidate them into one single, polished frame. Though when he was alive, my father was a mystery to me. Death had made him accessible, even likeable. “One time, he was stationed in the Philippines. He fell in love with a woman there.” I recollected. “They had a kid.” “Before or after he met your mother?” Nelson asked. Consumed by a train of thoughts, I was startled by his interest in my story. “I was already five or six.” I stopped talking and Nelson didn’t inquire further. I’d been obsessed with my father’s story and nagged him whenever there was an opportunity to tell me about the Filipino woman and her daughter----my sister. I pictured them as alien and beautiful as an age-old relic. Even as an adult, I always saw her in my mind as a little girl and her mother an inexperienced girl of eighteen. Next to them, my own mother lacked luster. Her pale, blondish bun of hair became an irritation to me, and, it seemed, to my father too. I listened to my father’s unapologetic tone when he told my mother about the Filipino woman. I watched a rupture of pure hatred flare up in my mother’s eyes and diminish slowly into resentment, and then one day, nothing at all. The day she finally left my father and walked out the front door, taking our Pomeranian with her was the most beautiful moment I remembered of her. In his explosive and yet fleeting anger,
Nelson reminded me of my mother. I walked behind him as he cursed the spoiled high-schoolers with six-figure cars, his mindless co-workers, and his grandmother in South Carolina who had remarried after her husband died at seventy. “Can you fucking believe it?” He was indignant for his grandfather, and as someone who found it so easy to be alone, he couldn’t understand his grandmother’s need to find someone late in life. We walked behind the art studios and were shielded from the powerful blast of the spring wind. The streets were empty then except for a few diligent dog walkers. We entered an alley. Nelson walked in long strides; his steps stressed and irregular. He stopped in front of a lime painted house and turned the knob. I looked around at the overgrown grass on either side of the lawn and at the gnome with an annoyed expression, his arms stretched out as if holding something, but whatever it was had been broken off. Inside, the living room was empty of furniture except for a few trinkets, miniature cars and baby cribs that looked as if they were picked at random from an antique shop. “What’s this?” I asked Nelson, suddenly irritated at the mystery of it all. I walked through the house, opening door after door, sneezing when puffs of dust escaped and whirled up my nostrils. The bedroom, too, was empty, the sheet flattened without a single wrinkle and tucked under the mattress similar to my father’s bed after they removed all the equipment and took his body away. “My house. Or used to be.” Nelson crushed his cigarette with the sole of his shoe. He left the bud on the granite counter in the kitchen. I thought I saw the cigarette’s orange glow still burning and wisp of smoke wheezing through, though weakly. I fiddled with a miniature perfume bottle. “This probably smells like shit,” I felt the need to make a perfunctory comment. “Stop resenting your father, Kale. He’s dead. Just like this house.” He announced in his usual severe and yet inoffensive tone. “This place is my memory box. I’ll sell it soon. That’s all your father is, all tucked and cozy inside a
memory box. Sell him to me, I’ll take it from you.” I looked at Nelson, indignant and at the same time perplexed at how much he knew. I squeezed my brain and searched through the memory of those nights when I first came to Ashwick and met Nelson at the bar. After the few drinks he generously bought me, what did I ramble to him? As if he had read my mind, Nelson filled the gap. He looked around the room and his intense blue eyes seemed many hues lighter. He looked happy. “Have you ever made a sacrifice for somebody, Kale? That’s what you’ve got to see it as−−an honor. I’ve never had the chance to give a thing to anyone.” He pointed at the strange paraphernalia lying around the room. “I stole all these things from neighbors, friends. I was trying to put together a home with meaning, out of other people’s precious memories. Somebody cared about these things!” He was more excited now. ”It didn’t work though. They’ve taken on a new meaning−stolen things. That’s all they are now.” I knew what he was referring to. I wanted to defend myself and tell him Jenny was not just a stolen thing, that she meant more to me. But I couldn’t; the truth was that Jenny’s value was augmented the moment she slipped from me. My father had seemed to know that his time was coming. On his death bed, he hadn’t had any more to tell me than when I was a boy. Jenny sat behind me, detaching herself from both my father and me, as if the sight of us together was somehow too corrupt for her. She pinched the hem of her dress and then her knees, apparently impatient. ”I’m leaving all my real estate to Jenny: our vacation home in Canada, the apartment in California, and this house.” My father pointed at the folder on the bedside table. “It’s all there in my will.” He gasped for breath, apparently exhausted all his efforts. I nodded, unaware that my fists were balling up. Before me, my father no longer looked like a dying man with drool stinking up
