Crack the Spine
Issue 135 December 3, 2014 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2014 by Crack the Spine
Cover Art: “All Grown Up & Friends” by Jacquelyn Schneller Jhaki is an accidental teacher by trade and an artist and writer by otherwise. Her birthplace in the Midwest was a conservative start to a life of wander. She’s recently settled down and commutes between Sweden and South Dakota. Her artwork and publications can be found at www.jhakijhaki.com.
Frazer Merritt Into the Shadow Latitudes
CaseyrenĂŠe Lopez The Game s
Eleven Lonely Beers
Thos West What We Did On Our Holidays
Ariella Carmell Nora Barnade
Tim Tomlinson No More Dancing
Frazer Merritt Into the Shadow Latitudes
The morning train departed from Shivaji Terminus, lumbering past mounds of garbage, webs of laundry lines, and a jungle of shanties. Slumped against a steel-barred window, I felt a gnawing in my stomach as Mumbai's desolate scenery repeated itself, over and over. The rhythmic clanking of the wheels lulled me into a melancholic trance, so I closed my eyes and counted the raindrops splashing against my face. Is this poverty just an illusion? Is this messed up city, this country, part of Lord Vishnu’s dream of manifestation, destined to disappear? I drifted inward to magical lands where people enjoy an abundance of food and material goods, where the air and water are clean, where there are no ghettos. A howl woke me; I whipped around in my seat. In the aisle of the carriage
a gaunt child danced and sang amongst the passengers, her tattered crimson dress fluttering, exposing stick-thin legs. Like a marionette operated by crippled hands, her arms limply entwined and her body jerked from side to side, moving out of sync with her song. With each shrill verse, her face contorted under the strain of humiliation and fear. I had seen beggars do this a hundred times. She was making those sounds to annoy passengers so they’d cough up some money. Don’t get involved again, I told myself, don’t give a damn, just ignore her. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t even turn away. Something about this child and her haunting motions gripped my attention. Her bare feet and knotted hair meant she was probably abandoned, left alone in dangerous slums at the mercy of strangers, all at
the age of five or six. I glanced around. Did anyone even care? None of the passengers, all of whom are men on this second-class, gendersegregated train, paid her any consideration. When she approached, they lifted their bleary eyes from their newspapers and shook their heads, or wagged their fingers as they chattered on cell phones, or stared through her
as though she were invisible. A disdain for beggars surprised me when I was fresh out of Wisconsin, but not anymore. When I first arrived on the subcontinent, wide-eyed and quick to reach into my pocket, I handed out spare change to those I believed were most deserving: lepers with bloodied bandages, women cradling emaciated
babies, seniors lost in dementia, and other damaged persons. In a country filled with 400 million citizens living on a dollar a day and 80 million living without a home, I thought I could help, even if it was just in small measure. But on my second day in India, I was yelled at by two German tourists. “You encourage them and make it hard for the rest of us!” On my third day, I was scolded by a Mumbai cabdriver. “Never give them anything—it’s a show, a big business.” Several months later, a Punjabi army lieutenant blasted my “naïve ignorance” about the poor. “Most of them are lazy buggers! There are plenty of jobs in this country nowadays.” The daunting economic situation and pervasive caste prejudice eventually forced me to accept that my reality, myopic and American, no longer sufficed. I needed to adapt to the nihilistic viewpoint or risk a
serious depression, so I started following people’s advice. Denying all vagrants a rupee handout not only allowed me to avoid heated arguments, but, more importantly, it conveniently numbed my conscience. I grew a thick mental armor that blocked my compassion from flowing out into the world, yet it also protected me from the cruel and deranged aspects of Dickensian India. According to popular cynicism, this half-starved girl, flitting back and forth with a seizure-like jig, barely taller than the men’s knees, is a welfare queen, a huckster, and a scourge to white tourists from the privileged side of the globe. This child is just another soul suffering bad karma in the birth-death cycle of samsara, just another member of the lowest caste, just another of India’s 18 million street children. By their measures, she is human garbage. I leaned my head against the barred window again and searched the wet
metropolis for something beautiful to distract me. But there was nothing. I just wanted to escape from this grinding filth. I wanted to fly away. The girl changed direction and drifted through the aisles; I slouched against my backpack in the back corner seat, hoping she wouldn’t see me. But she did. Her dark gaze tried to penetrate me while she approached. I returned the stare with a blank expression, and asked myself, what's the use of trying to help?
A few days earlier, a rumble as loud as a herd of charging elephants jarred me awake in the middle of the night. Outside my hotel window, monsoon rains pounded the metropolis. Within the mosaic of city lights, a red tide of clouds swelled and surged and rolled. Curtains of rain swept across the ebony waters of Mumbai Harbor, trees along the promenade bent like yogis, and the mammoth Taj Mahal Hotel was blurred behind the
downpour. And there, four stories below, lay a man flat on his back under an amber streetlight, his body wracked with jolting seizures. His legs waved back and forth, his head shook from side to side, and his arms stretched skywards, pulling one hand over the other as if hoisting his own noose. I could see the expression on his face—his eyes wide, his mouth stretched as though screaming. I heard only the lashing rain. Leaning over the window ledge, I tried to get a better view of two men with umbrellas loitering beside the hotel. I suspected they must be discussing how to save him. Minutes later, the umbrellas glided down the street. They must be going for help, right? The man persisted to claw at the air, to stare at me, to open and shut his mouth like a wounded soldier gasping for breath. I clenched the windowsill. When’s the ambulance going to come? Another umbrella glided up the street; it didn’t stop.
Desperate clawing minutes passed. Where the devil is the ambulance? I kicked open my backpack and scavenged for my room key. “Damn it! Why'd those bastards wander off?” Clad only in boxers, I sprinted through the hallway and scurried down the stairwell. While dashing through the entranceway, I almost crashed into the security guard. He was sitting on a stool underneath the veranda, mindlessly gazing at the victim. “What in God’s name are you doing?” I shouted, throwing my hands in the air. “Why the hell aren’t you helping him?” “That man?” the watchman said, his tone dull, his eyes squinted and dreamy. “Every night, he drinking a lot. Too much. I talk to him, other nights... but he never listen.” I stared at the watchman in disbelief. “So what! Alcohol doesn’t cause seizures like that. Come on, help me move him out of the storm!”
As we stood over the man—his wet clothes clinging to his body, his bare feet sliced open, rain splashing onto his unflinching face—I peered into his delirious eyes and asked, “Hello? Can you hear me?” The man continued dog paddling through unseen waves, drowning in a private sea of nightmares. His mind had been washed away to shadow latitudes beyond sanity. Although the awning of a Sai Baba shrine, alight and decorated with marigold garlands, stood just a couple of yards away, there was no way he could walk there. The watchman took hold of his hands while I grabbed his ankles. We tried picking up his cold waterlogged body, but no sooner had we lifted him, he thrashed his legs, swung his fists, and moaned and moaned. With a frozen expression of horror, with eyes black and immense, he stared into me, hard, piercing my mental armor. “Christ,” I said beneath my breath. We tried lifting him again. He
resisted. We tried once more. He thrashed and swung and moaned. The watchman looked at me, shrugged, then jogged back to the veranda. “Stupid kuti!” I yelled at the watchman’s back. Scanning the shadowy street, I prayed for a Good Samaritan. Five yards away, beneath the hotel’s metal awning, homeless teenagers sat huddled in blankets. I frantically motioned to them; they stared through my white skin as though I were an untouchable. I leaned over the man, shoving my face towards his. “Get up! You’re so close to the shrine. Get up!” No response. Only clawing hands. Standing half-naked in the Mumbai midnight as streaks of rain slithered down my body, my throat constricted and my eyes stung. I couldn’t rescue him from his sea of madness. There was nothing more I could do. I gave up. My mind grew heavier as I trudged
up flights of stairs. I collapsed onto my bed and lay there, tormented. Should I call an ambulance? Or is he better off dead? Twenty minutes passed. Thirty… Finally, a car horn made me bolt to the window. Help had arrived. A police cruiser stood in front of the Sai Baba shrine, shining its headlights on the obstacle in the road. A head peeked out of the driver’s window and shouted commands. The man shook. The cruiser blasted its horn and inched forward. Ten minutes dragged by until the man was able to roll over and, after a few attempts, stagger to his feet. He zigzagged up the street and vanished into darkness. The cruiser rolled away. I slammed my fist into the windowsill.
