CRACK THE Spine
Issue Twenty - one
Crack the Spine Literary Magazine Issue Twenty-One April 23, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack The Spine
Cover Art â€œWindspinâ€? by Christine Catalano Christine Catalano is an English major who slipped into publishing through the back door as a graphic artist. She worked happily there for many years. Now liberated from daily deadlines, she keeps her muse satisfied with camera and Photoshop. Some of her artwork has been published in Fiction at Work, the San Pedro River Review, and Mused.
Contents Molly Bonovsky Anderson ………….....……………....…Two Blankets Amber Koneval…………………………..………..….…Bird’s Eye View Mass Media Mashup David Vardeman………...………………….…….……………..….Green Deanna Morris…….……..……………………...………....………….Shift Benjamin Chapman……….……...…………...…….….…...The Solution Fred Chandler………….………………...…….……..Key Performances Playgrounds Mending Tools Tejal Bhamre……………….…………………………...……..Shoe Polish
Two Blankets By Molly Bonovsky Anderson
In the middle of the night in that big drafty house you shared with nine other college boys, we both woke up and curled under two blankets. You kept feeling the thick coils of the radiator, but they remained cool. I banged a wooden spoon against one as if something would happen, but nothing did, and I asked you why you had a wooden spoon in your room. You had everything in there—a bigger bedroom than a small guy like you needed. No one else wanted all the weird stained furniture that came with it. The house was a hotel once, you’d told me, and that big room that spanned the whole third floor was a suite. The moment I saw it, I fell in love with the walk-in-closet, the striped pink sectional sofa with wooden legs carved like paws, the dusty vanity you never sat at because the mirror was streaked with filth and the busted wicker chair wouldn’t hold a child, and that bed—that big double bed that you sheepishly said would hold us both, yet that first night you went to sleep on the floor. Then it had gotten so cold. The first two days, I sat in on your classes and took notes for you. You said you had a bum wrist, though I watched you twirl spaghetti pretty deftly in the student commons café later. I must’ve looked pretty stupid to your classmates while Picasso’s erotic sketches flipped endlessly on a big screen before the room from an overhead projector, because I couldn’t stop blushing and scrunching my face up to keep from giggling. Hundreds of loopy drawings, all of fleshy women reclining with their knees miles apart. Sometimes the back of a male head was planted at the crotch. Some with tongues extended. I hadn’t had any college classes of my own yet, and was caught off guard by the casual manner with which they all regarded this. All I could picture was Picasso scratching these onto paper in a crazy hurry, ready to throw down the pencil and commence to jerking off. When I felt your elbow vibrating against mine, I turned in my chair to see you stifling a fit of hysterics, your face red and your eyes shut tight, biting your lip. I think you were crying. That was the first time I felt relieved. You and I hadn’t drifted so far apart after all. The second time was the coldest night. I must’ve fallen asleep while you were talking, confused between your voice and hum of the refrigerator downstairs. Sometimes you ramble, even when you know I’m
not listening. It’s a leftover habit, from when you were young and your mother made you see the speech therapist. She advised you to keep talking—always, to yourself, about anything, as long as you could. Recover and stretch out those missing vowels, open your mouth wide, show your teeth when you talk, but above all, even when your jaw is tired and you aren’t making sense any more, even if you’re just above a monotone whisper, keep talking. Soon you were talking in your sleep. Then you were talking in mine. You were telling me how the houses that lined this street had once been so regal; vertical siding in cake-frosting shades, roof peaks embellished with curlicues, round and conical topiaries flanking the over-wrought facades and spiked iron gates. You were wracking your brain for a ten-dollar Victorian architecture term you’d heard in class when I’d swallowed a snore, looked up and around, and saw you looking at me, underwhelmed. That was the last I remembered until my aching bones jolted me awake. “Michael,” I croaked. You were still sitting upright on a greasy, purplish Queen Anne, your legs drawn up and your elbows on your knees. Your arms stretched out before you, fingers dangling lank. Your head lolled back and sideways on your neck, your mouth open. I lifted myself out of your bed and knelt down to grab you round the forearm. You didn’t move. “Michael,” I said again and gently pushed the tip of my finger between your eyebrows. “I’m cold,” I said when you woke, cross-eyed. You went to your expansive closet and brought out a scratchy wool blanket. “It came with the house,” you said as you threw it at me, bunched. One static-filled sock clung to it. I pulled it over my hand like a mitten. “What about you?” “I’m fine,” you said, but I saw the hair raised on your arms. “Come on,” I said, getting back on the bed, raising one side of the thin covers. You knew it was stupid not to, especially after all the talking you’d been doing that week. “Something’s changing,” you’d said, over and over. “Something’s going to change. I feel like something’s different. Do you feel different?” I said yes, but couldn’t name the reason why, nor could you, but we knew it, felt it, desperately needed it. It thrilled and unnerved us. I remained thrilled and unnerved, not sleeping; under two blankets then, huddled into you, still in your jeans and red sweatshirt jacket, your hood pulled up. You tried not to touch me at first, but it wasn’t any good—soon my long skirt was caught between your knees and my chewed sweater sleeves were
