Crack the spine
Crack the Spine Literary magazine Issue Eighty-One September 18, 2013 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2013 by Crack the Spine
the choice, we will
always select madness over methodâ€?
Elaine Olund Above It All Catherine Arturi Purilla Shadows Travis Sharp The Forgotten Things Matt Staley Daft Bruce Makous Stranger in My Own Home Wendy Ashlee Coleman Decide 6 Gretchen Eberhart Cherington Breath, Body and Belief
Cover Art by Christine Catalano Christine worked for a national business-to-business newspaper for many years as a designer, graphic artist, and art director. Her forward-thinking employer guided the company's transition from typewriter to computer, from film to digital. Now retired, she hopes this background continues to inspire and inform her continuing passion for camera and post-production. Some of her work keeps showing up online, most notably in Mused and Crack the Spine.
Elaine Olund Above It All There’s that sound. Nowhere else sounds quite like it. You know what I mean. That dull whoosh of conditioned air, the hum of the moving sidewalk, the throbbing of sneakered feet on gleaming terrazzo. Weaving in and out, like another line of melody, is the babble of the airport: pattering voices flattened into a low rumble, punctuated by bright laughter and strings of recognizable words. English, mostly, but also Chinese or maybe Korean, and FrenchCanadian, a smattering of German – “Nein, NEIN! Aber nicht…” the few foreign words I recognize jump out, italicized, like French words in old novels. “St. Louis passengers Frank, Neeb, Ding, Dow and Dye, please check in immediately at the podium,” booms a petite gate agent on a microphone. No one hurries over. It is as if no one has heard. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in Detroit. The airport is big, new, rather empty down at the far end of the Delta arm. I settle on down on sleek modern bench to spend my layover. My phone shudders in my jeans pocket. A text from Sean: Can’t wait to see you tonight. Text if delayed. xxoo S. I turn my phone off. Can’t think about reality yet. I return to my ongoing study of airport people, with the fervor of a researcher on the brink of some discovery. This is how I’ve always been, Sean says. The best procrastinator ever. Two years ago, when I was avoiding dealing with something sticky at work, I called in sick for three days running and identified and catalogued every single plant in our new yard in an elaborate spreadsheet. I cross-indexed them all by their Latin and common names. From Bermuda grass (cynodon dactylon) to Pussytoes (Antennaria dioica) to Copper Beech (Fagus cuprea). One hundred and thirty-two plant species, and I only stopped then because Sean reminded me that I needed to conserve my sick days. For the baby we still thought we’d have. I am, Sean says, a master. He’s right. Bathroom break. I’m in the toilet stall, wondering how they keep it so clean with the rivers of humanity that roar through here every day. Though right now, the huge bathroom is way under capacity, between flights. Almost empty. I feel empty, too. The high-pitched squeals of young children rupture the quiet. They burst in, chattering with excitement. Three children, one woman, calm and low-voiced, directing them. “Okay, Charles,” I hear her say. “You go right in there. Lock the door. I’ll be right next to you with Henry.” Her voice is musical, lightly accented, Indian? Pakistani?
Charles, I think. Charles-not-Charlie. That’s the only boy’s name on my list that Sean had liked. I veer from the thought and refocus on the chatter outside. “Avani? Avani? I’m done. I’m going out, okay?” calls a girl over the roar of the hand-dryer. By now, I’ve emerged, dragging my wheelie and over-stuffed handbag to the sink. The girl, maybe seven, stands there, golden-haired and sparkles head-to-toe with pink. Glimmery pink barrettes, sequined pink t-shirt, frilly pink skirt, shiny pink-and –rhinestone flip flops. “Avani?” She says louder. A bit bossily. “Did you hear me?” “Yes. Please wait,” sings Avani, emerging from a stall with a dark-headed toddler on her hip. She puts little Henry down by the sink and calls to Charles. “Do you need help?” “No, I’m….” WHACK. Washing my hands, I see it happen in the mirror. Charles, emerging confidently from the stall. The door swinging back fast, the sharp metal latch smacking his forehead. He dissolves into tears, howling. Avani swoops in, kisses his brown hair, shiny and straight like her own. “Oh, baby, ouch!” she says, but in a cheery voice. Charles continues to howl. “Bump-bump-a-dump, come on, let’s wash hands! Mommy’s buying a treat when you’re all cleaned up!” His wails trail off. “Do I need to tickle you?” she says. “ “No tickles!” he screams. “No tickles! The crisis is averted in moments. Hands are being cheerfully washed. I think: wow, the patience of a saint. Such a cheerful young mother. Though I wondered about the girl. So fair, not like Avani’s nut brown boys. And, she didn’t call Avani “Mommy.” Maybe a cousin. A step-child? Later: I figure it out. Two friends. College friends, maybe? Girlfriends. Traveling together. I see the little girl running ahead of Avani and the boys, stopping in front of a long beautiful blond woman who’s lounging beside a huge mound of travel gear. She looks like a model, or maybe a movie star. A man on the moving sidewalk cranes his neck as he goes past her. She looks like she should be draped on the hood of a Ferrari or something. The little golden girl pantomimes the door hitting the boy. Blonde beauty yawns, smiles distantly. Avani is lugging the toddler and chasing Charles along by pretending to be a monster, but not a scary one. “I’m going to eat you up!” She mock threatens. She sets the younger boy down. The brothers giggle and zigzag away on their chubby legs, shrieking with excitement. Could I ever have had her energy, her untapped joy, that connection? Would any child of mine have ever looked at me with such naked joy, the way Avani’s boys look at her? Things happen for a reason, that’s what Sean wrote in one of his letters. He said we happened for a reason, and he was miserable
without me. To come back and we’d figure out what to do next. They call my flight, saving me from landing on that thought. *** On the plane, texting Sean: “Departure delayed, haven’t left yet. New arrival time 7.” I make sure the text has transmitted, and turn the phone off again. A parade of people pass in the aisle. Sporty girls, an elderly Japanese couple, a skinny teenager with a buzz cut and desert-tan fatigues, assorted hefty middle-agers. All in a line like cattle, shuffling back to St. Louis. Back home. Home. I close my eyes, so I smell Beauty before I see her. Chanel, I think. Jasmine. Sean bought me some once, our fifth anniversary, was it? Or was it only last year? I open my eyes. She’s stopped in the aisle next to me. “D3, Charles? You’re D3, right?” Her voice doesn’t match the rest of her. “Avani,” she shrills over her yoga-toned shoulder. “We’re D and E, right?” She hoists a shiny hard-shell weekend bag into the overhead bin. Her tight top lifts, exposing a flat tanned belly. Her voice is flat, too loud. It carries. A long conversation ensues between Beauty and the children. Through the crack in the seats, I see Avani is at the end of their train, holding Henry, lugging a car seat and a bulging diaper bag and a big cheery smile. Her eyes gleam, like shiny wet pebbles. Time to recatalog them, I realize. Not friends, not relatives. The boys are dark-haired, but at close range I see they do not resemble Avani at all, not really. They have blue eyes, like Beauty. Like the girl. Avani is the au pair, the nanny. “I want the window,” announces the sparkly little girl. “And Mommy will sit by me.” They stand arguing, blocking the flow of passengers. The stoppered parade grumbles and shifts impatiently. The steward up by the door looks at his watch. Beauty solves it finally. “You two are so grown up now, you can sit alone together,” she says, enunciating the words exaggeratedly, as if the children were too dull to understand. Meantime, Avani has finally succeeded in buckling in the car seat and turns to help the older children get settled. The aisle remains dammed. The waiting passengers shoot the nanny irritated looks, as if it is all Avani’s fault. Beauty roots in the overhead bin for something. A florid-faced man grumbles under his breath. She turns and apologizes. “Sorry,” she shrugs, and his angry look fades instantly. It must be nice, I think. To be able to turn that on whenever you need it. Sean used to tell me I was gorgeous. My mom says I just need to work at it a little. I’d hoped for more, once, but you have to be realistic, don’t you?