As the rickety train lumbered on, I watched the girl's graceless dance, a random assortment of fitful motions; I listened to her song, a dreadful conglomeration of mangled notes; and
in my peripheral vision, I detected passengers glancing over at my predicament. Indians are typically curious to see how a foreigner confronts the face of poverty, the face of the polluted caste. Their prying eyes angered me and I beat back the urge to spew my dirtiest Hindi, however, more than anything, I fought the impulse to scoop up the child and carry her far away from here. But I knew this was a ridiculous notion. There was nothing, utterly nothing, I could do to change this girl’s situation. If I gave her one dollar or a hundred, it would only delay the inevitable. The reality was she had a high chance of being sold into prostitution, of becoming a drug addict, of dying young. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t say, "Namaste." After what felt like an endless minute, it dawned on me that all I could be held responsible for, and all I could possibly do, was one tiny act of kindness for this one tiny
person. The moment I reached into my wallet, she stopped and thrust out her hand. She stuffed twenty rupees into her pocket and turned on her heel without a nod, grin, or wink. I looked toward the other passengers; they quickly looked at their newspapers or out the windows. Another white sucker, they were probably thinking. I waited for someone to shuffle over and give me "the talk," but thankfully no one came. A few minutes later, the girl hopped off at a station. Thirty minutes later, I hopped off at mine. In rain-flooded streets, an auto-rickshaw ploughed through floating trash and carried me to the airport. I boarded my flight, headed toward home, where, in a state of exhaustion and relief, I peered through the portal window as the plane rose above the gray clouds and Vishnu’s dream vanished below.
Caseyrenée Lopez The Game s Role reversal relegates our reality, Reckons how we traverse the labyrinth of our sanity, Telling us the untold secrets of love, lust, and life. I bat my lashes and wear flowing skirts and style my hair, even when it’s beyond repair, And you wink at me, and tease me with kisses and adoration and goddess worship, Just as it should be, as we’re meant to be, a dying breed of hyper-corrective classical love. Two sides of one coin, the infinite yin and yang, Together, and the same, a strange familiarity, While realizing all along true knowledge will never be. Our roles are carefully laid out, Relayed in drag, or theatrics, or unscripted reality TV, Female and male, and female and male, divergent before time its self could speak. These roles keep us bound by the code, of once taboo love, of secrets and lying, Of practiced appearance and gracefully dying, Broadcast on AM frequency, keeping in sync with the code of then, My skirt is ruffled by your broad, overshadowing shoulders, Standing, eclipsed in the darkness of love and death, All the same, or not at all.
Justin Staley Eleven Lonely Beers
Eleven lonely beers just sittin’ in there for almost a whole day now. Feels like a month though. Or at least a week. Eleven lonely beers just sittin’ there, dark and cold and lonely. And I’m sittin’ here. I won’t. They’ve gotta stay in there. All eleven of ‘em. But I’m burning up with ice, and lonely too. A table with nothing but an ashtray and a pack of smokes on it, a light bulb sittin’ above me. The only light in the house rockin’ back and forth every time the wind blows through the window, burnin’ with no regard for when it goes out. Every so often I have to reach up and steady it, but I don’t do so well. Hands shakin’ so much I can barely light my cigarette. Somethin’ comes every mornin’ when the light starts to crawl in and the darkness starts to crawl away. Every mornin’ when one comes closer
and the other gets farther, until night, when everything gets smoky and gray. Funny thing is I’m scared of ‘em both, the mornin’ and the night. Only thing I’m not afraid of is the light from the single bulb above me, and maybe the lights on the street. That light’s not so white as the sun and not so dark as the black, just a soft yellow light that doesn’t make me shiver. I was never this way when they weren’t in there. When they weren’t in there waitin’ I mean. Never been this way ever. And I know damn well how I can chase this way away. I know damn right how I can get it to go for good. I mean, hell. Eleven goddamn beers and we’re makin’ this big of a fuss? I get the cigarette lit and I know with every drag I’m gettin’ cancer, dyin’ slowly, dyin’ quickly. Sinkin’ into a puddle. Everywhere I go I sink
into it. This cold, shaky wetness. A wet shaking cold. Jesus, how do I know I’m not dead already? The cigarette shakes in my hands. I have to hold it away from my palm so the filter doesn’t get wet. I gotta be dyin’.
I had my first beer when I was seven. Me and my twin brother snuck it out of my pop’s fridge in the basement. I don’t think he expected we’d be gettin’ into them that early but maybe he shoulda. Yeah, he shoulda. So one day when my pops is upstairs we grab one of those bottles—Miller High Life I believe—all tall and pretty and bright and shiny sittin’ in that fridge, go behind the couch that faced the little TV and crack it open. My brother took a sip and then I took a sip. We passed it back and forth and drank it quickly and felt all fuzzy and warm and a bit wacko. High Life indeed. I wanted another one real bad, but we were too
afraid of my pops comin’ down or noticin’ one was missin’, so we didn’t. Most people say they don’t like the taste of beer when they first try it, but most people don’t know what the fuck they’re talkin’ about. I loved the shit. Maybe it didn’t taste like I thought it would, like apple juice or somethin’, but I loved it anyway. Soon we had a better idea though. Pops used to keep a bunch in the fridge, like I told you, but he also had a stack of cases next to the fridge. And since we were so afraid of him noticin’ a beer here and there missin’, what we started doing was just stealin’ a case at a time. Sometimes we’d be able to ice ‘em a bit before drinkin’ ‘em, but a lot of times we’d just have to drink ‘em warm. We didn’t mind. But then one day my brother stopped comin’ down to the basement with me. Said he didn’t want to come down all wide-eyed like he’d seen a monster down there or somethin’. It was pretty cold down there, and dark,
only a couple of small windows to let the light in, but I didn’t mind. Shit, beer made it just a little bit brighter to me. I’d go down and rifle through a stack of his Playboys in the corner of the basement, find a good one to jack off to, and soon I’d be sittin’ there with a beer in one hand and my little pecker in the other, feelin’ like some kind of king. I started thinkin’ it was just as much my basement as it was my pop’s. Man those beers were probably the best beers of my whole life. They answered a question in me I didn’t know I’d asked. These eleven beers could be like those beers. They might be. Do you know out in space they have beer clouds? I saw it on a science show once. Clouds out there in the middle of the universe made of beer. Effel alcohol or something like that, I think. It’s one of the most abundant resources in the whole universe. It’s where we come from. It’s part of us.
What’s that you say? Eleven beers can’t be lonely? Cuz they have each other? That might be the stupidest thing I ever heard. Would eleven children be lonely without their daddy? Shit man, beers are always lonely unless you drink ‘em.
I have to get up and splash cold water on my face in the bathroom. I look at myself. I look the same as before. White and shiny and tired. Jesus, you haven’t slept in days have you? Has it been days? You know what’ll help you stop it. You know what’ll get rid of that fault line rippin’ through your skull. I hear a fire engine and I smell smoke. I wonder if it’s in my building? Do I hope it’s in my building? Damn, I don’t know, man. Nothin’ used to get me panicked. You could point a gun at my head and I’d be calm. You could tell me a war was goin’ on in the next
city over and I probably wouldn’t mind. Shit, if this apartment was on fire, I might just walk out real casual like I was goin’ to get a sixer of tallboys from the Indian fellas across the way. But at this hour, in this light, I get the feeling that all these things are goin’ on at once, guns and fires and wars. I might see all of it when I look out the window, but I try not to do that too much. Besides, it’s daytime right now. Nothin’ worth a piss happens at daytime.
