Crack the Spine Issue Eighteen
Crack the Spine Literary Magazine Issue Eighteen April 2, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack the Spine
Contents Gary F. Iorio………………………..………………...Bimbos & Floozies Phillip Pace…………………………….…....How Gravity Bends Light Zachary Solomon………….…………………………..….…Leo the Poet Neil Kerrigan……...……………………………Sleepless in Scunthorpe Ethan Schneider……………...….…..Banned for Life, A Book Review Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal….………………..…...………Let it Rest Corpse Race Joshua Swainston..………..……..……….Gangway Watch 0000-0400
Bimbos and Floozies By Gary F. Iorio
I carry a torch for Christina. At the museum, the dinosaurs, mummies, meteor fragments and stuffed opossums mean nothing. The naked woman next to the naked man, behind the glass wall, is less interesting than Christina. It’s impossible to hate our school when you see Christina wearing her purple skirt and jacket. The school colors and the little gold cross all the girls are forced to buy, become exotic on Christina. Light hits the cross no matter which way she turns. She’s best on the field trip and air raid drill, when we get a little distance from the nuns. I decide against growing; stay short to remain in the front of lines and hold Christina’s cool hand. If only The Bomb would finally fall on Brooklyn; I know all the exits and we could lead the Saint Athanasius kids to safety. Alone, in her front room, she’s scared. We speak softly about tomorrow and the new school. High school: The bus, the subway. There’ll be no more uniforms or nuns. She checks her new purse a dozen times; the bus pass is always there. She practices taking it out of the little celluloid pocket. Too slow. People become animals standing behind her, shifting their weight from one leg to the other, waiting to pounce, hating this freshman. “I’ll just hold it all the way there, what do you think Vinnie?” Her mother comes in reminding Christina of baths, powders, hair and sleep. She begs for a few more minutes, alone, with me. No matter what happens tomorrow, we’ll always be close. Old times become vivid and seem like more fun than they were. The time Christina chewed away her movie ticket standing at the Kandy Korner, and the ticket taker didn’t remember her and I had to pay her way in. The fort we had years ago and the stories we told. Albino alligators in the sewers; we’re passing dirty pictures around and watching Richie Esposito and Becky-the-Jerk in the lots. We find out what the weird kid does to the cats he catches. Neither of us can remember the name of the nun who tied me to an armchair when we were five years old. This is the first time Christina speaks at length about the day
she came back into our classroom and saw the nun, her habit jacked-up; riding my small forearm. “Were you scared?” “No, it just hurt, and she smelled like hell.” We have to be close. Forever. Christina touches my hand. No alarms, no sirens, no nervous nuns telling us to leave the building in size order, double file or we’d be burnt up. She just touches me. I stand and take my poem from my pants. “Her Smile, by Vincent M. Caputo. Her smile does not start at her mouth. It starts in her eyes; they seem to catch the light differently for a moment because there’s a little sparkle. Then there’s the real slow and beautiful change on her face as it lifts up, and then, finally, her smile hits her mouth. And it’s her smile. And every time I make her smile like that; my soul is saved. The Angels sing!” She squeezes my hand and I lean forward, sleepy eyed; a world-weary dead-endkid, just out of reform school, back to the old neighborhood. The love of a good woman will set me straight. My eyes closed now. I lean forward and pucker. But she’s not there. I feel the difference in her skin. “Vinnie, not that way.” She feels, she likes, but not that way. I fold the poem up. I would put it to other uses. It saved a book report on “THE BABE RUTH STORY: AS TOLD TO BOB CONSIDINE.” I used it to describe the Babe’s smile and charisma. It wasn’t half bad. HIM she likes that way. His body intimidates me in the locker room. How’d he become a man so fast? Hair on his balls. His strategies are perfect; we become friends. He must see Christina and me riding the same bus. He fakes an interest in Christina’s older sister. Two cast from the same mold, yet Christina avoids all of the imperfections. My mother plays bingo five nights a week. I have the apartment; a teenageseduction-plan is made. He wears a suit and tie, carries a briefcase, acts likes a regular adult in front of an ancient clerk and manages to buy a bottle of pre-mixed screwdrivers. After he changes in my room he messes his hair, gargles with the booze and splashes it on like after-shave. His eyes look tormented; he appears to have a five-
