A p r i l 2010
Letter from the Editor:
A Sincerely, Brad Nelson Chief Editor, Eclectic Flash email@example.com
e clectic flash ( ISS N: 2150-25 2 8 ) i s p u b l i s h e d t h r e e t i m e s p e r y e a r b y E clectic flash P ublishi ng . Th i s p u b l i c at i on m ay n o t b e r e p roduced in whole or in pa r t w i t h o u t e x p r e s s w r i t t en c on s e n t f rom the publisher or the ind i v i d u a l a u t h o r s o f t h e w o r k s c on ta ined within this issue, e x c e p t i ng b r i e f q u o tat i on s f o r u s e i n critical articles a nd r e v i e w s . A l l r i g h t s r e s e rv e d . C o p yr i ght ÂŠ 2010. V isit us o n the w e b at w w w. e c l e c t i c f l a s h . c o m . C o n ta ct eclectic flash: edi to r @ e c l e c t i c f l a s h . c o m . T h an k y o u .
Table of Contents A Letter to a Real Hot Shot Leading Man by Thomas Mundt. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10 A New Song by Wayne Scheer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11 My 11th Year by Thomas Carroll . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 Childhood and the Other by Lewis J. Kahler . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Dive! by Michelle Dennis Evans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Seasonal Amnesiac Disorder by Annmarie Lockhart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Godiva’s Daughters by Marie Lecrivain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Maybe We Should Have Gone With the Goat by Annmarie Lockhart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Unamuno’s Dog by Ray Sharp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 A Letter to the Fish Guy by Christina Kapp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Living with Cancer by Gordon Darroch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Plastic by Lis Anna . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Recalcitrant Children by James Bloomfield . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Three River Haiku by Robert Graves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
Shoplifter by Karen Schindler . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Small Fry by Mariah Daley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Cemetery by John C. Mannone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Song of the Alley by Michael K. Gause . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 After the Rain by Greta Igl . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Eternal Rhythms by Kim Klugh . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Dallas was in Dallas by Jason Deas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Dance, Mr. Alâ€™Rach by William Wolford . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Poem for a Blind Man by Dom Carter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Dodging Frogs on Blackbird Road by Tara L. Masih . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Heart of the Matter by Tonia Brown . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Riptide by Joe Amaral . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 Lament by Karen Schindler . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 Perspectives on the Grain of Heart Pine by Dan Lear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 Bluff by Karen Campbell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 The Limits of Art by Robert Scotellaro . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
The Sweater by Stevie Strang . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 The Futility of Hope by Michelle Louis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 Goodbye by Leland Thoburn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 Quick and Dirty by T. L. Sherwood . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 The Rise of a Warrior by Theresa C. Newbill . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Branches by Gavin Eyers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 Cyber Poetsâ€™ Society by Sue Pickard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 The Spread of Man by Robert Laughlin. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 Mr. Boogens by Mary Ann Back . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 Three Couples, One Story by Jim Harrington . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Rejection Note by Kim Klugh . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 Repossession by April Schoffstall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Rotting Teeth by Loren A. Moreno . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 To the Judge Who Gave my Sociopathic Daughter a Second Chance by Dan Lear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 Dance of the Moth by Lindy Whiton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 The Guilty Wife by Liz Haigh . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
without me by J. M. Stockard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 The Made-Up Tales of Great-Great-Grandmother by K. S. Riggin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 The Samaritan by Harris Tobias . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 Metamorphosis by John C. Mannone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 The Sweetness of Life by K. S. Riggin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 Barney Butz, I Love You by Michael A. Kechula . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 Untitled at 1247 AM Not Written in Red Crayon by Thomas Carroll . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 Reflections by Alun Williams . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 The Girl from Cienfuegos by Kyle Hemmings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Jim the Baptist by Annmarie Lockhart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 Choices by Matthew Stern . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 The Little Girl by Neila Mezynski . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Plumber Angels by Robert Scotellaro . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Serendipity by Yvette Managan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Quite Nice by Ray Sharp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Forget Wind And Fire by Douglas Campbell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Golden Privileges by A. J. Brown . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Mimique by R. J. Dent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 This One by Len Kuntz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 Last Word by Arthur C. Carey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 Stone and Wind by Carl T. Abt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61 Technically speaking by Karen Schindler . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63 Summer in Winter by Rachel J. Fenton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63 Sunday Morning Brunch by Amanda Kopacz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 The Headache in My Bed by Richard Cody . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 The Human Factor by Robert Friedman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66 The Proving Ground by Mark Wolf . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 With Forethought by Yvette Managan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70 Menial Labor (Again) by Mitchell Waldman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
E c le c t i c Flash
A Letter to a Real Hot Shot Leading Man by Thomas Mundt Dear Sir: I never do this. And by this I mean write to celebrities. I swear! I’m sure every letter you get starts out this way but in this case it happens to be true. So if this guy never writes to celebrities, why is he writing me now? What’s this all about, anyway? I’m sure those are the two thoughts you’re having right now. And those are fair thoughts, fair questions, to have. Very fair. Well, sir, to answer your questions, I’m writing you today because I promised Louise I would. Louise is my wife. We were coming out of the theater and I was going on and on about how great you were in Joe Homeless and how someone should take the time to write you a real nice letter about how good you were because you probably don’t get a ton of real letters anymore, what with the email being so popular. And Louise said, “Well, maybe it should be you that writes the letter. Seeing as how you think it’s so important.” And then it kind of became like a little dare, you know? A test to see if I’d actually go through with it. So, here I am, writing to a Real Hot Shot Leading Man! And now that I have your attention, let me just say that I absolutely loved you in Joe Homeless. You played the role of Scrapyard perfectly. You nailed it. That’s what actors and Hollywood types say when you do a great job playing a character, right? Nailed it? I’m sorry. I’m sure I sound like a complete jerk. I’m an insurance man. I don’t know many movie terms. I’m sure you’re used to people telling you your performance was undeniably magnetic or positively luminous or absolutely phosphorescent or something real pretty and descriptive like that and right now I just sound like a big jerk because all I can come up with is Uh, er, uh, duh, I loved you in your movie! Sorry. Regular fellas like me that are cooped up in cubicles all day cranking out boring stuff
like Remedial Action Plans and Third Quarter Premium Collection Projections don’t exactly get a ton of opportunities to develop our creative sides, you know? Anyway. I don’t mean to complain or take up much of your time. Now, you’re probably thinking, Why did this guy love me in Joe Homeless so much? And to answer that question, I’ll respond with three words. That. Last. Scene. I mean, my goodness! That last scene, when you’re at the shelter and you jump up on that table to get everyone’s attention and you tell Louie and Gingerbread and the rest of the gang that you’re not actually homeless, that you’re an investment banker that just won a show called Joe Homeless where you have to live like a bum for a week and if you make it through the week without quitting or revealing your identity, you win a million dollars? And your character Scrapyard expects those guys to be real upset because you’ve been lying to them the whole time but then Gingerbread starts crying and tells you, “Man, we knew the whole time, you weren’t foolin’ nobody,” and he hugs you because he knows you treated him like a human being from word one? Wow! And then, then you get that huge novelty check from the Joe Homeless producer and you rip it up right in front of him and you tell him how disgusting his show is, how it’s scum like him that’s ruining America, and you tell all your shelter buddies that they’re all getting jobs at your hedge fund and the producer storms off and you scream, “Let’s party!” and a rock ‘n roll song comes on and everyone just dances and laughs? Terrific. Just terrific. I just about jumped out of my seat, I was so excited! It was like I was Gingerbread or one of the other guys. That’s how involved you got me with your superb acting. It was just so powerful the way you gave that old producer the business. Maybe if this country had more Scrapyards and fewer—what’s his name, that Madoff?—fewer Madoffs. If we had more Scrapyards and
fewer Madoffs, maybe America wouldn’t be in such dire straits these days. I know Scrapyard isn’t a real person and you’re just an actor playing him, but still. That’s why they make the movies, right? To lift us up out of our seats and bring us to a better place? Well, you did that. Mission accomplished. Well, I suppose I best get cleaned up for bed. Louise, if you’re looking over my shoulder, let me just say: See? I told you so! And to you, Mr. Hot Shot Leading Man, I say keep up the good work. I hope you’ll nail it again real soon! Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. Sincerely, Gregory L. Carmichael Shorewood, IL A New Song by Wayne Scheer Willie Jackson mumbled to himself as he searched his guitar for the right notes. The words still came to him. He found it easy to rhyme and come up with a story. But making music had gotten hard since the arthritis kept his fingers from working right. They called him Fast Fingers back when he was young and his guitar squealed and sang like a schoolgirl on her first date. Now she barely whimpered. He always referred to his guitar as “she” because she was the only woman who understood he needed music more than love. Now he was an old man living in a rundown hotel room paying his rent by the week. The cracks on the plaster walls looked like intricate spider webs. The faded furniture had come with the room. He didn’t own anything but his guitar, an old television that hardly worked, and his radio.
When his eyesight started failing, he gave up watching television. Nothing worth seeing, anyhow. The little radio he had bought at the Goodwill sat on the small table that doubled as a desk. He listened to it in the morning and again at night, keeping it tuned to 90.7, WWOZ, the only station in New Orleans that still played old-time jazz. Willie forced himself out of bed every morning to make up new songs. He ate dry cereal or day old beignets washed down with water or wine left from the night before. He listened to music until an idea for a tune made him jump out of his chair. Other times, he’d just pick out a melody he liked and play with it until it became his own. Then he’d make up words to fit his mood. By noon, he’d pack a bag of boiled peanuts and his guitar, and march down to Bourbon Street to play for whatever money folks tossed into his beat-up guitar case. He’d usually make enough to buy something for dinner, maybe an oyster po’boy or a muffaletta, and a bottle of wine. Whatever money was left, he’d put aside for the rent. Every now and then, he’d think back to when he was Fast Fingers Jackson, and the money flowed as easy as the music. He had even recorded an album and gotten to hear it played on the radio. Those were good times. But good times, like yesterdays, fade away. The radio didn’t play his music anymore and his fingers struggled to keep up with the tunes in his head. But nothing’s gained crying the woulda-couldas, Willie thought. “Oo-ee,” he shouted, jumping off his chair. He began picking at his guitar as best he could. “I got me a idea for a new song.”
My 11th Year by Thomas Carroll
Childhood and the Other by Lewis J. Kahler
In my 11th year, as 5th grade beckoned with promises of science class Dissecting frogs! and the lure of girls, freshly minted, I could still say I love you to my father
I sit alone and stare at the photograph. I don’t know the people in it, or where the picture came from, but it is still pleasing to me. It soothes. The yellowed edges remind of childhood, like I’m looking back at myself. The boy on the steps wears an old Davy Crockett hat. I never had one, but that is what childhood looks like. The TV tells me this. Childhood is a boy, in a Davy Crockett hat, wearing a striped shirt.
Before the ache of being smart Had settled in my shoulders, my spine a perpetual question mark begging answers. He would throw curveball after curveball, the seams morphing into tiny red dots as I fell backwards, flailing from a ball that was no danger. “Back foot!” he’d mutter, my brain spinning it into a curse of inadequacy. “You swing like a girl.” His arms around me, head on my shoulder, whispering, but the world could see his words written in red on my cheeks. Sometimes he would drive me to school in his enormous air conditioned bus; his uniform tie as uncomfortable as stiletto heels would have been. “Behave for your teachers,” he would whisper before the pneumatic doors belched open to spit me out. My pride slowly eroding before friends with lawyer fathers watching him drive off, the smell of diesel and dirt. Sometime in my 11th year, I forgot how to say I love you to my father, Though he threw curveball after curveball at my head till I didn’t swing like a girl. Why didn’t he whisper in my ear then? My bat said I love you in whistling line drives, spine straightened to an exclamation point, the gravity of expectations lessened with each swing.
What really catches my thoughts is the man in the background. He is dressed in black and peering around the corner of the house. It looks like he might have a cigarette in his hand. He should. That is childhood. All adults smoked in childhood. His look isn’t evil; you can’t even make out his eyes. But his shirt, black like his pants, is buttoned all the way up. It is wrong. In childhood, men wore ties or open collars. Women wore skirts. He shouldn’t be there. I fantasize about what happens next. I think the boy will go and play cowboys and Indians. That is what I would do; that’s what childhood is. Childhood is a game of imagination. It is always peaceful and playful. I don’t think the man in black wants him to play though. I think he wants the boy to go away with him, but the man in black doesn’t belong, so what he wants is irrelevant. He is not a part of childhood. The TV tells me this. In childhood, children are safe. I imagine the boy playing outside all day, and the summer day lasts forever. Summer days last forever in childhood. That is what childhood is, one long, endless summer day. He eats ice cream and watermelon. The juice from the fruit drips down his chin. It is sticky and refreshing. The fruit is always sweet in childhood. Innocence makes it that way.
I stare at the picture for hours, hoping the boy will get away, but he never moves. He is trapped in this memory. I know I can’t help him. He is just sitting there, smiling, totally unaware that he is being watched by two men, but that is what childhood is; innocent oblivion. Yet two men are watching him; one man is in the picture, and the other is in the future. Dive! by Michelle Dennis Evans Take one deep breath. I can’t put it off; I have to go now. Take another breath. Relax. Shake loose the muscles. Now, this is it. Breathe in, in, in, and hold it. Go! Deeply shooting like an arrow. Water gushing past my ears. Pressure building. Murky, transparent water becomes opaque and darkness surrounds. Kicking furiously, determined to reach the bottom, aware of small fish in my peripheral, I push the thought of sharks from my mind. How could this have happened? How did it fall into the water? It slipped out of my hands, and I tried to grab it. I got my fingers to it, but it slipped again and splash. It’s dark, so dark. Pressure pounding on my ears. My brain starting to go fuzzy. Still kicking, spiraling slowly, nearing the bottom, looking constantly. All my breath exhaled. Nothing left, must find it, can’t give up now. Searching quickly with head pulsating, searching with eyes darting. Hands on the sand, trying not to fluff it up. Gently touching all, everywhere patting, softly thinking this must be what it’s like to be vision impaired. Nothing left, no energy, not knowing how I’ll reach the top, about to give up. What’s that? It’s not sand. It’s smooth. I reach for it again. I link my finger into it. I see it spar-
kle with the fine slither of light that makes its way through the depths of the ocean. I find energy from nowhere and push off from the bottom. Sand sprays with my legs kicking and arms flapping. Pressure releases. It’s lighter now. Counting down: five, four, three, two, one and—breathe. I made it. “Yes,” I pant for breath. Again I say to my love, “Yes, I will marry you.” We embrace, knowing that nothing will ever be lost now that we have found. Seasonal Amnesiac Disorder by Annmarie Lockhart Daffodil, yellow with sunset center, hyacinth, purple with blue-tinged edges, snowdrop, pearly with rain-dropped leaves, cherry blossoms drop cotton candy on the lawn. Eyes rimmed red and itchy dry, histamine storm springs mucus rivers, blotches and splotches and hives, oh my! voice like a cactus all burrs and prickles. But always comes the first week in July, when cicadas emerge and hum SUMMER. Eyes, nose, skin suddenly clear Claritin and Zyrtec pass forgotten into next year. Godiva’s Daughters by Marie Lecrivain Yesterday, a former pimp/Rhodes scholar tipped his Panama hat to me while we waited in the late summer heat for the light to change at the corner of Wilshire and LaBrea. Taking a long look at my waist-length braids, he turned to me and inquired, “Pardon me. Was your grandmother Lady Godiva?”
I blushed. “Well... no... my grandmother’s name was Donna...” I started to explain, and then, as the light turned green, I raced across the intersection. His deep, amused chuckle followed me as I walked east on Wilshire Blvd. In my mind’s eye, I invoke the image of my grandmother. I see her standing, like she did so many mornings, either in her pink-tiled bathroom or in front of her bedroom vanity mirror, wrapping her long silver hair into a sensible bun. And, now, I wonder was there ever a morning where my grandmother stood trembling with excitement in front of that mirror, slowly removing her loafers and then that ubiquitous flowered tunic and dark pants that stopped at the ankle? Did she, with a measure of gravity, unwind the matronly bun to let her long fall of silver hair tumble down her back? Did she watch her expressions in the mirror change, and then reminiscence at the changes Time had stamped upon her body: stretch marks, fat folds, a succession of deep wrinkled V’s between the space of her sagging breasts. Did she look past all these badges and scars to admire the lovely contrast of pale skin against her silver mantle of hair? In the privacy of her imagination, did she mount a white palfrey, clad only in her confidence and nowdark tresses, and ride the cobbled streets of Coventry between the rows of respectful, adoring citizens, who, in love with her bravery, kept their eyes lowered to the ground? I’ll never know. I like to ruminate on such things. My hair is contained in braids. Their length hints at the storehouse of sensuality I possess, and their woven boundary is intended to keep those I don’t trust at bay. It doesn’t always work, as in the case of Mr. p/R, who, in retrospect, was right to call me on my hesitancy.
Someday, I would like to assume the title of a Godiva’s daughter, but until Wilshire Blvd. becomes equestrian friendly, I will ride a magnificent black stallion in my deepest dreams through the streets of some unknown medieval town, accepting accolades and roses from crowds of unabashed admirers while my hair blows back like a standard in the morning breeze. Maybe We Should Have Gone With the Goat by Annmarie Lockhart Paul and I were scanning the cage-lined walls of the Jersey City animal shelter, stepping around goats, chickens, and dogs, looking for something to bring home. I saw her first and elbowed Paul. “Look!” He walked forward and reached through the cage. She sat perfectly still, eyes focused straight ahead, serene in a room full of chaos. The others howled, barked, bleated, and crowed, but she took no notice. “Hey, beauty,” Paul cooed. She turned toward him and fairly stroked him with her gorgeous eyes, one green, one amber. I could hear her purring and I could see Paul melting, and I couldn’t blame him. This had to be our cat. She looked at me and smiled, a sweet version of the Cheshire cat. Then she lifted her head, glanced around the room, and looked back at Paul. “I’m not sure what you’re looking for. You might want one of them. You don’t look like goat people to me, but what do I know?” Paul couldn’t contain himself. “Angie, listen to her. Can you hear what she’s saying?” Of course I could hear what she was saying; she was speaking softly but clearly, only to us. I couldn’t resist her either.
“Paul, I don’t want a goat.”
pecks for word seeds.
“No shit. Neither do I.”
Another poem leads me astray like Unamuno’s dog.
She turned her attention to me and purred, “Angie, is it? You might want one of those mangy dogs.” She nodded toward a lazy, bony mutt. “You might want one of—them.” She fairly dripped venom as she cut her eyes in the direction of the litter of mewling kittens in the cage to her right. She raised her head high and breathed, “Or, you could have me. It’s your call, Paul.” Three hours later, the newly dubbed Cosette, all white, black, and ginger, was on my bed snuggled up with Paul. “Angie!” Paul called. “Can we get that popcorn tonight or what?” “Here’s your popcorn, hot, buttered, and salted, m’lord,” I said, sweeping an obnoxious curtsy. Paul waved me away impatiently. “Ange, come on! We’re trying to watch the game over here!” As I turned to stalk out of the room, Cosette purred, “Poor Paul. Good man like that shouldn’t have to put up with such a shrew.” I swear I saw her stick her tongue out at me. Unamuno’s Dog by Ray Sharp Words circle like flies buzzing just out of reach. One poem, like a nuthatch in winter at the suet feeder,
I follow her swishing tail, watch her snap at flies, teeth clacking the air. The nuthatch pecks another seed, flies away. A Letter to the Fish Guy by Christina Kapp Dear MegaMart Fish Guy, As a MegaMart customer, I appreciate your plight. Honestly, it can’t be easy to be stuck in the back corner behind the lobsters and a basket of lemons. I’m sure sometimes you feel like one of your wares behind all that ice—half frozen and glassy eyeballed, one step away from being breaded and stuffed in a clamshell. Honestly, I get it. But here’s the thing: I’m a vegetarian. Well, almost a vegetarian. I only eat fish because I need the protein and I am not a huge fan of legumes. So it’s difficult when I come to you for a nice salmon filet or a few scallops and you are not there. Your corner is empty and lonely, with just the choking glub of the lobster tank. I have to come looking for you, treading down the long back aisle past the chicken and the turkey and the pork and the beef. Finally, there you are, laughing with the guy who works with the mammalian flesh. Of course everyone loves him, the meat guy. The housewives and football fathers all strain for attention, begging for just that specific cut, looking to smack something hefty onto steel and fire with a re-
sounding thwap, flames shooting up in a fiery hug, the combination of heat and fat sizzling like the start of an old Rolling Stones record. So I have to yell, “Excuse me!” over an obvious Jets fan to be heard and still you don’t respond. Again, I repeat, “Excuse me! I need help at the fish counter!” raising the ire of a woman ahead of me. “There’s a line,” she says, to which I explain, as patiently as I can, “Yes, but I don’t want the line, I just need help at the fish counter.” Now, why this would incite a person to hostility I can’t quite say, and I will admit that, at this point, I am seriously considering abandoning the MegaMart in favor of the little gourmet market with the lovely prawns, but it’s the point of the thing. I do not want meat; I want fish, yet this woman has turned around to face me and point down the aisle to the empty corner I have just come from like I am some misbehaving child refusing to be sent to bed. “It’s down there,” she says, her teeth barely moving. “Yes, I know,” I say, trying to explain that the fish guy, who I’m sure is loathe to return to his piscine wall like Charlie Brown without a valentine, is not there. He is hamming it up with the meat guy and his fan club. “I don’t want meat. I’m a vegetarian!” I effuse, a bit too loudly perhaps, while considering that I could make a pepper and mushroom risotto instead when I realize that the throng of meat eaters has gone quiet. I have been noticed. They have all turned around to look at me. “Then why are you at the meat counter?” one of them asks. “Well, I’m not. I want fish, but there’s nobody there.” “Do vegetarians eat fish?” “Well, I do.”