crammed against your chest under your fists. “Don’t breathe on me,” I said, but we are the same height, and soon we were inevitably filling each other’s lungs with our own fetid sleep-air. Your mother caught us like that the first time when we were nine, and thought it was cute. We’d already been doing it for two years then, since your golden retriever Rocket had died and your brothers lured me from the backyard our houses shared, by whisper-screaming beneath my window, and snuck me in the backdoor and up to your room to make you stop crying. It seemed a tender thing for such big jerks to do. I came almost every night after that, even after your brothers said it was getting weird. When your mother caught us the second time, at thirteen, she didn’t think it was cute anymore. And then a few years later, we couldn’t figure out why everyone was perturbed that we didn’t do it anymore. Then suddenly your brothers decided you were gay and that was it. People were always figuring things out for us, telling us what our actions meant. That night, under two thin army issued blankets, I longed for someone to dictate our motives and desires to us again, because I had no idea myself. Soon the sun rose and flooded in through the long slanted windows, soaking into the bare floorboards and filling the room with warmth. You moved up and away and I woke alone to the sound of hot water rushing through the pipes. You sang loudly in the shower. I lay in bed until I got bored, then went to the sliding glass door at the back of the room and pushed the long, smoke-stained curtains aside. A balcony stretched out and I stepped onto it. I sat there looking out over the old side of town, the south side, at a fish market and a Firestone and bunches of quiet manicured lawns, ornate houses with alcoves set into their emerald squares. After breakfast in the commons, over which we did not speak of the cold night, I started saying stupid things. “You can’t go.” “Sure I can,” you said. “I have to.” “There’s plenty of crappy places to fix up in the Midwest,” I said. “You don’t have to go to Mexico.” “I’m already signed up.” “Unsign,” I said. You just stuck a thumbnail between your front teeth. “Goddamned apple skin,” you said. “Makes my gums swell.” “Mine too,” I said, though I hadn’t eaten apples, only toast and coffee. The thought of anything else made me nauseous.
You took me all over town, showing me the things I was too angry to see the first time around—the first time I came up to visit. You were with Lucy then. I followed the two of you around like the sullen child of parents deeply in love with everything but it. Lucy, in her colored tights, little librarian sweaters and perfect Mary-Jane shoes, her golden hair back in a smart ponytail. She was so small, I could have picked her up and threw her around, and I wanted to, many times—especially when she grabbed your hand in the street. She knew! She knew, she knew she knew that I wanted to run through your linked hands from behind like a game of Red Rover. I would have pulled her damn arm out of the socket. She knew that. I knew she did. In the bookstore I found a moment to ask you why you broke up with her. You stood still for what seemed like an hour, hovering before tall glass cases filled with copies of classics signed by the authors. I knew you wanted the Faulkner and the Flannery O’Connor; still you stared hardest at Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn because you knew I wanted it. That pane of glass between us and our heroes was thick as the ocean. “It just wasn’t working,” you said. “It didn’t feel right.” “When did you know?” “Huh?” you lifted your hand and watched the reflection of your palm hanging in another dimension. “There must have been a moment,” I said, “when it became really clear.” You dropped your hand and I saw our faces in the glass. We looked displaced. “I don’t think so. I think I knew it all along.” “That’s too bad,” I said. “No it’s not,” you said, smiling to yourself. You knew I didn’t like her. You knew I would sooner jump off Flint Point Loop Bridge before making nice with any girlfriend of yours. I’d built a wall around you myself, and you’d done the same to me. Anyone who tried to break our glass cases walked away deeply cut. We’d been playing that same stupid game forever and you’d had enough. You decided the only way to stop was to run away from me, away to Mexico. Our final round was underway, but neither of us was speeding toward the win. That night we didn’t even try. It wasn’t even cold. But we sat up in your bed, close together under two blankets. You droned on again, trying to elucidate some point about the conversation between Alyosha the novice monk and young Kolya with your newly purchased copy of The Brothers Karamazov bolstered on your knee, and I lay
