Issuu on Google+


A Journal of the Arts

Produced by the Humanities Division of Columbia State Community College

Columbia State hereby reaffirms the policy of the Tennessee Board of Regents that the College will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, gender, sexual orientation/gender identity, religion, ethnic or national origin, sex (except where sex is a bona fide occupational qualification), age, disability status (where the individual is a qualified person with a disability), or status as a covered veteran. A Tennessee Board of Regents Institution. Columbia State Community College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award Associate of Art, Associate of Science, Associate of Science in Teaching, and Associate of Applied Science degrees, and technical certificates. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call (404) 679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Columbia State Community College. CoSCC AI-01-04-13, Parris Printing, Nashville, TN - 1,000 copies


STAFF 2013 MANAGING EDITOR Beverly Mitchell

EDITORS

Ana Basoa Shelly Ganter Emily Gaskill Brittany Hall Jeff Hardin Susanna Holmes Anne Reeves Michael Sztapka Greg Wood STUDENT EDITOR Dylan Platt

CREATIVE COORDINATOR

Amy Spears-Boyd

COVER: Never-More

Photography by Kim Klein


Contents William Williams

Fast Times

5

Ken Powis

Boyhood

6

Ken Powis

The Bumble Flea

7

Mariah Clifton

Through Me Eyes

8

Mariah Clifton

Elegance

9

Neil Jones

You Boys Done the Best You Could

10

Haley Imhoff

Family Dinner

12

Haley Imhoff

The Holy Island of Inisfarne

13

Jennifer Tkaczyk

Cliffs of Moher

16

Jennifer Tkaczyk

Struggle

17

Misti Richardson

First to Drown

18

Misti Richardson

Randomness

19

Mariah Clifton

Divine Beauty

20

Mariah Clifton

For the Artist

21

Misti Richardson

Candid Encounter

22

Kim Klein

Web of Tears

23

Barry Gidcomb

US in Rome

24

Stuart Lenig

Staircase Study: Amsterdam Bookshop

25

Kim Klein

A Poem I’m Having Trouble Writing

26

Kim Klein

Dragon Fly

27

Jayne Halter

Calm Before the Storm

28

Alicia Helton

The Horses

29


Elizabeth Upshur

Fly

30

Elizabeth Upshur

A Note from Madison… Now that I’m Dead

31

Jessica Kovalchik

An Afternoon in Venice

32

Claudia Kay Johnson

Why did not these enjoyments last?

33

Jennifer Tkaczyk

Jerzy

35

Joan Cook

Bus 53

36

Tonda Gainey

To My Dad

39

Stuart Lenig

Naval Jan

40

Beverly Mitchell

Being in Love with Borges

41

Linda Hayes

Christmas Stairs

44

Stuart Lenig

St. Paul’s Under a Cloud

48

Dylan Platt

Max and His Imagination

49

Stuart Lenig

Cherry Tobacco

51

Chiquita Bullock

Hawkeye

56

Elizabeth J. Mitchell

Six Word Stories

57

Elizabeth J. Mitchell

Haphazard Haikus & Other Ephemera

58

Elizabeth J. Mitchell

Anti-Ode to the Color Pink

59

Stuart Lenig

Inverted Stones

60

Micah Maloney

Lifetimes in the Bunker

61


Fast Times

William Williams

5


Boyhood Ken Powis

When I was a boy I played on the rocks Of the basalt-bound bay of my town Where the spouting horns spewed their geyser sprays Bringing rainbow foam floating down And the seagulls screeched their piercing calls To the charmed children on the ground The marshy, reed-ridden, weeping woods Where we staged our impromptu plays Where we fantasized ghosts and ghouls gleamed at night And the sunglow glistened the days Where we dreamed of cowboys and castles and forts And watched fairy dust dance in the rays The woodsy hills in the back of our town Helped us dream that we climbed to the top Of McKinley, Mount Hood and Rainier And we blessed with boy blessings the place we were born As we romped in the blaze of our summer days And longed through the night for the morn I ache to go back to those carefree days When my spirit and soul floated free And my mind gave full force to its curiousness And I climbed and I climbed the same tree In an effort to reach the down-fluffy clouds And fly with them over the sea

6


The Bumble Flea Ken Powis

I thought I was a bumblebee When really I was just a flea How awful to be just a flea When thinking you’re a bumblebee I guess I need some therapy

7


Through Me Eyes Mariah Clifton

8


Elegance Mariah Clifton

9


You Boys Done the Best You Could Neil Jones

The roar and clatter of the truck first got my attention, reminding me of a clanking, growling tank. No muffler and needs the lifters adjusted, I thought. I was pumping gas in my motorcycle, trying to make it home before the night and the rain were full on me, when he pulled up in the forty-year-old ’67 Ford pickup. The old man smiled and waved like he knew me. I peered down at the gas nozzle like I didn’t see him, but I couldn’t help but look after he pulled up at the pump right in front of me. He eased his way out of his truck and planted himself carefully on the ground, and then limped straight to me faster than I thought he could, leaning on a curled wood stick as a cane. Gaunt but still big-shouldered, he was once a taller man, now shortened by an old man’s stoop. He had a thick shock of sheet-white hair, too long and curled above his ears around the frayed black cap. On the crown in yellow letters read U.S. Army World War II Veteran Craggy-faced, in his eighties, or older maybe, he looked near worn out as his cap, all but the blue eyes that held the singular clear gaze of a young man. He pushed his glasses back on his large nose as he bent over with his face four inches from the emblem on my gas tank. “Harley Davidson,” he said. “Nice motorcycle.” I noticed the holes in his jeans and amused myself to think it was not a fashion statement on him, just holes in the jeans. Unsteady on his feet, he used his free hand to grab a hold on my handlebar. “Rode a ’37 Harley Knucklehead myself before the war.” “Yeah,” I said, removing the gas nozzle. “Figured you might have been a biker when you came in and waved,” and pointing to his cap, “I see you’re a veteran of the big war.” Replacing the nozzle, I wiped my hands with a paper towel and extended my hand.

10


He shook it vigorously, proudly. “Yeah. Forty-fifth Infantry. Was in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. In five campaigns late ’42 to the end of the war. Was most ever’where fighting the Krauts ‘cept . . . that, that little island . . . . what you call it.” “Sicily?” “Yeah. That’s it,” he said, rubbing his temple. “I had two strokes and I have a little trouble remembering sometime.” From a ways off, thunder rumbled low and long. I invited myself into his war and he took me back to the 1940’s, when the world would tear people in pieces by the millions, and we dealt with the paradox of that horror coupled with the knowing that the alternative would be worse, much worse. Young men knew their calling. He told me about Hitler, Rommel, Patton, and a German guard he found dead at the gate of the concentration camp. The guard had a camera and “’Course I wasn’t supposed to, but I took that camera. It had eight pictures of the camp. Still got ‘em.” He smiled. “We liberated that concentration camp . . . oh, what was the name of it?”