“Then are you a really a vegetarian?” I begin to back away, remembering that I have some leftover pasta in the refrigerator when I see you smile at me and shuffle around the case. You tip your head down the aisle to the empty counter where your wares await, and I gratefully follow, relieved that you, at least, do understand, Mr. Fish Guy, and even if you don’t, it doesn’t really matter so I follow you down the aisle, my cart rattling happily, our crowd of two. Respectfully, A MegaShop Customer Living with Cancer by Gordon Darroch The room above my parents’ shop was the great unspoken presence of my childhood. It lurked in the background, like death or adulthood, a black mystery to set against the greyness of small-town life. I can’t remember the first time I asked my father about it, but I must have done at some stage, and I can imagine him answering with the cold, unyielding stare that he practised on the solemn policemen whose regular visits, in their gleaming hats and boots, punctuated my upbringing. My parents were people of modest means who lived a sparsely comfortable existence and preferred not to draw attention to themselves. Owning a grocery store gave them a secure living and a certain prestige in the local community, but their prospects were severely limited and, in practice, they had no more freedom than their pet goat, which was tied to a stake in the centre of the yard, on a chain that choked it if it approached the limits of their land. By the age of eight, I was allowed to help out in the shop after school, learning how to operate the cash tills and treat the customers with
detached, respectful courtesy. I saw how my father did not adhere strictly to this rule: some regulars he greeted with unrestrained joy, often handing over special parcels from behind the counter, while others were met with thinly concealed contempt and pursed lips. On Thursday nights, my father would stay on late into the evening. He told me this was so he could attend to the accounts, but as I got older I began to understand the truth. At twelve, I was allowed to take charge of the shop, and I quickly noticed how the same people always appeared towards closing time on Thursdays, slipping discreetly through the door beside the counter and up the stairs. There was something in common about the way they looked: most of them, men in raincoats and diligently polished shoes, but also a few women, strikingly dressed in knee-length boots and berets. As time went by my father decided it would be a good idea if I minded the shop on these evenings: “Look like you’re taking stock or something. Anything, really, as long as you keep busy. If anyone comes in, greet them loudly and heartily.” There was a silence as he scrutinised my face. He knew what I wanted to ask, but I was wise enough to keep quiet. Yet my curiosity must have been evident, because after a few months he told me, without being prompted: “When you’re 18, I’ll take you upstairs and you can see what goes on there. All you need to know for now is that it’s vital to our livelihood and that absolutely nobody gets to hear about it.” Neither of us ever raised the subject again. Right through my teens, as I learned about girls and pubic hair and Brechtian drama, I burned with anticipation of the first sight of that room whose sounds I knew so intimately: the banging and stomping on the floor, the shouts and raucous laughter, the clinking of hefty beer glasses. But I never got to see it. When I was 16, the police raided, suddenly
and violently, as clinical as a knife through the heart. I watched as they led my father and his dishevelled companions down the stairs and into the waiting van. Then they systematically stripped the room of all its contents until nothing was left but the floorboards and window panes. My father died in prison six years later, an embittered man, just months before the regime fell. He left no will or any written explanation of what went on in the room above the shop. Even my mother claimed to know nothing at first. Then one day, when she was satisfied that the dictator really had been executed and his acolytes neutered, she took me for coffee in one of the new cafés that were springing up all over the city. She told me about the secret meetings above the shop, how my father put his business, his networking skills and his life at the disposal of the resistance movement, and of how they lived with the certainty that, one day, they would be found out and punished. “It was like living with cancer,” she said. “You can either choose to fight or choose to succumb. Your father chose to fight.” Today the shop has been converted into a cafe and the upstairs room is a seating area, alive with the chatter of bright young people in designer clothes who brandish mobile telephones and drink brightly coloured drinks. There is no memorial to my father, either there or anywhere else in the city. I think that’s just how he’d have wanted it. Plastic by Lis Anna Our love was plastic—gas-station, checkout-counter plastic. Glossy. Slippery. Stickon. Scratch-and-sniff. Sometimes stories just start in mid-sentence. Ours did. And it’s hard to catch your breath. We were a box of red hots melting on the dash of a Chevy. Our love had a little dust on it, dangling from the rear-
view mirror, creases in the fold because we took it in and out too much. Hot, cherry-scented breath transported me back to the hallway in Junior High. I giggled, tempted by the fate of sighs and thighs. The tattoo of a thunderbird stretched across his back. Sweet, honey breath tickled my hair. Brightly-painted red nails reflected sunlight. It was Sunday. Respectful people were praying. I was the only unmarried person in the room. Remote control, ice bucket, and little plastic cups became the holy items of our sacrifice. Caught in between the edges of lives that only fit us sometimes, we hurled ourselves head long into the middle of a South Carolina winter. It snowed that year. Piles of powdery snow clung to Palmetto trees. Held captive by weather in a mirrored motel room, rich with the thick scent of Mongolian beef. The paper menu said he was born the year of the snake. I believe that now. So does his wife. We’d burned so hot for so long. Plastic always melts. Recalcitrant Children by James Bloomfield I’m walking one day, through the silence of a burnt city tumbled by genocidal arson. Amidst the charred advertising slogans and blackened McDonald’s structures, there is nothing left that is alive. Bodies in various stages of decomposition litter the streets. A place ransacked by violence. Dawn’s roseate glow smears the horizon with warmth and a playful breeze rouses the powdered remnants into dancing, rising patterns. I investigate a pitiful whimpering sound, expecting that perhaps a child survivor is lost and alone. Pulling aside a battered door that hangs on a single hinge, I peer into a fire-gutted ruins and see the figure. It is not a child, only God, cut beneath one eye and garbed in filthy white robes. He looks up wearily, and I can see that he has been weeping. He doesn’t recognise this place anymore, he tells me. We’ve done terrible things with the gifts he gave us. He shakes his head and
fumbles for the words to convey his pain. His intent was wondrous, although it led to a world of holocaust, racial cleansing, domestic violence, junk food and manipulative religions. I put my jacket around his shoulders and lead him out of the ruins. We walk towards the rising sun, holding hands. Towards nature and away from the ash. Three River Haiku by Robert Graves Daughter floats safely to mother as the river unbraids their dark hair Dark water joins them becomes both becoming both blind, immaculate Grassy banks turn gold and in the daughter’s eyes rivers, potential Shoplifter by Karen Schindler I’m a fraud, a shopper who has no intention of buying anything. I walk around Pier One, looking at beautiful things, knowing that I have no funds to buy them. I finger the pillows, the beautiful wall hangings, the sculpted rugs. I pick it up and look at the $24.99 clearance price tag on a gorgeous vase that I would have bought in a heartbeat in my former life. In my former life, I could buy pretty much whatever I wanted. But even then I was a sensible shopper. No retail therapy for me. If I happened to like two things when I went shopping, I would choose only one. And only if I had a good place for it and it was a sensible thing for me to buy. Oh sure, sometimes I bought something just because it was pretty, but purchases like that were few and far between. Now it’s never. Extras are things like socks without
holes, blueberries for my Cheerios, paying the electric bill on time. Now when I shop, sometimes I take a photo of something I covet with my phone—my phone which these days is an extra all by itself. But the things that I have now, the free things: the quiet in my mind, the quiet in my apartment, the ability to hear my own thoughts and to voice my own feelings? These things are so much better to have and to hold than a beautiful vase. And they’re free. And so am I. Free to shoplift all the beauty my eyes can see in the world around me. And to revel in it. Small Fry by Mariah Daley The last French fry lay curled up, brown and withered, in the bottom of a spoon. No regular spoon, a tarnished silver soupspoon, bigger than my eight-year-old mouth. We had things like this, silver spoons, even though we were poor. We were food-stamps and free-lunch poor. We were hand-me-downs and nothingbut-frozen-French-fries-for-dinner poor. But we were not trailer-park poor. We were not dirt poor. We were smart, had opportunities. We had an antique piano and silver spoons. For us, poor was temporary. My mother was at school, bettering herself, which meant my sister was in charge. She wasn’t old enough to be in charge, and she knew it, so it turned her mean. She’d make me rub her back until my arm was ready to fall off. If I cried, she’d hit me. She couldn’t stand it if I cried, like it hurt her ears, or maybe something else deeper inside her. But she was always doing things to make me cry. Like with the fries. There wasn’t any other food to eat. I would have given anything for a sandwich, the kind my sister would make when she was feeling happy. She would spread a thick layer of butter on the bread, then heap spoonfuls of sug-
ar onto it. Another buttered slice on top, and it was perfect, the way your teeth would slice slick through all the layers until they crunched into the sugar in the middle. I would have been happy with a plain old butter sandwich, even, but there wasn’t any bread. I didn’t really want the fry in the spoon. It was small and ugly, but it was the only one left and I was hungry. My stomach wouldn’t shut up about it, just kept complaining. My sister had eaten all of the good fries, except for the handful she gave to my baby brother. He was pudgy and cute, and had enormous brown eyes. How could I compete with that? So if I wanted to eat, it was the small fry or nothing. She had put the burned fry into the bottom of a spoon, and I had wondered why. Then I saw. I saw the bottle of ketchup sitting on the counter next to the cookie sheet. I saw the gleam in my sister’s eyes. She knew I hated ketchup, wouldn’t even touch the bottle. Sometimes she would shove her ketchup-coated hot dog in my face until the smell made me almost throw up. She would mimic my gagging, and laugh. She picked up the bottle and unscrewed the cap, sticky reddish-brown on the inside, and held the bottle upside down over the little fry in the big spoon. I had never learned the trick of coaxing the ketchup out of the glass bottle, but my sister was an expert. She seemed to have magical powers, the ability to make things happen with a squint of the eye and sheer force of will. She gave the bottle one good whack on the bottom, and the ketchup poured out, filling the spoon and drowning my little French fry. I didn’t want it then, no matter the pangs in my empty stomach. But my sister was bigger than me. She squinted her eye and I choked down the small fry, ketchup and all.
Cemetery by John C. Mannone
R.I.P. Little Darlings
Sometimes my poem looks like the living dead. An automaton of lines absent any mind or heart, layered, yet leprosic. Better left in its grave than to haunt the ones alive with echoed grunts and grating moans— music enstrangled from every word. A corpse of cut-up prose, lines hacked, sawed at random leaving bleeding members, and conjunctions abandoned, left dangling on extremities, but that’s not all: clichés gnawing, no fresh flesh, just rotten things to say, a concentrated stink of rigor mortised verse. Lines stiff. The little darlings were never really killed, they were simply sepulchered with all the undead dead. Song of the Alley by Michael K. Gause A thousand faces of what I need on a million pikes of light. That’s what this city is to me. Value, S&M style, for my twisted consumption. It’s a hard working city desperate not to be liked, but accepted. Here packaging is everything. I once saw a box of smoke sold with a sound byte. Placement over place, it feels like an illness that’s easier than the cure. I’m walking down 7th Street noticing the same trash in the same corners as last week. I see movement in the alley as I approach. It turns on me before I can react. “How’s the family?” Abdul always beats me to the punch. He is on his hands and knees scrubbing a bent air vent. “Fine, sir. Thank you. Those vents dirty again?” “Yes, they must be cleaned twice a monf.”
I nod in blank acceptance of his work ethic. “What days do you have off? I always see you working, day and night.” “Full time heah,” he sings, nodding his head in the direction of the building beside us, “full time dere.” He finishes, pointing to the supper club across the street. “Doesn’t sound like much time for fun, Abdul.” “Issokay.” He laughs. “I’ve done my playin’. I done it a lot. Wake up tired, no money…sometimes too many people in the bed.” It’s the biggest grin I’ve ever seen offered with a side of embarrassment. “Abdul! I didn’t know you had it in you!” “Oh, those days are ovah. Now it all about the fyootchah.” There is something fresh about this statement. In that last sentence is swaddled all the hopes and dreams America once dangled before him. I saw them once, too, when the university closed its stately doors behind me. I had snatched the pebble from my master’s hand, along with a Master’s, and set out to see what I could do with it. But how soon those shimmering vines darken and approach you like snakes, looking for anything unhatched inside. Sometimes a song pecks its way through, emitting the right tones to seduce the snakes. Blame hearty stock. Blame luck. If the circumstances are right, the new virgin in the world will not be devoured, but carried aloft into the Kingdom of Diamonds as promised. As long as the song remains, glory and fame abide. For others, the most no doubt, the song is atonal, and the serpents are unimpressed. They move closer to swallow its broken notes, mindless of good intention or hope. Then there are the strange cases like Abdul here. With the vines approaching, he was not
afraid. He came from a land born of moving vines, small and diamond-backed. They were deadly, but no match for the deep song he has had to conjure since birth. Hard won and practiced incessantly, it differs from those born here. We, who expect only to win. Blame history books. Blame Disney.
child, smiling back at me. One strand of whiteblonde hair trailed across her cheek. Behind us, the screen door creaked, then slammed with a bang. We settled in with cappuccinos and talked about kismet. The store smelled of coffee and dusty books. It rained that whole glorious, watercolor day.
“Now I work so I can quit uhhly. I tell you, my friend, I have twenty thousand. First job, I pay my ex-wife and da bills. The second I save. I git to th’ right amount, I quit, maybe move to California, maybe I buy a house in Maple Grove.”
Looking back, I saw the rain had been both for and against us.
He leans over and turns up his radio. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins wails, as Abdul flashes me another phosphorescent smile. Not a bad fyootchah, I think, hearing his song carry up and out over the night. With that and a plan, Abdul is going to be just fine, as long as America doesn’t summon its grisly cousins to bring him down. But no, tonight I’ll believe. I’ll believe Abdul is going to make it. And that’s more than I can say for the rest of us in this town. Because, I’ll tell you, sometimes I can hear the snakes coming, and I can’t help think we’re still just practicing the scales. After the Rain by Greta Igl I loved everything about her. How the rain dotted her lashes the first time we met. How she peered up at me from beneath the hood of her sky blue rain slicker. Electricity crackled from her eyes, bringing sunlight to a rainy day. We stood dry, feet shuffling, beneath the bookstore awning. Beyond, rain sluiced the narrow street with Monet-blurred edges. “We could get a coffee, I guess, while we wait for the rain,” she said. I held the door with its sagging screen. She danced across the store like a daisy-fisted
Our summer bloomed. We spent humid nights in her room under the eaves. When it rained, drops ticked against the roof. Mere inches of exposed rafters and tar paper shingles stood between us and the crashing thunder. The roof leaked, filling the room with the smell of wet must. She fetched a galvanized metal bucket from the corner to catch the drips. Her white back gleamed silver in the nightglow through the rattly window. “You should complain, you know,” I said. “Take it up with your landlord.” “It’s fine for now.” She placed the bucket under the drip. “When it gets old, I’ll move.” “But that’s no way to live—” “Not for you, maybe, but it’s how I like things.” She came back to bed, her skin cool. We listened to water ping in the bucket. Outside, rain washed the roof. We didn’t talk. There was nothing to say. The rain came again on our last night. We lay in the tent in the thick, piney woods, my leg sprawled over hers. I stroked a finger down her arm and studied the tilt of her nose. She jabbed her cuticles with a thumbnail. “I want a cappuccino,” she said. “Let’s go into town.”
“But we’re camping.” “You’re no fun. I want a cappuccino.” Thunder rumbled in the distance. I brushed hair from her face. The first fat drops phwatted on the tent. “Not again!” she said. “I’m sick of how it always rains with you!” I blinked hot eyes and pulled my hand away. The drops picked up speed. Lightning flashed beyond the nylon, streaking her face whitegreen. Closer, the thunder rumbled. The rain intensified. I pulled her near and her vanilla hair tickled me. Before her warmth could soak into my arm, she rolled away. I watched her white back and breathed in tent smell and crackling ozone. The curved knobs of her spine rose and fell. Morning tinged the tent gray, then gold. I climbed out over a loamy puddle. The tent sagged from its poles. She handed out wet blankets. As I slung them over drooping clotheslines, she watched me, chin hard. “You could do something,” she said. “Just this once.” “I am.” I lit the stove and put on water for instant coffee. I watched her through the screen, hands jammed in my pockets. She shoved yesterday’s discarded clothes into her backpack, then stumbled out, hefting her pack. Her flipflops thwacked as she stalked across the pine needles. The water gurgled in its pot. My chest clamped down on what bubbled inside. She paused at the crest of the hill to adjust her backpack. For a moment, the sudden, dappled sunlight danced off her cornsilk hair. Then she walked
away without looking back. Eternal Rhythms by Kim Klugh A shell wedged in wet sand. A pail and its shovel. A gull in the waves. The waves and the crashing. The pail and the shovel, the sand and the waves. At the shoreline, salt water washing shells in the sand. The shovel and gull. At the shoreline, salt water foams. At the shoreline, salt water, a gull in the sand. The gull and the crashing. The ocean is foaming. A shell in the sand. A shell in the shovel wedged in wet sand. Dallas was in Dallas by Jason Deas Dallas was in Dallas. He hated having the name Dallas when he visited the place. Others times the name wasn’t so bad, kind of cool he actually thought. Dallas was standing in the Dallas/Fortworth International Airport. The terminal was full of people either wandering or waiting. He only saw one empty seat. With hesitation, Dallas squeezed in between a rough tobacco chewer and a sleeping granny. She looked like a dead fish. The fellow with tobacco juice on his chin appeared to be talkative. Dallas diverted his gaze and sat down. “Bill Johnson.” There was a hand in his face waiting to be shaken. “How are you?” Dallas said coolly. He hoped to avoid having to tell Bill what his name was. “What’s your name partner?”
Shit, he thought. Dallas decided to lie and told Bill it was Tim Crunk. With the fake name came a fake life that Dallas made up as he went along. The stress of the week had Dallas at the point between crazy and sane. He decided to jump over to crazy for a while. In his tale he was the founder and CEO of Crunk Candy Chocolate. The secret recipe for Marshmallow Malt Stuffed Madness had been stolen. Dallas disclosed he had received a tip two hours earlier that there was to be a secret motel meeting and an exchange at a Motel 6 in South Dakota. Dallas told Bill he even knew the room number. “Number twenty-two. Bottom floor.” “Well, well…” Bill stuttered, mesmerized. “What are you going to do when you get there?” “I’m gonna kick the fucking door in! I might strangle somebody. I don’t know—I’m pretty much gonna wing it from there.” Over the loud speaker an attendant called Bill’s flight number. Gawking, he wished Dallas luck. In both their minds Dallas had rock star status. Dallas winked and said, “Alright Daddy-O.” Dallas boarded his flight to Cleveland twenty minutes later. He had insurance to sell. Dance, Mr. Al’Rach by William Wolford Al’Rach the red dragon felt his eye lids becoming heavy. He had spent the entire day flying, hunting, looking for something exciting to get into. He found himself sad that there wasn’t anything exciting to do. Nothing he could do, anyway. Al’Rach was no longer a young dragon, and he knew it.