I once drank a hundred beers over a weekend. Tommy Shanahan bet me two hundred bucks I couldn’t. I needed the money. And I hated Tommy Shanahan. It was me, Tommy, Cal, Shorty, and Pete. I could start drinkin’ at 8am Friday morning and had to finish by 5pm on Sunday. At first I drank like I normally did, fast and hard and without worry. Tryin’ to stay in the
shadows as the light slanted in. I had a case down by 5pm so I decided to do a couple shots of whiskey to keep me goin’, but everyone decided that whiskey was like a shot of caffeine for me, a nice little kick in the ass, so I was only allowed to drink beer after that. I still mighta snuck a shot or two over the weekend, though. You know me. I slowed down a bit around 7pm and started havin’ 3 beers an hour and drank like that for another 5 or 6 hours. Glad to see the light slantin’ away and then disappearin’ back into the shadow. I figured I could get a little shut-eye and still hit a hundred beers no problem. Well, problem was I fell asleep—a dark sleep, a sleep without bottom, a sleep where you barely breathe and don’t move a muscle. My friends thought I mighta had alcohol poisonin’ or somethin’, but I was just dreamin’ deeply is all. Anyway, I didn’t wake up until about 2pm the next day. I had a little
over 50 beers to drink still so I started drinkin’ as quickly as I could. I pounded 8 just to get back on track but after I did my stomach felt like a goddamn boulder it was so full and hard and heavy. Tommy was congratulatin’ himself like he had done somethin’, smilin’ like a girl on prom night. Fuck Tommy Shanahan, I thought. I’m gonna drink my hundred beers, take his two hundred bucks and kick him in the teeth. I started drinkin’ a little slower on account of the giant stone in my belly and by midnight I had drunk 73 beers. 27 to go in 17 hours. Cal told me to get some rest for a few hours and that he’d wake me up when it was time to start drinkin’ again. So I slept. Another deep, dark sleep. Having nightmares about the mornin’ that was going to wake me. When Cal tried to wake me, though, I wouldn’t budge, so he decided to just let me sleep for a bit longer and then wake me up every 20 minutes or so,
make me pound a beer, and then let me sleep again. And that’s what I did. Man those beers were tough to drink down. Never felt anything like that in my life. Anyway, when I was drinking my 100th beer my friends started chantin’ and singin’ She’ll be comin’ around the mountain when she comes!…She’ll be comin’ around the mountain when she comes! and I got all fired up and just for good measure drank number 101. When I was done with that, I walked over to Tommy Shanahan, threw him down on the ground and kicked him in the mouth. The singin’ stopped, and I don’t know if it was on account of the kickin’ or because I crumpled to the ground and Cal and Shorty picked me up and put me in the bedroom where I slept for 48 hours. The last thing I remember seein’ is Tommy with blood runnin’ down his chin trying to pick up his scattered teeth like a drunk duck chasin’ a trail of bread crumbs.
Tommy knocked the two hundred bucks off his dental bill, but it still cost me five hundred to get that fucker’s teeth fixed. It woulda cost me more, but Tommy crashed his car one night drivin’ home from the bar drunk and killed hisself. Dumb motherfucker.
There’s nothing in the fridge but those beers. I feel like there should be some juice, some fruit, some meat and bread. Somethin’. The ol’ wife used to take care of that, but that was a long time ago. The ol’ wife was good. Not the prettiest, not the nicest, but good. She put up with me a long time, probably gave me more bruises than I gave her, but still, I got the better end of the deal. A good woman. She tried. Tried to keep up, tried to change, tried to stop, tried to leave, tried to come back, tried to care. Yeah, she tried. I knew a guy got blackout drunk on his weddin’ night, I mean global blackout drunk, and started yellin’
and screamin’ at everyone includin’ his bride. He went into the bathroom and punched out all the lights, started breakin’ shit and when everyone tried to grab him he just started throwin’ punches at ‘em, haymakers mostly, ones that mostly missed. But he landed a few crosses, too. The place called the cops, but before the fuzz could arrive, his brother and his Uncle Ray got him in a headlock and grabbed his legs and rolled him up in a rug, got him the fuck out of there while he was screamin’ and yellin’ and cursin’ everyone he could see. Couldn’t remember a thing the next day. But his wife could. That was when beer was still good, but necessary too. A lamp you like to have on day and night. That seems like forever ago. I really don’t remember. I known a lot of guys who’ve made a lot of mistakes, lost a lotta things. The beers’ll getcha. They turn a lot of guys into the same shadows they like to
Jesus, man, this table just doesn’t feel right. That light bulb above me is rockin’ back and forth and makin’ the shadows flicker between the floor and the walls like dark waves crashin’ up and down. I get up and walk to the couch. Light another cigarette. I sit and take a drag and then get up again, leaving behind all that sweat. There’s something going on outside and I can’t stand that I’m not a part of it. It’s just kids. And a dog. Playing under some big bright sky that looks like it’s about to fold over on itself and crash. All that light out there, out there makin’ ‘em crazy, makin’ me wonder how long it’s gonna take for the night to come. Makin’ me long for the light that’s more gray than clear. Who can stand all that light out there anyway? I wish they’d shut the fuck up makin’ all that noise. I try to take a drag of my cigarette but it’s not in my
hand. I walk back to the couch to light another, but they’re not there. I walk back to the table and look for them but they’re not there either. They’re in my other hand. I light another and go back to the window. Scream at the kids to shut the hell up and sit down again, feelin’ like I’ve done somethin’ that people should thank me for. But Jesus ain’t it quiet in here now. I kinda wish one of them would say something. Or light the place on fire at least.
Cal came by the other day—or was it another day?—to check on me. He’s a big fella with a beard like a field of thorns. He asked me why I didn’t get rid of ‘em. I told him I couldn’t. He asked if it was hard. He has no idea. He asked if I wanted him to take ‘em with him. I told him he should leave. I was okay with it in front of him, but when he left I punched a hole in the wall so goddamn big and black I
nearly fell through it. He didn’t even ask me about my brother. There was this other guy I knew who got so drunk he beat up three of his friends and sent one of them to the hospital with a fractured skull and some brain damage. Some friend he was. My brother’s son came by. He asked how I was doing and I said fine, and then he didn’t say anything, just looked at me and probably thought of all the things he wanted to ask me, all the things he could say but couldn’t. He told me it was okay to hurt, to cry. Get out of here with all that, I told him. I’m not into that sweet shit. I would’ve offered him a beer, but he doesn’t drink, just like his daddy. I always liked him in spite of that. His daddy too. We sat there, me and him, just lookin’ at the walls around us and at the table between us, me tryin’ to count the time it took for the shaft of light comin’ in through the window to reach my foot but losing track. And
we told a coupla stories and laughed a little bit. I had forgotten just enough that I didn’t notice when the light hit my foot. After a while he said he had to go and I watched him leave and felt sorry for him. When he left I saw the light again, creepin’ on my foot, burnin’ in long lines all around me, with no regard for when it goes out.
My parents came by, sometime in the bright brightness or the deep darkness. I see them there, my mother and father, and I know they’re not there, but they’re there. They shake their heads and tell me I’m sweatin’ so much and all I can do is tell them I’m sorry I’m sweatin’ and they just shake their heads and I keep tellin’ them I’m sorry. There’s a gust of wind and the light bulb above me starts to swirl around in a circle, the shadows and the light makin’ fools of themselves chasin’ each other around
the walls. I watch the chase and forget about my parents for a bit until I see them askin’ me why I’m doin’ what I’m doin’ but I’m not sure what they’re talkin’ about. And I close my eyes and take the darkness one little bit at a time, ignore my parents until I can’t see the questions on their faces anymore and they go away. There was another guy I knew that slept with his wife’s best friend and when his wife got a new best friend, he slept with that one too. To top it off, one night he pissed in his wife’s dresser cuz he thought it was a toilet. She beat him over the head with a two week old unread newspaper for that one and then started pullin’ beers out of the fridge and firin’ ‘em at him until he pleaded so damn earnestly, Stop throwin’ the beers please! Please! And then she walked out. Apparently she hadn’t thought they were even for that so she burned all his clothes that night in the back yard after he passed out. Some of them beers were lonely,
that’s for sure, bleedin’ out like that on the ground.