“You were in the 45th? It was Dachau, April of ‘45.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That was it, and we, we loaded thirty-nine railroad cars of them poor starving folks.” Lightning split the night bright behind him and golden-silhouetted the bent old man, and the thunder banged, now closer, louder. “They was just walking skeletons, they was.” He shifted the cane to his other hand and steadied himself again on the handlebar. “You know I wanted to give ‘em my K Rations, but Sgt. Williams said no. Another GI give a man some and he wolfed it down and fell to the ground holding his stomach and then died outright.” Gazing into the night, he was quiet a few seconds and I was careful to give him that time. Then he turned those strong eyes to me and said slowly, “I tell you, son, in the war I seen some awful things, but I never seen nothing like that Dachau place.” Shifting his weight, he leaned too hard on the motorcycle and it teetered some. I put my hand on the other side to steady it. “Oops,” he said, “Didn’t mean to push it.”

“It’s ok. I got it.” 11


Family Dinner Haley Imhoff

12


The Holy Island of Inisfarne Haley Imhoff

13


Lightning exploded right on top of us and for a second flashed the night into midday, making both of us drop down on our knees by the motorcycle. I was up quickly and around to his side helping him up, cursing aloud as I always did at ungodly loud noises. “Damn, that was a big one!” The old man playfully poked me in the belly with his cane. “Like a damn 155 round, wadn’t it, son?” Unable to hold a smile back on that one, I said, “Yeah. Would’ve had our heads rattling ‘round in our helmets.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Figured you to of been in the arm’ service. War vet too, I figure.” I told him that yes I was in the Army and in my generation’s war, Vietnam. He grinned on that one and slapped my shoulder. “I knew it. Can always tell.”

And I said, “Yes . . . yes you can.”

“You were in the good war,” I said. “And all of us owe you thanks for giving all you gave and all we got.” “’Preciate that, young man.” Both his hands quivered slightly as he took my hand again and shook. “Nobody but my late wife ever told me that before.” Then he looked at me dead on with those strong, blue eyes, cutting through the awkward moment.”And I know in that Vietnam war, you boys done the best you could.” We spoke no more. I watched him shuffle into the store, rocking with every right foot step, leaning full on that cane. A lady held the door for him and he nodded his thanks. As he made his way to the men’s room, I already had put in my credit card and was filling his truck. The last thing I did was to pull out my Army unit coin that I had carried in my pocket for forty years, and left it on his dash. The rain was pinging the metal roof like the rattle of machine gun fire. And the lightning cracked and the thunder blasted me again like a 155, damn it all. I had to move. I cranked up my bike and gunned it out of the gas station just to hear my loud pipes as we split the night. It was 14


raining harder when I got a mile down the road and pulled on the Interstate. Turning southbound, away from my home, I twisted the accelerator open full, watched my tachometer redline as I went through the gears, and looked down at my speedometer climb. I zigged around and between semis and cars until I had the speedometer at 100, faster than I had ever been on anything and still be on the ground. The rain, increased again and bucketed me square, soaking everything. I hunkered down on the gas tank and felt the cold stinging burn of the rain pelting my face. My left eye was hurting so bad, I held it closed tight, with my right eye barely open and seeing everything curvey and cloudy. The engine pounded in throbbing breaths between my legs; the wind screamed around me and hurt my ears. My headlight cut by the white stripes that speared past me so fast they appeared one. Lying flat out across the gas tank, I watched the small red taillights streak past me like tracer rounds. I came to a rise but held her full, now climbing up over 110. As I topped the hill I felt the motorcycle rise up airborne briefly. Then I saw the two semis, one creeping past the other, covering both lanes. I moved on the center stripe between them. They swerved wider, opening my path as I rocketed down the narrow canal of the trailers and then was breeched out between the cabs and heralding blasting air horns. As I pulled up straight in the seat, the wind hooked me like a sail and tried to shove me off. It was all I could do to increase my choking grip on the handlebar and hang on. My throat ached as I cried as loud as I could, “WE DID OUR BEST!” Then I felt the motorcycle shimmy when I let off the gas and let my racking pipes bellow a long wail into the blackness. I slowed and came to a stop on the narrow shoulder under an overpass. My hand was shaking when I reached up and turned the key and killed the engine and my lights. I think I whispered “We tried,” but I was not sure. I couldn’t hear anything anymore.

15


Cliffs of Moher Jennifer Tkaczyk

16


Struggle

Jennifer Tkaczyk

17


First to Drown Misti Richardson

Must have been so long ago. When the earth was still, New, organic. When all the skies were blue. Maybe he walked out, Waist high, To cool off. In water so fresh, Soothing. And just for a moment, Leaned his head back To reflect. Fell off the ledge And never came back. Sank to the bottom With his very last breath. No more struggling, Treading. As the ripples faded.

18


Randomness Misti Richardson

Pink sunrise, My son’s soft baby feet, The mocking bird outside my window, A dog standing on top of his doghouse, A stain on the carpet, A scar I’d forgotten, Dirty dishes, Pile of laundry, Discarded table, Worms in my turtle’s aquarium, A fallen leaf, acorns falling from the tree, A stray cat in the gas station garbage can, Dead flowers, Hungry people, Lady running a stop sign, Cigarette butts on the ground, Reduced speed sign overgrown with ivy, A smile.

19


Divine Beauty Mariah Clifton

20


For the Artist Mariah Clifton

21


Candid Encounter Misti Richardson

It’s not far off the beaten track, this quiet little place. You’d miss it if you blinked. I go there often, book in hand, for sushi and hot tea. The lady there just nods at me; she knows it’s only me. I order my usual, hot soup and sushi, enough for three. As I’m slurping down my miso soup and flipping the next page, I’m caught off guard by someone. He smiles at my book, laughs, and says, “You haven’t changed.” He asks, “What brought you back? Certainly not the rain?” I motion for him to sit, close my book, and mark the page. Ten years seems like yesterday, especially the pain. I’m not that lustful little girl he knew, always chasing after the sun, running from the rain. I tell him, “I’m back in town, have been for a while. Trying to stay low key.” He orders a beer, smiles at me again with that daring grin. If this had been ten years ago, I’d have already dragged him to the bathroom, fully controlled by the passionate flame that stupid grin ignites. I imagine for a moment how good that once felt. I have more strength now, and I am wiser. Not strictly thinking of myself. But being strong doesn’t give me words, not ones I can say out loud. So… I ask him how he’s doing. How is the baby…and the wife…?

