CRACK THE SPINE
Crack The Spine Issue Six January 9, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack The Spine
Cover Art ―The Old Horse‖ by Christopher Woods Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Texas. He is the author of a prose collection, UNDER A RIVERBED SKY, and a book of stage monologues for actors, HEART SPEAK. His photographs appeared recently in TIFERET, SAN PEDRO RIVER REVIEW, GENERATIONS and 2 BRIDGES REVIEW.
Contents Valentina Cano………….…………..…………….A Bad Neighborhood A Mind Charles Pitter………………………..…….……………..……..Dirty Talk Poem & Essay M.J. Iuppa……………………....…..………….Traveling Through Flesh Dead Pine Jan Wiezorek……………………………………....…………..…..Twelfth Sanchari Sur………………………………………..………….…..Options Chris Castle…………………………...……...……………..Summer Fog H. Edgar Hix………….……….I Would Kiss You, If Only for the Pain
A Bad Neighborhood By Valentina Cano
A narrow street rose up before her. Walls of icy stones that trapped sound like air bubbles inside them. The street was covered in a deep, green carpet, plush, a squelching swamp of fears. She pressed forward, ignoring her wet feet and her voice, swallowed by the greedy walls. She moved a step at a time, rivulets of thoughts racing forward like bobbing candle glow.
A Mind By Valentina Cano It looks like a boarded up window. The way the light crashes against it, raising up mushroom clouds of dust, or how the sound peers through the cracks, through the corners, inspecting the territory. Fresh air has never seen its insides. Footsteps have never trilled through its floors. Everything is lost in its interiors. A drawer full of items too pale to distinguish.
Valentina Cano is a student of classical singing who spends whatever free time either writing or reading. Her works have appeared in Exercise Bowler, Blinking Cursor, Theory Train, Magnolia's Press, Cartier Street Press, Berg Gasse 19, Precious Metals, A Handful of Dust, The Scarlet Sound, The Adroit Journal, Perceptions Literary Magazine, Welcome to Wherever, The Corner Club Press, Death Rattle, Danse Macabre, Subliminal Interiors, Generations Literary Journal, Super Poetry Highway, Stream Press, Stone Telling, Popshot, Golden Sparrow Literary Review, Rem Magazine, Structo, The 22 Magazine, The Black Fox Literary Magazine, Niteblade, Tuck Magazine, Ontologica, Congruent Spaces Magazine, Pipe Dream, Decades Review, Anatomy, Lowestof Chronicle, Muddy River Poetry Review, Lady Ink Magazine, White Masquerade Anthology and Perhaps I'm Wrong About the World.
Dirty Talk A Poem By Charles Pitter
Giving-up was always the best thing you could do Using your head not your heart as you thought you should do And Iâ€˜ll convince myself it was for the worst and close my heart to you
Shut-tight You talked yourself into it Somewhere to nowhere Something to nothing Somebody to nobody
Verbal reasoning indeed When those four-lettered words you loved to tell me in bed Most often began with an F not an L
Your language was tough but your words so much harder Leading from somewhere to nowhere to nothing Itâ€˜s over
Dirty Talk An Essay By Charles Pitter
Why do some people talk to each other during sex, and others don‘t? It seems to me there‘s no in between - you either do, or you don‘t, and you either love it or hate it.
As the world becomes increasingly pornified - and I‘m not going to comment on whether this is a good or a bad thing, trying to be a good non-judgmental boy of Buddhism – I have to wonder whether in the modern age we consider dirty talk an almost assumptive part of having sex, and if ―making love‖ is done a little more quietly. Everyone‘s a porn-star these days and it strikes me that sex chatter is a relatively modern phenomenon; I can‘t really imagine Victorian or Georgian lovers being quite so expressive though perhaps I‘m doing them a disservice. Maybe I just became attuned to this practice a little later in life and in actual fact it‘s as old as the hills. Certain field research I have engaged in suggests that what was once a minority interest has become almost a necessary part of the act of congress. Perhaps this suggests men and women are getting better at communicating with one another. Or maybe it‘s just that, in a broadly sexist and generalist statement, women like to talk.