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prose the collar of his shirt, but a man capable of hurt after hurt. “Fine,” I managed. “Anything else?” He raised a hand to scratch his chin and I suddenly felt a mixture of deep anguish and hilarity. He shook his head and gazed at Jenny, who was now shaking with tears behind me. I left the two of them alone and closed the door quietly. I had hoped for my politeness to strike them just as my father’s professional instructions had me. Three hours and some minutes later, Jenny came out of the room. I looked at her then, void of pity or compassion to offer. The skin on her face was raw, possibly from repeatedly weeping and wiping the tears away. “Kale−−,”her voice cracked. Hearing her say my name made me snap, “Don’t. Stop.” I swallowed but wanted to scream, to charge at her. Instead, I asked in the softest voice I could muster, “Did you ever care about me?” She nodded, her ears bright red. “Did you love him?” She nodded again. Her expression this time was calmer, more serene. “Then you can bury him.” I left that night, full of rage and indignity. In the car, I talked to, shouted at, and mocked my father as if he hadn’t died. After I’d exhausted my anger, I told him about my memory of the cabin in Canada. My parents had bought it with the hope of starting a family tradition, to go there every summer, but we only stayed once. My mother left the year after. I admitted that I’d always taken his side even after he betrayed my mother. The night before she left, I’d yelled at her to go away when she tried to put me to bed. Gripping the steering wheel, I asked my father how he acted so cool, how he’d lived like he owed nothing to anybody. I asked him whether he was disappointed that I’d turned out just like him. “The dead don’t take anything with them,” Nelson said. As if in a trance, the three of us had dug and dug that night without exchange of looks or words. We kept our exhales quiet and our grunt-
ing minimal, Nelson spitting over his shoulder, Danny mumbling confused prayers in his throat. Perhaps Danny had seen the cross pendant on the girl’s flat chest, though I somehow doubted the prayers were for her. Shielded by the raised wooden fence and the ash tree, it seemed we were brought together just for this moment, to show how little we cared to resist tragedy, how willingly we embraced circumstance. Our three pairs of eyes shifted skyward then down to the dark hole we’d created. The grave was a little too short for the girl to lie straight on her back, so we positioned her fetallike, her hands tucked between her knees. I pictured Jenny then, a stranger to my father’s life and even more so to his death. She would be lost flipping through the yellowed pages of his address book, looking for people to invite. Perhaps she’d buried him alone, clawing dirt with her finger nails, licking tears off her chapped lips. Or maybe she’d hired a team of professionals and paid for a cherry wood coffin. Amongst his family members, she would have to explain where Edward’s son was, why the nurse was the one to arrange the funeral. I didn’t know, of course; I’d walked away before I could watch myself be the darkness that crept up and invaded the look in her eyes. This stranger, Andrea Lane, in this way, was more lucky than my father. And for our own selfish reasons, we were all grieving for her. “Everyone dies, Dan. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a future. The dead are happy. The dead are lucky. She can’t take anything from you if you don’t let her.” Nelson bent down to push the bangs out of Andrea Lane’s face and tuck the loose strands behind her ears. A final touch. I realized that unlike me, Nelson had a conviction. He didn’t believe in ruins, or in a life ruined by a single act. He poured a cup of black coffee and handed it to Danny. “You’ll be fine, bud. You’ll see.” Danny slumped back on the couch and sipped the dark brew with startling submission. Everything felt normal, the light bulb above us still dead, the sink still overflowing with dishes, Nelson smoking American Spirits. It was easy to believe nothing would
change. The police didn’t try to dispute Nelson’s confession. A hit and run was not past a convicted felon. It didn’t matter that the car was Danny’s. Nelson simply explained that he’d borrowed it that night. They took him in and verified the body buried in the back yard of the old house Nelson was putting up for sale. Somehow, he’d moved the girl without Danny or me finding out. Or perhaps we’d simply looked away, convinced that Nelson always had his reasons. By then, we’d practiced so much detachment from the incident that it didn’t feel like it was our business at all, but Nelson’s entirely. A yellow tape marking crime scene and warning against trespassing wrapped around the lime painted house. The police were disgusted by Nelson’s sardonic plan: to merely sell the house and rid himself of all responsibility. Danny graduated from college with the shining, golden honor cord around his neck. Except for a few instances when I caught him trembling and mumbling incoherently under his breath, a new habit of his, he seemed all right, just as Nelson had predicted. Danny would go on to save lives, whether or not he wanted to. I had nowhere to go but south again, to retrace my steps. When the yellow traffic light turned red, I thought about Nelson and his memory box. I wondered if in his own way, he was successful at purging himself from it. Perhaps that was all our lives were---stolen things--cloaks taken from another and tried on to see how they fit us. For a while, I didn’t understand my own paralyzing silence, why it was preferable to the truth. “Thanks, Kale.” Nelson said the last time I visited him in prison. “What for?” I wanted to ask, but didn’t need to. Taking Danny’s fate, wearing his cloak, was better for Nelson, better than to face the vast emptiness beneath. And I thought too, about the nature of sacrifice, how it frightened us, wrapped its cord around our neck and choked us, a mouthful of our cowardice, when it was meant to free us.