o’clock-shadow. He lies full-length on the living room floor and starts to moan as the doorbell rings. Christina ignores me and runs for him. A frantic stream of questions: “How much did you drink? How do you feel? What did you drink? Why? Why? Why?” She lifts his head and holds it on her lap, stroking his hair. The sister and I say hello. The almost full bottle of sissy-liquor in my hand is an accusation. Did I sip an inch or two while he poured down gallons of Tequila? I begin to drink it like orange soda. Still: “Why? Why? Why did you do this to yourself?” “For you. You. You. Oh, Christina!” Christina takes him up and leads him to my parents’ bedroom. I squeeze her Sister’s tits through her sweater, blouse and bra; and stare at the closed bedroom door. He’s the football star, a 4-letterman every year in high school. They’re named couple-of-the-year for our senior class. Then they fight. I call her. We see each other a few times and neck passionately. I hear about his selfishness, brutishness. “Boor, lout, animal. Wasted years.” We’re soft and compatible and it’s good to hug and kiss. We almost go all the way. Christina complains about him constantly. It’s the only time she raises her voice. Alone, in the dark, she’s almost mute. Alone, in the dark, I inhale Christina: Juicy Fruit, and Jungle Gardenia scented sweat. The ink is still wet on our high school diplomas when we double date, a drive-inmovie; him up front with the school-wide, infamously popular, Ramona-the-Moaner, and me in the back with a surprisingly loud Christina. They’re performing for each other. Ramona-the-Moaner and I are playing small supporting roles in their love play; as they try to make each other jealous. I figure the situation out and watch the rest of the movie alone on a bench. Naturally, within days, he’s back with Christina. That fall, He turns his back on football; they decide on N.Y.U. and live together in The Village.
I become a fucker of bimbos and floozies. It’s a small city and if I screw them late enough and keep the window of my room open, I’m sure Christina can hear me downtown. “VINNIE!! VINNIE!! OH, OH, OH VINNIEEEE!!!!!!!!!!” It floats round as an apple down Second Avenue. She hears nothing. I don’t see them while they’re at N.Y.U. But I hear about his next attempt at football. He leaves New York and tries a Big Ten School. She stays on and becomes the darling of the Sociology Department. Me? “VINNIE! OH GO, OHMYGOD! OH GOD! OH SHIT! OH FUCK OH GOD OH FUCK OH VINNIE!!!” All bimbos and floozies sound the same. He returns to New York a beaten man, the football went badly for him; goes back to her and licks his wounds. She’s too strong for him and throws him out. I see her. She calls after getting my number from the phone book. Things have changed: such confidence, maturity. We talk about them all. English majors, pre-med, dead in cars, pre-law, dead on drugs, clerks, accountants, salesmen, clowns, dead in Vietnam. Then a change in her voice as it becomes truly alive. Our old buddies and remembrances are merely obligatory. She says, “Neighborhoods!” “What? “Neighborhoods!” Oh, yeah, the study of sociology. All neighborhoods: mine, hers, uptown, downtown, Africa. I hear it all and nod through the rest of lunch. “Grad. School.” I hold my polite smile. “More neighborhoods.” She continues. Him? One last year of eligibility. It’s taking him six years to get a four-year degree. And now he’s set to start at fullback for a small college on Long Island. It’s more of a football club than a team, but it appears to be what his ego craves. A pinched-nerve knocks him out after the first hitting starts at practice.