22


Web of Tears Kim Klein

23


US in Rome Barry Gidcomb

24


Staircase Study: Amsterdam Bookshop Stuart Lenig

25


A Poem I’m Having Trouble Writing Kim Klein

A poem I’m having trouble writing Is a brick wall that won’t Budge, no matter how many Bulldozers you take to it. Like Homer Simpson swinging Between a rock and a hard place, Hitting both each time. A dead cow on the side of the Road, stomach exploded and Legs pointed up toward the Sky. Like riding a horse Through an empty field. A painter sling-painting until His brush slips from his hand With a “Whoops!” before he Decides, “That looks alright.” A poem hard to write is Like being lost in Venice, Italy when the fog is rolling In off of the sea. It’s like being on the dark side Of the moon without a flashlight. Like wondering what the heck A “crescent roll” is. The poem I’m having trouble Writing, ironically, I’m not having Too much trouble putting down, But now I’m having trouble finishing… 26


Dragon Fly Kim Klein

Dragonflies Buzzing in and Out of the skies Like they have sucked back A flagon of witchy sighs. Dawn cries – a wagonful Of light blue tears and White fears. A swarm Plagues by, long tail Rudders waving their Good-byes

27


Calm Before the Storm Jayne Halter

28


The Horses Alicia Helton

29


Fly

Elizabeth Upshur

Fear has Less strength than You.

30


A Note from Madison...... Now that I’m Dead Elizabeth Upshur

Please burn all my things And turn the mirrors inward, I’ve much more interesting places to haunt. You’d think I had all the answers; I don’t even know where I am, it’s too cold for Hell, And too quiet for a Baptist Heaven. I suppose I don’t take up much space, Even in limbo, now that I’m dead.

31


An Afternoon in Venice Jessica Kovalchik

32


Why did not these enjoyments last? Claudia Kay Johnson

Though it will be scorching before day’s end, when I fed my hungry cats just after sunrise this morning, a cool suggestion of fall exhilarated me as it teased the September air. I was reminded of Thoreau’s observation at Walden Pond, “Morning is when I awake and there is dawn in me.” I was reminded, also, of how I love Giles County’s hills and creeks and breathtaking landscapes – the kinds of places I longed for in the 15 years I lived away. Nothing is more luscious than certain big fields I’ve passed all my life…those fields whose seasons I know intimately. There’s one that is equally seductive when it is freshly turned, all brown and smelling fertile in spring and when it is green with tall corn stalks in midsummer or yellow after harvest or even when the bare stalks are snow-sprinkled. This field was one of the first to be planted when Campbellsville was settled around 1810 and has been planted most likely every season, except perhaps during the War Between the States, but maybe even then. It is where the local militia mustered in the early days of the county, and relics are still unearthed nearly 14 decades after the skirmish there just days before the Battle of Franklin. Emerson in “Nature” asked, “What is a farm but a mute gospel?” and noted that the “moral influence of nature upon every individual is that amount of truth which it illustrates to him.” And to think Emerson never saw this field. Another lovely place is the pleached drive from Highway 31 to the Milky Way Manor House where the trees form a green canopy over the road. My granddaddy helped plant those trees during the depression when he was a young man, married with three little girls, one of which was my precious mother. In almost any season, but particularly in summer, early morning before the wet heat of the day, driving toward Frankewing from the west just as the last hill is crested, the full impact of our magnificent hills 33


fringed with hovering steam can bring tears to my eyes, and does. I always think, when I see this sight, of the psalmist David who said, “I lift my eyes unto the hills, from where I receive my strength.” It is no surprise that acclaimed novelist Donald Davidson of Campbellsville and poet John Crowe Ransom of Pulaski were instrumental in a major movement in American literature at the turn of the 20th Century. These “Agrarian” writers believed that man was inextricably bound to the land with a connection far beyond the physical, extending into the moral and the spiritual. Later, William Faulkner developed the belief to a Nobel Prize-winning extreme, illustrating in his tales of the Compsons and the Snopses how severance from the land brings about moral decadence. My sense of the land is more basic. Our family planted potatoes and raised cows and hoed gardens and pulled weeds. Mostly, I just wanted to hurry up and finish so I could read. But on a cool country morning of every summer of my childhood long before I knew Emerson or Faulkner, I knew the feel of freshly turned dirt on bare feet as I followed Daddy on a plow delivering potatoes from within the long straight rows. My mother, unaware that her family came to this county when that very potato field was still in Chickasaw territory, sat the wooden baskets along the rows so that Barry and I could deposit our buckets of translucent-skinned potatoes.

I do love the land now and the memory of it.

“Why did not these enjoyments last?” Shakespeare asked, perhaps inquiring just for me, then rejoined, “How sweetly wasted I the day, while innocence allow’d to waste.”

34


Jerzy

Jennifer Tkaczyk

35


Bus 53 Joan Cook

The dirt road that leads where the bus is picking us up is a good ways, but it’s cold and spitting snow, so it’s going to feel like a mile today. Linda and Shelia get to the end of the road first, and us younger kids get there as soon as we can figure out how to dodge mud holes, so our shoes will look halfway decent when the bus comes. My two-year-old hand-me-down coat feels colder than last year, but I’ll worry about that later because we got to make the decision. Each time it rains while we’re waiting on the school bus, we got to settle on the worse of two evils. We can either stand outside and get wet to the bone, or make our way inside a dingy old wooden shack that’s about to cave in. Since the bus isn’t on time when it rains, again, Linda gives the rest of us the look that tells us we’re going in. Inside, we’re all scrunched up and pretending, I guess, that it don’t bother us that it’s better to stand in a shack-of-a shelter that’s wrapped in dead kudzu, not to mention cobwebs and creepy crawlers inside, than it is to stand in the freezing rain and wait for Bus 53. Daddy must have had just enough wood to make this shack to cover five kids the size we were when he was making it, but he sure didn’t allow for any growing room. Shoulder to shoulder we’re standing close enough to share fog when we breathe, while Linda’s trying to keep the remainder of a page boy flip from going limp. I feel sorry for myself, but I always feel sorrier for Linda because she cares more about what the big people on the back of the bus think about her. Linda’s the oldest, so I think it’s her job to keep the rest of our spirits up when we’re feeling left out of the world, but on days like this when she don’t even care to cheer us up, the burn I feel in my chest is for both of us. Today is one of those days. Bus 53 is coming around the bend, so we all spill out of the shack at the same time. My brother, Jr., always beats the rest of us out first, but I think it’s because he don’t care if he falls down and gets dirty. I may be ten-years-old, but one thing I know. Handy-me-down clothes are a lot worse for wearing if they’re old and dirty. We line up and wait for the bus in order of how old we are. First, Linda, Shelia, Jr., me, and then Jean. By the time the bus comes, our fingers are freezing, and the rain’s beating on our heads. Five drowning rats, wearing hand-me-down clothes that feel like icicles and look even worse. Most days I can make the three steps on the bus and muster some pride while I do it, but today’s going to be tough. The bus heaves to a sudden stop, and the door flies open as forty sets of eyes look us over 36