Jay McIninerney wrote that men talk to women so they can sleep with them and women sleep with men so they can talk to them. This is a wonderfully cynical line but not completely accurate as far as I‘m concerned because women tend to talk to me (and sometimes at me, in a kind of shouting tone) regardless of whether they‘re sleeping with me. But to put it beyond any doubt, if the only category of women who were willing to talk to me was limited to the set, or some would say sub-set, of women who were also willing to have sex with me, I know I would certainly be a poorer person. I don‘t think this means as a consequence that the women who choose to sleep with me are in the category of ―idiot‖ (though the women who have slept with me may strongly disagree), just that I understand my appeal is not as all encompassing as that of George Clooney. But when women talk to me and ―sleep‖ with me at the same
time, simultaneously and on purpose, it sends me in to a reverie which I generally tend to appreciate. My preference though is that the ―conversation‖ refers to matters at hand rather than shopping lists or fixing the roof but I think there‘s much to be said for being open-minded.
I put forward that being able to talk to one another well whilst engaging in another activity indicates a healthy willingness to engage in communication and an ability to do more than one thing at the same time. It‘s an opportunity for men to correct the myth that women are better at ―multi-tasking‖ and whilst there‘s some truth in the adage that there‘s a time and a place for everything, surely it‘s significant for your relationship if you cannot talk to one another well. What we actually say to each other is no doubt even more important; if your lover never calls you by your name, or even worse gets your name wrong, then either there‘s been some type of wrong-bed-wrongperson mishap in the style of a seventies farce or there‘s something else afoot.
The problem with the whole verbal thing is that there‘s no particular established etiquette or rules that I‘m aware of to help the individual start his or her verbal journey. At what stage of a relationship should one begin and how far should the whole thing be pushed? Early and too adventurous may well scare off your new partner whilst if the relationship is well established it may seem like a sudden and unexpected leap into the unknown. And what is the correct procedure to follow when one of you likes to talk and the other doesn‘t? Is the person who is not a fan of dirty talk just meant to listen quietly or can they validly just tell the other person to shut up? How do you deal with the situation when there are more than two of you there at the same time and everyone wants a say? This latter situation may have as many potential difficulties as could be encountered by a director trying to film a crowd scene - if you are one of the protaganists are you allowed to use the ―rhubarb‖ method of acting?
My bold proposition is that if one of you likes to get verbal and the other doesn‘t then it‘s quite likely you are sexually incompatible on a long-term basis, so you better get your game sorted out from the get-go. I have always assumed that when Larkin
wrote of how talking in bed ―ought to be easiest/lying together there goes back so far/an emblem of two people being honest‖ he was referring to post-coital discussion but surely his idea must be valid for before, during and afterwards – and in fact despite what Larkin suggests it shouldn‘t be difficult to find ―words at once true and kind/or not untrue and not unkind‖. Just because something‘s dirty doesn‘t mean it‘s unkind; silence can be unkinder, and if you can‘t find any dirty words to say to one another it may be the case that you shouldn‘t be in the same bed together at all.  Other than some type of confused muttering.  Maybe they were very, very rude, but I doubt it.  I‘m sure to use a horrible Friends-ism, this is ―too much information‖.  I won‘t elaborate.  I was dragged to these as a child and my sense of humour was almost certainly permanently warped as a result.  If there are, will someone please direct me?  I‘m not going to give examples, sorry.  This is called a monologue.  I‘m not talking metaphorically though I can‘t say this situation arises all that often for me.  But probably not at dinner on the first date.
Charles Pitter lives in Jersey, Channel Islands and has a degree in English and French literature from Middlesex and Paris 8 Universities. He has been published in numerous magazines and journals worldwide.
Traveling Through Flesh After a painting by Eric Fischl, Frailty is a Moment of Self-Reflection. By M.J. Iuppa
Morning‘s light glows in the corridor where your father walks the carpet‘s worn threads.
You watch his hesitating steps: his right arm out-stretched, balancing on his body‘s shadow–
his ordinary mouth pursed in the words he never said out loud. Even now
he doesn‘t want your help. He‘s determined to be a man of certainty. Yet you can see
through his transparent skin something indescribable:
Your furious father, your kind father, your father who vanished before your eyes.