Still me. “VINNIEEEEEEEE!!!!!! OH, OH, OH, OH MY GOD, OH GOD, VINNIE!!” Christina begins to hear these screams in the night. More phone calls, more polite lunches. Then she takes him back. Impotence and nincompoopery becomes the thing. He adjusts like a chameleon. Can’t find himself in graduate school. He rages against the stupidity of the English Department. Comes home and literally bangs the walls. A bull in an academic china shop. He knows more about Milton than any of them. She agrees and massages his temples. She sucks, occasionally with great success, on his disinterested cock. His 126-page thesis has to be retyped four times. She types and loves him deeper for his incompetent genius. A publisher in Wyncote, PA prints a 500 word critical note on “PARADISE LOST.” There are no more neighborhoods in her voice. They elope. Two thousand years pass. Some years Leona and I would get their Christmas cards. Sometimes with a photo and note. We did the same with them. The last note I wrote was when my daughter began her final semester at Skidmore. Then the cards stopped. Naturally it happens. A chance meeting. That look. My phone call. 11:00 A.M. Christina comes to the door in a worn bathrobe. The sunlight is like golden rods, it hits her hair no matter which way she turns. She sits on the couch and I pull up a chair. There’s some buttons missing on the bottom of her robe. She allows it to fall open, showing me miles of leg. Then she pulls it in, establishing exactly where the power is in the room. We talk sex. Has she heard strange voices or screams in the night? We speak of ecstasy and its’ deliverance. Christina tells me that He wasn’t Him! He not Him? No. It was an Ecuadorian lawyer, not Jack. With Him and only Him could she reach the heights. She saw and felt all the joy possible in creation with Him. Crashing waves, celestial choruses, why the very image of the Sistine Chapel often appeared on the ceiling as He labored over her. Within reach is the gin and tonic. It seems natural, she doesn’t swill, but consumes an awful lot. I think about Jack; not such a bad guy really. Jack was always loyal to his dreams from football through today.
“Vinnie, can you imagine experiencing perfection only to lose it? I’ve spent an eternity with Jack and only moments with Louis; when I was with Louis I actually saw on the ceiling the. . .” “I know, you’ve told me twice.” The Sistine Chapel? All I remember is the colored pictures the nuns forced us to buy. God sticking his hand through a crack in the roof touching a naked man. I see those hands. If Jack’s not Him, then anything is possible. Some more gin and she tells me how much she misses the study and teaching of neighborhoods. I lean forward, wide-eyed and incredibly awake and alive. She lets the robe go. A road of flesh leads to heaven. On my knees heaven tastes as good as it looks. I mount Christina and begin to work her. First, high and tight; then, low and away. “Vinnie, this is it! Christ!” Much too cerebral. I continue. She’s breathless, but has enough for, “Vinnie, oh Vinnie, you never understood that if you just look long enough at anything it causes change!” I continue. “Vinnie, the nun who tied you; her name was Sister Anne.” I continue, close my eyes, and we stop time. At last we connect. “OHH, OHH, OH MY GOD! OH JEEESUS, OHH SWEET JESUS!! OH, FUCK! FUCK! fuckfuckfuck. OH SHIT! OH FUCK! OH MY GOD!! OH, VINNNEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!” Sistine Chapel? I don’t even look over my shoulder.
GARY F. IORIO was raised in Brooklyn and Massapequa, NY; he has an MFA from The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Mr. Iorio works as a real estate attorney. His fiction, poetry and memoirs have been published in various publications including SAN PEDRO RIVER REVIEW, FICTION AT WORK, THE EAST HAMPTON STAR, THE WISCONSIN REVIEW, THE MISSISSIPPI REVIEW, FRONT&CENTRE MAGAZINE, ECHO INK REVIEW, BLACK WORDS ON WHITE PAPER and MUSED.
How Gravity Bends Light By Phillip Pace
You were drawing me along with your words, your actions. Mostly the words were like “love”, and the actions were some motion, a brush of the hand, a look. Actions leading to sex. I was over my head with you. You were too smart, too beautiful – too much of everything I wanted. You read the books I liked, watched the movies I like. We talked for hours. Just long enough. You sucked me in. Like some black hole, you pulled in my universe and I never realized it until I was so small and twisted that no one I knew before recognized me. I recall the looks my friends gave me when they heard we were seeing each other. I misinterpreted. Didn’t see what I needed to see behind the hesitations and tight smiles. I hate that “love is blind” shit. I really do. Maybe your pull on me was already bending the light, distorting my vision. I wish my friends had said something. I could love them today if they had spoken. My friends have their kids, their wives, or second wives, mortgages, 50-inch televisions and movie rentals. They make love, maybe a twice a week, roll over halfasleep with their wife going for the towel, and on the way back to the bed, checking the mirror for lines. Routines. Not quite heaven, not quite hell.