like they’re looking at a wreck they weren’t expecting to happen. At least I got to board the bus second, but that isn’t much comfort. I’m so much bigger than Jean, getting on second makes me stand out worse. I take one last glance at Linda, so she can make me feel better, but she’s got a book over her head against the rain, and she’s looking straight ahead like she’s looking for some place a long way from where we’re standing. Nothing to do now but climb on the bus, so when the door flies open I muster all I got inside me and step. The bus driver, Mr. Benefield, who’s got more wrinkles than a Shar-Pei, takes a look at us first. Two beady eyes peer through narrow slits that can make a kid straighten up without a single word. As soon as me and Jean make the last step Mr. Benefield, says, “You twins sit behind me next to the heater.” My face starts to burn as all eyes rest on uneven sized twins, who look like stray wet cats looking for a place to land. The only thing worse than being cold and poor is somebody feeling sorry for you for being cold and poor. I slide in next to Jean behind Shar-Pei face and grit my teeth as the rest of the Cook clan make their way farther back on the bus. The heat feels good on my legs, but I’m not going to let Shar-Pei know for one minute that I’m glad he told me and Jean to sit behind him. Only kids that get in trouble have to sit behind the bus driver, and everybody knows we haven’t been on the bus long enough to get into any trouble. About the time I figure a school day can’t get any worse, I remember the next stop is at Christy Robinson’s house. Of course, she’s in the same class as me. I’m smarter than her, can run faster, climb higher, and play jacks better, but I don’t remember her ever wearing the same thing twice. I don’t understand why that matters to some kids I want for friends, but it does. My feet are almost thawed out when the bus turns onto her long driveway and right up to her front door. Christy and her brother get to wait inside a warm house while Bus 53 makes its way up her long driveway. Guess having money gives some folks the right to warm waiting too. I really don’t care to look when she gets on the bus, but I’ll see her at school anyway, so there’s no need in putting it off. Prissy Christy makes her last step on the bus like she’s Cinderella going to the ball. Everything she’s wearing matches, down to the hair barrette her mama bought at Lay’s Five and Dime store. We all went to that same store one time, but daddy made sure to tell us not to ask for anything because he wasn’t made out of money. Christy’s mama and daddy must be made of all kinds of money. The first thing I notice is that Christy’s new blue dress, with tiny lace eyelets, is different than the others she’s worn before. The bottom half of it puffs out like the wind is blowing underneath it. Then, I see it; she’s wearing a can-can. Just like her to pick 37


a sit-behind-Shar-Pei day to top what she’s already been wearing. I turn my head real fast and hope she didn’t see my eyes on her new puffy dress, but one look at the smile forming on her face tells me I’m caught. I stare out the window as Prissy takes her time finding a seat with enough room for her and her can-can. I’m so mad I could spit, but I stay calm and keep it all inside. The heat blowing on my legs can’t warm the cold I’m feeling when I think about some people having a lot, while we don’t have any. Shar-Pei is picking up speed now, so we’ll soon be at school where the haves and have nots learn side-by-side. I hope there’s going to be a spelling bee today, so I can out-spell Christy like I always do. I hope we go to recess too, so I can make sure that she gets picked last. I hope her can-can falls down around her pat and leather shoes, so all the kids laugh at her. But most of all.......I hope she don’t wear another new dress tomorrow.

38


To My Dad Tonda Gainey

The woods held an enchantment for him, a mystique he found nowhere else-Lover of animals, ginseng, and yellow root, of nature in all its forms. Hours and hours, miles upon miles over the course of his life, he spent inside this haven, taking in its beauty, relishing its glory, the handiwork of God. The cool stream within the woods held its own attraction. With boots up to his hips, fishing pole in hand, he would wade the creek in hopes of catching that elusive bluegill or bass. Outside the woods lay the open field, freshly tilled by the farmer, holding yet another adventure for him. Hundreds upon hundreds of chiseled rock he would find, each one a unique, fascinating work of art to him. He saw the distinct beauty in each piece and could tell exactly where it was found. He left behind a trail of footsteps rich with the adventure of discovering nature and its past. And to a few of us whom his life has touched, a legacy of love for its splendor. And for this I am grateful.

39


Naval Jan Stuart Lenig

40


Being in Love with Borges Beverly Mitchell

I am in love with Jorge Luis Borges. I’ve loved him since the first time I met him. Not in person. I never actually met him in person. But I did meet someone who had. And I fell in love with him, too. Borges -- I’ve never felt comfortable with calling him Jorge -- was born in 1899 and died in 1986. If he were still alive, he’d be 113. And I’d still be in love with him. Most people think of him as a writer from Argentina. For me, he’s so much more than that. He has to be. I don’t fall in love with just anybody who writes well. The first time I met Borges was when I read “Funes the Memorious,” his story about a young man who was thrown from a horse and afterwards could remember everything. I mean everything. This is from the story: He remembered the shapes of the clouds in the south at dawn on the 30th of April of 1882, and he could compare them in his recollection with the marbled grain in the design of a leather-bound book which he had seen only once, and with the lines in the spray which an oar raised in the Rio Negro on the eve of the battle of the Quebracho. He could reconstruct all his dreams, all his fancies. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day. He told me: I have more memories in myself alone than all men have had since the world was a world. Could that kind of memory be possible? I used to have a photographic memory. I employed it ruthlessly to pass classes without studying and to infuriate my brother whose memory was normal. If we argued about a book we had both read, I’d recite an entire page -- from memory -to prove he was wrong. If only proving him wrong were still that easy. His areas of wrongness increased as he got older, and there’s no book I can recite now to set him straight. But my memory, excellent as it may have been, was amnesia compared to Funes’. 41