Cal came by again the other day to make sure I was okay. I remember the heat. The goddamn heat. How fuckin’ hot was it out? And I remember how I thought Cal was goin’ to kill me the way he came in walkin’ so fast, my heart beatin’ thirty times for every step of his, not even thumpin’ just skippin’, his steps like fists droppin’ to the floor, me waitin’ for the floor to explode beneath us. I asked him why he drank my twelfth beer and he scolded me. Man, I didn’t drink your twelfth beer. You dropped the son of a bitch when you was puttin’ them in the fridge before you heard about... All your talk about eleven lonely beers, man—you serious, man? he screamed, and he looked at me with those demon eyes of his, bright sparks flyin’ out of ‘em like sparks of a train breakin’ on the
tracks, and I seen him right there and known he was the devil. I wiped my face and he tried to lick the sweat right out of my hand, tellin’ me it was my blood, so I crawled to a sad gray corner of the room and cowered there and watched him lick and lick and lick until I couldn’t stand it anymore and screamed until he disappeared. And eventually he did, but I can still see his shadow on the walls of every room I walk into, red and angry and thirsty for my sweat and blood. Another guy I knew decided it would be a good idea to drink an 1/8 of black rum, two tequilas, six Old Styles, and then try to steal a police officer’s horse. That guy got in big trouble for that. A lot of fines, some jail, a broken arm and one pissed off wife who refused to bail him out until his brother spotted her the money and convinced her to do it. But he never let his beers get lonely, I can tell you that. But maybe he shoulda. Maybe his question was answered
right then. Man, I tell you, lonely beers don’t get unlonely by themselves. Sittin’ in that old ass fat yellow canary of a fridge. They have each other, but they don’t have me. The beers haven’t been lonely in a long time, I tell you. Not after high school, not at barbeques and holidays, not coming and going and in and out of jail. They sure don’t get unlonely by themselves.
But enough about all that. I guess I just need to scratch my own belly once in a while when no one else’ll scratch it. Who doesn’t?
The ol’ wife is here and she’s givin’ me that half frown. I don’t blame her. She didn’t know the evil that was coursin’ through my veins, not exactly. I did and I should’ve told her, but I didn’t. I wanted to tell her but I couldn’t. I figured she would know the way the sun didn’t set right
through my window, or the way the night would chase the light in my eyes, but she couldn’t see, maybe didn’t wanna see. She’s standin’ there and lettin’ her eyes do the talkin’ like she always does and I can hear every word like I never did. She’s there, alright. Standin’ in the doorway, those eyes speakin’ in reds and blues and yellows and greens. So much color there I can’t stand it. I tell her to go away because I know she’s not really there, but I’m not sure.
Jesus, how long have I been talkin’? I need to slow it. Heart’s about to fuckin’ rupture. I light another smoke and I see two already burnin’ in the ashtray and I wonder who the fuck’s been here. But then I see the sweat and I remember and I know.
It’s finally getting darker. That slow crawl to dusk. The white-yellow light that burned so long it turned itself
into fuzzy gray smoke, all those street lamps and porch lights takin’ over the burnin’ out there, burnin’ with no regard for anything.
I go back to the table and sit down. Light another smoke because the other one isn’t burnin’ right since I left it. And I just stare at the gray ash in the ashtray settled in between those butts, floating on top like it doesn’t have any weight at all, like it wasn’t made of anything. I look back up and there’s that goddamn light bulb though, hovering above everything, leakin’ into the walls and fallin’ into the ground, spillin’ like white paint. And then my brother. All mangled and his head is hangin’ from his neck like a tree branch tryin’ to find more light and he tells me something that I can’t hear and I ask him to tell me again and he does, but I still can’t hear. Never had it, my brother. Or he was too smart to have it. Always
sittin’ upstairs while I’m sneakin’ beer, comin’ to pick me up when I needed a ride and chastisin’ me the whole ride home. All those beers that fell down my drain when I was young. The one to come help me clean up, get home, righten up before the morning, fly straight throughout the day. Always calm and quiet. A picture. A statue. A fuckin’ answer. Never movin’ into the shadow, just lettin’ it fall all around him. Wife and kids, a dog. All sorts of good stuff. Stuff he deserved. I got nothin’ but I got to keep it. Tell me why I get to keep nothin’. How come one guy gets spared and another guy don’t? Those are the questions of every dawn and every dusk. When else would a man think of ‘em? I get angry with him and I tell him to get lost because I know he’s not really there anyway. And he just smiles. His head still hanging heavy at the neck like an overgrown fruit on a branch. Just starin’ and wonderin’.
The light above the table just keeps burnin’ and burnin’, so bright that I can’t even see any shadows on the walls anymore, like it’s extinguished all the dark in the world, and I know it’s not true but it feels like it anyway. I reach up and smack it like I’m hittin’ a punchin’ bag and it shoots up to the ceiling and explodes and the glass drops to the ground. But it’s still so damn bright out, way too bright for the night, especially when I’ve been waitin’ for the night all day.
My mother, father, brother, wife. Even Tommy Callahan who’s been burnin’ so long in that car wreck of his I can only see the whites of his eyes. All smilin’ too. Vicious smiles. But quiet in the eyes. A quiet from somewhere I can’t see anymore. A quiet from long ago and far away. And it’s then that I realize that the dead can tell the living nothin’. At
least nothin’ they don’t already know. Anything anyone’s tryin’ to tell me I already know, whether I know I know it or not. But it’s too late, because this time I can smell the smoke and I know the building is one fire. One of the kids lit it on fire. I can feel it getting hotter, can hear the crackle and snap of the flame doin’ its job as it licks its way right up to me at my table. And I see my parents and my wife and my brother, see those smiles get bigger and bigger, their eyes meaner and meaner, until they all just start laughin’ at me, laughs without any sound, which are the worst kinds of all. Laughs that feed on the night so they can live forever in the darkness. Laughs without reasons or hearts or homes. I’m still not sure why I’m talkin’. Especially with the devil still waitin’ in the shadow in the corner, and everyone I’ve known and disappointed the most watchin’ me sweat and shake and look around, all
of ‘em climbin’ on the walls around me and crouchin’ with every crawl of light, countin’ every short beat of my heart with clicks of their long dead teeth. None of you are really here, I tell ‘em. But they keep smilin’. Vicious daytime smiles with teeth made of night. The flames get taller and taller and it’s gettin’ so damn hot that I can’t even think about runnin’ away. All I can do is just let the flames do their work, let all their yellow and orange and blue smiles burn until they spit me out into gray ash. I’m sorry, I tell them. I really am sorry, I tell them. We’re gonna wake up tomorrow, you and me, and we’re gonna do this again. We’re all gonna do this again. Over and over again.
The morning light comes the same way it always comes, climbin’ in through the windows and stretchin’
across the floor and along the walls. It’s no fire and it’s harmless enough at first because its still shakin’ off the darkness, but it won’t be long before it’s strong and white and cold as snow. That light, it keeps movin’, and every time it moves I worry. That light burnin’ without regard for me or any man, without regard for the shadows even, just burnin’ until it burns out. It’s the morning that’s the toughest, much tougher than the night. I’m the only one alive and I’m still here. And I don’t know why. Any of us, really. I know a lotta guys who’ve lost a lotta things. Some shakin’, some burnin’, some scared out of their wit. Some only knowin’ they’re alive because their heartbeats are a loud, constant, thumpin’ reminder. Some only knowin’ by the way they can see their shadows fall during the day, some only knowin’ by the way they disappear in the night, trapped without a name between all that
brightness and all that darkness . All those ones that were better than me, all those ones that were worse than me. The beers are lonely because I don’t know what to do with ‘em. What I’m supposed to do with ‘em anymore. They’re proof that there’s somethin’ wrong in the way the world takes care of us. Everything is lonely when you don’t pay iIt no attention. Pot and Cigarettes lonely. Coffee and Chocolate and Vicodin lonely. And Fuckin’ and Eatin’ lonely too. Shit, They’re All gonna be lonely unless you give Them the attention They want and need. They’ll stay lonely, too. For forever and a day, maybe even two. Eleven little bastards, eleven little mistakes. Eleven little good times that make you want more. Shit man, eleven beers. That’s all. But I won’t. And I keep tellin’ myself that that’s what I’m gonna do. Those eleven lonely beers are a pact. I
keep ‘em in the fridge and it gives me the right to keep livin’. If only the light weren’t so bright, if only the night weren’t so black. I want to fall into a smoky night, into a night filled only with the glow of unchanging light. It’s the light that moves that gets me, the light that tells the day’s story. It’s easier in the smoky night where nothin’ reaches across the room except you. A smoky dark night where nothin’ moves and nothin’ dances, you don’t see anything that isn’t there, and nothing that’s there sees you. That smoke-filled night where every sip is a promise, every promise a dream that’s remembered every bright morning. Eleven lonely beers. Eleven beers, lonely. Lonely, just like us.