There’s this image of you, and this sequence that keeps replaying. I can’t push it away. It happened last week – Tuesday, I think. You are sharpening a pencil for me and you look up smiling. You kneel over me and blow the wood and lead dust onto my papers. The point was too sharp though, and it broke on the next word. You laughed then and ran to the back of the house. I thought you wanted me, so I started that way and met you halfway down the hall wearing a frayed black shirt I hated, that I’d thrown away the week before. You brushed by me, laughing. The next day, when you walked in from work with your new guy, I knew he was more your type than I. While you kissed me on the mouth and said goodbye, he was leaning against the wall, turning his head, but not so much that I couldn’t see him smile. “No commitments”, you said to me, “Right?” I only said, “Sure.” You left in a hurry. I didn’t notice you had packed most of your things and stored them in the spare room. Your new guy went straight to the room, leading you, too familiar with our home. I’m seeing myself now, as I was then, as you must have seen all along, a parasite wobbling in my orbit around you. Out there eclipsed, with a thread of light around my edges, and trembling.
Phillip Pace lives and writes in Louisiana. His essays have been highly awarded at the Southern Literary Festival. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Helicon magazine. Admittedly, these awards and publication took place over 15 years ago. He has recently found the wherewithal to begin submitting again. He has also co-written a novel. The manuscript is currently in the hands of an agent, who is undoubtedly rubbing his chin, considering whether or not to represent “Drunk In the Back of Satan’s Cab.”
Leo the Poet By Zachary Solomon
Leo the Poet kept a jar that he filled with the faces of the women he kissed. He kept it on a shelf in his kitchen, next to a jar he kept for loose change, and another for bottlecaps. When Leo the Poet died he left a jar for each of his sons. His oldest received the loose change, the middle the bottlecaps, and the youngest the faces. The older two sons put their jars on their shelves in their kitchens and continued to fill them with loose change and bottlecaps. The youngest smashed his jar, collected the faces in his hands, and pasted them on the walls of his apartment. They were his muses. Leo the Poet was buried beneath a seedling on a hill on the land his father had owned. His youngest son visited the seedling every weekend, and every weekend he took with him a face from his wall. He would lay the faces on top of the seedling to help it grow. The youngest did this until all of the faces had been taken from his wall. By then the seedling had grown into a tree fifty feet tall. Its trunk was robust, its branches numerous and strong. And from the branches hung poems, each of which had been penned by Leo the Poet. Each of which was about the face of a woman he had kissed.
Zachary Solomon currently lives in Cambridge, Mass where he is flushing out a body of short stories and creative nonfiction from the depths of his cobwebhead
Sleepless in Scunthorpe By Neil Kerrigan
How you supposed to get any kip with all this racket going on? I can hear sirens wailing and sounds like the police helicopter is out and about. Proper putting the kibosh on my beauty sleep this is. Something big has got the coppers all excited by sounds of it.
Mind you it’s getting rougher round here. Can’t even walk the streets at night without getting stick off some young scallywags. Them and the bloody foreigners that move in every five minutes. I tell you, its bringing down the standard of this neighborhood no end.
Not that I should be living in an area like this, just a temporary stop gap likes till I get sorted. You see I was real clever and that when I was at school, “Special measures” they said they wanted to put me on, due to me being so bored with the work they was giving us.
“It’s not stimulating enough for him, that’s why he keeps bunking off” me Mam used to tell that Head Master. It was the schools fault that I didn’t get no GCSE’s, they didn’t keep me interested enough to learn. Bloody teachers I blame.
Some noisy buggers stamping about in the hallways, heavy boots by sound of it. Proper ruckus. Noisy bastards.