I have to warn you of something now. This is important and it’s about falling in love. Accept the fall. Don’t worry at it. Don’t try to figure it out. Above all, don’t do research on it. Love should exist on its own, outside of secondary sources. I learned this by trying to understand Borges a nd his character, Funes. I read a scholarly paper on Borges and Wittgenstein, a German philosopher. This is what I discovered: In Funes the Memorious, Borges, at his most concise, imagines a variety of language games, all of which are dependent on a form of life characterized by infinite and perfect memory. The texture of that life also gives rise to considerations of ostensive definition, both internal and external, referring to various heterogeneous philosophical debates in the course of a brief, laconic and almost-believable narrative. If my love had not already been strong, that passage would have killed it. What the hell is ostensive definition, anyway? Ok, so I looked it up. Merriam Webster says it means, “of, relating to, or constituting definition by exemplifying the thing or quality being defined.” I still don’t get it. An ostensive definition is a definition that is related to a definition by exemplifying the thing defined. You see what I mean? Love killer. The article on Borges and Wittgenstein did nothing more than confuse me. I have always hated confusion, chaos, uncertainty. Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty was enough to give me nightmares. As a child, I lived in a world of certainty. A world where everything was fixed and solid and hopeless. A world where my father hated everything and I had to navigate his presence like a small girl walking though a mine field. At any minute, Daddy could become the explosion and I had to be ready to be blown up. Not escape. I always knew that when he went, he’d take me with him. My father’s world was dark, bad, bitter. He always knew what the future would be and it was always terrible. When I was five, I asked him why we didn’t keep canned food like the Streulis did. Vicki Streuli was my friend and her family had a whole closet full of cans and they kept their bath tub full of water in case the Russians bombed us. Why didn’t we do that? “If we’re bombed, little doll,” that’s what he called me, little doll. Mama was doll and I was little doll. That makes sense, I guess since her name was Beverly and I was little Beverly. “If the Russians bomb us, little doll,” he told me, “we won’t need canned food. We’re going to hope 42


like hell that we die right away.” Great. I’m five years old and Daddy is telling me to “embrace the blast.” At school, they tell me to duck and cover, that getting under the desk is the key to escaping nuclear annihilation. Daddy just wants us to all die asap. Borges might not have stored up food and water, but he would have tried to live. His world was light and full of possibility and uncertainty. It might not have made sense, but then, do any of our lives? Does it make sense that my father was sick and missed being on one certain mission in World War II and so he wasn’t with his squadron when every single man was killed? Does it make sense that some of those men’s widows wrote him for years afterwards asking him why he had lived? In Borges’ world, people do the unexpected. They feel no compulsion to make sense. A character named Pierre Menard wants to write Don Quixote. But it’s already been written, you say. Borges explains, He did not want to compose another Quixote —which is easy— but the Quixote itself. … he did not propose to copy it. His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel de Cervantes. But why, we might ask? Why write Quixote when Cervantes has already written it and , according to most, done a fine job. That makes no sense.

Yes, Borges answers.

What’s the value of making sense, after all? Making sense is easy. It’s expected. Why not explore our other options? My father would have told me there were no other options. I’ve decided to value options other than his notion that there are no options. I’ve become open to not making sense. In the words of the Talking Heads, I got a girlfriend that’s better than that Everyone’s getting involved As we get older and stop making sense You won’t find her waiting long Stop making sense, stop making sense, stop making sense, making sense I got a girlfriend that’s better than that and nothing is better than this, is it? 43


Christmas Stairs Linda Hayes

44


I don’t have a girl friend, not even one who’s better than that, but I’ve got Borges, and he’s telling me with every page he writes that I need to stop making sense. Okay, Jorge. It’s hard, but I’ll try. In 1914, World War I was breaking out in Europe. This might seem like a really awkward shift in what I’m talking about, but bear with me. We don’t think much about World War I, the one people of its time called the Great War, the War to End All Wars. We should. We don’t have to go any further than Wikipedia to find out it was the sixth deadliest war in human history with a body count of over nine million. Of course, if we’re going to Wikipedia for information, we need to face the possibility that World War I might have been the third deadliest war, or the sixteenth. You just can’t ever tell with Wiki – don’t ever use me in a research paper – pedia. And, also, the sixth deadliest in human history? What other kind of history are we talking about? In 1914, just as the umpteenth deadly war was getting started, Borges and his family moved to Switzerland. I read somewhere – and didn’t make a note of it for the works cited page that I’m not going to write – that the family Borges went to Europe to escape political unrest at home in Argentina. Really? I’m thinking that of the two areas of unrest, I’d take Argentina over a World War. They didn’t. Maybe not making sense made sense to Borges from early on. He was fifteen, an age when your parents can still be right for the most part, so he probably didn’t question the insanity of what they were doing. When I was fifteen, my father’s view of the world was absolute, never to be questioned or challenged. At that time, Daddy had quit work and come home to sit at the kitchen table, smoking, drinking iced water, and checking every weather report he could find. He stayed like that for the next twenty years. It made perfect sense to me. Then. Borge’s daddy had actually gone to Switzerland because he needed to see an eye doctor. Switzerland has great eye doctors, I guess. Not that it did him any good. Borges watched his father go blind, and later he watched himself do the same. That’s funny in an awful sort of way. He watched himself go blind. Get it? In 1955, he became the director of the National Public Library in Buenos Aires. The irony of becoming a librarian as he was losing his sight was not lost on him. He wrote, No one should read self-pity or reproach Into this statement of the majesty

45


Of God; who with such splendid irony, Granted me books and blindness at one touch. Magic Realism was Borges’ gift to literature. According to Zamora and Faris (see I can do the citation bit if I want to), In magical realism we find the transformation of the common and the everyday into the awesome and the unreal. It is predominantly an art of surprises. Time exists in a kind of timeless fluidity and the unreal happens as part of reality. Once the reader accepts the fait accompli, the rest follows with logical precision. Magic realism gives us a world where a very old man with enormous wings can get washed up after a storm, be put in the chicken coop – he has wings after all -- and make a family rich from charging people to come look at him. That’s another writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a man I like but do not love. He also wrote the best opening line I’ve read: Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. You either love that line or lose your mind trying to make sense of it. That’s from One Hundred Years of Solitude, a book I didn’t finish because I kept having nightmares as I read it. I would dream that I was one of the women in the story and that my husband was chained to a tree in the front yard speaking Latin. My husband was speaking Latin, I mean. Not the tree. I have never forgiven Garcia Marquez for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature when Borges didn’t. What kind of a world has that kind of an oversight? It doesn’t make sense. In my world, I knew what made sense. Anything my father said was sense. One of the things Daddy said was that I was like him, that I would grow up to be like him. Even at five, I knew that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. But in his world, that place where everything is exactly as it seems – to him – I knew my future was set. He was unhappy: I would be unhappy. He was a failure: I would be a failure. No other possibilities