staring at a pile of books on your dresser, politely bored. You never expected me to care. I spotted a title that surprised me, and slid it out of the middle of the stack. “Why do you have this?” I interrupted. “What,” you asked, turning your head, hands folded on your chest. I showed you the spine. “Oh,” you said, trying to be casual, though I could feel your skin flushing next to mine. “That’s what we’re studying right now. You saw it yourself.” “No it isn’t,” I said, opening The Erotic Sketches of Pablo Picasso to a random page. A familiar sketch greeted me. I flipped through the pages. They all looked familiar. Every one looked the same. You snatched the book from my hands. “Yes, it is.” You shot me a look. I thought back two days. “Out of, like, sixty some slides he showed,” I said of your instructor, “only twelve or so were these nasty things.” I opened the book in your hands and smacked a fingertip against a hastily drawn depiction of cunnilingus. “You checked this out for your own research.” You slammed the book on my hand. “So what? I’m an adult, you know.” “I know,” I said. It was painfully obvious. You were an adult, going to college, living on your own. I hadn’t left my parents house. You were joining the Peace Corps in two months and leaving the country, while I was selling puffy paint and embroidery thread in your mother’s craft store in a blue apron for six dollars an hour. You had broken up with your first real girlfriend; I hadn’t even been noticed by a boy for years. I slid down onto my back and turned sideways. Our two blankets somehow slipped off each other, and I pulled mine securely around me, and curled away from you. I stared at your books, and suddenly they all looked dirty. Human Anatomy for the Artist. Sketching the Nude Figure. The Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. They stared back at me, accusatory. The air in your enormous room stayed warm, still I ached with cold. I didn’t sleep well that night either. When I drifted I saw my body portioned out in smudged squares of lead and pastel, my limbs and jaw carved in silica, my navel captured on daguerreotype—my skin made of mercury vapor. At some point I thought I heard you open the book again, and page through slowly. I thought I heard you lick your thumb. I’ve never asked you, to this day. Did you? Did you look at every page? Did you sleep that night? And if you did, what did you dream? Molly Bonovsky Anderson is from central Minnesota. She studied Philosophy, Art History and English at Northern Michigan University. Her work has appeared in Passages North, Flashquake, and FortyOunce Bachelors. She lives and works in Marquette, Michigan.
Birdâ€™s Eye View By Amber Koneval
my hair is sticking to my forehead and the web between my big and second toes is throbbing with pain, the thong of my sandals rubbing red, and chafing I just can't keep from yawning I'm so tired of bouncing side to side rubbing our legs together the way the children do, these days staring blankly at the pulsing lights this is fun, isn't it? lean over the railing, breathing hard leaning over my shoulder, I'm pressed so close to the glass that I can feel myself fall through it into the seething, writhing crowd below like creepy, crawly masses I don't know if they'd catch me because I don't know where one arm begins and another foot ends pulsating and throbbing in the strobes like the ache in my muscles spread out amongst their wiggling, wriggling bodies it's amazing, to see them from this view like a goddess on the balcony of the world I'm glad to share it with you this bird's eye-view of what we ourselves are wont to do this is fun, isn't it?
Mass Media Mashup By Amber Koneval Lead me not into temptation I can find the way myself itâ€™s a well-known path at the corner of piety and ignorance paved not with intentions of good but with mouths, frozen, in a kaleidoscope of screaming 'we knew, we knew!' but we shut our eyes and jumped slapped stickers o'er our ears so we couldn't hear our own protesting piercing headphones into our collarbones so we could thread the wires through our veins and fuel ourselves on generators of MTV and hair gel teen pregnancy and paid romance pumping our lungs full of smut we inhaled deep and proclaim our innocence between the balls of phlegm that come up black and hateful, from our throats to cover the heads we're standing on like a pyramid of limbs hierarchical architecture that wavers and crumbles day after day disposing the broken limbs to the pits eye for an eye cut it out to spite your ribs then float to the top by dumping your soul on a flat screen your life, readable by scroll bar it starts with sharing
you grab an arm and hold tight connect and unload burden them with the lives they've never lead cork screws and wires twisting from your tongue your stories are full of lint and inanity to the point where you feed your shame by displaying it what are you trying to prove? stop proving it to me, because I'm not buying I will hold my sacred insides and I will call myself out on my own bullshit I will read, draw and write and live vicariously only through myself I will praise my Creator, and I will fight Him until He sends Azrael to collect me and I will kick and scream my own way up to Heaven I will live with dignity I will live with pride I will live with no regrets not try to convince myself I have none I will live I will Lead me not into temptation I can find the way myself. I can. But I'd rather not.
Amber Koneval is nineteen year old Colorado native and a junior in college at Regis University, double majoring in Honors-in-English and Religious Studies. She began writing seriously in her sophomore year of high school and has been published in school literary magazines for three years running. Through Mountain Vista High School’s magazine Farsighted she published seven poems and one short story in the2009 and 2010 editions. In the 2010-2011 academic year, she had three poems published in the Apogee, the literary magazine produced by Regis University, and ‘Use Templates in your Essay’ won the Editor’s Choice award .Her missionary poems from trips to Juarez, Mexico and Kenya, Africa have also been published through Saint Thomas More Parish in Englewood, Colorado in the More Informed and Spark, the newsletter for youth. She published the poem ‘Life Lines’ in the Winter 2011/2012 issue of Time of Singing and had three poems published in the 2011/2012 Apogee. Most recently, Time of Singing also published her poem ‘Eschaton’ in their Spring 2012 issue and she will also be published in three upcoming issues of The Storyteller.