Anyways, I keep my hand in here and there. I’m on that Jobseekers allowance at the minute because they can’t find me a job that suits my intellectual needs. I need something that pays big bucks and lets you eye up a few lasses and that. The down side of the Jobseekers is that they send you for these shitty interviews for dead end jobs that are well below my level. Man of my standing shouldn’t be shuffling sweaty burgers around a grill, not with my brains.
I had to have this interview at the new Asda the other day. Fucking Asda! They should be giving me Marks and Sparks at least, maybe even Sainsbury’s at a push, but Asda. Bollocks to that.
Mind you, the interview didn’t go too well any way. I was sat there in front of these two clowns. One a youngish lad in a pricey looking suit, and some grey haired old duffer. This skinny young suit was staring at the tattoos on me hands like he had never seen swear words on a blokes knuckles before. So I says “What the fuck you looking at?” assertive like. They lap it up because it demonstrates I can show a bit of balls and not be pushed about.
Went a bit quiet after that though, I start looking at me threads and thinking maybe I should have worn a suit too (well, if I had one). But fuck them; this clobber I’m wearing didn’t come cheap. The jeans are Ben Sherman and the T-shirt was from Topman (maybe could have done with an iron over it though).
“What the wages like then for this job then?” I ask. Getting down to the nitty gritty of the numbers game, it shows you’re a business man too, you know, that you understand money is king.
Which it is to be fair, I made a large withdrawal from the Post Office earlier, what with me being a business man likes.
“Its £6.45 an hour” the old grey haired duffer tells me. “and if you were, err, successful in this interview it would initially be fifteen hours per week”. I take the “err” in the sentence as what it is, a basic “me and you are the boys here and the jobs as good as yours” type of nod from the old duffer.
I do some quick math’s in me head and think fuck that, there’s no way I’m working for sixty sheets a week. I clam up a bit after that, there’s no way I want this gig. At the end
of the interview I jump up quick, “Cheers” then I’m out the door, glad to put the whole sorry business behind me. I go for a couple of pints at the club then back to the flat.
Couple of days later the DSS gives us a bell, they tell me that me Jobseekers is being reduced by half! I say “What’s the fucking crack here likes?” and then their banging on about me being all aggressive in some interview and not taking it seriously. I argue the case but its no good with the like of these. That’s me screwed. I mean, I’ve got a lifestyle to maintain.
That’s probably what led us to take out that large withdrawal from the Post Office. Problem was I never left a large deposit in the first place.
Some fuckers banging on the door now. “Open up this is the Polish” or something.
That’s the last thing I need, more Poles on this landing.
It’s them I blame.
And the schools.
Neil Kerrigan was born and raised to his 33 years in the Industrial Garden Town of Scunthorpe, North East England. Always keen to dabble with the pen and pencil, Neil has only recently dipped his toes into the waters of Flash Fiction. Sleepless in Scunthorpe, his first publication, encapsulates some of the rough and ready backdrops Neil grew up around. With a Degree in Materials Engineering, Neil earns his crust as an Operations Manager for Tata Steel. Free form the shackles of work Neil can be found hunched over his laptop attempting to piece together further scraps of short fiction, whilst simultaneously trying to lavish adoration onto his wife and two children.
Banned For Life, A Book Review By Ethan Schneider
As a teenager, I read the novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I remember being attracted to the idea of kids who went against the social norm and really enjoyed reading the novel. Now, many years later, I find myself in awe at the power of another novel about young "punks" and growing up. In Banned for Life, author D.R. Haney captures the realism and grit of growing up an outsider, on a level I have never experienced before.
The novel is narrated by Jason Maddox, a struggling filmmaker who recalls the events in is life that have brought him to where he is today. Jason did everything he could to fit in with the kids at his high school. He wore the same clothes, listened to the same music, and even dated the prom queen. Despite all of this, we get the sense that Jason never really fits in. His life takes a drastic turn when sleeps with his girlfriends mother, and nearly kills his "friend" who told the whole school about Jason's affair. Expelled from school and disowned by his family and friends, Jason turns to the only other person he can relate to.