Dead Pine By M.J. Iuppa
Late afternoon in mid-winter in a stand of trees, steel gray shadows streak across untouched snow.
Above, steadfast skies remain clear and blue– as the echo of slow melting snow–
as the ache of trees swaying to touch each other slightly becomes visible to the one
who is dying without miracle– the wither that vanishes like forgetting.
M.J.Iuppa lives on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Her most recent chapbook is As the Crows Flies (Foothills Publishing, 2008) and second full length collection, Within Reach, (Cherry Grove Collections, 2010). She is Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Arts Minor Program at St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY.
Twelfth By Jan Wiezorek
Ma always had a way of ruling the roost with a loving word, a nod, or an embrace as the family finished dinner and sat on the floor, sliding their white socks against the darkest brown carpet, ready for chatter about neighborhood gossip. Some elbowed Uncle Bobby, with his flagging eyelids. Others commanded Harold to stop fiddling with the sports channel. It was Antonia who passed the white-chocolate-covered pretzels and requested ever so politely that Mica, the great-grand-daughter home from college, had better put up with it—even if she would rather not at all—because it was a holiday, and Mica was required like everyone else to watch Ma rule the roost. Nonetheless, Mica would have rather sent texts to her boyfriend from the privacy of her bedroom. That said, no one could argue the meal was anything less than anyone would have hoped for. ―Near perfection,‖ Ma said, her eyes dashing from ham on the bone to juicy prime rib—medium rare—from Waldorf salad to macaroni and cheese with peas, from mashed potatoes and gravy to relishes of pimento-stuffed olives, bread-andbutter pickles, black olives, and green scallions. Mica made her Pumpkin Pie Surprise, but most everyone asked for the apple pie with candy-cane-and-vanilla ice cream. Even so, some among the family still grabbed at Antonia's white-chocolate-covered pretzels when they were passed from one to the next. Everyone except Ma, who was full and wished she had had a child‘s portion, which she would ask for next time, so she said. When the littlest one, Uncle Bobby‘s Wendy, was in her white-stocking feet, too, Ma pulled them off and played with her pink toes. Ma toyed and kissed those little
pink ones as she sang out ―Eenie, meenie, miney, mo, catch a nigger by the toe, if he hollers let him go, eenie, meenie—‖ ―Ma,‖ Mica said emphatically, ―African-American Heritage Month is coming up.‖ Mica focused her blue eyes at Ma and then continued her texting anyway. ―That‘s the way we sang it when I was in school,‖ Ma said. Everyone heard it, Ma‘s chuckle that made her poofed-up gray hair wiggle about like Antonia‘s Strawberry Gelatin Delight. ―But we don‘t talk like that anymore,‖ Mica said. ―We‘re not to talk like that.‖ And then she botched her texting somehow and walked off, but sister Antonia hauled her back to the carpet in her white socks. ―Don‘t be silly,‖ Ma said. ―It‘s a children‘s rhyme.‖ ―But, Ma,‖ Antonia said. She pulled back the bowl of white-chocolate-covered pretzels and put it back by Uncle Bobby, who reached for it now and then, but he didn‘t dare say a word. Brother-in-law Harold fidgeted with his black-rimmed glasses and opened the newspaper when he wasn‘t stealing glances at the game and said, ―And all this happening down on Twelfth Street.‖ ―It‘s not a neighborhood I would live in,‖ Ma said. ―You can‘t trust a one of them. Why, they ruined Twelfth Street.‖ Uncle Bobby clucked his tongue behind his teeth and pulled out a chipped tooth. ―No more white-chocolate-covered pretzels for me,‖ he said. ―Then there was that murder on Twelfth last week,‖ Harold said. His voice was hushed, and he leaned toward Ma to suggest a sentiment for her ears only. ―Ma,‖ said Mica. ―Stop.‖ ―It‘s in the news,‖ Ma said. ―I never met a one of them I could trust.‖
