Shorts Blotterature Literary Magazine Online Issue March 2015
Editor-in-Chief Julie Demoff-Larson
Editorial Staff Michelle L. Quinn Kayla Greenwell
Blotterature Literary Magazine would like to thank Kayla Greenwell for her dedication and keen eye to detail. Her editorial work in this issue is proof that she is going to be a rock star as she moves forward. We would also like to thank Taylor Lubbs for the youthful and spunky cover art he created for this issue. And to the contributors for their faith and trust in Blotterature. You rock! Blotterature Literary Magazine, founded in 2013, is a division of Blot Lit Publications, LLC based in Northwest Indiana dedicated to merging the art of fancy talk with blue collar sensibilities. We remain grateful for all pennies you, fair reader, throw our way to further our cause. To donate, please visit our Web site at blotterature.com and look for the donate button.
Cover Art/ Layout: Taylor Lubbs Inside Design/Layout: Julie Demoff-Larson
Blotterature Literary Magazine, Online Spring Shorts Issue, 2015 Copyright ÂŠ 2015 All rights revert back to individual authors upon publication. For more information about submitting, please visit our website at blotterature.com. or contact us at email@example.com, facebook.com/Blotterature, or @Blotterature.
Note from the editor Writing is such a solitary thing. From the moment inspiration turns into an idea for a story until it is a polished piece sent out for consideration, the process is pretty much singular. If it wasn't for writing groups and critique partners a writer would only have the consciousâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the egoâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;to keep us company(and we know how ugly that can be). It can feel like solitary confinement, banished to the catacombs of the mind: the room with the view outside the 4"x4" window of the stinking garbage cans in the back alley, or at the computer (continuously rubbing that lump that has grown on the back of your neck from long hours hunched over the keyboard). But not to fret, it is all worth it when the work is finally published. Right? Right. And although the work speaks for itself (as it should), there is sometimes a disconnect between the reader and the writer. Good stories leave us wondering about the author and where they are from, what their background is, and what they even look like. I know I feel this way. So for Blot's Shorts Issue I wanted to highlight not just the stories, but also the artist. I asked each to write a personal sketch that included their work in the writing community, which you will find before their story. Some chose to use their word count as an extended third person bio and some took a more personal approach. Also new in this issue is a featured visual artist. JC Olsthoorn's work is inspirational, complex, and thoughtful as is evident in the pieces he is sharing from his "eye the beholder" series. Included is an interview that gives detailed narrative about his work, commitment to the arts community, and reveals the his dedication to his craft. Hope you enjoy the issue! Julie Demoff-Larson
Table of Contents Nonfiction 7 9 10 12
Cassi Lapp 10 to 15 Over
Krista Varela On the Rocks
Visual Art 15 16 20 21 22 23 24 25
JC Olsthroon Interview Dinner Place In Transit Calm After Storm Blood Tree Future Yet City Old New
Fiction 27 28 29 31 32
Scott Romani Midnight Terrain
Chris Bullard Pill Marriage-a-la-Mode
34 36 38
Peg Alford Pursell
Our Loses A Worn Sock
The Identity of Plants through Osmotic Means
Mary Leonard A British Woman Visits Sacromonte
47 49 50
51 53 54
56 58 60 61
Benched Search and Rescue
A Thought Process Necessary Work
Catherine Cole Janonis Roberta Flubs the Fibronoccis
Gary R Hoffman Absolute Silence
Cassi Lapp gets restless where she lives in Arkansas. She has pursued teaching writing and reading full time at Northwest Arkansas Community College, after formerly balancing teaching and working as a newspaper reporter. The latter job spawned this piece, as the days seemed to grow synonymous with the last and challenges grew thin. She has been named the stateâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Outstanding Young Journalist and earned several first place journalism awards, including best beat reporter for her police and fire coverage. That coverage is what she misses most about working in journalism, along with telling other peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s stories. She was awarded Photo of the Year for a shot of a boy dunking his head into a reserve water tank during a fire department training burn on a hot summer day. Firefighters offered her turnout gear that day to go inside the blaze, but she declined. Later, she scolded herself for being a coward that day. Now, she 7
chooses to do things that are scary, like she used to, like the time when she was younger and sold everything she owned and moved back to Colorado, where she grew up to live beside a ski slope. There is no skiing now, living in Arkansas, but she is an avid distance runner and cyclist. She believes in promoting healthy lifestyles and pushes that too hard sometimes on others. She earned her MFA from Bennington College, and is currently the nonfiction editor of The Low Valley Review, NWACCâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s literary journal. She lives with her cop boyfriend and his K9, the smartest dog sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ever seen.
10 to 15 Over Sometimes I drive fast (not as fast as I can) along Highway 72, in the morning or late afternoon, to work or coming home. Hands: ten and twelve. Actually, it’s more like an inverted hold on four-thirty and maybe a nine to steady my nerves, not the Subaru. I run late but not late enough to get attention. Real business people are already at their desks, sipping coffee from stainless steel mugs with Kansas City Chiefs logos and checking emails from other businessy people. There’s a stretch on 72 that is as close to a drag strip as that road allows, and then a curve and a dip to the right at the brick house that overdoses every year on Christmas lights. This part of the road is good for testing wits—how fast can you take the turn? And by how fast, I mean what level of brake do I actually apply so that I stay in my lane, cautious of oncoming traffic. I’m speeding, by about ten miles-per-hour. This is my life, ten or fifteen over. Never balls-out fury. The faux-denim button up shirt hanging on the handle in the back seat is blowing in the wind, coming alive, dancing in the cross-breeze of the window and the sun roof, overjoyed with speedy fun. Following a man on a crotch-rocket, I keep up. We can go fast. We come to a stretch of doubleyellow and he swerve into the oncoming lane to get around a white farm pickup holding up progress. I don’t follow. I see him wave to another biker, low one-hand-to-the-road wave. I would wave at another Subaru if I saw one coming. Frantic: do you see me? I’m right here. Here I am.