Bernard, Pewee as he comes to be called, makes it a point to be different. He listens to punk music, wears tattered clothes, and dyes his hair bright colors. When Jason finds himself with nowhere to turn, he finds Pewee to be not so strange after all. Through Pewee, Jason is exposed to new ways of thinking and discovers the greatest music he has ever heard. When the boys go on a trip to New York to hear their favorite band, Rule of Thumb, they are unable to enter the club, but later meet the lead singer, Jim Cassady. In that moment, Jason's life is forever changed.
Flash forward ten years, and we learn Jason is now a screenwriter, struggling to keep his head above water. Gone are the glory days of playing in bands with Pewee. Looking to find some kind of meaning in his life, Jason believes that if only he can find
Jim Cassady, his questions will be answered. Unfortunately, no one has heard from Cassady since Rule of Thumb separated years ago. Jason makes it his mission to find this man before his own life unravels before his eyes.
I found Haney's writing style to be very refreshing. Never before have I read characters who carried so much truth in them. I found myself really caring about each one, even those I disliked. This novel captures all of the triumph and heartache of being an artist, and learning how to grow up. The sometimes graphically described moments may be a bit much for some readers, but I found that through this reality, the author perfectly presented Jason's journey to adulthood.
Title: Banned For Life Author: D.R. Haney Publisher: And/Or Press Publication Date: May 5, 2009
Ethan Schneider is a composer, teacher, and student. Currently residing in San Antonio, TX, Ethan finds time in his busy schedule to read at least one book each week and post a review on his blog http://e135-abookaweek.blogspot.com/
Let it Rest By Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal Let it rest the body, the mind, and the soul. I thought and pondered this mantra. I hoped for better days. I sat in the shade. I felt the clean breeze. I thought to myself even the birds need rest. The mantra I heard was let it rest.
Corpse Race By Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
The quick corpse overtook the slow corpse. In his mouth there was missing teeth. They took long breaths and shouted as loud as the dead could shout. The quick and slow corpse were neck and neck. They were the only two competitors in the corpse race. When they lived they were both slow.
Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal was born in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico and lives in Los Angeles, CA. His first book of poetry, Raw Materials, was published by Pygmy Forest Press in 2004. Luis works in the mental health field in Los Angeles. His chapbooks have been published by Kendra Steiner Editions, Deadbeat Press and New Polish Beat.
Gangway Watch: 0000-0400 By Joshua Swainston The clouds continued to creep toward the south. Even in the middle of the night, the heat was unbearable. One-hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. The crew of the Steamship Wilson prayed for the clouds to bring moisture so it might draw the radiant energy from the deck that had been melting the rubber from their work boots. “You wanna cig?” asked Mo Mo, whose real name was Mohammed Mohammad. “Nah, that’s cool,” Jack replied waving off the invitation. Earlier, the deck officers made a big deal about Kenya being high risk for stowaways. That meant the officers remained inside the air-conditioned ship while the grunts stayed vigilant against the draining atmosphere. “It’s almost too hot to smoke. But…” Mo Mo let the thought hang and lit his cheap cigarette. “It’s too hot to do a lot of things.” Mo Mo took a few drags, letting the smoke curl from his lips as he exhaled. The smoke refused to dissipate, hanging thick right where Mo Mo left it. “You gonna go with me to the Florida Club after watch?” “Are they open that early?” “Sure, why not?” “Yeah I’ll go. Fuck it, what else do we have to do?” Jack carried a four-D-cell Maglite. “You could go to bed,” Mo Mo laughed. “We’ve been riding around in this thing for a month with no shore leave. I’m going to take every chance I get to see something different. Ya know?” “I know, I know. You’ll come with me and we’ll have a good time.”