Beauty sinks into the seat next to mine, glances at me, briefly. Dismisses me with her ice blue eyes. Not worth her energy, clearly. Which suits me fine. I don’t want to chat. I stare out the window as the plane fills. Outside, it’s begun to rain. The tarmac and hangars and low sky float all together in a gray soup. A thousand shades of gray. I watch the yellow-slickered baggage handlers buzzing around in the mist. The plane is fully boarded now. The steward begins his safety demonstration. Like an inept comedian at a stand-up club, no one pays him a bit of attention. The engines fire louder, louder. Suddenly, the roar diminishes to nothing. The pilot’s voice comes on. “We’re gonna be delayed folks, the control tower has some reports of lightning.” She sounds way too young to be a pilot. About twelve. “So we’re gonna have to hang tight a few minutes while it clears up.” Across the aisle, Charles and sparkle-girl whine, Mama-mama-mama-mama. Beauty sighs loudly. “Avani,” she says in a loud fake-cheerful voice, “I bet you have those snacks?” Then she puts ear buds in. Her ears look like something a Renaissance sculptor would have coaxed from Carrera marble, cool and perfect. She closes her eyes. Across the way, Avani distributes packets of cookies. I look back outside. The yellow-vested baggage workers run for the terminal. The low sky is darkening. Orange cones dot the silvery wet landscape. I think of Sean, waiting for me in Saint Louis. Of our lives stretching ahead, just the two of us. I tumble this thought in my head, roll it around and around, as I did for those weeks at the beach. I hope that eventually, the thought will smooth out, emerge in a new form. Like the handfuls of colorful sea glass I collected at the beach, sharp edges would transform into something pleasing. Something that I could grip without hurting myself. The storm passes. The plane pushes back, finally. Beauty opens her eyes. She reaches across the aisle to Charles, squeezes his arm. A big diamond flashes on her slim hand. “Hey buddy, didn’t you hear? They said it’s time to turn off your iPad now, okay? And put it in the case. If it breaks again, you don’t get another one. You, too, Clara.” Clara. The name at the very top of my very long girl’s name list. What were the odds? I wish I had something engrossing to read. The novel I picked up at random from the ‘summer escapes’ display at the newsstand in Detroit makes me feel edgy and annoyed. After takeoff, Clara and Charles bicker, restless. Behind them, Henry is whining. “Want Mama, don’t want Avani!” Avani, unflappable, begins a game. “I spy something…pink!” she trills, her accent tinged with a British lilt.
“Oh, let’s play something more FUN,” says sparkly Clara. I hear the authority blooming in her young voice, something I haven’t achieved in my thirty-nine years. “Okay, Clara, who am I?” Avani teases. “Bet you’ll never guess!” Beauty is either asleep or pretending to be. Her eyes are closed, long lashes on smooth skin. She looks young. Probably five years younger than me, at least. Her children laugh at something Avani is saying. I wish my iPod wasn’t dead. I want to disappear. Be anywhere but in my own skin. I try to focus on the landscape of chilly white clouds outside my window. It looks like a photo I saw once, in National Geographic, of Antarctica. The clouds look like jagged ice floes, rounded by snowfall, stretching away forever and ever, empty and cold. I shiver and reach up to turn off the stream of cold air from the nozzle above. I’m not going anywhere cold. St. Louis in August. Home to Sean. “Think of all the money we’ll save,” Sean had said, after letting me cry for a few days. I’d been so sure that Dr. Grannan would have a solution. The brochure had been so hopeful, featuring a dramatically lit husband and a slender-but-definitely pregnant wife looking up at him, all smiles. “We can, I don’t know, travel?” Sean had crooned. “Be footloose. Sell this big house. Move downtown? You’re all I need, babe.” “You’re happy I’m not a candidate for the procedure, aren’t you?” I’d spat, pushing him away. “You never even wanted to be a father, did you?” It took me fifteen days at Aunt Mary’s beach cottage to see that he hadn’t know how his relentless optimism, the very thing that had drawn me to him, could cut me like a knife. He was only being himself. The steward wheels the beverage cart down the aisle. Beauty opens her eyes, asks for water, please, no ice. I ask for ginger ale. The children beg for soda but Avani says, no, juice or water. Clara howls, “Mama! My iPad isn’t working!” Charles spills his juice and Henry loudly demands cookies. Beauty sips her water and closes her eyes once again. Avani takes care of everything. I wonder if Avani will ever have children. Unlike me, she’s a clearly a natural. Later, Avani takes both boys to the bathroom to clean up. “Mama!” insists Clara. She’s kneeling next to Beauty, tugging at her lovely tanned arm. “Mama, I need you!” Beauty sighs. “What is it,” she says impatiently.
“Mama, the iPad doesn’t work, it's broken. Avani’s no help!” There’s an edge of panic in Clara’s voice. Beauty runs a finger over the dark screen. “I don’t know how to fix it. Avani can take it to the genius bar tomorrow,” offers Beauty, handing the iPad back. Clara looks at her mother, eyes brimming. The way Sean’s eyes brimmed when I left. I imagine him now, cutting the Bermuda grass and sweeping the walkway, chilling a bottle of moscato, making things nice for my homecoming, for justthe-two-of-us. Acceptance seems to come so easily to him. I try again to let go of the fertility brochure promises, of the nursery things we’d bought before the miscarriages, of the family trips we’d imagined, of the baby, our own little Charles or Clara, who would have Sean’s dark hair and my hiccupping laugh. I look out at the icy clouds and try to imagine sprinkling my dreams there, the way you sprinkle the ashes of a loved one who’s died. To let them go. “Mama, I need you!” sparkly Clara says, her voice breaking. Beauty sighs, heavily. She has so much, young Clara. So much. And just like me, she wants the one thing she can’t have.
A writer, artist and designer, Elaine Olund creates in a leafy urban neighborhood in Cincinnati. Currently, she is editing her first novel, or procrastinating from that by writing lots of short fiction, essays and poetry. Her stories have been published in (or will soon appear in) Bartleby Snopes, 38th Parallel Magazine, 5x5 literary magazine, Turk's Head Review, freeflashfiction.com and everydayfiction.com. "A Double Life," her literary, sci-fi story that examines the ethical fallout of human cloning, won Editor's Choice award in a contest sponsored by Amazon.com, and is available at Amazon in Kindle format.
Catherine Arturi Purilla Shadows Shadows lie to live, tell us we're taller, thinner, flat as the earth was once we thought; stalk us when our backs are turned, but the bright interrogator must some of this blame shareâ€” its radiant arrogance assigns pools in deserts, floats false diamonds on the sea, refracts retinal images upside downâ€” poised between liars, we are dazzled into believing these beguiling truths, these inflated casts of ourselves, of others; powered by our breath, they contrive with the sun to feign friends by our side, leaving us always to remember: Shadows lie to live.