Krista lives in Concord, California with her partner, miniature dachshund, and a dozen exotic fish. Her writing career began when her freshman composition teacher threatened to forsake her if she didn’t write a book in eight years, which she took very seriously. She now has two years left on her deadline. She recently received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Saint Mary’s College of California, where she is now a lecturer. “On the Rocks” began as a short character sketch for a craft class with Marilyn Abildskov. Krista is forever indebted to Marilyn for many things, but mostly for the wonderful writing prompts she provided throughout grad school that led to many unexpected, satisfying essays.
Krista is an assistant editor for The East Bay Review and occasionally writes for Booma: The Bookmapping Project. Her work has appeared in Red Savina Review, and Toasted Cheese, for which she won the 2014 Midsummer Tale Writing Contest. Her work is also forthcoming later this year in Vagabond City Lit, Sugared Water, and South85. Those who inspire her include Jo Ann Beard, Abigail Thomas, and her dog Quincy, who lost all of her teeth and half her jaw to cancer. Krista mostly writes about growing up in Tucson, and she is interested in interrogating how the desert drives the people she loves to drink (or maybe it’s the other way around—she hasn’t figured that out yet). She would love for you to add her on Twitter @kdvarela84
On The Rocks Erin wants more grandbabies. She’s a high school dropout, a housewife for over two decades, and her children are all she has. But they’re all grown now. Her family is a quilt pieced together from mismatched fabrics: three children who only have her DNA in common, two stepchildren who walk in and out of her life, three grandchildren that don’t carry her bloodline, a husband who’s getting angry at getting old. The whole thing has frayed edges, rips, and stains, but it still keeps her warm regardless in her empty nest. She wants a new patch to sew on, one that will make everything else look fresh. Every night is the same: after dinner she clears the table, leaving the dishes on the counter to clean tomorrow. What else does she have to do? Erin pours herself another glass of vodka on the rocks and goes outside to sit by the pool with her husband Michael because she doesn’t want to be alone in their big house. They sit in silence, not talking because they’re trying to forget the cruel words they slapped in each other’s faces during dinner just minutes before, or because the alcohol has already made them forget. They just watch as the sun sinks behind the mountains, streaking vivid pinks and oranges across the desert sky. Michael doesn’t notice the way his wife’s red hair catches in the final rays of daylight; he just smokes a cigar while he sips on some scotch. Erin dreams of holding a baby in her arms while she absorbs the last bit of warmth from the day. She’s too old for another child to save her marriage, but perhaps a grandchild could do it. Maybe next time I’ll get it right, she thinks.
She and Michael are going to get divorced, she tells me every time she sees me. He is mean, so nasty to me, she says. She has been telling me she is going to leave him for eight years. Calling me her daughter, she kisses me on the cheek in the way that Jewish mothers do and asks me when I’m going to give her more grandchildren. I’ve only just finished school; she doesn’t even care to wait until I marry her son. She pleads with me, tells me she’ll come live with us and help me, and promises she won’t drink. I shrug in response; I’m so afraid of disappointing her that I can’t tell her that I’m terrified of giving childbirth, paralyzed by the idea of my body splitting itself in two. Irritated by my silence, she takes another drink from her glass of vodka watered down with melted ice, her red lipstick staining the rim.
JC Olsthoorn spends time at the Domaine Marée Estate near Otter Lake, Quebec, writing raw poetry, creating coarse art and cooking scratch food. His poems have been published in a chapbook, ‘as hush as us’ and have appeared in literary magazines. JC’s artwork has been exhibited and has appeared in several publications. He is a curator at the Arbor Gallery – Centre for Contemporary Art in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, and is curating the gallery’s sixth annual EROS 2015, an exhibition of erotic art, opening in February 2015.
Interview Blotterature is always interested in where the artists we publish are from. We closely identify with our blue collar roots and the steel industry here in Northwest Indiana. Tell us a little about your upbringing and current place, and how that comes through in your art. Although we had little money growing up, I never felt we were poor. We lived on a two acre former cow pasture on the highway running through Beloeil, Quebec, with a huge field and a forest on either side of us, and with a valley and creek running in front. Somewhat isolated, there was always stuff to do, build and destroy, and that is where the roots of my creativity took hold. The angst I felt as a teenager—in high school, in college and in university where I studied drama for a bit—fed that creativity and the result then was raw and angry poetry, some diverse artwork and the knack of lateral connections. I’ve always taken the more complex route. Simple would never do, complicating my life enormously. Never accepting anything for what it was, questioning and challenging the status quo, has always led me to see the multi-layer forms of everyday things. In your collection eye of beholder, in which we have included five pieces in this issue, there is a lot of layering and distortion of common scenes that open a dialogue about perception and reality. What was the catalyst for your concept and what, if anything, are you wanting to convey? Making links between things that are not obvious or that others don’t readily see is one driver of “eye the beholder”. These pieces originate from 16
real life, captured on Ekta and Kodachrome slides, and from both film and digital photographs and prints. I render the 3D world around us into the two dimensional and try to bring some of the depth of the real back into the pieces through the different processes I put the original images through. My tools include my Mac and iPad, a colour and a black and white laser printer, flatbed scanner, paper and overhead transparencies (which is getting harder to find—donations accepted!). The next step of the process is to take apart those images you see—many of them are layered sheets of images printed on transparencies—and set them up as three dimensional installation pieces so you can recapture the depth of the images. Never a simple nor straightforward approach, but I feel the results of complicated and complex are much more rewarding. You are also a writer. Do you ever blend the two forms? And do you admire any other artists that do? One of my pieces, “when mom died”, was in the Scarborough Arts’ curated Word Lens 2015 exhibit in Toronto earlier this year. I combined a poem I had written about the morning the news came that my mom had passed away with a sketch made from one of the last pictures I took of her a few days earlier. I have another piece integrating a poem of a friend’s trip to Ireland with a photo taken there. I admire artists who do it well, blending images and writing in both subtle and obvious ways. Pamela Petro [http://petrographs.blogspot.ca/] comes to mind, particularly her Aftershadows piece and her forthcoming “graphic script” Under Paradise Valley.