Green By David Vardeman
I loved you so much, I went mad. Our doctor said, “You’re mad.” I said, “Don’t I know it?” He was vexed at life for sending him hopeless cases: “Take these.” So I did and loved you just as much, but my skin turned green. Not dark green, but I’d never been even a little green. Now I was light green. On occasion did you feel yourself being followed by something light green? Did you whip around to take this light green thing by surprise only to see it pull its coat over its head and scuttle off? I thought so. You’re beautiful. You’ll never have to take pills that turn you light green because you love someone who can’t return your love because you aren’t beautiful enough because you are beautiful. Oh, boy. Mother said, “What the hell are these? These goddamned things are turning you green. I won’t have a green son.” (Sea Mist, by the paint color chair she compared me to.) So she took the pills and flushed them. Florence my sister kept ten of them back. Pills fascinate her. She wants to experience all states. “To satisfy my curiosity,” she said. “Fine. Turn green. See how you like it,” I said. She said, “You took these because you’re nuts, and they turned you green. I’m not nuts, so they won’t turn me green.” But they did. She turned the gray green of the underside of a toadstool. Mother pulled her own hair. “Now I have two green children.” Which was not true because by then I was nearly back to my original color. She really only had one green child at a time. Any mother should be able to handle that. “Florence!” I said. “Wilbur!” she said. I hate it when she copies me. I said, “Don’t you know better than to take what should be flushed?” “Sheesh,” she said and counted the days till she’d return to her original shade, one day for every pill taken, I informed her. Two of our family turned green as gourds because I’m in love with you. You can love too much; you can love too little. But I don’t believe you can ever love enough. Back at the doctor’s, I said, “Doctor Fenn, I’m in love.” “I gave you something for that.” “It made me conspicuous.” He looked down my pants. “Conspicuous?” “Green. I’d like to be my original color, still love, but not be mad.” “Love is a madness,” he said. I said, “Well I’ll be.” He rolled his eyes like he probably always does when his patients philosophize. “I could cure you like a hog,” he said, “but I
won’t because the world doesn’t need another ham.” “Doctor, you’re driving me mad.” “There’s no pill for that either. Leave my office.” So I’m back where I started: in natural tones and covered in madness. Mother says I’m looking better. “You too, Florence.” Florence and I are once again Amish Wheat by the paint chart. Mother thinks everything’s fine as long as I stay true to the Amish. She wants her children to reek of a bountiful harvest. Love is a madness that should reap a bountiful harvest. But a bountiful harvest is a burden too, when you have nowhere to store it. When it’s unused by anyone, it rots. I’m mad again, and I’m rotting away with love for you. It sounds worse the harder I try to express myself. Just remember, no matter how ugly it sounds, love is a beautiful thing. And you caused it.
David Vardeman is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His one-act play “Road Beyond Desire” was staged by New England Academy of Theatre in 2002 in New Haven, Connecticut as part of the city-wide Festival of Arts and Ideas. His full-length play “Because It is Bitter, and Because It is My Heart” was one of six finalists at the Palm Springs International Playwriting Festival in 2004 and received a staged reading. His play “Venice” was staged in March 2012 as part of the “Madthematics,” Bellarmine College’s 2nd Bi-annual International Festival of New 10-minute plays in Louisville, Kentucky. His one-act play “A Depressed Childhood” will be staged in April 2012 as part of Acorn Theatre’s Maine Playwrights’ Festival in Portland, Maine; and his oneact play “Based on Real Events” will be staged in May 2012 by Mad Lab Theatre in Columbus, Ohio; in August 2012 his ten-minute play “Weird Saga” will be performed by Theater Company of Lafayette, Colorado in a production titled, “Comic Con con Comedy.” His short fiction “Conversations with Mr. Klondike” will be published in the May 2012 edition of “Glint Literary Journal.”
Shift By Deanna Morris
Scientists say earthâ€™s magnetic poles are shifting toward Siberia. One day north will be south. I need true north. I was certain once. The press reporter I married, was meant to be an international journalist. No beige life for us. AP Style Book, navy wool pea coat reporting to the City Desk , he talked of deadlines and datelines. He talked of us. Until convinced by his father life as a writer destined him to sleep under newspapers instead of writing for them. Brooks Brothers tied Financial Times toting now a spread sheet numbed man we were white picket fenced in. Lawnmowers replaced typewriters mortgages were written, manuscripts unwritten
dotted lines signed instead of bylines. Our life together like roll end – the unused paper left on a printing press – sepia beige, no text, no meaning. In his quest for certainty, he was never more unsure. Years of yearning for authentic self, ended in identity theft – like newspaper stained fingerprints – unreadable. When earth’s magnetic poles reverse, the North Pole resides in Tahiti, and compass arrows swirl uncontrollably, perhaps time will twist as well. Maybe, before will be after.