46


existed. Uncertainty wasn’t an option. Magic, realistic or not, didn’t work. I hadn’t met Borges yet. I hadn’t fallen in love. In Daddy’s world, I wouldn’t. “It hurts me to look at you,” Daddy told me. “My life is miserable. You’re just like me. Your life will be miserable. But it will be worse. Everything is getting worse.” I guess he did believe in the theory of entropy. It hurt my father to look at me. But then, he didn’t ever see me, did he? He saw himself, not his little girl. Borges would have seen me except he couldn’t see at all. I was born in 1955, and by that time he was fifty-six years old and had already lost most of his eyesight. If he looked at me, there’s no telling what he’d see. In one of his stories, he wrote, Mirrors and paternity are abominable because they multiply. I’ve taken that totally out of context, but I don’t care. Borges - that man I love – he understood. That he put into words what was my reality and thereby showed me its falsehood… Well. Daddy looked at me and saw a mirror of himself. Yes, that was abominable. And yes, that was multiplied over the years as he kept looking at and not seeing me. The more he looked, the less he saw. Many people think that Borges’ work is difficult, hard to understand. That it doesn’t even make sense. Yes, I answer. I’ve lived in a world where everything made sense. The possibility of a world where things don’t need to be understood, a world that can be confusing, lifts me out of that minefield. It shatters the mirror of my father’s perception. It gives me magic. Bewildering, confusing, nonsensical magic. How could I not be in love?

47


St. Paul’s Under a Cloud Stuart Lenig

48


Max and His Imagination Dylan Platt

He wondered what it looked like before. Some ancient lake—sweeping, vast— spanned the whole of the fathoms below: Where now stood ten and twenty score of proud hickories and sycamores and brilliant bowing redbuds reached eternally up when presently tired peaks were merely fledgling islands and time was just shedding its baptismal gown. Vestiges still remained. There was the palpable thirst lingering in the relief of bones atop high hills. That garment of white — those vapors and droplets that might rise to become the mightiest of summer’s storms— dressed the mountains’ hips in a manner not unlike the way a fog grasps a nearby shore. This was a place to disappear into falsehoods and dreams: a place, that is, where he could think thoughts of absurdity and pass them for reality. The boy slipped off his shoes pressing his naked feet to the untamed ground beneath him. He slowly dropped each eyelid down. He imagined his toes gingerly slipping into the prehistoric sea; a stunning chill fell over him that stopped his pleasant musing. Had some awesome, terrible beast once haunted these woods in which he now played? He collected in his mind thoughts of the creatures, which were lucid as gravity to him. He began to walk, then to run. 49


Unbound, he let the cool clay embrace each pallid foot; those wild thoughts bore into the present reality of giants forgotten long ago. And while the begging present made others dance to its insistent cries, this child ignored the din of bells that beckoned the faithfully present to its call. He favored his fancy, which lent him more solace than dusty stories of swallows swooping through chilly halls. Instead he fixed his gaze on the valley though which he walked and his mind on the beasts that marched over the rippling, rolling tides of grass. His hastening pace began to blur his vision, and happy tears collected on the edges of each eyelid. He saw trees as elongated legs, and he mistook clouds for mountains, and mountains for faunae: all greater than in reality, but he didn’t care. He trusted the woods. That afternoon seemed to slow that eternal ebb and flow of time. But did that matter to a child? He was painting the forest with dinosaurs and excited echoes in time alone with his wonderful world, where he could go on mistaking clouds for mountains and where the shadows spilled onto his red face as would a mother’s loving hands. This was his joy, and so he ran without the tethers of gratitude—free to simply let the echoes fade into the settling twilight.

50


Cherry Tobacco

Stuart Lenig

I was blessed by being an only child, and I appreciated that all of my parents’ love and attention were lavished on me. Despite our poverty we were rich in spirit. But there were arguments, and they were usually about money. I remember my mother’s words ringing through the house. “How-could-you-do-anything-so stupid?” That was the sound of my father having lost another job. He would usually come home and tell how Bernie, or Keith, or George was in trouble at work. My father was filled with compassion, and he would almost have my mother in tears about his coworkers, their eight kids, their horrible marriages, and their sinking careers. Then, at the end of the month, Friday at five pm would come and miraculously Keith, Bernie, and George would pull through another month on the job, but my Dad would be handed a pink slip and a layoff check. He was always stunned when this occurred. My mother was not. My father was a smiling pleasant man with an easy manner and a good sense of humor. It was always surprising to my mother (and me) that he could lose so many jobs when there were so many misanthropic losers roaming streets. He seemed the consummate professional and the perfect host, yet for all intents and purposes, he was the goat of the workplace. Through the years, my Dad had the occasional good job. Well, good by Target or Walmart standards in that it was sometimes safe, indoors, and congenial. Such a job was the pipe shop on Penn Avenue downtown where bustling business people would pop in for their favorite smoke. There were Churchill British cigarettes, Cuban cigars (well, not really Cuban but a pale Costa Rican imitation that passed for Cuban), and flavored chewing and pipe tobacco. My father was a big fan of Cherry Tobacco. He was drenched in the stuff, and when he came home at night, I knew he was home 10 minutes before I saw him just from the scent. It was a good woodsy-manly scent. My Dad and I were bookish quiet guys and for us, a manly scent was about the most masculine thing the two of us could offer. My mother was hormonal enough for the three of us. “How-could-you-do-anything-so-stupid?” 51


My mother would usually walk me home from elementary school, and I would spend the afternoons in the pipe shop with my dad. That was my favorite memory of childhood. There were decanters of exotic tobaccos and chews decorating glass cases, various pipes and brands of cigarettes on every counter, and most importantly racks and racks of paperbacks, magazines, and comic books. My afternoons were surrounded by Playboy (Which I didn’t get yet….), Men’s Adventure (I did know I was a guy), and Police Gazette, featuring scantily clad women being menaced by thugs in masks. Every month, I kept thinking, “Why can’t they stop these guys?” Here, I spent quiet hours in the loving arms of Mr. Fantastic, The Incredible Hulk, The Justice League, The Flash, and my favorite, Challengers of the Unknown. Few are aware that before he made the brilliant Marvel comics, artist Jack Kirby was the pencil artist on this cool DC series. Four guys mysteriously cheat death and then feel compelled to stick themselves in whatever woe-begotten situation comes their way. End of the world? Call the challengers? Alien invasion? Call the challengers? Unknown dinosaur, giant centipede island? You get the drill. One day, like most days, I was tucked into a two-foot wooden rack perusing the latest comic books that had come in. Challengers of the Unknown were battling the Wizard of Time! As I sat at the rear of the store, I noticed a tall attractive lady stopping and looking through the window of the store and entering sheepishly. Most people buying cigarettes were having a nicotine fit. They were antsy, animated, compulsive but rarely sheepish unless they were fourteen and trying to buy their first pack of Camels. This girl was different. She quietly waited until all the other patrons had checked out and handed over their cash. My father looked up and asked if he could help her. She reached over in a gesture that was as much a stroke as it was a request for help and touched my father’s arm. No one ever did that. My dad put down his pipe and sort of shook his head, somewhat puzzled. The girl reached out again, and mentioned something, perhaps a name. Quickly, a look of recognition crossed my father’s face, and he embraced the girl in a loving hug, and she returned the embrace. My dad was not an amorous man, and he was not particularly effusive even in church, so this surprised me. But it wasn’t the end of the shock. He pulled her away from him and looked her up and down and started laughing. She started crying. Then my father started crying. This was madness. My father never cried. The only time I had ever seen my father cry was when his mother died. I couldn’t believe it. This was stranger than any 52