And I get a kick out of artists who write or scratch on their canvases as they paint leaving hints of the text for us to wonder what they wrote, and when we look at the painting, we know, kind of. But most art is a blend—in the narrative of images and words. It is hard to separate. The text doesn’t have to be obvious in visual art to be read and the visual comes easily in many well written texts we read. A multi-sensory experience is really what you are aiming for, isn’t it? Blotterature is continuously trying to bring local visual artists on board to feature in our journals. However, they are very reluctant to do so. What encouraged you to first submit your art to journals? How has this helped your career and what advice can you offer? A willingness to share your vision expressed in your art is a motivator. For me, it starting with two acrylic paintings accepted into an art exhibition. Soon after, the same two pieces were published in an arts organization annual art book. That was encouraging! In submitting my poetry to journals I saw these publications—such as your own—were looking for visual art and photography. Oddly enough, more of my artwork has been accepted for publication than my poetry. That has led me to a real reexamination of what I want to achieve with my writing. My career as an artist, a writer, a curator of art exhibitions has never really been a planned one. It just seem to emerge organically. I must I have been inspired and encouraged by those near and dear to me—that is one of the greatest influences to continue—those lady muses of mine. Best advice would be that the shotgun approach is not the way to go. Target your submissions to publications you genuinely see as a good, and challenging, fit. You do want to challenge the art editors to consider your work, particularly those who are looking for art that’s new, fresh, so if you 18
have it, send it. And don’t be afraid of rejections. At the same time be realistic. Are the pieces we have featured in Blotterature for sale? How can someone get in touch with you if interested? Some of them are for sale. One of them is currently in a juried art exhibition. They are limited editions printed on metal. They do capture a moment in time, though, and my intention is to use the layers that made up the pieces in an installation so I can better recreate the depth I’m looking for. I still haven’t figured out an elegant way on how to do that yet, but I’m sure I’ll wake up at 4 a.m. and it will come to me. The trick, then, will be to remember the idea! To reach me, check out the contact page on my website [http://olsthoorn.ca].
From "eye the beholder" series
From "eye the beholder" series
From "eye the beholder" series
Calm After Storm
From "eye the beholder" series
From "eye the beholder" series
From "eye the beholder" series
City Old New
Scott Romani is an MFA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. His fiction has won two Turow-Kinder Awards. He is currently working on a coming-of-age novel about a drag queen who performs country ballads from the 50s and 60s. This is his debut publication. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Midnight Terrainâ&#x20AC;? was a welcomed symptom of insomnia. It started with the image of strangers coloring each other as a way to get to know their bodies. It may or may not be based on real events. When Scott is not writing, he teaches, choreographs, and adjudicates dance across the nation. He loves cookies and karaoke.
Midnight Terrain We got drunk on cheap champagne and used highlighters to draw maps on our bodies. Under the black light we followed trails with our fingers and our tongues, over hills and through valleys, no part untouched. We were kings and explorers. We were nothing but colors. Sometimes the lines ran onto the bed sheets and we got lost in the white, under it, rolled around in it. We looked for treasure and found nothing. We kissed with the caps undone, drank until the bottles were empty and our bodies had had enough. I blamed my misfortune on the sun, how it turned mountains into markings, but I knew he was never going to ask me to stay.
Chris Bullard I am a native of Jacksonville, FL, and I like to think of myself as part of the Southern Gothic story-telling tradition of Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews and Barry Hannah despite the fact that I live in suburban New Jersey and have a backyard full of native plants and a water feature that I know you’d really love if you had a chance to stop by and see it some time. My mother was from North Carolina and my father was from Virginia, and my other mother was from Kentucky and my other father may have been from Kentucky too, although that particular fact is unavailable. Although I have to this point refrained from writing about savage acts of religious and/or racially related violence among hunters and farmers living in swamp-like settings inhabited by legendary animals celebrated in folk stories handed down by generations of antebellum land owning families of local renown, I do continue to say “pin” instead of “pen” and I still believe that, if you take a BC Powder, you come back strong. I began writing works of short fiction after my experiments with the prose poem led me to the conclusion that that the two were virtually the same. Both of the works that appear here started as poems, but got longer and are reflective of my general concern with the issues of memory and guilt and how to stop yourself from remembering all those things that you know that you’re guilty of. Kattywompus Press published my third chapbook of poetry, Dear 29
Leatherface, in January of 2014 and WordTech Editions expects to publish my second full-length book, Grand Canyon, in 2015. My work has appeared in publications such as Rattle, Pleiades, River Styx and Nimrod.