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AVIAN INTERMISSION I had some people over to the condo for a gatheringâ€”some female friends and the actor Richard Klineâ€”but the false monk was being his usual dour self. Blackbirds staccatoed the sliding glass door, a frothy profusion on the patio. What does it mean? asked one of the ladies, a Customer Service Rep III at a vinyl siding company, and she might have taken her leave had it not been for the practiced reassurances of Richard Kline. Some of the false monkâ€™s mimeographed pamphlets lay scattered about, and he glowered at anyone who dared rest a wine cooler on them. His brilliant scheme was to open the glass door so the birds could swoop through the condo, befouling the furnishings. You could place a sheet of glass in the middle of a field and birds would still fly into it, said Richard Kline. They are not evolutionarily equipped. His manner made even the inane seem oratorical. There was much tittering, much heaving among the womenfolk. The false monk muttered something about evolution being the chimera of the devil, then stormed off to his cell. At that moment the entire condo shivered. Guests screamed, someone muted the hi-fi, a maroon drink sullied the carpet. A great bird had heaved itself against the building and stood now among its fallen kin, gingerly examining its machinery of feathers. One woman thought she saw in its face a human countenance and called the bird a harpy while another thought it a condor. Richard Kline supposed it might be a sea hawk or sea eagle but admitted his expertise did not extend to matters avian in nature.
MOTH EXTRAVAGANZA Did you hear the one, asked the false monk, about the Capuchin-Franciscan friar and the tarnished sacristy? Yes, I said, nipping this in the bud, as the false monk’s jokes led invariably to severe cluster-style headaches and irritable bowels. We were in Foot Locker, browsing the running shoes. The false monk claimed to already own a pair, but what he called “running shoes” were really just halftanned scraps of cowhide wrapped in baling twine. Can I help you? said the sales clerk, dressed as a referee. Am I being penalized? said the false monk, who saw the uniform and was befuddled, which in turn confused the sales clerk. Add to that the moths that began to gather, thickening the air until we were forced to grasp the bracket-style shelving for support. Though the sales clerk fled, we knew to keep still, as moths tended to coincide with the false monk’s embarrassments. I was impressed by the store manager, who sprang from his office, DustBuster in hand, like an actor in a corporate training module. Were an omniscient godhead to peer down on us later that evening, he would have witnessed the following:
1. the false monk doing a bit of light-to-moderate flagellating in his cell, then sitting down to Three Men and a Little Lady, which he would subsequently deem vastly superior to its predecessor, Three Men and a Baby, despite my protestations. 2. me trying and failing to assemble an Empire State Building 3-D puzzle my stepfather gave me as I listened to the false monk guffawing over Steve Guttenberg’s antics. 3. the Foot Locker sales clerk attending to his ornamental garden, then turning on some light jazz and running a warm bath with just a hint of the Jasmine Vanilla aromatherapy fragrance oil he picked up at Bath & Body Works over his lunch hour.