Challengers of the Unknown. He pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his nose and instead gave it to the girl. What did she say that made him cry? It seemed a mean thing to do. I was wondering if the girl had been sent there to fire him. It wouldn’t be the first time that firing and tears arrived simultaneously….mostly from my mother. Speaking of my mother, she had left me at the shop while she went to the grocery store for milk and bread. She entered bustling and looking for a pack of Lucky Strikes, her cigarette of choice. When she looked up from the counter she saw my dad and this girl crying. Who was this woman and what had she done to her husband? My mother quickly was in marching mode, which meant that everyone (especially me) should stay out of her path. Her perplexed and strained expression surveyed first the girl and then my father. He pulled a handkerchief from my mother’s pocket and began wiping his eyes and then oddly began laughing. He gestured to the girl and pointed to my mother. My mother’s face turned from bitter angst to warmth and kindness. She nearly dropped the milk, tossing the bag to the floor, and hugged the girl in an embrace, the kind that doesn’t end quickly or break neatly. By now, my mother was crying (job-loss-sized tears), my father was sniffling and dabbing his eyes, and the girl was weeping uncontrollably, but in some strange way, happily. I’d had just about enough of this. I was the child. I was the center of attention. I was the star. I could not believe that this much emotion, anxiety and waterworks were wasted on some woman that I didn’t even recognize, and I was due for an explanation. Imitating my mother’s march, I sojourned to the weeping party demanding an explanation for this silliness. My father was now almost back to normal, and he was smiling. My mother was still embracing the woman, who now I could see was more of a girl. A tall girl, probably eighteen, but a girl none-the-less. She had long ash blonde hair, shoulder length, like a high school deb, and a pretty ice blue sweater, and plaid blue skirt. My mother looked at me and smiled. She took my shoulder and directed my gaze up to the girl. “Stuart,” my mother said, “This is Judy…. Judy Burton…she was our little girl….she was our little girl…. before you....” She stopped. She choked. She was swallowing tears. She did that. My mother did that. “She was our little girl…before you came along.”

53


Even to my child brain, this was news. It was like my mother and father had had a whole secret life before I was born. They hid this from me! There was something in their life I was no part of, something I knew nothing about. That wasn’t about me. This couldn’t be. It was some sort of trick. That was it. It was a joke. I tried to laugh, but I looked at their faces. Nope. This was no trick. This was real. At length I heard the whole story. Years earlier, my parents lived in an apartment house, and they ran a little grocery store on the bottom floor. They knew all their customers. Many lived in the building in tiny little flats. Judy’s mom was on the third floor. She had had a hard pregnancy and an even harder relationship with a mean man. Even my parents didn’t like him, and they liked everyone. One day Judy’s mom came to them. She was clearly in trouble. “I’ve got to go. I have to go to Ohio and see my mother and get some money.” That wasn’t the worst of it. “I can’t take Judy where I’m going. Could you watch her…you know… while I’m gone?” What was a tragedy for Judy’s mom was manna from heaven for my parents. They had been married a long time, a long time, and they had never had a child. They were resigned to it. But now this little eight-year-old girl was looking at them with a face filled with desperation and fear. My mother, always the verbal one, said, “Sure we can watch her, will it be over the weekend?” Judy’s mom was a bit sheepish. “Yeah, sure, it will be over the weekend… at least.” It was over two years before they heard from Judy’s mother. And then it was a post card from Albuquerque. A couple of years later, just when they thought they had a daughter once and for all, Judy’s mom showed up at the store. Things were better. She had nice clothes, money, and a new man in tow, and she seemed happier. After all, it was her child and her responsibility, and despite the years my parents had raised, schooled, and cared for her, Judy was not their child. She was just a long sleepover. “I’ve come for Judy.” What could my parents do? They packed her things, and she walked with her mother and her mom’s boyfriend to the car. “Be good,” my dad whispered as the car drove away. Now, Judy reached down to me and shook my hand. “Stuart,” she said kindly, ’your mom and dad took good care of me when I was a little girl, and I never forgot it.” Apparently, she had gone to school in town and was heading home and saw my dad and recognized him and that turned on all the waterworks. It seemed like a lot of fuss for something 54


that happened a long time ago to a girl who wasn’t even my real sister. Personally, I just wanted to get back to The Challengers of the Unknown and Tiko, the Wizard of Time. Eventually she left, and my parents told me more about Judy and the things they missed about having a little girl. I thought that was a little insulting. What was wrong with a little boy? From that day on, I became a challenger of the unknown because at that moment I became aware that my parents had a very secret and mysterious life all their own.

55


Hawkeye

Chiquita Bullock

56


Six Word Stories Elizabeth J. Mitchell

Her excuse is his I’m Sorry. . For once, he broke her heart. . The torch she carried went out. . His hands explore her every curve. . Lies make up what we are. . She hides. He always finds her. . She lies in wait for him. . “We aren’t lovers. We’re barely friends.” . He always knew her secrets best.

57


Haphazard Haikus & Other Ephemera Elizabeth J. Mitchell

my reflection in a mirror shows not myself but a very good imposter. . insanity is you and him in rooms together. . he was always such a flirt until he met the one that made him speechless.

58


Anti-Ode to the Color Pink Elizabeth J. Mitchell

Oh, color. You are one, even if I like to pretend you are not. The lowly and less bright cousin of the brilliant red, a watered down excuse of a hue. You assign yourself to all things feminine but this femme dislikes you terribly. How I wish it was the early 1900s, when blue was the territorial color of girls. Now we have you, pink. It is all you. On tampons and clothes, laptops and cars. If you were stabbed, would you bleed red or white?

59


Inverted Stones Stuart Lenig

60


Lifetimes in the Bunker Micah Maloney

They want me to do it.