Pill I never accepted the diagnosis of ADHD that the psychologist in the smug cardigan gave you after he had plowed through the frantic children in his waiting room like a tug going down a river full of drift ice to announce with nauseating calmness that you needed to be medicated. I didn’t understand why he shrugged like an over-worked family court judge when your mom and I quarreled about her live-at-home boyfriend, who was unemployed except as a boyfriend, or about my girlfriend with her two complicated children. I didn’t like how he discounted the effects of my shuffling you back and forth between my apartment and your mom’s place while she and I tried to work out who would help you do the homework and who would drive you to the soccer games and who would take you to see your friends and what to do when you cried because you were tired from all the driving between places, or when you wanted something that was at the other house and not where you happened to be that night. I didn’t believe his well-practiced assurance that your moodiness and your refusal to follow your teachers’ directions were the result of a simple medical condition that could be easily treated with Adderall, or Ritalin, or whatever the drug companies came out with next, but I gave you the pill every morning at my apartment. I gave you a pill that I didn’t believe in because not giving it to you would mean further arguments with your mother about everything we had decided and every action we had taken or failed to take and how it affected you. You had to take that pill because taking it was proof that what you had become was not our fault.
Marriage A-la-Mode Stem cells made everybody physically immortal, but didn’t do anything about senility. Minds still deteriorated over time. Every so often you had to get a new identity with a new set of memories. These identities were stored electronically and could be downloaded from the Cloud. You couldn’t ask to stay yourself because you’d be imprinting over the same brain cells that had been giving you all the problems. You had to awaken new brain cells by accepting a donor personality. That’s why I’m now Lester Potts, an accountant. The neuroscientists are forbidden by law to tell me whom I used to be. Anyway, my problem is Lester still loves his wife. He thinks about her all the time, wondering what she’s doing and thinking about how lovely she looks. My days have become filled with thoughts of Lester’s wife, whom I have never known and who may be dead, just as Lester might be dead, even though I’m Lester. After some time suffering a painful, unrequited love for this woman I decided that I had no choice but to find her and attempt to rekindle the passion that had existed between these two people, one of whom I now was. I was unable to circumvent the security surrounding former identities although I was able to learn of someone who had become Lester’s wife through the imprinting operation. This woman was not the slender blonde Lester remembered, but, rather, a middle-aged brunette trying to wear dresses designed for women who were size 4. Nevertheless, I approached her, hoping to renew our imprinted relationship. Unfortunately, I found that her memories of Lester were more ambivalent than my own. She had once loved Lester, but no 32
more. He had hurt her former self and she knew that he could never change, although I had. That the woman whom Lester loved, and whom I had been programmed to love, would reject us was so devastating that it broke both our hearts. I have been left with only the comfort of meeting other people who have also undergone the treatment to become Lester Potts. That there are so many of them can only be explained by the fact that there is a real desire among many people to become accountants. I always find them drinking at the same bar where Lester hung out. Did I mention that Lester drinks excessively? I recognize them by their look of perplexed despair. When I meet such a fellow I have the opportunity to reminisce with him about our wife and the wonderful things we remember about her. Yet, I have never asked another Lester Potts about what motivates him to continue to love a woman who does not exist. I should know these things, but itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s difficult to ask myself such hard questions. And if I did, Lester might just tell me lies. Did I mention that Lester often lies?
Peg Alford Pursell
Peg Alford Pursell (http://www.pegalfordpursell.com) lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where, upon her transplant from the Southern Coast (via a brief Midwestern stopover), she founded Why There Are Words (http://whytherearewords.com), a monthly reading series in Sausalito that celebrated its fifth birthday in January 2015. This well-regarded series, named Best of the Bay for Literary Event in its second year of operation, regularly packs the house with those eager to hear readings from writers such as Antonya Nelson, Daniel Handler, Peter Coyote, Edan Lepucki, Peter Orner, Jennifer DuBois, Justin Torres, Glen David Gold, Melissa Pritchard, and too many to mention.
She teaches in North Bay Writers Workshops (http://www.pegalfordpursell.com/north-bay-writers.html), a program of writing workshops she founded in the Bay Area about five years ago. NBW has created a new Facebook page, open to any interested writer (https://www.facebook.com/northbaywriters). She’s served as editor of the Marin Poetry Center Anthology (2014) and on boards of various literary organizations such as Litquake and the California Writers Club. Peg works as an editor and writing coach. (http://www.pegalfordpursell.com/whatothers-say-about-my-editingconsulting-services.html) Her fiction has appeared in the Los Angeles Review, Eleven Eleven, Tupelo Quarterly, among others, and a manuscript of her stories was short-listed for the Flannery O’Connor Award. Her 90-word, one-sentence story "Fragmentation" is the title story of Fragmentation and Other Stories (Burrow Press, 2011), and her 990-word story "Project," published in Annalemma Magazine, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She evidently has an affinity for writing stories with word counts that are multiples of nine. “A Worn Sock” and “Our Losses” likely had their origins in her fascination with the relationship between sons and mothers—particularly when sons are grown and in committed relationships with women other than their mothers and the resultant complicated triangulated relationships. Not having sons herself, she’s interested in what she doesn’t know and writing about that. Recently her mother was hospitalized for a serious health problem. While her mom lay in her hospital bed in a semi-conscious state her youngest son entered the room, where several daughters kept vigil. At that point, though her mother’s eyes hadn’t opened to see his entry, the monitor near her head showed her heart beating erratically.