Al’Rach was the oldest living red dragon at the time. He was one-thousand seven-hundred and eighty-eight years old. Where he was from, the red dragons were friends with red dragons, the green dragons were friends with green dragons, and so on. Back in the day, Al’Rach and his closest friends would fly around looking for the nearest knight to pester. They were considerably smaller then, so they’d hide behind trees and jump out and roar to scare the knight and his horse. Sometimes, the horse would jump so high that its master would fly right through the air. It’d then run off and the poor knight would have to walk home in his heavy armor. Sadly, all of Al’Rach’s red dragon friends had passed away due to old age or dragon hunters. Al’Rach, he never bothered anyone, never stole sheep from any of the farms, never ate anybody. He didn’t give anyone any reason to hunt him. He lived a polite, peaceful life, but also a boring life. He flapped his wings and his eye lids felt heavy. He flew over top of Huntington Village and, being the dreadfully boring village it was, it almost put him to sleep then and there. He forced himself to stay awake until he saw the peak on which he lived. He landed there only to find something quite unusual indeed: a group of tiny fairies were at his home! They danced and played and threw rocks off the edge of the peek. At the sight of Al’Rach, their delicate faces all blushed. Then, they began to sing in unison: Beautiful flowers, Wonderful hours, We play and soak up the sun, We have gobbledygooks of fun, Dear Mr. Al’Rach, We hope you don’t mind us playing on your rock, Would you like to join us?
“No!” huffed Al’Rach, and shot fire out of his nose at the fairies. They giggled and Al’Rach found that the fire he had blown at the fairies had turned into flowers and fallen harmlessly to the ground. Beautiful flowers they were, and Al’Rach realized that, but he still didn’t want the fairies to hang around on his peak. It was his peak and that was how he wanted it to stay! “Please, Mr. Alrach, won’t you come play with us?” asked one of the fairies. She smiled, bowed, and did a little pirouette. “No!” huffed Al’Rach, and flapped his wings at the fairies. They giggled and Al’Rach found that the fairies enjoyed riding around on the wind. “Please, Mr. Al’Rach, won’t you come play with us? We’re having such fun!” “No!” huffed Al’Rach, and stomped his feet like a child. This did nothing to the fairies but make them giggle even more. “Please, Mr. Al’Rach, won’t you play with us? Now you’re just acting silly. We’re having such fun!” “Well… what are you playing?” said Al’Rach with a sigh. “I obviously can’t get rid of you.” “Oh, yay!” yelled the fairies, and rejoiced. “We’re dancing!” said another. “Dancing? I can’t dance. I’m a dragon! Dragons don’t dance, only people!” “Dragons can dance. Just move your head up and down, stomp your feet a little, and you have a dance!” “No.” “But you said you’d play with us, Mr. Al’Rach!”
“But I’ll look like a fool!” “Not at all! Everyone’s dancing!” said the fairy, and did a little jig. Al’Rach sighed. He started to bob his head, take quick little steps, and even flap his wings. He found a rhythm and then he found he could hear the music of the fairies. The music sounded as if it had come straight down from Heaven. The most beautiful violins, harps, flutes. Tears gathered in Al’Rach’s eyes, and he thought, That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. “What’s wrong, Mr. Al’Rach?” cried the fairies. “Nothing,” he whispered hoarsely. “Nothing at all. It’s just been so long since I’ve enjoyed something so much.” The fairies smiled. Al’Rach smiled back. And so, Al’Rach found a love for music and danced all night in memory of his lost friends. He belched fire that transformed to flowers, red roses spiraling down the mountainside, petals fluttering like red dragons on the wind. Poem for a Blind Man by Dom Carter I’d like you to see: that a sunrise in spring is sharp like fresh orange juice squeezed over ice and washed over the back of your tongue; that the pummelled stones on a beach look like the feel of heels in summertime ground smooth by enduring flip-flops; that drawing your curtains to find snow is more satisfying than the sound of a cola can ring pull being bent open.
Dodging Frogs on Blackbird Road by Tara L. Masih Never mind hindsight . . . after stretching and straining our bodies in training one hot afternoon, slapping at flies that dove into our faces varnished with sweat, we returned to our cabin when darkness reminded us to wash up, dress up, head for the local bar. Five varsity tennis players on a mission—to find men, any kind, but preferably ones with Tees, big-honking belt buckles, mud-encrusted motorbikes, in that isolated, woodsy town. We did ferret out a jukebox that played Jim Croce and Donna Summer, a bartender who made cheap wine coolers by the glass, freshly sliced lemons to cut the sweet. The cool alcohol heated up the conversation, turning us confessional and back to that childhood ritual of Truth or Dare, the game we once played in translucent, lacy babydolls, when we had nothing much to reveal, either physically or emotionally. Then in bacchanalian spirit we ran back to the car, woods full of nature’s sounds, piled into the leather interior, legs on legs, arms intertwined, the feel of a friend’s healthy, athletic body, taboos of space lifted. Janet (she later attempted suicide) sang her favorite song, “You’ve Got a Friend,” and suggested going for a Slurpee. Lynette (she soon suffered a breakdown) laughed, said, “No such thing in the boonies, just frogs.” Sue (who eventually came out) looked out at us with her usual worry, so we told her the team loved her—but it was not as simple as all that. We all tried to ignore the light objects in the road that looked like leaves, small frogs caught staring into oncoming headlights. Ly-
nette tried to dodge them. The rest of us tried not to look behind, instead hit Janet over the head to stop her from singing the twentieth refrain of “Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall. . . .” Heart of the Matter by Tonia Brown Rick shuffled around the edge of the ship, one nervous step at a time. He peered over the forward bulk, spotting Mark on the tip. The man was stock still at an angle to the arc of metal, a living masthead guiding the ship through the dead void that was space. “Hey, Mark,” Rick said. The microphone squealed, blurring his words in a thin, tinny echo. Mark turned, and for a moment Rick thought the young man would tumble off into the blackness. While the boots they both wore were designed to keep a person affixed while on routine walks, they could only take so much resistance, anchor so much mass. The security rope kept a crewmember safe if the boots failed, but only if worn. Rick had worn one. Mark had not. “I told them not to send anyone out,” Mark said, before he twisted away. Even within the warp of the transmitter, Rick could hear the man’s sorrow. “I’m not here for them, Mark. I’m here for you.” “I’m not coming in.” “Fair enough. Do you mind if I join you?” A smear of red on Mark’s mirrored visor crested and ebbed from view as he shook his head in dissent.
“Come on,” Rick said. “I won’t stay long.”
do a great soft shoe.” Rick wiggled in place.
“It’s a free universe,” Mark said. “I can’t stop you.”
The young man barked a short, angry laugh. It stopped cold, leaving a hiss along the transmitter in its empty wake. A sliver of silver peeped over the edge of Mark’s suit. He still had the screwdriver.
Rick eyed the path stretched before him. The railing ended twenty feet ago, so from here on there wasn’t even the comfort of an edge to cling to. It was all smooth metal right up to where Mark stood. Rick shifted onto the nose of the ship, taking a few wary steps. “That’s far enough, Doc,” Mark snapped.
“She isn’t your ex until you sign,” Rick said.
“I just want to watch her turn, that’s all,” Rick said, holding his hands up in submission. Mark didn’t argue. Rick took it as a cue, following the last few feet to the tip. He stopped just beyond the other man’s reach, looked out to the Earth and whistled low.
“Shut up! You don’t know anything about it.”
“First time up here?” Mark asked. “No, but I’m always enchanted. She’s a stunning planet.” “Stunning, that’s a nice way of putting it.” “What way would you put it, Mark?” “Why? You gonna analyze my answer?” Rick regrouped his thoughts. He wanted to smile, to shake his head, but the act would be lost in bulk of the suit. It was times like these when he missed terra counseling. Someone on a rooftop was easier to read, easier to talk down. Space provided special challenges. Therefore, a therapist in space required different tactics. “I found your wife’s letter,” Rick said. Mark snorted. “Boy you get right to it, don’t you?” “Would you like for me to dance around it? I
“You’re something else, Doc,” Mark said. “And I think you mean you found my ex-wife’s papers.”
The two men fell quiet for a few moments. “She’s been my ex for years now,” Mark said. “At least in her heart. That’s what the letter said. My ex in her heart.” In a swimming movement, he raised the screwdriver, tapping the edge against his helmet in a slow, silent rhythm. “What does that even mean? In her heart?” “I don’t know,” Rick answered. “What do you think?” “I think she was screwing around and felt guilty about it.” “Is that why you stabbed Lieutenant Capps?” Mark laughed again, this time full and throaty. “Butch? I told him to let me go, but he wouldn’t listen. So I showed him I meant business.” “What kind of business?” “What do you reckon is in my heart?” “I’m sure I don’t know.” “If I cut it out now, could we see? If I did, would you give it to her for me, Doc? So she could see?” Mark traced lazy circles across the
chest of his suit with the tip of the screwdriver. Even though the dull tool couldn’t breach the material of the suit, there were a thousand other ways the suicidal could find their peace out here. Rick swallowed hard at the thought. “Her sister wrote me,” Mark said, then chuckled. “Can you believe that garbage? She couldn’t even write it down. You know what her sister wrote? Linda didn’t mean to hurt you, but this is for the best. Whose best? Hers? Mine? Whose?” He screamed the last few words, his anger echoing across the transmitter in skipping waves. As it faded, Rick cleared his throat. “Maybe she—” “Butch’s gonna be okay, right?” Mark asked over Rick, sort of all at once. Rick paused, considering his answer. “No.” “What do you mean no?” “He is critical right now, and he might not make it.” Mark’s excitement poured across the headphones in a pulsing wheeze, before he drew a deep breath and spoke in a soft voice. Squealing static drowned him out. “What was that?” Rick asked. “I didn’t mean to hurt him,” Mark said. “I wonder if he knows that?” “He has to. Do you think he does?” “Shouldn’t you tell him?” Mark grew silent.
Doubt flooded Rick, as it always did when he was waiting for that answer. In his mind’s eye he saw Mark pull his breathing tube, or push free from the cone, or remove his helmet. But, instead, the man relaxed his grip on the tool. It turned end over end in a slow drift away from them. Someone else would gather it later. “It hurts,” Mark said. “My heart hurts.” “I suspect it does,” Rick said. They returned, step by slow step, to the access port. Mark even laughed when a very healthy Butch helped them inside. Riptide by Joe Amaral Time is the tidal thief That stole her heart away A rip current pulling underneath Time is the tidal thief Smashed upon the rocks and trees My fractured soul, her frothy rage Time is the tidal thief That stole her heart away Lament by Karen Schindler I’d seen the red ball before, of course. Just yesterday, as a matter of fact. Little Brianna was playing with it. Bouncing it on the building—whap whap whap. After an hour, the sound had gotten on my nerves. Bounce whap bounce whap bounce whap—over and over. I had leaned out of my window and spoken sharply to her. She had smiled at me and apologized, sweet child that she was. She then sat on the ball and quietly colored with chalk on the sidewalk instead.
This morning as I rushed off, coffee and car keys in hand, I paused a moment to look at her fanciful drawings of unicorns, rainbows and fluffy clouds with happy faces. I smiled and carefully walked around them to avoid smudging any of the outlines. Now, at seven in the evening, after a full day of mindless paper pushing, I stand watching the street cleaner hosing down the pavement. He is hosing the last of Brianna’s beautiful happiness from the sidewalk. The water swirls into the gutter to meet and mingle with her red ball as it bounces against the curb. I can’t help feeling that I need to rescue the ball. The red ball that is bouncing—whap whap whap—in the gutter sloshing in the water that swirls both with rainbow colored chalk and the bloody leftover bits of the car that killed Brianna. Perspectives on the Grain of Heart Pine by Dan Lear He crouches in the corner of the attic, the bone handle of the knife warming in his hand. The serrated edge is against his thumb and he counts the ridges (one, two, three, four...) and between each count a small sharp C of steel. Hunkered on his haunches, he hums “Starry Starry Night” and rocks back and forth. He stops when he hears the police cars pull up, the voices, the door downstairs banging open against the wall. To his left a bar of orange light slants in from the attic window. He hums again, considering the pine planks in the light, their grain of hard winter wood standing proud, the soft spring wood shrunken, their rhythm like beach sand
at low tide or the leeward side of desert dunes, like wide spaces, empty, horizonless, where he could run for hours with his arms spread like birds’ wings. He raises the blade to his belly. He hears boots hard on the wooden stairs of the first floor, then the second. The door to the attic opens. Later he will lie in a hospital bed and watch the sunlight move across the ceiling in imperceptible shifts from morning to evening, he will eat what he is told and wear shoes without laces, but he doesn’t know that now, he only knows one song and one blade and one yearning for flight before the taser flings him down jerking, and the knife skitters across the planked floor, and in a muscled flurry they are on him. In the cuffed shuffling silence before they take him to the ambulance (waiting in red light then blue) he feels the ridges of the pine floor against his cheek. Closer now, he can see that its grain looks nothing like open sand at all, but like dry creeks, or claw marks, or slim snakes of rope. Bluff by Karen Campbell They rock the cradle of conversation back and forth as they watch a Japanese fan of cards turn to silk in the dealer’s hands. He makes the cut and sends the cards
fluttering round the table and the cradle crashing to the ground. Some try to hide their smiles, their Queens of Hearts, their Aces high, the black dilation in their eyes while others fold like concertinas and slip away as the bets get steeper. But the man with the loose-tooth grin hangs in, throws in his car, his house his ring. The Limits of Art by Robert Scotellaro Looking in the mirror, I see a colossal flare of peacock feathers fan out behind me. Wow! I race to the Bottoms Up Club down the street, my folded plumes dragging behind me. If I can’t score now, I think, I might as well hang it up. It’s packed inside with lots of women. I go to the jukebox, slip in a coin and let ‘er rip—a feathery splendor slowly spreading nearly to the ceiling. The music comes on, and I do this little dance incorporating a quiver to the plume tips, which is apparently irresistible ‘cause five beauties, who wouldn’t give me a hint of a tumble, minutes prior, surround me cooing like schoolgirls—their painted lips coquettishly parted. Left, right—quiver, quiver—left, right… I’m in the zone, when suddenly a fight breaks out. Two guys across from us, playing rough. One pulls back his sweatshirt hood, revealing a large pair of ram’s horns; the other, the same. My fickle bevy scatters, reassembles for a
closer look. Each man now on either end of the room, head down, poised to rocket. I need a drink; shuffle off, my long train trailing in the sawdust. “What’s your poison?” the barkeep says, above some puffy squeals—above the clash, the thunder. The Sweater by Stevie Strang For some reason, maybe because we lived in a desert climate, but more probably because we were poor, I never owned a coat or a heavy sweater. Even though my older sister protested that I would get cooties on her light summer sweater, my mother told her to let me wear it during the winter months. It was more for looks than warmth, and the wind laughed at me as it went right through the thin weave to my bones. I was always cold, especially when I walked to school. One day, in fifth grade, after the recess bell rang, I went to the school’s office to get a bathroom pass before I had to go back to class. I was second in line behind a frantic sixth grader who came in to see if her misplaced purse had been turned in during recess. The cranky office lady, always suspicious of young children, put her cigarette out on a green, dotted melamine ashtray, looked down over her rhinestone-rimmed glasses, blew the last bit of smoke from her lungs and said, “Really now? A purse was just turned in—describe the contents in detail and I’ll give it ta ya.” While this poor girl was reciting her sixth grade valuables out loud, desperately trying to avoid having to identify the Kotex item to the long line of boys behind us, I noticed a rack of lostand-found clothing that stood behind the office lady and spotted a big, thick, heavy, white cardigan sweater with a matching belt that
was hanging in the middle of the rack. “How could someone lose that?” I wondered. It was the middle of winter! “Next!” the cranky office lady yelled. The sixth grader grabbed her purse and ran to the bathroom. It was my turn to wrangle a pass from the ornery office lady. For the next two days, I went to the office for one reason or the other, and while waiting in line, I glanced at the clothing rack to see if the big, thick, heavy, white cardigan sweater was still there. It was. Again, a week later I had business in the office and what do you know—curiously, still there. On an especially cold, misty winter morning, my nose running, cheeks red from the wind, knuckles white and stiff from holding my books so tight while shivering, I decided I could take it no longer. I walked straight to the office when I arrived at school, sought out the cranky office lady and told her I had lost my big, thick, heavy, white cardigan sweater, with a belt, a few weeks ago and wondered if it had been turned in.
The Futility of Hope by Michelle Louis Hand in hand, we wove through rows of apple trees, breathing the sweet perfume of pink-white blossoms. You kissed me goodbye, said I’ll see you on Monday. And now the air is thick with the sickly stench of rotting fruit— but Monday still has not come. Goodbye by Leland Thoburn
The same lady who had seen me there before, put her bottle of Coke down, turned around and rummaged through the rack, now overloaded with even more coats and jackets from forgetful children, and came to the white cardigan sweater in the middle of the rack. She turned around, gave me that look-overthe-glasses stare and asked, “Is this your sweater?”
Nothing in life had prepared him for death.
I answered, “Only if it has a belt.”
A middle-aged woman rushed into the room, escorted by a doctor. Her clothes were wrinkled as if she’d been sleeping. Her face, familiar…
She took it off the hanger, told me to be more careful about where I left my things, and then yelled, “Next!” I casually walked outside to the corridor, put my sweater on, tied the belt securely around
my waist, and skipped to my classroom, warm, for the first time I could remember in the wintertime. That Sunday I put two of the ten dimes I got for my birthday in the basket at Mass, said thank you to the usher, then stood in line at the confessional.
He felt softness and warmth. But hospital beds aren’t supposed to be like this, he thought. Then he saw he wasn’t in the bed. He was above it. There, on the bed, an old man’s body. Was it his? He had no memory, only a sense of now and of a terrible confusion.
Memories of his life flooded him as he recognized his only daughter, Kim. She was sobbing, staring down at the body on the bed.
He tried to make the body speak. Kim, I’m awake, I’m aware, I’m alive. Kim, I’m here. But the body just lay there motionless and quiet, its eyes closed, its lips slightly parted. The machinery around it was quiet, as if attending a wake. He yearned to comfort her, like he had forty years ago as a baby, like he had two months ago at her mother’s funeral. Memories of his Carol overwhelmed him. Her face. The way they first made love in his car, and how she had cried afterwards. The way she adored him even when he was so clumsy with his words, his thoughts, his feelings. The joy he felt when she said “yes,” as if his very life had been saved. He remembered her last look, moments before she died—face up, mouth open. He remembered the moment when the pulse in her neck, already a faint echo of the vitality he loved, stopped throbbing. All of her various scars had stood out in high relief against her ghost white skin, but all he had seen see was how lovely she still looked. Her lips. Their ring. He remembered the first night alone. A terrible doubt had seared his mind. Had he told her, showed her, just how much he loved her? Had he said it enough, had he made sure she knew just how much she had defined his life? The outbursts, the hurts—he’d inflicted more than enough pain. And then it was too late. He had wanted to run away, to hide, to forget and be forgotten. It was then that he had decided to die. Maybe he would see her soon. Maybe he could tell her now. He felt himself approaching the body. He could feel its pain as it disintegrated from within. Then, he felt something beyond sad, beyond regret. He began to float.
In terror he snapped back. Desperation filled his thoughts as pain filled his senses. Please God, don’t let this be the end. I have to say goodbye. He tried again to reach her, but it was like he was in a bubble. On the machine behind the bed, the green line went flat. His mind gave voice to the prayer his tongue could not. Please God. The only answer came from the machine, which began to buzz. He surrendered and began to float. Goodbye Kim. Then, he let go. Quick and Dirty by T. L. Sherwood I clutch my toned and heaving chest. “Please! You have to!” “I won’t.” The determination in her jaw mocks me. Her eyes dance in ecstasy. She has me. She knows it. “I scoured the city to find you.” I pull out another twenty and hand it to her. “I need to have it done.” “I know.” Her coyness is maddening. She seductively slips the twenty into her brassiere. The lacy edges of the cups press against the shiny black top she wears. “You want me to start now?” “I need more time.” “Your dime.” She struts around my apartment. She rights the picture frame that was slightly askew. My statue of Pan on the coffee table draws her attention. Cradled in her hands it looks superficial and squalid. “You need this?”