Catherine Arturi Parillaâ€™s poetry has appeared in The Alembic, Compass Rose, descant, Eclipse, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Knightscapes, Pisgah Review, Poem, and Wisconsin Review. She is the author of A Theory for Reading Dramatic Texts: Plays by Luigi Pirandello and Federico Garcia Lorca. A native of New Jersey, she teaches creative and expository writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Travis Sharp The Forgotten Things
1 After he had gotten the last of his things, after she moved in with me, she sent off the letter that said that she wanted to adopt. This is the New Age adoption where you take a child in under your financial wing. A child from Ghana or Peru or Sudan receives pocket change from your car, leftover from fast food runs, and somehow it translates into a proper education and clothing and hot meals and salvation from the Lord himself. In return you get pictures and thank you letters. The company handled the transactions. They’re starving… in a land of plenty. This was at the top of the newsletter the company sent to her, above pictures of starving children and the remains of rainforests. The bulldozer ripping up ancient tree roots had a shark painted on the side, the kind of graffiti you see on warplanes. I told her not to pick a child named James. She chose Carlos, a Peruvian immigrant living in Belize. Carlos has dimples and ruffled hair, plus he’s a Sagittarius. A relief, that. Does this make me a mother now? she asked. I imagined her wearing maternity tees and elastic waistbands just to live up the experience. She screamed and ran to the phone to call her boyfriend of the week. She has a new one each Sunday. This week she’s dating a Steven with a bad haircut. He’s a Libra and I told her not to but I didn’t stop her. We love horoscopes but we love Delilah more, and Delilah says to follow your heart. We’re crazy about Delilah. I’ve fallen asleep to her since I can remember. Whenever I talk to myself in my head it’s in the slow voice of Delilah, calm and steady. *** I never date two men with the same last name, she said to me once. If they’re brothers, or cousins, or sat next to one another in high school. Pack mentality, you know? No, I said, leaving it at no so as to emphasize her insanity.
Though she’s not really insane. I avoid all men named James because of the one, as if somehow his sins were inherent. I can’t imagine working in customer service. A James would come to me asking if I knew where the hamburger buns were and I’d ask him who he was sleeping with. He’d say his boyfriend, but don’t tell his parents (three aisles over) because to them he’s The Roommate. I’d ask, Who else? There has to be someone else. Who else? Frightened, the customer will begin backing away slowly, merchandise brandished before him as a shield. *** She was lying on the sofa that he didn’t take. This is how she dates, on a piece of furniture with a phone. What do you talk about? I asked. What? You and men. What do you talk about? Lots of things. What are you talking about right now? Right this second? He asked me if I like potatoes. What? Potatoes. You know, poe-tay-toes. What does that matter? He works at Hot Potato Feats ‘n’ Eats. He’s the one who makes the potato creations. They fry them and he sculpts them. What does he sculpt them into? Anything. Anything? Anything at all. Huh. Yeah. Are they expensive? Ten a pop. And they taste like shit but no one cares. It’s a fucking potato sculpture. Do you like him? I guess. Not really. No. Which is it? No. Are you going to tell him?
That I’m not interested? No. He’ll figure it out. I want to get married, I said. Today? Yes. Marry who? Dave Harrison. Who’s Dave Harrison. The man of my dreams. I haven't met him. Well, he isn't real. I made him up. Oh, like sex fantasies? Yes. But instead of having sex we go on dates and get married. Oh. Yeah. Weird. 2 James tried to walk me home the night we met, but his place was closer. He lived near where we stood, and he pointed over to where his apartment overlooked the lake. If you look out the other way, from my bedroom, he said, you can see the skyline and the mountains behind it. Would you like to see it? I did. I wanted to see it. Over the course of the following month, I saw many things. A bird cage with no bird (A high school art project, he said. No Caged Bird to Sing), photo albums, so many photo albums, inherited from his mother after she died. She took photos of everything, he said, and I could see that. Every single thing. Her entire life was documented, like that guy in Exit through the Gift Shop. Days were spent with a camera in front of her face, attached to her face like some post-human experiment in overreaching technology. I'm jealous of your mother, I told him, because her entire life is still here, in stills, and she remains even after her death. What I meant was, I'm jealous of your mother because her entire life is still here, in stills, and she remains with you even after her death, and there's nothing you can do about it, she's here to stay.
You're here to stay too, he said, and he took a picture of me. I took the camera from him and began taking pictures of everything in the apartment, pictures of the TV and the sofa that he later would take with him when he left and the kitchen appliances supplied by the owners of the building and his bed and the view. Oh, the view, I said. The view, he said. Oh. You're definitely here to stay, he said, getting off of me and turning on his side, wrapping his body around my body. I'm not sure, I said, and then I had to explain myself, that I wasn't planning on running away but that I don't feel stable, physically, as if gravity isn't always enough to hold me down, as if I'm not really here as who I am, if you know what I mean. Yeah. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean, he said, not knowing what I meant. I didn't blame him. I didn't even know what I meant, which felt so appropriate for what I was feeling. I felt like I might fly out of my body at any moment, like I'm a demon trapped inside someone else's body. Animals can sense it, that I am a demon, and I was glad that he didn't have any animals because they would know and they could see into my past, the ways in which I have destroyed myself through my bad intentions, the way I pull the air out of a room without intending to. Just a few minutes before, when we were going through the front door, I looked down and those arms, whose arms, those arms are moving and they are not my own. Do you ever forget that you have arms? What? he asked. Do you ever forget that you have arms? No, he said. 3 The financial adoption program made you feel like you were a parent, she said. She went everywhere as a mother. Whenever someone said something to her about their children she would add herself to the conversation, citing her experience. She presently was occupying herself by ignoring her new boyfriend's latest text, likely a response to her break-up letter, and by writing a letter of advice to her adopted son. She talked about it as if it was a genre of letter writing. How do you write a letter of advice? Do I put my name at the top of a letter of advice? Is there a specific way to fold a letter of advice? She loved writing letters. Of all the people in the world to preserve the ancient art, she is the least likely.
Will you read through it? she asked. I don't want to have forgotten anything. What am I supposed to be looking for? The forgotten things. What forgotten things? You know, like, gaps or whatever. Like it's missing something, something that should be there but it isn't. Right. Do you understand? Yes. Give me a minute. Hello Carlos, Can I call you Carlos? What else would you call him? I asked. It's not literal. What is it, then? I'm just pointing out that I don't really know him that well. I am the woman who sends you money every month so you can go to school. I'm writing to you because I wanted to give you some advice. This is a letter of advice. You're being redundant here, I said. I don't want you to edit it, I want you to read it. But it needs some editing. No, it doesn't. I don't want it to sound like you, I want it to sound like me, and it sounds like me as it is now. I am writing to you because I care. 4 On the day that he left, one month after I moved in and two days after I stopped doing the dishes, he didn't take the trash out, knowing that I wouldn't, knowing that it would be left there for two weeks, until she came by and sat on the sofa that he didn't take and proposed that she sleep there, on that sofa, because she needed to get away from her parents, but really because she wanted to be able to tell herself that she was independent, and because she rather liked the old-time romance that comes from being poor and living on someone's couch, of being able to say that she has struggled. She didn't realize that the poor had jobs, that it was expensive being poor, that it took a lot more money to be poor than she realized, that it took a lot more of everything than she realized, that she actually had to work hard
at being poor. She even had to work hard just to come off as being poor since she has that look of the inheritors of wealth, that look of privilege that comes from owning things that aren't made of plastic. On the day after he left, one month after I put my toothbrush in the bathroom, five days after I stopped washing my clothes, I began going through those things left behind: a half-empty jug of 2% milk, his second-favorite cereal, his extra toothbrushes, unopened, a gum wrapper situated on the edge of the coffee table. And totes. Totes of things that he forgot were in my closet, a space he didn't bother to go into. One month after he left, she got her first picture of Carlos. How she fretted over the sore on his lip, how she cooed at his dimples, his fluffy hair, his toothy grin, and everything else that is so clichĂŠ about him that it hurts but she loves about him. She loves all of it, every single bit. Later that day, James stopped by, looking for things he had forgotten. I kept all of it, I said. I said it so fast and with so little air that it came out as nothing. I know, he said, and he said it with such a quiet tone, such tenderness. He took the extra toothbrushes and his second-favorite cereal and threw away the milk, three weeks out of date, and took the gum wrapper and put it in his pocket instead of the garbage to save me from the humiliation of having left it on the coffee table. He was so effortlessly alive and I wasn't and we both knew that now as he walked back out of the door without stumbling over anything, not even his words. It took a few minutes after he was gone to realize that he had still forgotten the photographs of his mother, images of her life that she had entrusted to him left in my closet.