Our Losses We had been robbed so many times there was no point in locking up anymore. Anil and I could not afford to replace the TV so we watched our favorite show Thursdays down the street at Cosby's. No one at the bar wanted to watch dance, but Benny Cosby had taken mercy on us because of all the break-insâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and because I'd agreed to work the late shift on Saturdays. Anything for Anil, who accompanied me on those Saturdays, her sloe eyes growing dreamier and crooked smile softer as she drank creamy white Russians until closing. "Aren't you afraid to sleep in that apartment?" asked my mother, when we stopped by to borrow her blender. Anil had started on another one of her rigorous protein drink regimes, consuming only liquids composed of dark leafy green vegetables and mushy fruits she blended together with a specific dried whey powder and flax seed oil. These concoctions were putrescent-looking shades of gray and puce, but she swore the mixtures kept her brain vibrant and her complexion clear. Mother would not lend us her blender, fearing it would be stolen. "Come by anytime you like to use it," she told Anil lovingly enough. But going out to the suburbs three times a day? A frown pinched Anil's face. "Give me another week and I will have you a new blender," I told her on the bus ride home. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d ask Benny for extra hours. Anil shrugged, which might have meant anything. She pulled her paperback out of her bag and began reading. She still had her books. Did thieves ever steal paperbacks? In the dark window I could see nothing but my own blurry reflection. 36
I suppose we all believed the thieves would strike again. Yet when I got home and looked around the place I had to admit there was little left to take. An ancient vacuum cleaner, Anil's electric toothbrush, a dented iron no one used. "The thieves have taught us something valuable," I said. Anil, stretched out across the mattress on the floor, allowed her eyes to finish scanning a line or so before she closed the book on her finger to mark her place. She looked up. "I hope this is not another one of your makinglemonade-out-of-lemons statements," she said. She wiggled her foot impatiently, perhaps unconsciously. I grew warm under her scrutiny. How could I finish? "Well?" She sighed. I nodded. "I was going to say that we have learned to live with even less." I wished I were the sort of man who didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have to look her in the eyes. A dullness in them became visible to me, and I understood I had been an inattentive student. It would be difficult at first, I thought, as I left for my shift at the bar, but I would teach myself to live without her eventually.
A Worn Sock A hole had opened in Josie’s sock under the pad of her foot not too far from her pinky toe. It didn’t bother her. She wasn’t like her husband Carl, who, as a boy, couldn’t bear if the seams of his socks didn’t lay in a clean horizontal line across the top of his foot, or if extra material bunched up over his heels once he’d stepped into his oxfords. Carl had planned to do something about how inexact sock measurements were when he grew up, his mother once confided to Josie. The two of them had been sitting outside The Coffeeshop having afternoon tea, a term Carl’s mother used metaphorically as she herself was on her second glass of chardonnay at three p.m. Her eyes were moist with merriment. Ah, Carl. Her first-born, such a pistol. The memory of this tête-à-tête came to Josie as she pushed her foot with the worn sock and its hole into her hiking boot. Seven months of marriage and Carl was more of an enigma than ever. Where was he now? He might be at his studio downtown where he constructed odd, elaborate sculptures using precisely folded paper he dared anyone to label origami. A night person, Carl often left their bed after she’d gone to sleep. She imagined him driving through the drowsing neighborhood, a sliver of moon witness when he let himself into the warehouse on Canal Street. It was dangerous to go there alone, but he only widened his eyes at her when she said that, and told her it turned him on when she made proclamations. Josie laced her boot and sat quietly on the edge of the bed. Outside the window, a squirrel jumped to a higher branch and scolded a creature Jess couldn’t see. She could wait for Carl to show, which would be a mistake— it could be tomorrow when she heard from him—or she could head out to the trail alone on this perfect Sunday. 38
She stood, her knees unhinging stiffly. She ignored the movement in the mirror across the room—her reflection that she knew would disappoint her—and crossed the room and began to feel the hole. The tacky spot where the flesh of her foot made contact with the inside of her boot made itself increasingly known as she went out the door. The sensation would either worsen as she went or she would grow numb to it. She didn’t want to stop to change.
After nearly 20 years calling Chicago home, I moved to southeast Virginia about three years ago to start teaching at Christopher Newport University. As a lecturer in the English department, I'm teach classes that cover fiction, nonfiction, playwriting and some introductory poetry. Such a wide range of classes feeds my own creativity and engagement with new writing. By assigning contemporary books from independent publishers every semester, I also get to read fresh work and discuss it with budding writers every year. Having just finished a novel, I'm currently revising two fulllength plays, one a comedy and one a drama. This short prose piece was inspired by a camping trip I took with a friend to the national forest in Missouri. We were asleep in our tent high on a secluded ridge when an ATV came roaring up the gravel road and scared the holy Moses out of us. Nothing came of this late night intrusion, but it lodged a thought about what it would be like to be young and restless in the middle of the woods 40
in America. I dislike taking pictures to remember visits because they are so static, so instead occasionally try to capture the feeling of a place through small character sketches or contemplations. I generally write these by engaging in a completely judgment-free gush of language focusing on the feelings that location evokes, my field of daffodils I suppose. After I have effused enough, I hack out the waste and try to find some thematic structure to the text. It's a way of writing completely different than how I approach my longer prose or drama pieces. Being able to play around in different types of writing and trying out different approaches to the composition of texts keeps writing exciting and (that dreaded word) fun as well.
The Identity of Plants through Osmotic Means Every night Timothy rode the motorbike the six or seven miles up into the hills to look over the bluff. Most times, apart from holiday weekends, the area was free of campers, families with pop-up pull-behinds or cheap tents with their thin smoky fires and mounds of plastic wrapped foods. Those times, he made a circuit and left for home. But when the space was empty and the moon was clear in the sky, he'd turn off the engine, recline on the ground next to the bike and close his eyes until the heated metal stopped ticking and he could hear insects, far-off dogs howling and rustling in the fallen leaves. He'd then open his eyes to the stars and oak branches above, imagining he lived a hundred years in the past or a hundred years in the future and try to construct his life. Like a solid chunk of ice in a bucket of water, he thought of his personalityâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;whatever it was that made him Timothyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;seeping into the environment. He wondered if ice became contaminated by what it touched, or if somehow, like the granite cliff over which he did not drive, it remained impermeable to change until at last the ice melted into its surroundings.