Drawn back to the moment, I shake me head. I don’t know what I need anymore. I thought I found it with her. I massage my throbbing temples. What am I going to do? I need her. She doesn’t need me.
“One and a half...” I see her doing the math in her head. I know the appraised value. I pray it is enough. She holds it up to the light of the setting sun. Murky rainbows dance on the walls behind us.
I change tact. Present the facts. “Everyone. All of my friends. They all said you’re the best they ever had.”
“I can’t accept it.” She hands it back to me. “Thanks though. Look, I’ve got to be at the Wilson’s house by five.”
“I am the best, but I’m not going to do that for you.”
“Please, don’t go.”
“Harry told me you would, though.” “Harry’s is tiny.”
“Will you come back?”
“Sure. How does every other Tuesday at two work for you?”
“Matt was my first. That doesn’t count.”
“Fine.” I answer.
“I’ll pay better.”
“Really, Mr. Lothario, most women will tell you the same thing. There are professionals out there. It’s the only thing they do.”
“It isn’t about the money.” “No costumes.” “Mr. Lothario, no offense, I wear this for me.” Hands on heavenly, full hips, she tilts her head. “May I start now?” I rush into my bedroom. I search for the tiny velvet box. I grab it and return to thrust it open at her. “Now will you?” “You’re not serious.” “Yes.” I get down on my knees. “Yes. I am.” “Well...” She takes my sainted mother’s engagement ring from the jeweler’s box. Days and nights pass by. She stares so long, so hard. I think she will relent. “One and a quarter carats?” “No! It’s one and a half.”
“I have to.”
“I know that!” I snap, “I don’t want them, though.” “Most of them don’t charge that much.” “You don’t understand.” “Explain it then.” “I want to be able to say, ‘She does windows too.’ Is that too much to ask from a cleaning woman nowadays?” “Yeah, it is. See you in two weeks.” The Rise of a Warrior by Theresa C. Newbill He felt energy pulsating rhythmically through his hands, the Japanese Sword served as the radio,
transmitting a second essence to process, coaxed back from static into alignment. Recalibrating his new perspective, he observed the object before him, his internal clock winding down into a state of alertness. Nature told him soil brought balance, and so he stabilized his stance to the psychic trenches of his mind, pacing himself as he listened to guidance provided by the massive waves of matter all around him. In this state, he saw the essence of a lotus flower, heard its symbolic symphony, tested his soul for negativity. Silently he called on the ancestors, on the shaft of light that rose from the blade expanding space. Focusing on the primary target, he shifted his body; his arm spasming momentarily from the intensity, but he re gained composure, adjusting sensory systems with depth and re laxation. In his advantageous position,
functional as he begins working as one with universal sight. Without consciously willing it, he severs the ketchup bottle before him in two with precision, as to not spill or waste a drop. His roots are in mud, and he will rise to the surface in a new state of peace. The pattern of his growth will signify the progress of his soul. Branches by Gavin Eyers Their parents grew old trying to keep them grouped. The youngest, Jake, was as creative as a hungry spider. He would disappear for days or weeks, then re-appear and sleep and sleep. No one knew where he went and no one asked. He painted pictures in which others found inspiration. Sarah the sunflower reached for heights eagerly and often succeeded. She had a driver and her clothes were made especially for her. Her house had its own little lake beside it. She looked for a husband who would satisfy her, rather than one who would love her, and when she never found him, she didnâ€™t mind.
There is confirmation, confidence, connected with mission. He has studied the dynamics of that which consti tutes appropriate expectation, and has planned and mapped out the act with meticulous detail. He can see the pattern of colors and is aroused by them. There is no underlying fear as he leaps into the unknown, no cranial deterioration as realities are sepa rated.
Elizabeth grew quietly, like moss. She always had a book in her hands and a look of wonderment on her face. She lived in every world except her own. Men looked at her, but she never noticed them.
And so with respect and awe, he remains
John pecked at things for a while, then flew
Jenny rocked and raved like a coral reef in warm, stormy waters. Dance floors were her world, and she ruled them. Her hair was a rainbow of colours and she had friends in every town. She believed that when she died she would be ready.
away in his younger life, but as he grew older began to teach himself things. Then he studied, then taught others what he had been taught. He followed in his father’s footsteps. The oldest, Stella, smiled and went wherever life took her, like a leaf fallen into a stream. When they called, they always found one another. Cyber Poets’ Society by Sue Pickard I’ve finally plucked up the courage to enter the interplanetary poetry competition. And I think I’ve got a really good chance this time. I can feel it in my bones. Not that I’ve got any. I wouldn’t rely on anything as primitive as a human skeleton to get around. I’m a deluxe, three series, state-of-the-art cyberborg droid with fully flexed limbs and realistic hair. I’m powered by a micro processing chip located under a flap of synthetic skin in my forearm, a chip so powerful that I can unravel the secrets of the universe in seconds. Travelling through time, explaining the origins of the cosmos, assembling flat pack furniture—these things come easily to me. My hyper drive is so expansive that I’ve even been programmed to access an artistic sensibility. I am one of the latest generation of bard droids. I am, in fact, a poet. Being a poet in the Fourth Age of the Cosmic Federation isn’t easy. After the chaotic meltdown at the end of the Third Age, there was a demand for order and symmetry. Rhyming poetry came back into vogue. Easy enough in the Second Age. All you had to do was match ‘hills’ with ‘satanic mills’ or ‘daffodils’ and you were half way there. But there are no hills, mills or daffodils now. And you try finding a rhyme for ‘transmorphic interstellar configuration’ or ‘sub-astral hyper link’. It’s harder than you think. And because all the other bard
droids are having similar problems, I can’t even plagiarise anything. The reason we’re having problems is because our operating software has been infected by a virus known as writer’s paranoia. As a result of this, we’ve developed a series of unwanted features: a desire to be noticed coupled with a chronic fear of rejection and an overweening ego combined with shatteringly low self esteem. And then there’s the added peripheral by-product of writers’ block. It’s all very frustrating. Apparently our software engineers are working on eradicating the virus but it’s proving much more difficult than they first thought. There are also other flaws in my operating software apparently, and I’m currently being monitored in a secure, high-maintenance unit. Once a week, a white coated service technician comes and inspects my systems. I always cooperate. ‘Let’s have a look at you,’ says the technician. I take out a cutting implement I’ve picked up from the refuelling unit in order to lift the flap of skin on my forearm. He seems alarmed by this. ‘No, No! Don’t do that,’ he says, ‘We took ages patching you up last time.’ He relieves me of the implement, puts it out of reach. ‘How’s the writing coming along?’ he asks conversationally. I tell him about the interplanetary poetry competition. ‘Ah,’ he says, ‘and how exactly are you going to enter that?’ I rearrange my features into an expression of scorn. ‘Via telepathic communication, of course.’ Honestly, he’s supposed to be a technician! Doesn’t he know anything? ‘Have you ever thought about trying to write something down?’ This is going from bad to worse. What does he think I am? A common
scribe? I refuse to dignify his question with a response. ‘And maybe you might want to try and start with something slightly less ambitious than the interplanetary competition. Something on a more global scale, perhaps.’ My features freeze over into an icy stare. Global, indeed! My talent can’t be constrained in that way. The technician takes my hand, turns it over and puts a finger on my wrist. Feeling for a pulse. I recompose my carefully moulded features into a serene smile. ‘You won’t find one.’ But he goes on trying. He obviously functions at a very low level. After making some notes in a thick file he says, ‘Try and carry on with the writing. It’s very therapeutic.’ Therapeutic! Hasn’t he ever heard of the virus? I look closely at the technician. He is imperfect, his skin pockmarked, his hair largely missing. And his method of data recording is, quite frankly, primitive. I’m beginning to suspect that he might be human. This is highly irregular. In the Fourth Age, humans are used almost exclusively as slave labour. I must report this immediately to the president of the Federation. Hang on a minute: Cosmic Federation, interstellar configuration. I think I might be on to something here. ‘Do you know,’ I say, ‘I suddenly feel a lot better.’ The technician smiles at me. ‘I’m glad to hear that. We’ll meet again next week and discuss your progress.’ I nod and take my leave. I’ve got to fire up my hyper drive. I can feel a poem coming on.
The Spread of Man by Robert Laughlin For generations, sf held that our existence had one plan: The Spread of Man. An attitude to growth we might expect a can cer cell to take: For Its Own Sake. Our lit is filled with rootless people who leave Earth and carve a place In outer space. Like Wal-Mart, fighting night and day until the franchise has a lock On every block. No planet left untouched—the ones that don’t support the human norm? Why, terraform. And if you’re there already, in the line of Homo Sap’s attack? Don’t ask, just pack. Mr. Boogens by Mary Ann Back I was eight years old in October, 1965, and already knew the important things in life. I knew that a properly placed spitball could do some damage, that an aggie beats a cat’s eye every time, and that the good guys always beat the bad guys because good triumphs over evil. More importantly, I knew that adults wouldn’t recognize real evil if it bit them on the ass and that the boogeyman living in my closet was real. What I didn’t know was that only a child’s mind, a mind as inviting as a blank canvas, could attract the kind of evil that spawns uber demons who prey on our deepest fears. But when I awoke in the dark of night to the taunting of
claws that scratched my closet door, felt hot moist breathing on my neck, or smelled the fetid odor of decay hanging in the air, I knew evil lurked in my room. In that fall of 1965, I named my resident evil Mr. Boogens. And at midnight, on October 31, 1965, Mr. Boogens told me exactly what he wanted. “I want you, Billy Boy,” his words wrapped around me like a moldy shroud, “Happy Halloween, it’s time to dance with the devil, you mangy whelp! Pull that blanket down and look me in the eye, boy. Tonight’s the night we’ve both been waiting for ‘cause tonight’s the night that—I’m gonna get you!” I clung to my sweat-soaked blanket, the force field that protected me, with eyes welded shut, wondering just what horrors lay in store for those who were “gotten.” “Go away,” I whispered, not recognizing the pleading voice I heard as mine. “No can do, Billy Boy. We’re playing by Halloween rules tonight. You believed in me; you made me real; now I get to make you dead. That’s how it works. Stop stalling, runt, you can’t escape; open your eyes and watch what happens to little boys who believe!” The bottom of my blanket pulled loose and a single sharp claw traced its way up my calf. I yelped and snatched my leg back under the blanket, drawing an ugly cackle from Mr. Boogens. “Think you’re afraid now, Billy? Oh, I can do better, much better. Perhaps I could chew the meat from that calf; would that about do it?” My bladder let loose and his frenzy grew. “Now we’re getting somewhere! You just keep believing, boy, you just keep believing.” Sucking air into lungs that had forgotten to function on their own, I threw back the blanket, leapt from the bed and stood toe to toe
with Mr. Boogens. Terrified to meet his eyes, my gaze dropped to his feet—two humongous hairy stumps with long, gnarly toes that sported six-inch curved talons, razor sharp for shredding little boys. My eyes battled upward toward his swollen belly covered with dirty matted fur that appeared to move, but that was merely an illusion created by thousands of squirming maggots jostling for morsels of his rotting flesh. Tentacle like arms with no visible joints writhed at the sides of his barrel-shaped torso. Then, I saw his head. At first glance he appeared to have no eyes, but when he turned sideways one almond shaped eye, like a cat’s eye, stared at me through a pus-covered cataract growing on the side of his head. “Is this scary enough for you, Billy Boy? Oh, I can do better, much better!” I watched as his cat’s eye grew into a cavernous void, dark and bottomless, swallowing his entire head the way a black hole swallows stars. “Come inside, Billy Boy; come join the other little boys who believe.” Staring into that void I was seduced by the absolute purity of an evil that could eat little boys. Their giggles called to me… so inviting, so beguiling, even mesmerizing; but survival instinct prevailed. Desperately groping the top of my nightstand I found my weapons of choice—an eight-inch straw and an empty gum wrapper. There was barely enough saliva in my mouth to drench the wrapper, but I managed to load it and launch it through my straw deep into the void with the accuracy of an I.C.B.M.—an intercontinental ballistic missile. “You aren’t real!” I screamed, hoping that what I lacked in conviction I made up for with volume. Mr. Boogens roared as the monstrous void disintegrated and his sickly cat’s eye returned.
“You pathetic little pup, you dare defy me? I’ll flay you where you stand, you insolent child! You will believe!” He swiped at me with his talons, barely missing, but his weakness gave me hope. He swiped again, clawing at my neck, and when he did I scrambled to snatch the only weapon I had left, my prized aggies. Scooping them into my shaking hands, I hurled them into his oozing eye, and stoked by the power of my newfound courage, shouted, “Aggies beat cat’s eyes every time!” His features seemed to blur, and I realized that he’d begun to melt. His maggot-infested fur sloughed downward like rancid sheep’s wool, and the arrogance in his voice began to fade. “Do you really think you can beat me, child, with your pathetic spitballs and marbles?” His breathing labored, his words, though nearly inaudible, were filled with spite, “You—believed—in—me.” I watched Mr. Boogens die that Halloween night in 1965, watched while his bones splintered into ash and his organs putrefied into puddles on my bedroom floor—leaving behind only a well-worn spitball and my beloved aggies. Bending to pick them up, I was overcome with a primitive pride. Victory tasted sweet. With a grin I straddled his remains and delivered a eulogy that was simple yet profound. “The good guys always beat the bad guys, Mr. Boogens. Even eight-year-olds know that.” Three Couples, One Story by Jim Harrington The Promise
elor party. I was jealous of the way the other guys looked at her even before she removed her clothes. We went out twice before her trip to St. Louis to be with her sick mother, fell in love over the phone, and married one year after we met. I thought everything was fine between us—until I kissed her goodbye on the morning of our fifth wedding anniversary, and she wasn’t there when I returned home. I don’t know what I did wrong, or if she’ll be back. She turned thirty. Kissing a Frog She turned thirty, and Alice’s passion wire disconnected. We met our sophomore year in college. She was shy, with the most outgoing smile I’d ever seen. We spent as much time together as we could, almost got caught by a security guard doing the naughty in a science lab. It was Alice’s idea. Now her hugs are platonic, bland, like sugarless cotton candy. And when our lips meet, it’s like kissing the frog that doesn’t turn into a prince. I asked our doctor what I should do. He said to give her time. Six months later the old Alice is still missing. I want to help her, help us, but I don’t know how. A Good Day I want to help her, help us, but I don’t know how. We were both on the rebound when a mutual friend suggested we meet. Eight months later, I moved into Paula’s apartment and everything was good, until Max showed up while I was at work. She left me a note saying she was sorry; but he was her husband, and we were only living together. I thought that was how she wanted it. The doorbell rang last night. Paula stood on the porch, arms and legs bruised, her left eye nearly closed. I held her in my arms and told her I loved her. She promised not to leave again.
She promised not to leave again. Karen was the entertainment at my friend Chuck’s bach-
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Rejection Note by Kim Klugh
taint the pages of our poetic publication). Sorry.
We’re not going to be able to keep anything from this submission, we’re sorry to say. Thank you, though, for letting us have a chance with your work.
VII You’re not sincerely going to say “sorry and thank you” for the chance to say “not a chance for your work to be kept?”
Sincerely, the Editors I Sincerely, for this chance, for your work, for this submission we Editors thank you though we’re not going to keep anything. II Not anything? III Your work is sorry. To keep this submission? Not a chance, sincerely, the Editors. IV But remember, for letting us have a chance to not keep your work we thank you. V We submit that your work is not suitable for submission nor is it submersible or subversive. VI There is no chance of your work being kept for submission; parenthetically speaking (your work can not
VIII You will submit to anything. . . IX It was the chance I took upon submission. You sound so polite thanking me in a sincere manner expressing sorrow over your inability to keep anything from my submission X I submit, was one poem just too much— an overload? Did it upend the red wheelbarrow of work already accepted? Standing in the rain did you, glazed and glistening editors, watch the white chickens consume small bits of my submission once you tore it apart and tossed it like stale seed? XI “Sorry” they say no chance for my work to seep onto their pages they say sorry, even as soggy, rain-soaked chicken feed XII In sincerity I’m not able to keep
thanking you for having a chance with my work XIII However submissive I may have seemed, I now must admit that perhaps we weren’t meant for one another. Repossession by April Schoffstall It was the dead of night; even the alley cats had given up yowling and gone home. I crept around the perimeter. No posted security signs, that was good. A lattice trellis lent the back patio romantic ambiance, and also purchase onto the second story. Success was a window left unlocked sliding smoothly in the casing. The gas I had pumped into the house two hours ago had them all deeply sleeping. I found Mrs. Langley. She was a hefty woman, but I had no fear of waking her husband as I maneuvered her out of their bed. The stairs were tricky, but seeing that she couldn’t go out the window with me, I had to drag her down them. I felt no sorrow for the bruises I would leave. She was the one six months behind on her payments. “You got her? You dog!” cheered my accomplice from the back of the van marked “Ed’s Plumbing.” He helped me load her and strap her to the gurney. “You are the repo king! We been after her for weeks!” “Just drive.” Mercy general was a real hospital. They had
real doctors, real nurses and real patients. But the reality of the health care crisis was that money was money, and money not paid for services rendered would result in collections. Mrs. Langley was still asleep when the van backed into the delivery bay. Nurses in scrubs waited inside to receive the patient. Removal of an organ is much quicker when life preservation is not the goal. My eyes met Danny’s. He was the head nurse on duty tonight. He waved me over and handed me my payment, an envelope full of cash and two vials of Lorivianthine. “Dude, he gave you the stuff didn’t he?” I couldn’t slip it past Graham, he had found out I was taking Lore when I forgot to clean out the glove box one day. I didn’t respond. “You are gonna have a coronary.” Lore was discovered to have medicinal effects similar to marijuana, but it also seemed to fight off AIDS, cancer, and multiple sclerosis. Herbalists sold the concoction as a wonder drug, to decrease muscle stiffness, increase energy and appetite, and prevent cancer. It was soon discovered to cause massive heart attacks in otherwise healthy people. Others developed liver failure. Their organs would randomly shut down and hospitals could no longer keep up with demand. The FDA banned it. I had found my career. If you weren’t willing to pay for your organs, you didn’t deserve them. Someone else was waiting for the same organ with pockets full of money. The next night, feeling limber and alert, having had a tiny booster dose of Lore before going in to work, I climbed the fire escape out-
side an apartment complex like a world class gymnast. I thought about how it would make my accomplice curse at me, knowing I was showing off my drug-induced prowess.
need a transplant. You shouldn’t mess with Lore.”
Mr. Ostenfeld was waiting at his window. He shot off two rounds that I barely dodged. The breaking glass tinkled and showered in rainbow prisms I had not enough time to admire. I smiled.
A familiar face poked around the curtain. “Dude, I thought you were a goner!”
“Mr. Ostenfeld,” I chided. “Now that’s no way to greet a guest.” “I sent my payments!” he growled as he reloaded the rifle. “They were bad checks, all three of them.” I crawled below the window, hoping the brick was not just a facade. “I don’t suppose you have less than a full box of bullets in there?”
“I guess I should have been.” “So, does this mean I get to go inside, do the dirty work?” his eyes sparkled. “Hey, I’m not dead yet.” But he was right, I was not the same. I had no choice but to train him while I sat on the sidelines.
“I’ve got three.”
We started small, using gas before breaking in. He was actually good at it, having watched me for years. As he got better, I felt more useless and took less of the cut.
“Bullets?” I asked hopefully.
I knew this day would come.
Suddenly, pain shot down my left arm, and I broke into a cold sweat.
I had stopped showing up for work, feigning illness, then sinking into depression. The bills were piling up. I wondered how long until I was evicted. I stood in my bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror. The long scar was still pink down my chest. Time take one of my many pills. I grabbed blindly for the bottle, not really caring if I grabbed the right one, or if I took two pills or six.