Thos West What We Did On Our Holidays the health of Mrs. Mahoney, 4C, and pupil expected nothing of the Benjamin Smith, 3B; of sort to happen. Supply the mental health of states well-worn nature supply; classroom of material had been management; animal intended merely as cruelty; suitable warmup on return from extramural activities for break, duration of 3B’s parents of PIQ to teacher’s absence being encourage; question of at that point unknown; plurality in modern notes felt insufficiently school; of tradition; of prepared for cultural gap culpability; of re: traveler population, assignment of blame. likewise for possible Supply remarks was ability gaps in classroom. touched by belief in Having discussed holiday festivities of incident in all particulars “Lucas” (n.b.: Luke supply and deputy head Ferris, 3B); was agree as to sequence of impressed with events. Topics discussed compositional skills of verbally with head and report of skiing holiday parents of pupil in by “Olivia” (Jackson, also question include: state of
Certainly supply had
3B.) On noticing PIQ was experiencing difficulty and/or unwillingness to produce in written form, supply had made a point of engaging with PIQ during feedback phase of lesson to elicit verbal response. Supply notes this as commencement of incident under review. PIQ had shyly at first but with encouragement gathered in enthusiasm in narrating (rural, island) holiday. When PIQ had come to narrative of local begging ritual supply admits had been encouraged by PIQ’s gathering fluency in verbal narrative and had
thus perhaps not kept keen enough eye on subject matter’s suitability for learning environment. When narrative came to point of adult in authority having encouraged PIQ and others to actually kill an animal, supply, having always been touchy on subject of animal suffering, had panicked and had put class out to break early. (Supply keen to stress difficulty of appropriate response.) Supply had intended to speak with PIQ on latter’s way to playground but PIQ had disappeared unaccountably quickly. Supply spent next several minutes sat at
desk with head in hands, concerned about viability of future employment during continued absence of 3B’s teacher. When Olivia Jackson had come in to inform supply that the boys, outside, were throwing stones at birds, supply had began to hyperventilate; when PIQ and four children in company had returned with half-conscious gull with two-inch laceration in chest and torn wing, supply had felt aura symptoms of migraine and rising sense of bodily panic. Supply notes had not worked over preceding term on GP’s advice. At about this time (supply, deputy head
surmise) Benjamin Smith, David Clement, Peter Jones, and Luke Ferris, along with PIQ, had headed into hall and down corridor to Year 4 classrooms. Deputy head had arrived on scene after conclusion of incident; supply having at some point preceding bolted himself inside leftmost cubicle in pupil bathroom. Intention of pupils Benjamin, David, Peter, Luke, PIQ, had been to ask for please-to-seethe-king, though somewhere along the way pupils had (interviews elicit) become sidetracked, and commenced game where Benjamin was being the wren, hence (cf.
interview) David and Peter were throwing objects at Benjamin. (Deputy head notes under circumstances David and Peter have been cautioned but no formal disciplinary process in progress; parents uninformed as of yet.) Peter, in spirit of general charivari, had been scraping a hockey stick acquired from sports cupboard across radiators. Luke Ferris had been left lagging behind, holding birdy. PIQ, further behind, had seen Mrs Mahoney leave class 4C in order to investigate; states had not warned other four (cf interview) because it was funny. Benjamin had swerved
to avoid Mrs Mahoney (cf interview) and, paying little attention to his surroundings, had struck with upper body a locker in Year Four corridor, resulting in minor contusions since treated by nurse. Mrs Mahoney had at this point been struck by board eraser thrown by David, which had dazed her slightly, hence her failure to note approach of Peter, who had caught her with the hockey stick with a surprising level of force, neatly breaking her lower leg at the shin. At this point deputy head, alerted by clamour, had emerged from her office off Year 4 corridor to determine what fuss was about, and been
greeted by tableau, viz.: one child, winded, sprawled against cupboard; another, slack-jawed, holding a blunt instrument over the prostate and groaning Mrs. Mahoney; a third, ducking into an empty classroom; a fourth, watching with an entirely placid expression; and a fifth, the slow child from 3B, in possession of what appeared to be an injured animal. As deputy head had watched this last had noticed birdy was still breathing, albeit painfully; had put one thick hand down on the head and neck and beak of it, and pressed down hard until a single,
muted crack resulted in the cessation of both breath and movement.
Ariella Carmell Nora Barnade I. It is not the vendors I Speak of But their wares (Bear with me; my Tongue turns over Itself, a mound Gathering thoughts At the tip like cumuloNimbus) They cradle rusting tin And moldering spoons In arms sculpted for infants Poised for masses far More solid than their Current occupants Skin the color of turnips Eyes just as raw
II. A man who knows his books Knows himself, or so I wish the men in my life Would say Beckett’s disciples round their Spines to better peer into tinted Windows as they would souls Scrunched faces beam back Into lapis lazuli bifocals III. I watch Trinity’s stones Being pounded into the ground By calloused hands and stooped Bodies, dusted with earth to preserve The sixteenth century in the Façade. Laborers Wear the mantle of archivists Here, drunk on an elixir of Sweat and silver mist IV.
We can reconstruct this city With Joycean cobblestones Every stray leaf and clump of Moss strung like bookmarks Snug between pressed sheaths Of parchment, smelling of His last fermented breath I know now why rivers Wind like my inked underscores Beneath these sentences The swiping, rushing, forceful Inner currents within this Punctured anatomy; punctured But patched, or patching There is a seam V. Her stockings sheath his Lens, softened in gauze She languishes In a monogrammed skull Peeling bureau pushed to
The corner, woman from Galway, whose legs drape over Balconies and kick away the clouds Nora Barnacle, wrenched, wriggling From the sea Caked in coral and bedecked in Anemone Rung around three times over In metal twine; the spokes Dig into ribcage apertures We watch scholars dissect The fish with tweezers, peel Off scale after scale like Little glistening continents And shake our heads Synchronized like the schools When they do not find Organs that thump outside The perishable body, Arid in the sun
Tim Tomlinson No More Dancing
My mother and her girlfriends stand at the water’s edge in Far Rockaway. They talk about work, parents, boys, all while watching the surf for appearances of the young men who’d accompanied them to the beach on this July afternoon, 1951, four years before I am conceived. The cold Atlantic covers their painted toenails, and sometimes climbs as high as the bracelets around their ankles. If the water splashes higher than their anklets, or if the young men they watch for in the surf torpedo in on a wave, rush them, and carry them into the deep water, they shriek and kick with delight. Safely back down in the sand at the water’s edge, they’re wet only where the young men’s arms and torsos touched them. The water the young men leave behind on their skins evaporates with a cool salty tingle.
One of the young men my mother watches is my father. She cannot take her eyes off my father. He is the handsomest man, she tells her girlfriends, the handsomest she's ever seen. They remind her that he's not Italian. “Neither are you,” she reminds them. Elsie is Polish, Maureen Irish. Donna DeMarco is half Italian, half Puerto Rican (which, to Italian families, means that she’s Puerto Rican). “You’re not bringing us home for dinna,” Maureen says. Mom says, “I’m not bringing him home either.” “Sure you’re not,” Donna says. “Yet.” They all giggle. Mom doesn't tell them that, to her,
the fact that he’s not Italian makes him even more appealing. She doesn't tell them how bored she is on dates with Italian boys, the only ones her father begrudgingly allows her to date, the ones who act like they respect her and her father while they wait in the apartment for her to get ready, and then disrespect her the instant they start walking down the dark staircase. She doesn’t tell them how the Italian boys’ schtick embarrasses her, makes her feel like some fresh-off-the-boat immigrant, makes her feel like she’s under public scrutiny and everybody’s saying, “Get a load of this pair of dopey dagos.” She doesn’t tell them how much better she feels walking through Times Square arm-in-arm with one of the US Army officers she works for on Governor’s Island, Captain Corcoran or Colonel McNeese—the looks they get, how American they look, and how American they make her feel. She doesn't tell them how my father looks
even more American than the officers, perfectly American, like some hunk in a cigarette ad. And how, for a handsome American, the handsomest she's ever met, he’s impeccably respectful, polite, deferential, and funny, but not in the crude sort of way of the Italian boys (and, at times, the American officers). Except for the tattoo on his leg, of the topless woman with a towel around her waist and her hands up in her hair, there is nothing untoward about my father. She can imagine bringing my father home. She can imagine his charm charming her father, little by little, over time. She can imagine going home with my father. “You don’t think he’s too muscular?” Elsie asks her. Mom says, “Muscles can be attractive.” “Sure,” Maureen says. “In proportion.” “Well, he won that award,” Donna says.