Travis Sharp is from small town Alabama. He has a BA in English and Drama from Athens State University and is a student in the University of Washington's MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics. He is the founding editor of athena's web, an online arts and sciences journal dedicating to encouraging and publishing undergraduate writing.
Matt Staley Daft Sheâ€™s the crazy one in the family, Nuts. Never interested in your name, always carries an extension cord. Inevitably around uninvited, unexpected. No remorse. Pointing to the sky at the plane, taming the tiger with her extension cord. Incessantly rings my cell; ignore. Redials. Tells me the flowers are screaming to death, hangs up to jump rope with her extension cord. Rhythmic sways side to side as I climb in bed. Goodnight. Says my dreams are full of milk and honeybees, plugs in the empty extension cord. She gives me pop tarts for breakfast.
Matt Staley is a graduate student at Western New Mexico University and an aspiring writer. He has published a few poems that are tucked away in various anthologies, and he is now working on a first novel. When not writing or working, Matt can often be found lost on some trail in the Appalachian Mountains or slinging a snake out of his kayak on some rancid river. Matt resides in Conway, South Carolina.
Bruce Makous Stranger in My Own Home
Owen sat in the top-floor corner office of the Winnis Building, his family’s company’s headquarters. The office belonged to his brother Caspar—or “Cap,” as he always called him—the company’s CEO. Out of one bank of windows, there was a view of William Penn atop City Hall, nestled in the midst of the Center City towers, and on the other side, the Delaware River waterfront. “You’ll really like the job I have lined up for you,” Cap said, smiling. Owen grimaced and shook his head. “You don’t think my appearance—eye patch and all—will detract from my credibility?” He had barely survived a bombing three months earlier at the National Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona. He was left with a badly damaged right eye, a cracked skull, and a shattered right tibia. The Spanish surgeons had put pins in his leg and operated on his eye, trying to save it. He spent weeks in a Barcelona hospital, unconscious most of the time, as they nursed him into a stable enough condition to ship him back home to the States. “Not a problem, bucko. The eye patch is actually a key factor in naming you as vice president.” “Really,” Owen said, sarcastically, anticipating a joke at his own expense. “The board totally agrees with me. The eye patch, goatee, and crutch make you look exactly like a pirate, which gives you added cachet in the world of international shipping.” They both laughed. Owen’s chuckle was brief and stiff, since he hadn’t laughed in months. The spike in blood pressure forced a stabbing pain to shoot through his eye and into his head, piercing the protective cushion of painkillers, then disappearing as quickly as it had come. Nonetheless, it felt good to let loose a little, just like old times. He was always amazed that, even after being separated from his brother for months, the camaraderie and friendship came flooding back as soon as they got together again. One time, he hadn’t seen Cap in nearly two years, and they both showed up at their cousin’s wedding in exactly the same new suit. They were so different, yet at times had this telepathic connection, like twins. “That’s right, mateys!” Owen said with an exaggerated pirate accent. “Accept our trade proposal or we’ll pinch your fleet.”
“All you need now is a few blackened teeth and a parrot,” Cap said, laughing even more. “Peg Leg Winnis, they call me.” Their laughter ended suddenly, possibly because the subject—his crippling limitations since the bombing—wasn’t particularly funny. Cap stood up. “Let me show you your office suite.” Owen grabbed the arm of the chair and winced as he stood. He grabbed his crutch—a black metal cane with a brace at mid arm—and steadied himself before following. Owen walked down the hallway a few steps behind Cap. Even without a bum leg, he had always found it difficult to keep up with his older brother, who was nearly a head taller and the more athletic of the two. Cap had been a champion running back for the University of Pennsylvania football team. He still ran five miles a day. “How’s the leg feel with the cast off?” Cap asked. “Sore. And the doc told me I’ll never play soccer again.” Cap corrected him. “You never did play soccer.” “I know.” Owen shook his head dourly. “But now I’ve really got to let go of the dream.” Cap laughed as he continued down the hall. “Seriously, though, the doc said that after a couple more rounds of surgery, I’ll walk with only a slight limp.” Cap stopped and put one arm around Owen and hugged him. “This is really a raw deal for you.” “The leg will always be gimpy, and the eye is legally blind.” “At least you’re still alive.” “I can look forward to a long, miserable life.” “You’ll get better.” They arrived at a corner office about half the size of Cap’s, with a view of the river and New Jersey. The oil tanks out of the other side were partly concealed by vertical blinds. Owen looked around. It was a little too nicely appointed. “So you want me to head up the international division?” “You’ll be great, with all of the international economic and political analyses you’ve been writing over the years. You’re a recognized authority and an expert in a number of cultures and languages.” “How about my political viewpoint?” Owen gave him a challenging grin. “Not exactly in line with company policy.” Cap smiled patronizingly. “They don’t care. You’re a Winnis.”