The interpreter gets off the phone and says they’re not budging. Outside spring is just underway. It’s not quite warm enough to leave your coat but it’s getting warmer. There is a man sitting on a small chair with an even smaller table waiting to punch in the launch codes. Day and night he keeps the codes handcuffed to his person in a small briefcase. He eats with the briefcase, sleeps with the briefcase; he makes love to the briefcase. I haven’t ever met him until today and I’ve already forgotten his name. If it comes to it he will type the launch codes into the laptop on the table. After he enters the codes the two Generals will walk to the console on my desk and with the keys hanging around their necks prepare the arms. Once they turn the keys all I have to do is press a button and there will be nothing more above us. Humanity comes down to the push of a button. Maybe we have gotten too lazy. They say they hate us because we’re tyrants. They say we’re despotic. They say that our people aren’t free enough. We say the same things about them. The interpreter vomits in a waste basket and I think if it happens the first thing I will do is order his execution. There will be no room for weakness in the new world. My eyes begin to burn from all of the smoke in the bunker and I think all of these men really do want to die. When I was a young man I attended a lecture at the university. The speaker said that is was silly to worry about nuclear war because of mutually assured destruction. What he failed to mention is that his theory relies on both parties being rational, and I’m beginning to think that neither of us are. The air in the War Room becomes so ridden with smoke and tension that I retire to the restroom while we wait for more information over the phone. As I walk towards the restroom the General with grey hair and bent nose follows me with his eyes. He never moves his neck. At my late wife’s funeral he kept checking his watch for the time. During 61


her eulogy he looked at his watch four times. After that I thought of having him assassinated but I was afraid of a coup by the military. They don’t respect me. He doesn’t respect me. Will they respect me after today? Sometimes I think the Generals are just telling me what to do, telling me with their eyes. In the bathroom I splash water on my face and collect myself. I look in the mirror and see the devil. My hair is turning grey. I used to have a full head of jet black hair, now it’s thin and grey. Here I am at the end of the world and I’m in the bathroom worrying about my hair and I wonder if they would even take me seriously if they knew. I get back to the war Room and the interpreter is on the phone with them. His face is as white as heaven and he says they say they have a right to be there. They say that the people want them there. They say it is a strategic position and that their allies agree that they should be there. They say they won’t budge. I ask them if they won’t reconsider and I remind them of the possible ramifications. They say they mean it. I order the interpreter to hang up the phone and he reluctantly does. He vomits in the waste basket again and I point to one of the guards to take him away. They’ve had their chance at diplomacy, and like usual they think that they’re in the right. In life there is no right and wrong, just decisions, empty, meaningless decisions. I look at the clock and realize it has only been twenty minutes since we first came down here and I wonder why time is moving so slow. I wonder what time it is up there. I think about their military on the beach, conversing with those uncivilized savages. How can men like that even know what they want? Do they know what is at stake? I think of their military laughing at all of us. They think they’re exceptional. In places like that there will be no bunkers, just first class seats to see God sigh. The grey General looks at me and his eyes tell me to have the launch codes punched in so that is what I do. The other General just lights another cigarette.

They want me to do it.

This must be how God feels, the end of the world at a push of a button. When I was a child my mother would read me stories from the Bible. When she died my father told me to forget about that nonsense, he told that she was a fool. He told me that if there was a God then he 62


didn’t care. Now I know. It’s not that he doesn’t care it’s that he is punishing us for his responsibility. There must be someone at the top, someone to make the calls. God made us to be punished for all he knows. God wants us to suffer because we can never understand his suffering. God wants us to ask for help and forgiveness because he cannot. Suddenly I recall a story my mother read me about a man named Job. God allowed Job to suffer and lose all he had, but Job would still not curse God. Job called God’s bluff, but I’m not bluffing. Everyone in the room stares at me while he enters in the launch codes. The Generals take the keys off their necks and suddenly I feel like vomiting.

It sure is lonely at the top.

Even the countries that aren’t involved will die from the fallout. We should just wipe them all out, make it quick. They would want us to do it. They want me to do it. Little children who have never even heard of us will look up at the sky as the sun explodes miles away and rips the skin off their bones. Ancient ruins that have stood the test of time will crumble as we sit here and smoke and vomit. Everyone will die because of a tiny island most have never even heard of. When the time comes we’ll make it quick for them, for the children. Suddenly I think of the submarines and I almost call it all off. Eighty-six vessels and over two-thousand men won’t even know what happened. Will their slumber be disturbed down there, in the depths of the pit? When they ascend towards the top will they think it all a dream? What world awaits them when they climb the ocean? They went down with blue sky and beautiful light and they will come back to tumultuous clouds of ash. They will come back to poison. Then what will they do? What will the captain tell the men? Will they hold hopes for their wives and children? Will they fool themselves? Will God laugh? He finishes entering the launch codes and he couldn’t look more relaxed. He hasn’t said a word since we came down here and I wonder how he can be willing to end the world just to do his job. It’s my responsibility to end the world but it’s just his job. Humans will do anything they’re told. Before I held this responsibility I was the head of a government department no one had ever heard of. When I was appointed people wondered what good I had done them. When he died they told me they needed someone new, someone accountable, 63


someone to give the people comfort. Truth be told I’m a dime a dozen. You could buy me at the corner market, if the markets sold anything anymore. Had they known this would happen? Did they appoint me so they could point to me, blame it on me? Is this comforting enough for the people? The General furls his brow and I know that means it’s time. I know his mistress was taken to another bunker while he left his wife to die up there, alone. I check my watch and say to wait five minutes in case they budge. I’m just stalling. We will all live a lifetime in the next five minutes while eons pass above us. The other General tries to light a cigarette but his hands are shaking so hard he cannot spark the match. The soldier returns to take his post and all the other men in the room seem relieved that something new has happened, something they can focus on to withstand another five seconds.

I know it’s over.

Everyone watches the clock on the wall and the grey General just stares at me and lets me know I’m weak. I wonder how many people we have underground across the country. I wonder how many people they have. This has been going on for days and we knew we would end up down here sooner or later. We prepared. When we climb out of our holes will we fight them again? Or will we mutually destroy then be forced to work together to rebuild? Is this what peace looks like? The grey General raises his eyebrows and I nod. The two of them put their keys in the console and turn. I lift the lid and see the red button. I wish I could say it is more awe-inspiring but what’s the point of lying now? Lying will cease to exist once we realize what we’ve done. The Generals step away from the table and everyone in the room is staring at me. I take a deep breath and the eyes of the grey General shine like marble. He’s telling me not to think. He’s telling me to do it. He’s telling me he wants me to do it. He’s telling me I want me to do it.

64

It’s sure is lonely down here, with all these people…



Perceptions 2013