Maureen says, “What award?” “Mr Proportion,” Donna says. “Some bodybuilding thing they got in the Marines.” “What?” Maureen says. “Yeah,” Donna says. “Donnie told me.” Donnie DeMarco is Donna’s brother. He’s in the Marines with my father. “Mr Proportion, Mr Symmetry, Mr Size. He’s got a whole shelf full of trophies.” A set of waves forms out past the breakers. Big swells, swells that look like they could break a man. It’s late August, there have been storm warnings, tropical depressions, and hurricanes forming out in the ocean and blowing toward the islands south of Florida. “Some of them musclemen are so freaky,” Elsie says. “Yeah,” Mom says, “and some of them aren’t.” Donna says, “A muscle man beats a fat man.” “Or a bald man,” Maureen says.
“What about when he stops,” Elsie says, “I mean with all the bodybuilding? Won't his muscle just turn to fat?” Maureen says, “What are you planning her fewcha?” “Give her a break,” Donna says, looking at my mother. “They haven’t even gone dancing.” Along the shore at Rockaway Beach, shrieking bathers run from the whitewater and turn to watch the big waves come crashing. And at the top of the biggest lies Bob Foote, my father—“Rocky” they call him—stiff as a plank, his arms extended like pipes from his shoulders. The water whisks past his head and shoulders as the wave peaks, crests, and breaks, and he disappears below the boiling surface. The crowd on the shore gasps the way crowds gasp at fireworks shows, and while they hold their breaths and say rapid silent rosaries, my father reappears in the surface boil, his arms still perfectly
extended, his body plank stiff. And he is coming straight at the girls like a missile. They shriek and turn but before they can escape he’s got my mother in his arms, where she kicks and screams and struggles over the white water he carries her into. “Jackie Capello,” he shouts, laughing. “The Belle of Bushwick Avenue.” “Put me down,” she screams. They’re in water up to his waist. He struggles to stand up straight, the pebbles and rocks that give the beach its name crunching into his ankles and calves. The skirt of her swimsuit dangles in the water’s boil. “Put you down here?” he says. “In the sand,” she shouts. “The sand!” She can hardly hear her own voice over the thunder of the surf. He turns around and walks her back to shore and sets her down gently. “I’m gonna kill you, Rocky,” she says.
“You got a date,” he says, “but give me a minute, will you?” He splashes water onto his left leg, from the knee down to the ankle, then carefully plasters his calf with sand. The topless tattoo disappears. Mom asks, “Did that hurt?” Dad says, “The sand?” “Funny guy,” Mom frowns. “The naked lady tattoo.” Dad says, “You weren’t supposed to see that.” “Did it?” she repeats. Dad says, “I don’t remember.” “Where did you get it?” “I don’t remember that either.” “When you were in the army?” “2nd Marines,” he corrects her. “Recon.” He shows her the tattoo on his left biceps. Eagle, Anchor, Globe, with a sword through the center and a USMC banner rippling below. She places a hand on the biceps. “So why did you get the one on your leg?” she asks him. She keeps the
hand on his arm. He says, “It was more like a gift.” “Someone gave that to you?” “I woke up and it was there.” “You were drunk?” “I don’t remember.” “You don’t remember much, do you?” He says, “I’m gonna remember you.”
She remembers him, too. The feeling of his biceps, the power below the hard, colorful surface. Her girlfriends want to know exactly how it felt, and she says that words couldn’t describe. “But try,” Maureen tells her. Mom tells her to touch it herself. “As if you wouldn’t mind,” Maureen says. Mom shrugs. “It’s a free country,” she tells her friend, then closes her eyes. Donna taps Maureen’s shoulder and shakes her head no. Mom “sleeps” all the way on the A,
and then on the L. The rocking of the train, and the hot humid air rushing through the open windows, transport her. She imagines the places my father has seen, has been. Where would he have gotten that tattoo, some waterfront in Asia? How seedy was that? How wild were his friends? She pictures him in a uniform, blithely striding down narrow alleys lined with bedouins and opium addicts and women in doorways. She can’t picture him drunk and out of control. The way he’d lifted her, carried her— as if he could twirl her like a baton. Walking home on Knickerbocker Avenue, her legs feel heavy and her feet drag. “You’re all red,” her mother says from the kitchen sink. “I told you stay out of the sun.” Mom says she’s not hungry. She rinses off in the shower and goes to bed. Her brother Vic, who shares her room, senses something—he spends the night on the living room couch.
She works on Governor’s Island in the office of Colonel McNeese, who is rarely there. When he is, he is attentive. He tells her she looks good with some sun on her face. “But you always look good,” he adds quickly. Months earlier, he’d chosen her to pose as a WAC for the cover of Life of the Soldier and the Airman magazine. “I’m a civilian,” she’d reminded him. “Never mind that,” he said. “The men will love you.” When the issue appeared, the office was inundated with fan mail from the soldiers. “What did I tell you?” Colonel McNeese said. He ignored the hate mail from the WACs. Today, he says, she seems distracted. After lunch, he says, “It’s a slow day. What do you say we go dancing?” She says not today. She leaves early anyway. She walks to the west side of the island, catches
the ferry to Manhattan. She takes an egg cream at Schrafft’s, watches a movie in Times Square. It’s the third time she’s seen he-man Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. My father, she keeps thinking, is twice the man.
Dad is distracted, too. He’s back on the base—Camp LeJeune: he’d been re-activated for the Korean War but he didn’t get sent over. He spends his days training, lifting, running, posing. He spars with Punchy Epstein, his buddy from Williamsburg whom the other Marines call Super-Jew. The third time Punchy connects with his jaw, he says, “Wake up, before I knock your block off.” Dad puts up his guard, but his arms feel heavy. “You’re punching like some powderpuff,” Punchy says. “Come on, you’re gonna see her in ten days.” But the long days never end. He tries to read books. Across the River
and into the Trees. 1984. A couple of titles by Rex Stout. But the words just float off the page before he reaches the end of a line. Donnie DeMarco spots him sprawled across his bunk, looking at the cover of Life of the Soldier and the Airman magazine. He yanks it out of his hands, hands him an issue of Bachelor. “Just what I need,” Dad says. Donnie says, “You need a cold shower and a three-day pass.” He spends the weekend groaning and grunting in the gym. He listens to quiz shows on the radio, the same ones over and over, Twenty Questions and Information Please. After a half-dozen repeats, he answers the questions before the contestants. “How many times you gonna listen to that nonsense?” Donnie tells him. “You’re driving us crazy.” Dad turns over in his bunk. “Leave me alone,” he says. A letter arrives early the next week.
She says she and the girls would go dancing that weekend in the Ridgewood clubs. Did he know any handsome Marines might be free?
At the Blue Terrace, a jazz combo runs through some swing. Donnie dances with Elsie. Maureen finds a guy in a sailor suit. Mom and Dad make a few spins across the dance floor, then leave the gang and walk down Fresh Pond Road. He tells her he ran away from home to join the Marines. He was fifteen. No one in his family missed him until a truant officer visited. His mother was always working, and his father was always drunk. The Marines, he says, saved his life. Otherwise, he would have wound up like his old man, or worse. He’d run with a rough crowd, up to no good, headed nowhere. She knew the type. He’d hoped to see action in the Pacific, but the war ended with the bomb. This reactivation for Korea
gave him a second chance, but they only sent half his outfit. His got stuck behind. She tells him she’s glad he didn’t go. They hardly even know there’s a war, she says, on the Governor’s Island base. No one talks about it, and when news does comes in, an awkward silence follows, then it’s back to the horsing around. She’d like to get a real job, she tells him, something meaningful, but she can’t imagine what that might be, only she knows it can’t happen while living under the same roof as her family, where the only topic is food, food, food, morning noon and night. Her father wants her to be a nutritionist, work in a school cafeteria, like some dumpy spinster. She still shares a room with her brother, she says. It’s the bane of her existence. She doesn’t mention the “dates” with Colonel McNeese, the dances at Roseland and the Palladium, the looks she’d get walking along the Great White Way arm-in-arm with an American officer.