“What are the key issues?” “The same as for all international shipping companies today—the threat of terrorism. Security problems.” “We had that ship attacked in Bahrain.” “Tied to al-Qaeda.” Cap shook his head. “Another key issue is retaining our number one client,” he added. “U.S. defense contracts?” “Government economic-consulting contracts.” “In developing countries?” “Improving their economies with international trade.” “Particularly trade with the U.S.” “Mainly.” “Sounds like CIA stuff.” Cap shook his head and frowned. Then he nodded reluctantly. “Maybe a little. Anyway, Owen, you’ll learn the business quickly.” Owen hobbled over and gazed out of the bank of windows at the river, swollen with spring rains. A mothballed battleship was docked permanently on the other side. He thought about his life goals—to explore the globe and share his observations about humanity, good and bad, with the world. Nothing more than wishful thinking at this point. He turned back to Cap. “I don’t know, bro.” Cap frowned. “You don’t know?” “My life’s been turned upside down recently. I’m rethinking everything.” “I know that,” Cap said, engaging him directly, firmly, as if negotiating a government contract. “And this job will be a great way to get a new footing.” Owen shook his head. “I’m not sure what I want to do.” Cap paused for a second and suddenly lightened up. “Oh, I get it. This has to do with that woman. What’s her name? Ronnie Krane? Come on, Owen. Are you really going to wander around the globe looking for her? There are other women out there.” Owen looked down, studying the sight of his injured leg leaning weakly against his crutch. He knew he would never get used to thinking of himself as a lame man. “I know what that’s like, Owen. You’ll get over her soon enough.” Owen wondered how he could have been so stupid. At first, when she never visited him or even left
a message at the Barcelona hospital, Owen was worried. He thought she must have been injured in the blast. Then, when he found that she was not on the casualty list, the concern in his stomach soured into anger, first at the world for messing everything up, then at her. How could she be so cold? Now, he was only angry at himself for being so stupid. Cap put his hand firmly on Owen’s shoulder. “You’re going through a rough patch. I’m doing everything I can to try to help you through it.” Owen stepped back and looked at him. “It’s a generous offer. I’ll consider it.” *** Owen was kicking himself as he drove back to his condo. He hated letting Cap down, but Winnis Shipping was Cap’s game, the way football had been at Penn. That was the tradition in their family for decades. The oldest son in each generation would be trained to take over Winnis Shipping. As soon as Cap had graduated with his Wharton MBA, he was named assistant vice president of the company. Not surprisingly, he quickly worked his way up, making vice president by the time he was thirty and executive vice president—the number two man under their father, George Winnis III—a few years later. When Dad died suddenly three years ago, Cap stepped into the CEO role. Meanwhile, over the years, Owen had tried to carve out his own area of expertise—being a professional slacker, as their mother would say. Going wherever he wanted around the world, writing what he really thought. And before the bombing, he was getting pretty good at it. Now I have no clue what I’m going to do. He did know one thing. He was not going to be the lame family ne’er-do-well on the dole. The first step toward figuring out what he wanted to do was to get back in the saddle. Get real, Winnis, he could hear his high school buddy Donny saying. How are you gonna dodge bullets and run from guerrillas with your gimpy leg? You’re through as an international reporter. Owen pulled his Porsche into the entry drive of his condo building. The valet, Al, always looked suspiciously happy to see the little red car. Al opened the door for him, and Owen pulled himself out of the bucket seat, grunting as a splinter of pain shot through his shin. “You got it there, Mr. Winnis?” Al asked. “I think so.” He handed Al a tip. As soon as he entered his unit, he went to his office and turned on the computer. He knew he was too weak to travel abroad right then, but how about pitching an investigative article on a scandal right here in Philadelphia? Surely Time or one of his other regular clients would publish something about political corruption or human rights violations at home. He knew he just needed to
think of a good story to pitch. There was the recent case involving the Temple student who appeared to be Arab or Middle Eastern, who was searched and illegally detained for over a month. The kid turned out to be exactly what he said he was—a doctoral student from Pittsburgh doing his thesis on Afghanistan. His mother was a Jewish woman from Israel, his father a Muslim from Syria, and he was born in the States, a U.S. citizen. How about “Stranger in My Own Home” as a title? *** Hours later, he examined the computer screen. He had come up with six feature concepts he could pitch to a number of editors. He was in the zone and it felt good. He looked at his watch. Nine forty-five. He needed to get something to eat. First, something Cap said had been gnawing at him all evening. This has to do with that woman. He went into his bedroom. The little gray felt box, a sad memorial to a dream, was still sitting on top of his dresser. He opened the box. The diamond was three carats, huge by most standards. When Owen bought it, however, it seemed like a paltry representation of his monumental love. He knew that no physical object could ever come close to representing how he felt at the time. Now the ring looked dull and ordinary, like a piece of costume jewelry. What a joke, he thought as he tossed the box back behind his socks in the top drawer. It will be a long time before I do that again. He had already come to terms with being alone once again. There was a great feeling of solace and independence in relying on oneself, as he had for so many years. You could grab a bag and be on the other side of the globe on twenty-four hours’ notice. He walked into the living room and decided he would check the headlines on the evening news, then go down to the restaurant on the ground floor. “This is breaking news,” anchor Lydia Parmont was saying the moment he turned on the TV. She wore a grim expression and her tone was grave and measured, as though giving an update on a military conflict. “As I speak, fire engines have just arrived at the Winnis Shipping headquarters building on the Delaware River waterfront. Here’s Glen Jamison at the scene.” “As you can see behind me,” Jamison said, “the Winnis Building is engulfed in flames.” The camera panned to the blazing building. “Authorities have not given a statement as to the cause, but there are reports from witnesses that there was an explosion on the top floor.” Owen was awestruck. Huge tongues of flames shot out of every window in the old brick edifice, and
the top floor already looked gutted. Several streams of water from fire hoses poured onto the building to no discernible effect. “Flaming debris from the blast has ignited one of Winnis’s nearby oil tanks too,” the reporter continued. The camera panned over to show the flames reaching ten stories into the air. Then it continued panning, showing a sea of fuel tanks as yet untouched by the fire. “I assume the first order of business is trying to make sure no other tanks catch fire.” Owen grabbed his crutch. Cap will need some help getting this situation under control. Got to get down to the site as quickly as possible. As he went to the door, Lydia Parmont said, “One person close to the mayor’s office has said they suspect this was a terrorist attack—” Cap had reminded him, Winnis was a frequent terrorist target around the globe. Now it’s on our own shores. *** The moment he drove out onto Columbus Boulevard, Owen could see the flames. Greenwich Avenue, the short road leading to the Winnis Building, was blocked by police vehicles with flashing lights. They had set up a perimeter along Columbus Boulevard. Owen jammed the Porsche into a spot at the nearest corner. As he got out, he could feel the explosive heat pounding at the side of his face. Close-up, the burning building did not seem any more real than on TV. He felt as though he were trapped in the worst kind of nightmare, the kind you can’t awake from. People had placed lawn chairs on the street opposite the police barriers and were gazing, awestruck, as if watching the Super Bowl halftime show. The crowd grew thicker as he approached the burning building. Press crews stood nearby. The gusts of hot wind grew stronger. Through the smoke, he could make out the outlines of the one car in the Winnis parking lot. His stomach dropped. He hoped it wasn’t Cap’s Jag, but it was too badly burned to tell the make. The crowd standing along the yellow tape parted to allow him to pass. Amazing what a crutch and a scary look on your face can accomplish, he thought. Behind the burning building, at the oil-tank fire, three red and white trucks marked “Chemical Control Unit” pumped foam onto the surrounding tanks. Owen limped up to a patrolman standing next to a yellow police barricade, directing emergency
vehicles. In an officious voice, the policeman said, “Not letting anyone through, sir.” Owen showed him his driver’s license. The patrolman conferred with someone over his walkie-talkie, then stepped aside. He pointed toward what looked like a large RV parked about thirty yards away. “Go to the incident command center over there.” Owen passed several firefighters in uniform rushing out of the command vehicle. With some difficulty, he pulled himself up the stairs. It was crammed with at least a dozen men, some in uniforms and others in street clothes, surrounded by walls of monitors and equipment with flashing lights. He looked around intently for a glimpse of his brother. He recognized Police Commissioner Richard James, wearing a headset and standing in front of a monitor. Next to him was a Fire Department officer and several police officers. “Hello, Owen,” Commissioner James said loudly over the general din. “Very sorry for you and the Winnis family.” Owen blinked and nodded. “Will Cap be coming?” Owen looked around. “He’s not here?” “Haven’t seen him.” A man vaguely recognizable as the fire commissioner shuffled over to them. The name Derek Evans came to mind. “We have to make a preliminary statement to the press,” Evans said to James. “All we can say is that there are no known fatalities as yet,” James said. “And we know it was a bomb. The arson team confirmed a C-4 device placed at the company’s vault.” “Shouldn’t we state the obvious?” Evans asked. “That it’s too soon to tell anything?” There was a sarcastic edge to James’s answer. “That it’s terrorism.” It sounded like a statement of fact. “What, are you crazy? That could be inflammatory. Could be a burglary. And nobody has claimed responsibility.” “We could definitely say that it looks like a terrorist bombing—C-4 and all. That much is true.” “Let’s say it could be a terrorist attack, among other possible causes.” Evans shrugged. “OK.” A fireman with a sergeant’s hat rushed into the command center, his face covered with dark soot. He came over to Commissioner Evans. “They found a body.”