―Ma,‖ Mica said, ―you never met a one of them.‖ She tipped her head to the side, fingered her blonde hair, and then continued texting. ―I know what I read.‖ ―Who‘s winning?‖ Uncle Bobby asked Harold. ―Detroit?‖ ―Detroit,‖ Harold said. ―Not a one of ‘em,‖ Ma said. ―Ma,‖ Antonia said, ―really.‖ ―Stop,‖ Mica said. ―Stop,‖ baby Wendy said, but her cry sounded like ―pop.‖ She pulled the whitechocolate-covered pretzels from Uncle Bobby‘s callused hands and tried to pass them around again, spilling more than one on the carpet. Antonia bent over to pick up the fallen pretzels, and the heave in her frustrated breathing made all the voices in the room pause—even the socked feet stopped their friction against the carpet. The silence held court and irritated everyone until the doorbell rang. Antonia bent up from her sore legs and back to train her eyes out the picture window and onto the lighted stoop. ―Who on earth?‖ she said. She walked to the maplewood door, pulled it open, and looked through the screen onto a boy, maybe thirteen years old. ―I‘m Homer,‖ the boy said. ―Yes?‖ Antonia said. Ma craned her neck like it could reach across the room, pointed her face right toward the screen, and adjusted her head up and down and side to side until her spectacled vision was as close to perfect as she could make it. ―Who‘s he?‖ she said.
Her volume made every face turn toward Ma with piercing eyes that said hush, even though no real words were uttered. Antonia turned toward Ma and gave her the sharpest look—ever. She raised her right index finger to her mouth and blew at Ma a shhhhh so loud that baby Wendy put her hands up and covered her own face. ―Yes?‖ Antonia said. ―May I help you, young man?‖ ―Sorry to bother you, ma‘am,‖ the boy said. ―What brings you out on a holiday eve?‖ she asked. ―Could you help?‖ he asked. He wore a light brown coat with diamond black stripes. His ball cap was in his hands, and tucked under his arm was a twelve-inch-byfourteen-inch envelope, manila and worn. ―Help with what?‖ Antonia asked. ―Help our basketball team.‖ Antonia‘s face dropped, and she searched around the room, but no answers came forward. ―Well, come right in, young man,‖ Antonia said. The boy stepped up from the stoop and into the living room where white-socked feet began a rhythm against the carpet. Ma in her swivel-rocker turned as far as she could toward the wall and away from the door from which the boy had entered. ―Thank you,‖ the boy said. Ma thought it was kind—perhaps too kind—for a family settled in on the comfort of a holiday evening to allow a complete stranger into the home. Ma showed it in her eyes. How long the boy stood there in silence cannot be said, but his eyes traveled, too, to Antonia and Uncle Bobby, across to Harold, and then to baby Wendy. Even Mica had to drop her texting and look at the boy‘s darkest brown eyes glisten, heightened by the television flicker. ―Could you help our midnight basketball team?‖ he asked at last.
―I heard about that,‖ Uncle Bobby chimed in. Ma pulled back from her neck and stared at Uncle Bobby until his eyes focused down onto his calluses. ―Maybe not,‖ he added. ―Midnight?‖ asked Ma. ―Why would you play in the pitch black of midnight unless you had evil on your mind?‖ ―We wanna stay off the street,‖ the boy said. ―What street?‖ Ma asked. ―Twelfth,‖ he said. That was enough for Ma. She grabbed the newspaper and put her eyes on the words that completely covered the boy, her family, and the carpeted room. The boy sunk down from his shoulders, tucked the manila envelope up under his armpit, and looked around from face to face. He pointed his nose toward the door and shifted weight from his right foot to his left. ―Who sent you here, son?‖ Antonia asked. ―The church, a block away,‖ he said. ―The church said we should walk this neighborhood.‖ ―Did you come alone?‖ ―No, my brother‘s across the street.‖ ―The Finkelhams won‘t give,‖ Ma said, clearly talking out of turn. Antonia faced the boy, but her right eye cheated right to swing a glance over at Ma. ―We‘d be proud to contribute to your cause,‖ Antonia said. ―Wouldn‘t we?‖ She nodded and turned to Harold and Uncle Bobby. She extended her nods outward to Mica—and then to Ma, who was not participating at present. Mica went to her bedroom and came back with two dollar bills. ―Here,‖ she said. ―Have a nice African-American Heritage Month.‖ ―Thank you,‖ Homer said.