She doesn’t mention it because she has that same feeling now, but it’s a stronger feeling, all mixed with something else, and it’s pushing her forward like a hand at her back. In Pellegrino’s, the jukebox spins the current hits. “Tennessee Waltz,” “How High the Moon,” “Come On-a My House.” They take a corner table. He orders a plate of spaghetti and extra sauce. He tells her, “I love it smothered in sauce.” She says, “There’s plenty of sauce where I come from.” “You cook?” he asks her. Mom says, “Only when I have to.” “But you know how.” “I know how.” “Lasagna?” he says. She says, “Pretty much you name it.” He says, “I’m worried about meeting your folks. What will they think, you dating a mutt?” She says, “Mama’s not that old-
fashioned.” “And your father?” “He’ll do what she tells him.”
He appears late Sunday afternoon. She waits at the entrance to the BMT at the staircase where Knickerbocker intersects with Myrtle. He looks immaculate in crisp khakis and the creased garrison cap with an eagleglobe-anchor emblem near the peak. He takes her in his arms and lifts her off her feet. They hold hands up to the corner of Wilson and Bleecker. “Hey Jackie,” the kids cat-call and whistle. “Jacqueline to you,” Mom snaps back. “Who’s the mook?” Frankie Scalese asks her. “Mr Coney Island,” Mom tells him, “for your information.” “Whoa,” they say, as if intimidated. And they are. The lean frame, the broad shoulders, the service ribbons
on his chest. “Never mind them,” Mrs Werkmeister calls from her pillow in a second story window. “Your young man is very handsome.” Mom says, “He’s just a friend, Mrs Werkmeister.” “Only a friend?” Mrs Werkmeister says. “For Sunday spaghetti?” Mom says, “He’s a Marine.” The kids say, “Whoa.” “Hello Mrs Werkmeister,” Dad says. Mrs Werkmesiter says, “What’s your name?” Mom says, “They call him Rocky.” “Come on-a my house,” the kids sing,…I’m gonna give you candy. Come on-a my house, my house, I’m gonna give you everything.”
At the kitchen table, her mother covers a plate of spaghetti with ladles of red sauce and hands it to my father. Mom’s brother Vic is already chewing a mouthful.
“No one says grace?” Dad says. “You say it,” Mom says, nudging him. Dad says, “No, just, I thought Catholics …” Mom’s father says, “You’re not Catholic?” Mom says, “Daddy.” Dad takes a forkful of spaghetti and chews. Slowly. “Well, is he?” Mom’s mother says, “What do you care, last time you saw the inside of a church.” Dad says, “I’m a Marine, sir.” “You shoot any japs?” Vic asks. “Or Koreans?” Dad says no, but he’s sent a lot of targets to the garbage. Dessert is dry Italian cookies that turn to powder in Dad’s mouth, and coffee served in demitasse cups. The quiz show Twenty Questions comes on the radio. It’s one Dad’s heard a halfdozen times. He answers the first question
correctly, and shakes his head as if to say, wow, how did I know that? Then he answers the second, and the third, and the fourth. They’re all looking at him, and he shrugs. But he continues with the correct answers. Vic says, “Hey, Professor.” Mom’s mother says, “Rocky, holy cow.” Mom says, “How do you know all this stuff?” Dad says, “I’m just guessing.” Mom says, “You’re not guessing.” Dad says, “I don’t know. I do a lot of reading on the base.” Mom’s father watches suspiciously. With a paring knife he cores an apple, cuts it into wedges, and eats it slice by slice.
Mom walks Dad downstairs to the vestibule. “Say goodbye from there,” her
mother calls from the top of the stairs. “Where I can see you.” “Jackie Capello,” Dad whispers. He pushes her against the door buzzers. Mom whispers, “Jacqueline Foote.” From the stoop across the street, Frankie Scalese and his friends cheer and whistle. He kisses her again, but Mom hears footsteps on the staircase and pushes him out the door. In bed, she can hear her parents talking. “He’s not even Catholic,” her father says. Her mother says, “Neither are you.” “I don’t go to church, maybe,” her father says. “You don't go to church, period.” He says, “That don’t mean I’m not Catholic.” Her mother says, “A Catholic in mortal sin.” “You don’t go to church either,” he says. “We’re not talking about me, we’re
talking about him.” “There’s nothing to talk about.” “She likes him.” “She likes him because he looks American.” “So what?” “You so what.” Her mother says, “You want to make trouble, make trouble.” He says, “What’s so good about him? You tell me.” “He’s a handsome boy,” she says. “A soldier. And look how smart with all them answers.” He doesn’t respond. “You don't have an answer for that, do you?” “You’re the one with all the answers,” he says. She says, “Good. Then leave them to me.” He sinks his head into the pillow. “How can I sleep all that racket?” he says, gesturing outside. The bedroom window is open. Pop music drifts in from a radio across the
street. She sticks her head out the window. Frankie Scalese and his friends sit below a window where a radio sits, speaker out. “Frankie,” she calls. “Turn down the radio now, Mr Capello needs to sleep.” The kids all groan. “Ah, Mrs C,” Frankie says, “it ain’t even 9 o’clock.” “It’s 9:30,” she tells him. “You want I should call your mother?” The music softens. She turns back into the room. “Happy?” she says. She heads out of the bedroom. He says, “I don’t trust him.” She stops at the threshold. She considers his statement. Deliberately, she decides to misunderstand. “He won’t turn it back up,” she says. “Not him,” he says. She closes the door behind her, she doesn’t need to hear the rest. At the foot of my mother’s bed, she
whispers, “You better know what you’re doing.” Mom says, “Thanks, Ma.” She says, “Thanks nothing.”
On his next leave they make a late afternoon visit to his family in Williamsburg. They live in a twofamily home with a bay window overlooking Driggs Avenue. His mother answers the door and turns back inside without speaking. Mom looks at Dad, who shakes his head and stares after his mother. He’d warned her—she’s a joyless martyr. She could turn VJ Day into a funeral. Inside, the curtains are drawn and the light is gray and brown and gloomy. A striped orange cat dashes from the kitchen down a hallway. His mother says, “Now she won’t come out for hours.” It might be a reproach, Mom isn’t sure. In the kitchen, she says, “Here,
dear,” and indicates a place for my mother to sit, at a table pushed against the wall alongside a short refrigerator. “Are you hungry?” she asks. They both say no, but she isn’t listening. From the white cardboard bakery boxes stacked on the sink counter, she selects two and sets them on the table. “These were fresh yesterday,” she says. “Let me get you some water.” Her hair is held up in pins. Her housedress is frumpy. Her stockings sag. The big toe and the second toe squeeze through an opening at the front of her shoes. She takes a glass from the drain and rinses it under the faucet. Mom imagines brown water, but she can’t see it in the gloom. “Is Daddy awake?” my father asks. Mom peeks inside the boxes. One contains blueberry muffins, the other vanilla cupcakes with chocolate icing. On the way over, Dad had told her about the time he found a cockroach
crawling around inside a box of drop cakes. He hasn’t eaten home since. “Go look,” she says. He indicates for Mom to follow. They are down the hall before his mother returns with water. “He sleeps in the hall?” Mom asks. “Dad,” my father says. “Daddy.” “Oh,” his father says. “Daddy, it’s me, Bobby.” “Bobby?” “I’m here with a girl.” “You brought a girl?” “Jackie.” “Jacqueline,” my mother says. “Jacqueline,” Dad says. “Jacqueline Capello from Bushwick.” His father asks for his robe. “Bobby, put on the light, will you?” The next room, the front room, is the bedroom. Only Dad’s mother sleeps there. There’s the bay window Mom noticed. The blinds are pulled on two of the windows. The third is blocked entirely by an armoire. “Her and those damn blinds,” Dad
says, feeling along a wall for the light switch. His father says, “Miss Brown don’t like light.” Dad says, “She don’t like nothing.” “Bobby,” his father says. “Be polite.” The room is musty. It smells like spilled beer and ash trays filled with cigarettes. He slides his feet into a pair of slippers but remains seated on the bed’s edge, his hands on his knees. His hair is reddish-blond and so fine she can see his scalp. He blinks his eyes to adjust to the light. “You’re a very pretty young lady,” he says, taking her hand. “Thank you, Mr Foote.” “A very pretty young lady.” His smile is warm and uncomplicated. Mom doesn’t see Dad’s face in the older man’s face. Dad’s face, she thinks, is held together from some inner purpose. His father has a face caused by outside things. “She’s on the cover of a magazine,
Daddy,” my father says. “Don’t I believe it,” his father says. “A very pretty lady.” “It’s just a little magazine,” Mom tells him. “For the services.” “What’s wrong with that?” he says. Dad’s mother sidles up beside her. She takes Mom’s arm in her hand and Mom jumps and exclaims. “Oh, I’m sorry dear,” Dad’s mother says. “I thought you heard me.” “No,” Mom says, catching her breath. “I—” “Come,” she says. “I have tea.” She pulls Mom into the dark hall toward the kitchen. “Do you take milk?” They squeeze around the kitchen table. The floor linoleum is curled and brown along the trim. Mom thinks she sees a roach crawl behind a sponge near the sink. From the hallway a toilet flushes, followed by the scuffing of slippers on the floor. “Here, Mr Foote,” Mom says, standing. “You sit right there, young lady,”
Dad’s father says. “Miss Brown don’t like a crowd.” He opens a folding chair in the living room alongside a radio. “Don't make it loud,” Dad’s mother calls. “OK, Miss Brown.” “He always makes it so loud,” she says. She winces as if painfully loud noise were occurring now. Dad doesn’t touch his tea, Mom sips once or twice to be polite. “Your family approves?” his mother asks. “They met him?” Mom says, yes, that they’re fond of her son. “Mama thinks he’s a genius.” “They think what?” “When the quiz shows come on,” Mom says, “he knows every answer.” His mother looks at him. “I never noticed that,” she says. Dad shrugs. She says, “But then I was always working. Two, three jobs a day. I couldn’t count on any help from that one.” She indicates the living room
with her chin. “Did you know he’d go missing at Christmas? Four, five days, not a word. Then he turns up New Year’s and wants his tea.” Dad says, “Don’t Mama, please.” “You please,” she says. “I’m trying to talk sense to your girl. You’re not any different.” They don’t eat, they don’t even nibble, they don’t use the bathroom, and they’re gone in less than half-anhour. “You see why I ran away?” he says. “Who is Miss Brown?” she asks. “That was her name,” Dad says. “And he still calls her that?” Dad says, “Don’t ask me.” They walk along Grand Street toward the river. In the distance, the sun slides behind a silhouette of Manhattan. “And he’s always slept in the hallway?” “She says it’s better than the stoop.” “Jeesh,” Mom says, shaking her shoulders.