I am a second year MFA student at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. My poem "Go Now" is published at Quantum Poetry and my poem "Ice" is being published at Eunoia Review in May. My short stories have been published at Subtle Fiction, A Small, Good Magazine, First Stop Fiction, Clever Magazine, Brawler and Scissors and Spackle Literary Magazine.
The Solution By Benjamin Chapman
Doctor K_______ lived in a one story cozy little house in Southern California. The house was a Spanish-style bungalow built in the 1920’s with Mexican tiles on the front porch and patio and red clay Spanish tiles on the roof. K lived in his little house for some while now, and even though all the other Spanish bungalows around him were demolished to make gigantic rectangular-shaped mansions too big for the lot, K kept his bungalow as it was and just maintained it. There were lovely rosemary bushes in front that gave his block in the neighborhood a faint but nice scent. But his house was to be destroyed. K got the letter in the mail. It was a notice from the government. Eminent domain. His house was assessed by the county to be worth $20,000.00. It was in fact worth $75,000.00. K called the assessor’s office. After the phone rang three times, the other line picked up. K got an automated response: “Hello! And welcome to the office of the county assessor. We are now closed. Our hours are 9am to 5pm, weekdays except holidays. Please call us back then!” K looked at the clock on his wall: It was, in fact, 4:50pm on a Friday afternoon. K called back at 10am the next Monday. Again, the phone rang thrice and then picked up. It was another automated, recorded message: “Hello! And welcome to the office of the county assessor. For English, press one, NOW!” K pressed one. “Please listen carefully,” the automated message went on, “to the selections available. For payment of taxes, press one. For nonpayment of taxes, press two. For not assessing your house, press three. For requesting an assessment of your home, press four. For requesting an assistant for the assessment of your home, press five. For accepting the assessed valuation of your home, press six. For filing an affidavit intending to state derivative valuations consummate with the on par determination of various assessments and details, press seven. For assistance from the operator, press zero.” K pressed zero. He wanted to contest the government taking of his home, or at least contest the valuation of it.
“You have opted to speak to a representative,” said the automated message on the phone, “All our representatives are unavailable at this time. Please stay on the line and hold while we wait for a representative to assist you.” K held on the line. It was taking a while. K put his phone on speaker and went to the kitchen and made a sandwich. He went to the fridge, got out the salami and mustard and tomato and onion and bread, assembled the sandwich, got a banana from across the kitchen, and poured a glass of orange juice. The phone still hummed along, keeping K on hold. So he went to the bathroom. While thus engaged, he could hear the speakerphone: “Hello? Hello? Sir? Hello?” Click. The other line hung up! K redialed, navigated the phone maze once more, and was kept on hold again. This time, K clutched the phone close to his ear. And held it there. And held it there. And held it there. And held it there. It took twenty minutes before K finally reached a live human being—and a bureaucrat at that. “Hello sir. Your phone call today will be recorded for quality assurance. How may I assist you today?” The tone was flat and dull, like the mechanical recorded message voice. “Hi,” said K, “I got a notice in the mail today that my little bungalow is to be seized by the government. But it does not say why. It’s a little plot of land in a residential neighborhood. There must be some mistake! What government office building could be built here? Or what park? What service?” “Could you read off the notice number on the top of your notice, please?” “The only number on here is the date.” “I see. Well, I cannot help you, then.” “Could you direct me to someone who could?” “He’s on break right now.” “Could you let me speak to your supervisor?” “He’s on break right now.” “Well what should I do to resolve this?” “You’ll have to make an appointment to come into our office in person.” “May I make an appointment with you?” “No.” “Could you direct me to someone who can make the appointment?”