I wrote my first story when I was 8. Sister Francis Xavier said, "Write about winter." My story? Sleigh riding. I remember being lost in the page, not aware of anything but the telling. I didn't see or hear Sister standing over me saying, "Stop, it's time to stop." I started writing that day and never stopped. In the 1990's I walked into a wonderful opportunity at Bard Collegeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;to work with the incoming freshman on writing. The faculty was small and they became my teachers. As part of our training weekend, a language poet led a workshop: "Open up your notebooks, grab language that strikes you, do not think. Take those fragments and write a poem."
It was exhilarating and I brought it all to the summer high school writing program at Simon's Rock. The workshops were not all hanging on the hill grabbing poems dropped from the sky. We read stuff by Neruda, Nikki Giovanni, Bell Hooks, and an essay I love, Paul Auster's Why Write. His answer became mine. Write the stories you need to tell. Friday afternoons we would merge two classes for story exchange, pairing up to tell something from our lives. The listener wrote a version, true to the essence and that was it. One year I heard about a trip to Sacromonte from a faculty member. Was there a goat? Did she nurse it? Hmm. The cave and the parties and adventureâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;all true. And that old manâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;he only exists in my mind. Truth and Imagination. That is how the flash fiction, "A British Woman Visits Sacromonte" emerged. Life Details: I live in the Hudson Valley and still teach through Bard College's IWT and MAT programs. I belong to The Woodstock Poetry Group, send my work through email to writers I trust and would be lost without my local writing group. I give readings in the area at bars, hair salons, artists' studios and bookstores. The photo was taken last year at a reading in a gallery in Yonkers.
A British Woman Visits Sacromonte I knew the Spanish hated the British but not me, Molly Price. I was tough—a matador. But this night, I wasn't going to kill a bull or put up with any bull. I was out for a fiesta, a bacchanalia, after the two years of trying to raise my kid alone. I had been living in Barcelona working as a set designer but hating the politics and the men. My husband? A bastard I left behind in J’berg. I hopped on a train with my two-year old and arrived at Sacromonte, a town near Granada filled with peasants, goats, and old men playing bocce. I knew some bishop was buried nearby but I didn’t drop in to see relics and catacombs. Local gypsies led me to a cave, and said, senorita, fiesta, vino, aqui, hombres. Exactly what I was looking for. No one spoke English but I wasn’t there for conversation. I put my kid to sleep in a dark corner of the large cave. An old man lying nearby gestured that he would watch her. He smelled like goat but his eyes were kind. Later that night, I stumbled my way back to where I'd left Madeline. The dark was worse than the black of a grave. When I complained to the body next to me, he cursed my British blood. I patted my baby but she was out cold for the night. I couldn't sleep and only heard the cries of an abandoned baby nearby. I crawled to him, thinking I could comfort the kid since Madeline was still nursing and my breasts were full. He was swaddled in soft blankets and I put his hairy head to my breast and gave him my milk. He slept and I dozed off dreaming of roaming goats in the hillside. When I woke up, I heard the crying again and crawled back to pick up the baby I'd nursed. The gypsies were up, staring at me, curling their lips, mumbling, pointing and spitting on the ground in front of me. The gas 45
lamps had been switched on and I looked closely at this baby, the kid swaddled in blue. Shit, no human. I had nursed a young goat, a little beast had been at my tits! The men were making sucking noises and laughing. I stood up, sneered. My own child was pulling at my skirts, "mama, mama." The room went silent. I folded my purple down bag, picked up the goat as if it were a discus and started spinning. I was gaining incredible speedâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;that's what I wanted. But the old man, the old Spaniard who had watched over my Madeline, grabbed my arm and shouted, Senorita, Basta. I stopped. His eyes, sea blue eyes, put me into a trance. We were doing a slow dance, the old man and me cradling the goat. He bowed. I placed the goat gently on the cave's dirt floor, lifted my kid and left.
Mercedes Lawry I moved to Seattle in 1978 from Pennsylvania. Well, actually we didn’t move, we just drove west in a VW Bug with our stuff and a dog and a few hundred dollars. Seattle was a great undiscovered place then, astounding natural beauty, affordable (1st house $100/month), and gritty and interesting. Alas, no more except for the natural beauty. Can you tell I’m bitter? After years of a sullen, hermitic literary life, I joined a writers group with some folks I’d been in a group with years ago (note: there are many “years agos” in my bio notes) and others who are equally talented, kind and have a wry sense of humor regarding “po-biz.” While I primarily write (and have published) poetry in such esteemed journals as Poetry, Nimrod and Harpur Palate, I also write short fiction/prose and stories and poems for children. I’ve long had a concern about the issue of homelessness. With the breakneck pace of gentrification in Seattle, including sky-rocketing rents, there seem to be daily stories about people forced to leave their long-time homes and greater numbers of homeless necessitating the need for even more tent cities. That was the impetus for “Benched.” I’m not exactly sure what prompted “Search and Rescue” other than the first line popping out of nowhere and my own skepticism and inclination 47
to run screaming from such tales about the search for meaning as “Eat, Pray, Love.” Give me Kafka every time. I even have a Kafka lapel pin purchased in Prague. I used to wear it for suitable occasions such as board meetings or strategic planning sessions. I suppose I did try to weave in some lyricism in “Search and Rescue” as well as a smidgen of sympathy for the narrator. But in the end, I am, as one friend said upon reading a manuscript of my poems, “a dark little thing.” Thank you, I replied in my best Elvis voice, thank you very much.