Dad says, “She treats the cat better.” Mom says, “That orange thing was a cat?” Dad laughs. “I hate that cat.” “What did he do,” Mom says, “to make her treat him like that? Do you even know?” Dad says, “It’s what he didn’t do.” He tells her he could take her on a tour of Williamsburg and show her on which stoops they found him, passed out with sawdust stuck to his pissed pants. “None of the Jewish kids had fathers like that,” Dad says. “Just us.” “Didn’t he have a job?” Mom asks. “He had a bunch of them,” Dad says. “But you know how many pubs there are between home and payday?” He takes her shoulders in his hands. “Listen,” he says. “I’m never gonna be like that, do you hear me?” Mom says she hears him. “You believe me?” Mom says, “Don’t you know I do?”
At the Grand Ferry landing, they watch the sun drop below the horizon. “I would never come to a place like this without you.” Dad says, “You’re not going any place without me, ever, you got that?” Mom says, “OK, tough guy.” They kiss, their longest kiss, then walk quietly back east toward the dark. At the corner of Bedford and Grand, Donnie DeMarco naps behind the wheel of a ’46 Hudson. “Shove over,” Dad tells him at the window. “Bobby,” he says, “Christ, you scared me.” “Good thing I’m not a nip,” Dad says. “My stuff in the trunk?” Donnie tells him to check himself. Dad says he will. Mom slides in to the middle. “Watch how you shift,” Dad tells Donnie. Donnie says, “You believe this guy?”
He drives back toward the Metropolitan Avenue L stop. “Hey Jackie,” Donnie says, “he tell you how he memorizes all them quiz show answers?” Mom says, “Jacqueline.” Donnie says, “What’d I say?” Dad says, “He don’t know what he’s talking about.” “What are you talking about?” Mom says. Donnie says, “What, you didn’t tell her?” “Tell me what?” Mom says. “All them quiz shows,” Donnie says. “We get them on the base all week long. By the time we get up here for a visit, he’s got every answer memorized.” “No,” Mom says. “He didn’t tell me that.” Dad says, “I didn’t tell you that?” Donnie says, “It must have slipped his mind.” Mom says, “And it’s such an active mind.”
“Very active,” Donnie agrees. “Thinks up new shit, I mean stuff, all the time.” “Yes,” Mom says. “Mama is impressed by its range.” Donnie says, “His range is impressive.”
At the steps to the L, Mom assures him she’s not mad. “I promise.” “Well,” Dad says, “I should have told you.” “It hardly matters,” Mom says. “Still,” Dad says, “I’m sorry.” Mom says, “Any more secrets?” “None,” Dad says. “Hey, what about you?” Mom shakes her head no. “No secrets, no surprises?” Dad says. “Are you kidding?” Mom says. “With my father? I can’t be nothing but a good girl.” Dad says, “Good. Tell your father thanks from me.”
Donnie calls out from the Hudson. “Bobby come on, don’t keep your wife and kids waiting. He tell you about them, Jackie?” Dad says, “Jacqueline.” Donnie says, “What’d I say?” “You better go,” Mom says. “It’s just a few more months,” Dad tells her. Mom says, “I can’t wait.” “Then we'll get the hell out of this circus,” Dad says. Mom says, “I know.” “You’ll have your own room,” Dad tells her. Mom nods. Dad says, “The kitchen.” Mom tells him go. And they go. Fast. No stops fast. Delaware. Virginia. Pissing into bottles fast. And they’re back on the base before roll call. At his first break, mid-morning, Dad calls Mom at the office. Their conversation is short, but to Colonel McNeese’s ear, meaningful.
“Who was that?” he asks. Mom says, “None of your beeswax.” Colonel McNeese says, “The impertinence.” Mom says, “Get used to it.” Colonel McNeese says, “I think I already am.” A few minutes later he says, “Jackie.” “Jacqueline,” she corrects him. “Jacqueline,” he says. “Am I correct in assuming that we won’t be going out dancing anymore?” “Affirmative,” Mom winks. “No more dancing.”
Contributors Ariella Carmell Ariella Carmell dwells in Southern California, where she is Editor-in-Chief of her high school literary magazine and Head Copy Editor of the newspaper. A Foyle Commended Poet of the Year, as well as regionally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, she has had work published in Canvas Literary Journal, The F Bomb, TeenInk, and several more places. Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe Jhaki is an accidental teacher by trade and an artist and writer by otherwise. Her birthplace in the Midwest was a conservative start to a life of wander. Sheâ€™s recently settled down and commutes between Sweden and South Dakota. Her artwork and publications can be found at www.jhakijhaki.com. Caseyrenee Lopez Caseyrenee Lopez is a queer writer living in the Deep South with her spouse and fur family. She is the founding editor of Crab Fat Literary Magazine and is also currently working on her Master's in English and Writing. Frazer Merritt Frazer Merritt is a Literature & Mythology student at the University of Essex in England. He spent two years in India working on a travelogue that details his wanderings. Frazer has previously published op-eds in newspapers and magazines, along with essays in his universityâ€™s academic journal.
Justin C. Staley Justin C. Staley is a reader, writer, and burger aficionado. His fiction has appeared in Big Muddy and Helicon. He recently finished his first novel and currently teaches writing at DePaul University in Chicago. Tim Tomlinson Tim Tomlinson is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, "The Portable MFA in Creative Writing." He has lived and taught in many places throughout the world, including the UK, Italy, China, the Philippines, and Thailand. His fiction and poetry appear or are forthcoming in numerous venues, including The Blue Lyra Review, Caribbean Vistas, Coachella Review, Soundings Review, and in the anthologies "Long Island Noir" (Akashic Books), "Fast Food Fiction" (Anvil, the Philippines), and United Verses (China). He is a Master Teacher of Writing in NYU's Global Liberal Studies program. Thos. West Thos. West holds a Master's in Literature from Oxford University, and spent his formative years in a town twice voted the worst in England. His poetry and criticism has been published in The Oxonian Review and the
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