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OBSERVATION DECK At the ribbon-cutting, the architect gestured as though the building were his and he had dominion over it, but some bellows had been breathed into its lungs so that it arose independent of the blueprint. The darkness of its glass facade we accepted on our tongues like a communion wafer. The marble sheeting writhed in the stonemasonsâ€™ hands, the I-beams quivering like a horseâ€™s muscles under the skin. Applicants entered at unappointed hours for interviews from which they never emerged. The name of the corporation had been chiseled from the frontispiece. The grass nearby grew lush, like the grass over a grave, the building a corpus with piles sunk deep into the earth. Despite my trepidation, I climbed the stairs to the rooftop and stood at the exposed railing, wind buffeting me. This was always the initiation: yielding to what we made but could not control. Standing in such opposition to the gaping sky, I remembered what someone once told meâ€”that my desire was common among acrophobics, the voice in my head urging me to jump.
RELEASE VALVE Afterward we waited in line to spangle the alley with vomit. The hourlies didn’t mind hosing away our leavings, for it had been a command performance, the artist’s brilliantined hair shimmering under the lights, and the—no, the chainsaw song he played can’t be cheapened by words, nor the artful way he freed his hands from the ruined gloves, the snap of rubber in the stone-still auditorium. You can write around music but it can’t be translated or stifled, hamstrung, dismembered the way—no, again, anemic language. The performer’s craven eyes, his teeth wet with blood, the velvet curtain behind like a membrane visible only after the skin has been flayed. I had been furious about the service fees the ticket broker charged, but standing there in the alleyway, wiping the last of the sickness from my chin, I knew the release valve had been triggered. And the knife, which I sharpened all morning while admiring myself in the mirror, now rested in my hands like a frozen aardvark.
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EJECTION SEAT Just yesterday a novice pilot crashed a Navy jet into an apartment complex, diverting the fuel so as not to create a fireball, ejecting himself and his co-pilot. Those in the apartment complex, unequipped with ejection devices, were diverted to area hospitals. The Rottweiler in the park grew lonely as it padded around, a wind stirring the fallen leaves, late afternoon shadows lengthening on the mown grass. At their last meeting the councilmen had declared the park no longer sufficiently diverting. At the time of the vote, five of the six were diverted by social networking. Three believed they were voting on a bond issue. The dog found a fountain to drink from and allay its thirst. Above its head loomed the statue of an old statesman with his arm in the air, index finger raised, marbleized mid-sentence, just as he was about to say, â€œThis is the problem with sentences these days: fewer are completed, yet more and more are trailed by exclamation points, like vicious dogs giving chase to new amputees!â€?
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Jean-Luc Bouchard is a student of English, Music, and Asian Studies at Vassar College. When he
isn’t pretending to know what he’s talking about in class, he’s interning at a publishing house in New York City. He is an occasional stand-up comedian, a full-time nerd, and a lover of ragtime piano. He is originally from New Hampshire.
M.E.McMullen’s work has appeared in numerous print and online journals and been cited for Editor’s
Choice, Pushcart, Hugo and Free Library Fiction (EBSCO), among others. Most recently his fiction has appeared in Temenos, Newport Review, Straitjackets, eFiction and Offcourse. His regular reviews of classic short stories appear at www.untowardmag.com.
Dan Pinkerton lives in Des Moines, Iowa. Poems of his have appeared in New Orleans Review, Indiana Review, Boston Review, Subtropics, Willow Springs, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among others.
Abbigail Nguyen Rosewood writes in order to make sense of the world and in hope to connect
with others just as lost on our human journey. Her works have previously been published at BlazeVox, The Missing Slate, The Bad Version, Pens On Fire, Greenhills Literary Lantern, and others. She studies Creative Writing at Southern Oregon University and works as as editorial assistant at The Missing Slate. In 2012, she received the Michael Baughman Fiction Award from Southern Oregon University. She can be reached at www. abbigailnrosewood.com.
Steven D Stark is a Boston artist and writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. www.artofstark.com
Fabio Sassi started making visual artworks after varied experiences in music and writing. He makes
acrylics with the stencil technique on board, canvas, or other media. He uses logos, tiny objects and what is considered to have no worth by the mainstream. He still prefers to shoot with an analog camera. Fabio lives and works in Bologna, Italy. His artwork is featured on our cover. He is a regular contributor to Umbrella Factory Magazine. His work can be viewed at www.fabiosassi.foliohd.com. His feature work on our cover page is entitled Floating
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Literary Journal, featuring fiction, nonfiction, poetry. Read, Submit, Tell everyone you know. Stay Dry.