Benched Sure, Gloria’s under the bench. It’s that sort of day. Not even raining but any minute—look at the hanks of clouds, you can taste their desperation. They want to shit the water straight down on us. I can’t be blaming the girl, it’s the world’s got its teeth in her. Never mind the pity, I don’t see right and wrong’s got anything to do with it. St. Theodore, he’d be dead now one or is it two years. We called him St. Theodore when he was facedown drunk. He used to try the rhyme and reason—explain why we were here and stinking and they were there and not. And what’s the difference when your tongue’s black and you’re empty? Gloria’s still under the bench, but she’s not dead. I can see her chest heaving a bit. Is that good or bad? Lunch is coming in the truck today, that’s good. If it’s tuna salad, that’s bad. But they’ve always got a peanut butter and that’ll do me. I’ll get one for Gloria and put it under the bench if it’s not raining, otherwise what’s the point.
Search and Rescue She was in a hurry to find the mystic. The mystic was not eager to be found, having succumbed to a period of ennui and the faint hope it might produce enlightenment—a new sort—a deeper version, a simulacrum of the bottom of the sea, pressure notwithstanding. The clear lines of the boulevard helped her stay the course. Creamy lights, filigree, windows washed in silk. With few clues, she had a substantial task, the search, but god-bless-her, she’d learned perseverance along the way. She’d been beaten down at regular intervals with fervent imagination. Yet here she was, tottering as best she could manage in her better shoes that had become too small as she, herself, had become too large by the standards of the day. Her time was running out, not quite as quickly as an hourglass might indicate—but soon enough. The mystic might hold the key or he might not, but he was her last chance. She had very little faith left and she was wellaware it would not regenerate. She could spare the physical, flesh or bone, but she could not spare the spirit. He must be nearby. She caught the scent of cardamom and felt a jazzy tingle at the back of her neck. She listened fiercely for a voice that sounded weary and mimicked bells.
Here, in Hampton Roads—or Tidewater—our literary life is fragmented. We have multiple groups that are exclusive of each other. When we go to one group’s events, we seldom see anyone from other groups. Learning about events is precarious: often each group advertises only to their acolytes. It is maddening. I try to do what I can to get the groups to cross-pollinate, but my stature in the eyes of all is diminished for it. I wonder if this failure of community is common everywhere, or if the strange nature of my community makes it toxic to cooperation.
Elements of my family have lived here for hundreds of years. I will live here. I will not know how flat the tires are on literary vehicles that may exist elsewhere. I discovered that I was to be a writer at sixteen, when I was trying to impress a young lady who liked poetry. Showing my interest, I randomly selected Randall Jarrell’s “The Lost World”, read the first poem, and realized that I was going to be a writer. No yearning, no lofty goals: simply a strike to the forehead with a blunt object. I continued on to get my first degree in Psychology, my second in Computer Science, and I am soon closing my career in Information Systems (early retirement). I published widely from 1974 until 1995; then I gave it up in a fit of pique until 2009. In 2009, I figured I had pouted enough and got back into the wash—mostly, this time, on the Internet. Both of these pieces deal with levels of obsession and the inability to expand from it. They murmur of the misapprehension of consequences. Agents in action do what they do many times from the best of intentions born of misperception and over-focus. Evil or accomplishment is not a mathematical construct, it is an emotional pedigree individually fitted.
A Thought Process She had a lot fewer problems when ideas were round. They were so much more comfortable. They rolled about in shared space with little impetus. They changed directions. They bumped into each other and all went in new, unpredictable arcs of the faintly possible. Then came cubical ideas. Six sided thoughts and rectangular processes. These ideas tended to stay where you left them. They squatted. Colliding, their angular edges merely chipped; their surfaces wrinkled and quivered and the ideas simply shivered to a halt. The old, reliable spheres might vary in size, but a sphere is a sphere. One spherical idea might be larger or smaller than another, but all of them obey the same simple geometry: they all act the same canonical way. But these new box-like concepts were growing annoying. They lay about, in the way, shifting seldom, becoming roadblocks to safe conclusions. They leaned or they sat or they reluctantly slid, but never did they roll. They killed the fescue of the mind where they loitered. She longed for the days when her best ideas touched down at only a point, bounded at the slightest push, and could spin through the full quiver of angles. She was comforted, in those days, by the great chaos of globes of thought jostling in lines all of unimaginable ordination, a great confusion of rollicking concepts busying about to no rest and no inevitable pattern. And then one day she noticed two rectangular thoughts stacked one on top of the other, and she thought: oh no, these are building blocks.
Necessary Work I always knew light was a collection of things: intertwined wavelengths, cohabitating photons. What we think of as a single shaft of light is actually a thousand variations on the theme of light, all gathered in the same space at the same time. It is a unified cacophony of brilliance, a congress of feral glitters. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve often wondered why it does not burst: why all these wavelengths colliding do not fly out as fractures of light, as filaments escaping at all angles: a starburst. Even when broken with a prism, the pieces fall out so orderly, so singularly self-composed. There is no emotion at liberation, no sadness at separation. Each element quivers to its own echo, bunched beside its mate: wholesomely ragged when dismembered, when left so dimensionally alone. I have noticed how the light leaking out of a prism has no warmth. Going in, it is the white, blended light that leaves heat spots irregularly on the floor. Out of the prism, it has switched warmth for color, impact for appreciation. I have always thought that if I could get inside the light, I could figure the gradients of its mindful marriage, understand its internal chromatics: discover the twilight of how its warmth scurries out. I see what goes into the prism as more astounding than the feckless disharmony that comes out. The key to the union is what transfixes me: the love of light lies less in its togetherness, than in the reason it seeks to be an oleo. Rainbows are for show. They mislead the ill-informed. So at night I sit up late into evening distending the light. I pry filament from filament, peel back each distinct element. Captured light wraps 54
sensuously around me, pools luridly on my bed, cascades down onto the lowly rug that protects me each morning from the bare, cold floor. Quanta scurry about, set free like metal shavings around a lathe, colicky at times, but cavorting independently at others. I pick and pry, getting with each attempt deeper: singing my workmanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s song to the massed wavelengths, humming my brazen curiosity to the happily oscillating photons. Most of my night, it is I in the dark, making progress: unable to see my hands, unable to see where I should shred with my teeth, where I need to peel with the tips of my worshipping fingernails. I feel the light all around me; the light ponding underneath my bed; the light enveloping; the dark holding itself in awe of me. Beneath each layer of discovery, there is another. Energy lies across my shoulders, hums its sexless mating in my lap. I know I pleasure the dark too greatly, but it cannot be helped.