“Where?” “Top floor. About twenty yards away from the blast site. Partially dismembered by the blast.” Evans turned to Owen. “Was there a night watchman or security guard on the premises?” “I don’t know. Cap would know.” “Think you could reach him?” Owen autodialed Cap’s cell number. It went right to voice mail. Cap always left his cell phone on, even in the middle of the night. Owen again got the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He left a message anyway: “Cap, give me a call as soon as you get this.” Another fireman came into the command center and spoke quietly to the two commissioners. He turned and approached Owen. Owen knew what he was about to hear.
Bruce Makous grew up in the Philadelphia area and studied English and Creative Writing at Oberlin College, where he was appointed student teacher and co-editor of a literary journal. An aspiring playwright, he went on to serve as producer at theatre institutions in New York and Detroit, and created many award-winning productions, including Back in the World (American Theatre Critics Association, Best New Play Outside of New York City, 1987) and The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas (1988-89 Best in Theatre). His first novel, Riding the Brand, was released in September of 2004 (Hilliard & Harris, Inc.) and was covered in The Wall Street Journal (9/10/2004) for its controversial illustration of how the high-tech venture capital industry was operated like organized crime. The Charlotte Observer said Riding the Brand "provides that needed hook." Richard Burgin, editor of Boulevard, the award-winning literary journal, said, "In Riding the Brand, his debut novel, Bruce Makous shows his masterful skill in bringing to life lovable but sinister characters in a fiercely competitive high-tech world." He toured the United States with Riding the Brand and since its release has spoken at Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, Deadly Ink and other conferences over several years as both a panelist and a moderator. His second novel, Virtually Dead, was released by Hilliard & Harris in 2006. Bruce has active member status with Mystery Writers of America, and is a consulting editor with Boulevard. He is an accomplished journalist and coauthored the popular medical book, Time to Care: Personal Medicine in the Age of Technology. He also serves as a professional fundraiser for various charities, including the ACLU, and lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters. Please visit Bruce at www.brucemakous.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wendy Ashlee Coleman Decide 6 de•i•cide (ˈdi əˌsaɪd) n. 1. a person who kills a god. 2. the act of killing a god.
Tonight as you cast down your hand I will lay scorch to your precious heavens and the people will look on in awe and smile as you tumble. Your delight for carnage will die with your word and I will strip from you the power to judge what shouldn’t be and it will only be then that you will remember my name. Dear heavenly father, tonight I pray that when you fall… you fall all the way.
A young father gently sponges a child’s back in a soapy grey tub, the purity of his blonde hair still imminent even darkened from the soak. The father looks on, his face stoned with a love that suddenly poisons him numb and freezes his gaze. “Dada!” the child says proudly smashing two bath toys together squeezing their sog out and onto his pant leg. The warm water deludes the toxic that stupors him and he smiles at his boy while gently moving to the side his heavy, water logged bangs away from his big brown eyes. “I love you so much,” he says to the unresponsive three year old that smiles at him clueless as to love’s density and goes back to his colorful toys. The young father reaches in to kiss him, soaking his white shirt transparent. “You love daddy?” The father says with a smile trying to wedge his face between the child’s focus and his toys but the boy has grown tired of his father’s obsession. “Hey…. You love daddy?” the father says again as the kid resists while flashing an ornery smile. “Say it!” The father says torturing him under the water with a thigh tickle. The kid shrieks with laughter but doesn’t give in. “Say it!” The father continues until the child’s stubbornness depletes from the bracing exhaustion.
“I love dada!” he says like a chore but with a genuine smile. The father laughs and kisses his soggy head. *** An old grey haired man slowly sits up from a bed and hunches over with his forearms resting on his thighs. He sighs from the rise of another day and looks out at the open bedroom window that is absent of its usual early morning glow. He gets up close to the wood framed bay and watches as the heavy winds lightly spit the outside of the window with moisture. Fully clothed in a strange forthcoming style, the old man walks out on his balcony and watches the last of a valiant morning shine illuminate the dark overcast of a glowing grey. In the horizon, the piercing sunlight stabs the grimy sky through, touching the land with a few shimmering rays of hope, but are only short lived as the agitated gale seeks out the bright foothold and fills the hole, darkening the land once more. The old man, while sipping coffee and leaning up against a post, looks on with the calm and peace of a soldier, a tenacious spirit resting before battle. He stares at the wind chimes in chaos, clinking together like anger possessed steel, whose tingeing sounds gather in the air and stack onto each other creating an almost constant ring behind the colliding beat of the hollow metals slamming each other, as the angry breeze molests the mans morning comb over. With your taunts I just grow calmer so continue to taint me with this bullying breeze that stinks of doom and rejoice in your cowardice. Hide behind your darkened blanket… and be thankful I can’t see you. *** The young father lies on the littered hardwood flooring, his body broken from the gustily throw as his dark blonde hair sponges up a bloody gash keeping the wound from bleeding in his face. The inside of the house is now outside as the open roof dwelling shines bright doom and debris and the winds rage so hard they pin him down and sling papers and books at a damaging speed. He flexes hard, lifting his head up to see his child lying in the bathtub, older but only by one first missing tooth. “Dada!!!!” he screams. The father flexes with all his heart to try to get up but is thrown back down. The child screams in terror. “CLOSE YOUR EYES!!!!” the young man yells. The child continues his cries as his father’s words are lost in the wind. “CLOSE YOUR EYES!!!!!” the father repeats with all his firmness making a prayer shape with his hands.
The child shakes his head while clinging onto to his teddy. The father gets up to his feet and holds onto a still standing house frame. “CLOSE YOUR EYES!!!” he repeats, demanding his son to borrow his fealty. The child looks at his daddy one more time with trust and finally does what he says burying his little face in prayer hands. His father smiles and begins to fight the winds and get up to him. Then a deafening explosion of a transformer drops the father to his knees making him grab his ears from the percussion. He then grasps hold of his eye and yells in pain from a piece of shrapnel that makes it bleed out through the pits of his fingers instantly. He stares with blurry single vision at his kid in the tub trembling but still not looking and locked in a faith’s flex. Without warning, a small red car hurtles through the air as if it was weightless and smashes into the bathtub before a gust of wind picks up the father and slings him into a still erect bricked fire mantle. *** An old white haired man awakes in a sweat, surrounded by holographic weather pattern images that float atop a glowing table. He wipes the sweat and looks out the window at a sixty -mile an hour spring green blur view and immediately senses the change in direction. “I said head north,” he says, standing up and pouring some strong coffee with one hand and rubbing his eyes with the other. “Major rotation two miles due south,” the tall gangly young man says while manipulating the holograms floating all around him with artistic flare, expanding, reducing and creating colorful images that bring the storm onto the table in a digital light that looks more real than real. The old man looks at him sternly, “There’s major rotation north.” “That’s not the one,” the tech says a bit nervously. “Not the one,” the old man repeats with a scoffing glare. “Nothing out there ta chew on cept’ cattle,” the kid says. “And if it turns?” “She’s a no go, professor.” “And if she turns?” the old man repeats “So what if it does? It’s too far out,” he says pulling it up the hologram as they both look. “She’s a big, tough girl, . . .but she’s peaked early. She’s terminal.” The old man says nothing but communicates his message with a doubtful gaze, his pursed irritated lips about to burst open as his tongue rolls aggressively across his teeth, his patented warning.