“Sure. Please hold.” It was another twenty minutes of being put on hold. “Hello, sir?” said the appointment-maker. “Hello! My name is Doctor K_______ and I would like to resolve this demolition notice and issues with valuing my house.” “OK sir. We have an appointment time available next month. We’ll mail you your appointment notice. Please bring it with you to the appointment.” “Next month?” “Next month.” “Alright. Thank you.” said K, “You’ve been most helpful.” Click! The notice of appointment did in fact come in the mail. K brought it with him at the appointed date along with the initial demolition notice and last year’s assessment valuation of his house, stating for tax purposes the house to be worth $75,000.00. He also brought the deed and his papers pertaining to the purchase of the house some decades ago. Back then, the house was worth $50,000.00. K got to the office of the county assessor, downtown. It was a large yet squat building. It was five stories up and four stories underground and rectangular shaped, with the long part of the rectangle running along the ground, like a skyscraper that fell over and was lying on its side, giving it that squat look. The exterior had a white and purple marble façade. Doctor K entered. He was stuck in a security line. Roped off lines, metal detectors, two heavy-set security guards. This security seemed silly. What terrorist would want to bomb a government bureaucracy? K thought ruefully that if this building were attacked, they’d be doing society a favor. The line took an exceeding amount of time, with one of the two metal detectors being out of order. Just one by one, inch by inch, the line moved. Step forward, stand still, step forward, stand still, step forward, stand still. Mindlessly. K finally got there. His keys and wallet with identification were confiscated by a security guard. He could get them back when he left. K was, however, allowed to keep his paperwork pertaining to his assessment matters. K was now in the main foyer. There were six elevators. Four of them led to the top five floors above ground level. The other two led to the bottom four floors below
ground level. One elevator was out of order. There was a large throng of people waiting by the elevators. K got out his appointment notice. It said his appointment would be in room 325. K knew this was on the third floor, because of the three as the first digit of the room number. K pressed the up button for the elevator. He, along with the throngs of people waiting for the elevator, wore a dull scowl on his face. Waiting for the elevators was a mind-numbing affair. K decided to look around him. He looked up: tall ceilings with fluorescent lights in a false ceiling high up. The walls were of white marble and the elevator shafts of purple marble. The floors were white linoleum once upon a time, but now were a dingy grey with grime. There were no windows. Off in the corner, a water fountain had a sign on it: out of order. K decided to stop paying attention to what was around him. He went to the water fountain in the other direction. The water was warm and tasted like ash. He spit it out in the fountain’s drain. When he looked up, he saw that he missed his elevator. K pressed the button and waited again. It took so long, another crowd of scowls amassed around him. Most of them wore business suits, some uniforms of other kinds, others looked like street trash people. K decided to count the number of people waiting for the elevator. One … Two … Three … Four … Five … Six … Seven ... And so on. Finally the elevator came. It was overstuffed and it took a while for the original occupants of the elevator car to disembark. None remained on. K had to push and shove and compete to earn his spot in the elevator. He was grateful to get his spot in the back, but then couldn’t push the button for the third floor. “Could someone hit three, please?” said K. The crowd acted as though they didn’t hear him. So K rode up to floor four and when a few people got off the elevator, K had enough room to push through and hit the button for floor three. K got off on floor three. The hallway was narrow, with yet another out of order water fountain. Still, no windows. In fact, K thought that everywhere looked the same.
K saw a sign, with an arrow pointing in one direction, indicating rooms 300-350 were in one direction, and another arrow indicating that rooms 350-395 were in the opposite direction. K took the turn toward room 325. After a minute of walking down the halls, carefully looking for room numbers, K got to room 320. Then there was a room 320. But no room 325. K entered room 320. He saw a long counter with one bored-looking bureaucrat behind it. The sign said: “Please Take A Number And Wait For Your Number To Be Called.” K took a numbered ticket from the red ticket dispenser. There was a digital sign up above him. Calling number 32. K’s ticket was 50. K sighed and sat in the waiting area. And he waited. And he waited. And he waited. His number was called after about ten minutes. K went up to the counter and talked to the bored-looking bureaucrat. “Hi,” said K, “I’m looking for room 325.” The bureaucrat blinked and said: “Just down the hall, in the alcove.” “So room 325 was in this room, 320?” “Yes.” “Nobody told me that! No one tells me anything around here!” “So?” K sighed and said: “Thank you.” And K followed the instructions, and walked down passed a lot of cubicles, half of which contained bureaucrats within. K got to the alcove; room 325 was not in the alcove. K looked around, and found for himself that room 325 was adjacent to the alcove. He entered room 325. It was a small office. There was another uniformed bureaucrat within. He also looked bored, and blinked. “I have an appointment to contest my property valuation and demolition,” said K. And he handed him the appointment notice. There was a barcode on the notice. The bureaucrat scanned it with a red scanner gun. The computer faced the bureaucrat and away from K. “It says here,” said the bureaucrat, “that you are here to agree with the property valuation.”