Mica didn‘t answer, but she picked up on her texting instead. Homer smiled, but the area around his eyes sat on his face and refused to glow. Uncle Bobby pulled up and off the davenport and took a five-dollar bill from his wallet. ―You can put this toward a basketball,‖ he said, ignoring Ma and dropping the bill into the boy‘s creased envelope. ―How do we know you‘ll put this to good use?‖ Harold asked. This time Homer‘s face fell and he dropped his head. His eyes looked at the white socks and then at all the blue eyes staring at him. Antonia interrupted. ―This young man is asking for our help on a holiday evening, and we won‘t turn him away unsatisfied,‖ she said. ―Homer,‖ she added, ―we know you‘ll put this to good use because you wouldn‘t give up your holiday evening otherwise.‖ Homer looked up at Antonia in her white pants suit, but Ma sighed in disgust at the boy. Antonia‘s gaze bypassed Ma, and she nodded at Harold instead. He put a tendollar bill into the manila envelope that was by now showing a puffiness to it, Ma thought, looking over across the top of her newspaper. ―Thanks,‖ the boy said. ―You are welcome,‖ Harold replied. Antonia left the room and returned with her purse. She opened her wallet and thumbed her fingers through the many bills. From time to time she looked up at the boy and smiled at his big brown eyes. Then, she returned to the thumbing, pulling, and arranging, the counting and turning of bills, all made orderly within her wallet. ―Don‘t keep the boy waiting,‖ Harold said. ―Please,‖ Antonia replied. She knelt down by Homer, held his right hand, and whispered in his ear.
Ma dropped her mouth like a puppy begging for a table scrap, and she leaned her upper body toward the two whisperers. Homer gave Antonia a smile that extended from one side of his face to the other. He whispered back again to her. Antonia counted each twenty-dollar bill until she had five of them and added the total to Homer‘s manila envelope. ―Homer, I know you can use this to help the team buy new uniforms,‖ she said. She gave him a half-hug with her left arm. ―Thank you, ma‘am,‖ Homer said. ―Thanks.‖ Antonia walked to Ma, who sat in the rocker and swiveled. Daughter‘s eyes met Ma‘s for the longest time, and then it was clear that Antonia had won. Ma pinched her mouth, and her stomach turned over. ―Where‘s my purse?‖ Ma asked. Ma heard a waver in her voice that unsettled her for the first time in years. Antonia saw Ma‘s purse on the floor by the swivel-rocker, and she pointed to it. Ma bent slowly over and let her fingers open the bag and fiddle for her coin purse, deep down in the folds of the leather. She reached the coin purse, old and plain, and pulled it out. ―Now, do us all proud, Ma,‖ Antonia warned. Ma held the purse in her left hand and motioned Homer toward her. He picked up his feet, dodging the white socks and a dropped white-chocolate-covered pretzel until he stood before her as she sat in the swivel-rocker. ―Son,‖ she said, ―why do you play at midnight when you should be in bed hours before?‖ ―That‘s what we do,‖ he said. ―But midnight is the devil‘s hour,‖ she added. ―Can‘t you play earlier?‖ ―We‘re only playing.‖ ―I see,‖ Ma said. ―Is Twelfth Street safe?‖ ―Not now. Can you help?‖ ―Are you asking or grabbing?‖
―Asking.‖ ―How can I trust you?‖ ―Ma,‖ Antonia said, ―are you going to help the boy or grill him?‖ ―Come down tomorrow night,‖ Homer said. ―There‘s a game.‖ ―I can‘t, but I—.‖ Ma stopped short. She took her coin purse and dropped it— unopened—into Homer‘s manila envelope. ―Here,‖ she said. ―Thank you,‖ Homer replied. ―Thank you, now. Night.‖ Homer put his cap on his head, opened the door, and left. A cool wind blew into the room, and the family buffed their socked feet, warming them against the carpet. ―That was kind of you to participate, Ma,‖ Antonia said. Her smile all but eased the earlier tension, and the calm gave some peace to the room. ―Think it‘ll do any good?‖ Harold asked. ―We did what was right,‖ Antonia said. ―We can complain or we can help. We did the right thing.‖ The televised game continued, so Antonia brought out a big bowl of popcorn, and the family threw kernels up into the air, trying to catch them in their mouths. ―I suppose it doesn‘t hurt to buy a kid a basketball,‖ Uncle Bobby said. ―I wonder if that Homer will come to any good?‖ Ma asked. ―I‘d like to see them play,‖ Mica said, ―sometime.‖ ―I‘m ready for some vanilla ice cream,‖ Antonia announced. Ma picked up baby Wendy, kissed her toes, and sang an old children‘s rhyme. In the midst of holiday ice-cream eating and loud T.V., Ma‘s words filtered unnoticed through the maplewood door and upon the street, rushing across the subdivision of ranch homes and along its curbs, like rainwater gathering up among a pile of leaves and breaking through, always running downhill to reach the lowest point on Twelfth Street. There the boys played ball, and the rain of words grabbed them alive in the devil‘s hour.