The tech sighs through a frustrating smile. “She’s been sputtering since she was born, . . .this is the one . . .” the tech says pulling up another small but growing cyclone, “You want your clearance? There’s your clearance.” The old man looks and gets closer. He looks at the tech and then looks back at the table. He slowly wraps his hand around the holographic tornado image and pretends to squeeze it, smudging the colors, “She looks healthy.” “She’s double tough,” the tech says confident of his decision. He takes his glasses off and rubs the stress from his eyes, “Meaks…we got one shot, . . . .We got one shot to show the . . .” “This is it,” Meaks says, interrupting his doubt. The old man looks at him hard and clenches his jaw in thought. *** The gang of Jeeps, trucks and motor homes display sci-fi curves as their polished paint shimmers against every bright flicker of a sky that does nothing except growl a dooming anticipation, while the vehicles well kept clear coats begin to bead the solitary rain drops that seem to fall from the sky uncoupled and alone. They ride in a tight group, heading hastily down a vacant highway right towards the black clouds ahead. They keep going until they leave the road behind and continue off road and down the fielded pasture. They all surround the holographic image of the rotation that has expanded over the projection table. “One mile across and growing,” Meaks says while decreasing the size of the image and including the makings of a small suburb that seems to be in its path. “Refresh me,” the old man says, popping his knuckles and lacing his boots. “She’s on a kill path, . . .Nothing but warm flats and all the two bed one baths she can eat,” Meak’s says with a serious tone. “We got an EF4 here, guys,” a female computer tech yells from the back. The professor breathes nervously while putting on his jacket and equipment. “It’s projected to reach the Metropolitan Edmond area in twelve minutes,” Meak’s announces over the speaker of the ten or so computer techs. The professor looks at him and then looks back shaking his head slowly and with confidence. “I don’t think so, . . .make sure the bosses are getting this data,” he says to Meak’s who is already calling it in. “He’s gonna give us the go, . . .isn’t he, . . .” Meaks asks with an anticipating smile. “Just stay on her…” the old professor says patting the young tech on the back and walking outside.
*** The trucks pull up to a flat field as the men all exit their vehicles eager to confront their enemy. The massive cyclone almost blackens the entire horizon as the old man looks at the deadly funnel not with fear but with a hatred of a demon, letting his nostrils flare out and taking in the gust of wind, savoring the smell of his adversary. “The monsters!” the young child cries pointing at the closet. “Monsters?” the young father says pointing at the closet. “Get em…get em!” “Over here…in here?” the father says clenching his fist making the kid giggle. The father shakes the clothes and creates an epic mock battle in the closet. “You . . . leave. . . .my. . . . boy. . . .alone!” he yells timing the words with his punches making the child clap in satisfaction. “Ok, . . . all dead,” he says walking back up to the child’s bed. “No, . . . .eat em!” The father sighs. “Oh yeah, . . . forgot,” he says going back to the closet and pretending to eat the imaginary monster corpses. “Mmm,” he says. “Monsters tasty?” the kid asks. The father laughs. “Give me some!” “You want some monster?” the young father says walking over and giving him a piece of nothing that he pretends to munch. “Mmm . . . .” “Tasty?” the father asks. “Tasty,” the kid confirms. “Next time you can just pray that the monsters go away. See? Look, ” he says closing his eyes, “Dear God, please eat the monsters.” “I want Dada do it.” “Yeah, but It’s faster if you do it this way. Just close your eyes and . . .” The kid interrupts him by sticking his tongue out and blowing and the father retaliates with an entourage of tickles that the kid tries to fend off with little hands. “You like it when dada does it?”
The kid nods. “Well, . . . . we’ll only do it that way if there’s a monster daddy can’t handle,” the father says adjusting his son’s pillow, “lucky for you, there’s not many monsters dada can’t handle,” he says tucking in his boy’s sheets. “Watch Dada! Dada Gonna get em!” the child says grappling with the air. “Yeah.” “You gonna eat green noodles, . . .and then you go ARRR!!” as the child punches his imagination. “Mm hm, . . .Green beans make daddy strong,” the father says displaying to the boy his biceps. “Get back monsters! Stop hurting people monsters!” The father leans in and kisses him, “Hey, . .” he says. “Go back in the water monsters!” the kid, continues with his attack. “Hey, . . .” The father repeats finally getting the kids attentions with his eyes, “Go to bed.” “Dada stay here!” “Dada will always be here.” “Sleep here?” “Dada sleeps in his own bed.” “One, . . .one time,” the kid says extending for a hug. “You got two minutes,” he says snuggling with his boy who wraps his father like a teddy. The father starts to snore real hard on purpose tickling his side and the kid shrieks in laughter and looks at his father as if he were god. *** “Sir!” a young, big college kid yells, the front of his crimson ball cap reading: UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA METEOROLOGICAL SCIENCES as the top is covered under his raincoat while he grasps on with both hands trying to keep the hoodie covering him from the stout, bullying winds. The professor continues to look on, trapped in a determined stare at the massive cyclone, forty or so safe miles out but still intimidating. The rains begin to cut sideways and spray right in his eyes and drip off the reflective safety goggles that drape around his throat like a necklace. “Sir!” he repeats louder, attempting again to get the professors attention to no avail. “Sir!!” “What!!!” the old man says annoyed. “Sir, . . .You got it, . . . Sir, you got your green light!! Bird’s just left Tinker!” he says shouting real close to his ear.
“Huh?” the professor says, looking at him with a disbelief in the arrival of a moment that he’s waited for so long. “Come on, . . .got front row seats to history,” the guy says, still yelling every word as he pats the old man on the back and begins to head in. “Ok,” the professor says quietly while staring back at the tornado. “Come on, doc, . . .” “That’s good news, . . .” the professor says with a fixated stare as his dialog begins to ramble in the strange. “Come on teach, Let’s go snag some dry.” the big kid says waving him towards the jeep. “I’m gonna get a closer look,” he says walking forward towards the massive spring green field of long grass that goes on and on for what seems like forever, meeting the sinister looking horizon ahead as it sways and flows against the cyclonic chaos almost like a green ocean. “We’re good!” he yells at the kid. “Were what?” the big kid shrugs. “We’re good, . . .we’re all good, . . .” he keeps repeating with his eyes fixed on his target. “ETA’s 1 minute, John!!!” The kid says extending his arms clueless to what the professor means. He keeps walking forward now a little faster. “Hey?. . Hey!!!” he hollers seeing the old man’s deaf zombie walk towards the storm, Ignoring the big kid, he continues to look up at the torrent sky with a smile as his walk turns to a light jog. He slowly strokes his son’s hair as he sleeps on his chest. The professor’s communication device begins to activate on as Meaks voice comes through with static. “Hey, Doc, . . .We’re all set,” Meaks says talking freely but communicating through a small blinking ear piece. “We’re good!” the professor says, mouth breathing heavily. “Yeah, . . . yeah, we’re all good here, . . .Hey, . . . where you goin?” Meak’s says with a confused smile back inside the mobile base headquarters that rocks back and forth against the winds like a boat floating in the rough. “Just, . . . keep, . . . just keep the line clear,” he says breathing with old, lab rat lungs, his eyes beginning to glass up. He laughs a little, “Yeah, . . .ok, . . .what’ya doin?” Meaks asks.