“There was that girl there last night. You talked with her, huh?” “There are girls there every night, every day, every morning.” “Oh?” Jack encouraged an answer. “I’ve done this run before. Those are the working girls. Fun, but nothing you wanna get attached to.” Jack nodded his head in understanding. “I guess I’m not used to that sort of thing yet. I mean there aren’t clubs like that back home. Not the ones I go to.” “It’s okay. We’ll go and have a drink. You can gamble. I’ll talk to the girls.” “That’s fine. I don’t know about the girls. I’m not that desperate.” “You’re a sailor now. If you do this long enough you’ll get used to it.” Where the ship tied up, the watchmen could see left and right down the dock. A trade warehouse directly in front of the gangway obstructed the immediate view. Along the base of the warehouse, day laborers slept on rolled out mats waiting the next morning’s call for extra hands. The laborers neither stirred nor had any trouble sleeping in the heat. “So how long do you think we’ll be here?” Jack asked. “Till we’re done. Probably two, maybe three weeks.” “That’s a good amount of time.” “Lots of shore time.” Mo Mo flipped the burnt cigarette overboard. It landed in the water between the ship and the dock. He promptly pulled another stick from the box and lit up. “I like shore time. That’s what I’m here for. Get to see the world. If we make it to Egypt this trip, I’ll take you to meet my daughter.” “That would be nice.” “Her mother had her before I moved to the States. She’s thirty or so now.” “You weren’t married?”
“Just stupid. But she’s a good girl. So it wasn’t all bad.” “Do you got a girl back in the States, I mean a girlfriend or wife or whatever?” Mo Mo smiled. “I gotta take a piss. You watch out till I come back.” “Roger.” Mo Mo disappeared through the main deck hatch into the bowels of the vessel. Jack stretched his back then leaned against the bulwark so he could better view the dock below. Somewhere a car engine gave off an un-muffled growl that resonated off the endless caverns of tin-sided storage buildings throughout the port. Jack took note of the day laborers below as they shifted against the sound. Lights soon accompanied the engine. A black military style jeep with three passengers in blue barreled down the dock. The jeep passed the ship by a few hundred yards then did a “K” turn and drove back. It stopped just in front of the Wilson. Two men hopped out of the jeep, leaving the driver to wait at the wheel. They were both carrying sub-machine guns slung across their midsections as if they toted messenger’s bags. In an attempt to give off an authoritarian stance, Jack straightened himself and rolled his shoulders back. He turned on the flashlight. “We are coming on board,” declared the first Kenyan. He was tall and thin. Atop his head, he wore a black beret that displayed a military insignia. “What is this about?” Jack posted himself as a physical barrier between the two men and the boat. “We are coming on board,” the first man repeated. “We know you have drugs on board. We don’t want any of that shit in our country.” “What are you talking about? We’re a grain boat. We’re carrying sorghum.” “There’ve been reports that you are carrying drugs. I must investigate,” the man stated clearly in remarkable English. “I will have to talk to the officer before you can come on board.” “No. We will come now.”
Jack shown the flashlight at the second Kenyan. He had worked his gun around so he held it firmly with both hands. “I can’t let you,” Jack started. “You will let us on board now.” The first Kenyan’s demands grew loud. Mo Mo emerged from the ship’s hatch to the scene of two lanky African military men holding guns against a young sailor with a flashlight. He immediately darted to the congregation. “What’s this all about?” The first man reiterated his order. “We are coming on board.” “Do you have proper documentation?” Mo Mo questioned. The second Kenyan started to look angry. Jack noticed him fingering the trigger of his gun. “I do not need documentation!” the first man shouted. “I am the security in this port and I will come on board this boat. You have drugs. We know you do.” “You have drugs,” mimicked Mo Mo. “If I have to come back with more men, you and this boat are in trouble.” Mo Mo leaned into Jack. “Call the chief mate.” Jack quickly made his leave into the house and down the passageway to an inter-boat phone. Someone long ago had stenciled ‘White Courtesy Phone’ in black letters just below. Jack picked up the receiver, punching the single button connected him to the ship’s office. “What’s goin’ on?” asked a cheery voice from the other end. “Actually sir, we have a bit of a problem down here.” Jack hesitated. “What is it kid?”