―It‘s not a neighborhood I would live in,‖ Ma said. ―Eenie, meenie, miney, mo ....‖ She kissed the pink toes and sang the words alive again, as her gelatin hair wiggled.
Jan Wiezorek writes and teaches at an elementary school in Chicago. His fiction has appeared online at PressboardPress.com, ShadowFiction.com, CommuterLit.com, and in Seeds Literary Arts Journal in Chicago. He is author of Awesome Art Projects That Spark Super Writing (New York: Scholastic, 2011). He holds an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts Education from Columbia College Chicago and a B.A. in Journalism from Iowa State University. He studies fiction writing at Northeastern Illinois University. Jan enjoys biking along the country roads in southwestern Michigan‘s Harbor Country.
Options By Sanchari Sur
this world is full of options. spoilt for choices, my dida would say. like when you stepped into the dating world. plenty of fish. lavalife. eharmony. and now, the new brown fad, two mangoes. bringing together two brown people- two mangoes- and all that. pickings were slim, so you messaged me. your almost-girlfriend at one time. atleast that‘s how i imagine you might think of me. you with your suave photos and smooth lines. made me wonder why you were messaging me after -what?three years. has it really been that long? i guess. you gave me your number, asking me to call you. i did, because i was curious. as always. always wondered what happened to you, after well… after i ended it. in my fantasy, you had married some nice punjabi girl chosen by your mom and had two kids by now. but there we were, in your car, on that stormy night. messy, you called it. how clichéd, i thought. we could almost pretend to be in a bollywood movie. we were sipping a latte and a hot chocolate. the hot chocolate was mine. i never cared for lattes much. they sound pretentious and are overpriced anyway.
we started with accusations and bitterness. then mellowed to, why did we let it go. i wish i could answer that. honestly, i couldn‘t remember.
we played truth or dare. your idea. i think you just wanted an excuse to kiss me. i picked dare, like you knew i would. you dared me to bare the mole on my left shoulder, surprising me that you even remembered its location, let alone that i had one. then we kissed, and you said, why does it feel like there is no world outside here. i believed you, until today. ten days later. when you called and said that you want options.
Sanchari Sur is a Bengali Canadian who was born in Calcutta, India. Her poetry and short fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Asia Writes, Corvus Magazine, Red River Review, Red Poppy Review, Urban Shots - Crossroads (Grey Oak Publishing, 2012) and elsewhere. Her short story, "Those Sri Lankan Boys," was selected to be a part of Diaspora Dialogues' Youth Mentorship Program in Toronto this year.