Catherine Cole Janonis
I live in a medium-sized college town in northern Colorado where I’m a member of a writing group that’s in our thirteenth year. We’ve had different members, but three of us have been there from the start. Shortly after we discovered flash, two of us started to meet on a weekly basis to write some. We met in coffee shops and often wrote the color scheme or the barista into our piece, although I don’t have one here. At first I wasn’t particularly fond of the form but since have decided it is well suited to online publication. This story started out as part of a short series. The largest piece, “Psychology, Cooking, Chemistry,” was published in Hobart online in June of 08, although I’ve changed the character’s name. Some of the story is based on the last time I saw a high school friend. I was shocked when she 56
said she didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t want to see me that summer. We have since been in contact, and this photo was taken just days after I visited her in Maine. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d picked up that puppy and was taking her back to Colorado. When I selected that picture to send, I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t realize there was a connection to this flash. Numbers have been changed to protect identities. To make this bio fit, it needs to be 233 words long to fill part of the missing sequence.
Roberta Flubs the Fibonaccis Roberta hadn’t expected anything other than spam wrapped in holiday bows. Certainly she wasn’t expecting this note from a friend which drowned out the drone of Ginger, her mother, who was huddled in an afghan with fractal swirls against the perceived cold of Roberta’s apartment. But the email. The friend. Maybe the smartest person from high school. The summer after college started, Roberta had waited as Ginger sailed through the produce section as if expecting more than one rotten pineapple. Her mother quipped with the check-out boy while Roberta pressed fingertips against her incipient headache, and Debbie emerged from the canned food aisle. “Let’s meet for lunch,” Roberta said, happy to encounter a classmate free during daylight. Everyone else had been swallowed by the halls of IBM. “No thank you,” Debbie, perhaps embarrassed to have been caught pushing one can of peas in her empty cart, whispered. Roberta should have suggested tea. That’s what they’d drunk in high school, two mugs or three cups of Lipton’s. Tea, or dinner at five, would have been more realistic. This Christmas email wasn’t totally out of the blue. She’d sent a card with a photo of eight smiling women, most going gray, to entice Deborah to attend the next class reunion scheduled thirteen months hence. If you want to know who’s who, you’ll have to email, Roberta had written in her concise handwriting. But today was Christmas, and she had forgotten. After that brief run-in at the grocery store, Roberta hadn’t heard another peep from Debbie, no wedding announcement at 21, no holiday letter. Nothing. Until now, thirty-four years after Debbie’s transfiguration to 58
Deborah. And what did the smartest girl from high school say? That she was a Red Sox fan. “Baseball holds the answer to everything,” she wrote. Not what Roberta expected from the only person who’d read Joyce in junior high. Deborah had included a picture of herself, beer in hand, at Fenway Park, her bones chiseled with a fine blade, face smooth like a wave-scoured pebble. No glasses. At fifty-five Roberta wore bifocals. Practicality before beauty. While her eighty-nine year old mother swore at the TV, Roberta typed back, “I must rebuke your designation of baseball as supreme; the Fibonacci numbers are the key to the universe.”
Gary R. Hoffman
Absolute Silence Sometime in the future, a guy named Robert Parker would write a book titled Stranger in Paradise. In it, he would make a statement that said, "There is no quiet quite like the one that follows gunfire." A hundred years plus before that, I made such a similar statement to a guy who called himself Earl Hardin. Earl claimed he was the brother of the outlaw John Wesley Hardin and had come West to find out the truth about his brother. He made a living by writing what would later become called dime novels, and he interviewed me for one of them. He would send his writings back East where they seemed to be popular. This interview came after my run-in with the Robertson brothers, Mathew, Mark, and Luke. From their names I figured their mama wanted them to follow the Bible, but somehow it didn't take. Their game involved coming into a town, killing off the local law, and running the town as they saw fit. They did the same thing in Gold Crest a couple of years ago. As soon as the decent people left, the town dried up, so they moved on. Their next target was Mingo Trace, my town. We met on Main Street on a Friday afternoon in June. The gunfight that followed lasted only a few seconds, but all three of them were dead in the dust. At that point, there are no sounds. I opened the chamber on my Colt and dropped out the spent cartridges. I knew it made a clicking sound, but I couldn't hear it. I didn't dare touch the chamber or the shells because they were too hot to handle. I saw, but didn't hear, our barber and undertaker, Wilson Hargrove, slink from between two buildings housing his place of business. He immediately started measuring the men to see what size coffins they were going to need. Because we had no way to preserve bodies, quick burial was imperative. It was also important to only make a coffin fitted to them. 61
Cut lumber was expensive in our time, so even a few extra inches would be considered a waste. The coffins were a tapered hexagon shape, sometimes called a toe pincher. After the bodies were placed in them, they would be displayed in front of Hargrove's store for a day and then buried. The first sound I heard was my heart thudding in my ears, followed by people's feet clacking on our wooden sidewalks. Muffled talk came next. Doors creaked opened and curtains were whooshed back. Horses snorted and birds started to chirp again. Normalcy would take several minutes, if such a thing were possible. Such absolute silence following gunfire will only be experienced by a few peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the fewer the better.
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