I woke to nurse Danny’s face. “I knew one day I’d see you in here.”
Something fell out in the sink: a tiny syringe with a few drops of Lore inside.
I held it up before my dazzled eyes. My new heart ached for the pleasure I knew I would feel even from this small dose. Temptation was too great.
“I don’t suppose you’d like to make a payment now?” “Nope.”
“You had a heart attack.” “So, now what, I take some pills for the rest of my life and watch my salt?” “You know how these things go, Martin. You
He left me to contemplate my future.
I went into work. “Dude, did you meet a lady or something?”
“No. I just feel better, okay?”
ute longer, she’d cry.
He smiled, but glanced nervously at me, volunteering to drive for old time’s sake.
Come to think of it, Dad’s friends had ugly teeth just like him, like they’d been chewing on rocks, especially that one lady with the frizzy hair and her fat midriff always showing. Momma shared Grandma’s dislike for Dad’s friends, called them monkeys, meth whores. I didn’t know what that meant. There wasn’t a whole lot that I understood back then. I was only seven. My sister said it had to do with the needles Dad sometimes stuck in his arms. I’d seen him do that once in his bedroom with those people with rotten teeth. He yelled at me for looking and then slammed the door on my nose.
We drove straight to the hospital, without a body. “What’s this?” “Uh, change of plans, dude.” Danny came out, looking concerned. “I need you to come with me.” Unsure, I followed, only to be strapped down. “Dude, I’m so sorry.” It was the last thing I heard. I struggled as the mask was put over my face, and I fell into eternal blackness. Rotting Teeth by Loren A. Moreno At first I wasn’t sure what Dad’s teeth had to do with us getting kicked out of Grandma’s house. Dad’s teeth were rotting. Every tooth a color other than white, with a few of his front teeth in an active state of decay—brown and jagged with one upper tooth resembling the end of a golf peg. Mama said it was because he was just too goddamn lazy to brush his teeth on a regular basis. “I’ve gotta sleep next to him every night. Imagine how I feel.” The four of us—my sister Neves, Mama, Dad and me—were out on our asses. Grandma said she was sick of it, tired of Mama and Dad yelling at each other in her house. Tired of Dad’s friends with their dirty feet appearing at all hours of the night, playing dominos out in the garage as they smoked weird-smelling cigarettes. Their hollers kept her from her sleep, and when she couldn’t stay up a min-
“For some reason they all need the same medicine,” Neves had said. She was two years older than me. She knew a lot more than I did. Grandma said she didn’t want Dad in her house anymore; scared that her jewelry would get lost again. Stuff often went missing in Grandma’s house, but I never understood why she insisted on calling it lost. Doesn’t lost imply that it can be found? She wasn’t a rich lady, but years of stuff hung on her walls or around her wrists, trinkets Grandpa had bought for her back when they lived on the U.S. Air Force base in the Philippines, back when I wasn’t even alive and Dad was still a boy. Once, Grandma wanted Dad to paint the living room walls a fresh coat of beige. The last time the walls had been repainted had been before Grandpa died. Dad had insisted that Grandma pay him to do it—he only had half a job back then, cleaning floors in retail stores once they closed for the night. “You live in this house and you eat my food, don’t you? I take care of these grandchildren and I don’t complain. So quit this foolish talk. I ain’t paying you nothing,” Grandma had barked back.
He took down all the pictures on the wall, including framed drawings on parchment from a Buddhist temple in Thailand. I loved those pictures of people with pointy eyes and fingernails as long as popsicle sticks, wearing funny cone-shaped hats and tight dresses. I could never figure out if they were men or women. Grandma said they’re just Asian.
I offered to draw her new pictures, and she just smiled, pushing my long hair back from my face. Then she continued to hum.
The repainting took days, and some of Dad’s crazy-toothed friends came from the depths of Waipahu town to help, including the big lady with bad teeth who smelled like a belly button.
I didn’t want to leave Grandma’s house. Who was going to read Chronicles of Narnia to me before I went to bed? Who was going to wait for me at the fence of Ka Noelani Elementary School with pork hash from the Manapua Truck? Who was going to walk with me home from school and tease me that the creatures are going to crawl out of the storm drains to get me? Momma was always too sad to do those things. Too busy lying under her sheets staring at things that weren’t there. Too busy crying about things I didn’t understand. I wanted Grandma to be my mom and my dad.
Grandma complained that Dad didn’t work hard enough and the repainting was taking too long. “You take more cigarette breaks than a Hotel Street hooker. Ain’t no excuse for you to be taking this long.” Grandma had to put the television in her bedroom just so she could watch Days of Our Lives in the morning and Joe Moore’s news report at night. By the time the paint had dried and Grandma was ready to put the pictures back up on the walls, the pictures were gone. “What do you mean, ‘They just disappeared?’ Picture frames don’t grow legs and walk away!” Grandma hollered. She tore apart every closet and cabinet searching for her pictures, but the look on her face told me she knew she’d never find them. She called for Grandpa while she looked. “Ceclio, if you were here, you’d kick this boy’s ass. I don’t know what I’m going to do with him.” Eventually, she sat in the living room and cried for hours. I sat on her lap and she hugged me as she rocked back and forth. She smelled like the lavender mints she kept in her purse. She hummed a hymn from church, Come Holy Ghost, as she cried. Sometimes she’d kiss me on the forehead. “You’re a good boy, Adao.”
Enough was enough. Dad needed to grow up, get a job, take care of his family, she said. “You’re thirty-five already. I’m too old to be taking care of your sorry ass.”
To the Judge Who Gave my Sociopathic Daughter a Second Chance by Dan Lear Say you are Solomon. And I, Abraham. In our story, God sends me not with my son to the mountain, but with my daughter to your chamber beating like a heart in the center of our people. And let’s say God is only a tree in my mind hung with cloth scraps and old papers and measuring tapes that spell right and wrong and reckon their lengths. Let’s make my blade a legal pad of notes and this stack of photo graphs: a squirrel I found skinned and stretched with pegs through its paws,
five fledgling sparrows on a fire ant hill, ligature marks on the throat of my threeyear-old son. In our story you raise your sword to cleave her and neither I nor the angels intervene so you swing but only to sever my hands at the wrists, send us both home to my wife and small son while my daughter smiles at my spurting stumps knowing there’s not much left I can do but I’m telling you here that I want to bring her to your three-storied home on Venton Park Drive at two in the morning & let her slip into your house like a cotton mouth twining & I want to be there when she stands at your bed with her knife at your pretty wife’s throat & I want you to say to me then She’s only a child as you’ve said to me now & I want to see the dread knowing in your wide taped-back eyes as you choke on the clotted black blood of your wisdom. Dance of the Moth by Lindy Whiton I was 15 and already aware of being clumsy and big. My Grandmother Overman, or Gramma O., was 83. I had gone to stay in the creek house with Aunt Lois and Uncle Paul. Their house was a flat house a half story above the ground, no basement, just lifted on stilts so that when the creek flooded the house was still free of water. There was a front porch, a kitchen, living room and 4 bedrooms in the creek house. It was painted dark green with
gray shutters, had a tiny patch of yard and a shed, where I was told to stay away from the black widows. Point Reyes Station, CA, in some ways is the quintessential Western town, saloon and all, and on the fault and creek, it stays green; along the ocean it stays blue, and in between, often the hills are the color of deerskin. Large birds sit on telephone wires, and there are the occasional clusters of redwood and Doug Fur, but more likely Bay and Cedar overrun by a sage green moss covers the hills on the ocean side. One of the bedrooms inside the creek house had an old spring bed, double sized with a cotton batting mattress, a couple of foamfilled pillows, sheets and an old white cotton bedspread. It is in this bed where I slept with Gramma O. when I was 15. It is here where I learned about the feel of frailty. It was moist in the creek house, and it smelled of good old-fashioned home cooking. I think Aunt Lois was afraid to cook for me because she knew my mother had a cook named Lena and somehow thought Lena cooked gourmet food instead of pork chops and the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever eaten. It wasn’t until years later that Aunt Lois understood how much I cherished the smell of a wood fire and damp California evening and the taste of blackberry dumplings. The first night I slept with Gramma O., I crawled into those springs next to her and tried desperately not to slide down into her. I tried to keep myself still and perched on the hillside of the springs and mattress, and laid there unable to allow myself to breath right. She was tiny. She stood five foot, one inch and, maybe, weighed one hundred pounds, and although she lived another fourteen years, I thought she was the oldest and dearest person I knew. Her breathing was steady and sweet. I listened for it, for the regularity of it, and realized I could not adjust my own
lungs or heart to mirror it. My breathing got confused, and again I lay absolutely rigid, petrified that any move I made would wake poor Grandma and I might squash her or suffocate her. So I lay there until sleep won, and I did not kill her.
of these outer symptoms of pain reminded me that she was old and beginning to tire.
Friday night, my Mother and I were shown to our room in a large Victorian Bed and Breakfast. There was one king-size bed in it, with a good strong mattress and enough layers of blankets and pillows for anyone to adjust oneself. I was immediately taken to that night in Point Reyes.
“Look at that moon, Mom.”
The differences are important. The first is my mother is not a tiny woman. She is 86, fivefive, and a normal weight. She is, however, beginning to be frail. It is hard to explain how. Her hands and fingers, still steady, are shaped like ancient apple trees. They had made the bride’s dress worn the following day by her Granddaughter, perfectly fitted to her tall thin body, the back evenly sewn, matching straight up the spine, a small bow in place. Those twisted fingers had made the mother-of-thebride’s dress, a perfect mature woman’s fairy dress, cut on the bias, two layers of silk. And they had sewn the size four flower girl dress, three-skirted, roses up the front, beautiful gold and copper. Those hands are not frail. They are still competent, but they hurt, and their swollen knuckles represent her life. Her ears still hear; her eyes may be clearer than mine. Her eye strain is so painful that she wears sunglasses into the night. Her breathing is easier to follow when there is a slight snore. Listening to her was like listening to a baby; twice I wanted to wake her to make sure that she was still alive. She flailed her arms and kicked her legs from the pain of cramping shins. No, she was not frail, but all
Yet, even if she didn’t hear me exclaim about something beautiful, within seconds she’d repeat the same awe.
“Do you see that moon, dear?” She is alive, not frail, aware and alive, but aging is like the moth’s dance. She is beginning that dance. And she may last another 10 years, as her mother did. Or she may go in the night sooner than we want, taking with her, her personal awe of beauty, fingers that play flute and sew. She is my mother, and she does not conjure up memories of blackberry dumplings, nor slightly damp sheets by the creek. But I believe when she does go, I will take some of her ashes and fly them to Point Reyes and place them with my Aunt Lois, closer to her Mother and her Father. I think I will scatter them near those bay trees, eucalyptus, and cedar so she can have a part of her near those places that do not fill either of us with memories of pain, rather rowboats on the creek and seals at Liminster Point, and maybe she will be better off, not happier, for I don’t believe she is sad, but free from anguish. Sleeping next to my Mother in a king-size bed in Georgia made me terribly aware that her last dance was beginning. The Guilty Wife by Liz Haigh Imagine a comfy armchair. Okay, it is old and the fabric is faded. It is even threadbare in places, but you are happy with it. You are not so young yourself now, the armchair will probably suffice for the rest of your days.
Then, one day when you are out and about, another armchair catches your eye. The fabric is less worn and so much more vibrant than on the armchair which you have at home. You do not want to be drawn to this armchair, but you are tired and a little weary with life at present. You decide to rest a while on this nice new seat. You are surprised how different it feels than the one you have at home. And although you know it is wrong, you start to spend more and more time with this vibrant new armchair and less with the one you have at home. But when the crunch time comes, can you actually bear to throw out your old armchair and replace it with the new one? No, you cannot because deep in your heart you know that is not the right thing to do. So, despite its protests, you stop seeing the vibrant new armchair, with its soft cushions and bouncy springs, and you stay at home with the old comfy armchair, which you have been with for most of your life. You desperately want to be happy with your old comfy armchair; you want to love it the way you used to, but you now find the faded fabric so dull. The springs are not only old, they are rusty and creak when they move. The threadbare fabric is rough to the touch; it even smells different than the vibrant new armchair you once knew. You really wish you could be in love with your old comfy armchair again, but you find you cannot. So what do you do? You do the right thing. You look after your old comfy armchair as best you can. You keep your house clean and tidy; you cook nice meals. You and your armchair have spent a lot of time in each otherâ€™s company. It is not a perfect life, but many people have worse lives.
In the dead of night, when your comfy armchair is still in the darkness, you allow yourself to dream of your vibrant armchair and remember the way your skin felt as it brushed against its fabric.
without me by J. M. Stockard the sun rises, it sets, the moon awakens and the rain falls. birds cut each other with lullabies and knives sing for blood. all of this happens without me. grass blades erect out of the dirt, the flowers bloom slowly raped by air and time and then they die. all of this happens without me. my neighbor leaves his house to cheat on his wife, my boss cheats the company and steals his own integrity. all of this happens without me. you awake and smile, taking in the daylight, it unfolds you to what you will become and you are loved. all of this happens, without me.
The Made-Up Tales of Great-GreatGrandmother by K. S. Riggin I loved to sit and listen to my Great-greatgrandmother. She made up the best stories. “Long ago and far away on the planet Earth, there used to be real Christmas trees,” she’d always start off, as I curled up in her cozy, warm lap. “Those Christmas trees were fresh from the forest, and they smelled of pine nuts and damp peat. They felt tickly in your hand when you clasped a branch and released their wonderful fragrance. We hung decorations in the boughs of the trees. And this is the part you won’t believe, my child: we took the tree into our houses.” Of course, I’d heard the tales so many times that I almost knew them by heart, but there was a rote to her telling. I had my own lines to say. “Why did you bring trees into your houses, Nana?” She always hugged me right then, so I was glad I’d asked the question. She always told better stories when I followed the usual pattern. “Oh, we brought them in to put presents underneath them, presents in prettily-wrapped packages. We used real paper made from trees back then, and the colors were indescribable: reds and greens, blues, and silvers. Why, we even had colored ribbon to tie the packages up with, and my mother used to hang a candy cane on the center of every package, just to make it pretty.” “Did you get to eat it?” I’d ask right then. “Oh, yes. What a treat that was when we finally got to open the packages and eat those little candy canes. Peppermint, you know, and
they were such a pleasant mouthful to suck, all sugary and sticky. Why, sometimes it was so sweet it tickled your taste buds. My tongue used to curl up in the roof of my mouth and just lay there panting with pleasure.” That was the part that I loved to hear. “Tell me more, Nana,” I would plead, and Greatgreat-grandmother would take another sip of reconstituted, imitation, coffee-water, sigh, and continue. “Oh, there were so many good things to eat back then. We had a gingerbread house. You’ve smelled the ginger patches in your history book. You know what ginger smelled like. But the taste—oh, that was such delight. It was crispy, yet soft. It melted in your mouth, and you couldn’t help but smile. But that was just the gingerbread part. That miniature house was covered with delicious, tasty sweetness: lemon drops, cherry suckers, rainbow hardcandies, cinnamon dots, soft chocolates that melted in your hand if you didn’t pop them into your mouth quickly enough.” Mother B577 would often interrupt these wonderful tales. Her snippy nose would shoot up with stern disapproval, and she would stop and shake her head. “Now, Nana,” she’d say. “Are you telling those outrageous lies about that holiday again? You know there was never such a thing as Christmas. That’s all a madeup story. Why, if people chopped down trees to bring them inside, and they wrapped presents in real paper, there wouldn’t have been any trees left. Then everyone would have died from lack of air.” I would always hug Great-great-grandmother then and wink at her. I knew that the stories couldn’t be true. All that candy, all that waste, but still I loved to hear her tales. “Tell me about Santa Claus,” I’d urge her the moment Mother B577 walked away. Nana would laugh. Her mouth was wrinkly
and the teeth implants sometimes seemed too big for her shrunken-in face, but she’d hug me and “remember” more and more of the impossible celebrations she called Christmas. “Why, I used to have a little nativity set. It was made out of real wood, and up on top was a golden star with sparkles. Inside was a miniature baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and all the animals were beside the baby’s manger—” “Real animals, Nana?” She always laughed when I said that. “Ah, R495, we certainly did have real animals back when I lived on the planet Earth. Lots of people had cats and dogs, and some people even had horses and barn animals, but you know, my little rascal, that inside my little wooden manger there were only wooden figurines.” “Oh, I wish I could have seen them,” I’d say, not minding at all that Nana had wandered away from telling me about Santa Claus. Eventually, if I were very patient, she would get back to that part. Then she’d tell me all about the flying reindeer and how Mrs. Claus baked cookies in a big box called an oven. “She didn’t use a food machine?” I could never stop myself from asking.” Great-great-grandmother would chuckle a bit, and pat me on the head. “We didn’t have those, R495, nor did Mrs. Claus.” I loved Great-great-grandmother so very, very much. It was the saddest day when her parts wore down and she was dismantled and recycled. I cried, and when the new robot came to replace her, I refused to listen to any of its programmed tales. It just wouldn’t be the same without all the stories that Great-great-grandmother used to make up about a holiday she called Christmas.
The Samaritan by Harris Tobias I was wondering about the old man. I hadn’t seen him for several days. He was usually as regular as clockwork, walking that little dog of his. What was that dog? A Chihuahua, I guess. That would make sense since he was Mexican. Or am I stereotyping? That triggered a furious internal debate about prejudice and racial factors and how they influence our decisions. I thought about actually going over there and seeing if the old man was all right, but that would mean actually invading someone else’s space, and I didn’t think I was ready to take on the heavy mantle of Good Samaritan without some serious thought. So instead of going over there, I sat in my thinking chair and made a list of the pros and cons, of getting involved with strangers. That triggered a whole inner discussion about list making. I wondered whether I should list the pros first or let my natural pessimism take over and do the cons first. I have a tendency to favor the cons but then I feel bad for the pros because the mean old cons are such bullies. Then I had the idea of writing the pros and cons of visiting my neighbor on 3 x 5 cards in the order they occurred to me. That way, I wouldn’t be concentrating on the negative and influencing the outcome. It took me a day or two to get the cards, but I was determined to do a proper job. It was worth the extra effort. After another day of scribbling reasons for and against being a good neighbor, the decision seemed weighted pretty heavily in favor of going over there. Then I remembered the little dog. What if the man needed hospitalization? Then I’d be responsible for taking care of the dog. That created a whole other set of problems which I had to work through. After several hours of thinking, which digressed into animal rights issues and a close examination of comparative religion, I reached a decision. I would go over there first thing in the morning
and see if the old guy was okay. I got there just as the paramedics were loading the body of the old man into the ambulance. “What happened,” I asked someone in the small crowd of onlookers. “It looks like he fell a couple of days ago. He must have been lying there for days. Finally, he just died. They say he probably tripped on the dog’s leash. The dog was hurt too. They both must have suffered terribly.”
“You gotta squeeze it to believe it,” I told him blithely, but he gave me the strangest look. “Squeeze it?” the customer laughed. “You’re being funny, right?” His hands were so slack, I was afraid he was going to drop it. “Tighter,” I urged him, but he set it down and backed away. “No thanks,” he said. “I’m not that fond of them anyway.”
Well, that was that. I felt good that I had made the right decision to help, but I felt bad that I had been too late. That got me thinking about the dualistic nature of good and evil and the nature of suffering itself. It was an exciting morning. I’m inspired to go back and blog about it. There are a lot of lessons I can teach.
The day was growing hot. I swatted a fly, sipped my tepid iced tea, and leaned on my elbow, waiting for the next customer. My father was hosing down the area with a cooling spray. I opened my book again, then turned the page of the lurid romance novel.
Metamorphosis by John C. Mannone
But, Charlene, you mean so much to me. I’ve been waiting for you all my life. Please say we can. . .
Sprouting weeds strangle flowers in my garden, the nectar dried. Tares tangle with grain stalks, the breadbasket gnawed by mice blown mad by winds of change. The ravage of land. No more cornucopia. There’s nothing left but butterfly effects. Monarch wings once woven as sheer silk now powder pale. Stick-pinned, its thorax stuck to Styrofoam under glass. In effigy, sun-yellowed butterfly dances with reflections in its clear case with every hot flick of sun pulsing through the clouds. I spin my own cocoon deep beneath the dirt, the dust bowl dirt, metamorphose to a winged death, and compose the Greenhouse gas wind that blows hot across the plain. And watch the Fullers’ dirt get scraped from hungry salesmen’s feet.