Summer Fog By Chris Castle
I come home and see the door is off its hinges. You always used to complain about how weak our lock was, but you never changed it, did you? For some reason, I don‘t drop my shopping bag but instead nudge the door open to step inside. Somehow, I know the intruder has gone, long gone and when I step inside all I see is a mess. A strange sight: as if everything is on a slant. Or perhaps, everything is perfect and in its place and I am the one crouched on broken toes…Finally, I set the bag down and put my hands up to my face, over my mouth…but then realise I‘m only pretending this action and am in fact, not shocked at all nor distressed. Instead, I only think: this is the first man I‘ve had in our house since you. I haven‘t had visitors. No, I haven‘t allowed myself to have any visitors. Well- wishers, well-meaning intentions, well-well-well. Instead, I chose to be by myself. Sometimes, I think that I‘m among myself, hearing the different voices in my head, as they battle and bicker for attention. Who is in charge here? I call out loud sometimes and think about that age old question: if you know you‘re mad does that mean you‘re not crazy? Now you are gone, I am the crazy lady of the street, the recluse. I remember an old lady we-my brother and I, (remember proper grammar, regardless of insanity: ‗always the other and I, never my brother and me,‘) used to be scared of and tease in equal measure. One day we would steal the milk bottles from her door, the next she would see us and shake her angry fist at us until we‘d feel her imagined curses all the way down to our bones and our boots. It was a funny little dance we had all the way up until she was gone, taking turns to terrify and be terrified.
I still remember the day she died, a Thursday, and crying when I found out. My brother laughed, but it was a shrill, fake gesture and I knew he was acting. For weeks afterwards, we would walk along our street at a loss for what to do-the new family were fresh and normal and of no use to us-and we waited for her ghost to come and haunt us, but she never did and I hated her all summer long for that. So, in short, I have become what I used to tease and somehow, I think that is a perfect way of saying that now I know what time and aging means. I walk up to the wall and see a faint outline of a hand against the paint. I‘m sure if this was a crime show, I‘d be ‗disturbing the chain of evidence‘, but I‘m not going to call the police, so what does it matter? Instead, I place my hand inside his and I close my eyes. His face does not come to me, but yours does, though now you are young and the boy I only ever saw in photographs. Some people say they regret not meeting their lovers earlier, that they some how missed out, but I don‘t agree with that at all. I think if I had met the boy in the photographs, I wouldn‘t have liked you at all, let alone loved you. Your face was too handsome and you had some cruelness in you that you had to get out on other girls before me, I think. The young boy was too perfect and too measured in his actions. Every action calculated to impress, every word studied to land somewhere around the heart, or lower. No, the boy in the photograph was not meant for me, but for the bright lights of the city and the long nights of the weekend. So what was it I found, then? A man, and bruised at that. By the time you came to me, you had scars where smirks used to sit and a voice that had been humbled by smarter lovers and lowered. No clever remarks with us, but instead, just the truth, thank god. You never told me what happened to that confident boy in the photographs and I never asked and why on earth would I? We all live our lives in stages and only a few know each part. The rest of us simply either collide and stick or break apart. But now I smile, thinking of you as the burglar and the boy I would have hated.
I move my hands around the wall, feeling your touch and the sweat in your pores. You stole because you could when your friends could not. The boy I hate is more than proud, he is superior. He acts without forethought or the thoughts of others in mind; the poor old woman whose house this is, for one. And the boy is not buying drink or drugs with the money he has in his pocket; no, he fritters it away, on the homeless, in the river, in the street. He didn‘t steal out of need, you see, but out of arrogance. That is the risk and the beauty of youth; it comes with the ultimate cost - its fleetingness. I open my eyes and half expect to see you by the over-turned chair, but of course there is nothing to find but dirty fingerprints and spilled fruit. A thought suddenly comes to me; now that I am alone, I no longer need to keep a fruit bowl on the centre of my table! The pretence of appearances, the ridiculousness of it, makes me laugh out loud. For a moment, I mentally skim through our small house and think of everything else I can now do without. The list is surprisingly long; from the ridiculous underwear to the rafts of comic books that you kept in the cupboard. An image of the house lightened so much it runs the risk of floating, comes into my head and makes me giggle. For really, what is left in the end, when we strip ourselves back? So few things, really: barely enough to fill a small satchel. The two of us, who never had children and therefore had to think of things to fill the blank space on our walls. I set the chair right and sit at the table. Outside, the summer fog has yet to lift and the street outside is blank. Under my feet is small change, the coins that are not worth anyone‘s time anymore. It makes me remember something-you will think it‘s silly but I can‘t help it-about me and my brother. Sorry-my brother and I, darling. Where we grew up, we had a small parade of shops; nothing, not really, but for some reason the powers that be installed a public toilet right, slap-bang, in the middle of the street, as if the need for day to day groceries were not as focal as our bladders. It became a figure of fun in the neighbourhood, for the obvious reasons, of course but because it was