“Why would I make an appointment to come down here to agree with it?!” said K. He blurted it out in frustration and incredulity. “I don’t know,” said the bureaucrat, “You tell me. You made the appointment to agree with us.” “I did not! It was to contest it!” “OK. I’ll stamp this notice VOID: PLEASE CHANGE CRITERION and you can take it to room B200 in this building, and they can change your appointment’s parameters for you.” “Why can’t you just change it here and now on your computer?” “Because I’m not authorized to do that.” “Who is in charge here?” “The Director of Executive Budgetary Affairs.” “Where is he found?” “On the fifth floor.” “What room?” “The entire fifth floor is one room, the room for the Director.” “Thank you,” said K. K decided to see the Director of Executive Budgetary Affairs first. Why go through more flunkies, anyway? So K got back into the elevator and found that the button for floor five was locked and could not be pressed. So K sighed, got the first floor, got out of the elevator that was only for the top half of the building, and waited for another elevator to get to the basement floors. When he got to room B200, K saw yet another counter with another red ticket machine for his number to be called and another waiting area. He sat and waited. Finally, his number was called. As K got up to speak with the bureaucrat, he noticed a sign hanging from the ceiling: “NO PROPERTY SHALL BE TAKEN WITHOUT DUE PROCESS OF LAW.” He spoke with the bureaucrat behind the counter: “I would like to finally contest my property’s value and demolition!” “OK, sir. What’s the issue?” “I got this notice in the mail saying my house was to be seized and demolished by the government by eminent domain. And you say my house is worth $20,000.00 but I paid taxes on it saying it was worth $75,000.00.” “I see. Well, I’m afraid I can’t help you with the demolition but I can with the valuation.”
“Why can’t you help with the demolition?” “Because that requires notice and a hearing, which is what due process of law is. You already got the notice. The hearings are done in court, in the courthouse across the street. But here at the county assessor’s office, we can only do valuations.” “Thanks for explaining that.” “No problem. In fact, and don’t tell anyone this—I’m breaking the rules for you a little.” “You are?” said K. The bureaucrat whispered: “Only the Director of Executive Budgetary Affairs has the authority to change the value of your house. But I’m doing it for you anyway. He won’t notice. Otherwise, you’d have had to make an appointment to see him on the fifth floor here.” “Thanks for the kindness.” “No problem.” “Now, just show me your tax form from last year so I can verify your property’s value.” K showed it to the bureaucrat. The bureaucrat then said: “OK. That part is taken care of. Now, head across the street to the courthouse to take care of the hearing over your property’s demolition.” “Thank you.” “Have a nice day!” The bureaucrat actually sounded sincere. His voice was the opposite of a monotone; it contained all the variations in tone, pitch, and inflexion that most people don’t notice and take for granted, thought K. “You too!” K responded in kind. And K headed out, back out the hallways, to the elevator, waited and waited and waited, and finally emerged from the building and into the sunlight. Before exiting, he remembered to get his keys and wallet back from security. K crossed the street to head to the courthouse: the tall white marble building with the classical Greek façade, long steps leading up, and Corinthian columns. K wondered: what is the meaning of all this? What is being done here? Why is this happening to me? Is this civilization? K stood outside on the portico of the courthouse, staring up at the Corinthian columns. Is this civilization? What is the point of all this? What am I accomplishing here? And what is the Director of Executive Budgetary Affairs accomplishing? K looked across the street at the top floor of the county assessor’s office. What does that Director do? Is he in charge of the bureaucracy? So what! What kind of job is that? What does he do exactly?
K sighed and entered the courthouse. Another slow security line. And his keys, wallet, and identification were confiscated again. The interior of the courthouse was exactly like the building across the street: linoleum and fluorescent lights, all pale. K walked into room 101, labeled the court clerk’s office. Counters, tickets, waiting. K waited and finally was called and he spoke with the clerk behind the counter. “Hi, I’d like to contest the demolition of my house.” “We’ll need to schedule a hearing with the Director of Budgetary Affairs across the street to do that.” “Can’t we just take care of this now? I’m sure this is a mistake. Why would the government want to take my small plot of land in a residential neighborhood?” “I don’t know. But I can’t help you. Only the Director of Executive Budgetary Affairs can.” “Can’t you just look on your computer records?” “No. Only the Director of Executive Budgetary Affairs can.” K had had it by that point. He asked: “Do you know what he looks like?” “No.” “Or what he does?” “No.” “And you’ve never seen him?” “I don’t know. I’m just following the rules!” “If you’ve never seen the Director of Executive Budgetary Affairs, how do you know he’s even in his office?” The bureaucrat’s face fell as he said: “Because I know he’s there.” K smiled, having come to a realization: “You know—there are some bureaucrats that are a lot nicer than you.” That statement was not his realization. His realization was this: in a no-win situation, you can do whatever you want. “So,” said the bureaucrat, “You’re going to have to sit here and wait to make an appointment with the Director.” “No, I’m not going to do that.” “You must!” And K left. He walked toward the courthouse exit. A security guard offered him his keys back.
“Keep ‘em,” said K. But K took his wallet and identification. K stood outside. It wasn’t worth all this, was it? His property, money—the whole thing. He just sat on the steps and cleared his mind out. He just let the breeze and the sun’s rays hit him. None of this made sense, but none of it mattered, either. If he lost this house, he could live somewhere else. And besides, bureaucratic bungling could just as easily be in his favor as against. It was all random, wasn’t it? K went home just for the mail, and sure enough, another letter and notice awaited him. It was a check from the nice bureaucrat. For $200,000.00. The extra zero must have been a clerical error. The money was for his house. K ran to the bank and deposited the money. And he left his house, forever. If the government wanted it, fine. The house was never demolished. It just sits there to this day.