The Sweetness of Life by K. S. Riggin
Rick. We have to stop.
No, don’t you see? I can’t. I vowed to my saintly mother that I’d never… “Pardon me, are those sweet?” “What?” I gasped, looking up into the biggest, brownest eyes I’d ever seen—so luscious, in fact, they took my breath away. “Uh, uh, uh,” I stuttered before I closed my mouth and tried to reconnect my brain. “These, uh, these, uh.” Sometimes it’s kind of funny when your brain goes on standby and you can’t think of a word, but believe me, this was not one of those times. The most handsome man I’d ever had the incredible good luck to see was standing in front of me asking me a question, and for the life of me, I couldn’t pull out the answer. I turned red, then purple. I felt dizzy. I looked down at the object in question and then back up at the man.
“Uh, sweet. Uh, yes.”
me a five; I handed him his grapefruit.
He was staring at me as if I were about three years old. I didn’t blame him; my tongue was all wrapped around my voice box.
“Squeeze them, huh?” he repeated. “Why?” “Well, if you roll them around inside the palm of your hand like this,” I said, showing him the motion and then squeezing a little, they make more juice and taste even sweeter.”
“I see,” he said. “Well, I guess I’ll take two. If they’re any good, I’ll be back next week.” “You gotta squeeze it to believe it,” I said, repeating the line my grandfather had always used to sell grapefruits. The man’s girl friend got out of the car and strolled over. Miss Long Blonde Hair Down To Her Thighs And Jeans Two Sizes Too Small, But Looking Incredible In Them, sashayed over to the counter. “What’s taking so long, darling?” I forgot about the squeezing part and jammed the grapefruits into a sack. “Don’t forget to come back now,” I said, sounding like a hillbilly. The guy saluted me in jest, wrapped his arm around his girlfriend, and headed back to the car. Just as he scooted into its black leather seats, the next customer came up to the stand. “Are the grapefruit sweet?” I pulled my eyes away from the brown-eyed dreamboat, and looked up and up and up. King Kong had dimples. I sighed. “You gotta squeeze it to believe it,” I said. He started laughing. The little black sports car with Mr. Good-looking and his blonde girlfriend ripped out of the gravel parking lot like the man was two hours late for his own funeral. “What a jerk,” Mr. Dimples said. I didn’t reply. I just rang up the guy’s purchases. He handed
The guy was still laughing, but he said, “Okay. I’ll try that. What’s your name? You here often?” I laughed along with him. It did sound kind of silly when you first heard it. “Tina,” I replied. “I’m here everyday in the summer.” I looked back at my dad. He was giving me a glare that I could feel right through my t-shirt. “Thanks. I’m Phil,” the guy said sweetly, taking the bag over to his bicycle. He waved before he pulled out into the traffic. Then he pedaled on down the side of the road. All that summer, I sold grapefruits, and my father kept saying, “Life is like a grapefruit. You gotta handle it with care and squeeze its juice, slowly, slowly. Then you feel that tingle on your tongue and the sweetness. A good life is like that, Tina. A slow trickle of the sweetest juices . . .” Of course, I rolled my eyes each time he said that, and I sighed because he kept interrupting whatever romance story I was involved with, but I guess I listened. When Mr. Gorgeous finally asked me my name and turned on the full force of his smile, it didn’t affect me like I’d thought it would. I kept thinking about a time when he’d yelled at the blonde, calling her stupid. After that, I’d never seen her again, but each time the man left, his black sports car roared its engine and sped out into the traffic making everyone ram on their brakes. Phil kept coming, too. In August he asked me
out. Dad said, “No,” but then Phil started helping out around the stand, and my father began to mellow. Phil was good with the customers, too. One day my father overheard him telling someone, “You gotta squeeze it to believe it.” That’s when my dad smiled at Phil and sat down to have a chat. Dad decided he liked the guy, which I was really glad of because that weekend, I finally got to go out on my first date. Dad let Phil drive the old truck, and Phil took me for a hamburger at McDonalds. When we got back, my father checked his watch, and then he started telling Phil about how life was like a grapefruit. I rolled my eyes, but I didn’t open my romance novel. I just smiled and thought about life’s incredible sweetness. Barney Butz, I Love You by Michael A. Kechula “Barney Butz,” I said when the phone rang. “I’m Art Alpha, of the law firm Alpha, Beta, and Cocoa. We’re handing the estate of the late Elsie Potts, of London, England. You’re mentioned in her will.” Elsie Potts? The name didn’t register. “Can you come to our Phoenix office at 1:30 tomorrow?” “Sure.”
arrive. One more thing: you are required to bring a weed.” “What kind of weed?” “It wasn’t specified.” “OK. I’ll bring one.” “Very good. See you tomorrow.” Excited and mystified, I checked my high school and college yearbooks. Elsie Potts wasn’t in any of them. My property was weed free. Looking down the block, I saw one on somebody’s front lawn. I went and knocked on the door. “Can I have that weed?” I said, pointing. “Are you kidding?” “Nope.” “Be my guest. Hey, feel free to come anytime to take all the weeds you want. You don’t even have to ask.” I felt stupid, but I had a weed. Next day, a limo took me to the law office in Phoenix. An attorney ushered me into a conference room and said, “Before we begin, I must mention that Elsie Potts was a woman with many idiosyncrasies. Her will states that we must complete a scenario before you obtain the item she willed you. Do you agree?”
“Good. We’ll send a limo. Now, I’m required to ask you a question. Do you have any qualms about being kissed by a strange woman who’s certified free of communicable diseases?”
“What kind of scenario?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
Incredibly intrigued, I signed.
“Sorry, but I am bound in secrecy until you
He picked up a phone and said, “Let’s begin.”
“We’re not free to say. Sign here to indicate agreement. Then we’ll begin.”
A pretty woman walked in. She asked for my weed, held it against her heart and said, “Barney Butz, the first time I, Elsie Potts, ever saw you was when you were twelve and delivering newspapers in Passaic, New Jersey. It was love at first sight. My twelve-year-old heart became like this weed. Feelings took root, and though I tried hard to uproot them, they grew and grew, like weeds are wont to do. The wild weeds of my love were never cut, chopped, or pulled out. I loved you then, I love you now, and I’ll love you forever, even from the Great Beyond.” Then the woman left. Another came in and handed me a red rose and a bunch of bluish flowers. Looking into my eyes she said, “I, Elsie Potts, wrote this love poem for you, Barney Butz. Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you.” Then she left. The next woman, the most stunning I’d ever seen, sashayed toward me. She came close and said, “Here’s the kiss I, Elsie Potts, always wanted to give you.” Throwing her arms around me, she crushed against me. “First, I kiss your eyes.” And she did, slowly, tenderly. “Now, I kiss the tip of your nose.” That tickled. “And now.…” Her sizzling lips were electrifying. While kissing me hard, she pushed me backwards onto a table and climbed on top of me. Just as things were getting good, she pulled away and left the room.
Panting, I flopped into a chair. Wiping perspiration from my forehead, I could hardly wait for the next woman to show up. Unfortunately, the next to enter the room was jailbait. The young teenager carried a package. “This was my most valuable possession. Now it’s yours,” she said. Handing it to me, she added, “I, Elsie Potts, have kept myself pure for you, just like this young virgin you see before you. Do you, Barney Butz, now fully comprehend how much I loved you from afar?” “I do. Honest, I do.” The girl left. “The item within the package is insured for a million dollars,” the lawyer said. “The limo is waiting to take you home.” I couldn’t believe somebody willed me something worth a million smackers! On the way home, I opened the package. Inside was a wooden box that contained a fiftypage letter and a crappy-looking, gold-colored ring. This was her most valuable possession? What a screwball! The letter told about her life-long love for me, and how she fled the country in deep sorrow when I married. Settling in London, she remained single, because nobody ever wanted her. She said the ring was brass. Brass? Why insure brass for a million? The ring was discovered during an archaeological dig she’d funded. Experts thought it was the first brass ring ever fashioned by prehistoric man. It could bring a million in an auction. What a doll Elsie Potts was! Her photo was on the last page. Whew!
Looked like she’d been French-kissed by a bulldozer. I went to London to auction the ring and find Elsie’s grave. The auction netted two millionseven. Sweet Elsie had made me a wealthy man. Delighted, I took a taxi to the cemetery.
He went bald his blood full of death and helpful poisons. My hair committed suicide in sympathy a pile of red strands strangely curling on the floor after years of lank straightness.
Her gravestone was shaped like a wedding cake, topped by a life-size statue of a bride and groom embracing and kissing. Under their feet was a heart carved from pink marble. The inscription said, “Elsie Potts Loves Barney Butz Forever.”
We would smoke, the gentleness of pre-rolled pot a reminder of when pain did not wake him his blood flowing like ground glass through veins showing green beneath translucent skin.
I wondered what I’d done to deserve such profound love from someone I’d never met?
I give five dollars, every year, at the house that collects hope In a red papered box hidden between the giant Night Before Christmas Animated storybook and life-size stable of mechanical reindeer. But somehow people still die.
I found myself wishing I’d met and married ugly, ardent Elsie instead of the pretty, cold woman who ruined my life. Who knows what I would have achieved with such a loving woman like Elsie at my side? “Why didn’t you tell me sooner, Elsie?” I said, putting a red rose and a bunch of violets on her grave. Climbing on top of the marble cake, I wrapped my arms around the bride and repeated the love poem she’d written for me. “Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you.” Then I whispered, “Barney Butz loves Elsie Potts forever.” Untitled at 1247 AM Not Written in Red Crayon by Thomas Carroll Twenty five years later I still remember his face swollen from treatments killing him quicker than the disease fought with pennies collected in tin cans.
Reflections by Alun Williams I look in the mirror, then look away. I am not pretty, and I don’t wish to view ugliness. I bite my lip and wonder, then ask myself the question, “Which face shall I put on tonight?” The mirror is a wonderful invention, I think. It lets us see, and yet we are blind to what it shows. I’ve seen them do it, those young girls preening and beautifying themselves in bathroom mirrors, yet they barely touch the surface. Men too. Sometimes I don’t know which sex is the worst for self worship? Neither see what lies beneath it all, because they are shallow. I, on the other hand, see everything. Which face? I decide on Cora. Her face is so pretty, like a china doll. Her skin is delicate and I’m careful, so very careful not to bruise it. It fits perfectly, of course. I am sublime. I fall deeply into the looking glass and see Cora’s
life as it used to be. Cora’s life is my life now. I look around and see the other faces I have collected, all of them beautiful. I have many faces. They do not last long. They wither and die like autumn leaves, but it’s easy to collect more. Beauty and I were made for each other, but God didn’t know it. He gave me a face that was plain, a face that was so nondescript I was almost invisible. It helps in my chosen path. Daddy thought I was beautiful. I loved my daddy and he loved me, until he ran away with a beautiful dancer and left me alone with Mother. Mother hated me, but I can’t blame Daddy for leaving, for wanting beauty. It’s what I always wanted. Now I have it. I wear a pretty face every night, a different and wonderful face. I only wear my own when I need to, but not tonight. I have enough for now. The police called around this afternoon asking about Cora. She was my neighbor. Had I known her? Had I seen anything? No, of course not. I asked why, and he said she was dead. At least, they thought it was her. Her face had been cut away. I paled at the thought, and he asked if I was ok. That was nice of him. I asked the officer if he wanted some mint tea. Had I been wearing one of my pretty faces, I think he would have stayed, but I wasn’t. I don’t think he was interested at all. I see my reflection in the mirror. Cora’s very pretty, isn’t she? The Girl from Cienfuegos by Kyle Hemmings In my retirement, I became a piece of driftwood, splintered with the memories of a woman I loved as deeply as the sea. I settled in Key West, roamed beaches where the cays
and coral reefs infiltrated my dreams of a lover much younger than I, bearing sugar cane and old promises. She remembered the sun. At times, I polished off a bottle of Cognac Martin, feeling as if I could be a sailor, reborn. Each morning, I watched a girl walk past the coves, her bronze body, lithe, rhythmic, as if possessed by the sea. She set out in a skiff, disappeared into its shallow draft. By early afternoon, she’d return, walking past me in the distance. I imagined her eyes in a trance. I imagined the drum of some distant lover who turned her out. Over time, I chatted with her, the sea eavesdropping on our conversations, marking them. She told me how Hemingway had once been one of her mother’s lovers, how her mother, a Cuban and Santerian, was tortured and killed by soldiers for refusing them the anchor of her body. At times, the girl, turning her head of long hair, perhaps listening to the low tide, claimed her mother, after her death, could walk on the waters of some fine south coast. South of everything. We met on the shore, this girl and I, every so often, an irregular ritual. I felt something returning and something leaving. It was foolish of me, a man my age, to want this closeness. I asked her where she goes with her skiff. I’ve never seen her fish. Her lips pulled and her eyes ran down a stretch of ivory sand. She said she rows to the middle of somewhere and there she sees the face of Hemingway, her real father, the reflection rising to the surface, how his eyes dance for her, how his lips open up as only the sea could. Slowly, she rose and made her way to the skiff. She never returned that morning. From that day on, I rowed out to the sea looking for her. One morning, I reached some turbulent water and my boat began to spin, this slow centrifugal movement. I looked below, and there was his face, the eyes wide, ap-
proaching the surface—the face, the beard, gigantic, wavering, a sea in itself. My boat was caught in the stretch of his lips. As they spread, my boat spun faster. I bent over the gunnel and said, “Ernest, you must let her go. I am an old man, and the fish don’t bite the way they once did.” And with that, Ernest closed his eyes and sank to the bottom of the sea. I imagine him still smiling, that silly and selfish octopus of an old man.
cross, a token of belonging.
Jim the Baptist by Annmarie Lockhart
Quang Tri Province Vietnam, 1968
Father Jim wends through the sanctuary, speaking his sermon. His step is sure in this Gothic holy space. His beard spills white and gray onto the purple chasuble he wears for Lent. Gold-threaded doves, sewn by his wife, edge out from under his beard as if winging from a cloud.
I can smell the burning jungle, the sulfuric stench of spent rounds, and the sour odor of my own fear. I feel the stickiness of the air, and the heat of the flaming huts. I hear the cries of terror, the staccato burst of automatic fire, the steady beat of a Huey’s rotors, the occasional heavy thump of a grenade.
That beard! It rightly calls to mind John the Baptist, the wild man in the desert, for Father Jim is a contemporary wild man in the desert, a 20th-century voice in the wilderness, inviting rather than exhorting. His voice is intimate, close, not across the room but in your ear. He sings the phrases of his sermon, part cantor, part choirboy. And his words themselves sing too: sacred psalms and profane ditties deftly composed into his own anthem. Father Jim’s eyes search out the listeners seated in the pews. His gaze skims along the prism of windows, and scans the gray and pink swirled marble floor. His eyes have the effect of a handclasp, focused and warm. They throw out a greeting, a hug, a sign of the
In this holy space, the visitors to my right do not know And daily communicants like myself do not remember that he is blind. Choices by Matthew Stern
I hear the lieutenant give the order. I see the figures before me, kneeling on the ground. I see their eyes as they understand. Two men, one woman, and a little girl. Her eyes are afraid. They are dressed in rags, dirty and torn cloth that barely hides the sallow and taut skin. I could play their ribcages like a xylophone. The lieutenant repeats the order. My rifle comes up, almost unbidden. Obey orders or people die. I was trained to follow orders. That’s what they taught on Paris Island. The Marines turn boys into men. War turns the men right back into scared little boys. I remember the arrival on the island, the start of boot camp. We arrived by bus in the middle of the night. There was screaming, there was pain, there was camaraderie, there were orders. There were always orders. I was tough. I worked the fishing boats on
the North Shore. My hands were so callused they didn’t feel anymore. My arms were full of muscle. I was young. Invulnerable. Immortal. I remember my mother’s tears on graduation, the draft notice in her purse. Don’t worry, Ma, I’ll make you proud. I remember my dad’s upturned chin, the glint in his eye. He hit Normandy in ‘44 and waded through Hell all the way to Germany. The lieutenant repeats the order. I want to live in this moment. I feel that I can. I want to re-live everything. I am kissing Dawn Harding on a summer night when I am fourteen. Our lips graze tentatively, exploring places we’ve never been. I’m in a snowball fight in the dead of winter, my woolen gloves frozen to my hands. I experience the fumbling awkwardness and the inevitable passion with Lisa by the river. We tumble and turn, laugh and cry. All of these images run through my mind like that river. They can’t be grasped or held. I want to live in this moment because I know that no matter what road I take, which choice I make, there will be misery. The lieutenant repeats the order. Louder and louder still. That’s what I am supposed to do. Follow orders. They probably are Viet Cong, like the Lieutenant says. Cong killed Davies, Riordan, and Miller, not to mention the faceless others filling the stiff black bags that crackle like crisp leaves when they are picked up. The lieutenant takes out his .45. A sign of command. He aims the gun at me. His hand shakes and trembles, but he is so close he won’t miss. He’ll shoot me. I can see it in his eyes. They are wide, red, and full of fright. The little girl’s eyes are blurry with water. Could she hold a grenade? Next year, will she run into the open arms of a GI and then explode when he offers her a candy bar? Will a
gang of grunts doped on marijuana and fear rape her until she dies bleeding and alone? If I obey orders will I spare her these ends? Or will I simply postpone the inevitable evil that the world visits upon everyone. I have come so far. I arrived scared and green. My first taste of combat, I pissed my pants and made sure I fell into a river when it was over to hide the fact. Now, the bush is my home. One month and a wake-up and I take that freedom bird. But how will I go? Will I go home a free man but shackled in my mind with the guilt of slaughtered innocents? Will I be court marshaled for insubordination with the shame of it splattered across my family like manure? Will I go home in a box with a bullet in my head? Will I make the people at home right, those people who curse and scream at us? They spit on our faces and call us baby killers. They hold signs and hold hands. They burn flags, bras, and draft cards. I don’t want to make them right. Hard choices all around. I wish I could stay in the moment, but I know I can’t. I make my decision and time snaps like a loosed rubber band. I raise the rifle and fire. The pistol barks once and dirt geysers at my toes. The girl screams and the mother grabs her. The men stay still, knowing the consequences of unnecessary movement. They look at me. They are a pessimistic people and expect a bullet. I motion with the barrel. They leave. They probably are Cong. Later this month, the girl will be running up to Hueys and tossing grenades inside. The woman will be selling herself for five dollars a pop and slitting throats when she can. I’ll be in a firefight with the two men—AK-47s, black pajamas, and a world of hurt raining down. But maybe not. Maybe they are simply farmers who want nothing more than to grow enough food to feed their kids. Maybe all they want is
to hold their loved ones close, see their kids grow, and look out from their houses and not see the hills burning. I look at the dead lieutenant on the ground. The small holes have pooled with blood and are overflowing like a forgotten sink. I hear a far-off rumble. Thunder, or an air strike. The Little Girl by Neila Mezynski Hearing the motor rev, she dashed to the window and pulled the curtain aside. Her legs starting without her, she threw open the front door, running to the dreadful spot. Gray fur whipped, hurled in the air. “I didn’t see it,” mother said. Quiet. The little girl gathered the still-warm kitten in her arms. She rocked back and forth “Let’s go inside,” dad whispered. She stood up slowly, face stern with decision. Into the desert she walked, a straight-spined soldier holding the kitten’s bobbing head like a mother does her baby. A blue flower beckoned. Holding her cheek against the soft fur, she gently put the bundle down. Tucking her legs shortly underneath, she dug in the soft earth. A shallow hole emerged. Covering, patting the earth, she picked the blue flower and laid it atop the mound. She sat there, her mind far away. Plumber Angels by Robert Scotellaro No one remembers them now, but once, in a simpler time, there were Plumber Angels to fix the troubles of the world, thumping down the long flights of prayers with their tool boxes, to lives that had sprung a leak. Their bellies hanging over trousers, wrenches twirling. Snaking out clogged philosophies, backed up tubs of doubt. Who do you think was there, clearing the
drains after The Great Flood, leaving the land to harvest once again? Their thick hands under sinks, reaching deep into walls, wiping their brows on the ends of T-shirts, asking only for a glass of water now and then to quench their thirst. New pipes glistened in their wake. A smile, a handshake—all it took to send them on their way. Serendipity by Yvette Managan She recognized the face of the man standing in the line at the cashier. Amy had seen it ten years before, caught in the light from her bedroom window. Her heart slammed against her ribs. What was he doing in France? Amy lifted the newspaper higher to hide her face, and peered around the edge. He looked older, fatter, but clearly it was Daddy. She watched until he’d paid for his magazine and left. Amy threw her paper on the empty seat besides her, gathered her belongings and followed behind him at what she hoped was a safe distance. He left the building, took an immediate right and then crossed the street at the diagonal. Amy walked a bit further up the street, then scooted across too. She’d have made it fine, had she looked where she went instead of at the man. A bus slammed into her body and pushed her ahead for several feet before Amy’s slack body dropped to the asphalt. He turned when he heard brakes screeching, and he shuddered when the tired thudthudded over the attractive blonde’s body. So young, he thought. Pity. Amy should be about that age by now. She’ll be so surprised to see me.