“There are a few military or security guys on the gangway demanding to check out the boat.” “Fuck ‘em.” “Yeah, that’s what we were trying to tell them, but they’re getting persistent. Oh, and they’re carrying guns.” “It’s Africa. They always carry guns, don’t they?” the chief mate asked rhetorically. “All right, kid, this is what I want you to do. Go up to the ship’s stores. How many of them are there?” “Two on the gangway, but there are three total.” “Go up to ship’s stores. Pull out three cartons of cigarettes and a bunch of Ivory soap. They love Ivory.” “Okay,” acknowledged Jack. “Take those guys the cartons and the soap then tell them to get outta here. They’ll probably leave. If not, tell them the Captain is contacting the American consulate to clear things before they can come on. Got that?” “Yeah, yeah, I got it,” Jack said, hanging up the receiver. Jack went through another passageway and then down a ladder to the storeroom between the galley and the refrigeration units. Soon he found his way to a door marked ‘Purser’s Stores.’ Inside harbored general toiletries, Coca-Cola, coveralls with the ships insignia embroidered across the breast pocket among pre-paid phone cards and chewing gum. One entire shelf was stocked with Camel 100’s. Jack removed the items instructed then scurried his way back up the ladder and toward the deck hatch leading out. Mo Mo yelled in Arabic while the two Kenyan military men yelled back in Swahili. Each man tried to shout louder than the others. Some of the day laborers on the dock, awakened by the argument, stood at the base of the gangway watching with interest. Others sat up on their sleeping mats, waiting for the interruption to cease.
Jack reappeared with the gifts tucked under one arm. The two military men, seeing Jack had brought something, suddenly stopped their shouting, leaving Mo Mo cursing himself. After a few moments, Mo Mo, too, stopped his rant. “I was told to give you these,” Jack said. He handed the cigarettes and soap to the military men. The first Kenyan took one carton of Camels and passed the remainder of the pay-off to his companion. “American?” he asked. “Yes, American cigarettes,” Jack replied. “Okay,” the first Kenyan agreed. “Now, fifty dollars.” “Fifty? Look I just work here. I don’t get paid that much,” Jack answered honestly. Mo Mo started to yell again in Arabic, but slipped in “fucking shack down” in English. The first Kenyan stood his ground. “We can wait. Your captain has money for us.” Jack continued the orders his chief mate had given. “Actually, Captain is contacting the American consulate right now.” Mo Mo fell silent and smiled. The two military men huddled their heads together, speaking in their native tongue. “Yes,” the first Kenyan said. “Yes, we will go then. It must have been another boat we were looking for.” The two turned and evacuated the gangway. The small crowd of day laborers on the dock dispersed when the military men walked by. The driver of the jeep revved the engine and awaited his companions. When they piled in the open seats, the jeep took off down the dock, turning sharply and vanishing behind the warehouse. The echo of the engine could be heard for several minutes. Exhausted from yelling and fatigued by the heat, Mo Mo leaned against the bulkhead. He pulled a red handkerchief from his back pocket and dabbed his brow. “They will be back.” “Really?”
“Not tonight. But when they run out of cigarettes or think they can get something else, they will come back looking for more handouts.” “Why don’t they just ask? Wouldn’t that have been easier than all that drug business and demanding to board?” “It would be easier, yes, but that is not the way it is done.” Jack posted up against the bulkhead adjacent to Mo Mo. “So we’re going to have to go through that again?” “Probably,” Mo Mo shrugged. “I’m glad we’re going to get a drink after watch.” “We don’t have to go to the Florida Club. We could go to the Seaman’s Club instead. It’s quiet there.” “What time is it?” Mo Mo examined his Seiko diver’s watch. “Two thirty.” “I’m going to go grab a book. You want anything from inside?” “If there is water in the fridge, I’ll have that.”
Half the time Joshua Swainston is a sailor on tug boats in Alaska. The other half the time he lives in Tacoma, WA with his wonderful wife and child. When not on the boat he frequently writes for Tacoma’s local arts paper, The Weekly Volcano, as a features writer. His fiction work can be seen in The First Line and A Twist of Noir.
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