“Just, . . .keep, . . .keep em open, ” he says choppy and out of breathe as he brings up his shaking fist and bites it. Meaks gets confused look on his face. “What?” he says with raised brows as everyone in the tech station looks onto to the young tech with questioning eyes. “ Just Keep em’ open, ….Keep em …. . keep em open!” he says his words struggling even more having to wrestle through the beginnings of a trembling voice. “Hey John? Hey man, . . . why don’t we um, . . . .why don’t we start you headin back?” Meaks says his smile now gone. “He wants, . . .he wants me, . . .I have to do it…. I have to do it …I have to do…!” he says now beginning to cry like a child and wheezing, his speech incoherent as he searches the skies all around him with his eyes. Meak’s looks around at the staring and concerned staff. He nods his head along with the whole team as they all give him a moment of silence and listen to the tormenting song of a father’s agony as it comes through the speakers and fills the base. “John?” Meaks says calmly. “I have to do it…I have to…” he says now crying with a draining pain that sends shivers. Meaks then quickly mutes the audio feed to the room giving only him communication. “Go get em’, pops,” he says quietly while terminating the line and nodding at two college kids dressed in Oklahoma crimson to go retrieve the professor. The professor takes the earpiece communication device out of his ear and rips off the goggles as his jog now turns into a full sprint, wheezing and crying the entire way. He looks down at the well- dressed body of his son placed nicely in the shiny opened oak casket. He looks down on him with a look of hurt that sickens. Reaching maximum capacity his sprint slows as he cries with the deep moaning mourn of a terminal suffer. The minister looks up from the floor with his nose smashed and bloody as two large men flex with all their might as the young professor screams with a snarl of a demon’s worst nightmare, kicking and lunging and punching at anything holy. The professor mumbles his words whistling and riding his wheezing out as he falls to his knees from pure exhaustion.
He looks up as his nemesis, the almighty enemy and his machine of destruction and for a moment is caught in awe of it’s massive presence and trembles a bit, his hate not immuning him completely from the fear. His eyes flood as he bows his head in a moment of perceived helplessness. But as his palms lie on the ground they begin to feel an intense vibration, like a quake that becomes rattling. He takes some gulps and looks back up at his enemy, this time not with awe but with a hatred that could split atoms. “Open your eyes,” he says like a whisper, like a prayer. Suddenly a sounds of a sonic boom deafens his ears allowing him only the pleasure to know one has it made it, . .but that’s all he needs to hear as a car sized aerial pod jets past him and right towards the great tornado, blasting right in the heart of it with the fearless charge of the secular steel that reads: NDDT-DEICIDE 6 on its side. He holds the revengeful rage as the aerial pod is followed up by another, and then another, before entire grouping of ten, fifteen and twenty begin to fill the skies as a swarm of his genius invades the black funnel and he watches as the robotic mechanisms change form, ejecting wings that immediately allow it to be picked up in the rotation, giving off nothing more than a bright red blinker as it rides the winds. The tornado continues to suck up the poisonous shrapnel as the cyclone swirls like a Christmas tree, displaying its cancer. The professor watches as the blinkers begin pulsating quickly and then suddenly explode in a flash of light. The professor looks on with naked eyes and lets the bright light rupture his sight red ignoring the temptation to blink and choosing instead to savor every second of his delivered wrath, one that heals, and he watches his dehydrated enemy, now nothing more than a funnel shaped cloud become stripped of its deadly fertility. All the people in the control room hug and clap and celebrate as the powerless twister begins to rain down its deadly carry of shrapnel along the horizon, while the heavy chemical enriched clouds literally begin to melt and fall from the sky. The professor looks down and closes his eyes letting the bloody tear leave his damaged sight and roll down his cheeks. He stands up slowly, the humble victor, as in the distance, several students rush to his aid.
Wendy Ashlee Coleman is a published author in both fiction and non fiction. Her work has appeared in the Evergreen Review, Houston Literary, 3 AM Magazine, Foundling Review, The Fringe, Full Of Crow, Used Furniture Review, and many more. She lives in the Midwest .
Gretchen Eberhart Cherington Breath, Body, and Belief An Essay
I touch my toe to the cool, blue yoga mat, and consider this transition between thought and action. It is like touching my toe to the cold water in Maine, and after plunging in, knowing I am home. Here on my mat, poised between life and practice, the trappings of my work recede-laptops, file folders, printers all fade to immaterial as I stand on two feet, in mountain. Mountain, this simplest of poses that demands so much. Feet clutching earth. Crown of head reaching for sky. I invite my skeleton to straightness, present, breathing. Shouldn’t this be enough? Warm air graces this hot morning. I fill my lungs for breathing, like the junco outside fills his, for song. I stand on this island in the midst of my life, and hear the coffee grinder downstairs. The road crew is grinding away, filling one more washed-out road. I hear the swoosh of an incoming email on my iPad. It’s hard to believe I’ve spent nearly forty years on a yoga mat. In the first trimester of my first pregnancy, I gathered with a small group of women like me, in a hand built cabin in the woods, where I explored the boundary between my body and the other inside me, fledging as mom. My mat, back then, was a cotton blanket rolled out on an unfinished wood floor. Two decades later, I was taking a proper purple mat onto porch, to beach, through airport lounges, to mountain tops. Now I’ve chosen my favorite, a blue as blue as a starry winter sky in Vermont. It’s hard to believe I can look back in decades, now, as I focus this morning on cobra, warrior, pigeon. There is only room here for breath, body, and belief. I am here to practice, not perfect. But I can’t fully leave behind the shifting weather of our earth or the collision of clashing continents. My mind pulls me back to memory of muscle and bone. I feel the forested mossy wooded trails of New England, the centuries-worn clay beneath the snake charmer in Marrakesh, the base of the reclining Buddha at Temple Wat Pho, Gaudi’s broken tiles in Barcelona. Memory is ticklish, punchy, visceral. I think of myself at sixteen, bedding down in tents with Bedouin families near Luxor, only to watch them rise in the morning, spread out their rugs, and bow down in prayer. I bring with me the cigarette-thin merchant in Paris unfolding his selling mat, covered with jewels, while lovers pass by. Certainly, our post mistress will soon unfurl her flag. My memory stretches and pulls, knocked about on life’s thermals, yet grounded here, in body, on mat, as I fold into child.
Once, at Kripalu, I sat with my daughter and sixty other adults, with a teacher whose gift was to make me think I was the only one there. For three days we stretched and pulled not knowing where we might go. On Sunday, I wrapped my leg over my shoulder, stunned that breath and belief could bring body that far. Look at this, I smiled at my daughter. If the space in my hip could open like that, could I find such space in my heart? My mind still races, but I’ve trained my limbs to go where I tell them, muscles called upon as others call gods, to carry me down roads, up mountains, across water, or right here to my mat, as I move into eagle. I breathe in this hot, sultry, summer air. Decades. How many more will I have?
Gretchen Eberhart Cherington grew up around the most celebrated writers of the twentieth century who visited her parents’ living rooms to see and be seen, to trade literary gossip and publishing tips, and to partake of her father’s liquor closet. Gretchen spent her childhood watching and listening. After thirty years consulting to companies throughout the U.S., in Europe and Asia, Gretchen turns her attention, now, to writing. She is peddling a full length memoir about her father, the poet Richard Eberhart, is at work on a novel, and is pondering a book on her view of executives in the corner suite. Gretchen’s essays have been published in Yankee, Stonefence Review, Women’s Concerns (Toronto), Valley News and Bloodroot Literary Magazine, from which "Maine Roustabout" was nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize. Her father once told her, "a writer’s only job is to tell the truth." Gretchen credits The Writer’s Center, White River Jct., VT, for encouraging, critiquing and prodding her to tell hers and its Flash group for inspiring this piece.
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