Quite Nice by Ray Sharp I think it’s a positive focus poem, she said. The loveliness of the imagination. It’s quite nice. Van Gogh hacked off an ear after hearing such praise. I think the sunflowers are lovely. It’s quite nice. The yellow reminds me of your positive eyes. I’ll give you the loveliness of the imagination. Imagine the blood. Imagine the scream. Forget Wind And Fire by Douglas Campbell Since your betrayal, my pain and anger take physical forms. Headaches blur my vision. Muscle cramps and spasms unbalance me, wrench me this way and that around the pole of my spine, the rooted tree we must all put our faith in. When that happens, somewhere along the trail of streets and hallways I must follow each day, I wonder: do I stumble, stagger, reel sideways? Do people pity my disability, smirk at my drunkenness? I don’t know. I’m new to these shores, this mind and body I inhabit now, after your betrayal. “Give it time,” my friend Gary says. “It will hurt less.” Would he think me mad if I told him I want it to hurt more? That I long for some apocalyptic spasm to lift me from my stumbling, fling me into a storm-sickened sky to join the wind? Oh, what a lethal wind I’d be! I’d fly straight to where you now live pillowed on the plump belly of his wealth, in the gated mansion shaded by old growth, enthroned on the cool heights far above the wretched fates and vile drains of the city. You’ll hear me coming; the rising howl you hear will be my howl. You’ll hear me tearing off the shingles, the sheeting, the rafters and trusses, and finally, the door to your room. Will your chin still hold its arrogant
lift, your eyes their royal contempt? You were my spine, my rooted tree. But I will blow you down, then hurry away like you did, leaving you fallen and rootless too. If wind should fail, fire might work. Easy enough, I should think. Drench my heart in gasoline, nurse the heat of rage into a spark, explode into a vicious flower of orange and yellow swords, to crackle through the tinder, devouring the dead undergrowth surrounding your gated castle. Think your smug fences will keep fire out? Think again. When I’m fire, you’ll see me. You’ll watch the quaking inferno whose love you scorned turn the tallest trees into flaring torches, leap from the crown of one to the crown of the next, from the peaks of your hemlocks to the peak of your roof. You’ll hear me coming; the rising roar you hear will be my roar. You’ll feel me, my ravenous heat sucking the lifebreath out of your last, your deepest alveoli. You’ll smell me, the incense of your burning spruces, the rubber of your big tires spinning with flame, the stench of your pampered flesh melting down to lava. See me, hear me, feel me, smell me. Yes, my love. I think you’ve earned fire. “Forgive,” my friend Lila says. “That’s how you heal.” Would she think me mad if I told her I don’t want to heal? I want to stay raw, infected, oozing. Anger breeds vision, gives me strength to stand up each day, a voice to shout with and name her crimes. Forgive? Why should I go begging while she grows fat? Whose will would that serve? Let cowards forgive. Off to Africa, are you? Taking a flight of fancy on your well-heeled wings? That’s what I hear through the grapevine. I like that idea, and I think I’ll ride along to that land of opportunity. Once there, how hard could it be to twist the razor wire of my anger needle thin, to ride the mosquito’s hungry stab and thrust my way in-
side you? Once again I’ll penetrate you, but not with the gentle, slow thrusts of love we once savored. Oh, how perfect! Forget wind and fire. You won’t see me, won’t hear me coming, but I’ll be with you, inside you again, riding the cycle of your blood while I burst your red cells, the rubies of your life force. You’ll know me in the tremors, in the icy sweat of your first malarial fevers. You’ll fight back, of course, with your doctors and drugs, but of all the great fevers I will have chosen the cleverest. I’ll be kind, give you months, perhaps even years of peace to strut and gloat through the ripe peaches and new snows of your seasons, thinking you’re rid of me. But I’ll only be sleeping, cradled in your liver until the times of my choosing, when I’ll tumble into your blood again and race free, send you exhausted and shivering to your hopeless bed, where your silk sheets will darken with your sweat. I’ll never leave you, love. You were callous and faithless, but I will be true to you, all of our days. Golden Privileges by A. J. Brown “Such a small room for such a wealthy old codger,” Grim said. “I know not what you mean,” Miser whispered. He coughed, blood trickled between cracked lips. Grim raised a parchment brow; dust and flakes of skin fluttered to the floor. “You like your money, but you could have splurged for a nicer room. After all, you can’t take it with you when you die.” Miser blinked and closed his eyes. “I know not what you mean.” The room sat at the far end of the inn. One door led in. There were no windows. The
arched ceilings held spider webs, their hosts long gone. The walls and floor were caked in grime. The blanket that covered Miser to his bare chest was stained with food and bodily fluids. A candle sat on a rickety end table, its wick burned away. “You’re a filthy swine, Miser. They’re going to love you in Hell.” Miser’s eyes opened enough to show slivers of brown irises. “I owe my soul to the angels.” A smile stretched across Grim’s ancient face. “Is that so?” “Aye, it is. I’ve given them my money to build their churches and they—” Grim burst into laughter. “You wouldn’t give your mother a penny, much less the church.” “You’re wrong,” Miser said. “Is it so? I can prove it.” Miser coughed, winced and wiped his mouth. Grim opened the dusty chest at the foot of Miser’s bed. Sacks of coins sat cinched tight with hemp. He lifted out a bag, untied it and scooped out a handful of gold coins. Many of them fell to the floor. “What have you with my money?” Miser snapped, tried to sit up. “Come, children,” Grim said. “Come take and enjoy.” The dark caverns that were Grim’s eyes twinkled and moments later, the children appeared, their faces like rats’, tails like lizards’, their fingers swiping coins from the floor. Grim tossed handfuls in the air, and the children climbed the walls, catching gold in mid-air. “Stop it. That is my money,” Miser said and
finally sat up. He coughed harder, red mist spraying from his mouth.
Mimique by R. J. Dent
“Nothing is yours, now, dead man,” Grim said and waved an arm, tossing more money about the darkening room. The lone candle in the corner flickered, casting dancing shadows along the wall, and then winked out.
He stands on an unlit stage in a darkened theatre.
“Give me my money,” Miser yelled and stood from the bed. His legs shook and he reached for one of the ratty children. He stumbled, gripped the bed post to steady himself, then lunged at another of the children. “You have no privilege to do this.” The candle came to life, its flame rising to the ceiling, lighting the room in a yellow glow. Angels stood at the foot of the bed, their heads down. Imps and demons slithered across the floor and on the walls. Grim’s parchment face was red; flames spilled off of him. He pointed a bony finger at Miser. “Down here, the privileges are all ours.” Miser cried out when he saw the empty chest. He slumped to the floor, his body spent, breathing in labored gasps that tore through his chest. The ratty children swept the coins into their mouths, biting through gold and swallowing them down. Miser reached out, his hand touching the whiskers on one of their faces before falling away and thumping hard against the floor. “Such a small room for such a wealthy old codger,” Grim said. “I know not what you mean,” Miser whispered. Grim raised a parchment brow; flames appeared in his eyes and Miser knew of Hell.
A single spotlight beams down, illuminating his whitened face and white-gloved hands. He is enacting the commedia dell’arte story of Harlequin and Columbine. He is playing both parts, and he is now acting—miming— the scene in which Harlequin stands over the dead Columbine, wishing she could be alive once more. He clutches a tiny purple flower, an Aquilegia vulgaris, in his left hand. He sniffs the flower. A single tear trickles down his face, leaving a dark trail. When it dries, it will be a diamond. At this moment, Harlequin is full of sorrow. He loved Columbine dearly. Pantaloon has killed her. Later, Harlequin will lead Pantaloon into a monster’s lair, and the monster will eat Pantaloon. Harlequin doesn’t know this yet, and even if he did, he would be too overwhelmed with grief to consider revenge. As he looks tenderly at the body of his beloved Columbine, his body sags. His posture becomes stooped, looking older than it is. The tragedy is clear to behold on the white madeup face. And then without warning Columbine stirs. She is alive! A huge smile spreads across Harlequin’s face. Columbine sits up, and then, at first a little unsteadily, she stands. The two principal characters embrace, kiss and then look at each other with joy and longing. How Harlequin wishes at this moment that he
could speak. This One by Len Kuntz You can learn a lot about a person from where they sit on the bus. He always takes the same seat, middle row window, and keeps his face flush to the glass the entire ride. When there isn’t too much sun, I can find his reflection in the pane, his regretful eyes, sullen and swollen and so pulpy I want to suck them dry. What makes it worse is his brooding cheekbones and rooster-tail, James Dean hair, so much like my ex it is heart-stopping. Give me air, give me space. I need a man who knows better. This one could be it. I’m not fishing, but sometimes fate finds you askance. I saw him help a grandma with her shopping bag. Once, he accepted a slice of gum from a cute blonde girl, even though I could tell his breath was just fine. And then there’s the stance he takes as he stands, a familiar body yawn stretch, subtle enough to go unnoticed if you don’t look for it. This one is beauty. After he steps off, I change positions. He has left the faux leather warm for me. I squeeze my thighs and stare out the window and wave, watch him walk off, a queer, confounded twist on his face. In a world of perpetual pity parties, a boy like that needs not a thing. Tomorrow I will get off at his stop. The next day, I will follow close behind. Another day
and I will make a move. If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s easily fooled. Last Word by Arthur C. Carey Peter Creski shifted to the left as his wife Helen pulled the rusting Ford Taurus off the highway and onto a bumpy dirt road. Had he been alive and not reduced to ashes and bits of bone in a cardboard box, he would likely have been incensed. Creski had been a flag-waving, gay-bashing, Limbaugh-listening, proud American. As the boys at the union hall would have attested, any inclination of his to the pansy left would have ended quickly. But now, secured by a seat belt, his earthly remains adjusted smoothly to every bounce of the duct-tape-patched front seat. Creski’s wife—widow now—realized this was one of the few times she had ever been behind the wheel without him criticizing her driving—unless she counted the times he had passed out drunk beside her. Before, he had controlled the car as he controlled everything else in their lives. They had married right out of high school, spurred by an unexpected pregnancy. Miscarriage ended that. It went downhill from there. He laughed at her opinions, monopolized the TV, carped about her housekeeping, and hinted she was having an affair with the mail carrier. He never resorted to physical abuse— real men didn’t beat up women—but his acid comments ate away at her self-respect and intimidated her into silence. He called her a klutz and said she was lucky to have him as a husband. “How many other guys would put up with a dumb, flat-chested broad who can’t even have a kid?” he was fond of saying.
She tried, but failed, to find the courage to leave him. Where would she go, alone and without friends or family? What would she do without skills or an employment record? Over the years, her husband vacationed without her, trout fishing in spring, deer hunting in fall. His love of the outdoors never included her. But he had come home from the auto shop one day ashen-faced and silent. Ignoring the six-packs of beer stacked in the refrigerator, he went straight to the Jim Beam and knocked back two shots without speaking. “Is…is anything wrong, Peter,” she asked fearfully. Had he lost his job? Been in an auto accident? Gotten arrested for something? Whatever it was, she knew she’d eventually pay the price for his unhappiness, listening to his acid remarks. He filled and drained the glass again and poured another shot. “I went to the doctor today to see the results of the tests he ordered to explain my belly aches.” Helen nodded. He had accused her of spicing meals too heavily. Was she trying to poison him? “It’s cancer,” he said in a low, shaken voice. “Pancreatic…like that movie star that died.” Neither spoke, having seen tabloid magazine photos of a handsome, leading man reduced to a gaunt, emaciated shell. “Probably your lousy cooking,” he grunted, reaching for the bottle. “Order in a pizza tonight. Cheese. No pepperoni.” But the putdowns grew fewer as months passed and the disease gnawed away at him like termites undermining the walls of a house. As the end approached, he shrank in the thin,
worn sheets of a hospice. “Stop sniveling and listen,” he rasped one day. “No burial. Them funeral directors rob you blind. Cremate me and scatter my ashes somewhere nice—a lake or a meadow or a mountain.” A sudden spasm of pain wracked him. “The best days of my life were spent away from you,” he added spitefully, “and that’s where I want to end up.” Helen rested a cool hand on his hot, dry forehead. “I’ll take care of you, Peter,” she promised. Now, as she drove down the pot-holed road, Helen glanced at the cardboard box and experienced a new sense of freedom. No more would she hear complaints about insipid meals or boring sex or hard-earned money wasted on shoes and dentists. The road ended abruptly at a gate. She retrieved the cardboard box and locked the car. Pungent odors, intensified by summer heat, saturated the air. She walked to the base of a towering mountain surrounded by soaring birds. “Goodbye, Peter,” Helen whispered. She flung his remains into the still air and watched the silver cloud descend. Back in the car, she glanced in the rearview mirror at a bullet-riddled sign on a chain-link fence: pmuD nwoT. Stone and Wind by Carl T. Abt I have a child of stone. I dare not tell my husband or daughters. They would not think it healthy of me: I invest so much into my sculpting. But their thinking isn’t what counts. They won’t be around after we die. The child who carries my name will be stone.
Nobody will forget my name—not when I have a statue this big to it. I dangle from its nose, a rope and pulley system holding me where I can use a torch to polish the surface above his lips—Native American chiefs weren’t big on mustaches. Crazy Horse was no exception.
me to define them. There are bird droppings, dust from the drills, granite tainted with minerals not cataloged. The second you try to put your finger on which one has come to you, the wind changes, and the world is new again, like a child who changes scent every minute from mud, to soap, to vomit.
I’ve been carving Crazy Horse into a mountain side near Mt. Rushmore for more than 18 years. It’s been like raising a child, except better: Crazy Horse won’t snap back at me when I try to add a little refinement to him. I’ve left my two daughters below, off somewhere to be kids, South Dakotan hurricanes of hyperactivity.
I shudder, and open my eyes; my world is back.
Dusk has arrived for those on the ground. Up here though, I have a few more minutes of light. There is always more light for those above the daily affairs. I close my eyes and the world is remade. In my self-imposed darkness, I remember the wind, as it tries to unbundle my hair. I run my calloused fingers over the rigid lips, passing over the rim, and on up to the nose. No matter how many times I read the stone texture like Braille with the half-conscious dream of finding my name, with my eyes closed these are shapes I cannot know the ultimate meaning of. What I have given birth to here isn’t just larger than human scales: it is beyond human comprehension. But you can only know that when you can’t see. Someday, my daughters will see, when their silly dreams of being writers and politicians prove to be just that—dreams. They will see that no matter how large they make themselves, life will always be larger than they can comprehend. That is the truth you see when you close your eyes. They say they will understand that one day, when they have given birth. I’m not so sure. The wind shifts and shifts till it is impregnated with such a cornucopia of scents they dare
I lower myself to the flat surface that will eventually become Crazy Horse’s arm, and will be all but tattooed with my name. Until I unbuckle my tool belt, a dozen handles tap my thighs like they are my daughters learning to play the piano. The wind sings through the slack ropes like the violin strings my daughters have also pinned their dreams on. With a few practiced motions that let leather groan against steel clasps like a mother bound to unbending children, I free myself of the harness, and light up a Marlboro. I’d told my daughters to find dreams that could be more than dreams, dreams that did not ask you to close your eyes, dreams that could be real. Like accounting. Or child care. But they will have none of it. Writing. Politicking. I told them how few people make a living at these, and they rally around the word hypocrisy. How many people get to be sculptors? I told them I was lucky, but luck isn’t a concept they share with me. No matter. Let them drown themselves in poverty: I don’t need them to carry on my name. I take a drag, letting the Marlboro take a calming hold on me, and then let the smoke drift out of my mouth. I’d smile if I went out with that white cloud as long as my name stayed down here. I’d burn my name into stone even if it left nothing of me but smoke. I’m not afraid of standing on the edge of the cliff. Death cannot hold itself over you when the world will remember you. And no one will forget my name. So I bring fire to my lips. So I stand one step away from the forever abyss. So therefore I am.
I take a step closer to the edge and flick the nearly-spent Marlboro into the valley below, which yawns like a great maw big enough to swallow Comprehension itself. I lean over the edge to watch the cigarette be extinguished before it has given all it has to give. There is still smoke left in it, and where there is smoke, there is fire, that power which can make a name burn brighter. Then a gust tears itself into a fury from out of nowhere. There is a clatter of loose rubble, and then I’m falling. This is not a cartoon. I’ve looked over the edge enough times to know there are no convenient trees growing out of the side of the cliff. Wouldn’t want those on a statue. Statues are for names. My heart quickens, but I am not afraid. Two hurricanes brew below, out of the last light of day, their screaming winds never ruffling my bundled hair. But I am not afraid. I have Crazy Horse, my child of stone. What would Crazy Horse say if his lips could move: “When people look at your work, will they say your name—or mine?” I close my eyes. The air is stone-still, but I fall, and in falling, hear the howl of wind that is not wind. Technically speaking by Karen Schindler The writer woke in velvety darkness, snowy silence With matches, candle, archaic pen and paper he poured out his dreams He whispered a clacking keyboard sound as he worked
The words seemed naked somehow without it Summer in Winter by Rachel J. Fenton They said your mother was a whore; it was the local way to make sense of a woman who wore white stilettos in all weathers and bleached her hair. People said they didn’t know how many brothers and sisters you had on account of you all being so close in age and looking so similar: boys and girls alike wore tee shirts and trousers. It never seemed to occur to people that you were just poor, like the rest of us. But this is all stuff I found out later, or added on—in hindsight. I first met you when you came to call on my brother, to walk to school. He had only just woken up when you tapped delicately on the door. My mother had a pan of porridge cooking on the gas hob, summer in winter she called it, and you stood by the stove, your socks on your hands and your hands under your armpits, warming the bare gaps between your four cuffs. A lone wolf. It was February. I realised later, much later, that your delicacy was an elegant aside of being frozen. I looked at your sockless wet shoes and thought what long ankles you had. After that, you came for breakfast regularly, even though your house was much nearer to school than ours and to call on my brother meant you increased your journey by an hour. You were two years older than me and had mesmerising grey-green eyes that waited for permission to twinkle, the kindest smile—shy and afraid—and your voice came out in a sort of soft breath, an honest whisper. My brother soon got in with another crowd, however, and you came less often. It was March when you asked if you could
walk me home. I didn’t mind; I had no one else to walk home with. And you didn’t really have that much to say, so it wasn’t very different from walking home alone. You asked if I would go out with you. I thought, seeing as we were already walking home together and that we were outside, that we already were. I said, okay. The following day, at school, you had everyone I was your girlfriend, and everyone in your year group made a point of finding me to ask if I had kissed you. I hadn’t even kissed the inside of my elbow. At home time, I said I didn’t want to go out with you anymore. You asked if it was because you were black, and I felt foolish for not understanding what you meant, because you weren’t black. I wanted to tell you how I liked your colour, soft as fur, later, when I was older and could carry my now back to my then and overlay it as skin on skin, when the past ceased to be a senseless floating abstract and had a connection to a painfully-true reality. I wanted to tell you how I was captivated by the ease with which your body lived in your sleeve—so visible for lack of clothing—that it was as wonderful to me as the pool of dust in the basin of dry earth is to the sparrows in summer. And I wished I had been as warm to you as I now know you needed me to be, as you were to me, as the porridge in our bellies. And that was you. Sunday Morning Brunch by Amanda Kopacz Smack. The bells on the door had barely started to chime when I was assaulted by a bizarre scent—an amalgam of rotting mushrooms, boiled gym socks, and squid. My stomach turned, but I could tell this was the right place. “Don’t ask to purchase a Mogwai. You’ll be tempted, but don’t do it. He won’t think it’s funny and he’ll charge you more.” I hadn’t under-
stood Gillian’s advice at the time. Now I did. The dimly-lit shop was crammed with ornately-glazed teapots, jars of unidentified pickled foods, fu shoes, and curios of no obvious use and in no particular order. A wall behind the register displayed an impressive collection of samurai swords, and just beyond a partiallyopen curtain, I spied floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with large apothecary jars. Dried leaves. Roots. Chunky, white powder. “I help you?” I jumped and turned to face a shrunken man with serious eyes. He looked exactly as I’d imagined, if not for the Parrot Head t-shirt and Birkenstocks. “Yes. Sorry.” I tried to remember exactly what I was supposed to say. “Gillian sent me. I need…” “You married?” He shuffled around the counter and swept the curtain aside. Unsure if I should follow, I leaned on the glass counter to peak in on the psuedo-pharmacist. “Um, no. I’m not married. But…” “Then you need something for your mother.” He pulled a jar, added something to a bowl, replaced the jar on the shelf, pulled another bit of something, and repeated several more times. “How did you know?” What had Gillian told him? “Hmf.” He settled on me a moment with black pits of eyes before he worked the mortar and pestle with fervor, grunting and grinding. My eyes fixed on the shiny swords, a distraction from the lurch in my gut. Finally, he emerged with a small envelope. “Mix this in her drink.” “What is it? I mean, it isn’t dangerous, is it?”