Benjamin Joel Chapman is a recent graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. He’s always loved reading and recently got into writing as well. He wanted to be a writer when, while studying for a law school exam, he had to just stop—all he wanted to do was re-read Fahrenheit 451. So he did. It led him to the realization that the reading and writing skill set doesn’t need to have a practical application; art is important in and of itself. These are his first published short stories.
Key Performances By Fred Chandler
You play the parts of heroes or fools Life times when it tries to cast you Each part receives its curtain calls Can you tell the different applauses This is the theatre of your whole life Your audience sits as gods and men Waiting in the hereafter is the critic
Playgrounds By Fred Chandler
Of childhoodcalling back playgroundsawakens nostalgia
Mending Tools By Fred Chandler
A splintered straw basket Many large balls of yarn Knitting needles all array Box of buttons & needles An old worn silver thimble Spools of colored threads A mind lays in waiting to tailor itself from this bed
Fred Chandler is the author of two chapbooks, A Flying Frog and X Factor. He is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, a fellow of the American Film Institute, a member of the Writers Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Fred's poems have appeared in The Pink Chameleon, Splizz, Northern Stars, Black Lantern, KCET, Danse Macabre, and The Storyteller, among other publications. His website can be viewed at www.fredchandler.com.
Shoe Polish By Tejal Bhamre
“Shoe polish for five rupees!” The little boy tried to make his sleepy voice heard over the din of the marketplace. He sat on a rug by the footpath, in his usual place. He had chosen the spot so that it wasn’t too close to the vegetable vendors – there was always a mush of fallen leaves and vegetables on the road around them – but also not too far. People would feel like having their shoes cleaned after walking through that slosh, he thought. He sat on his rug, in a soiled brown vest and tattered black shorts, barefoot, his eyes hopefully following the shoes of every potential customer who walked past. It was a hot day. The occasional waft was welcoming, despite the queer mixture of market fragrances that it carried – reeking of tomatoes and spinach trodden upon by pedestrians, along with a hint of jasmine from the flower lady at the end of the street – all these coupled with a strong whiff of shoe polish. Last night he had had very little sleep, as most other days. Last night, however, he had stayed up for a different reason. He finished cleaning the dishes and laid out the mattress before his father got back home. His father was too drunk to ask any questions, as usual. He staggered to the mattress and began to snore wildly within minutes. The boy walked around him a few times to be sure before reaching behind the pile of junk in the corner. He opened the rusted can and held the pale, old paper in his hand. It didn’t smell at all of all the people whose hands it had been passed on from. He stared at the wrinkled greenbrown notes in his hand – he had been saving little by little for many months now. On some days his father would snatch whatever money he saw on the boy before he left to buy more liquor. On better days, the money would remain undiscovered. He took the paper to his nose and drew in a long breath. There was a whiff of shoe-polish – the boy used to hold it in his hands ever so often just to check it was still there. He loved the smell of paper – all sorts of paper. The crisp, heavenly odour of ink on the morning newspapers that the newspaper boy carried down the street every morning; the leafy,
damp scent of the paper he bought vegetables wrapped in. He looked again at the money in his hand and smiled. “Boy, where are you looking? Stop dreaming. I don’t have time for this. It takes so long to get to office when you have to walk down this street. All this commotions, it just gives me a headache every morning! If I am late again today…” The little boy jolted back to reality, his hands began working in rapid motion on the black leather boots. “What are you dreaming about? Becoming a film star? Kids these days..every street urchin dreams of being a star. What about education? Do you go to school? Or spend all your money on watching cheap films in that cinema down the road? That’s where all the problems start. You watch these movies and think that life is a movie. No need to work. Look at yourself first. Tattered shirt, no proper footwear for godsake, no education, but they’ll dream of being stars and getting rich overnight!” “Sir, I have footwear.” “What?” “I have footwear now, Sir”. The boy gently lifted the end of the rug to reveal a pair of white shoes. Clean and new. “It’s my birthday today. I bought myself these shoes. I have footwear now.”
Tejal Bhamre is a first year graduate student pursuing a PhD in physics at Princeton University. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India, where she studied at the Indian Institute of technology, Bombay. She loves reading Shakespeare, Haruki Murakami, O. Henry, Jasper Fforde, Isaac Asimov, Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron and Wordsworth. She is deeply moved by Murakami's work and it has inspired her to write prose. When she is not doing physics or reading and writing for pleasure, she loves adventure sports, singing, painting, learning languages and travelling. She wants to try out scientific journalism someday and to publish her own novel.
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