so…dumb, too. It was so large and clumsy looking, as if a spaceship had landed in our local parade and settled by the butchers. Of course, we all fed it our change and took our turns to fool around, pretending the sink was the control deck and making jokes about the ‗captain‘s log.‘ But then one day, I was walking along, on my way to buy the Sunday paper, when the door whooshed open and I came face to face with an old man who was just finishing in the toilet. He was buckling his belt as the door opened and the two of us locked eyes without helping it. He immediately ducked away, looking for coins and fumbling about, and I walked on, briskly, pretending I hadn‘t noticed him. But I never forgot the look in his eyes in that second. It was so full of shame and helplessness, it made him look a hundred years old and a baby at the same time. I started crying, right there and then, on the street. It was a Sunday, so there was no-one else around, not that it mattered. Right there and then, with tears running down my cheeks, I prayed never to get that old, to never be that…feeble. But after that day, whenever my brother made jokes about the spaceship, I felt myself go pale and sick and I never went along with it. I never saw it as a joke the way he did, you see, but as something else, something terrible; it was a cave, wasn‘t it? It was a place where old people were trapped and humiliated; an ugly, cavernous thing that bullied and shamed the weak. That thing gave me nightmares all summer long from that moment on. What a thing to remember! Not quite the idyllic reminisces they tailor in films about the elderly, is it? But then I think of how mundane horror is, a lot of the time. I remember you, lifeless on the gurney and thinking how your hair had snagged under the teeth of your watch strap and how you‘d always hated that sensation. Later, collecting your possessions, I noticed how worn your video club card had become you, who‘d always loved films-and realised, after that day, I‘d never watch a film again because you would not be with me. The small, simple moments that add up to a
day, a day into a life together, a life ended, on a gurney whose wheels squeaked, being pushed by two interns who told jokes as soon they thought I was out of earshot. Then the life that comes after you; when you die, but I become the ghost and I sit here, looking into summer fog and talk out loud of the old man in the cave, the story I‘d always wondered about telling you, for fear you‘d think me strange. The story I‘ve told now that you are gone and I am finally crazy. All these patterns and links and chains that make up a mind that suffers without love; some holding, most broken but all tangled up. A mess, where time becomes an awkward thing to wrestle with and memories mingle with stories, so I can see you stealing from me as a teenage ghost but no longer remember the voice you had when you were alive. All this is a life with no love in it, I think. I surprise myself by not feeling tears on my cheeks. Instead, they are as cool and pale as the summer fog outside. The fog that has still not lifted and seems set for the day. It will stay, bedded in, and keep me company for these next few hours, as I think about you. Later, when I hurt, it will reveal you, like a bad stage actor stepping out from a curtain-stage left-and I will see you again; as a baby, as a boy, as a beautiful teen. But never as I saw you in real life, never that. Only figments built in fog and moved by mists. You, who are always with me. You; gone from me, forever.
Chris is an English teacher in Greece. He has been published around 300 times and has recently been nominated for a Pushcart. His influences include Stephen King, PT Anderson and Ray Carver. He can be reached at email@example.com
I Would Kiss You, If Only for the Pain By H. Edgar Hix
â€•If I had lips, I would kiss you, if only for the pain. I would take you to my bed of orchids and lay you among the black mambas. I would kiss you everywhere, leaving nothing unpoisoned. I would moisten my lips on your sweet sweat and dry breath." If we were kissing, bone to bone, we would have lips and would not want them.
H Edgar Hix is a Minnesota poet who has been publishing for over 40 years. Mainly, he writes poetry but has also published in most other genres. Hix has recently appeared in Priscilla Papers, Waterways, Right Hand Pointing, bear creek haiku, and Mutuality. He lives with his wife, seven cats and one dog.
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