His face was an arrangement of unamused lines, not unlike my mother’s. He didn’t speak or blink. I gave him the cash and left, the mushroom-gym-sock-squid-scent clinging to my hair. Sunday morning brunch, eleven thirty as always. We sat at the patio table facing the back yard. Of course, my mom wouldn’t say yard. Too low class. According to her, we brunched in the garden. “Cynthia, don’t put ketchup on your potatoes. Please. Who raised you?” I bit my tongue and watched the lines around her lips deepen. Could they have been formed from nagging alone? Or did she also suck Key limes from the neighbor’s tree? Maybe she’d eaten too many hash browns without ketchup. “Tea, Mother?” I tried to keep my hand from shaking as I poured Earl Grey laced with Godonly-knows-what into her delicate porcelain cup. “Well, Cynthia, are you seeing anyone?” She lifted the cup, pinky extended. I held my breath waiting for her to take a sip, but she continued, “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that you aren’t getting any younger. You know your sister manages to have a beautiful family and balance a successful career. She doesn’t waste time with…” She brought the china to her lips, but paused, “creative pursuits.” I held my breath, jaw clenched. She took a sip. I waited a moment, then squeezed another uncouth glob of ketchup on my plate. No comment. She finished her tea in silence. “So, Mom, I was thinking maybe I just won’t get married. At all. Ever.” Still nothing. I didn’t intend to make her mute. “The garden looks really nice, Mother.” “Thank you.” I followed her eyes over the perfectly manicured lawn to her flowerbeds. “I
just planted some new roses.” “Yeah. I can tell you’ve been working out here. In the yard.” No correction. “I’m thinking that, since I won’t be having children, I could maybe join the Peace Corps. Or become a lesbian. I haven’t decided for sure. What do you think, Mom?” Her voice was strained, like pushing a car with four flat tires up a hill, but she said it. “Whatever makes you happy.” Gillian was right. I only wish I had known years ago that I could buy a cure for nagging. The Headache in My Bed by Richard Cody I woke up this morning with a headache—a remnant, perhaps, of violent dreams—waiting cool and patient in my bed. I wake up with a lot of headaches these days, ever since Cleo, the erstwhile and errant love of my life, kissed me that final good-bye. They come, these cerebral assailants, to occupy my empty bed and empty head, to bang about in the space that she used to fill like a dream of narcotic bliss. I was not surprised to find this particular nuisance beside me in the morning light, gloating and licking his proverbial chops with a tongue of disquieting length. “It’s about time,” sneered the headache, regarding my muddled consciousness with eager anticipation. “I’ve been here for hours. We’ve got a hell of a day planned for you.” He reached a brutal claw beneath the pillow upon which he squatted, drawing forth a hammer of savage intent. An echo of imminent pain whispered through my head at the sight of that small but viciously efficient implement. “Who’s got a hell of a day planned for me?” I asked, nervous eyes inspecting that instrument of torture, attempting to gauge the
agony potential therein. “We do,” he grinned, brandishing his hellish tool like a prize trophy agleam with vanity, rolling it between thick thumb and forefinger until the black ball-peen head was nothing but a dull metallic blur. I sighed a breath of mock relief, affecting an air of glib indifference. I knew my only hope of avoiding this bit of arrogant pain was to defuse, dilute and destroy his swaggering confidence. “Well,” I said, “that’s a relief.” The headache stilled his whirling hammer, glaring at me with suddenly suspicious eyes. My confidence grew from a molehill into a mountain at the sight of him now, thorny fingers clasping and unclasping in slight, uncertain movements, misshapen brow twisted into a tight knot of doubt. My words had induced their intended effect. “What?” he said. “Well,” I continued briskly, “as headaches go you’re fairly petite. Just look at your hammer. . .” I broke off into a sputtering laugh, clearly deriding his headaching ego. “You know,” I added between increasingly genuine giggles, “the last of your kind to pay me a visit was twice your size, and he carried a regular sledgehammer!” This was completely true. The last headache to pound my skull had been a monster swollen to painful strength by alcohol and late hours. The headache in my bed frowned a sour and indignant frown, twisting his long arm behind his humped and scaly back in an attempt to hide his own shamefully minuscule hammer. I took great delight in his sudden self-conscious shame and pressed the advantage I had gained even farther upon him, hoping the enormous and intolerable weight of my ridicule would topple or crush him at last. “I think,” I said, my voice fairly dripping lighthearted whimsy, “that just a couple of aspi-
rin—certainly not more than two mild tablets— should take care of you.” He fumed, silent and dejected as I pulled myself out of bed. “Well, come on then,” I demanded. “I haven’t got all day for this idle chitchat, you know.” This last bit, this offhanded reference to aspirin, bane of all headaches, was simply too much. My unwanted bed mate twitched and rocked and promptly shrank. Like a tiny piece of plastic before a great heat he twisted and curled into gradual nothingness, leaving me pain free and alone. A cool smile spread across my face. I could feel it there, glowing and weightless in that sunlit room. It was going to be a good day. The Human Factor by Robert Friedman Mary Ellen Doyle was a human factors expert with a Harvard PhD and a gift for antagonizing her co-workers. This wasn’t difficult to do. Put a dozen engineers facing a tight deadline into an even tighter work space and you don’t need a PhD from Harvard to predict the results. Mary Ellen, who always asked the right question in the wrong way, just added fuel to the simmering fire. “I’m not here to win any popularity contests,” she explained to me over coffee in the closetsized break room one day. “I’m here to ask tough questions about system usability so we can achieve success.” We were getting close. Our company’s founder, a former NASA telemetry expert, had devised an implantable device that could predict heart attacks. The approximate shape and size of a pacemaker, this digital marvel monitored the full range of signals emitted by a human heart. The working theory was that one of those signals, dubbed the Z-wave, could consistently predict severe heart trouble. You
basically had a four-hour window to get yourself to a hospital after detection of the signal. And good luck to you. “How’s the coffee?” I asked. “I just made it.” “It sucks. Tastes like boiled socks.” “Thanks so much.” She didn’t notice the sarcasm. “But I don’t care. Coffee is the only thing keeping me awake at this point.” The last week had been a development marathon. The implant communicated wirelessly with a dedicated PDA running our proprietary software, which provided 24-hour data about cardiopulmonary activity. Mary Ellen was closely involved in design of the interactive touch screen, medical reports, color-coded notifications, and more. The shouting matches grew louder as her involvement increased. “I don’t give a damn what those engineers think of me—or what anyone else, thinks, either,” she said while we walked around outside the building after lunch. Mary Ellen always took a brisk afternoon walk and often insisted that I join her. “I just need them to listen to me and understand that I know what the hell I’m talking about. It’s not all hardware and software.” But the more vocal and stubborn Mary Ellen grew about her suggestions and objections, the less responsive the engineers became. I could understand their position. Mary Ellen had no real awareness of other people or her abrasive effect on them. Finally, a group decision was reached to worry about ease of use later and focus on the completion of system development for now. Mary Ellen was put in charge of system documentation until that time. “They’ve got me writing idiotic user manu-
als like you. Okay, it’s a paycheck. But watch what happens. It’s what always happens when you’ve got engineers designing without any thought for users. That’s why nobody can figure out how to work their DVD players. Just wait. Sooner or later the human factor will bite you in the ass.” The engineers produced a working prototype and the cardiac surgeons implanted the device in the chest of a nervous middle-aged volunteer named Phil with a history of heart problems. Three weeks later his heart started emitting the key signal that indicated impending cardiac arrest. The device did what the engineers had designed it to do and began ringing in Phil’s chest like a fire alarm. The sound terrified the poor guy so much that he had an immediate heart attack. He was legally dead for two minutes before the doctors were able to revive him. Mary Ellen was triumphant when she heard this sad news. “Didn’t I tell you?” she said. We were in her office. She tried to high five me, but I just stared at her. “What do you mean? Are you saying that you knew this was going to happen?” She chuckled. “Of course. It was inevitable. I’d been studying vibration patterns to come up with a silent signal that was less threatening. But I didn’t bother to tell those clowns about my research.” I continued staring. “So Phil had a coronary to prove your point?” “Oh, he’ll be fine. And now all those damned engineers have to admit that I was right.” Sooner or later the human factor will bite you in the ass.
The Proving Ground by Mark Wolf
Not just a boar. Kaipo sat down hard as he realized what he’d done.
Kaipo mused as he hiked into Hawaii’s Manuka Forest Reserve to hunt pigs for Ku’uipo’s baby shower luau. He thought on things besides snaring pigs: of Ku’uipo’s pregnancy and his new in-laws hating him.
The beast wore the bristly black coat and huge tusks Kaipo had expected to see, but walked on eight legs. Its eight eyes glared red at Kaipo.
Rhino, his pit bull-Rhodesian cross, bellowed his pig-scent bark. Kaipo unholsterd his .44 magnum, checking to see that all six chambers were loaded. Only bow hunters were allowed to hunt pigs on the reserve. Screw that, Kaipo thought, but he carried a compound bow in case a game warden happened upon him. As illegal as the pistol were the aircraft cable snares he’d set up late the night before near an old mango tree. That tree should be near. Fermented mangos littered the ground around it, a favorite food of pigs. Pig activity made the ground appear as though a D-9 Caterpillar had plowed through it. There should be a pig in a snare, Kaipo thought. He hoped for a nice-sized one, but not too big or it would be a bitch to pack out. Kaipo crossed through a patch of yellowblooming Mamane bushes he remembered close to the mango tree as a hog squealed ahead. “Gotcha!” he said.
“Forgive me, Kamapua’a,” Kaipo pled. Kamapua’a, the demigod. The child-hog. The Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, or Hawaiian reef trigger fish. The pua’a ‘ehu’ehu, or singed pig fern, the form he took while fighting Pele at her home near Halema’uma’u crater. Those were only some of the forms Kaipo’s ancient ancestor was said to have taken. Those and the enormous hog-beast that Kaipo now faced. “Fight me child. Fight me and show me that my blood flows strong in your veins,” Kamapua’a squealed. He turned and ripped Rhino open from neck to tail. Kaipo pulled his pistol out and leveled it at Kamapua’a. He felt urine trickling unbidden down his leg. Thumbing the lever back, his hands shook. The hunter sighted down the barrel at the row of eyes across the massive skull of the hogbeast and pulled the trigger. The explosion made him close his eyes. When he opened them again, Kamapua’a had slipped out of of two of his snares and held the bullet in his teeth.
He jogged quickly forward through the patch. An enormous boar struggled in three of Kaipo’s snares. Rhino danced in front of the beast snapping and snarling.
“Is this what my bloodline has come to, throwing the elements of Pele instead of fighting by hand? Fight me coward! Fight me with your bare hands or I will gut you like I gutted your ‘Ilio.”
What the hell?
Kaipo dropped the gun. He removed the bow
from his shoulder and set it on the ground. Urine soaked through his camouflage pants and chaffed his inner thighs. He slid the backpack off his shoulders and drew his hunting knife, holding it up for Kamapua’a to see clearly. “May I use this, oh sacred one?” “That is fair, child. I have my tusks. You may use one of your own. Now fight me!” Kamapua’a bellowed. He held his knife before him as Kamapua’a tossed and shook his head, his enormous tusks promising a bloody death. Kaipo only had one advantage that he could see and Kamapua’a could use his magic to negate it, if he chose to. One snare still attached to the demigod’s leg and to a large Ohia tree. It would restrict Kamapua’a from charging him and trampling him with his weight. Kaipo studied his foe for a moment. An idea formed. The cable securing the snare to the tree was five feet long. If Kamapua’a chose to fight him with the snare as his handicap, then Kaipo would do the same. He carefully noted the demigod’s reach then walked calmly and deliberately over to the farthest snare from Kamapua’a and tied it to another Ohia tree, one that would just allow he and Kamapua’a to exchange blows without using weight or size as an advantage. Then he placed the snare loop around his own ankle and snugged it up tight. “Ha, you do not lack courage in spite of the smell of piss that clings to you. You are my blood and child of my flesh. Show me your strength now,” Kamapua’a said. The two combatants turned and tested the
limits of their self-imposed handicaps. Kaipo feinted towards Kamapua’a’s eyes with his knife while kicking out with a Brazilian-style roundhouse kick. It landed solidly against the hog-beast’s skull, stunning him. Kamapua’a shook his head, obviously dealing with a few cobwebs that had taken up residence inside. “What is this new fighting skill? I have not seen its like.” “It is a form from other lands my ancestor, my ‘aumakua, my guardian” “Since you have shown me your strength and something new, I will grant you a boon. What is it you wish of me?” “I only wish a pig for my family for our baby luau, revered one,” said Kaipo. “Then you shall have it.” A heavy mist rose up from the ground, obscuring Kamapua’a. It hovered in place for a few moments then dissipated. A medium-sized black sow stood in the snare where the demigod had been. Around the mango tree a huge patch of pua’a ‘ehu’ehu ferns covered the ground where none had been before. Kaipo quickly cut the sow’s throat, gutted it, then quartered the meat and loaded it into his backpack. Several hours later, Kaipo raked back the hot coals from the Imu pit and pulled forth the Taro-wrapped leaves surrounding the tender flesh of the pig that Kamapua’a had supplied. Ku’uipo’s brown eyes flashed with love and pride as Kaipo sat her portion before her and her parents.
With Forethought by Yvette Managan Something flew by the window, shed a sudden shadow over my handiwork, and I startled. The blade fell from my hand, spiraled to the ground, casting scarlet drops out in a crescent arc, until it clattered to the flagstone. I pushed a hand against my crashing heartbeat to calm it, as though I could press it to silence, clambered down the stairs, onto the walkway outside and retrieved the sword. I wiped it against the flesh of my thigh, under my habit—why hadn’t I brought a hanky for that?—and left. I tossed the sword off the high bridge on the walk back to my room. The gloves, jammed deep in a pocket, would burn with the morning trash. They were dark brown wool, and old enough so that no one would question when I tossed them in the burn barrel. Everything had been thought through, and everything executed according to plan—a good one, no stones left unturned. Not one. I repeated that to myself the whole walk home, and yet the pulse throbbed in my neck and my face burned. I replayed the execution over and over. Nothing was missed. Predictable, expected, except after the shadow. The sword had dropped. Did I miss something then? Did I leave foot prints? Should I go back and check? Father Robert was better at this than me. What would he have done? A silly question. As if he would have told me, even if he hadn’t bled out in the church’s bell tower. Menial Labor (Again) by Mitchell Waldman They don’t call it menial for no reason— thought I’d never be doing this again, this back-breaking, mind-numbing kind of
work (too old for this) scanning gun flung over my shoulder like some geeky department store cowboy (left the ammo at home) stooping, bending, reaching, picking price tags out of the crotches, out of the armpits of clothing items, the scanner’s light flickering, its alien red light glowing until—beep—the green light blinks, the bar code registers, and—success!—another set of numbers added to the parade of figures more meaningful and much more costly than the menial laborer himself, the numbers entered into the electronic files of inventory of need, of greed that makes America great, what it is today. While the workers bend in contortions breaking backs, cracking knees—bending, twisting, reaching in the racks and shelves of shirts and tops and briefs and shorts and pants and scarves and rings and every imaginable kind of thing, counting, counting, counting every single last item one by one, set as they are, pristine, pure, so unaware of the pain they are causing on their hangers, their comfy shelves, so carefully folded and stacked, so lovingly hung on their dust-free racks, happy, comfortable, their knees not cracking, their arms not sore from reaching, their necks not breaking from bending, straining at unnatural angles for a glimpse of the price tag, the bar code of the trappings of “the good life,” the suburban solution, their throats not parched from thirst, from the dry artificial mall air. “Drinks must be kept up front,” the workers are told, “so as not to cause any damage to the merchandise.” But what about the damage to the workers? No, that’s unaddressed, their compensation the eight dollars an hour they earn painstakingly while the merchandise watches, the panties play, the Dockers dance, and the men and women with their scanners scan and count and recount on their hands and knees before the racks of prosperity, their fifteen hour days rewarded with a paltry paycheck, their bodies expendable anonymous wholly replaceable, not meriting the
status of the smarmy sweaters, the sparkling, teasing T-shirts touting slogans such as “I’m the bitch your daddy warned you about,” or “Little Princess,” or “I’m just in it for the money,” no, we come nowhere near the esteem of these fine items, stacked on the shelves of industry, of wealth, of freedom, in all sizes, all shapes, (available in a selected assortment of colors) not even can we meet the status of the pre-worn, pre-slashed, pre-stained jeans with the cartoon character tags, produced by factory workers in production lines in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Korea, Mali. (How many tenyear-olds among them wearing away the tips of their fingers, eyes burning from the dust, hearts aching for the sun, as they cut and sew and stack?)
able, replaceable, written off, a cost of doing business, swept up in the dustpan of life, of all-American know-how, of human enterprise and suffering, swept up by the great hollowed soul of the Great Lost American Dream Machine.
No, not even reaching the esteem level of the lowly hats, stacked so high above our heads that a menial worker, one of my coworkers, needs to stretch, stand up on his tip toes on the top rung of the ladder to reach, to scan the tags, exhausted from the six straight hours on this job without a break, after the eight hours of his day job before that, reaching, reaching, only a squeak left of his energy as he wavers, loses his balance, the sleepless nights finally catching up to him at this moment, the sweat of his brow dripping into his eyes, as he missteps and closes his eyes for an instant, just an instant, longing for an end to this endless day, longing for sleep, but finally coming to this end at two o’clock in the morning, on a Friday, the end of the week, he, in his red shirt, all of us in our company-initialed red inventory control shirts, a sea of red, surrounded by the bright, sunny, pastel-colored fabrics of the day, the shades of artificial light and happiness, helpless, watching as he falls from the top step with this merest of squeaks, and thumps on the hard wood floor, the awful crunch of impact, the sound of his backbone shattering like some flimsy piece of Dollar Store pottery, like the proverbial Humpty, the listless Dumpty, who no one, this time, even attempts to put back together again, expend-
C l i ck h e r e fo r a u t h o r b i o s .
C l i ck h e r e fo r e d i t o r b i o s .
Cl i ck t o d o n at e t o E c l e c t i c F l a s h.
C l i ck t o p u r ch a s e a p r i n t c o py.
Published on May 7, 2010
Eclectic Flash is a nonprofit online and print literary journal dedicated to bringing our readers the best flash literature available, regar...